David Walk

The Seekers

There is a widespread custom to recite a verse corresponding to one’s name after reciting Shmone Esreh, the AMIDA. There is no definitive source (perhaps the Shelah) or decisive reason for this practice. Apparently, it will help the person, in uncertain ways, upon departure from this realm. But like the good soldiers that we are, we and our ancestors have been chanting our verse for about half a millennium. Personally, I do it because I love my verse: Seek the Lord and His power; long for His presence evermore (Tehillim 105:4). For me, the two critical terms in the verse are ‘seek’ (DIRSHU) and ‘long for’ (BAKSHU). I’d like to put them on the couch, and further analyze them.

I’m quite disappointed in the many English translations which render both Hebrew verbs as ‘seek’. That’s just sloppy. If the Psalmist bothered to find two expressions in this composition, so should we in our translation. Furthermore, that translation is just not accurate. The Hebrew root DALED-RESH-SHIN means to delve deeply, and make a serious inquiry about an issue. It is the source of the word MIDRASH, and we study Torah in a BEIT MEDRASH. On the other hand, BET-KOF-SHIN describes a deep longing, perhaps a need. The former is very intellectual, cerebral; the latter emotional or psychological.

I really try to stay connected to this dual goal. First, to endeavor to understand God, or, at least what God wants from us. Then to desire a meaningful intimacy with our Maker. It’s like the more I know about God, the more I pine for the Divine Presence, SHECHINA. What a cool goal in life!

Which, finally, brings me to this week’s Torah reading. In our parsha, we have a rare repetition of a word, besides names, which get repeated for affection, as in Avraham, Avraham; Ya’akov, Ya’akov; Moshe, Moshe. Although, when I was a boy, when my mother OB”M called out my name twice, I knew that I was in deep trouble. In any case, that doubled word is DARASH, the same word we’ve been discussing.

The verse states: And the sin-offering goat, Moshe thoroughly investigated (darosh darash), and behold, it was burnt (Vayikra 11:16). The double verb form indicates special emphasis, an investigation on top of an investigation. Why? What was being investigated? This verse appears in the aftermath of the mysterious sin and punishment of Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. Without delving deeply into that issue, they were consumed by a Divine fire for bringing an unauthorized offering. That criminal investigation was clear and handled by God, but Moshe was investigating another matter.

Aharon the Cohen Gadol, as father of the deceased, was in mourning. He apparently assumed that as a mourner he shouldn’t partake of the sin offering connected to the Rosh Chodesh ceremony. Sadly, he was mistaken. As officiating Cohen Gadol, he was obligated to eat of the sin offering, no matter the circumstances. Now comes Moshe the detective to find out if Aharon got the requirements of the law correct or not.

I love the fact that this serious inquiry was about whether or not a MITZVAT ASEH (positive precept) was fulfilled. Normally, when we read about investigations about leaders, it’s to ascertain whether or not there was wrong doing. In Judaism, we are on the constant hunt for ‘right doing’.

The tiny space between the words DAROSH DARASH is the exact midpoint of the Torah, as measured in words. This moment, while Moshe (aka Sherlock) is on the trail of ‘right doing’ we find the Torah at a crossroads, from which the basic story of the Torah will continue in either one direction or the other. Will we through careful examination of the evidence choose the right path?

The Torah demands constant vigilance. We must, at all times, be focused and concentrated on discovering the right path, and then traversing it. At the midway point of the Torah, we must Janus-like scan two horizons, past and future. We must scour the behavior of our forebears to guide us on how to forge the route ahead.

Moshe believed that, with the dedication of the Mishkan, portable Temple, the nation was at a critical juncture. The covenantal agreements made with our Maker, must now be fulfilled to the exacting calibrations of the laws in God’s revelation. Now was not the time to slack off in any performance.

Judaism and, indeed, individual Jews are always at a fork in the road. We can’t just Yogi-like take it willy nilly. We must DORESH, to deeply analyze the situation with an eye to past precedents and future exigencies. Only then can there be a Jewish future. Choices are never simple.

Our generation, which is at the end of the Exile, has an especially difficult task. Will the Zionist experiment be just another episode in the long Jewish journey or its culminating event? Only decisions, which, hopefully, are the result DORESH HEITEV, careful deliberation, will decide.

About the Author
Born in Malden, MA, 1950. Graduate of YU, taught for Rabbi Riskin in Riverdale, NY, and then for 18 years in Efrat with R. Riskin and R. Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Spent 16 years as Educational Director, Cong. Agudath Sholom, Stamford, CT. Now teach at OU Center and Yeshivat Orayta.
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