Parshas Vayeilech: The Song of Torah

Parshios Nitzavim-Vayelech: The final Shabbos of Elul and 5780.  The transition from the old year into the new.  Final lessons from the life of Moshe Rabbeinu, as we approach the conclusion of the book of Devarim.  Reflecting on the past year as we move into the future year.

In the second of this week’s double parshios, Parshas Vayelech, the pasuk tells us:  וְעַתָּה כִּתְבוּ לָכֶם אֶתהַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת, וְלַמְּדָהּ אֶתבְּנֵייִשְׂרָאֵל, שִׂימָהּ בְּפִיהֶםלְמַעַן תִּהְיֶהלִּי הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת, לְעֵדבִּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵלand now, write for yourselves this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel, place it into their mouths, in order that this song will be for Me as a witness for the Children of Israel; וְהָיָה כִּיתִמְצֶאןָ אֹתוֹ רָעוֹת רַבּוֹת, וְצָרוֹת, וְעָנְתָה הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת לְפָנָיו לְעֵד, כִּי לֹא תִשָּׁכַח מִפִּי זַרְעוֹand it will be when they will encounter many evils and troubles, this song will bear witness against them, for it will not be forgotten from the mouth of their offspring; וַיִּכְתֹּב מֹשֶׁה אֶתהַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא; וַיְלַמְּדָהּ, אֶתבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, and Moshe wrote this song on that day, and taught it to the Children of Israel (Devarim 31:19, 20-21).

Poetic, impactful, moving, prophetic words from Moshe at the end of his life.  Though generations come and generations go, from land to land and exile to exile, through millennia of suffering and dispersion, from glorious highs to painful lows, the journey of Knesses Yisrael is marked by the song of Torah, which will never be forgotten by our children, and our children’s children.

Rav Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, “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: כְּלוֹמַר כִּתְבוּ לָכֶם תּוֹרָה שֶׁיֵּשׁ בָּהּ שִׁירָה זוֹWrite 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 that 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…

“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, as 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.

“…If the study of Torah (is) a total experience, it (can) never be forgotten.  If one only learns 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.

“…The idea of G-d 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” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Devarim, p.253-255).

וְעַתָּה כִּתְבוּ לָכֶם אֶתהַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת, וְלַמְּדָהּ אֶתבְּנֵייִשְׂרָאֵל, and now, write for yourselves this song of Torah, and teach it to the Children of Israelוְעָנְתָה הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת לְפָנָיו לְעֵד, כִּי לֹא תִשָּׁכַח מִפִּי זַרְעוֹThe song of Torah, the lifeblood of our nation, will never be forgotten from the mouths of our children.  V’hi she’amdah la’avosainu – It is this Divine promise that has ensured our survival throughout the millennia.

Of Rebbetzin Tzila Sorotzkin, an aunt to his son-in-law, R’ Yisrael Meir Lau shlita recalls the following story, which Rebbetzin Sorotzkin related to R’ Lau’s daughter.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, Rebbetzin Sorotzkin found herself – a lone survivor – searching for family and friends… “They told me, ‘Go to Lodź, that’s where the refugees are gathering, maybe you’ll find a relative or an acquaintance.

“I went to Lodź, totally exhausted.  They showed me the area where the Jews were assembling.  With my last remaining bit of strength, I walked through the streets in the twilight.  Suddenly, I recognized sounds coming from one of the windows.  As in a trance, I opened a gate, entered the courtyard of an ancient building, then opened a door.  In the darkness, I made out a row of boys with sidelocks sitting along both sides of a long table.  At its head sat an elderly Jew wearing a cap.  The children were chanting the alef-bet to a tune.  I don’t remember anything else… Then I found myself on the floor of the room, with people standing over me and pouring water on me.

“The teacher tried to revive me, and asked in a worried voice, ‘What happened?  Can I help you?  Sit up.  Who are you? Where did you come from?’  Slowly, I recovered, and replied: ‘This is the first time I’ve cried in the past six years.  But I’m not crying from pain – I’m crying for joy.  I wandered far and wide until I reached Lodź, and finally saw Poland as it once was.  And if, after all we’ve been through,’ I said to the teacher, ‘little boys in sidelocks are sitting here and an elderly teacher is teaching them the Hebrew alphabet – then no one can defeat us.  Let me catch my breath; I feel fine.  These are tears of joy, not of pain” (Out of the Depths, p.353-354).

As we usher out the old year and usher in the new, let us reaffirm our commitment to Torah and mitzvos, for only in her song will we find eternal life.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


1 Comment
  • Marla Turk
    Posted at 11:20h, 11 September

    שנה טובה ומתוקה
    Thank you for all the beautiful words of Torah you prepared and shared this year during difficult times. May we continue to learn together for many more years to come.