An Opened Book

May 19, 2019

5 min read


Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25-27 )

The office staff ushers you into the CFO's impressive, expansive office. The sky-line view. The mahogany desk. The walls prominently display rare mementos and signed memorabilia.

Your eyes catch hold of a mounted, framed, yellowed-with-age antique letter of some sort. When Mr. CFO arrives, you exchange pleasantries and as a conversation-starter you inquire as to the nature of this mysterious artifact.

"It's a handwritten letter from Napoleon to Thomas Jefferson dating back to the turn of the 19th century. Only a handful are known to exist. I don't have to tell you, it fetched a pretty-penny at auction."

"Wow. That's quite a piece of history you have there. So, what does the letter say?"

"You know, I've always wondered that myself."

"Wait a second," the visitor inquired incredulously, "you mean you paid a small fortune for this rare, one-of-a-kind relic and you have no idea what it says...."

"Well," CFO responded sheepishly, "I don't understand French..."

* * *

"If you go in My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them; then I will provide your rains in their time, and the land will give produce and the tree of the field will give its fruit." (Lev. 26:3-4).

Rashi: What is meant by "if you will go in My statutes? That you should be laboring in the Torah."

In his classic list of the 30 ideas that a Jew should consistently contemplate, the Duties of the Heart writes (no. 5), "One should make a personal accounting of one's delay in coming to understand God's Torah and of one's contentedness with not grasping its contents."

"One would not act this way in regard to a book that came from a human king. In the event he was not sure of its meaning, for example, because of incomprehensible handwriting or diction ... or its rhetorical style. Rather, one would focus his mind and concentrate all this thoughts in order to understand its meaning ..."

"Now, if one would go to such lengths to understand the book of a human being, weak and mortal like himself, how much greater is it one's obligation to go far and beyond this in order to understand God's Book ..."

Let's face it. Certain information we simply have to have. When we're not sure if the pharmacists' instructions are to take 5mg or 50mg, we don't just wing it and hope for the best, we're on the phone ASAP with CVS to resolve our confusion. When your son's new wheel-barrow comes in 52 parts and the completely un-helpful instruction manual (in German no less) simply ain't getting the job done, you're on that company's web-site ASAP to get some much needed customer service.

When it comes to other bodies of knowledge, however, we are more content to live with our own ignorance and are quick to endorse readily-available excuses. "I don't understand Hebrew" [despite the fact that quality English translations on virtually every facet of Judaism are (usually) just a few double-clicks away]. "I don't have time." [Despite the fact that we manage to find time for so many other things of lesser significance.] "I don't find it interesting." "It's not relevant." "I'm too ____ (fill in the blank - old, dumb, stressed-out or ADD)."

Admittedly, our "request" for perception and understanding (the very first request in the Shemoneh Esrei) may never approach the urgency of our "request" for livelihood.

That being said, with Shavous approaching on the horizon we have our "annual check-up," our opportunity to re-assess our personal commitment to understanding the Torah and the vast scope of knowledge It encompasses.

To what degree can we upgrade our personal approach to the study of Torah? How can we make it more sincere? More clear? More interesting? How can we snuff out inherent laziness and deleterious complacency? How can we gain clarity vis-à-vis those questions that have eluded us for so many years? Whether it be macro-questions about the purpose of life or micro-questions about whether your porch needs a mezuzah? Where can we find answers to all those unanswered inquiries percolating in our heart, mind and soul? How can we capitalize on the abundant resources - e.g., human resources (teachers, Rabbis), books, translations, CD's etc., etc. - that can manifest our sincere desire to become more knowledgeable Jews?

When we roll up our sleeves, get off the couch, brush the dust off the Jewish books on our shelf (or awaiting us in our Amazon in-box), find a class, ask a Rabbi and find some pro-active expression of our true desire to know, understand and embrace the Torah that has sustained us for generations, we will have taken significant strides towards achieving the pinnacle and purpose of Shavous - a heightened awareness, appreciation and love for God's Torah and a dogged determination to understand It to the best of our personal ability.

Good Shabbos.

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