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The Torah that Moses commanded us in an inheritance of the Congregation of Jacob (33:4).
With these words, Moses opens up the final blessings he gave to each of the tribes and to the Israelite nation as a whole.
Rashi implies that the Torah is not an inheritance as such, but one has to ‘grasp it’ – become involved with learning it and observing it.
However, the meaning of the word morasha – translated as ‘heritage’ is understood more literally by S’forno. He writes that the Torah is ours in the sense that it has been bequeathed to ourselves, and to our children. Taking this idea further, the Torah is our essence and we cannot actually leave it because in doing so we leave our very selves. We see this often today with, for example, Israeli politicians who call them secular, but frequently and with obvious pride quote from their favorite passages in Isaiah and Ezekiel – texts which embody the deepest expressions of Torah values. The Torah is part of them… The Ramban goes further, explaining the word kehilla (congregation) to include those who are ‘congregated into’ the Torah nation – namely converts. Once a person converts, the Torah becomes part of his inheritance that stays with him for all time.
This more literal explanation of morasha by the S’forno appears to contradict the words of R. Yosi in the Talmud, where he urges, ‘ apply yourself to Torah study because it is not yours by inheritance’. (Ethics of the Fathers 2:11)
In seeking an answer to this question, there appear to be two different ways in relating to the Torah. Both are necessary and each complements the other. They are:
1. The Ambience of the Torah.
2. The Learning of the Torah.
On Simchat Torah (falling on the same day as Shemini Atzeret in Israel), we rejoice in both aspects of the Torah, as explained in this paragraph. In Temple times, after having offered seventy bulls to promote the welfare of the seventy nations of the world (Talmud: Sukkah 55b) during Sukkot, we offer only one bull on this last day. The Talmud (Sukkah 55a) explains that this is akin to G-d saying to the Israelites, “make a small banquet for me so that I can enjoy your company… Your leaving is hard for me.” This represents the ambience of the Torah. In addition, the Rabbis went further by combining this festival of pure joy with the completion and new beginning of the annual cycle for the weekly Torah reading. This symbolizes the learning of the Torah.
There are many ways to experience the ambience of the Torah. For example, the various authentically Jewish nigunim: melodies which when sung properly touch parts in the soul of a Jewish person. Yom Kippur may be a strenuous time, but few of us leave shul without our heads being full of the tunes that brought out the profound and positive thoughts of that day. Similarly, the festivities of the Shalosh Regalim (including Shemini Atzeret) – the three festivals where the Israelites from all over traveled to the place where the Shechina – Divine Presence – was at its strongest: the Temple. On Sukkot, events included the Simchat Beth Hasho-eva – the festivities of water drawing, concerning which the Talmud (Sukkah 51a) states that whoever did not witness it had never seen real rejoicing in his life. Today the latter is reflected in the happy celebrations bearing the same name held in many sukkot which include festivities meals combined with Divrei Torah, nigunnim and dancing. These are all ways in which even the unlearned can experience the ambience of the Torah. And the soul of the Jew which stood at Mount Sinai or joined the Torah nation though conversion including full acceptance of the Torah, has received as in inheritance the necessary spiritual sensitivities to experience and benefit from the Shechina in forms similar to the above.
However, this is not the entire Torah framework. The Torah is the Divinely ordained system – that of the Creation – and its observance maximizes our part in positively forwarding the process of Creation. Our place within the Torah discipline requires us to observe commandments, including those reasons we cannot easily understand or make sense of. Only as our understanding deepens, after many years of genuine, authentic Torah study, do we come to the truer appreciation of the Torah as a whole, and we begin to see where previously inexplicable things fit in to the giant system of the Creation.
That is not achieved by merely ‘tasting’ the Torah, enjoying its ambience. It is the product of many years of Torah study and Torah observance. These are the things to which R. Yosi refers to in saying that the Torah is not an inheritance – and to which Rashi alludes to when he writes of having to ‘grasp’ hold’ of the Torah. But underlying all of that is the ambience of the Torah alluded to by the Sforno. The neshama – soul of the Israelite – has been endowed with the necessary spiritual sensitivity to fully benefit from the specifically Jewish spiritually uplifting experiences, and Torah study.
Since Rabbinic times we have emphasized both aspects of the Torah inheritance on Simchat Torah. The festive meals, and the singing and dancing with the Sifrei Torah bring out the ambience of the Torah – the readily available Torah. And in addition our ending and re-starting the annual weekly Torah reading cycle highlights the eternity and continuity of the need for Torah study.