Vort from the Rav: Vayelech

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(Excerpt from Chumash Mesoras Harav)

Devarim 31:19

וְעַתָּה כִּתְבוּ לָכֶם אֶת הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת   And now, write for yourselves this song.

Based on these words, Maimonides (Hilchos Sefer Torah 7:1) rules that one must commit to writing not only the song of Ha’azinu, but all five Books of Moses: Write the Torah that contains this song. In fact, the whole Torah is called shirah. What is the link between the Torah and song?

The process of learning is an intellectual performance, while singing is an emotional performance. The esthetic experience, the artistic experience, is more dynamic than the intellectual experience. The intellectual experience can often be dreary, anemic. The esthetic experience is of a dynamic, hypnotic nature; it fascinates, arouses passion, and has the power of awakening hidden desires and aspirations. Music is a most powerful means to arouse man; it shares with the religious experience the tremor and the excitement, the longing and the joy one feels when confronted with something exalted, beautiful and sublime. If the intellectual experience would consistently engage the emotions like music does, all students would excel, and teachers would have no trouble in the classroom. It is therefore not surprising that the organ was introduced in houses of worship.

The esthetic musical experience is a total one; the whole of man is immersed in it. The same should be true of Talmud Torah. The teacher is the Almighty, and through study we meet the great teacher, we sit at His feet to listen to Him eagerly. The experience of Talmud Torah is total, all-comprehensive, all-penetrating. It is a mystical experience, it is the melody which was once sung by the Shulamite of the Song of Songs when she was yearning for her beloved.

Chazal sternly rebuked a person who is guilty of forgetting even a single word of the Torah. Whoever is guilty of forgetting a single word of his study, Scripture counts it to him as if he were guilty of a crime, the penalty for which is death (Avos 3:8). The severe penalty is due to the fact that forgetfulness is the result of limited involvement. If the study of Torah had been a total experience, it could never be forgotten. If one learns only with his mind, he is apt to forget. If there is total absorption, the mind stimulated, the heartbeat accelerated, the imagination fired, the emotions awakened, then Talmud Torah turns into a beautiful melody which can never be forgotten.

And let me just inject again what Talmud Torah meant to me during those three bleak and dreary years which have taken their toll in terms of mental agony, loneliness and desolation. The fact that I have survived—intellectually, emotionally during the bleak years of mourning, mental agony, loneliness and desolation—is only due to my commitment to Torah. My commitment to Torah is a total one: I have one love—this is Torah. I am not a mystic, yet while studying the Gemara I always felt that someone is with me, that a mysterious friend, teacher, companion, watches over me. If Talmud Torah were just an intellectual performance, I would not have experienced the unseen presence of the Teacher. The idea of God being the teacher changes the whole concept of learning and studying Torah. The study of Torah is not a mere intellectual performance consisting of formal comprehension, but is rather an experience of a cathartic, redemptive, and mystical nature which overwhelms man with vigor and ecstasy and which sinks into the deepest recesses of his personality. Talmud Torah can only be understood within the mystical frame of reference. Learning is simply a dialogue, a colloquy between God and man, between an all-wise teacher and an all-ignorant pupil. (Lecture, Undated)

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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