Writing a Sefer Torah

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Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

The very last Mitzvah of the Torah, Mitzvah number 613, is found in parshat Vayeilech (Devarim 31:19. There, the Torah states, “So now, write this song for yourselves and teach it to the Children of Israel. Place it in their mouth so that this song shall be a witness for me against the Children of Israel…It shall be that when many evils and distresses come upon them, then this song shall speak up before them as a witness, for it shall not be forgotten from the mouth of their offspring…”

According to Rav Soloveitchik, these pesukim speak of a double kiyyum (fulfillment) of reading the Torah. The phrase “Place it in their mouth” implies an external reading of the text itself. The phrase “This song shall speak up before them as a witness” connotes teaching it to the Jewish people so that they will understand it well. It is impossible to conceive of the shira as a witness if our relationship to it is only mechanical, rote reading of the text. If we do not understand it properly, how can it serve as a witness? Only profound analysis and comprehension can render the shira an effective witness.

The aspect of a cursory reading relates only to the Torah She’bich’tav, and has nothing to do with the Torah She’b’alpeh at all. Making the Mitzvah of the shira to become a witness can only be by means of deep understanding, in which case the Written and the Oral Torah merge together. This merger becomes the ideal situation. But even a superficial reading can be sufficient to elevate the Neshama [soul] and to sanctify one’s character and personality.

We see this in the Mitzvah next to the last, number 612 [Devarim 31:10-13], the Mitzvah of Hak’heil. Here the Torah states that Portions of Torah She’bich’tav were to be read by the king of Israel every seventh year, on Sukkot following a Shemitah year to the gathering of all people of Israel. This was a cursory reading for men, women and children which was meant to inspire and to leave a deep rooted emotional effect upon all listeners, but not necessarily for comprehension. Therefore, the Torah ends with the last Mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah, which is to comprehend and appreciate it intellectually. Together, the Torah inspirational experience of Hak’heil, and the comprehension gained through writing a Sefer Torah, these two Mitzvot merge into a totality of spiritual and intellectual enrichment.

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

One comment

  1. Sammy Finkelman

    I can’t see how somebody doesn’t instinctively understand what it is about a shirah that makes it a witness.

    Songs are often sung without paying attention to the words, and even when nobody cares about the words.

    By people having this as a song, it will persist into a time of Torah and mitzvah neglect and then, when it will happen that somebody stops and thinks about the words, it will be a witness.

    In this case really a witness that the exile is not an abandonment of Klal Yisroel by God.

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