The Pulse of the Jewish Nation
How the Torah is the Life-blood of our People
This week’s Torah reading discusses the laws regarding a Jewish King. One of the requirements of a king is that he obtains a Torah scroll which he is commanded to take with him wherever he goes. As the verse says (17:19), “And it should remain with him and he should read from it his entire life, to learn to fear the Almighty, his God, to keep all the words of this Torah, and to practice all of its laws.” Having a Torah scroll beside him at all times is not just a ceremonial act. The Torah expects of a king to be constantly studying the words of the Torah, along with his responsibilities of leading the nation.
While the specific directive to always carry around a Torah scroll was given only to a king, the obligation for one to constantly be learning the words of Torah does not pertain to a king alone. The Talmud tells us (Menachos 99b) that Rabbi Yishmael’s nephew once asked his uncle, “I, who has completed learning the entire Torah, am I permitted to study Greek wisdom (instead of Torah)?” Rabbi Yishmael answered him with the verse (Joshua 1:8), “The [words of the] Torah scroll shall not be removed from your mouth, and you should study it day and night.” “Find a time which is not day nor night, and that is when you can study other (unnecessary) wisdom,” concluded Rabbi Yishmael.
Torah study is not merely an act of gaining knowledge of a code of law. Torah is the life of the Jewish nation, as we say in the blessing in the evening before reciting the Shema, “When we go to sleep and when we rise, we shall discuss your laws, and rejoice in studying the words of your Torah and Your Mitzvos (commandments) forever. For they are our life and the length of our days.” Therefore, even if one were to be completely fluent in Torah law, he would still not be absolved from continuing to review the words of Torah and to delve deeper into them. What is it about Torah that is so compelling for us to be involved regularly in its study?
The Nefesh Hachaim (gate 4) elaborates profusely about the importance of Torah and reveals to us a marvelous insight. The ultimate way in which a person can connect to God in this world is through learning Torah. The Torah is entirely comprised of the words of God which express His will, and the will and the word of God are inseparable with God Himself. Studying Torah is an act of bonding with the Almighty like no other way. Being involved in its study, either directly or indirectly, such as supporting and encouraging Torah learning, is the greatest form of connection to our Creator. And this is what our life is about. Life in this world is about attaching ourselves to God as much as possible, enriching our souls eternally. The primary way of doing this is involving ourselves with the study of Torah, (see Reishis Chochma, Sha’ar Ha’ahava, chapter 8). With this understanding in mind, it is no surprise that the Torah instructs a Jewish king specifically, as the leader of the Jewish nation, to have a Torah scroll by his side at all times and to read from it his entire life.
Rabbi Boruch Ber Leibowitz once joined a convention of rabbis to discuss some matters pertaining to the Jewish community. One rabbi got up at the meeting to speak, and in his speech he made a statement to emphasize the importance of the Torah. He said, “Torah is like oxygen for our lives.” These words did not resonate well with Rabbi Leibowitz, as he exclaimed, “Torah is not like oxygen which supports life, Torah is life itself!”
At first, this may seem like just a cute line. But if we examine it closely, we an see there is a fundamental lesson which we can draw from the exchange. While we may all accept the Torah to be an element of utmost importance, there is more to it than that. As we get busy with our daily lives, sometimes we think of the activities in our daily routines as being our actual lives, with the Torah as a significant ingredient or a framework to our lives. However, unlike oxygen, Torah is not just a vital element for life; Torah is the essence of life itself. It’s up to us to train ourselves to shift our focus. When we hear words of Torah, or when we see an opportunity to increase Torah, we should think to ourselves, “This is it! This is what everything else is all about! This is what our real life is!”
Parshas Shoftim 5779/2019
email@example.com by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber