NiSh’ma – Changing Notions of Torah

general
May 1, 2012
Share:email print

“For the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.” —Deuteronomy 30:14

Our verse provides an emphatic answer to a question fundamental to the human spirit: Where do wisdom and holiness reside? Preceding verses explored where the Torah, our blueprint for holiness, is not: It is not in heaven (30:12); nor is it beyond the sea (30:13). From this entire passage, our sages (Eruvin 54) intu- ited three conditions for discovering where the Torah is and how we can access its wisdom and holiness: by speaking the Torah’s words aloud, in any geographic setting, and with an attitude of humility.

In a time when we often seek wisdom from Google or Wikipedia, the concept of a deeply ac- cessible Torah — deriving from both our speech and our sense of self — remains both profound and instructive. We need not search for it out on there, in far-off corners of the world or on the Internet. Rather, it’s as simple as searching within ourselves, cultivating a daily practice that com- bines speech and humility, irrespective of physi- cal setting.

When we speak words of Torah to others, the Torah becomes real to them. When we utter such words with humility, recognizing their import and potential impact on our lives, the Torah becomes real to us, as well.

—Aaron Finkelstein

Aaron Finkelstein brings out an important concept, the accessibility of Torah. Our verse is a powerful reminder that Torah is ac- cessible to each and every one of us — no mat- ter our stage in life. While Talmud Torah l’sh’ma, the study of Torah for its own sake, is a worthy enterprise, we need to take it a step further. Our study helps us gain an understanding of our past and our traditions, but it also informs our personal practice.

As Finkelstein points out, our world today is hyper-connected and it is relatively easy to find information, to engage in the study of Torah, or to learn about a new cause. With a few quick clicks of a mouse or taps on a smart phone, we can ac- cess anything and tell the world we care deeply about it. It is one thing to learn about something; the real challenge, though, is “to do it,” as our verse teaches. Torah is near to us, in our mouths and hearts, so we can do it. We study not just to learn the val- concept, the accessibility of Torah. Our verse is a powerful reminder that Torah is ac- cessible to each and every one of us — no mat- ter our stage in life. While Talmud Torah l’sh’ma, the study of Torah for its own sake, is a worthy enterprise, we need to take it a step further. Our study helps us gain an understanding of our past and our traditions, but it also informs our personal practice. As Finkelstein points out, our world today is hyper-connected and it is relatively easy to find information, to engage in the study of Torah, or to learn about a new cause. With a few quick clicks of a mouse or taps on a smart phone, we can ac- cess anything and tell the world we care deeply about it. It is one thing to learn about something; the real challenge, though, is “to do it,” as our verse teaches. Torah is near to us, in our mouths and hearts, so we can do it. We study not just to learn the val- ues, but to live them.

—Brian Nelson

Aaron Finkelstein’s argument that the “Torah” resides in us all, and in order to ac- cess its wisdom and ho- liness we must speak its words with humility, is instructive yet in- complete. Though introspective reflection and humility are important, equally important is remaining open to new ideas, beliefs, and po- tentially edifying experiences. In yeshiva, I saw individuals reciting words of the Torah and the prayers of our ancestors with deep hu- mility, but without taking the time to under- stand the implications of their words.

It is a mistake to focus too heavily on scrip- ture; it is the universal values imbedded within its pages that should be our main focus. We must, in fact, be ready to reject those words and commands that conflict with our notions of universal good and bad. I would, therefore, qualify Finkelstein’s argument: While the Torah resides inside all of us, it is also all around us. We must cultivate hu- mility not through the recitation of the specific words in the Torah, but through a willingness to open our eyes and ob- serve its constant man- ifestation in the every- day world we inhabit.

—Yehuda Magid

“There is a story about some jealous angels who are asked to hide the spark of the Divine in the world… After a moment’s thought the wisest angel says, ‘I know. Put it inside the human heart. They will never look there.’”1

We are told in our verse and in this story that the Torah and the spark of the divine are very close. And yet our wisdom tradition perceptively points out that they may seem far away. The Torah has to be spoken to be close and real. Yet what is speech without listen- ing? We have to not only speak from our heart but to listen with it as well. This is why neighboring Torah verses to this one ask us to cut away the excess around our heart (Deuteronomy 10:16), and also sug- gest that God will cut this excess away for us (Deuteronomy 30:6). Writer Avivah Zornberg argues that “hearing is the function of the heart, as in Solomon’s prayer: ‘Give your servant a hearing heart.’”2 We need not only to speak humbly, but to listen, as well. Listening, too, is an exercise of the heart.

—Sue Reinhold

1
Shefa Gold, Torah Journeys, 2006, Ben Yehuda Press, p 70-71
2
Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg,  The Particulars of Rapture, 2002, Image, p. 311

Share:email print

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*