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Parashat Vayelech 5780 — 10/05/2015

Parashat Vayelech 5780 — 10/05/2015

Shabbat Shuvah
Devarim 31:1 – 31:30

The last mitzvah in the Torah is to write a Torah scroll, as it says, “And now, write for yourselves this shira…” (31:19). On the surface, “this shira / song” would seem to apply only to HaAzinu (the “song” in next week’s parashah), but the Rabbis derive in various ways that the whole of Torah is implied.

Practically speaking, since very few are qualified, technically or spiritually, to write a Torah scroll, a scribe is commissioned to write the scroll. Furthermore, it takes a scribe over a year to complete the task, and the cost is several tens of thousands of dollars. This limits the number of Torah scrolls that can be written, and in most cases one fulfills this mitzvah by participating, either financially or physically or both, in the writing of a single Torah scroll.

Let’s look at some other practical considerations. There are about 14,000,000 Jews in the world today. If 25% of them are adult males, that would mean that 3,500,000 Torah scrolls would have to be written, a process that would take about 5,000,000 scribe-years. Even if we divide that over a person’s lifetime of threescore years and ten, that’s over 70,000 scribe-years per year. In other words, about 70,000 scribes would be kept busy full-time writing Torah scrolls! And what would we do with all those Torah scrolls? A big synagogue might have a dozen Torah scrolls. Our synagogue here in Milwaukee has about half that number. And since a good Torah scroll can last many hundreds of years, you can see how things could get out of hand very quickly.

What could be the purpose of all this proliferation of written Torah scrolls? Is the purpose to write the scroll or is the purpose to have the scroll, presumably so one can study from it? If the purpose is study, is the mitzvah fulfilled by buying Jewish books and learning from them? Now that actual Torah scrolls are used only for the purpose of public reading in synagogue, and virtually never for private study, is the mitzvah even applicable any more, at least as literally understood?

The commentators take various approaches to this issue. Even in the Talmud, there is a distinct preference for writing a sefer Torah as opposed to merely purchasing one:

Rav Yehoshua stated in the name of Rav Gidel who stated in the name of Rav: “An individual who purchases a sefer Torah from the marketplace is considered to have grabbed a mitzvah from the marketplace. An individual who writes a sefer Torah is considered to have received it from Mt. Sinai.”

R. Sheishet stated: “An individual who corrects one letter is considered to have written the entire Torah.”

While it is clear that ultimately Torah wants every man to have his own sefer Torah to learn from, if this were the only purpose of writing a sefer Torah, we should be able to fulfill it by means other than writing, including purchase (frowned upon in the Talmud) or inheriting one’s father’s sefer Torah, which later Rabbis decreed is not a proper fulfillment of the mitzvah.

Rashi takes the position that the basic mitzvah is to own a sefer Torah, and no less an authority than the Vilna Gaon rules in accord with Rashi. Obviously Rashi considers “grabbing a mitzvah from the marketplace” to be laudable enough. Many others disagree, and the Shulchan Aruch (16th century) decides the matter against Rashi – one must actually write the sefer Torah to fulfill the mitzvah. The Rema (whose glosses to the Shulchan Aruch reflect Ashkenazic custom) adds that if one purchases a flawed sefer Torah and repairs it, thus making it usable again, it is considered as if he had written one – by making an unusable scroll usable again, one is credited with having created a new scroll.

In the 14th century, the Sefer haChinuch, “Book of Education,” a commentary on the Rambam’s list of 613 mitzvot, argues that there are actually two components of the mitzvah of writing a sefer Torah: creating a scroll and possessing a scroll. It is not enough simply to write a scroll and donate it to a synagogue and forget about it. Ultimately, the purpose is to read, study and internalize the Torah that is written on the scroll. Also in the 14th century, the Rosh, one of the “3 pillars” upon whose decisions the Shulchan Aruch is based, wrote that the mitzvah of actually writing a sefer Torah only applied when they would be studied. In his day already, sifrei Torah were only used for public reading in the synagogue. He concludes that the mitzvah of writing a Torah scroll now means writing the individual books of Torah in (smaller) scrolls that could actually be used for study. This was pre-Gutenberg. Modern leaders have extended this to include purchase of books for Torah study, either as an extension of the original mitzvah or as the modern-day fulfillment of that mitzvah.

Whichever way one comes down on the issue of whether we must still write an actual sefer Torah, and how one might go about fulfilling that obligation, it is obvious that there is an obligation to learn Torah. Learning Torah doesn’t mean simply academic study. It means internalizing Torah so that we know from inside ourselves, intuitively, what is right action in every situation. This involves refining our consciousness until it is so free of obstructions that it is in tune with what Gd wants us to do that deviating from that path is impossible. Our Rabbis tell us that when we are in utero an angel teaches us the entire Torah, but we forget it upon birth. I think they are telling us that the human nervous system is so beautifully constructed that the entire structure of creation is imprinted on us, and we can use that intrinsic knowledge to act in accord with the structure and laws governing creation. We just have to clear away those obstacles that are preventing us from using this Gd-given gift. These Ten Days of T’shuvah, culminating in the upcoming Yom Kippur, are a good place to start!

An easy and meaningful fast to all, and a sweet and blessed New Year!

G’mar Chatimah Tovah


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Vayelech  (“And he went”)

Although Vayelech means “and he went,”  Moses says to the people “I am 120 years old today and I can no longer go out or in.” The symbolism of 120 as 3 x 40 is strongly suggestive: 40 days of the flood, 40 days twice to receive Torah, 40 the age at which Isaac and Esau married… “Forty” seems to be symbolic of Fulfillment. Three times forty seems to be symbolic of three levels of Fulfillment, the surface, the depth and the Wholeness.

To not be able to go in and out is symbolic of being established in Wholeness, in Gd, so that every motion is within and there is never any going out or coming back.

Very inspiring to have a leader who is so established, very promising to us that we can also achieve this state.

In Parshat Vayelech, Moses told our ancestors (and us) to have courage as they pass over the Jordan into the Promised Land: Gd is with you, and will destroy your enemies. But Moses also said that our ancestors will turn from Torah, and Gd will hide His Face from us, but that Torah shall not be forgotten from the mouths of their descendants.

This means that though we close our heart and turn away from Torah, yet at any time, we can open our heart and Torah will be seen there as It Always Is (Torah is the Word of Gd, the Liveliness of Gd, never separate, always there).

When we open our heart, we are new people, descendants of the old people that we no longer are but our descendants, new people, people in whom Torah and Gd are alive in our hearts, our words, our actions and in the response of Gd to us.

As Rosh HaShanah passes and Yom Kippur nears, this is a reminder that the New Year is not only a New Year in calendar time but an opportunity for a new year in our hearts, souls, thoughts, speech, action and in the response Gd gives us—a time when we open to Gd and Gd opens to us so no part of Gd’s Face is hidden and we remember and live the Oneness which we always are (though we may have hidden from it), and not only remember and live but enjoy everywhere, all around us, Gd/Torah singing to us, dancing to us, in the sky, earth, pebbles, streams and leaves — everywhere.

It is a reminder that the Day of Atonement really is the Day of At-Onement, a day in which all our vows to Gd are annulled because the separation between Gd and us is annulled.

What can we make of this today?

This is a preview of the opportunity for the celebration of Purity, A Clean Slate. Fulfilled Year, Fulfilled Us, Fulfilled World

A great time!

Baruch HaShem

Recitation of Vayelech:
Given the reality of Torah as the Vibration of Gd, the sound is closer to the reality than the meaning, although the meaning is very useful to us to remind us of the importance of worshipping The One, not getting lost in details of the material world to the extent that we think the material world is the only reality.

The following link gives a recitation in Hebrew of a few verses of Parshat Vayalech and a few tips for study of parsha recitation of Torah with tropes.

Listening has deep value: so does acting in accord with the Harmony of Torah.

In this parshah, Moses tells the people and Joshua, the new leader, to be of courage for the Lord is with them.

What can we make of this today?

One thing is to read Torah, listen to Torah, so we are attuned to it: it is in our heart to spontaneously be in harmony with it.

We can also study Torah to discover its plain meanings, its hidden meanings, and especially its application to the details of our life.In this way, we grow in our ability to Love Gd with all our heart and soul.

As an example, we can prioritize Wholeness and whatever activities we do that connect us us to it: in this way, we grow in our ability to Love Gd with all our heart and soul.

We love our self/Self and we grow in the ability to love our neighbor as ourselves/Self and to experience that the world outside us is the same One that is within us. We gain Teshuvah and we live our life in Love and Joy. All our failings, limits, and past wrong behaviors are melted in Oneness.

So let us listen to Gd speaking through Moses to us: Be of good courage for Gd is with us.

And we experience our courage becoming natural confidence as Gd speaks within us in Love, in Joy, perhaps even in words.

We do not just read Torah: we Become Torah, One with Gd.

L’Shana Tovah tikatevu v’tichatemu.

Happy New Year and may we be written for a good year.

Baruch HaShem