May 26, 2024
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May 26, 2024
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Years ago, I would spend 10 days each summer at a program known as “Sinai Retreats,” spending a nice chunk of each day teaching Torah to a group of intelligent young professionals, who had not previously had that opportunity. We studied and discussed core Torah concepts and ideas about the God we believe in, the mission of the nation we are a part of, the challenges and opportunities of life and the Torah that we are to dedicate ourselves to study and practice. The opportunity to spend hours—day after day—in an immersive Torah environment sharing the incredible wisdom and strength of the Torah and the meaning and purpose that it gives our lives renewed my own appreciation for the Torah that we live and learn each day. Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu, we are, indeed, very fortunate.

Many understand this to be the meaning of the opening phrases of our parsha (Devarim 11:26-27). Rather than spell out external rewards and consequences for our observance of Torah, Moshe zeroes in on the ultimate blessing, the Torah itself. “See, this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, that you hear the commandments of Hashem, your God, that I place before you today … ” As Rambam notes in many places (see for example introduction to Rambam’s commentary to Perek Chelek and Hilchot Teshuva, chapter 10), our appreciation of and connection to Torah, ultimately, depends on our level of appreciation for its inherent value. In the words of Pirkei Avot (4:2), sechar mitzvah mitzvah, the ultimate reward of doing a mitzvah is the mitzvah itself.

Ramban very simply and beautifully underscores the value of our awareness of the inherent benefits of Torah in last week’s parsha (10:12-13): “And now, O Israel, what does Hashem your God demand of you? Only this: to revere Hashem, your God, to walk only in His paths, to love Him, and to serve Hashem, your God, with all your heart and soul, keeping Hashem’s commandments and laws that I instruct you in today, for your good.”

Ramban notes—as the Talmud had previously—how odd it seems that this phrase can begin with an apparent minimization of what Hashem demands of us when, in fact, the list of expectations is long and imposing. Yet, noted the Ramban, the key lies in seeing how the entire statement is anchored in its closing phrase, “for your good.” The Torah is big and broad and its obligations many, but once we can recognize and taste the incredible benefit it provides us in our own lives, its observance moves immediately from burden to privilege. It is not a burden when we can truly appreciate its incredible benefits.

Each of us benefits greatly from taking every opportunity to learn Torah in a way that refreshes our own enthusiasm for it and that brings its light and its power both to those outside our community who have never seen it, as well as to those inside our own family and community who have seen it but never fully tasted it. This will help all of us who have grown accustomed to the gift of Torah life and forgotten its privilege. Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu! We are, indeed, very fortunate.

Rabbi Moshe Hauer is executive vice president of the Orthodox Union (OU), the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization.

 

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