Turn it, and Turn it, for Everything is in it

A Rabbi with a funny name, Ben Bag-Bag, used to say: “Turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it. Reflect on it and grow gray with it. Don’t turn from it, for nothing is better than it”. Pirke Avot, Ethics of Our Ancestors 5:22.
Rabbi Ben Bag-Bag was referring to our Torah, or more broadly, the entire Jewish Bible. While many people call our scripture the “Old Testament,” the appropriate term is Tanach, an acronym from the Hebrew letters of its three components: Torah (Law), Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings). For 28 years, friends and members of Temple Beth Or have been reading and discussing the Tanach verse by verse. We began with Genesis 1:1 in the Fall of 1993 and have read and discussed every chapter and verse for the past decades since then. Now, this month, we will reach II Chronicles 36:23, the final verse of Tanach, and celebrate with a virtual siyyum – a party for the completion of reading the Bible. What an accomplishment!
It wasn’t always easy going. Studying Genesis and Exodus, Esther and Jonah were fun and exciting – these are the foundational stories of our faith. But, making our way through Leviticus with its sacrifices, or 150 Psalms with their relatively dense poetry, was a different story altogether.
Nonetheless, we prevailed. We didn’t skip over a single verse and found meaningful discussion each session. We delved into issues of life and death, reward and punishment, theodicy and God’s justice (or seeming lack thereof), good and evil, and free will. We also experienced hilarious moments pouring over soap-opera-worthy tales of sexual and political intrigue, profound medical treatises on buboes and leprosy, and commentaries on the best way to build gallows. Special kudos to Lorraine Fortner, the one person who was there from day one and stayed with us throughout the entire Bible study course.
Our study will not end now. Our intrepid study group will continue reading the Jewish Apocrypha, comprised of historical books written mainly during the Hellenization crisis and the Maccabean revolt. These books were not all considered divinely inspired and were too late to make it into the sacred canon of the Bible. They may, indeed, be even more interesting to study since we are less familiar with them. Any of you are welcome to join in the dialogue, for there is no prior experience necessary to join our chevruta (friendly analysis, debate, and discussion of a text).
Going back to Rabbi Ben Bag-Bag, while we have grown old and some of us gray while studying together, we hope to continue our journey through sacred scripture for decades to come.
Just as we go through the text, we pray that the text will continue to go through us as well.