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SAVE THE LAST DANCE

by Rabbi David Zauderer    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Great news! Next week there will major dance parties all around town. There will be live D.J.’s (Dancing Jews) and plenty of booze.....er, I mean, Jews..... to go around (and around and around)!

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Great news! Next week there will major dance parties all around town. There will be live D.J.’s (Dancing Jews) and plenty of booze.....er, I mean, Jews..... to go around (and around and around)!

The star attraction at the dance party is world famous, having sold more copies than any other talent out there. That’s right, all eyes will be on the Torah, the best-selling book of all time. And the name of this “dance party” which takes place every year during the World Series is called “Simchat Torah,” the celebration of completing the yearly cycle of Torah reading and beginning it again. The evening and again the morning are filled with dance and songs rejoicing in the Torah and thanking G-d for our being Jewish and our portion in the Torah. We read the last Torah portion in Deuteronomy, Ve’zot Habrachah, and then begin immediately with Bereishit, starting the book of Genesis.

TORAH AND THE JEWISH RELIGION — INHERITANCE OR HERITAGE?

One of the songs that we sing as we dance around the Torah next week has as its lyrics the words that Moses spoke to the Jewish people on his deathbed (and which are read publicly from the Torah on Simchat Torah): “The Torah that Moses commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Jacob” (Deuteronomy 33:4). These same words, the Talmud teaches us, are to be taught to our children as soon as they begin to talk (Tractate Sukkah 42a).

We have to wonder, what is so special about these words that the Torah of Moses is the “heritage” of the Jewish people) that Moses felt the need to mention them to the people before he died? And why would we pick this particular verse, of all things, to teach to our kids when they start to talk? How about starting with “thank you” or “hello”? What do these words mean, anyway? It almost sounds like Moses is trying to copyright the Torah — this book is the property and heritage of the Congregation of Jacob. All rights reserved.

To answer these serious questions, we have to do something really Jewish — we have to ask another question. The Mishnah in Ethics of our Fathers states the following: Rabbi Yose said, “Prepare yourself for the study of Torah for it is not an inheritance for you” (2:17).

This teaching of Rabbi Yose seems to imply that the Torah that we have and the religion which we are “born into” are not an inheritance which we own, like our own property. How can we reconcile this Mishnah with the words that Moses spoke to the Jewish nation before he died? Is the Torah “ours to keep” or isn’t it?

The commentaries give a beautiful answer to this apparent contradiction. There is a major difference between an inheritance and a heritage. They are worlds apart.

The Mishnah mentioned above is teaching us that our beautiful Torah and Jewish religion is not an inheritance. The person who falls heir to an inheritance is apt to treat the estate he never built and the money he never worked for in a rather offhand and flippant manner. An inheritance is yours to squander and spend as you like. It comes to you easily, and you may choose to let it go easily.

Not so the Torah and our religion, says Moses on his deathbed. It is a heritage, which means that is the property of generations before and after, and it is incumbent upon the heirs to preserve it intact.

I’D LIKE TO INTRODUCE YOU TO MY WIFE, THE TORAH

In truth, the Hebrew word for heritage, morasha, carries within it an even deeper message. The sages expound homiletically that the word morasha can be read as if it were spelled “me’orasa — married,” meaning that the Jewish people and the Torah are considered like bride and groom (Tractate Pesachim 49b).

This takes our connection to the Torah to a whole new level. Not only are we to see our religion as a heritage, something we feel duty bound to preserve and to pass it on intact to our children and grandchildren. That alone would simply not do.

It is foolish to ask for loyalty to Judaism because it is merely our heritage that we have inherited from our grandparents. My grandfather ate with a wooden spoon. Should I, therefore, eat with a wooden spoon? My grandfather traveled by horse and buggy. Must I go by the same form of transportation?

Moses is telling us that we, the Jewish people, are betrothed to the Torah. We are not just a people of the book” — we’re married to it. And marriage is serious business.

A couple that is betrothed knows that great effort is required to develop their relationship. So, too, we must study the Torah and become intimately involved with its many wonderful ideas and lessons, so that our relationship with our Judasim grows and intensifies. And it is only with such a commitment that our Judaism (or any marriage bond, for that matter) can become meaningful and long-lasting.

Imagine a newlywed husband who tells his wife, “Listen, honey, I really don’t have that much time for you right now, but I plan to drop by the house to see you on some weekends and around the holidays. Oh yeah, and also when we have children we’ll spend more time together.”

CAN THIS MARRIAGE BE SAVED?

Well, says Moses to his children — and we say those same words to our kids as soon as they can begin to talk — this Jewish religion which you were born into, remember that it’s not just some inheritance that you got from your rich uncle which you can throw away when you’re tired of it. It’s your heritage, and you are responsible not just for your own Judaism, but for the future of your children and their children. And you should take it very seriously, much the same way you had better take your wife seriously. Don’t just “pop in” on the weekends. And don’t wait until you have children to start becoming more Jewishly involved.

If we can learn well the lesson that Moses taught us and we can incorporate it into our lives, we will then be able to maximize the pleasure and benefit that G-d intended for us to get from the Jewish religion. Only then, will we and the Torah live happily ever after.

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Rabbi David Zauderer is a card-carrying member of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel.

You are invited to read more Sukkot articles.

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