Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 15 September 2018 / 6 Tishri 5779

Parshat Vayelech

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Steadfast Song of Torah

Before the final song (Ha’azinu) and blessing (V’zot Habracha) to the Jewish People, Moshe foretells of the nation’s defection from Torah, and its consequences. But even when those many oppressive evils will come upon them, Moshe guarantees that this song will testifyfor it will not be forgotten from the mouth of its children.

Herein is the secret of the eternality of the Jew. No matter how far the Jewish People may fall, no matter how low it may sink as a result of its sin, one asset will remain with it throughout, and accompany it on the darkest paths of its sufferings: the Torah. This inextinguishable Divine spark will be sufficient to turn Israel’s spirit back to the Torah again and again, and to inspire the people with enthusiasm for the teachings and tasks set forth in the Torah. This Divine spark will keep awake the soul, which will not allow this nation to die; which will strengthen it to withstand all oppression from without; and which, in the midst of every misfortune, will enable the people to maintain their serenity, warm heart and open hand.

While the paths history paved for the Jewish nation will appear to all lead to its demise, the spark of life within it will be perpetually revived by the Torah. Its heart will always remain wakeful. Even if it crumbles into tiny particles which are scattered to all corners of the earth, even if it is temporarily detached from its high calling, this Book will remain its eternal possession. Its tunes will reawaken its spirit in the various stations of its wanderings (Your statutes were music to me in my dwelling place, Tehillim 119:54), and its songs will be softly sung throughout the long nights of its exile (By night, His song is with me, Tehillim 42:9). The power of this song will awaken the slumbering spirit of the Jews, so that they embrace the old truth with fresh courage.

But the power of Torah to reawaken is realized when the Torah is a song. The only means of keeping the Jew faithful — the promise that the Book will never leave the mouths of Jewish youth — is guaranteed when the Torah is taught as a Shirah, a song. It is always essential for the knowledge and understanding of Torah to be promoted, but it must be done in a way that cultivates the spirit of the mitzvot, and in a way that communicates Israel’s unique position and mission.

Because it is the Torah, in its full force and glory, that represents the staying power of the Jewish People. It is never indicated to lower the standards of Torah to the weaknesses of the time. Here, Yehoshua is instructed with the demand to be made of all future leaders of the Jewish People: Do not be deterred by the spirit of the times; never give in to any period of unfaithfulness. Remain calm and steadfast, holding high the standard of Torah so it may remain intact, prepared to capture the hearts of the next generation, for that is the guarantee: It will never be forgotten from the mouths of our children.

  • Sources: Commentary, Devarim 31:21-22

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