This week’s Torah commentary encompasses more than the usual because we are in the midst of Succot.
On Shabbat this week, the Torah reading is from Shemot/Exodus 33:12 – 34:26 which I encourage you to read privately as this portion was discussed earlier this year when it occurred in the chronological reading of the Torah.
On Monday, Oct. 8th, the last day of Succot in Israel, we celebrate Simchat Torah, Rejoicing over the Torah. The last portion of the Torah is read and followed by the reading of the beginning of Genesis/Beresheit, which marks the beginning of Torah study for the new Hebrew year.
The Torah’s final portion concludes with the death of Moses. “And Moses, the servant of God, died there, in the land of Moab by the word of God.” Dev. 34:5 Before his death, Hashem told Moses to climb to the top of Mount Nevo and from that vantage point, He showed Moses the entire land of Israel “until the yam acharon” (up to and including the ‘last sea’, the Mediterranean).
An alternative rendering of this verse, based on a variation possible in the Hebrew, Rashi declares that it is just as correct to read the verse as “until the last day”, suggesting the opinion that God showed Moses the entire history of the Jewish people up to and including the ‘last day’, the resurrection of the dead. Though he was denied entrance to the Land of Israel, for reasons we have discussed earlier, Moses was privileged to see the Land in all its beauty and, according to Rashi, to future of the people of Israel.
It is noteworthy that the name of the mountain upon which Moses died, Nevo, has the numerical value of fifty-eight. There is another word with the same numerical value, a word very important in the Torah and to Moses. It is the word chen which means ‘grace’. Several times in the Torah we have read that Moses prayed to ‘find grace’ in the eyes of God, especially when he was interceding for the people. We also saw that when Moses prayed in this way, God consistently granted Moses’ requests. How appropriate that he should end his life on this earth on top of a mountain whose name is equivalent numerically to the word ‘grace’; and what a potent reminder to us to follow his example in asking Hashem to grant us ‘grace’ on a daily basis.
The Torah’s very last letter is a lamed while the very first letter of the Torah is a beit. Those two letters spell the Hebrew word pronounced ‘lev’ which means heart. On Simchat Torah when we immediately roll the Torah scroll back to Beresheit (Genesis) after reading the end of Vezot Haberachah, we link those two letters — lamed and beit — and remind ourselves of how essential it is that we renew our study of the Torah from its very first word with a “good heart”; in other words, following the dictates we pronounce every day in the “Shema” – …and you shall love Hashem your God with all your heart….and let these words which I command you today be upon your heart…”
One of the fundamental concepts of the Torah is the necessity of serving Hashem from our heart. Ritual has its place and purpose: to serve as an outward expression of our inner commitment to Hashem and His Torah. Every religion has its ritual and its significance is immeasurable. However, as Reuven Hammer points out in his new book, THE TORAH REVOLUTION, “Ritual is secondary to right conduct.” The deeper our inner heart relationship with God, the more meaningful our observance of ritual becomes. On the other hand, when ritual is allowed to become more important than our personal relationship with Hashem, all manner of religious aberration soon follows. In very simple terms, when the rituals we perform have no heart behind them, they are what one commentator calls ‘dead works’. The Torah is about LIFE.
Judaism at its essence is a religion of the heart. The power of a broken heart transformed by teshuvah (repentance) reaches depths of holiness unattainable any other way. Could it be that this is precisely why the broken first Tablets of the Torah were kept next to the second Tablets in the Ark in the Holy of Holies? One would think that since those first Tablets were shattered into many pieces, there was no longer any need for them once the second Tablets were given. However, they were in fact reverently preserved in the Ark that in every generation, the children of Israel would know the power of repentance and the inestimable mercy of God towards His people.
In Tune with Torah this week: as we end our yearly cycle of Torah study in these next few days and immediately begin again, let us each resolve to seek Hashem with all our hearts and prepare ourselves for ever increasing understanding in His Torah in the coming year.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach Succot!