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UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL

by Rabbi Herbert J. Cohen    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

As we begin the new cycle of Torah readings, we need to remind ourselves of the essential purpose of the Torah: It is a guide for living. It is not only a book of stories, though there are many great ones included.

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As we begin the new cycle of Torah readings, we need to remind ourselves of the essential purpose of the Torah: It is a guide for living. It is not only a book of stories, though there are many great ones included. It is not simply a book of rules, although there are many of them listed. The Torah that Hashem gave us is life’s instruction book. It presents us with the tools to make wise life choices. In it, we are confronted with the narratives of real people, and we learn from their actions. We are also confronted with many laws, and even though we may not comprehend the reasons for all the commandments in the Torah, we still try to understand the infinite wisdom within them. We don’t just read the Torah like any other book and then put it aside. We rather read it, and then think about what the Torah is trying to tell us in a very personal way.

An example: When Eve recounts to the serpent what Hashem’s prohibition was regarding the forbidden tree in this week’s Torah portion, she tells the serpent that Hashem told her not to eat or to touch it. In fact, Hashem told her only not to eat it; it was permissible to touch it. The Midrash tells us that at that moment the serpent pushed Eve against the tree and said, "Just as you did not die from touching it, so you will not die from eating it." The serpent persuaded her that Hashem’s death threat was only to frighten her, not actually to prohibit her from eating of the tree. Our tradition informs us that Eve, by adding to Hashem’s prohibition, made a tragic mistake. By not sticking to the facts, she brought about immeasurable pain.

An important life lesson that we learn from this is the following: Be careful with our words. Much pain can be inflicted when people report events incorrectly or embellish a narrative with their own particular biases. Great harm can result from such perversions of emet, truth.

As the New Year begins, let us resolve to search for personal meaning every time we open up a Biblical text; and let us resolve, in particular, to be careful with our speech during this coming year.

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Rabbi Herbert J. Cohen, Ph.D. has been dean of Yeshiva High School of Atlanta for over 20 years.

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