Vort from the Rav: Va’eschanan

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Deuteronomy 4:9-10:

וְהוֹדַעְתָם לְבָנֶיךָ וְלִבְנֵי בָנֶיךָ…יוֹם אֲשֶר עָמַדְתָ לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְחֹרֵב

and you shall make them known to your children and to your children’s children…the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb. Torah study involves awe and fear, as described in the Gemara (Berachos 22a): [It is written] “You shall make them known to your children and children’s children,” and following that it is written: “The day that you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb.” Just as at Horeb there was dread and awe, trembling and fear, so too here [with respect to the study of Torah] it must be done with dread and awe, trembling and fear.

Why should Torah study call for fear and dread? Isn’t Torah to be learned to gain insight and understanding? Isn’t the ultimate goal of Torah study to assimilate the Torah’s worldview into one’s personality? Why the need for awe, for trembling?

These emotions are appropriate because the study of Torah is a reenactment of the giving of the Torah, and the teacher is but a mouthpiece for the Giver.  For this reason, both Torah and prayer are Avodah Shebalev. Both involve standing before God. Prayer—because man’s need-awareness is so acute that he cannot keep himself from addressing the King of Kings in prayer. Torah study—because God alone is our Teacher, the melamed Torah le’amo Yisrael.

The study of Torah constitutes continuous revelation. 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 mountain. 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 (I Chron. 16:33).

R. Meir of Rothenburg’s stringency of standing during the synagogue reading of the Torah is based on this principle. Moreover, even when the Torah is studied by individuals, there is an element of the revelation of the Shechinah. A master who has heard the Torah is filled with living, rev­elational content. He impresses his disciples not only by narrat­ing and understanding the vision as an intellectual act, but also by uniting spiritually with them and by bestowing of his per­sonal glory upon them. (Derashot Harav, pp. 219-220; And From There Shall You Seek, pp. 139-141)

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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