Becoming a ‘child’ of the Torah
Deuteronomy 31: 1-30
כי לא תשכח מפי זרעו – “For the Torah will not be forgotten from the mouths of their descendants!”
There is a well-known question:
Why is there a need for the mitzvah to write a sefer Torah?
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How else would one be able to study the Torah? How else would it be possible to perform mitzvos? If we stopped recording the Torah, eventually it would be forgotten.
Similarly, why is there a need for the mitzvah of Talmud Torah, to study the Torah? Of course we must study the Torah! How else would one know how to fulfill its mitzvos?
The question is, why are these two specific deeds considered mitzvos in their own right? Why are they counted as part of the 613? (Writing a sefer Torah is mitzvah 613!)
Some suggest there are parts of the Torah that are not instructional per se. They also must be studied. And some say the mitzvah is to study Torah lishmah, for its own sake.
The Sefer Hachinuch says the mitzvah of Torah study is to learn the ways of Hashem. The mitzvah to write a sefer Torah is so that each individual has their own sefer and will not need to borrow their friends’ seforim.
Perhaps there is a deeper and more profound message here. Torah study is far more than gaining the knowledge needed to observe the mitzvos. The student is listening to the word of G-d. It enters the
ears and the mouth, and it penetrates throughout the body. The actual study causes the Torah to permeate one’s bones. Through studying and reviewing one becomes a master of Torah — a Torah-person. The term “ben-Torah,” the “child” of the Torah, indicates this is far greater than knowing the subject matter.
Writing a sefer Torah is to gain possession of it as though it is a personal belonging: By writing it for oneself, one takes personal possession of it. It is now one’s own Torah. This, too, is much more than a written record or instruction book. It is part of oneself, one’s identity.
Thus, both the mitzvah to study and to write the Torah are meant to bring about this Torah identity — that Israel becomes a Torah people, through and through.
“Write for yourselves this ‘song’ and teach it to Israel, place it in their mouths!” (Vayelech 31:19)
The Torah Shebikesav, the Written Torah, must be written — then it must be used to teach the Spoken Torah, Torah Sheb’al Peh, the Oral Law. This is also a part of acquiring the Torah as a personal belonging. The Talmud says that, initially, the Written Torah was not to be studied without a text, and the Oral Torah was not to be written down as a text. The time came when people were no longer able to memorize the entire body of the Oral Law. The Rabbis cited a verse in Tehilim: “The time has come to act for Hashem, they have annulled Your Torah!” (Tehilim 119:126) If the goal is to acquire the Torah — and this requires fluency in Torah Sheb’al Peh, and this is forgotten — the goal will not be accomplished. If “they” have not acquired it due to forgetfulness and weakness of the memory, obviously it must be written down. (TB Gitin 60a-b)
The Torah continues to relate what will happen in times of trouble and distress. “The Torah that they have written will testify for them, for it shall not be forgotten from the mouths their descendants.” (Devarim 31:21) It will have become deeply ingrained, part of their DNA. It will be passed down genetically as a hereditary trait, in the blood and in the bones of Israel. This is far greater than remembering. It will never be forgotten by later generations, either. It becomes eternally absorbed in the heart of Israel, for all future generations.
When we perform these mitzvos, we are doing so much more than learning the subjects and writing them down. We are affecting ourselves profoundly, changing our DNA, creating an identity, the ben-Torah. And we are affecting the entire people of Israel, and all our future generations. We say as much every time we complete a section of study and recite the Hadran. “May this merit stand by me and by all my descendants, so that the Torah will never leave my mouth or the mouths of all my descendants!” When they begin to study it for the first time, it will feel familiar to them, because it’s in their hearts and their bones! PJC
Rabbi Shimon Silver is the spiritual leader of Young Israel of Greater Pittsburgh. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.