Parshas Vayelech: Appreciating the Eternal Song of Torah

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Vayelech, the pasukim (verses) say וְעַתָּה, כִּתְבוּ לָכֶם אֶת-הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת, וְלַמְּדָהּ אֶת-בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, שִׂימָהּ בְּפִיהֶם:  לְמַעַן תִּהְיֶה-לִּי הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת, לְעֵד–בִּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל – And now, write for yourselves this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel.  Place it in their mouths, in order that this song will be for Me as a witness for the children of Israel…וַיִּכְתֹּב מֹשֶׁה אֶת-הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת, בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא; וַיְלַמְּדָהּ, אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל – and Moshe wrote this song on that day, and taught it to the children of Israel (Devarim 31:19,22).

Based on these pasukim, the Rambam teaches:

מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה עַל כָּל אִישׁ וְאִישׁ מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל, לִכְתֹּב סֵפֶר תּוֹרָה לְעַצְמוֹ:  שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר “וְעַתָּה, כִּתְבוּ לָכֶם אֶת-הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת” (דברים לא,יט), כְּלוֹמַר כִּתְבוּ אֶת הַתּוֹרָה שֶׁיֵּשׁ בָּהּ שִׁירָה זוֹ–לְפִי שְׁאֵין כּוֹתְבִין אֶת הַתּוֹרָה, פָּרָשִׁיּוֹת פָּרָשִׁיּוֹת.  וְאַף עַל פִּי שֶׁהִנִּיחוּ לוֹ לָאָדָם אֲבוֹתָיו סֵפֶר תּוֹרָה, מִצְוָה לִכְתֹּב מִשֶּׁלּוֹ.  וְאִם כְּתָבוֹ בְּיָדוֹ, הֲרֵי הוּא כְּאִלּוּ קִבְּלוֹ מִסִּינַי; וְאִם אֵינוּ יוֹדֵעַ לִכְתֹּב, אֲחֵרִים כּוֹתְבִין לוֹ.  וְכָל הַמַּגִּיהַּ בְּסֵפֶר תּוֹרָה, אַפִלּוּ אוֹת אַחַת–הֲרֵי זֶה כְּאִלּוּ כְּתָבוֹ, כֻּלּוֹ

It is a mitzvah for every man in Israel to write a sefer Torah for himself, as the verse says: “And now, write for yourself this song.  As if to say, write for yourselves this Torah, which has in it this song (Ha’azinu).  And since we don’t write the Torah chapters by chapters (one must write the whole five books of Torah).  And even if one’s fathers left him a sefer Torah it is a mitzvah to write his own.  And if he wrote it by hand, it is as if he received it from Har Sinai. And if he does not know how to write (a sefer Torah), others can write for him.  And anyone who checks even a single letter in the Torah, it’s as if he wrote it (Hilchos Sefer Torah 7:1).

What is the link, asks R’ Soloveitchik zt’l, between the Torah and song? 

The Rav answers, “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…

“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…

“Chazal sternly rebuked a person who is guilty of forgetting even a single word of the Torah (Avos 3:8).  This 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…

“My commitment to Torah is a total one: I have one love – this is Torah.  I am not a mystic, yet while studying 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 G-d being the Teacher changes the whole concept of learning and studying Torah.  The study of Torah… is 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” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Devarim, p.253-255).

In his final moments of life, Moshe transmits to us a powerful, moving, fundamental and eternal lesson in the life of a Jew:

וְעַתָּה, כִּתְבוּ לָכֶם אֶת-הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת, וְלַמְּדָהּ אֶת-בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, שִׂימָהּ בְּפִיהֶם:  לְמַעַן תִּהְיֶה-לִּי הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת, לְעֵד–בִּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

Torah is not merely calisthenics for the mind, a letter to be read, a book of rules to be followed, a tome to be studied, a relic of the past which has carried us into the present.

Torah is a song. 

וְעָנְתָה הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת לְפָנָיו לְעֵד, כִּי לֹא תִשָּׁכַח מִפִּי זַרְעוֹ – And this song will testify before it (the nation) as a witness, that it will not be forgotten from the mouths of its children (Devarim 31:21).

Only if we appreciate the song of Torah, and allow it to move us to the very depths of the soul, its notes to resonate in our minds and hearts, its melody to bring us to the highest heights and comfort us in the lowest depths, to penetrate our very being and essence, will it be a witness for us, bearing testimony that it will never be forgotten from the mouths of our children. 

The Chazon Ish zt’l (R’ Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz, 1878–1953), lived in Bnei Brak next door to an orphanage for girls. The girls were refugees, survivors of the Holocaust.

Many evenings the girls would cry bitterly for their parents and families, murdered by the accursed Nazis y’s.  Months of tears and bitterness passed… With time, on an occasional Friday night, at the Shabbos seuda, the girls sang zemiros.  In the summer, when the shutters were open and the sound of their singing was heard by the neighbors, some came to complain to the Chazon Ish that girls singing could be heard (forbidden according to Jewish law) from the orphanage.

Noted for his unfailing commitment to halacha, the Chazon Ish replied: “Thank you so much for taking the time to let me know about the girls’ singing.  You have no idea how much happiness you have brought me.  Baruch HaShem the girls are finally singing, instead of crying!” (Tales of the Righteous, S. Raz, .168-169).

וְעָנְתָה הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת לְפָנָיו לְעֵד, כִּי לֹא תִשָּׁכַח מִפִּי זַרְעוֹ

May we merit the ultimate redemption, when the song of Torah will burst forth from the mouths of all… בְּשׁוּב ה’, אֶת-שִׁיבַת צִיּוֹן הָיִינוּ, כְּחֹלְמִים – When Hashem returns the captivity of Tzion, we will be like dreamers; אָז יִמָּלֵא שְׂחוֹק, פִּינוּ וּלְשׁוֹנֵנוּ רִנָּה – then our mouths will be filled with laughter and our tongues with song (Tehillim 126:1-2).

בברכת בשורות טובות, שבת שלום, וגמר וחתימה טובה,

Michal

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