Sunday, August 25, 2013
VAYEILECH - WRITING OUR OWN SEFER TORAH
"And now write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the Children of Israel.. ” Chazal teach us that the song referred to in the passuk is the whole Torah and that every Jew is commanded to write his own Sefer Torah . The Gemara in Sanhedrin tell us that even if a person inherits his ancestors’ Sefer Torah, he still must write his own Sefer Torah for himself . The commentaries offer a number of explanations for this halacho : The Ksav Sofer zt”l explains that this mitzvo is teaching us that it is not sufficient for a person to observe the Torah simply because his parents habituated him to shemiras hamitzvos , rather a person must create his own personal relationship with HaShem based on a genuine recognition and appreciation of Torah. Writing one’s own Sefer Torah and not relying on that of his parents indicates that a person is striving to develop his own derech in Avodas HaShem and not blindly follow that of his parents. The Ksav Sofer uses this principle to explain another maamer Chazal about the mitzvo of writing a Sefer Torah: The Gemara in Menachos says about one who writes a Sefer Torah for himself, that it is considered as if he accepted the Torah at Har Sinai . The Ksav Sofer explains that there are three levels of people who keep the Torah; He writes, “there are those who do it from love, there are those who do it from fear and there are those who only do it because they are habituated to it and the habit has become part of their nature.” He continues to argue that since a person in the third category would not observe the Torah if not for habit then it is logical to say that had he been at Har Sinai he would not have wanted to accept the Torah! In contrast if a person takes it upon himself to write his own Sefer Torah and not rely on that of his parents, he demonstrates that he wants to accept the Torah based on his own decision, rather than purely because he was brought up to do so. Accordingly, had he been at Har Sinai he would have accepted the Torah anew and would not have needed anyone else to force him to do so, hence Chazal’s statement that one who writes their own Sefer Torah is considered as if he received the Torah himself. The lessons from this mitzvo are very relevant in these times. An essential element of genuine teshuva is a desire to develop our relationship with HaShem and to eliminate the aveiros that harm that connection. In order to do this it is vital that a person strengthen his Emuna and thereby remind himself of why he keeps mitzvos. Throughout the year a person may try to observe the Torah but there is the constant danger that he will fall into the trap of habit and lose focus on why he is keeping the Torah! Much of the Avoda of Rosh HaShana is connected to this idea - we spend the whole day emphasizing that HaShem is our King and that we want to fulfill his Will. This Avoda should have helped remind ourselves of why we keep mitzvos - because we want to get close to HaShem and not simply because we were brought up that way. There is another key lesson that can be derived from the Ksav Sofer’s explanation of why each person must write his own Sefer Torah. It is not enough that a child mimic his parents’ form of Avodas HaShem, rather he must forge his own unique relationship with HaShem, developing his own midos and talents to their fullest. At the same time, the mitzvo requires that he write the exact same Sefer Torah as that of his forefathers, teaching us that the degree of chiddush that he makes cannot go beyond the boundary of the Torah that he inherited from his parents. All Jews are born into a line of tradition that goes back to Avraham Avinu; we are obligated to faithfully adhere to the instructions and attitudes that we receive from this line of mesora. A person cannot mechadesh his own set of values or hanhagos; there is a mesora that guides him how to live his life. But, at the same time, this does not mean that each person in the chain of mesora is identical in every way - there are many ways in which a person can express himself in the fulfillment of the mesora. This idea is also highly significant in the Yamim Noraim . A person is not only judged for his shemiras hamitzvos, there is also a judgment as to whether he is fulfilling his own personal purpose in life. This is expressed in the tefillos of these days when we say that we are judged, ‘maaseh ish upekudaso’. ‘Maaseh ish’ refers to a person’s mitzvo observance, but what does pekudaso mean? Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz zt”l explains that it refers to a person’s tafkid (purpose) . A person is judged as to whether he utilized his own talents to the greatest ability. It is not enough for him to mimic his ancestor’s lifestyle, rather he must strive to find his own niche in Avodas Hashem. The Aseres Yemai Teshuva is a time that is mesugal for contemplation of one’s life purpose and direction. May we all be zocheh to break out of habit, reinvigorate our Avodas Hashem and reach our own unique potential..