If you haven't done so yet today, please recite the
Blessings over the Torah
before reading the Torah on this web site.
The Torah of Hashem is perfect, it restores the soul.
The testimony of Hashem is trustworthy, it makes simple people become wise.
The instructions of Hashem are proper, they make one's heart happy;
the commandment of Hashem is clear, it enlightens the eyes.
The fear of Hashem is pure, and endures forever.
The judgments of Hashem are true, consistently righteous.
They are more desirable than gold, even more than the purest gold!
Sweeter than honey that drips from the honeycombs.
Wow. Can you imagine what sort of person must have said that? It must have been someone who had an easy life, someone with the leisure to fully enjoy the Torah, studying it day and night, someone who never felt any pain, and never had any reason to complain about his life.
You know who said those words? King David, in Psalm 19. The same King David who said: "If not for the fact that the Torah is my greatest delight, my troubles would have destroyed me!" (Psalms 119:42) Yes, King David said that, the same King David who lived a life that was full of more troubles than almost anyone who has ever lived. His father considered him worthless for all his childhood. Later, he spent years running away from King Saul, who chased him because he thought David was trying to kill him. Two of his own sons rebelled against him; one son fought a war against him and chased him off his throne. He spent his entire reign fighting enemies. He did not have an easy life at all.
What sustained him in his troubles? The Torah!
King David, in all his holiness, foreshadowed the history of the Jewish People. For we have also spent much of our history being chased by people who claim we wish to harm them. We have also been chased away from more countries than we can count. We have spent our lives fighting enemies, and sometimes our own children have left Judaism to join the Gentiles, rebelling against us.
What has sustained us? Mark Twain asked that question too. Many people have wondered how it is that a small people can be scattered among the nations, persecuted, killed, decimated, exiled again and again, and still remain true to their heritage! For that matter, they wonder how we could continue to exist at all! There is no other culture in the world that has matched this feat.
What is the secret of our existence? The Torah. Though, actually, it's no secret. It is our very reason for existence. More to the point, it is the reason that the world exists.
The Midrash tells us that Hashem created the Torah two thousand years before He created the universe (Midrash Beraishis Rabbah, 8). When the time came to create the universe, Hashem used the Torah as a blueprint. Just as a builder places walls where the blueprint says to put them, and doors where the blueprint says to put them, Hashem created the Torah and used that as a blueprint. (Midrash Beraishis Rabbah 1:1)
What does this mean? It means that the reason we are born with hands is because Hashem wrote in the Torah the Commandment of giving charity. We need hands to give charity, so we are born with hands.
We have parents because the Torah says "Honor your father and your mother."
The Torah commands us to pray; the Torah commands us not to gossip; the Torah commands us to eat Matzah on Passover night; the Torah commands us to teach our sons Torah: therefore, we are born with mouths.
Without this knowledge, we would have thought precisely the opposite. We would have assumed that since we have eyes, Hashem commanded us not to look at idols, and not to look at debauchery, etc. But the truth is the reverse. Hashem created the Commandments first, and then gave us the ability to obey or transgress those Commandments.
The Torah was not only the blueprint for Creation, it is also what keeps the world in existence today! The Rabbis teach us that the observance of the Covenant of Circumcision and the Covenant of the Torah keep the world in existence (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbos 137b; Pesachim 68b; Nedarim 31a).
The Rabbis also teach that when Hashem created the universe, He stipulated the specific condition that "If Israel will accept the Torah, the universe will continue to exist. If not, I will return the world to empty void it was at first" (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbos 88a).
This is the primary role of the Torah. It gives existence to the world, and it gives existence to us as a people, both as a whole and individually. Therefore, King David continues, "I will never forget Your teachings, because through them You kept me alive" (Psalms 119:93).
The Torah is that which gives us life, and reason to live.
It also gives us holiness. Hashem, in His great kindness and wisdom, created the Torah as a way for us to get closer to Him. When we study the Torah, we are drawn closer to Hashem. The more we work at it, the holier we become. The Rabbis therefore taught, "The Torah was given to purify mankind" (Midrash Beraishis Rabbah 44:1). Not only that, but each element of the Torah has the ability to elevate and spiritually perfect some part of the universe (Derech Hashem, 4:2:4).
This is one of the reasons we study even the portions that we cannot fulfill. Since I will never be the High Priest (as I am not a Kohain at all), what do I gain from studying the Service that the High Priest performed? One reason is that each part of the Torah elevates and purifies something else, and therefore we need to study as much of the Torah as we can, in order to elevate and purify the entire world.
Another reason is that when we study a portion of the Torah we cannot perform, Hashem counts it as if we have actually fulfilled it (Babylonian Talmud, Taanis 27b; Megillah 31b; see also Midrash Tanchumah Parshas Tzav, 14). This way, we elevate and perfect that part of our souls, and that part of the universe, that this portion of the Torah affects.
This applies on a number of levels. The ultimate level of Torah study is studying the Torah because it is a Mitzvah to do so. Hashem wants us to study the Torah, as it says, "...speak of them: when you sit at home, when you travel, when you get ready for sleep, and when you wake up" (Deuteronomy 6:7). Hashem told the Prophet Joshua: "This Book of the Torah must not depart your mouth. You must study it day and night..." (Joshua 1:8).
One of the great legal commentators, Rabbi Yoel Sirkish (1561 - 1641) in his classic work the Bayis Chadash (better known as the "Boch"), writes:
Hashem's intention is that we be engrossed in the study of Torah so that our souls get strengthened and united with the essence of the spirituality and holiness of the Source of the Torah. Therefore, Hashem gave Israel the Torah of truth as a gift, and we must never forget the Torah, so that our souls and bodies will be bound to the Commandments of the Torah.
If studied with this purpose, our Torah study and our performance of the Commandments create a vehicle and resting place for the Holy Presence of Hashem.. This way, the Holy Presence of Hashem will firmly establish Itself literally within each of us. The entire earth would be lit up with the Glory of Hashem, and thus the forces of Heaven and the forces of earth would be united...
-- Boch, on Tur Orach Chayim §47, Laws of the Blessing on the Torah.
To us, the Torah holds a special place in our lives. The Talmud tells us that the Torah is our marriage contract with Hashem (Midrash Vayikra Rabbah 1:10). Hashem gave us the Torah as an act of love. In our prayers every night, we say:
You love Your nation, the House of Israel, with an eternal love; You have taught us Torah and Commandments, sublime Laws and civil Judgments. Therefore, Hashem our G-d, when we get ready for sleep, and when we wake up we discuss your Laws, and we will rejoice in the words of the study of Your Torah and Your Commandments forever and ever. For they are our life, and our survival, and we will study them deeply day and night. So, please do not remove Your love from us in both this world and in the World to Come. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who loves His nation Israel.
The Torah is the main part of our special relationship with Hashem.
We also have the Commandment to teach the Torah to our children and to our students, as it says, "And you shall teach them thoroughly to your sons..." (Deuteronomy 6:7). The Rabbis tell us that this applies to our students as well, and our students must be to us like our own children (Sifri, quoted in Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah 419).
Furthermore, we must be very familiar with the Torah so we can know how to fulfill the Commandments. Moses therefore told the Children of Israel, "Take note that I have taught you rules and laws that Hashem has commanded me, so that you will be able to keep them.... Safeguard and keep them, since this is your wisdom and your understanding in the eyes of the nations" (Deuteronomy 4:5).
The Talmud therefore teaches, "Torah is great, because it brings to deeds" (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin, 40b).
Furthermore, the Torah is the only true help against sin.
The Rabbis taught: The Torah says, "Visamtem" "And you shall place these words of Mine on your hearts and on your souls..." (Deuteronomy 11:18). You can also read that as "sam tom," a perfect medicine. The Torah is the perfect medicine.
The Rabbis gave a parable, comparing it to a man who wounded his son, so he put medicine and a bandage on the wound. He told his son, "As long as you keep the bandage with the medicine on your wound, you can eat with pleasure, drink with pleasure, you can wash with hot water or cold water, and you don't have to worry about it. If you take off the medicine, it will get gangrenous."
Likewise, Hashem has told Israel, "My children, I have created the Evil Inclination, and I have created the Torah as an antidote against it. I wrote in My Torah: 'If you do good, you will be more powerful. If you do not do good, sin awaits crouching at the door; it desires to control you, but you can overpower it' (Genesis 4:7).
"As long as you are engrossed in the Torah, you will not be controlled by the Evil Inclination. This is why the Torah says: 'If you do good, you will be more powerful'. But when you are not engrossed in the Torah, you will be under the control of the Evil Inclination, as the verse continues, 'If you do not do good, sin awaits crouching at the door.'
"Not only that," Hashem said, "but the Evil Inclination will spend all its time and energies trying to make you sin, which is why the verse says 'it desires to control you.'
"If you want to, you can overpower the Evil Inclination, as it says, '...it desires to control you, but you can overpower it.'
(Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 30b).
The only way that one can overcome the Evil Inclination is through Torah. (Gentiles must study and keep merely the Seven Noahide Laws, as the Talmud says in Sanhedrin 59a, and this way they can be righteous and merit the World to Come. See also Chullin 92a; Avodah Zarah 64b.)
So it is the Torah that makes it possible for us to fulfill Hashem's will.
And it goes without saying that fulfilling Hashem's will is the most important thing we can do. For the Torah says, "You must make the choice to love Hashem your G-d, to obey Him, and to attach yourself to Him. For this is your life and your survival..." (Deuteronomy 30:20).
For this reason, each day we pray, "Blessed is our G-d, Who created us for His glory, and separated us from those who are confused in error, and gave us the Torah of truth, and implanted eternal life within us. May He open our heart through His Torah and place in our heart love for Him and awe of Him, so that we may fulfill His will and serve Him wholeheartedly, so that we do not struggle unproductively, nor produce in vain" (Daily Prayers, Uva LiTzion Go'el).