Lovingkindness Frames the Entire Torah
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
Last Tuesday, during the services for Simchat Torah, we concluded the reading of the Torah, we read the last section of the Torah and immediately after that, we started to read the beginning of the Torah again. This means that we never stop reading the Torah, it is like an eternal cycle without a beginning and end. From the death of our great leader Moses we went directly, without brakes, to the narration of the creation of the world.
The sages find something similar in the last part of the Torah and in the beginning of it. They narrate different stories which happened in different times, but both texts contain a similar spirit.
In the final Torah portion, V’zot Habrachah, we read that God personally carried Moses to his final resting place and buried him there (Deuteronomy 34:6). It is sweet and lovely to know that God personally accompanied Moses in his last days and buried him. It is a very deep and moving scene.
On the other hand, in this week’s portion, Bereshit, after the narration of the creation of the world, we learn that God made leather garments for Adam and his wife (Genesis 3:21). As you may know, clothing the needy is an enormous mitzvah. It is in fact one of the attributes of God for which we bless Him daily during Birkot Hashachar.
At the beginning of the Torah we also find a sweet scene, where God personally undertakes the humble act of sewing garments for the human beings who were naked, vulnerable, and unprotected.
We can find in these two different stories a common thread: God’s love and concern for human beings.
It is written in the Talmud, Sotah 14a: “Rabbi Samlai taught: The Torah begins with deeds of lovingkindness and ends with deeds of lovingkindness. It begins with deeds of lovingkindness, as it is written: “And Adonai, God, made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). It ends with deeds of lovingkindness, as it is written: “And God buried Moses in the valley in the land of Moab” (Deuteronomy 34:6).”
According to Rabbi Simlai, the Torah begins and ends with lovingkindness teaching us that lovingkindness frames the entire Torah, indicating that this is what the Torah is all about.
Following this idea, there is another Midrash that states: “The beginning of the Torah is lovingkindness, the middle of the Torah is lovingkindness, and the end of the Torah is lovingkindness.” At the beginning, as we have seen, God clothes Adam and Eve; at the end God buries Moses. In the “middle” God visits Abraham while he is in need of healing (Genesis 18:1)” (Tanhuma, Vayishlah 10).
The very essence of Torah, the Sages thus insist, is a God of love and kindness who calls us to love and be kind with other people. The whole Torah, from the beginning through the end, is full of stories of lovingkindness. The reading and studying of the teachings of the Torah should make us kinder, more generous, more empathic, and compassionate people.
Rabbi Shai Held, President, Dean, and Chair in Jewish Thought at Hadar in New York stated: “If we study Torah and it does not make us kinder, then it is not Torah that we have learned.”
I hope that during this new cycle of the reading of the Torah that we are beginning, the reading and the studying of the Torah lead us to be better people, following God’s example and doing many deeds of lovingkindness.