Vort from the Rav: Yisro

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Exodus 19:16

וַיֶּֽחֱרַד כָּל־הָעָם אֲשֶׁר בַּֽמַּֽחֲנֶֽה
and the entire nation that was in the camp shuddered.

The Gemara in Berachos 22a states: Just as at Horeb, there was dread and awe, trembling and fear, so too here [in respect to the teaching and studying of Torah] it must be done with dread and awe, trembling and fear. The purpose of reading the Torah aloud in the synagogue is not solely to teach the congregation, but also to arrange an encounter with God, as experienced by our ancestors at Mount Sinai. Every act of reading from the Torah is a new giving of the Torah, a revival of the wondrous stand at the foot of the flaming mountan. The reading of the Torah is a “staging” of the giving of the Torah and a renewal of the awesome, sublime experience. The revelational experience is reenacted whenever the Torah scroll is removed from the ark [for reading in the synagogue]. The person who is called up to the Torah utters a formula of sanctification (“Bless the blessed Lord”) before the prescribed benediction. Why does he not simply begin with the benediction itself? The reading of the Torah contains an element of revelation of the Shechinah, and whenever or wherever man feels the presence of the Holy One, Blessed Be He, he is obligated to sanctify God’s name and praise Him: Then shall all the trees of the forest shout for joy at the presence of the Lord, for He is coming, for He is coming to rule the earth (1 Chron. 16:33).

R. Meir of Rothenburg’s stringency of standing during the synagogue reading of the Torah is based on this principle. If the public reading of the Torah were merely an educational activity, there would be no need to stand. Standing is an outcome of the revelational experience. Another corollary of this principle is the custom that the synagogue reading of the Ten Commandments uses the “higher” cantillation (ta’am elyon), which combines all the verses of each commandment into one verse, in contrast to the “lower” cantillation, which organizes them by individual verses. Through this practice we are “imitating” the way God Himself uttered the commandments. (From There Shall You Seek, pp. 139-140)

About Arnold Lustiger

Dr. Arnold Lustiger is a research scientist and has edited multiple volumes of the Rav’s Torah, including the recently published Chumash Mesoras HaRav.

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