Parshios Netzavim & Vayeilech
Our Connection to the Sefer Torah
These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly portion: CD # 957A, Yom Kippur – Fascinating Questions. Good Shabbos!
Parshas Vayelech contains the six hundred and thirteenth mitzvah of the Torah – the commandment to write a Sefer Torah [Devorim 31:19]. The Pnei Yehoshua cites in his commentary on Tractate Kiddushin that the fact that the number of letters in a Torah scroll is 600,000 alludes to the name Yisrael (Yud Shin Reish Aleph Lamed), which itself is an acronym for the expression: Yesh Shishim Ribbo Osios L’Torah (There are 60 myriad letters in the Torah.) It is thus not coincidental that the number of Jewish souls counted in the census of the Exodus was this same number of 600,000. That number corresponds with the 600,000 letters in a Torah scroll.
The Pnei Yehoshua explains, based on the Zohar, the Shnei Luchos HaBris and many other Kabbalistic sources that every Jew has within his soul one particular mitzvah attached to one particular letter in the Torah.
Rav Asher Weiss, in his Sefer on Chumash, makes a comment that I have thought about in the past, but I never knew how to fully explain it.
Whenever I go to a Siyum Sefer Torah, I am always amazed at how much people get into the ceremony and how they manifest such sincere jubilation on that occasion. Today, thank G-d, one can open up any Aron Kodesh in virtually any shul and find a surplus of Sefrei Torah. Basically, we are talking about just adding one more Torah to an Aron Kodesh that already has more Torahs than the congregation needs.
And yet somehow, the joy of a Siyum and a Hachnosas Sefer Torah ceremony is something that touches every Jew and brings out a Simcha [jubilation] that far exceeds what one experiences on most other occasions. How does one explain this?
Rav Asher Weiss suggests that this is because of the above referenced mystical connection between a Jew’s soul and the Sefer Torah, which has a letter within it which is linked to that soul. There is therefore a connection between every Jew and every Sefer Torah. It consequently becomes a personal simcha. No one ever wonders why a Jew is joyous at his own child’s wedding or his own sons’s Bar Mitzvah. “It is because it is me, it is my child, it is my grandchild. Of course I am jubilant.”
I feel a connection to every single Sefer Torah. It is not only because now we have another Sefer Torah which we did not have before. No. It has nothing to do with that. It has to do with the mystical spiritual connection between a Jew and one of the 600,000 letters in every Torah scroll.
Using this idea, Rav Asher Weiss explains a very famous Gemara [Avodah Zarah 18a] that we recount on Yom Kippur:
Rabbi Chananya ben Tradyon went to visit Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma when the latter took sick. Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma said, “Chananya my brother, don’t you know that this nation (the Roman Empire) has been empowered from Heaven for they have been allowed to destroy His House, burn His Sanctuary, kill his pious ones, and cause to perish his precious ones. Her might persists and I have heard about you that you sit and occupy yourself with Torah and gather congregations publicly to study with you. You openly display the Torah lying in your bosom. Rabbi Chananya responded, “May they have Mercy from Heaven.” Rabbi Yosi answered back to him, “I have given you a logical argument (why you should stop your public teaching) and you answer back ‘They should have Mercy from Heaven.’ I will be surprised if they don’t burn you and your Sefer Torah at the stake…”
The Talmud in fact concludes that the Romans found Rav Chananya ben Tradyon publicly teaching Torah. They took him out, wrapped the Sefer Torah around his body and burned him at the stake. They placed moist clumps of cotton on his heart to increase the pain and slow down the process of his death.
His disciples saw what he was going through and they asked him, “Rebbi, what do you see?” He responded famously, “I see the parchment being consumed but the letters are flying off and they remain.”
The response of Rav Chananya ben Tradyon regarding the letters flying off the parchment appears to be allegorical. What is the deeper meaning of this conversation?
When the students asked their teacher “What do you see?” they were asking “What is going to be the future of Klal Yisrael? The Romans are in charge. They are killing everybody. What is going to be? They have destroyed the Bais HaMikdash they are destroying everything connected with Torah. What is the future going to bring? How is Klal Yisrael ever going to survive this?”
Rav Chanina ben Tradyon told them “The parchment is burning” – they can extinguish the bodies of Klal Yisrael, but “the letters are flying away” – the letters of the Torah which are linked to the souls of the Jewish people – these will remain forever. The letters flying away are a metaphor for the souls of the Jewish people which correspond, through a mystical link to the souls of every member of the Jewish people. The Romans can destroy the synagogues and the study halls and even the Beis HaMikdash. They can destroy the “body”, but not the “soul”. The souls of the Jewish people, like the letters of the Sefer Torah will endure forever. “…It will not be forgotten from the mouths of his descendants…” [Devorim 31:21].
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Nitzavim-Vayelech is provided below:
CD# 022 – Reading Haftorah: Scrolls vs. Book
CD# 112 – Shoteh: Mental Incompetence in Halacha
CD# 158 – Schar Shabbos: How Do We Pay Rabbonim and Chazzanim?
CD# 205 – Kiddush Before T’kiyas Shofar
CD# 252 – Buying Seforim
CD# 295 – Burying the Dead on Yom Tov Sheni
CD# 341 – The Brachos on the T’kios
CD# 342 – Is Building a Succah a Mitzvah?
CD# 385 – Fasting on Rosh Hashana
CD# 386 – Succah Gezulah
CD# 429 – Treatment of an Invalid Sefer Torah
CD# 473 – Seudas Siyum Mesechta
CD# 517 – What Exactly Is Mitzva of Shofar
CD# 561 – Lo Bashomayin He
CD# 605 – Selling A Sefer Torah
CD# 649 – Minhagim of the Yomim Noraim
CD# 693 – My Father’s Chumros
CD# 737 – Borrowing and Lending Seforim
CD# 781 – I’m the Baal Tokeah and Not You!
CD# 825 – The Shuls of Gaza – A Halachic Perspective
CD# 826 – Yom Kippur: Women and the Shehecheyanu; Women and Kor’im
CD# 869 – The Mitzvah of Chinuch-Whose Responsibility? Mother or Father?
CD# 870 – Yom Kippur – The Yom Kippur That They Did Not Fast
CD# 913 – The Tefilah of Oleinu
CD# 957 – Coming Late for Tekias Shofar and Other Rosh Hashana Issues
CD# 1000 – Ta’amei Hamikra – The Tropp – How Important Is It?
CD# 1044 – Must You Stand for Chazoras HaShatz on Rosh Hashana?
CD# 1088 – Learning During T’kias Shofer?
CD# 1131 – Asking For Personal Needs On Rosh Hashana?
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