This week's Torah portion, Va'etchanan, includes the first of the three paragraphs of the Shema (a prayer which we are commanded to read twice daily).
This week's Torah portion, Va'etchanan, includes the first of the three paragraphs of the Shema (a prayer which we are commanded to read twice daily). The second paragraph of the Shema is found in next week's torah portion, Eikev, and in many ways mirrors the first paragraph. Much can be learned by comparing and contrasting these two sections of the Torah. The following is one example. The Torah states in the first paragraph, "And these words (the words of the Torah) which I am commanding you today, shall be upon your heart" (Deuteronomy 6:6). The second paragraph begins with the verse, "And it shall be, if you will surely listen to my commandments which I am commanding you today. . ." (Deuteronomy 11:13). In both sections, the phrase, "which I am commanding you today" is employed. What is the significance of this seemingly superfluous phrase?
Rashi, an 11th century commentator on the Torah, in his interpretation of the phrase in the first paragraph, explains that the Torah is teaching us that its words should not be viewed simply as a stale and out-dated dogma to which a person does not attach any importance. Rather, they should be considered like a newly-written enactment which everyone excitedly runs to greet. The Torah uses the phrase, "which I am commanding you today" to teach us to view the words of the Torah as fresh and new.
Rashi also interprets this phrase in the second paragraph. There he simply writes, "The words of the Torah should be new to you, as if you heard them today." Although this appears to be merely a reiteration of his own comments on the first paragraph, a careful analysis reveals that this is not the case. In interpreting the phrase in the first paragraph, Rashi mentions running to greet an enactment. In the second paragraph Rashi omits this running. In addition, Rashi speaks in the second paragraph as if the reader of his commentary has already heard the Torah's words, and he directs the person to view them as if he received them today. What emerges is clear. The first paragraph is referring to the student of Torah before he has actually learned the material. He must approach those words of Torah running with enthusiasm to greet them -- for the first time. The second paragraph gives us an even greater challenge -- that even once we have learned a part of the Torah, we should maintain a special verve for it, as if we had learned it today.
Rabbi Elie Cohen, who grew up in Atlanta and is an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, is a member of the newly-formed kollel in the lovely city of Columbus, Ohio.
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