Perhaps the most defining feature of my father’s life, one that I don’t think I fully appreciated until after he died, was that he learned and learned, and continued to learn every single day, until his last. He learned from books, from text, from laws. He learned from history and from world events. But, mainly, he learned from people. He would seek out people to learn from, from every possible path of life. And he would seek out what he could learn from everyone he met.
And he would do this through conversation, through talking and listening. So for him, conversation was a defining and spiritual act, a way of opening ourselves up to something beyond ourselves, of being challenged, the only way we could really become more than we were before. A training, perhaps, for opening ourselves up to God.
In this coming week’s parsha Chayei Sarah, we read the before meeting his future wife for the first time, vayeitse Yizhak lsuach basader lifnot arev, “Yitzhak had gone out in the field before evening to meditate.”
The Talmud in Berakhot commenting on the choice of the word lasuach, usually meaning ‘to talk’ or ‘to converse’, states ein sicha ela tefilah, “There is no conversation without prayer” or, as my father explains it, conversation is a form of prayer.
He writes on this parsha, “Conversation is a prayer, for in true conversation I open myself up to the reality of another person. I enter his or her world. I begin to see things from a perspective, not my own. A genuine human conversation is a preparation for and a microcosmic version of the act of prayer.”
Prayer, the prayer model by Yitzhak specifically, is not monologue, but dialogue. Prayer as sicha, conversation. So it is fitting that through this initiative, Communities in Conversation, all over the world, individuals, communities, and organisations will mark my father’s yahrzeit, not simply from learning from what he wrote, but through conversation, coming together, asking, challenging, listening, and learning from each other.
It means more than I can say to us, his family, that you were helping to carry forward his teaching in this beautiful way. He wrote of Moshe’s death at the end of the Torah, “We will not complete the journey. Therefore, we each must inspire others to continue what we began.” Thank you for continuing the work my father began, and may the work he began be a blessing for all of us.