Mazal Tov! Today we completed our study of Massechet Megillah, and in the final daf (Megillah 32a) we are taught about: 1) The need to see the text of the Sefer Torah prior to reciting a bracha on the Torah; 2) That Torah must be read with a נעימה (pleasant tone) and זמרה (song), 3) That it is improper for two Torah scholars who live in the same town not to engage in halachic conversation; 4) That it is improper to grasp the Torah ‘naked’ (which is generally understood to mean ‘with your bare hands), and 5) That Moshe instituted that questions and discussions be held on festivals about those respective festivals.
On first glance, all these statements appear unrelated. However, I would like to explain how they do connect with one another based on the explanation given to the second of these teachings by Rabbi Baruch HaLevi Epstein (see Tosefet Bracha on Bemidbar 13:28).
Specifically – asks Rabbi Epstein – why must the Torah be read with a נעימה (pleasant tone) and זמרה (song)? And why – as our daf suggests – does failing to do so suggest that the people received חֻקִּים לֹא טוֹבִים – ‘decrees that are not good’ (Yechezkel 20:25)?
He answers by explaining that when we read the Torah without a pleasant tone and without song, it makes the Torah text one dimensional as if it is a series of dispassionate religious stories and statements. Contrasting this, if the Torah is read with a pleasant tone and with song, it makes the Torah into a back-and-forth conversation between the Torah and the individual reading it. Torah without tone and song translates its laws and teachings into ‘decrees that are not good’, while Torah with tone and song translates those laws and teachings into a living and breathing dialogue between heaven and earth.
With this in mind, we can return to the other teachings found in our daf. For example, why must we see the text of the Sefer Torah prior to reciting a bracha on the Torah? It is because before we bless the Torah, we must first see that the Torah is written with various gaps in-between the text which reflects how it was first communicated as a conversation between God and Moshe which thereby reminds us that this is how each of us should engage with Torah. And why is it improper for two Torah scholars who live in the same town not to engage in halachic conversation? Because Torah is meant to be a conversation, not a mere meditation. And why is it improper to grasp the Torah ‘naked’? Because ‘naked’ – in this sense – means absent of discussion or interpretation. And this is why Massechet Megillah ends by reminding us how Moshe Rabbeinu instituted that questions and discussions be held on festivals about those respective festivals – because the ultimate fulfilment of Torah is through our engagement with it.