Welcome to Morethodoxy! Where we rediscover the breadth, depth and passion of Orthodox Judaism. Each weekday you will receive a different posting from leaders of the Modern Orthodox world: Rabbi Hyim Shafner, Rabbi Barry Gelman, Maharat Sara Hurwitz, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky and me, Rabbi Asher Lopatin. Once a week, one of us will write on the parsha – other postings are pretty much whatever we want to say, hopefully illuminating and expanding Torah in a way never seen on the net!
This week I am Parsha man – and we are excited that it will sometimes be parsha man, and sometimes parsha woman! We decided to start right after Shavuot so that right after Jews all over the world celebrate receiving the Torah, we can start giving over some of that Torah ourselves. I would say that the Torah I am going to share is Torah we all received at Sinai, but we need each other, through the generations and till the end of time, to remind each other and teach each other what we really got at Sinai. It’s sort of a mixture of Torah MiSinai (Torah from Sinai) and Socratic thought, which believes that everyone is born with all the knowledge in the world, just that it requires teachers to bring it out of us.
And Parshat Nasoh – which Israel read this past Shabbat , but which we, in Chicago and everywhere else in galut within Orthodox circles read this coming Shabbat – is the perfect Parsha to start with since it is all about bearing the Torah and the word of God and the holy sanctuary which housed the Ark which housed the Ten Commandments and according to many midrashim the Torah itself. But how to we carry the Torah? With what attitude, and in what frame of mind? Of course, b’simcha – with joy – but I think Parshat Nasoh forces us to recognize that each of us has our own unique contribution to make to Torah, to Judaism, to our community. If you really pay attention to the leining, the last three aliyot are really tough to take: long and repetitive, where each nasi, each chieftain of each of the twelve tribes gets his moment where the Torah tells us exactly what they offered to dedicate the sanctuary. Of course each one gave the same thing. But for each one that same thing was unique: it was a unique person giving a gift, and since the person was different, the gift was different.
I think the analogy to Torah is clear: each and every one of us got the same Torah at Sinai. We use the same set of sources, of texts, whether it is the Torah Shebichtav, the written tradition, or the thousands of works from the Talmud on that record the Torah Sheba’al Peh. It was all given to all of us at Sinai. Yet each one of us, using the identical tradition, has a unique contribution to make. Each one of us should have different Torah insights, and should expect to further enhance our understanding of both the vision and the halacha – the practice – of Judaism in different ways. And just as we are forced in shul to listen to each one of the gifts from each of the twelve tribes, so, too, we need to listen to the Torah each one of us propounds. We may not agree, but each one of us has a right to interpret and develop the Torah we each got, ultimately, at Sinai, in our own way – and to have our voice heard.
That is the purpose of this blog – to be an open forum, based on the rabbis and maharat who have daily assignments, for everyone who has any Torah to share. And, what one of us heard from Sinai might be totally different, even the opposite, of what the other heard. One interpretation of the same sources might be totally different of someone else’s interpretation: let the fireworks start. As long as we recognize that each one of us is a full partner in this endeavor, each one of us is an heir to the tradition of Sinai – and, of course according to the Midrash, each one of us was at Sinai – then we can follow the tradition of Nasso.
So this Shabbat, as you are listening to the same bulls and sheep given for the same cause, 12 times, think about what each head of tribe might have been thinking that was different, think about how the bulls and sheep might have meant something totally different for the head of Yehuda vs. the head of Shimon or Levi. And hopefully we’ll develop a greater appreciation that the same Torah of God can become a great source of diversity and individuality for each of us.
Stay tuned next Monday, as I would like to discuss how Rav Ahron Soloveichik, zt”l, proved to me that I could shake a girl’s hand at Boston University 25 years ago because the priest in the Mikdash would do the same with the Sotah woman in our parsha!
But for now, I am off to Shacharit and the wonders of standing up and telling God how to run the world!
Rabbi Asher Lopatin