Rabbi Isaacs describes how the primary texts of Jewish tradition, even the Shema itself, enjoin Jews to study Torah. Following one standard approach, Rabbi Isaacs states that Torah study is rewarded because it leads to the performance of the commandments. This is, perhaps, an oversimplification. For some rabbis, Torah study is clearly a value in and of itself. Nevertheless, the citation at the end of this article from Menachem Mendel of Kotzk certainly alludes to the greatest reward of all: By studying with and in the presence of children, Jews try to ensure the ongoing study of Torah and our Jewish heritage. This article is reprinted from The Bible: Where Do You Find it and What Does it Say?, published by Jason Aronson.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul and all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise up.” Deuteronomy 6:5-7
Because the Torah is the touchstone of the Jewish people, Jews are often called “the people of the book.” The book of course is the Torah, the Five Books of Moses. But Torah is more than just one book. It can also refer to all of Jewish sacred literature and learning. The rabbis emphasized the study of Torah because they believed that Torah study leads a person to the observance of other mitzvoth [commandments].
In the first paragraph of the Shema, which is derived from the Book of Deuteronomy 6:4-8, the Jew is charged to express his or her love for God through constant study, “When you lie down and when you rise up.” Such study has the potential to bring the people into a closer relationship with God. Torah study sweetens one’s life. To emphasize this sweetness, children–especially in Eastern Europe–used to begin their study of Hebrew with letters that had been written in honey. As they learned the letters and enjoyed the honey, they also learned that the study of Torah was sweet.
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