Thursday, 9 February 2012

Find Yourself a Teacher

I am quite certain that in the days and weeks ahead, individuals far more eloquent than I will eulogize Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut with beauty, grace, humor, and scholarly intuitiveness. The man was after all one of the giants of our movement and is often spoken of in reverence and with some humour in these parts as the man who "wrote" the Torah in recognition of his great achievement as the editor of the award winning and widely used "The Torah: A Modern Commentary", or more simply known as "The Plaut Commentary." For now though, it seems an absolutely appropriate time for the swapping of memories and stories. Here are mine.

When I was a young child of about 8, my parents became one of the founding families of Temple Har Zion. The original intent in the founding of Har Zion was to establish a satellite congregation in the north end of Toronto for Holy Blossom. It became obvious early on that the families at Har Zion wanted an independent synagogue, but that didn't stop Holy Blossom from becoming one of their staunchest and earliest supporters. Rabbi Plaut, who was the senior rabbi at Holy Blossom at this time, would often offer help, education, and wisdom, and he would make the trek north of Steeles Ave on the occasional Shabbat to pray and sermonize. As a kid, I could not yet appreciate the power of Rabbi Plaut's magnificent bimah presence, nor was I yet able to fully understand his genius. Frankly, to a child of 8 1/2 his legendary twenty minute sermons were boring and squirm inducing. 

Two years later, Har Zion was ready to dedicate its first sacred space on Bayview Ave. The keynote speaker at that service was Rabbi Plaut. He spoke off the cuff without notes for over a half an hour and was absolutely mesmerizing. He spoke of the need to build houses of worship and of the continuity of the Jewish people,and he had the congregation eating up every word. Even at 10 years old, I knew that I was in the presence of a great man.

Over the years it has been impossible to live within the Toronto Reform Jewish community and not be touched by the influence of Rabbi Plaut. He was the spokesman, the scholar, the leader, the sage. He was incredibly giving of his time and one could not help but marvel at his incredible stamina well into his nineties. 

In Pirkei Avot we are instructed to "Go forward and provide ourselves with a teacher and remove ourselves from doubt." We have been enriched by the presence of our teacher Rabbi Plaut. May his memory be forever a blessing.

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