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Torah Sparks

October 4, 2008 – 5 Tishrei 5769

Annual: Deuteronomy 31:1 – 31:30 (Etz Hayim, p. 1173; Hertz p. 887)
Triennial Cycle: Deuteronomy 31:1 – 31:30 (Etz Hayim, p. 1173; Hertz p. 887)
Haftarah: Hosea 14:2 – 10; Joel 2:15-27; Micah 7:18-20 (Etz Hayim, p. 1235, 1236, 1239; Hertz p. 891, 893, 892)

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

On the last day of his life, Moses tells the people that it is now time for Joshua to succeed him. They should not be afraid, because God will continue to be with them as they conquer the Canaanites as they already conquered the Amorites. Moses then charges Joshua in the sight of all Israel.

Moses writes down the Torah (or, perhaps, parts of Sefer Devarim) and gives it to the priests and the elders. He tells them that every seventh year, at Sukkot, they are to assemble the people and read the Torah to them.

God now calls Moses and tells him it is almost time for him to die. He instructs him to bring Joshua to the tent of meeting to hear God’s instructions. God tells Moses that in the future the people will break the covenant and turn to alien gods, so that God will become angry and “hide His countenance” from them. Therefore, Moses is to write down a poem (found in Ha-azinu) and teach it to the people. It will remind them of God’s promise and their disloyalty and prompt them to repent.

1. And Bring the Kids

Gather the people – men, women, children, and the strangers in your communities – that they may hear and so learn to revere the Lord your God and to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching. (Devarim 31:12)

  1. Why did [the children] come? For no other purpose but that a reward should be given to those who bring them. (Rashi [Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, 1040-1105, France])
  2. If the men and women all had to come, it would stand to reason that they had to bring the children with them, for there would be no one with whom to leave them. Why, then, did Scripture have to state explicitly that the children were to come also? Scripture made the specification “for no other purpose but that a reward should be given to those who bring them.” Although the children would come in any case, the Torah made a separate commandment so that it should represent a good deed in its own right and make those who bring their children eligible for a reward. (Yalkut HaUrim [Rabbi Moshe Uri Keller, Sanz, Poland])
  3. By going to the trouble of bringing their little ones into the Temple, the parents demonstrate their sincere desire and firm resolve that their children should remain true to Judaism and heed the sacred words of the Torah. This show of sincerity on their part will cause the Lord to reward their efforts with success, so that their children will become imbued with the spirit of the Torah and grow up to become good Jews. (Sefat Emet [Rabbi Judah Aryeh Leib Alter, 1874-1905, Poland])
  4. Young children have a tendency to make noise and can easily disturb older people who are trying to listen. Therefore one might think that it is better not to bring them. But even though they do not understand what is being said, just being there when the king reads the Torah in the presence of the entire nation will have a major influence on the child for the rest of his life. He gains an experience of how important the Torah is for the entire people. This teaches us even today to do all we can that children should learn at an early age the extreme importance of Torah. Every experience makes an impression; make sure to give your children many positive Torah experiences. (Rabbi Simcha Zissel of Kelm, 1824-1898, Lithuania)

Sparks for Discussion

What is the nature of the reward that parents receive for bringing young children to shul? Do they receive additional “mitzvah points” in their accounts or is the reward seeing their children begin to grow as Jews? Is your shul a place where young children feel welcome? If not, what might you do to make it so? How else might parents (and grandparents and aunts and uncles) bring young children to God and Torah? Do the children in your family see the celebration of Shabbat and holidays in their homes? Do they have Jewish toys, books, and videos? What do you think they are learning about being Jewish?

2. Links in the Chain

Therefore, write down this poem and teach it to the people of Israel... [alternate translation: And now, write for yourselves this poem] (Devarim 31:19)

  1. It is a positive commandment for each and every man in Israel to write a Torah scroll for himself, as it says, And now, write for yourselves this poem. This means to say, Write for yourselves a Torah that contains this poem, because one does not write the Torah in separate sections. And even if his ancestors left him a Torah scroll it is a commandment to write his own. If he wrote it with his own hand, it is as if he received it at Mount Sinai; but if he does not know how to write, others write for him. Anyone who corrects a Torah scroll – even one letter – it is as if he wrote all of it. (Rambam [Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, 1135-1209, Spain and Egypt], Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Tefillin, Mezuzah, and Sefer Torah, 7:1)
  2. Rabbi Avraham Binyamin Wolf Sofer commented: From this verse, our sages, of blessed memory, deduced that every Jew is commanded to personally write a Torah scroll, as we have learned in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 21b): Even if a person’s parents have left a sefer Torah, it is proper that the person should personally write one, as it is written: And now, write for yourselves this poem. This teaching of the sages, says Rabbi Sofer, is to teach us not to take the Torah for granted. Each and every one of us has to accept it anew as though we ourselves stood on Mount Sinai. The commandment is, therefore, that everyone should personally write a Torah scroll rather than make do in this respect with the legacy of one’s parents. (Simcha Raz, “The Torah’s Seventy Faces: Commentaries on the Weekly Sidrah,” edited by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, p. 389)
  3. Finally, the Conservative movement likes to emphasize that the halakhah developed from generation to generation and from country to country. There is no better proof of this assertion than the holiday of Simhat Torah. A holiday which began in Babylonia in the tenth century spread to the entire Jewish world, with each ethnic group contributing new customs which were then absorbed by klal Yisrael (the collective Jewish people). The Jews of Babylonia invented the holiday and its name and began to dance on Simhat Torah. In France, they added the Attah Horeita verses in the twelfth century. The Jews of Spain began to recite the beginning of Bereishit by heart at the beginning of the twelfth century while the Jews of France instituted at that time that a Hattan Bereishit should read the beginning of Bereishit. In Ashkenaz, they added a hakafah in the evening in the early fifteenth century while the Ari and his students in sixteenth-century Safed instituted that there should be seven hakafot around the bimah. (Rabbi David Golinkin, “The Four Faces of Simhat Torah,”

Sparks for Discussion

Rabbi Sofer explains that even a person who has inherited a sefer Torah must write his or her own “rather than make do in this respect with the legacy of one’s parents.” How do you understand this? How does a Jew take ownership of his or her Judaism? Rabbi David Golinkin describes how generation after generation of Jews added something of their own to the holiday of Simhat Torah and by doing so enriched all of us. What treasures of Judaism have you inherited from your parents, grandparents, and teachers? What have you added to the legacy you received?

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