A New Torah Each Day
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
This week we read parashat Naso, the longest parasha of the Torah (176 verses!). We usually read this parasha during the Shabbat after the festival of Shavuot, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah. Why do we read the longest parasha right after Shavuot? Well, a good way to understand this reason is to think about a child with a new toy. As we all know, a child who receives a new toy wants to play with it all of the time. He/she cannot leave it for a moment. There is nothing more important for him/her than the new toy.
The same thing happened with the Children of Israel and the Torah. After they received the Torah at Mount Sinai, during Shavuot, they really wanted to stay close to it, read it, and study everything they could. On the Shabbat after Shavuot, the Children of Israel were given the opportunity of reading the longest Torah section, Naso, and thus were able to stay attached to the “new” Torah a little bit more than usual. This explains why we read parashat Naso during the Shabbat right after Shavuot.
The image of the child with a new toy is a very tender one. It is also a situation in which we all can identify. After all, we all have been children, and probably all of us had a new toy at some time. However, when we use this image to understand how the Children of Israel felt so close to the Torah after receiving it, it presents a challenge to our relationship with the Jewish tradition. Why is that? It is because, as we also all know, a new toy is loved very much as long as it remains new, but when it loses its “new status” it often also loses its attraction.
The same could be applied to the Torah, and by extension to the Jewish tradition. Judaism is a very old religious tradition. It could be attractive and appealing to us when we first receive it when we first encounter it. However, after some time of observing the same rituals, praying the same prayers and learning the same texts, it can become unattractive, or even boring to some of us.
How can we overcome this challenge of having to deal with a Torah that can rapidly lose its novelty? Rashi, the celebrated commentator, gives us a good hint. He does it through his commentary to the following verse:
And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart (Deuteronomy 6:6)
You may recognize this verse because it is part of the first paragraph of the reading of the Sh’ma Israel (V’ahavta). Rashi tries to explain what the meaning of the expression “this day” is. That could be applied to the day when this verse was first said, but how can you apply it every time you read this verse, every day while you read the Sh’ma? Rashi explains,
they should not appear to you as an antiquated edict which no one cares about, but as a new one, which every one hastens to read.
If you don’t want to get bored from reading the Torah, according to Rashi, you need to make an effort that appears new every time you see it, every time you learn from it, and every time you put its laws in practice. Even when the Torah is the same “old” book, you need to make it appear to yourself as a new book every time you read it. Rashi does not explain how you can achieve this, but a good guess would be by reading new commentaries, by studying the text passionately, or perhaps by engaging with other people who are also eager to grasp new meanings.
If it is true that as they say, we all have a child inside, then we should let that child out. We should make our best effort to have this internal and curious child enjoy a “new” Torah every time we open it. If we can be up to this challenge, then we will never get bored from the Torah. We will enjoy it every time we read it and, therefore, learn from it.