LA’ASOK B’DIVREI TORAH:
Mishkan T'filah, p. 204-205
Rabbi Sanford Akselrad
One of the appellations assigned to Jews is that we are known as the “People of the Book”. It is a compliment that reinforces the notion that “The Book” namely the Torah is central to our identity. So much so, that studying Torah is in itself a religious act. A form of praying to God. A way to manifest God in our lives. Rabbi Chanina son of Tradyon used to say, “(When)
two sit and exchange words of Torah, the Divine Presence rests amongst them.” (Pirke Avot 3:2)
Traditionally before one studies Torah a special b’rachah is recited, Baruch Atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu laasok b’divrei Torah-- “Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe, who has sanctified us through Your commandments, and commanded us to engage with words of Torah.”(Mishkan T’filah, p. 204) Based on a Talmudic passage in B’rachot 11b, this particular commandment asks us not simply to “study” or “learn” the Torah; but rather to engage ourselves fully in this pursuit. In other words, we must allow the words of Torah to enter into our everyday lives. We must study them, teach them, talk about them, and practice them.
To offer words of Torah without knowing their meaning is of little import. To blindly follow the mitzvot is also wrong. The pursuit of Torah knowledge is, in essence, a dynamic process which offers us change.
In the meditations found in Mishkan T’filah on p. 205, we are reminded that the study of Torah leads us to the Divine, and the practice of Jewish values leads God to us. Such a notion is not always easy to accept or follow. The second meditation reminds us that too often we are content to live with our ignorance. It is human to resist new ideas and to avoid changing. But that is the point of engaging in daily Torah study. Constantly we are reminded that the study of Torah is to lead us all the other mitzvot. “These are the things that are limitless, of which a person enjoys the fruit of the world...but the study of Torah encompasses them all.” (Mishkan T’filah, p. 206)
Mindful of this, we will find ourselves on a journey of personal introspection, change, and deeds that will improve the world in which we all live.
Sanford Akselrad is the rabbi of Congregation Ner Tamid in Henderson, Nevada.
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