10 Minutes of Torah -  Jewish Ethics
  October 27, 2005
Week 101, Day 4
24 Tishrei 5766

Ethical Teachings - Selections from Pirkei Avot*

*For the full text and comment, see Pirkei Avot by Kravitz and Olitzky, eds. (URJ Press)

THE TEXT

6:7 Great is the Torah because it gives life to those who perform it in this world and in the next as it says, "For they are the life to them that find them, and healing to all their flesh." [Proverbs 4:22] And it says, "It shall be health to your navel and marrow to your bones." [Proverbs 3:8] And it says, "It is a tree of life to all who hold fast to it and all its supporters are happy." [Proverbs 3:18] And it says, "They are a caplet of grace for your head and chains around your neck." [Proverbs 1:9] And it says, "It shall give you a caplet of grace; a crown of glory shall it give you." [Proverbs 4:9] And it says, "By me your days will be multiplied and the years of your life increase." [Proverbs 9:11] And it says, "Length of days is in her right hand; riches and honor are in her left hand." [Proverbs 3:16] And it says, "For length of days and years of life and peace shall be added to you." [Proverbs 3:2]

COMMENTARY

The texts from Proverbs are in praise of wisdom; the rabbis interpret wisdom as referring to Torah. The piling up of verses in praise of wisdom is thus converted to praise of Torah.
For the rabbis, as we have seen, the study of Torah promised providence in this life and eternity in the next.

(Pirke Avot, 102-103)

Davar Acher--Another Interpretation

Great is the Torah. On our festival calendar there are two festivals, Simchat Torah and Shavuot, which celebrate the Torah, reminding us of its significance in our Jewish lives. Each of the festivals focuses our attention on different aspects of our relationship to Torah and study.

In the Reform tradition and in Israel, Sh'mini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are celebrated together. Sh'mini Atzeret is mentioned specifically in Numbers 29:35, after the list of sacrifices which were brought during Sukkot: "On the eighth day you shall hold a solemn gathering (atzeret); you shall not work at your occupations." Simchat Torah is not mentioned in either the Torah or the Talmud and was added to the festival calendar in the Middle Ages. "Void of the rituals of the sukkah and Four Species, Sh'mini Atzeret seemed characterless until the Middle Ages, when the tradition of reading the whole Torah during the course of one year came to predominate. To celebrate the completion of the cycle, a new holiday developed called Simchat Torah, 'rejoicing with the Torah'" (Strassfeld, A Book of Life, 281). Simchat Torah is thematically related to Sukkot, called "the season of our joy" in that it celebrates the joy of Torah. However, in contrast to the sacrifices of Sukkot, which were dependent on the ritual of sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem, Torah is central to Jewish life wherever Jews dwell.

If Sh'mini Atzeret--Simchat Torah concludes the festival of Sukkot with the celebration of Torah, then Shavuot is the atzeret of Pesach. Rather than one week later, Shavuot follows seven weeks after Pesach, as we count the days of the Omer from Pesach to Shavuot. Both of these days, which are called azeret (sacred gatherings), have foundations in both Torah and freedom. Shavuot, when we mark the giving of the Torah, is connected to the national freedom we experienced having been liberated from Egypt and our willingness to accept Torah. Sh'mini Atzeret--Simchat Torah celebrates a personal, spiritual liberation and joy, coming as they do after Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

It gives life. Simchat Torah, as its name suggests, is a joyous celebration, observed through dancing and singing with a Torah scroll in our arms. The climax of the ritual is the reading of the Torah itself, concluding Deuteronomy and immediately returning to Genesis and the creation of the world. This process demonstrates that the process of Torah reading and studying is an unending cycle, bringing joy and accompanying us throughout the cycle of our own lives. We repeat the same stories as we grow and although their significance may change, the cycle connects each moment to the past and the future.

The rabbis demonstrated through the selection of the verses in the baraita the enduring value of the Torah, both in its physical form and in its teaching. It is because the Torah has been carried by our ancestors to all the corners of the world that Judaism has had longevity in the face of history and civilizations which have attempted to destroy the Jewish people. In both concrete and symbolic ways, the Torah has lengthened our days.

1. Look at the metaphors for Torah in the verses from Proverbs above. Which one speaks to you the most? Suggest your own metaphor for Torah.
2. How does Simchat Torah work to conclude the fall festival season in your Jewish experience?

 

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