SALT - Thursday, 5 Elul 5778 - August 16, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Torah in Parashat Shoftim presents the laws relevant to the Jewish king, including the requirement that he write a Sefer Torah and learn from it “all the days of his life,” so that “he learns to fear the Lord his God…” (17:19).
            The Gemara in Masekhet Sanhedrin (21b), as cited by Rashi (17:18), comments that the king was actually required to have two Torah scrolls, one which was stored in “beit genazav” – his treasury – and a second which he carried with him wherever he went.  The Torah formulates its command as a requirement for the king to write “mishneh ha-Torah ha-zot,” which the Gemara understood to mean two copies of the entire Torah.
            Numerous different explanations have been offered for the requirement that a king have two Sifrei Torah.  Rav Yehuda Leib Ginsburg, in his Yalkut Yehuda, offers a simple, practical explanation, noting that the Sefer Torah which the king kept with him at all times and frequently read would naturally wear out over time.  Sooner or later, some of the ink was bound to fade, resulting in missing text, which would then result in serious errors if the king was not fully proficient with the correct text.  Therefore, the Torah required that the king also have a Sefer Torah that sat safely in his treasury, so he could periodically compare the Torah he kept with him against the Torah in his treasury, and identify missing or corrupted words.
            It is hard to overlook the symbolic significance of this requirement, according to the Yalkut Yehuda’s explanation.  As we go through life striving to faithfully observe the Torah’s laws and apply them in our day-to-day affairs, it is all but guaranteed that some “letters” will fade, that mistakes will creep into our minds and into our daily routine.  Whether the result is incorrect ideas and perceptions, incorrect practices, or diminished resolve, our understanding of what is expected of us, and of the way we are to live, can so easily “fade.”  We must therefore ensure to have a pure, pristine “Sefer Torah” – a source of proper Torah guidance and instruction – against which to periodically check and examine the “Sefer Torah” that we take with us wherever we go, the way we’ve grown accustomed to understanding and fulfilling God’s will.
            This notion perhaps underlies the Gemara’s famous comment in Masekhet Shabbat (10b) that God proclaimed to Moshe, “I have a precious gift in My treasury, and it is called Shabbat; I wish to give it to Israel.”  Intriguingly, the Gemara describes Shabbat as something stored “be-veit genazai” – in the Almighty’s “treasury.”  In light of what we have seen, this depiction might serve to express the theme of preserving purity and pristineness.  God’s heavenly “treasury” is where truth is protected from the all but inevitable process of corruption that occurs over the course of the rigors of our world down below.  And this, perhaps, is the role of Shabbat which Chazal seek to illustrate through this depiction.  Shabbat is when we take leave of our worldly affairs, when we let go of the “Sefer Torah” that we carry with us during the workweek, and return to the pristine “Sefer Torah” in God’s “treasury.”  We redirect our focus to Torah and prayer, thereby regaining perspective and reformatting our priority scales.  We take a close look once again at the pure, pristine image of Torah life, and seek to determine whether our lives during the workweek sufficiently match that image.  Shabbat is a priceless gift from God’s “treasury,” reminding us of what our lives during the week ought to be geared towards, thus helping us to ensure that no “letters” of our workweek “Torah” ever “fade,” that we conduct ourselves all week long precisely the way God expects us to.