September 27, 2012 | 7:51 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
So much of Torah is metaphor. Indeed, if we read this classic Jewish text only according to its plane meaning we miss the greater truths and the richer opportunities for understanding and transcendence.
The poetry of Ha-a-zinu (Deuteronomy 32:1-43) is as fine an example of metaphor as there is in Torah. It begins this way:
Ha-a-zinu ha-sha-ma-yim v’a-da-bei-rah / v’tish’ma ha-a-retz im’rei fi: / Ya-a-rof k’ma-tar lik’chi / ti-zal katal im’ra-ti / kis’i-rim alei deshe / v’kir’vi-vim alei esev. (vs 1-2)
“Give ear, O heavens, that I may speak, / hear, O earth, the utterance of my mouth. / Let my teaching drip like rain, / let my words flow like dew, / like droplets on new-growth, / like showers on grass. (Translation by Everett Fox, “The Five Books of Moses,” pps. 1001-1002)
Most sages interpret this verse as “hyperbole for the study of Torah,” that the more Torah we learn the deeper will be our understanding.
“The earth requires heavy rainfall to promote plant growth. Once such plant life exists, relatively small amounts of rain or moisture ensure the ongoing process of vegetation. Matar (“drip like rain”) is the initial precipitation, a downpour. R’vivim (“like showers on grass”) are the minimal amount of moisture required to maintain grass in prime condition. Deshe (“new-growth”) is the initial growth. Esev (“grass”) is the growth when it has matured already.” (Rabbi Moshe ben Chayim Alshich, 1508-1600)
Possibly, the lesson of these verses is that Torah learning is progressive. When we begin to study Torah it appears as if a tremendous input (matar - “drip”) produces relatively little output, (deshe - “new-growth”), that is, we acquire only a coarse primitive knowledge of Torah. But, in the course of time and with the advantage of the infusion of a steady gentle input (r’rivim - “showers”) of learning there will be produced a refined mature output (esev - “grass”) of deeper Torah knowledge.
“The more Torah [we] learn the less burdensome and more rewarding such study appears to the student.” (“Midrash of Rabbi Moshe Alshich,” transl. Eliyahu Munk, vol. 3, page 1132)
Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Przysucha (1765-1827) reflects on the benefits of Torah learning this way:
“The hallowed words of the Torah may be likened to rain. While the rain falls we still cannot see the benefit it brings to the trees, the plants and the soil. It is only later, when the sun shines again, that we can see what the rain has wrought. We find the same to be true with regard to the words of the Law. While they are uttered we still cannot see what they will accomplish on earth, but in the end all will know what they have wrought.” (“Wellsprings of Torah,” Rabbi Alexander Zusia Friedman, p. 432).
People (adults and children alike) often ask what I love so much that I am consistently engaged with learning Torah over many years. I explain that I love the cumulative effect of gaining in Torah knowledge because this kind of learning opens my heart and soul ever-wider thus revealing intuitively to me the wonders of the heavens and the earth on a level that I experience in no other way.
The Hebrew for the revelation of God at Mount Sinai is Matan Torah, the “giving of Torah.” The uniqueness of this “giving” is that it is ongoing. Truths buried within each of our souls are necessarily hidden because of our physical creaturely identity. Only by continuous Torah learning do the deeper truths about who we really are in relationship to God become evident.
One of those truths was inspiringly articulated by the theologian Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955): “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
In other words, our souls are much greater, much older, and much richer than we realize. It is through this kind of learning that I have discovered this truth.
Shabbat shalom and L’shanah tovah u-m’tukah!
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