January 6, 2022

Megillah 23

There are times when the word ‘Torah’ is used to exclusively refer to the Pentateuch (חמישה חומשי תורה), times when it is used to refer to the Bible (תנ”ך), other times when we use the word ‘Torah’ to refer to the core teachings of the Written & Oral Law (תנ”ך משנה וגמרא), and other instances when we use the word ‘Torah’ to refer to any Jewish teaching expressive of or associated with the Written and Oral Law.
Undoubtedly, all of these are different types of Torah, and undoubtedly, each inform the lives of those wishing to live a Torah lifestyle. Nevertheless, it is important to distinguish between each of these categories while emphasizing that though each are essential, this does not mean that they are equivalent.
In terms of the Pentateuch (חמישה חומשי תורה), it is simply the foundation of all of the rest of Torah. As Rashi explains in his commentary to Ta’anit 9a, החומש הוא יסוד נביאים וכתובים ובכולם יש סמך למצוא מן התורה – ‘the Chumash is the foundation of the prophets (נביאים) and the writings (כתובים), such that [all of the core ideas found in the prophets and writings] can be found to be a deduction from parts of the Chumash’ (nb. on this specific theme, see the fabulous מבוא to Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky’s אמת ליעקב). This is why we are taught (see Yoreh Deah 282:19) that while a Chumash may be placed atop of volumes of נביאים and כתובים, volumes of נביאים and כתובים may not be placed atop of a volume of Chumash.
Having explained all this, we can now turn to our daf (Megillah 23a) where we are taught that the individual who reads the Haftarah (from the נביאים) must also be called up to the reading of the Torah for reasons of כבוד תורה. This ensures that we maintain the right perspective in terms of the former being secondary to the latter, or as Rashi puts it, שלא יהא כבוד תורה וכבוד נביא שוה – ‘so that the honour shown to the [words of] Torah, and the honour shown to the [words of the] prophets, is not equivalent’.
Today, there is much Torah available and much Torah studied. However, too often there is a significant focus on the secondary (and in many cases, the tertiary, quaternary, quinary, senary and septenary sources of Torah) over the primary, and the simple fact is that there are those who claim to be living a Torah life but who prefer to draw wisdom from and grapple with the ideas in more modern works than engage with the Chumash.
Yet while this may be understandable for a variety of reasons, there is much lost in doing so, and if Rashi says that we should be clear that we should not treat the words of the prophets and writings with the same honour that we should show to the Chumash, this is certainly the case when contrasting the Chumash with many of the books that line the shelves of a Jewish home. This is why there is a specific obligation (see Orach Chaim 285) to study the Chumash each week (known as שנים מקרא ואחד תרגום) – so that we understand and appreciate how the Chumash is the foundation of all of the rest of Torah.
Ultimately, if we wish to be connected with Torah, we need to study Torah, and while the word Torah means different things, it begins with the Chumash.
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