Elevated by words of Torah
How Chasidut Studies the Chumash
The weekly Torah portion can and ought to be studied on many levels. The Torah portion of the week (the “parshat hashavuah” or simply “parshah”) contains information which we need to know and understand in a straightforward manner. This information is called in Hebrew, by some, “p’shat”- the readily apparent meaning of the text.
But there is another level of meaning in the Torah which needs to be explored. This level of meaning is, one could say, the spiritual meaning. The Torah is God-given and the serious student of the Torah is correct in asking how does the week’s passage from the Torah bring her or him closer to God.
So what makes Chasidut special?
The teachers of Torah who took this search for spiritual meaning very seriously were the Chasidic teachers. As the Chasidic movement took shape one of the significant innovations in the movement was the lesson on the parsha. This lesson was given by the Chasidic rebbe during the third Shabbat meal.
The Chassidic rebbe understood that what his followers needed was something that they could take home. They needed something that could help elevate the mundane and bring them closer to God. The questions that the Chasidic Rebbes raised in their parsha talks were not the ones raised by the great medieval commentators.
Foe example, when someone wishes to understand what a sentence means in its context one looks to Rashi or ibn Ezra for an answer. But if someone wishes to know how does knowing this or that verse bring me closer to God, then the answer is found in the Chasidic works.
Today I wish to share with you a teaching from the renowned Chasidic work, Sfat Emet, on the parsha.
Mosheh Rabbeinu and Stuttering
Our parsha begins, “These are the words that Moses spoke to all of Israel…”
For the perceptive reader who has followed the Torah reading throughout the year this verse marks a remarkable change in Moses. For when God approached Moses for the first time and instructed him to speak to Pharaoh, Moses refused to go. Moses replied to God, “…please God, I am not a man of words…”
And eventually it was Moses’s brother Aaron who spoke. So how did this transformation occur? How did Moses become a man of words?
The Sfat Emet (based on the early Rabbinic text Midrash Rabbah) explains that what changed Moses was the Torah itself.
Elevated by words of Torah
The Torah is what gives life. The Torah was God’s blueprint for all of creation. When God first met Moses, Moses was truly “not a man of words.” But what did Moses mean when he said that? When Moses said that he was “not a man of words” he did not mean that he could not speak clearly. What he meant to say was that his words could not reach the hearts of the Jews.
But the Torah that Moses taught for forty years elevated his speech. His speech acquired the sanctity of the Torah. Now his words could enter the hearts of the people.
So what is the lesson for us? Speech, the Sfat Emet says, is an immensely powerful tool. It is can cause great harm. But it can also bring about great good. The Torah certainly changed the speech of Moses, and if we open ourselves up to the Torah it can change us as well.