Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Earth, Wind, & Fire*

I think that there are natural phenomena we fear and natural phenomena we can embrace.  I don't mean being afraid of a tsunami and embracing a rainbow.  But rather, being comfortable with certain types of disasters.

Growing up on Long Island, hurricanes, ice storms, and blizzards were commonplace.  Tornadoes and earthquakes were not.  I can look back upon memories of walking on cars buried in the snow, the beauty of our birch trees bent to the ground in a coating of ice, and row boating down our street in the eye of a hurricane.  I even remember fondly when we ha no power, and due to the ice ran out of heating oil.  We slept in the living room with a fire going, a window cracked for fresh air.  I'm sure my memories are rosier than my parents on this one.  Nevertheless, as a result, these disasters don't scare me.

Others do.  When I was in L.A. I suddenly needed an earthquake plan.  Earthquakes freak me out.  My plan was to leave LA as soon as possible in case of an earthquake.  Tornadoes are worse.  Tornadoes are my nightmare.  How can a storm destroy one side of a street while leaving the other unscathed.  Tsunamis have their own issues, but with the tsunami warning system in place I am not worried.  I will be happy to evacuate.

All this makes for interesting discussions.  Friends from California don't mind earthquakes, but blizzards completely freak them out.  Those from the Midwest say I shouldn't worry about tornadoes.  We each are comfortable with our own familiar natural disasters.  All others are the stuff campy 70's horror flicks are made of.

Unfortunately, as climate change takes hold, these natural disasters are no longer regional.  I never felt an earthquake in L.A., but I have here in Toronto.  Tornadoes have touched down in the area.  We were touched by hurricane Sandy. (The nearby bus stop was so touched it's no longer there.)  I expect a cold, snowy winter.  We've had drought and flooding.

God, if you're reading this, we get it.  We need to act (a decade ago, maybe two).  If you're trying to teach us to watch out for each other.  It's working, at least on a small-ish scale.  The Red Cross is already taking donations for this disaster relief.  Everyone is sharing and checking in (thanks to Facebook).  Hopefully we can continue without the disasters.

Meanwhile, I'll take the hurricanes and blizzards any day.

*Title credited to Sean.  Thanks honey.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Lech Lecha- Which Road Will You Take?

Vayisa Lot et einav vayar et kol kikar haYarden ki kulah mashkeh lifnei shaheit A-donai et S’dom v’et Amorah k’gan A-donai k’eretz Mitzraiyim bo’achah tzo’ar.
And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of the Jordan that it was all well-watered, before A-donai destroyed S’dom and Amorah, like a garden from Adonai, like the land of Egypt. (Breishit 13:10)
When Avram and Sarai left their homeland, their families, and their previous heritage behind they took with them the souls they made and Lot. The text tells us first “that Avram went… and Lot went with him.” (12:4) In the very next verse we read “And Avram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions, and all the souls they had gathered in Haran.” (12:5). Did Lot merely follow? Did Avram specifically choose to go him to accompany them? Why also are the “souls they made” separated from Avram’s, Sarai’s, and Lot’s departure in the verse? “Avram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son.” This is followed by their possessions, and then the “souls they made.” Was Lot not also a convert to A-donai?
The p’shat of the text may imply importance- Avram, his wife, and his nephew- their family. This is followed by their household possessions. Only after are “the souls they made” mentioned. When these souls followed Avram, and he accepted their accompaniment, Avram became responsible for them. He “took” them, and they became part of his camp.
On closer reading we see Sarai’s own personal connection to Adonai. But Lot’s connection is more tenuous. His family is saved from S’dom by the virtue of Avraham. Upon escape from S’dom Lot does not seek out his family. Before Avram and Lot separated there was strife between them. Their cattle and herdsmen competed and challenged each other. Avram suggests they go their separate ways. Lot does not argue family connection or ideology. He sees a beautiful valley, irrigated and lush, and chooses it. It is the easy way.
Haran was a large developed area. Competition for land would have been fierce. Potential for wealth limited. Lot sees an opportunity to follow Avram, but he forgets the most important piece. “And Avram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son…” For Avram, Lot was intimately connected. This family connection provides opportunity, but also security, comfort, and shared ideology. They need not be strangers in a strange land because they have each other. Lot loses this, and is eventually left bereft. Family relationships are never easy. Strong emotions and close quarters can bring strife, but if we work together to minimize discord and maintain these special relationships, rather than taking the easy path, much can be saved in the future.

Parashat Noah- Malala Yousafzai- Tzadik Bidorotah

…Noah ish tzadik tamim haya bidorotav et haEhlohim hithalech Noah.
Noah was a pure, righteous man in his generation; Noah walked with God. (Breishit 6:9)
Commentary abounds on this first verse of our parasha. What is the meaning of tamim? Is there a special implication in haya bidorotav? How does one walk with God, and what is the implication or significance? Commentaries are divided on whether these qualifications elevate or degrade Noah in his righteousness.
Tamim- pure, simple, whole. The simple son of the Hagaddah is tam. A child without knowledge is tam. But tam also means pure or whole. Where is Noah on this spectrum?
Haya bidorotav- he was in his generation. Would Noah, placed in another generation, be a pure, righteous man? Or is it only in comparison to the evil of his generation that he can be called a tzadik?
Et haEhlohim hithalech Noah- with God, Noah walked. What is the significance of this? Does Noah need God to bolster him? Or is this a privilege awarded for his purity and righteousness?
Throughout history individuals have arisen who seem to occupy a special place. Often these individuals must fight extreme prejudice or violence. We see this with Noah. We see this with Avraham. In modern times we have seen this with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Most recently the world has watched the struggle of a 14-year-old girl, Malala Yousafzai. Malala was shot last week by a Taliban gunman for being an advocate for girls’ education. The two shots failed to kill her, and her voice continues to be heard, even as she struggles to regain consciousness.
In reading about Noah, pure and righteous in his generation, I cannot help but think of Malala. A child, pure and simple, Malala understands the evil in the world. She has looked into its eyes and not remained quiet. To stand proud and speak out in the face of evil all around, whether as an adult or as a child, like Malala has done since she was 11, is to walk with God. When we think of those in history who are pure, righteous individuals, Malala Yousafzai’s name should be on that list. May she remain whole.

Breishit & Free Will

Vateireh ha’isha ki tov ha’eitz l’ma’achal v’chi ta’ava hu la’einai’yim v’nechmad ha’eitz l’hashkil vatikach mipriyo vatochal vatitein gam l’ishah imah vayochal.
And the woman saw the tree was good for food, and it was pleasant to the eyes, and the tree was pleasing to make one wise, and she took of its fruit and ate, and gave also to her man with her, and he ate.
There is a halakhic principle that we must never make a ruling that people will not be able to follow. An impossible law is not only unfair, it is wrong. For this reason this piece of Torah has always troubled me. God tells Adam and Hava that they may eat from any tree in the garden, except one. This tree is made beautiful, and placed in the center of the garden. It is pleasing to the eye, and obviously food. It’s like placing a cookie jar with freshly baked cookies, still warm, their scent wafting through the house in the center of the kitchen, and leaving it unguarded. It seems an unreasonable restriction.
So unreasonable does this seem that commentary throughout Jewish tradition commentaries have challenged this idea and debated the nature of the punishment. Many separate the punishment of Adam and Hava from their expulsion from the garden. This is played out in the text between the third and fourth aliyot. Some say that God knew us. God knew that humans are both innately curious and somewhat rebellious. Bachya (11th century Spain) teaches that the sections of Torah with which we are most familiar are usually the most difficult. There is always something below the surface that we may not see. Simon Apisdorf (modern Jewish writer) sees Adam as mistakenly believing that human destiny was to be fulfilled by not listening to God. For both scholars, the command and subsequent punishment are not so simply understood.
In all cases, the issue at hand becomes human free will. Temptation surrounds us. Choices are placed before us. Sometimes the choices are easy, but all too often choices, good and bad, come gift wrapped, pleasing to eye. It is up to us to look into the meanings, and do our best to follow the right path.
As an aside, I had always wondered why Adam took the fruit from Hava and ate. Perhaps Adam saw that Hava had not died, and the fruit seemed good. But perhaps the answer lies in an interpretation by Rabbi Edward Feinstein. Rabbi Feinstein taught that Adam understood what it was like to be alone. He did not wish to return to that state. If Hava was to eventually die, then he too would die. Breishit becomes the ultimate love story of two individuals whose destinies were one. Even Shakespeare couldn’t have written it better.

Typos and Blogging

I believe in grammar.  I believe in proper spelling and the Queen's English.  I use spellcheck.  (Is spellcheck one word or two?)  I like commas and semicolons.  I don't tend to text-speak.

I have a problem.  I blog in bed, usually after midnight.  Also, I am a lousy speller.  The lousy spelling is fixable.  As I said, "I use spellcheck."  But the late night blogging is a problem.  On becomes one.  An becomes and.  Habit draws my fingers to type certain sequences, and the late hour causes me to miss them as I proof.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, Sean reads my blog.  He tells me of my typos.  Usually I am tired when this happens.  It is late.  I am blogging, so it's close to or after midnight.  But I believe in grammar, and proper spelling.  So I go back and edit.  I see where my sleep-deprived brain thought I typed "that's", but where I really typed "hat's".  And then, I do it all over again.

G'night (That's the Queen's English when she visits Australia.)

What I Learned from The Incredibles

This isn't a full What I Learned, because I'm sure there's more.  My favorite lesson is the best way to do leftovers night.  We take everything out of the fridge; put it on the counter, and tell everyone to make a plate.  Leftovers get used, even when there's only a bit, and everyone gets something s/he likes.

Tonight was two kinds of steak: Mediterranean spice and a chocolate-coffee mole rub, barbecue chicken, garlic chicken, sloppy joes, small potatoes, and baby carrots, with baklava and cookies for dessert.  We forgot the pot roast, but most of the rest went.  Later we finished off raspberries, strawberries, and bananas is a soy smoothie.  Satisfying, and there's a lot more space in the fridge.

Marshmallows Roasting on an Open Fire

As superstorm Sandy bears down upon the eastern US, we began to see the beginnings of rain and wind.  Sean & I finally got the sukkah put away, along with all other backyard accoutrements.  The garage is shipshape for winter, and wood for the fireplace is accessible.

Our garage shifts seasonably.  In summer we need easy access to the gardening tools and mower.  In the winter I want access to the firewood.

We have a fireplace.  It was on my list of things I desperately wanted in a house.  When we moved in the fireplace didn't work.  Actually it was the chimney that didn't work.  The only thing a fireplace needs to work is for it not to burn the house down.  We rebuilt the chimneys (both needed work).  We put on a new chimney cap.  We bought a new cradle for the wood.  But the house still filled with smoke.  Finally we found the right expert.  Don found cement from the rebuilding in the chimney that prevented the damper from closing.  This brought cold air down, and made for a smokey fire.  The new chimney cap allowed soot and pieces of ash to cling.  When they got damp it was like paper mache.   Don took care of the problems, and we now have a great working fireplace.

Tonight I taught Keren to build a fire.  She was very excited.  With the damp, dark day we all felt like hibernating.  Keren came closest, staying in pajamas all day.  After leftover dinner night, we built a fire and popped in a movie.  The kids roasted marshmallows.  The smoke all went up the chimney.  It was wonderful.

A fireplace is great.  It warms a room with more than heat.  It's a teaching moment.  It's a cooking spot. It evokes memories.  It creates memories.  And on damp, dreary days, there's nothing better.

V-O-T-E in the USA

I am voting tomorrow.  I have never missed an election.  It is my right, my responsibility, and my duty as an American citizen to cast a vote.  If I do not, whether through negligence, apathy, or ignorance, I give up my voice and the right to complain.

I believe it to be a great responsibility.  This year is not easy.  I am disappointed in my president.  It's not the economy, although that sucks.  President Obama entered office with many, many problems facing him.  The economy was still on a downswing.  We were involved in two wars.  While the growing debt concerns me, and there has not been great recovery, I don't believe anyone could have "fixed" the problems in the past four years.  Furthermore, America's economy is just a part of the world economy, and I can't imagine one will be fixed without the other.

No, I am disappointed in other things.

In his first campaign President Obama told our nation there were a lot of problems.  He said they would take a long time to fix, and we couldn't fix them all at once.  He was right.  Of course once in the presidency (or any public office), the run for the next election begins almost immediately.  Media talks about the "First 100 Days."  There are interests to be appeased.  But President Obama was right in his campaign, and he should have stuck to his guns.

I am disappointed in his foreign policy.  Too often he seems to emit the attitude that if we, read nations, could all just sit down and talk, we could work out our problems.  As a student of history and sociology, I have never seen this to be true.  Rogue nations are just that.  Perhaps he is right.  If we could sit down together, maybe we could solve problems, but when we can even agree on the shape of the table, or where to sit, how can we talk?  President Obama has all too often seemed to toss a carrot to our enemies while ignoring our friends.  This is a time to solidify our allied relationships.

Finally, although connected to the piece above, I am disappointed in the stance on Israel.  How many times must Israel give in, pushed by the US, to halts on construction or other concessions?  When have the Palestinians met their end of the bargain?  Lines drawn in the sand, green or otherwise, are arbitrary, and certainly have no meaning when the other side continues to call for Israel's destruction.  We can't just sit down and work it all out.  We've been there before.  Rockets continue to fly at Israel's population.  How do you talk with someone who wants your total destruction?

On the other hand, I look at the baggage that comes with the Republican party.  It is not a party for which I can vote.  I cannot accept the wholesale wiping out of assistance programs.  Planned Parenthood is not only about birth control and abortions.  They are about women's health, men's health too!  Through my university and grad years, that's where I found my doctor.  As I moved from Boston to home to LA to home to NYC, I didn't need to worry about finding a doctor.  I had insurance.  I could pay.  But as a transient student, I needed the flexibility Planned Parenthood provided.  Their staff was trained to work with young women and men to put them at ease so we can ask the questions we need to our doctors.  And yes, my parents knew I went there.

I am also an idealist.  Part of me wants President Obama to be elected so no one can say that his election was a fluke.  It was high time a person of color took that oath, and I'd never want anyone to have a way to deny that.

So what will I do?  This year I'm voting for Sean.  I have the blessing of voting in NY.  NY will go for President Obama.  While every vote counts, my protest vote will not skew an election.  Unlike a swing state, it will not create the danger of electing the party that scares me more.

Still, shouldn't this be about choosing a great candidate, rather than fear of giving certain people power?    I believe that President Obama is a good man.  So is Governor Romney.  But somewhere in the past decade or two our party system has lost its way.  It's now more about the power than the principle.  May they all find that way home soon.

G'night, God bless, and vote!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Lessons I Have Learned from Kate Middleton

I don't normally blog about current events, but sometimes something in the world hits me in such a way that the words need to come out.  A number of weeks ago it was the horrible, privacy-destroying pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge, aka Kate Middleton.

Prince William and Kate have been the talk of the town, or at least the talk of the Commonwealth, since their official engagement.  With the exception of the, seemingly weekly, announcements in the local fish wrappers of a pregnancy, most of the news has been flattering to the royal couple.  

I was wondering how long it would last...

Until recently.  Recently, some low-level life form, using a very strong lens, from very far away, invaded the privacy of William and Kate to snap pictures of a moment never meant to be shared with the public.  Intimate moments are just that, intimate.  

In the spirit of the Yamim Noraim and decency, I ask you not to google those pictures.  I have not, and I will not.  These pictures teach us nothing about Kate and William.  If you want intimacy, just check out how they look at each other while they make their official rounds.  See how they smile, both at each other and at their surroundings.  

In the Solomon Islands- check out their laughter, how Kate listens attentively and is engaged in whatever conversation she is having.

They are gracious and giving.

Not an easy job.  They will never really have privacy, but they should not be afraid of stepping outside miles from anywhere and anyone, because some jackass thinks making a buck is more important than the lives of two human beings.

Kudos to you both for handling the, so-called, scandal with aplomb and swift action.  I wish you the best.

The Man Cave

There is a thing called a man cave.  It is a room with all the accoutrements a man would love.  I can only assume it's purpose is to escape from the world of women and children.

There is a problem.  I want one.  Can it truly be called a man cave if I want one?  It would have a pool table and a beer fridge.  It would have a home theater, lots of books and movies, and comfy recliners.

I have begun to plan my man cave.  It'll be our basement after the children move out.  I realize that's still a ways off, but it's on the horizon in parent years.  Sean has always wanted a pool table, so that's a big part.  This means the den needs to become a library to take on the displaced bookcases.  I have old books with which to paper the walls for the den.  They moved from New York with us.  With the pool table will be an entertainment center.  Add some great comfy chairs to watch the game, wonderful art, and we're set.

The next best thing to my man cave would be an outdoor kitchen.  Full-on Weber BBQ, fridge, sink, I want it all.  Years ago Sean was out with one of his submarines.  In the wardroom one night the men were discussing barbecues and their wives.  It seems none of the wives truly understood the lure of the the giant barbecue.  The captain turned to Sean, sitting quietly, and asked, "That ever happen to you Chaplain?"  "No sir," Sean replied, "My wife thought I should have gotten a bigger barbecue."  "You're a lucky man" was the response.

An outdoor kitchen, a great man cave, and I love the chainsaw I got for my birthday a couple of years ago.  Now all I need is the time to create and use them!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Gandalf the Gorilla, or Cat on a diet

My cat is on a diet.  He went to the vet yesterday.  (Well, actually Sean drove him.  It's too far to walk, and he can't see over the steering wheel and reach the pedals at the same time.).  The vet weighed him.  Gandalf is, as Sean put it, a fine weight, at least for a small gorilla. He weighs over 15 pounds.  So now, Gandalf is on a diet.  He is not happy.  I believe this will lead to us not being happy.  Gandalf likes food overnight.  He is likely to be a pain due to the empty food bowl.  Of course Gandalf likes food all the time.

Then there is Nora.  She is our older cat.  She is sweet, and not naturally the dominant cat.  However, she also does not want Gandalf to be the dominant cat.  Nora wants to eat the food in the convenient place.  That place is in my bedroom where Gandlaf's food is.  Nora is also small, almost too small.  She needs to self-feed.  Luckily, she is also agile.  We have placed her food on a high service to which Gandalf, in his largeness, cannot jump.  She is not happy with us.  She does not want to work for her food.

It's going to be interesting.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Times That Try Women's Souls (and All Thinking, Caring People)

Many (many, many) years ago I wrote in my rabbinical school application essays that I wanted to change the world.  How? By reaching out to and touching one person's heart and soul at a time.  In small ways I have been successful.  We never know the full nature of the impact we have, but we are sometimes given glimpses of it.  I believed then, and still do that we can impact the world through kindness, teaching, and understanding, and through reaching out to connect with others.  Worlds are lost or saved both by those willing to stand up and speak and by those who whisper in the ears of others

My impact, as I say, is small.  I am lucky/blessed to have been born into a country where standing up for one's rights or the rights of others was, not only allowed, but expected.  I have had the privilege of campaigning for candidates in whom I believed, protest against projects and policies I could not stomach, and candid discussion with my own elected representatives.  With all these blessings my heart currently aches for Malala Yousafzai.  If you have been living in a closet, Malala Yousafzai is a 14 year old girl in Pakistan.  Three years ago Malala's diary, written under a pen name, sharing life under the Taliban, was published through the BBC.  Since then, Malala has come to prominence, culminating in a documentary, Pakistan's first National Youth Peace Prize, and a nomination for the International Children's Peace Prize.  For me and most of the world, Malala entered our lives four days ago when she was shot in an assassination attempt by the Taliban.  

It tries the heart and the soul when so-called religious leaders are so threatened by a young girl (or by) to send a masked gunman to kill her.  My heart aches for Malala and the girls (and boys) whose names I don't know.  What of those who have understandably bowed to the fear and stay at home hidden from sight?  

I have never understood the mindset that brings people to the extremes.  Whether right or left, standing on the extremities seems to blind people to the value of those not like them.  How can any person look at another and not see the amazing worth and potential in each of us, regardless of gender, religion, or color?  I cannot understand a religion or culture or country that would shut out the creativity of half its people due to gender.  If God created so many differences in the world, why would we believe God created only one way to relate to divinity?  

Malala, you don't know me.  It is unlikely I will ever have the honor and privilege of meeting you.  But, you are in my thoughts.  Even here, where my own daughter and sons are growing up with the benefits of open education and free speech I will teach your lessons.  They will know your name.  And if the power of hope and prayer can effect healing, I add mine to those around the world.  In Jewish tradition, at a child's birth, and other significant moments we pray that parents will be able to raise their child to learning, marriage (in a relationship of equals), and ma'asim tovim, good works.  You are on the path.  I pray that you have decades of more learning and work to do.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Sukkot is a time filled with guests at our house.  Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are too focused on the synagogue and long days.  Any intervening Shabbatot are desperately needed rest times.  Sukkot is the time to share.

It seems natural.  After all, our week is spent in an outdoor structure that, even with a locking door, is open to the elements and the world.  Additionally, our sukkah is a bit of a showcase.  Sean says it takes longer to hang the decorations than it does to build the darn thing.  He's probably right, but don't tell him I said so.  Our decorations consist mostly of souvenirs from our trips, plus a beloved theme of "swimmy things" for the kids and birds for me.  There are at least 13 birds.  I have lost count of the fish.  Additionally we have hanging Monticello, Mt Vernon, Shenandoah, and the Empire State Building.  We have a beaver, a penguin, and a Guantanamo Bay iguana on a spoon rest (I'm sure it is unique to our sukkah alone in North America).  We have snowflakes and a beach.  In one corner, in a place of honor, hangs a curtain with the outlines of the kids' hands every year from Keren's first Sukkot.

All these things are to entice and interest the visitors to our sukkah.  These visitors come physically and spiritually.  Sean likes small gatherings.  He doesn't want to be a slave to the dishes while commemorating our wandering after being redeemed from slavery.  For me, the bigger the crowd, the better.  I love taking the time to plan and prepare special foods for the holiday.  There is always stuffed cabbage, mandelbrot, and honey cake.  We have carrot and pumpkin soups, and lots of honey.

Beyond the physical guests in the sukkah, we invite spiritual guests.  This comes from a kabbalistic ritual, which we generally do not practice, but discussion at the table always focuses upon this.  Who would we each invite, and why?  In the past we've had some fascinating and wonderful guests.  Some were famous, others infamous.  This year Jesse wanted to invite Erwin Rommel, aka The Desert Fox.  Jesse had some questions to ask him.  Others on our lists have included Sean's Aunt Min, Rosa Robota (a cousin of mine), Woody Guthrie, Golda Meir, Rabbi AJ Heschel, Rose Schneiderman & Clara Lemlich, David Ben Gurion, Justice Louis Brandeis, King Hussein of Jordan, and Debbie Freedman.  This year included Julia Child, Julie Powell (I wanted to discuss cooking), and Julie Andrews.

Tomorrow I think I might invite A.A. Milne.  I'd like to know what he thinks of Edgar Allan Pooh (http://bizarrocomic.blogspot.ca/2011/01/pooh-talk.html and http://www.indyhumor.com/stories/raven.htm).  I'm a fan of both Poe and Pooh, but I think they've now been ruined forever.  Maybe I'll just invite Winnie himself.  That'd be nice, but we'd need more honey.

Hazak, Hazak, V'nit'hazayk: Coming Full Circle

Hazak hazak v’nit’hazayk
Be strong; be strong, and let us be strengthened.
As we finish each of the five Books of the Torah, we stand, and recite together the words, Hazak hazak, v’nit’hazayk; be strong, be strong, and let us a strengthened. It is a cheer, a shout of approval for our accomplishment, but also so much more. It is a call to not leave off at this end, but to start over.
Our tradition teaches that Ezra the scribe, approximately 500 BCE, instituted the practice of reading the Torah publicly on Mondays and Thursdays. These were the market days of the time, when Jews would be in town to hear the reading. Additionally he added Shabbat afternoons to give a start to the new week. Ezra also set these as the days when the beit din would meet, with the words of Torah fresh in their minds. Each week we read a piece until the entire Torah is read aloud. Then, in a never-ending cycle, we begin again. As modern Jews, the reading of the Torah seems almost mundane. However, if we think about other world religions the uniqueness of Jewish practice becomes clear. The Torah is the inheritance of each and every Jew. We are all expected to read and study its words. We are all expected to hear its meanings and lessons. To this end, rather than to solidify their own power, our early leaders, from Moshe to Ezra, decreed that Torah would be read aloud at opportunities for the community to hear. Until some time in the Middle Ages, the reading of the entire Torah took three to three-and-a-half years to ensure time for study and sermons (JPS Commentary on Deuteronomy). In this manner Torah becomes a familiar thing to Jews.
No other religion reads its text aloud in its entirety. No other religion expects all its adherents to know, not only the words, but the meaning of the text, as Judaism does. Through this we are strengthened as individuals and as a people.
Soon we will celebrate the end of one cycle and the start of the next. In Israel, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are one day, linking the cycle of the year, with the recitation of Geshem, as we add the prayer for rain, the cycle of life, with Yizkor, and the cycle of Torah, with Simchat Torah. Here we will stretch this to two days, but the themes will be the same. We end our year standing on the shores of the Jordan, looking over and praying for our land, but, in that same moment, we begin anew, celebrating the joy of Torah in our lives an the blessing of this never-ending cycle that identifies us as Jews, unique in the world.