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AN OPEN AND SHUT CASE

by Rabbi Shmuel Weiss    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

There is something quite unusual, structurally speaking, about this week’s Torah portion. It is the only portion in the Torah that is a "stuma—a closed portion" in the Torah scroll. That is, the portion neither begins on a new line in the Torah nor is it separated from the previous one by at least a 9-letter space; it begins in the middle of a line.

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There is something quite unusual, structurally speaking, about this week’s Torah portion. It is the only portion in the Torah that is a "stuma—a closed portion" in the Torah scroll. That is, the portion neither begins on a new line in the Torah nor is it separated from the previous one by at least a 9-letter space; it begins in the middle of a line.

Our sages see a certain significance in this, hinting at a number of different "closures" suggested by the form of the column. Jacob would die in this portion, and his eyes would be closed by his son Joseph, a sign of respect for the deceased. A chapter of Jewish life was also closing. For until now, the Torah discussed the lives of unique, great individuals who guided our destiny. Beginning in the book of Exodus, however, the focus would be on the Jewish nation.

The Midrash adds another idea when it says: "The eyes and hearts of the Jewish people were closed from all the suffering and enslavement which had now begun." Though physical bondage was still some years off, the death of Jacob signaled the official start of our slavery in Egypt. We lost our guiding light, our protector, and we would now be at the mercy of the cruel Egyptians.

The Torah is teaching us a vital concept here. If there are Jews in our midst who do not see eye to eye with us, who do not think as we do, it may not be that they are evil, or inherently antagonistic. Perhaps it is because their hearts are closed to the Torah, due to their own particular "enslavement." Perhaps they are enslaved to Western values, or to media brainwashing, to a lack of Jewish education, or to the often-primitive and debased philosophies of life which characterize the societies in which we live.

Rather than castigate and deplore our brothers and sisters, resigned to eternal barriers between us, perhaps we, too, need to "open our eyes." We need to see that only by showing our fellow Jews the positive, caring, ethically-rich side of Judaism can we enlighten them as to the lasting value of an observant lifestyle.

The Passover Haggadah—which encapsulates the Egyptian experience—gives us a clue as to how to reach the alienated Jew. It states, "You must open him up." That is, the burden is upon us to create an opening, to somehow pry apart the seemingly closed hearts andminds of others. If we succeed, we shall also open up a new era in history, the final liberation of our nation.

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Rabbi Shmuel Weiss, a close friend of the Torah from Dixie family, is the director of the Jewish Outreach Center in Rana’ana, Israel.

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