"...write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the Children of
Israel, place it in their mouth..." (31:19)
The Talmud interprets "the song" as referring to the entire Torah. Rashi
and the Ramban comment that Moshe is referring to Parshas Haazinu, the next
parsha, which is written in poetic verse.
The Talmud teaches that a person who recites verses of Shir Hashirim in
song form brings evil to the world. How do we reconcile this teaching
with the verse which defines the entire Torah or a portion of it as a "song"?
Song can be used in two ways. Song can be the means by which an individual
focuses upon himself in order to either raise his spirits or lament his
condition, or song can be the forum a person uses to connect to another
person or to Hashem.
The term used for "song" when the Talmud prohibits transforming verses into
song form is "zemer". This word also denotes the pruning of a tree. The act
of pruning requires cutting away excess foliage in order to improve the
remaining tree. Similarly, singing a zemer is a self-absorbed act, focusing
only upon the individual. This form of song is denounced when used with
verses for personal enjoyment since it constitutes a misuse of Torah.
There are times when a zemer can be used positively, such as the portion of
Tefilla which requires a person to elevate himself to a level where he is
ready to present himself before Hashem known as "Pesukei Dezimra". These
verses are described as zemiros, for the focus is upon the individual
elevating himself, rather than connecting to Hashem.
"Shir", the other term for "song" also means a "chain". This is the type of
song which links us to one another or to Hashem. It is this form of song
which defines Torah, for it truly reflects what Torah should be, a forum
through which to connect to Hashem.
1..See Eruvin 54b
4.See Yad Ramah ibid.
A Verbal Benefit
"For the matter is very near to you -
in your mouth and your heart - to perform it" (30:14)
Rashi interprets the verse as referring to the study of Torah. He explains
the verse to mean that the goal of knowing the entire Torah is within our
reach. This includes "beficha" - "in your mouth", i.e the Written Torah, and
"bilvavcha" - "in your heart", i.e the Oral Torah. Why is Rashi defining
"in your mouth" as the Written Torah? Would it not be more appropriate to
translate "in your mouth" as Torah Sheba'al Peh, the Oral Torah?
Rashi is teaching us the difference in nature between the Written and Oral
Torah. The text itself of the Written Torah is imbued with intrinsic
holiness, and therefore, the reading alone of the verses, even without
comprehension, has a benefit. This is what is meant by the word "beficha";
there is a benefit to merely having it in your mouth. "Bilvavcha" denotes
that there must be understanding. The Oral Law's intrinsic value is the
message that it offers. Saying the words, without comprehension is of no
value; it must be "bilvavcha" - "in your heart".
A Present Definition
"For this matter is very near to you...to perform it"(30:14)
The Ramban interprets the matter under discussion as the mitzva of Teshuva,
repentance. The Torah is attesting to the accessibility of repentance.
The expression "karov eilecha" - "close to you" implies a certain degree of
ease. How can repentance be described as easy?
The Rambam teaches that repentance occurs when the penitent has the
conviction never to return to his wicked ways, and is confidant that even
Hashem can attest to the fact that he will never again revert to the ways of
his past. How can a person guarantee that he will never repeat a sin of
Teshuva in its perfection, according to the Rambam, is when a person is
faced with the opportunity to commit a sin which he has previously
transgressed, but due to his repentance, he does not succumb. The Rambam
gives the following scenario as an example: If a man who has had an illicit
relationship finds himself secluded with the same woman, in the same
location where he once transgressed, having the same passion for her, his
physical prowess just as strong as in the past, yet he is still able to
extricate himself from the situation, this is the perfect penitence.
Since it is forbidden for a person to place himself in a compromising
situation, the Rambam must be setting a theoretical standard for a person to
achieve. Why is it necessary to replicate the situation with the same woman
and location? Would it not suffice to abstain from the sin, regardless of
the person or locale involved?
The Talmud teaches that a person who repeatedly transgresses a certain sin
views the sin as a permissible act.. The Talmud is giving us an insight
into why a person sins. Generally, we define ourselves as a composite of our
past actions. If a person has repeatedly transgressed a certain sin, and is
now faced with the very same sin, he may reason that the sin cannot possibly
impact upon him any more than it has already. The feeling that the sin has
become part of his essence prevents the person's extracting himself from it.
The person is convinced that he will commit the sin again in the future, and
therefore, not committing it at present only serves as a temporary frustration.
The Rambam is teaching us that the mindset which is required for Teshuva is
one in which a person divorces himself from his actions of the past. A
person must feel that his past actions do not reflect his true nature, and
furthermore, that under the same exact circumstances he would not repeat
them. Teshuva can only occur when a person divorces himself from the
negative behaviors of his past and realizes that they are not part of his
true essence. Perhaps he may sin again in the future, but that is not
because the behavior is ingrained in him from the past.
We cannot guarantee that we will never sin again. However, the knowledge
that the sinful acts of the past are not part of our present will ensure
that they are not motivating factors for committing the same sin in the
future.. A person must feel that his past does not control him. The ability
to come to this realization is not a difficult task. If a person is truly
interested in changing his way of life, this mindset will be natural and
accessible to him. It is this notion to which the Torah attests that Teshuva
is "karov eilecha" - "close to you".