G-d took us out of Egypt, parted the waters of the Yam Suf, brought us to
the foot of Har Sinai, gave us the Torah, forgave us for the sin of the
Golden Calf, gave us the Mishkan (Tabernacle), taught us Sefer Vayikra
(Leviticus), and all of it took place between the 15th of Nissan, 2448 and
Rosh Chodesh Iyar, 2449 (one year and two weeks).
Next week’s Parsha, Bamidbar, begins as the Bnai Yisroel (Jews) prepared
to enter the land of Israel. Had the Jews not sinned with the Miraglim
(Spies) they would have proceeded directly to Go; unfortunately, they did
sin with the Miraglim and they were consigned to wander the desert for
another 38 years.
Let’s recap the above history from the perspective of the five books of
1. Bereshis, the first book, describes the creation of the world
selection of the Avraham’s family to become G-d’s chosen nation.
2. Shemos, the second book, describes the evolution of Yakov’s
a mere 70 to the 3 million plus who survived the persecution of Egypt and
followed Moshe into the desert. The miracles of the Exodus and the desert
are recounted and the Torah was given. The rest should have been history;
however, the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf and G-d and the Jews had to
deal with it. Emerging from that unfortunate episode is the second half of
Shemos that is focused on the building of the Mishkan and its attendant
3. Vayikra, the third book, details the importance of the Mishkan
focus of the nation's consciousness in the aftermath of the Golden Calf.
As a nation of priests all Jews should have merited to live the sanctified
life of a Kohain. Unfortunately, we lost the prerogative of "all being
Kohanim" due to the sin of the Golden Calf. Nevertheless, we study the
Mishkan, the service, and the Kohanim so that we know what we are aiming
to accomplish in our service and devotion and what should have been the
ideal life of every Jew. Sefer Vayikra describes in great detail what that
lifestyle would have been like. We may no longer merit the benefits and
restrictions of the Kohain status but we must still aspire to its sanctity.
4. Bamidbar, the fourth book, describes the struggles of the Jews
embrace their own sanctified identity and destiny. The beginning of the
book details the nation’s preparation for entering the land. The middle of
the book describes the incident of the Spies and its tragic consequences.
The end of the book details the final years of the desert as the nation
once again prepared to leave the desert and enter the land. Little if
anything is said about the intervening 38 years.
5. Divarim, the fifth book, took place in the last month of Moshe’s
as the 40 years drew to their conclusion and Moshe prepared them to
transition out of the desert.
Simply put, the entire Torah from beginning to end is all about one thing
and only one thing. It is about G-d giving us the Torah and our accepting
it. It is the focus of everything that preceded its giving and everything
From the cauldron of creation Avraham’s family emerged destined to be
In the ghettos of Mitzrayim the family grew to become a nation from where
they emerged to accept the Torah. Once the nation was given the Torah they
should have entered the Promised Land. The first delay was due to the sin
of the Golden Calf, the building of the Mishkan, and the study of Sefer
Vayikra. The second delay was due to the sin of the Miraglim. If not for
the two delays the only thing the Jews needed to accomplish in the desert
was receiving the Torah.
What is the point?
Simple. The fact that G-d gave us the Torah defines us as G-d's chosen.
The fact that we accepted the Torah defines us as unique. The fact that we
were gifted the opportunity to live our lives following the laws of the
Torah defines for us what chosen and unique are. The Torah is the raison
de’tre of our existence. It justifies our claim that we are chosen and it
supports our belief that we are stamped with divinity.
Every morning of every day we proclaim our choseness and uniqueness
through the Birchas HaTorah (the blessings recited before studying
Torah). “…May we and our offspring and the offspring of Your people, the
House of Israel – all of us – know Your Name and study Your Torah for its
own sake…” “Who selected us from all the peoples and gave us His Torah…”
Following the blessings the authors of the Sidur (prayer book)
incorporated two Talmudic passages: the first from Peah 1:1 and the second
form Shabbos 127a. The reason for these passages is to complete the
blessings for the Torah with the actual study of Torah; however, they
selected passages that focus on the importance of Torah study and its
1. (Peah 1:1) “These are the precepts that have no prescribed
2. (Shabbos 127a) “These are precepts whose fruits a person enjoys
World but whose principle remains intact for him in the World To Come… and
the study of Torah is equivalent to them all.”
The first passage presents Torah study as unlimited by time or measure.
That is not to suggest that we suspend all other responsibilities in
regards to Torah study; however, it does suggest that Torah study must
always be a priority in our decision making process. There is no such
thing as too much Torah study or the wrong time to study. Somehow we must
be able to structure our time and balance our lives in such a way that we
tend to all our responsibilities and also make time for Torah study.
The second passage presents Torah study as the single endeavor whose
lasting reward transcends any other Mitzvah. The Mitzvos it transcends are
among the most meaningful and profound: Honoring parents, acts of
kindness, coming early to davening (prayers), hospitality, visiting the
sick, providing for a bride, and bringing peace between man and his fellow
man. The passage does not say that Torah study is the most important
Mitzvah. It does say that its reward is the most lasting.
What is it about Torah study that defines us as a nation more so than any
other Mitzvah? Why is the Giving of the Torah the obvious focus of the
Torah and the fulcrum of all the events recorded in the Torah? Why is
Torah study without measure and limit and has a reward that is equally
At the beginning of this week’s Parsha, the last Parsha in Sefer Vayikra,
G-d details the consequences for not listening to His commandments. The
opening verses of the Tochacha (admonitions) state, (26:14-15 -16) “But if
you will not listen to Me… and if you will despise My statutes… reject My
social ordinances so that My commandments will not be carried out… then I
will do the same to you…”
The Hebrew word for “listen” is “Shema.” At times Shema connotes obedience
and at times it connotes hearkening and listening. Because the Pasuk goes
on to say that “My commandments will not be carried out” we translate
Shema as “listen and hearken” rather than obedience. Rav Shimshon Raphael
Hirsch explains that the word "Shema – listen" means, “Failure to listen
to the Word of G-d, showing that forsaking the Law in practice begins with
neglect to study the laws of G-d in theory.”
G-d began the Tochacha explaining why individuals defect from the practice
of Torah. The defection begins with not studying the Torah. Torah study is
far more than learning what to do, how to do it, and what not to do. Torah
study is the single most powerful connection that we can have with G-d. It
awakens our senses to the reality of G-d in very aspect of our lives. It
is the mechanism through which spirituality is experienced and understood.
It teaches acquiescence, service, and humility. It structures all aspects
of life, time, space, and person in a framework of purpose and
selflessness. It teaches responsible Chesed as the reason for creation
rather than a tool toward some greater reward. It establishes the
hierarchy of authority between generations and toward G-d. It transcends
time by connecting all people throughout history to the transmission of
truth that defines reality.
Rav Hirsch continues…
“The process of defection continues. Once you have lost the theoretical
knowledge and understanding of the laws and, no matter what the reason,
have ceased to observe the laws in practice, your conscience will give you
no peace until, in order to justify your behavior, you will be able to
rationalize your disobedience as “progress,” to look down upon loyalty to
the Law as an outworn idea. For even if you have lost your theoretical
knowledge of the Law and the Law has ceased to be a factor in your daily
life, its power to shape and rule life still becomes apparent to you from
the lives of contemporaries who do adhere to it. As a result, every such
loyal adherent of the Law becomes a mute reproach to the defector until he
has convinced himself that he is superior to the others and has taught
himself to look down with contempt upon the Law and those who obey it.
This sort of self-training becomes particularly easy in relation to the “
Chukos,” those Divine statutes which set limits to the sensual aspects of
our lives and which, to those who no longer observe the Law, seem to
obstruct the happiness and stunt the lives of observant contemporaries.
More than with any other laws of G-d, the hallowing moral effect of these
particular laws can be understood only by those who observe them
faithfully, and the defectors, who consider that they have “liberated”
themselves from such “silly restraints” find these laws the easiest to
dismiss with contempt. And so the defection from the Law that began with
ignorance progresses to outright contempt for the Law. One who does not
study and does not observe the Law will come to despise those who observe
it.” (Toras Kohanim)
Rav Hirsch’s analysis of the etiology of defection from the Torah is far
more elaborate and profound than the little I have presented. I highly
recommend that you take the time to study his essay.
Torah study defines us in a way that supports observance and performance
of all Mitzvos. In our new age of innovation, individuality, personal
rights, and good until proven evil, Torah study is even more important.
Spirituality has become a buzzword, mysticism is claimed as an emotional
right, and scholarship has been removed from tradition. It is as if 3000
years of proven truth is undeserving of being designated as absolute and
Those who search for G-d and seek the truth must begin and end with the
study of Torah. Spirituality is the product of disciplined study and
observances. Mysticism is lifting the veil of natural law to glimpse the
radiance of Divine truth. Both demand rigorous devotion to the stricture
of traditional Torah scholarship and the ever demanding and challenging
introspective of a truly humble soul.
As the Bnai Yisroel were about to leave Har Sinai, site of their greatest
defining moment, Moshe confronted them with the clearest of
warnings. “Listen to G-d’s Torah. Study its laws and statues and observe
its demands. It is the gift of your choseness and the birthright of your
children. Do not take it upon yourself to define good and evil, right and
wrong. G-d has already done so. Your job is simply to listen to His Law
and do as He commands. If you do so, G-d promises you a reward that
transcends all else. If you do not…