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   by Jacob Solomon

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The blessings G-d promises for those who observe the teachings of the Torah open with:

If you follow My statutes, and observe My commandments and perform them… (26:3).

"Following My statutes", according to Rashi, means putting dedicated and persistent effort into studying Torah. The purpose of constant commitment to learning is not for intellectual exercise, but to make "observing My commands and performing them" possible. Such genuinely motivated regular engagement in Torah learning leads to the observance and the fulfillment of the mitzvot, for which G-d promises the prosperity needed for success and accomplishment in Eretz Yisrael.

The Sforno additionally explains that "observing My commandments and performing them" are two very distinct parts of mitzva observance. "Observing My commandments" means letting the learning sink into the mind; your own mind as an individual. It does not just mean knowing the mitzvot, but thinking about the Torah learnt. It is that constant reflection that makes your learning become part of you, and fuses with your individuality and unique combination of previous experiences. Indeed, it also makes mitzva observance part of you, so that you naturally view G-d's requirements through a sense of being utterly at one with Him, leading to "Do His will as if it were your will" (Avot 2:4). In other words, the act of fulfilling the mitzvot makes you feel completely at home with the Creator.

In contrast, mere Torah learning as part of impersonal rote and routine is of more limited value. As G-d exclaimed to Isaiah about the tribe of Judah: "These people have come to honor Me with their mouths and their lips, but their hearts are far away from Me. Their fear of Me is like the rote learning of human directives… Therefore the wisdom of its wise men will go to waste, and the understanding of its sages will go into hiding" (Isaiah 29:13-14). Thus Rashi and Sforno give two complementary approaches to this fundamental danger of one's connection with our holy traditions losing their freshness and becoming routine. Both are based on the opening words of this Parasha. Rashi's interpretation focuses on Torah engagement, literally "toiling in Torah". The more effort one puts into it, the more it belongs to you, the more you are part of it. The Sforno's approach takes in the need for quiet reflection. The more you allow yourself to consider what you have learnt, the better it integrated into your understanding, and more it becomes part of you. Perhaps this allegorically fits into Shir Hashirim: "I am to my bride, and my bride it to me" (6:3). "I am to my bride" by being part of the Torah, following Rashi. "My bride is to me" by letting the Torah be part of me, following the Sforno.

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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