Thursday, September 13, 2012

Nitzavim

The Torah declares: “Surely, this instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’ No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.”  (Deuteronomy 30)

People are often intimidated by Torah and especially chanting its words.  It is of course written in Hebrew.  The scroll is still written without vowels.  It is a challenging task.  But such an attitude confuses the reading and studying of Torah with living it.  Living Torah, bringing its values into our lives and the world, is our most important task.

A Hasid complained to the Kotzker Rebbe: “I have a tremendous desire to study Torah.  I want to be a learned man, but whatever I learn I forget.”  The Kotzer told him: “Who says that you have to be a learned man?  Isn’t being a plain Jew enough for you?  Nowhere does the Torah state that person must be a great Torah scholar.  When Isaiah says, ‘Learn well,’ Rashi, the great medieval commentator, explains this to mean ‘learn to do good.’   The purpose of learning is not to become a Torah scholar, but to be good and do good.

Although learning is prized, doing good is even more valued.  I understand that even doing good might sometimes seem challenging.  Nonetheless that is our most important task.  And that should be very close.  It is in our mouths and in our hearts.  We don’t require experts to master Torah for us.  We don’t require others to travel great distances to learn it.

Torah belongs to each and every one of us.  It is only a matter of living it.

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