This letter is dedicated to the memory of my sister, Devorah Oboler – Alta Chaya, Yocheved Devorah bas Shlomo. Her yahrtzeit is on the 17th of Av, which this year begins on Tuesday evening, July 27th.
As we recently discussed, Jewish renewal is the renewal of our commitment to fulfilling the Torah, the Divine Teaching, in all areas of our existence We also discussed how this holistic renewal leads to a return to Zion and to a return to the ideal state of the Garden of Eden. In this letter, we shall begin to discuss the “secret” of Jewish renewal:
We can begin to discover the “secret” of Jewish renewal through an awareness of the following ancient tradition:
All the souls of our people throughout the generations were present when the Torah was given at Mount Sinai.
A source for this tradition is found in the following proclamation of Moshe Rebbeinu to our people when we renewed our covenant with the Torah before the entry into the Promised Land:
“Not with you alone do I seal this covenant and this oath, but with whoever is here standing with us today before Hashem, our God, and with whoever is not here with us today.” (Deuteronomy 29:13)
“And with whoever is not here with us today” – According to Midrash Exodus Rabbah (28:6), these words are referring to all the souls of the future generations who were present at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given. A similar explanation of these words is found in Midrash Tanchuma which states, “All the future generations that were destined to come were there at that hour” (Nitzavim 3). Regarding these future generations, the Midrash Tanchuma adds the following explanation in the name of Rabbi Abuhu, who said in the name of Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmoni:
“Their souls were there.”
The above verse, however, was said when we renewed our covenant with the Torah before we entered the Promised Land; thus, the above midrashic teachings are to be understood in the following manner:
All the souls of the future generations were present at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given, and all these souls were also present when we renewed our covenant with the Torah before we entered the Land (Sha’arei Aharon on Deut. 29:13).
The above teachings reveal the following “secret” of Jewish renewal:
Jewish renewal begins when we rediscover the Torah that our souls heard at Sinai.
One aspect of Jewish Renewal is the rediscovery and revival of certain Torah teachings and mitzvos that may have been forgotten, neglected, or only partially understood. The following are some examples: The Chassidic movement of the 18th century revived Torah teachings and mitzvos regarding the passionate service of the heart. The Mussar movement of the 19th century revived Torah teachings and mitzvos regarding the development of good character traits. During the 19th century and continuing into the 20th century, the Chofetz Chaim revived Torah teachings and mitzvos regarding ethical speech.
And during the 19th century, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch began a process of Jewish renewal through reviving Torah teachings which describe the universal goal of our people’s separate and unique journey through history. Through the writings of Rabbi Hirsch, we gain a deeper understanding of the universal vision of the Torah, and we also gain a deeper understanding of how the mitzvos of the Torah enable us to fulfill this universal vision. Rabbi Hirsch also helped us to rediscover Torah teachings and mitzvos regarding our relationship with the earth and its creatures – a spiritual and ecological topic of great relevance to our own era.
May all our attempts at Jewish renewal be in the spirit of the Torah that our souls heard at Mount Sinai. In this way, we can renew our bond with the Beloved One Who gave us the Torah.
Be Well and Shalom,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen – (See below)
Jewish renewal can take place on each day of our lives, and our tradition finds a source for this idea in a statement said to our people when we renewed the covenant with our Beloved before we entered the Promised Land. Moses and the Kohanim then proclaimed to us:
“This day you have become a people to Hashem, your God” (Deuteronomy 27:9).
Why, however, did they say, “this day”? Was it on that day that the Torah was given to Israel and we thereby became our Beloved’s people? We actually received the Torah and become our Beloved’s people forty years earlier! The words “this day” therefore have a deeper meaning. According to our tradition, these words are revealing that each day, through the power of renewal, we can feel as if we just received the Torah at Sinai. As the classical commentator, Rashi, explains:
“Every day shall be in your eyes as if you had entered into the Covenant with Him that day.” (Commentary to Deut. 27:9)
Rashi’s explanation of the words “this day” is based on the Talmud’s explanation of these words. The Talmud states in the name of Rabbi Judah that these words come to reveal the following insight: “
The Torah is beloved to those who study it each day as on the day that it was given from Mount Sinai” (Brochos 63b).