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“And now write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the Children of Israel...1”
The Sages teach that when the Torah teaches us to write a song, the song referred to is the whole Torah and that every Jew is commanded to write his own Sefer Torah (Torah scroll). The Gemara in Sanhedrin tell us that even if a person inherits his ancestors’ Sefer Torah, he still must write his own Sefer Torah for himself2. The commentaries offer a number of explanations for this halacha3: The Ketav Sofer explains that this Mitzva is teaching that each person must have his own relationship to the Torah, therefore, it does not suffice to just use the Sefer Torah that he inherits from his parents – rather he must write his own, symbolizing his forging his own relationship with Torah.4
The Ketav Sofer discusses this idea from a number of different angles, and one of his points is that the Torah is teaching that each person should make his own novel Torah insights (chiddushim), because each person has their own unique portion of Torah.
This seems like an obvious idea, but in truth the concept that each person can make Torah insights is quite startling. A Torah insight is an idea that nobody else in all of history originated.5 This means that of the millions of people who have learnt this area of Torah, none of them came up with this particular insight. Taking this idea further, Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits, Rosh Yeshiva of Aish HaTorah, asks how it is even conceivable that any of us can come up with a valid insight that a great genius such as the Vilna Gaon never thought of – after all, he was immeasurably smarter and more knowledgeable than all of us.
The answer is that each Jew was created with his own root soul (shoresh neshama) that has its own, unique way of connecting to God and to His Torah. The consequence of this is that there are many ideas and novel insights that are only relevant to that person in all of history, even though there were far smarter people who never thought of it.
Based on this idea, another question arises – does this mean that every person can happily create his own insights? The answer to this is that there are conditions that need to be fulfilled in order for a person to be able to say a novel insight. One Torah Scholar said, with regard to saying a novel insight on Chumash, that there are two requirements – that the insight makes sense in the words of the Torah, and that it fits with the Torah outlook. Needless to say, it is recommended to test one’s insight on other people to see if it fulfils these conditions and can withstand the pressure of rigorous analysis.
This idea is also connected to the age-old questions of what a person should learn, and how is the best way to learn. Three great Sages (Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, Rabbi Nissim Karelitz and Rabbi Gershon Edelstein) were asked in this vein, what is the correct way to learn Torah. They all gave the same answer – one should learn what his heart desires. There is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to what one should learn because each person has their own root soul which has its own way of connecting to Torah. If a person does not merit to learn what his soul desires, then it is very likely that he will not feel satisfaction in his learning, which can have many negative consequences.
Rabbi Edelstein proved this idea with a personal story: When he was a teacher in Yeshiva, they were learning a Gemara about the laws of damages - one of the students approached him and said that he was not deriving any enjoyment from this style of learning. Rav Edelstein asked him, what type of learning he did enjoy. He answered that he liked learning Mishnah Berurah6. Rav Edelstein then suggested that he learn the same areas of damages but with the Shulchan Aruch7, and the commentary of the Sma, which is the most similar equivalent to the Mishnah Berurah in that area of Torah. The student adopted this approach and thoroughly enjoyed it, developing a deep understanding of the topic, albeit in a different way from most of his peers. He continued to become an accomplished Torah scholar.
We have seen that the Mitzva to write one’s own Sefer Torah alludes to the fact that each person has the ability to create his own connection to Torah – it is vital to a person’s success in learning that he find the areas that he connects to and thereby thrive in his learning.