Shabbat Vaethanan 5776
What is Torah?
This Shabbat, when we read Parshat Vaethanan, we are reminded of Sinai. In the first of his long farewell discourses, Moshe recounts the revelation at Sinai, and we get another version of the Decalogue (formerly known as the Ten Commandments). In thinking about getting “the Torah,” Jews confront an important question about the definition of the term. Throughout the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy), the word Torah refers to that one book only. Of course, the Torah has since been defined as the Five Books of Moses. But early in rabbinic tradition, the indefinite article in the Hebrew, the letter hei of the word HaTorah fell off, as when Pirkei Avot begins with the assertion that “Moshe kibbel Torah mi-Sinai.” Moshe is now the recipient of Torah, not “the Torah.” Obviously, the definition of Torah has been expanded.
So what’s included, and how is it supposed to change us? We are so lucky to be heirs to a living, breathing tradition. The wisdom of Torah takes so many forms: the ancient rabbinic creativity known as midrash; the philosophy of Yehudah Halevi or Martin Buber; the mysticism of the Zohar or the Hasidic masters; the prose of S.Y. Agnon. Is this not all Torah?
On Shabbat morning, as part of our celebration of the engagement of Janet Hiller and Eric Jacobowitz, we’ll have the chance to learn from a number of local teachers about the Torah that inspires them–myself included. On the one hand, the infinite points of entry into Torah can be intimidating. Where does one begin? But at the same time, the options are endless, so there’s a portal for everyone. Maybe yours is waiting for you to enter!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise