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Friday, September 18, 2015

Parashat VaYelekh 5776




This week’s parasha gives us what might be the last commandment in the Torah. On its surface it is a commandment to write “this song” in order to teach it.
דברים פרשת וילך פרק לא
Deuteronomy Chapter 31
(19) And now write for yourselves this song and teach it to the children of Israel, place it in their mouths; so that this song will be for Me as a witness for the children of Israel.
(יט) וְעַתָּה כִּתְבוּ לָכֶם אֶת־הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת וְלַמְּדָהּ אֶת־בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל שִׂימָהּ בְּפִיהֶם לְמַעַן תִּהְיֶה־לִּי הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת לְעֵד בִּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:


Rashi explains to us that this song is האזינו, the poem that appears right after our parasha and constitutes most of Deuteronomy chapter 32.
רש"י דברים פרשת וילך פרק לא
Rashi, Deuteronomy Chapter 31
This song - (Ahead, 32:1) “Give your ears, Heavens,” until “forgives the land of His people” (32:43).
את השירה הזאת - (לקמן לב, א) האזינו השמים עד (לב, מג) וכפר אדמתו עמו:


Our Rabbis, however, take this is a further direction. They see the song not as just the thirty-second chapter of Deuteronomy but as the entire Torah. Further, one needs to write a sefer Torah (which I always transliterate from here on and means a Torah scroll like we read in synagogue). One cannot even just inherit one. It needs to be self-written.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף כא עמוד ב
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 21b
Said Rabbah, “Even if a person’s father left him a sefer Torah, it is a commandment to write one of his own, as it says, “And now write for yourselves this song.”
אמר (רבא) +מסורת הש"ס: רבה+: אף על פי שהניחו לו אבותיו לאדם ספר תורה - מצוה לכתוב משלו, שנאמר "ועתה כתבו לכם את השירה"


However, the commandment of writing a Torah is drawn back in the next source. While in the name of Rav we have some harsh words about buying a sefer Torah, Rav Sheshet makes fulfilling the commandment easier. Merely one has to correct a single letter. We do not see here why Rav Sheshet makes this commandment so much easier.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת מנחות דף ל עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate M’nachot, 30a
Said Rebbi Yehoshua son of Abba, said Rav Gidel, said Rav, “One who purchases a sefer Torah from the marketplace is like one who seized a commandment from the marketplace. If he wrote it, the Torah considers him as if he received it from Mount Sinai.”
א"ר יהושע בר אבא אמר רב גידל אמר רב: הלוקח ס"ת מן השוק - כחוטף מצוה מן השוק, כתבו - מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו קיבלו מהר סיני."
Said Rav Sheshet, “If he corrected even one letter, it considers him as if he wrote it.”
אמר רב ששת: אם הגיה אפי' אות אחת, מעלה עליו כאילו כתבו.


Rashi comes to even limit Rav’s statement. He says that buying a sefer Torah is still performing the commandment; it is not the best performance of it and therefore one prevents him or herself from performing the entirety of it.
רש"י מסכת מנחות דף ל עמוד א
Rashi, Tractate M’nachot, 30a
Shlomo Yitzchaki, 11th and 12th Centuries Rhineland
Like one who seized a commandment - But he performed a commandment. But if he wrote it, it is a bit greater commandment.
כחוטף מצוה - ומצוה עבד אבל אי כתב הוה מצוה יתירה טפי.


Tosafot explain the situation for correcting one letter and limit Rav Sheshet’s statement a bit in doing so. The idea is that one buys a sefer Torah which had mistake(s) which sat with the seller for more than thirty days (one may not leave a Torah with a mistake for longer than this). If so, then one may buy the sefer Torah, correct one letter, and fulfill the entire commandment.
תוספות מסכת מנחות דף ל עמוד א
Tosafot, Tractate M’nachot, 30a
If he corrected in it even one letter - Explanation: For a sefer Torah that he purchased from the marketplace is no longer considered as a seized commandment if it was with his fellow in transgression, for he was letting stand as an incorrect sefer Torah. And we consider it as if he wrote it. From my teacher.
אם הגיה בו אפי' אות אחת - פירוש בס"ת שלקח מן השוק לא נחשב עוד כחוטף מצוה שהיה אצל חבירו בעבירה שהיה משהה ספר שאינו מוגה ומעלין על זה כאילו כתבו, מ"ר.


The Rambam codifies most of this in a straightforward manner. However, he adds a few things. He explains that writing “this song” means the whole Torah because it really means just the song in Deuteronomy chapter thirty-two, but we may not write only a portion of the Torah. (There is a separate issue as to why the Torah commands us in such an offhand way, which might be next year’s topic.) Second, he tells us for those who cannot write they may have someone perform it for them. Finally, he does not follow Tosafot’s explanation of correcting one letter, but rather seems to say that anyone who corrects one letter, potentially from any Torah with a mistake, has fulfilled the commandment.
משנה תורה הלכות תפילין ומזוזה וספר תורה פרק ז, הלכה א
Mishneh Torah, Laws of T’fillin, Mezuzah, and Sefer Torah, Chapter 7, Law 1
Moses Maimonides, 12th and 13th Centuries Egypt
It is a positive commandment on every single person in Israel to write a sefer Torah for himself, as it says, “And now write for yourselves this song.”
מצות עשה על כל איש ואיש מישראל לכתוב ספר תורה לעצמו שנאמר ועתה כתבו לכם את השירה,
That is to say, write for yourselves the Torah that has in it this song since we may not write the Torah in separate portions.
כלומר כתבו לכם תורה שיש בה שירה זו לפי שאין כותבין את התורה פרשיות פרשיות,
And even if his father left him a sefer Torah, it is a commandment to write one for himself. And if he wrote it for himself, it is as if he received it from Mount Sinai.
ואע"פ שהניחו לו אבותיו ספר תורה מצוה לכתוב משלו, ואם כתבו בידו הרי הוא כאילו קבלה מהר סיני,
And if one does not know how to write, others write for him.
ואם אינו יודע לכתוב אחרים כותבין לו,
And any who corrects even one letter it is as if he wrote it all himself.
וכל המגיה ספר תורה ואפילו אות אחת הרי הוא כאילו כתבו כולו.


The Rosh, however, throws a curveball in all of this. He says that this commandment was only for the early generations who actually learned from an actual sefer Torah. Now we merely read it publicly. Rather, one should write a chumash (meaning a book of Torah like we now use to learn Torah, as opposed to a scroll on parchment, with proper lettering), a Mishnah, a Gemara, etc. Since they idea is to teach and learn, these are the books we use these days to teach and learn Torah. It is interesting to ask what value the Rosh sees in still even doing public Torah reading, though I imagine part of it is not completely losing the custom of old.
הלכות קטנות לרא"ש (מנחות) הלכות ספר תורה
Legal Vignettes of the Rosh (from M’nachot), Laws of Sefer Torah
Asher ben Yechiel, 13th and 14th Centuries Germany and Spain
But these days where we write a sefer Torah and place it in the synagogues to read it in public, it is a positive commandment on every man in Israel, who has the capability, to write a chumash of the Torah, and Mishna, and Gemara, and commentaries, to review them him and his sons.
אבל האידנא שכותבין ס"ת ומניחין אותו בבתי כנסיות לקרות בו ברבים מצות עשה היא על כל איש מישראל אשר ידו משגת לכתוב חומשי התורה ומשנה וגמרא ופירושי' להגות בהן הוא ובניו.
For the commandment of writing the Torah is to learn from it, as is written, “Teach it to the children of Israel; place it in their mouths.”
כי מצות כתיבת התורה היא ללמוד בה כדכתיב ולמדה את בני ישראל שימה בפיהם.
And through the Gemara and the commentaries one knows the explanation of the commandments and laws on their evidence. Therefore, these are the books that a man is commanded to write them and also not to sell them except to learn Torah or marry a woman.
וע"י הגמרא והפי' ידע פי' המצות והדינים על בוריים לכן הם הם הספרים שאדם מצווה לכתבם וגם לא למכרם אם לא ללמוד תורה ולישא אשה:


The Beit Yosef responds with shock to the Rosh. He explains that the Rosh just exempted all Jews from performing a commandment and gave them something else in its stead. That cannot be the case, so what the Rosh must have meant is that in addition to writing a sefer Torah we should also write a chumash, a Mishana, etc. He does, however, end by telling us that Rabbeinu Yerucham dates the simple understanding of the Rosh’s statement to the Geonic era just post Talmud, giving it more weight.
בית יוסף יורה דעה סימן רע
Beit Yosef, Yoreh De’ah, Siman 270
Yosef Karo, 15th and 16th Centuries Turkey and Israel
ויש לתמוה היאך בא הרא"ש לפטור לאדם ממצות כתיבת ספר תורה ולהחליפה בחומשים ומשניות וגמרות ופירושיהן שהרי לא תלה טעם החילוק בין הדורות הראשונים לדורות הללו אלא שבדורות הללו אין לומדין בהן אלא מניחין אותן בבית הכנסת לקרות בהם ברבים
And one needs to be shocked: how did the Rosh come to exempt a person from the commandment of writing a sefer Torah and to exchange it for chumashim, and Mishnayot, and Gemarot and their commentaries? For he only supported the reason for the split between the early generations and these generations in that in these generations we do not learn from them [the sefer Torah]. Rather we place them in the Synagogues to read from them in public.
וא"כ הוה ליה למימר שגם עכשיו חייבים לכתוב ס"ת וילמדו בהם כשם שהיו לומדים בדורות הראשונים לא לפטרם ממצות כתיבת ס"ת
And if so, he should have said that also now we are obligated to write a sefer Torah and study them as they studied them in the early generations. And not to exempt them from the commandment of writing a sefer Torah.
לכך נ"ל שלא בא אלא לחדש לנו חיוב כתיבת חומשים ומשניות וגמרות ופירושיהם ואיסור מכירתן שגם זה בכלל מצות כתיבת ס"ת ושזה יותר מצוה מלכתוב ס"ת ולהניחו בבית הכנסת לקרות ברבים
Therefore it seems to me that he only came to innovate for us the obligation of writing chmashim, Mishnayot, and Gemarot and their commentaries and the prohibition on their sale. For these too are under the rubric of the commandment of writing a sefer Torah. And that this is a greater commandment than to write a sefer Torah and to place it in the synagogue to read it in public.
אבל לכתוב ס"ת לקרות בו הוא ובניו פשיטא דגם האידנא זהו עיקר קיום מצות עשה שהרי הוא נוהג בו כמו שהיו נוהגים בדורות הראשונים
But to write a sefer Torah to read from it with his sons, obviously even today this is the main point of the fulfillment of the positive commandment. For one acts according to it like they acted in the early generations.
וכתב רבינו ירוחם (נ"ב ח"ב יז:) על דברי הרא"ש שכן כתבו הגאונים:
And [but?] Rabbeinu Yerucham wrote (Toldot Adam v’Chava, Netiv 2, Part 2) about the words of the Rosh that, “So too wrote the Geonim.”


The P’risha disagrees with the Beit Yosef’s reading. He says that the commandment was to write a sefer Torah for the generations who used the particulars of the written Torah to remind them of all the rules of the unwritten oral Torah. But just as the oral Torah needed to be written down, based on the verse Psalms 119:126 (which he quotes), we need to learn oral Torah not from a sefer Torah but from chumashim, Mishna, Gemara, and commentaries. In fact, we are no longer capable of learning oral Torah from reading a sefer Torah.


פרישה יורה דעה סימן רע
P’risha, Yoreh De’ah, Siman 270
Yehoshua Falk, 16th and 17th Centuries Poland
מצות עשה על כל ישראל אשר ידו משגת לכתוב [חמשה] חומשי תורה וכו'. נראה דהכי קאמר שהמצות עשה נאמר דוקא באלו ולא בס"ת דדוקא בימיהם שהיו לומדים תורה שבעל פה שלא מן הכתב כי אם על פה היו צריכין ללמוד מספר תורה המתוייגת כהלכתה ומדוייקת בחסירות ויתירות ופסקי טעמים כי הם כולם רמזים הם לזכור על ידם תורה שבעל פה כדאמרו (מנחות כט ב) על רבי עקיבא שהיה דורש על כל קוץ וקוץ תילי תילים הלכות ולכן היה מצוה על כל איש מישראל שיהיה לו ס"ת
It is a positive commandment on all of Israel who has the capability to write a chumash of Torah, etc. And it seems that such he is saying: that the positive commandment is exactly about these and not a sefer Torah. That it was only in their days that they learned oral Torah not from written sources, but by mouth. They needed to learn from a sefer Torah that was crowned [on the letters] per the law and exact in its missing and extra letters and rules of punctuating notes. For are all them are hints to recall through them oral Torah. Like they said about Rebbi Akiva that he would expound laws from every dot and tittle. Therefore it is a commandment on every man of Israel that he should have a sefer Torah.
אבל בזמנינו שנתמעטו הלבבות ואמרו (גיטין ס א) עת לעשות לה' הפרו תורתך (תהלים קיט קכו) וכתבו התלמוד בספר וגם בימיהם היה איסור בדבר שלא לכתוב ה' חומשי תורה כי אם בדרך שנכתבה ס"ת בגלילה
But in our time where hearts have decreased and they said, “It is a time to perform for Hashem; they have voided your Torah,” (Psalms 119:126). And they wrote the Talmud in a book. And also in their day it was forbidden about the matter to only write the five books of the Torah in the way that a sefer Torah is written as a scroll.
וא"כ כל ספריהם היו דומים לספר תורה משא"כ בזמנינו שנעשה לנו בהיתר לכתוב ספרים דפין דפין כל אחד בפני עצמו א"כ למה לנו לזלזל בכבוד ס"ת לחנם ללמוד מתוכו שלא לצורך כיון שאין אנו לומדים כלום מחסירות ויתירות ותגין ופיסוק טעמים כבימיהם וק"ל.
And if so all of their books were the same as a sefer Torah, which is not the case in our times. For permission was given to us to write books page by page, each on their own. If so, why degrade the honor of a sefer Torah freely by learning from it without need, since we learn nothing from missing and extra letters, or dots and punctuating notes like in their days? And this is easy to understand.


Remaining for us is the issue with inheriting a Torah versus writing one. How does this work if the commandment is about Mishna and Gemara? Though the earlier sources implied that this was about writing those books, the Arukh HaShulchan suggests it is about buying those books for oneself. Which justifies all the money I have spent on such books, I hope.
ערוך השולחן יורה דעה סימן רע, סעיף ט
Arukh HaShulchan, Yoreh De’ah, Siman 270, Article 9
Yechiel Epstein, 19th and 20th Centuries Lithuania
However, from what they said in the Gemara that what one’s father left them is not effective is a great challenge to their words
אמנם ממה שאמרו בגמ' דלא מהני מה שהניחו לו אבותיו הוי קושיא גדולה על דבריהם
However, in truth when we read carefully, there is no difficulty here at all. For sure it is a comprehensive statement that the aim of writing is to learn, as is written, “And teach it, etc.” But the Torah decreed than one himself needs to write what he needs to learn. Therefore, these days also one needs to purchase for himself Mishnayot and Gemarot.
אך באמת כשנדקדק בזה אין כאן קושיא כלל דוודאי מקרא מלא הוא דתכלית הכתיבה הוא כדי ללמד כדכתיב ולמדה וגו' אלא שהתורה גזרה שהוא בעצמו צרך לכתוב מה שצריך ללמוד ולכן האידנא ג"כ צריך לקנות בעצמו משניות וגמ':


The Torah Temimah adds one last piece. Why do we need to write or purchase these books for ourselves? Why not just buy or inherit them. After all, we need to have our own etrog, but one may fulfill that by buying or inheriting one? He answers that there is a second goal of this commandment beyond learning and teaching. There is also the goal of increasing the number of such books in the world. This might also work well with the Beit Yosef’s understanding that we need to both write Mishna and Gemara as well as a sefer Torah. Further, in a world where buying books means more will be printed, this explains why the Arukh HaShulchan (who is the Torah Temimah’s father) says that buying these books for oneself is the modern equivalent of writing them for oneself.
תורה תמימה הערות דברים פרק לא
Torah Temimah, Glosses, Deuteronomy Chapter 31
Barukh Epstein, 19th and 20th Centuries Lithuania and United States
But there is no logic at all why something inherited from a father is not called, “yours.” For sure one who inherits an etrog fulfills [the commandment] with it, even though we need it to be “yours.” How is a sefer Torah different?
אבל באמת אין סברא כלל שירושת אבות לא יהיה נקרא משלכם, והלא בודאי היורש אתרוג יוצא בו, אף דבעינן ביה משלכם, ומאי שנא ס"ת.
But there is to say that there is another intention in this commandment. That is that our Rabbis, of blessed memory, wrote that the commandment is exactly to write and not purchase, is that the root of the commandment is to increase the number of books in the world. Since based on this Torah will increase.
אבל י"ל דכונה אחרת במצוה זו, והיינו שבדיוק אמרו חז"ל מצוה לכתוב ולא לקנות, משום דמעיקר המצוה הוא שיתרבו הספרים בעולם, מפני שע"י זה יגדיל תורה


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