How do you feel about being in the middle?
Middle seat on the plane? Middle school? Midterms?
As a middle child, I have a personal fondness for being in the middle. But it seems to me that the middle has largely gotten a bad wrap. Its squishy and indeterminate. It can lack motivation and inspiration.
Billy Collins writes in his poem, Aristotle writes:
"This is the middle.
Things have had time to get complicated,
messy, really. Nothing is simple anymore...
Disappointment unshoulders his knapsack
here and pitches his ragged tent...
Here the narrator devotes a long paragraph
to why Miriam does not want Edward's child...
And the climbing party is stuck on a ledge
halfway up the mountain.
This is the bridge, the painful modulation.
This is the thick of things..."
Unless of course, it is the heart of things. Which is more how the rabbi's, specifically the priests, tend to see it. As it turns out, this week's Parsha, Shmini, marks the midpoint of the Torah.
The rabbi's explain:
"The letter vav in the word “belly [gaḥon]” (Leviticus 11:42) is the midpoint of the letters in a Torah scroll. The words: “Diligently inquired [darosh darash]” (Leviticus 10:16), are the midpoint of the words in a Torah scroll. And the verse that begins with: “Then he shall be shaven” (Leviticus 13:33), is the midpoint of the verses" (B.T. Kiddushin 30a).
All week I have been captivated by this letter vav, a part of speech, that has no definite meaning itself. In the Torah the vav functions as a vowel with various pronunciations. It can also serve as a prefix, meaning "and" or "but" - and it is often hard to know which.
This I think speaks to the fundamental power of being in the middle. The midpoint, embodied in this one little vav, is about positionality. It is a point of agency; Do we want to be conjunctive or disjunctive? Is this a moment of contention or continuity?
Even more so, are these middle words, darosh darash [diligently inquire], or my colloquially, really drash it. Interpret and meaning making, say the rabbis, are at the heart of Torah.
As I approach the end of my second year as the rabbi of Kol Tzedek, I hardly feel we are in the middle of my time here. But things are starting to feel less like the beginning. So perhaps we are entering the expansive, complicated, sometimes disappointing, endlessly fertile middle. A place that call us to make meaning together.
Come to shul tonight hear the full drash and find out why in fact none of these midpoints are even exactly in the middle.
Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Ari Lev
Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek Synagogue through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.