web analytics
April 2, 2015 / 13 Nisan, 5775
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post


Home » Judaism » Parsha »

The Last Command


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.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “The Last Command”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ)
Biggest Democratic Foe of Obama on Iran Indicted
Latest Judaism Stories
Jewish Holidays' Guide for the Perplexed by Yoram Ettinger

German poet Heinrich Heine: “Since the Exodus, freedom has always been spoken with a Hebrew accent.”

Bodenheim-032715

Our ability to teach is only successful if done by example.

Torat-Hakehillah-logo-NEW

Outside of the High Holidays, Pesach is probably the most celebrated biblical holiday for the majority of Jews.

“If I notify people, nobody will buy the matzos!” exclaimed Mr. Mandel. “Once the halachic advisory panel ruled leniently, why can’t I sell the matzos regularly?”

So what type of praise is it that Aaron followed orders?

Her Children, Her Whim
‘Kesubas Bnin Dichrin’
(Kesubos 52b)

Question: Must one spend great sums of money and invest much effort in making one’s home kosher for Passover? Not all of us have such unlimited funds.

Name Withheld
(Via E-Mail)

Yachatz is not mentioned in the Gemara. What is the foundation for yachatz?

First, the punishment for eating chametz on Pesach is karet, premature death at the Hand of God.

Why is it necessary to invite people to eat from the korban Pesach?

How was I going to get to Manhattan? No cabs were going, we didn’t have a car, and many people who did have cars had no gas.

Did you ever notice that immediately upon being granted our freedom from Egypt, the Jewish people accepted upon themselves the yoke of a new master – Hashem?

Why does Torah make the priests go through a long and seemingly bizarre induction ceremony?

Often people in important positions separate from everyday people & tasks-NOT the Kohen Gadol

You smuggled tefillin into the camp? How can they help? Every day men risked their lives to use them

More Articles from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Rambam: Eating blood’s forbidden because connected to idolatry;Ramban: We’re affected by what we eat

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

There is something quite distinctive about the biblical approach to time.

Why should unintentional sins require atonement? What guilt exists when requisite intent is lacking?

Like Shabbat points to something beyond time, the people Israel points to something beyond history

The Sabbath is a full dress rehearsal for an ideal society that has not yet come to pass-but will

Jewish prayer is a convergence of 2 modes of biblical spirituality, exemplified by Moses and Aaron

With the synagogue, “Judaism created one of the greatest revolutions in the history of religion”

By wisdom, we come to understand G-d via creation; By Torah we understand G-d through His revelation

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/the-last-command/2012/09/20/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: