ACCEPTINGTHE TORAH, AGAIN
Rabbi David Walk
Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein of Yeshivat Har Eztiyon in one of his speeches to the Yeshiva discussed a certain kipa wearing professor who defined himself as an observant secular Jew. Most of us wouldn't call someone who wears a kipa all the time on an American college campus as a secular Jew. But this extremely honest gentleman wanted to explain that even though Torah defined his ritual behavior, it didn't permeate his thought process. He believed that he could think, feel and, even, do as he pleased, as long as no technical Torah rules were broken. Reb Aharon went on to explain that 'A person may be a shoemaker, a physicist or an economist, but if Torah lives within him and the focus of his life is the aspiration to "sit in God's house all the days of my life" – then this person lives a life of Torah. Such a person does not feel that Torah limits or constricts his life; rather, he feels that it guides and inspires him.'
The great writer and religious thinker C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) pointed out that when a person speaks about "real life," he refers to those elements of life which he values most highly. Sadly, I think that many Jews make a distinction between their Torah values and real life. They're saying that Torah is relevant only within limited areas of their life. This is a problem. To combat this position we refer in our prayers to the Torah as Torat Chayim, the Torah of Life. According to Rav Lichtenstein there are many reasons for this. It comes from God the source of life, it gives life, it is alive and grows from generation to generation, and, unlike cultures which glorify death, our Torah occupies itself with life and sanctifies life. But the moat important reason is that Torah understands life and its necessities, and has something to say about every possible aspect of life. Torah is about life and its issues, which is why the ideal life is the life of Torah. This life is one in which we live with Torah at its center.
Unfortunately there are many of us who live lives with whole areas which we view as outside the realm of Torah. I think that we can apply the famous statement of Shamai to this issue. In Pirkei Avot we quote Shamai as saying that we should make our Torah keva (1:15). Now the word keva means set or permanent. Usually people understand Shamai's instruction to mean that we should set aside regular times for Torah study. But I would like to suggest that he meant that we should build our lives around Torah and its principles. Make it the stable foundation upon which we build our lives.
In our prayers we refer to Shavuot as z'man matan Toroteinyu, the time of the giving of our Torah. We believe this to be true. It is the time when God gave us the Torah. But just like Yom Kippur is the time when God granted us atonement, we have turned the day into one of working hard to access this atonement; we should similarly, on Shavuot, endeavor to access this Torah being offered. It's our job to make this time of the giving of our Torah into the day of our accepting the Torah. And this must be done every year.
I find it fascinating that right after the Ten Commandments were given with such fanfare at
When we judge our annual acceptance of the Torah, I believe that there are two areas in which we must weigh our progress. While inspecting my progress in the areas of Torah study, ethical behavior and moral business practices, do I feel the exquisite joy expressed in the verse: Happy are we! How good is our portion! How beautiful my heritage (preliminary morning service)! That would be in keeping with the obligation to be joyous on the festivals. And secondly, is my Torah commitment spreading to new areas of my life? That question is critical to making my Torah life my real life.
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