"Upholding" the Torah

  • Harav Baruch Gigi








"Upholding" the Torah

Translated by Kaeren Fish



Each morning, in the "ahavat olam" (or "ahava rabba," according to Ashkenazi custom) blessing that precedes the recitation of the Shema, we ask: "And place in our hearts insight to understand and to grasp, to hear and to study and to teach, to observe (lishmor) and to perform (la'asot) and to uphold (lekayem) all the words of the study of Your Torah, with love." The expression "to observe" means not transgressing negative commandments. "To perform" means carrying out the positive commandments. What, then, is the meaning of "to uphold"? Seemingly, the fulfillment of the Torah is made up of observance (avoiding the negative) and performance (doing what is positive) – what else is there?


The meaning of the "upholding" can be understood in light of a verse that appears in our parasha: "'Cursed is he who does not uphold the words of this Torah, to perform them' – and all the people shall say, 'Amen'" (Devarim 27:26). In his commentary on this verse, Ramban quotes the Yerushalmi, Sota 7:4.


"'[Cursed is] he who does not uphold [the words of this Torah]' – Is there then a Torah that falls [if a person does not 'uphold' it]?

Rabbi Shimon ben Yakim said, This refers to the prayer leader [who must stand].

Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta said, This refers to an earthly court.

Mar Rav Yehuda and Rav Huna taught in the name of Shmuel: Concerning this thing Yoshiyahu tore his garment and said, 'I must uphold [the Torah].'

Rav Assi said in the name of Rabbi Tanchum bar Chiya: Even if one studied and taught, and observed and performed; if he had the opportunity to support [others in doing so] and did not support them, then he is included in this category of those who are cursed."


The Ramban then adds:


"This 'upholding' is incumbent upon the royal court and the Nasi, who have the power to cause the Torah to be upheld by those who are negligent in it. Even if [a leader] is completely righteous in his actions, but had the ability to have Torah observed by the wicked ones who neglect it [and did not do so] – he is cursed."


The Yerushalmi maintains that even if a person has studied and taught, observed and performed, but did not 'uphold' the Torah among others (i.e., cause it to be upheld by them), then he is called "cursed."


'Upholding' the Torah means raising the banner of Torah before those who disregard it, as the Yerushalmi teaches. It means reaching out to those who are distant from the values of the Torah and the Divine messages that are contained in it. Although the Ramban demands this only of the king and the Nasi, it is clear that every individual is obligated to uphold the Torah, in keeping with the level at which he is able to influence his environment. This is what we mean in our morning prayer: we ask God that, in addition to our observance and performance of the commandments, He should also give us the insight and perception that is necessary in order to 'uphold' the Torah.


As Chazal teach us, preceding every expression in our parasha of a category of those who are "cursed," there is a parallel category of those who are "blessed" (whether or not it is explicit in the parasha). May it be God's will that we merit to be included in the category, "Blessed is he who upholds the words of this Torah, to perform them."