Join Meir Panim’s campaign to “light up” Chanukah for families in need.
It was their world. According to one Midrash it was the architecture of creation: “God looked in the Torah and created the universe.” According to another tradition, the whole Torah was a single, mystical name of God. It was written, said the sages, in letters of black fire on white fire. Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma, arrested by the Romans for teaching Torah in public, was sentenced to death, wrapped in a Torah scroll that was then set on fire. As he was dying his students asked him what he saw. He replied, “I see the parchment burning but the letters flying [back to heaven]” (Avodah Zarah 18a). The Romans might burn the scrolls but the Torah was indestructible.
So there is immense power in the idea that, as Moses reached the end of his life, and the Torah the end of its narrative, the final imperative should be a command to continue to write and study the Torah, teaching it to the people and “putting it in their mouths” so that it would not abandon them, nor they it. God’s word would live within them, giving them life.
The Talmud tells an intriguing story about King David, who asked God to tell him how long he would live. God told him that is something no mortal knows. The most God would disclose to David was that he would die on Shabbat. The Talmud then says that every Shabbat, David’s “mouth would not cease from learning” during the entire day.
When the day came for David to die, the Angel of Death was dispatched but, finding David learning incessantly, was unable to take him – for the Torah was a form of undying life. Eventually the angel was forced to devise a stratagem. He caused a rustling noise in a tree in the royal garden. David climbed up a ladder to see what was making the noise. A rung of the ladder broke. David fell, and for a moment ceased learning. In that moment he died (Shabbat 30a-b).
What is this story about? At the simplest level it is the sages’ way of re-envisioning King David less as a military hero and Israel’s greatest king than as a penitent and Torah scholar (note that several of the Psalms, notably 1, 19 and 119, are poems in praise of Torah study). But at a deeper level it seems to be saying more. David here symbolizes the Jewish people: So long as the Jewish people never stop learning, it will not die. The national equivalent of the Angel of Death – the law that all nations, however great, eventually decline and fall – does not apply to a people that never cease to study, never forgetting who they are and why.
Hence the Torah ends with the last command – to keep writing and studying Torah. And this is epitomized in the beautiful custom, on Simchat Torah, to move immediately from reading the end of the Torah to reading the beginning. The last word in the Torah is Yisrael; the last letter is a lamed. The first word of the Torah is Bereishit; the first letter is beit. Lamed followed by beit spells lev, “heart.” So long as the Jewish people never stop learning, the Jewish heart will never stop beating. Never has a people loved a book more. Never has a book sustained a people longer or lifted it higher.
Adapted from “Covenant & Conversation,” a collection of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s parshiyot hashavua essays, to be published by Maggid Books, an imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem (www.korenpub.com), in conjunction with the Orthodox Union.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth since 1991, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently “The Koren Sacks Rosh HaShana Mahzor” (Koren Publishers Jerusalem).
About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.”
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
This ability to remain calm under pressure and continue to see the situation clearly is a hallmark of Yehuda’s leadership.
It would have been understandable for these great warriors to become dispirited.
Yosef, in interpreting the first set of dreams, performed in a manner that was clearly miraculous to all.
Chazal teach us that we need to be “sur may’rah v’asei tov,”avoid bad and do good.
When we celebrate the completion of learning a section of Torah, we recite the Hadran.
‘The Fetus Is A Limb Of Its Mother’
Yosef proves he is a true leader; He is continually and fully engaged in the task of running Egypt
When the inability cannot be clearly attributed to either spouse, the halacha is the subject of debate among the Rishonim.
Those who reject our beliefs know in their souls Jewish power stems from our faith and our prayers.
He stepped outside, and, to his dismay, the menorah was missing. It had been stolen.
Though we Jews have deep obligations to all people our obligation to our fellow Jew is unique.
In a way that decision was the first in a series of miracles with which Hashem blessed us.
Question: If Abraham was commanded to circumcise his descendants on the eighth day, why do Arabs – who claim to descend from Abraham through Yishmael – wait until their children are 13 to circumcise them? I am aware that this is a matter of little consequence to our people. Nevertheless, this inconsistency is one that piques my curiosity.
Tamar’s conduct bears an uncanny resemblance to Ruth’s; virtuous outsiders at the margins of society
Simply too many cases of prayers being answered to deny it makes a difference to our fate. It does.
When Jacob was chosen, Esau was not rejected; G-d does not reject.
Between Judaism and Islam there can be friendship and mutual respect as Abraham loved both his sons.
God wanted to establish the principle that children are not the property of their parents.
The Babel story is the 2nd in a 4-act drama that’s unmistakably a connecting thread of Bereishit
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/the-last-command/2012/09/20/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: