Parshas Yisro: The Sweet Sound of Torah

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Yisro, the Bnei Yisrael arrive at the foothills of Mt. Sinai on Rosh Chodesh Sivan.  It is here that the most exalted, awe-inspiring, life-altering and nation-forming Revelation takes place, as the Almighty reveals Himself to the nation with the giving of the Torah and the Aseres Ha’Dibros (Ten Declarations).  In regard to the words of G-d, as transmitted to the people through Moshe, the Torah records: וַיַּעֲנוּ כָלהָעָם יַחְדָּו וַיֹּאמְרוּ, כֹּל אֲשֶׁרדִּבֶּר הנַעֲשֶׂהand the entire nation answered together and said, “Everything that Hashem has spoken we shall do!” (Shemos 19:8).

It is our acceptance of Torah, our commitment to mitzvos, and our adherence to living by the word of G-d that has shaped our people from time immemorial.  It is the Torah and mitzvos, our guidebook in life, that gives our lives meaning, purpose, inspiration and clarity.  

Each morning in our Shachris Tefilos, during the Birkas Ha’Shachar (morning blessings), we recite a series of brachos over Torah.  We bless G-d Who is the Nosein Torah l’Amo Yisrael (the Giver of Torah to His nation, Israel); the Melamed Torah l’Amo Yisrael (the Teacher of Torah to His nation, Israel); and we pray that we, and our children and their children, should always be involved in the words of Torah – la’asok b’divrei Torah.

Rav Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, “Birkhot HaTorah are not related to the cognitive act of Talmud Torah, but rather are associated with the axiological (philosophical study of value; value system) involvement and consecration to Torah… We do not pronounce a blessing concerning the actual study of Torah – ‘lilmod divrei Torah’ is not mentioned.  What is emphasized is the fascination which divrei Torah possess.  La’asok b’divrei Torah means to occupy ourselves, to devote ourselves, to be fascinated (with Torah)… to be emotionally involved in it, not merely ‘lilmod divrei Torah,’ (not merely) the intellectual act of study.  

Veha’arev na means that Torah should fascinate us, it should allure us, it should become sweet in our mouths.  In Veha’arev na we spell out the ideal of mesora, of continuity – ‘so that we, our descendants, and the descendants of Your people, the house of Israel, may all know Your Name and study Your Torah for its own sake.’  The idea of passing on, of transmitting, of perpetuating divrei Torah, of what I call belonging to the mesora community, is not realized through an intellectual act, but through emotional involvement.  You can pass on mathematics because it is very useful for your child to know mathematics or physics.  But… it is impossible to pass on an axiological system without loving it, without being dedicated and devoted to it…

“We cannot worship two gods.  We cannot divide our emotions, our love, our sympathy, our appreciation, between two fields.  Axiologically, we require a monistic attitude, and that means to be devoted to Torah alone” (Blessing and Thanksgiving, p.53-55).

When our nation accepted Torah at Har Sinai, the contract became binding upon us for all generations – past, present and future.  Our commitment to Torah study and Torah-living is so crucial, that the Sages teach that it is one of the three pillars that holds up the entire world: עַל שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הָעוֹלָם עוֹמֵד, עַל הַתּוֹרָה וְעַל הָעֲבוֹדָה וְעַל גְּמִילוּת חֲסָדִיםUpon three things does the world stand: upon Torah, service and acts of loving-kindness (Avos 1:2).  

Without Torah learning and asiyas ha’mitzvos, the world would immediately cease to be.  It is our obligation to not only live and love Torah, but to transmit this mesorah to our children – and their children, and their children’s children – as well.  

Mr. Irving Bunim z’l (1901-1980 – major askan, philanthropist, and assistant to R’ Aharon Kotler zt’l) “once visited Springfield, MA, to try to save its day school.  Community leaders convened that evening.  At 3 a.m., with the group at an impasse, Bunim wearily asked for the group’s attention.  

“‘You ask about the strength of the (Jewish) day school’, he said gently.  ‘I want to answer by telling you the story of the lion and the (song) thrush (a singing bird).  One day a little thrush challenged the great king of beasts, saying, ‘My voice can reverberate further than yours.’  The lion became enraged, and bellowed, ‘How dare you challenge the king of the forest?’  The lion then summoned all the animals to judge the contest.  When they arrived, he emitted a tremendous roar that traveled fifty miles.  The thrush’s sweet voice followed; it carried 3,000 miles.  As the thrush smiled, and the lion stared in wonder, the animals were all perplexed.  how, they muttered to each other, could the lowly thrush have a voice so strong that it could carry sixty times farther than the lion’s?

“‘Then,’ Bunim smiled, ‘they figured it out.  When the thrush sang, every succeeding thrush relayed the sweet melody around the world.  The entire host of thrushes was signing the same beautiful song.’

“‘Do you see?’ Bunim asked the hushed group.  ‘There are organizations in Jewish life that come forth like lions with a tremendous roar, but after a short time they fade.  But (Jewish) day schools are like thrushes: Our children relay the sweet melody of Torah across the map of the United States and across generations.  From a single child, or a single school, we suddenly hear the symphony of Torah all over America” (A Fire in His Soul, Feldheim, p.274).  

וְעַתָּה, אִםשָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי, וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם, אֶתבְּרִיתִיוִהְיִיתֶם לִי סְגֻלָּה מִכָּלהָעַמִּים, כִּילִי כָּלהָאָרֶץand now, if you will surely listen to My voice, and keep My covenant, you will be a treasure to Me from all the nations, for the whole earth is mine; וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּלִי מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים, וְגוֹי קָדוֹשׁ, and you will be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Shemos 19:5-6).

When we sing the sweet song of Torah, it is a song that reverberates and is heard around the world and through all the generations.  And then we will truly be the treasured, exalted and holy nation we are meant to be.

בברכת חודש טוב ושבת שלום,

Michal

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1 Comment
  • Elaine Jaye
    Posted at 14:31h, 04 February Reply

    A very beautiful dvar. As a parent, transmission of the mesorah is surely our number one tafkid. The Rav, with your elucidation, set it out so meaningfully. Thank you. Good Shabbos and Chdedh Tov

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