Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, a Hasidic master, was asked: “Why does every tractate of the Talmud begin on the second page? (The first page is not alef, but instead bet.)” He answered: “However much we learn, we should always remember that we have not even reached the first page.”
The greatest lesson our tradition offers is that our learning is never complete. That is why we read the same books year after year. We are always starting again, and again, and again. There are those who read a page of Talmud every day, completing the cycle in seven years. And in synagogue we read the Torah in one year’s time, dividing our study into weekly portions.
There is always more to learn.
This week’s portion states: “You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your God—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials…even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer—to enter into the covenant… I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here this day.” (Deuteronomy 29)
We too stood at Mount Sinai. And each and every time we study Torah we stand again before the Lord our God.
As we approach the High Holidays the question remains, where do we stand? Do we wish to stand before God? Do we wish to renew our commitment to learning? Do we wish to open our people’s book anew?
I understand that it may very well feel daunting that we have not even reached the first page. Why even start a book that I know I can’t complete? Let it instead be inviting. There is no one so wise and of such great learning that they have already reached the first page. Everyone begins for the first time, on page two.
Our books await.
Where do we stand?