Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 29 September 2018 / 20 Tishri 5779

Parshat Vzot Haberacha

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
ArtscrollLibrary

Everlasting Inheritance

Torah tziva lanu Moshe, morasha kehillat Yaakov. These are the first words that a Jewish child learns from his father. The Torah that Moshe commanded us — this is the inheritance, O community of Yaakov! While teaching this sentence to his child, the father takes his first step in passing the Torah on to the next generation. But, in fact, it is not the father who is entrusted with this task. Rather, it is the community.

When Moshe addressed his people for the last time, and he searched for a starting point from which to bless them, he did not refer to the Land — which is usually regarded as the foundation of a nation’s prosperity — but rather to the Torah, as the single enduring inheritance of the community. The Torah, the Law, is the one true center around which the nation and leaders were to gather as one united community. Only in Torah does the destiny, character and significance of the people find its source.

And indeed, for thousands of years, our whole nation has lived and breathed only within the framework of this Law. The Law has absorbed all thoughts and emotions and has permeated all words and aspirations. In turn, millions of minds have drawn upon it for their thoughts and feelings, and have based their decisions upon it. There has always been only one national endeavor, one national resource, one national treasure: Torah. And every generation is entrusted with observing its precepts and preserving its spirit, with disseminating its teachings and applying its timeless lessons to the problems posed by the times.

The wording kehillat Yaakov is significant. Yaakov, as opposed to Yisrael, is the name that denotes the Jewish People in a weakened state. Moreover, the word kehilla is used, as opposed to the word kahal which is used everywhere else in Tanach. Kehilla is a dependent form of kahal and thus reflects a weaker community. Whether the nation shines forth with spiritual grandeur and triumphant might as Yisrael, or whether it is slow and weary, limping as Yaakov; whether it is a healthy, politically independent nation (kahal) or an insignificant dependent shtetl, the destiny and goal of the Jewish People remains the same. Torah is our one inalienable treasure, accessible to humble and great alike. The entire community — whether weak or strong — is appointed as guardians and transmitters of this inheritance.

  • Sources: Devarim 33:4, Collected Writings VI, pp. 36-7, 61-4

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