August 7, 2018

Showing and Sharing Torah (Ki Tavo)

The last of the curses listed in Parshat Ki Tavo is “Cursed is he who does not uphold and keep this entire Torah” (Devarim 27:26), thereby emphasizing the general message of Sefer Devarim that adherence to Torah law is good, and failing to adhere to those laws is bad. However, many commentaries believe that this statement contains a more nuanced lesson, and they base their opinion on the Yerushalmi.
The Yerushalmi (Sotah 7:4) says that the words “cursed is he who does not uphold …etc.” can be explained in two ways. Rabbi Shimon Ben Yakim states that this refers to the ‘Chazan’, while Rabbi Shimon Ben Chalafta says that it refers to the Jewish courts.
According to the classic understanding of the first opinion, we are being told that a Sefer Torah should be safety and respectfully kept in the ark. Thus, the curse is on the Chazan or Shamash who does not look after the Sifrei Torah in a respectful manner and does not stand them up correctly in an Aron Kodesh.
A second explanation of the first opinion is offered by the Ramban (commentary to Devarim 27:26). Basing himself on an instruction in Massechet Sofrim (14:14), the Ramban says that this refers to the person who performs ‘hagbah’ (ie. who lifts up the Sefer Torah in shul) who must ensure that all men and women are able to see the writing (nb. this law is codified in the Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 134:2). This is a clear instruction to all synagogue architects that all men and women must be able to see the Sefer Torah when raised so that they are able to proclaim that “this is the teaching that Moshe placed before the Children of Israel” (Devarim 4:44).
A third explanation of the first opinion is offered by Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein in his ‘Torah Temimah’ (commentary to Devarim 27:26), who says that the word ‘Chazan’ actually refers to Torah teachers. Thus, this verse is a warning to Torah teachers to uphold the Torah by teaching it correctly. Especially as we begin a new year of study, this is a humbling thought for all Torah teachers to prepare their classes with care.
Finally, the Yerushalmi itself explains the second opinion, and notes that this curse refers to community leaders and other knowledgeable Jews, who have the means to enable others to study Torah, yet do not do so. As we near the start of a New Jewish Year, it is appropriate to consider whether we have shared our knowledge with others in the past year, and commit ourselves to do so in the coming year.

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