Friday, September 15, 2006


Three years ago (has it been that long already?), I wrote a dvar Torah for Al Regel Achat, the dvar Torah newsletter of Columbia University's Hillel, on P' Vayeilech contrasting the last two mitzvos that Moshe commanded to Bnei Yisroel. On the one hand, we have the mitzvah of hak'heil, which is centered around gathering en masse once every seven years to hear the reading of a section of the Torah. On the other, we have the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah (kisvu lachem es ha-shira ha-zos), centered around one's own regular learning (especially according to the Rosh, who says that one is m'kayeim the mitzvah even through purchasing sefarim). I made the point how both types of learning are essential - while being able to learn at one's own pace, with a rebbe who can explain difficult concepts, and on a regular basis is the only way that one can effectively acquire Torah knowledge, the inspiration obtained from attending a massive gathering of the entire Jewish nation to hear the king read from the Torah (or analogous large gatherings devoted to limmud haTorah) is also essential.

I also contrasted the two on the basis of the formality inherent in the ceremony of hak'heil vs. the informality of regular limmud haTorah, bringing down the gemara's drash on the words "simah b'fihem" in the passuk of kisvu lachem as referring to the need to make mnemonics to aid one in acquiring learning, and emphasizing the fact that the informal learning is just as important, if not more important, than the formal learning, and that the Torah *desires* that we grapple with it and chew on it until its physical manifestations become beaten and worn out, rather than keeping it locked up in a closet, pristine as on the day of its writing, like some relic of a dead religion.

Along both of these directions, I quoted the opening line of Medrash Shmuel, which expounds the passuk "Eis la'asos laHaShem heiferu torasecha" through inversion of clauses to dictate that if one is only kove'a itim laTorah, only sets time for HaShem, and that is the totality of one's learning, one has overturned the Torah, as limmud haTorah must also have an aspect of randomness and casualness to it, in the sense of grabbing five minutes here and there to supplement one's set learning.

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