August 31, 2002 - 5762
Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Annual Cycle: Deut. 29:9-31:30; Hertz, p. 878; Etz Hayim, p. 1165
Triennial Cycle I: Deut. 29:9-30:14; Hertz, p. 878; Etz Hayim, p. 1165
Haftarah: Isaiah 61:10-63:9; Hertz, p. 883; Etz Hayim, p. 1180
This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary
(29:9-28) A warning to preserve the covenant with God and His Torah, with a description of the punishment liable to follow the breaking of the covenant.
(30:1-10) After their return in complete repentance, God will have mercy upon His people, and the dispersed of Israel will return to their land.
(30:11-14) God's commandments are not "far away". They can be accomplished.
(30:15-20) "See, I place before you today life and good, death and evil - choose life in order for you and your descendants to live!"
(31:1-30) The last days of Moses.
This Shabbat's Theme: "A Commitment For The Upcoming Year"
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. (Deut. 30:11-14)
- Said the Kotzker Rebbe: the Sages teach us that we should not believe the man who professes to have labored hard in the study of the Torah and found himself unable to comprehend it. How do they come to make this observation? From the statement of the Torah saying that G-d's words are not in Heaven but are near to people. Hence, since every Jew is near to the Torah, it follows that if he makes a sincere effort to understand it, he must attain his wish, else it would be as if it were in Heaven, at least for this person. It is like one who has lost a diamond in a stack of hay. He does not abandon his effort to find it, no matter how long it requires, for he is sure the diamond is there, Likewise, the Torah assures you that the Word of G-d is near to you, and is within your comprehension. Do not leave off your effort, for you will surely discover eventually that you understand it. (Ramataim Tzofim - a commentary on the Midrash "Tanna d'Bei Eliyahu", quoted in L. Neuman, The Hasidic Anthology, 174:10, p.458)
- The Torah belongs to, and therefore is the responsibility of, all the people. Clearly, the words of Deut. 30:11-14 emphasize this principle and at the same time reject the notion that Torah is secret lore, accessible only to a chosen few... In the religious traditions of antiquity such a commitment to universal accessibility was unique, and it had an even more profound effect on the Jewish people as the centuries passed. The study of Torah became the supreme preoccupation of the Jew; none was too humble to be excluded from the mitzvah of learning and none was too prominent to be excused from it. It was a command, averred the Mishnah, that outweighed all others, for everything flowed from it. (The Torah: A Modern Commentary, G. Plaut ed., p. 1542)
- These are the things whose fruits a person eats in the world while the capital remains for him in the world to come: honoring one's parents, the practice of loving kindness, hospitality to strangers, and making peace between a person and his neighbor. And the study of Torah surpasses them all. (Mishnah, Kiddushin, 39b)
- Emperor Hadrian's daughter said to Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah, a learned but homely scholar, "Such great wisdom in such an ugly vessel!"
He answered, "Learn from your fathers palace. In what kind of vessels is the wine stored?"
"In earthen jars," she said.
"Earthen jars! But that's what common people use," he answered. "You should store your wine in gold and silver vessels."
The girl went and had the wine transferred to gold and silver jars, and it turned sour.
"You see," he said to her, "the Torah is the same way."
"But aren't there handsome people who are also learned?" she asked.
"Yes," he retorted, "But if they were ugly, they would be even more learned!" (Talmud, Nedarim 50b)
"Sparks" for Discussion:
We are coming to the end of the cycle of Sabbath Torah readings for this current year (5762). As Rosh Hashanah approaches next week, and as we resolve in this season of the year to better ourselves spiritually, purposeful direction is offered to us in the verses we have just analyzed.
In his final discourse to the Jewish People, Moses counsels: 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 (Deut. 30:11-14).
Accordingly, the Jewish approach to spirituality lies in the on-going study of the Torah ("Instruction") and the profound teachings that are derived from it. Religious insight according to our Faith, is gained primarily through knowledge and understanding. Fundamentally, Judaism demands the mind as much as the heart. One does not attain religious insight instantaneously or facilely, it is a process that takes time... and effort.
It is commitment time now. How about a real Jewish commitment by you? How about devoting some part of your time every day to the studying of a Jewish subject?
If you are not disciplined enough to consistently carry out that kind of commitment, then let us invite you to join thousands of other Conservative Jews in the regular study of Mishnah. Just call us at the United Synagogue and we will get you going. (212) 533-7800, Ext. 2612. Or... we encourage you ever so much to attend your synagogue's adult classes.