torah

On this day: Hearts, seeing eyes, hearing ears

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The concluding section of our parasha, Ki Tavo, begins with an appeal for national reminiscence:

And Moshe called all of Israel and said to them, “You have seen all that the L-rd did before your very eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, to all his servants, and to all his land; the great trials which your very eyes beheld and those great signs and wonders.”

Significantly, the following pasuk indicates a break with the past:

Yet until this day (od hayom hazeh), the L-rd has not given you a heart to know, eyes to see and ears to hear.”

The phrase od hayom hazeh appears 12 times in four of the five books of the Torah, the exception being Sefer Vayikra. In some instances it may be understood at face value (that is, this day) and in other cases, it connotes for all time. Our pasuk follows the first approach, suggesting a sense of immediacy — in other words, on this very day, and not before, Hashem gave our forebears knowing hearts, seeing eyes and hearing ears.

Since we had born witness to Hashem’s wonders and miracles against Pharaoh and his people in Egypt with our “very eyes,” how is it possible that, od hayom hazeh, we did not have hearts, eyes, and ears capable of perceiving Hashem’s manifold miracles?

In my view, Rashi focuses on this question when he brings an unsourced midrash, introduced by the term, sha’mati (I have heard), to explain od hayom hazeh in our verse:

I have heard that on the very day that Moshe gave the Torah scroll to the sons of Levi, as the verse says, “And he gave it to the kohanim, the sons of Levi,” all Israel came before Moshe and said to him: “Moshe, our Teacher! We also stood at [Mount] Sinai and accepted the Torah, and it was [also] given to us! Why, then, are you giving the members of your tribe control over it, so that someday in the future they may claim, ‘It was not given to you, it was given only to us’.” Moshe rejoiced over this matter, and it was on account of this, that he said to them, “This day (hayom hazeh), you have become a people [to the L-rd your G-d].”

I believe that this midrash is a “game changer” for understanding the relationship of the Jewish people to the Torah and Hashem. Herein, the entire nascent nation demands incontrovertible recognition of their inalienable claim to the Torah, and completely eschews the notion that the Torah should ever be the sole province of the kohanim.

Moshe’s reaction is equally telling. With the realization that the entire people long for and seek to cleave to the Almighty, he rejoices in their words and recognizes that they are, hayom hazeh, truly Hashem’s people.

Approximately 200 years after Rashi, we find a somewhat parallel midrash in Midrash Yalkut Shimoni which reflects on the pasuk, “Moshe and the Levitic priests spoke to all Israel, saying,” thusly:

What words were spoken there? This comes to teach you that the Jewish people came and said to Moshe: “You have taken the Torah and given it to the kohanim,” as the text states, “Then Moses wrote this Torah, and gave it to the priests, the descendants of Levi.” Then Moshe said to them: “Do you want me to establish a covenant (brit) that anyone who desires to learn Torah will never be prevented from doing so?” They said to him: “Yes!” They [Moshe and the Levitic priests] stood and took an oath that no one would ever be prevented from reading the Torah, as the text states, “to all Israel.” Then Moshe said to them, “Hayom hazeh (you have become a people to the L-rd, your G-d).”

The message in both Rashi’s gloss and the Midrash Yalkut Shimoni is clear: Each of us has the right and privilege to study Torah, and to thereby come closer to our Creator. It is truly morasha kehilat Ya’akov (the eternal legacy of the entire Jewish people).

We are now on the cusp of encountering the Master of the Universe during the Yamim Noraim. Let us hope and pray that, once again, He will judge us favorably, and we will be granted the opportunity to continue to demonstrate our commitment to His Torah as His holy people, forevermore. V’chane yihi ratzon.

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