To Teach, To Learn, To Repent

There is an urgency in the two Torah commandments whose obligation is constant and ever present, to learn Torah and to repent. The Torah is clear about this urgency in the Sh’ma: “These words, which I command you this day, make them as a sign upon your heart and between your eyes…”

Our Sages comment that the word hayom, “this day” means that “the Torah should ever be fresh in your mind, as though you received the Torah today.” As for the duty to repent, Rambam teaches, “A man should always regard himself as if his death were imminent and think that he may die this very hour, while still in a state of sin. He should therefore repent of his sins immediately and not say, ‘When I grow old I shall repent,’ for he may die before he becomes old.”

This matter of days and Torah is fresh in our minds as we turn our attention to S’firat Haomer and the coming of Shavuot, for what more concrete example of the importance of Torah and the power of days than the counting down from Pesach to the Chag Matan Torah? Yet, despite our celebration of the revelation at Sinai, the chag is not named in the Torah. Indeed, the Talmud considers Shavuot to be the culmination of Pesach, not even a chag in its own right. Does this diminish the power of that day at Sinai? Not at all. It is simpy that the commemoration of the giving of the Torah must not be limited to a particular time. It applies to all times. This day is each and every day. As it is written, “This day the Lord God has commanded you to do these statutes and judgments.”

Every day is Yom Matan Torah. Every day, the excitement, enthusiasm, and vigor of being a committed and learned Jew must be renewed and reinforced. It is with this understanding that the Keli Yakar found significance in the Torah’s use of the phrase Vehikravten mincha chadasha – “and you shall offer a new offering” – in regard to Shavuot. Each and every day, the Torah must be received anew, just as if it was received from Sinai each and every day.

The joy and satisfacion of Torah study must not be limited to special days, or occasions. It is to be ongoing, continually renewed and continually renewing. Torah study must always spiritually excite and emotionally uplift. It is for this reason that the Keli Yakar says that the same enthusiasm and ecstasy that occured at the Revelation at Sinai must be searched for and found everyday.

The Keli Yakar posits the same rationale for the Torah’s omission of the name Rosh Hashana and its direct association with din and repentance. Should a man sin all year round and think of repenting only as he comes closer to Yom Hashem, when God sits in judgment? No. Rather, he should imagine that God sits in judgment recording his deeds everyday. If he can think this way, he will continually engage in repentance, each and every day.

Analysis, reflection, and introspection of man’s deeds and misdeeds must be an everyday experience. For the thoughtful Jew everyday is a Yom Matan Torah and Yom Hadin. Such an attitude might also help us understand Lag B’Omer, the thirty third day of the counting of the Omer when, according to the Talmud, the plague that caused the death of 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiva ended.

24,000 brilliant young scholars! Lost! Our sages ask why so many scholars died. According to Talmudic and Midrashic sources, they died because they did not sufficiently respect one another. Their scholarship, Torah learning, and erudition were taken for granted. For them, Torah learning was pursued as any other knowledge, without an excitement, enthusiasm, and fire resulting in new insights, renewed motivation, and novel ideas. They reveled in their brilliance rather than the brilliance of Torah. They were “satisfied” with their learning, not challenged or enlivened by it.

Lag B’Omer came to be known as “Scholar’s Festival” to remind those who devote themselves exclusively to the pursuit of Torah learning that there is more to Torah learning than the “quantity” of knowledge, more than book knowledge and text absorption. Torah learning encompasses the “quality” of learning as well, the love and devotion for fellow students, an excitement for the Divine word, growing sensitivity and feelings emanating from the subject being studied, a reaction to learning Torah that is to be likened to that of Matan Torah. Students of Torah are charged with examining their activity with the gauge of Mincha Chadasha. Is this day of learning like Yom Matan Torah and Yom Hadin?

The charge to make each day of learning like Yom Matan Torah rests not only with students but with their teachers as well. Everyone involved in teaching Torah would do well to reflect and ask: Am I seeking new methods and exciting approaches in my Torah methodology and curriculum?

It is incumbent on teachers to teach as we want our students to learn. The goal of effective Torah education must be to attempt to make each day, every day, a unique and special experience for students so that they leave our classrooms as our forefathers departed from Sinai – awed and inspired.

Each and every day.

The Midrash in Tanhuma (Ki Tavo) sums it up: What is meant by “this day”? Had the Holy One, blessed be He, not ordained these precepts for Israel till now? Surely the year in which this verse was stated was the fortieth? Why does the Scripture therefore state: “this day”? This is what Moses meant when he addressed Israel: “Every day let the Torah be as dear to you as if you had received it this day from Mount Sinai.”

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran is an educator, lecturer and author. He has devoted many years in the rabbinate, Jewish education, and as vice president of marketing and communications at OU Kosher. He resides in New York, while enjoying his long stays in Jerusalem. His highly acclaimed "Something Old, Something New - Pearls from the Torah" has been published by KTAV, July 2018.
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