Monthly Archives: May 2015

Parshat וילך – Devarim 31:19 – In What Way is the Torah Compared to a Song?

Deuteronomy 31:19 – And now, write for yourselves this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel. Place it into their mouths, in order that this song will be for Me as a witness for the children of Israel

Tosefet B’racha: Translation of one of his notes on this verse

The simple meaning of the text has the words “this song” referring to the “ha’azinu” song [that immediately follows this Torah section.] Our wise sages, however, understand the word “song” as referring to the entire Torah. This would be in accordance with the statement in the Gemora Sanhedrin (21b) – Even if a person inherits a Torah scroll, it is still a commandment for everyone to write his own. The Gemora then cites our verse as the proof text. This shows that the wise sages understood the word “song” in our verse as applying to the whole Torah.

The Rambam, however, in Chapter 7:1 writes as follows: “It is a positive commandment on every person to write a Torah scroll as it says in the verse ‘write for yourselves this song’; in other words write for yourselves the Torah that contains this song”. [In other words, the Rambam did not want to explicitly call the Torah itself a song.]

It is possible to bring support for this explanation of the Rambam from the fact that we see that King David was actually punished for referring to Torah as ‘tunes’ as it says in Psalms 119:54 – Your laws were to me as tunes in the house of my sojournings.” Tunes and song are the same thing as is proven in Gemora Gittin (7a). Additionally in Gemora Betza (24a) a person is criticized for singing the Torah verses as though it were a song. If all of this is so, how can it be that HaShem himself would refer to the Torah as a song in the verse above?

The answer to this question is that even though [perhaps] it may not be respectful to describe the Torah as a song as is explained above, nevertheless regarding the content [and process] of learning Torah it is appropriate to compare it to a song or a tune.

This approach can be explained following the approach of the Gemora Chagigah on the verse in Ecclesiastes 12:11 “The words of the wise are like goads, and like well-fastened [collected] nails with large heads, given from one shepherd.” Regarding this verse, the Gemora comments that the collected nails are referring to the sages who gather together in groups/collections and occupy themselves in Torah. These judge a case and say “pure” while these judge a case and say “impure”. These judge a case and say “forbidden” while these judge the same case and say “permitted”. Even though they disagree, they are all given from the same shepherd. As it says in the Gemora Eruvin (13b), “These and these are the [all] the words of the Living G-d.”

At first glance this is astonishing. How can it be that one who says “impure” – his words are the words of the Living G-d; yet this other judge in the same case who says “pure” – his words are also the words of the Living G-d? Isn’t the truth only with one of them? It the answer is either “pure” or “impure” – [it can’t be both!}

Rather the parable to a song is exactly appropriate here. It is similar to a choir or an orchestra. Each person in the choir has a voice that is different from his colleagues. One has a high voice and one has a low voice. One has a thin voice and one has a loud voice. One has a voice that sounds like a lion roarding and one has a voice that sounds like a bird chirping. At first glance it looks like total chaos between them. Or perhaps that each one is doing with his voice something different from his friend in order to anger or upset his friend.  

But the truth is that this is not the case. Rather, because of the differences of the voices, there actually comes out at the end a beautiful song and a mixture that is sweet to the ear.

This is exactly the process of learning Torah with a study partner. When one disagrees and argues with his study partner or brings proofs against his partner’s ideas or challenges his assumptions or his logic and they dig together. Only then, when they consider together the issue from all points of view – only then can the issue become clarified and a true, lasting judgement result.

This process is also referred to in Gemora Baba Metzia (84a). This is why this process is referred to as the War of Torah (in Gemora Megilah 16b). This is also alluded to in Gemora Berachos 56b where it states that one who dreams of a goring ox will have children who attack halachic issues, meaning that they will be skilled at debating and arguing and dissecting points of view.

Thus, we see that these types of disagreements are appropriate and necessary for the desired outcome. This is why all the different, opposing points of view are all called “words of the Living G-d”. It is because exactly through these differing points of the view that the Halacha becomes clarified in a clear and true way. This being the case, we can see the similar process and content between the Torah and a song.

See also my comment in Parshat VaYigash on the verse (Genesis 45:24 –  “And he sent off his brothers, and they went, and he said to them, ‘Do not quarrel on the way.’”

Translator Note: I think that the Torah Temimah often emphasizes the issue of “these and these are the words of the Living G-d.” He has several different explanations. This explanation here and analogy to a choir which actually requires different voices to have the desired outcome is, for me, a key point that the Torah Temimah seems to emphasize a lot.

Parsahat אחרי מות Leviticus 16:1 – They died for our sins

Leviticus 16:1 “And the LORD spoke unto Moses, after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the LORD, and died;”

Jerusalem Talmud Chapter1 Halachah 1 “After the death of… A braita teaches: why does it mention their death in the context of Yom Kippur?  To teach that just as Yom Kippur atones for Israel, so too the death of the righteous atones for Israel.”

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #1:

The reason and value of why the death of the righteous atones is not clearly explained.  It appears according to what is written in Pirkei of Rabbi Eliezer chapter 17 regarding the death of Saul (II Samuel 21:14):” And they buried the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son in the country of Benjamin in Zela, in the sepulchre of Kish his father; and they performed all that the king commanded. And after that God was entreated for the land.”

When The Holy One Blessed is He saw how they dealt kindly with him (they fasted, cried and eulogized as the verse explains), He was filled with mercy, as the verse says “And after that God was entreated for the land.”

Inferred from this, is that death alone does not atone rather the honor and mourning accorded upon the death of the righteous, which is the honor of Hashem, atones.

Editor’s note: Judaism is not a religion of saints.  The concept of one dying to atone for the congregation is antithetical to Judaism.  While there is a custom to visit the cemetery during the month of Elul up through Yom Kippur, the Mishnah Berurah is adamant that one’s focus should not be on praying to the deceased rather one should entreat Hashem to help in the merit of the righteous.  The death and merit of the righteous do not magically atone for us.  It is the honor we give them and the lessons we learn from how they lived their lives that should change us for the better so that Hashem will help us in their merit.