Rabbi David Etengoff
Dedicated to the sacred memories of my mother, Miriam Tovah bat Aharon Hakohen, father-in-law, Levi ben Yitzhak, sister, Shulamit bat Menachem, sister-in-law, Ruchama Rivka Sondra bat Yechiel, Chana bat Shmuel, Yehonatan Binyamin ben Mordechai Meir Halevi, Shoshana Elka bat Avraham, Tikvah bat Rivka Perel, Peretz ben Chaim, Chaya Sarah bat Reb Yechezkel Shraga, Shmuel Yosef ben Reuven, Shayndel bat Mordechai Yehudah, the Kedoshim of Har Nof, Pittsburgh, and Jersey City, the refuah shlaimah of Mordechai HaLevi ben Miriam Tovah, and the health and safety of our brothers and sisters in Israel and around the world.
Our parasha contains a statement that poses a distinct exegetical challenge: “This day (hayom hazeh), Hashem, your G-d, is commanding you to fulfill these statutes (chukim) and ordinances (mishpatim)...” (Sefer Devarim 26:16, this and all Tanach translations, The Judaica Press Complete Tanach) Since countless chukim and mishpatim are found in preceding parshiot of the Torah, what does the phrase, hayom hazeh, signify?
In his Commentary on the Torah, Rashi (1040-1105) maintains that our phrase teaches us: “each and every day they [the mitzvot] should be in your eyes as if they are new (chadashim) [to you], as if you were commanded [for the first time in their regard] today.” (Translation and brackets my own) This interpretation has powerful ramifications since, by actualizing its message, we can avoid the robotic fulfillment of mitzvot decried by Yeshayahu the prophet as mitzvat anashim m’lumdah. (Sefer Yeshayahu 29:13) His words find their clearest exposition in the commentary on Sefer Yeshayahu of the Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel, 1809-1879):
There are those who perform the mitzvot solely because this is what they have become accustomed to do since their youth and they are used to performing them. They perform them without any cognitive gesture (kavanah) and without thought—even though they may know that they are commandments from G-d. They, however, do not perform them in any way because Hashem commanded them to do so. Instead, they perform them because this is what they were dictated to do by their teachers and parents. They [the mitzvot] are performed without any understanding and are mere mechanical actions reinforced by past rote behaviors… (29:13, translation and underlining my own).
Perhaps Rashi had this in mind when he focused on the notion of ensuring the daily newness of the mitzvot. The Midrash Tanchuma offers additional insights, emphasizing the beloved nature (chavivut) of the Torah: “And what does the phrase, ‘hayom hazeh,’ come to teach us? In truth, Moshe said to the Jewish people: ‘Each and every day the Torah should be chavivah to you, as if this very day you received it from Har Sinai…’” (Warsaw edition, Parashat Ki Tavo I, translation my own) Two additional approaches are presented by the Midrash Tannaim. The first addresses the way the Jewish people willingly and eagerly received the teachings of Moshe Rabbeinu:
“This day (hayom hazeh), Hashem, your G-d, is commanding you,” yet, is it not the case that the Jewish people already had the mitzvot for 40 years! Nonetheless, the Torah deploys the term, “hayom hazeh!” This is coming to teach you that since Moshe taught them the Torah and they accepted it with equanimity (b’safer panim yaffot), the Omnipresent One considered this as if it was the very same day they accepted the Torah from Har Sinai. (This and the following translation my own)
The next midrashic statement gives powerful voice to the direct relationship between Revelation and Torah study:
Whenever the Jewish people are actively engaged in Torah study, the Holy One blessed be He considers it as if they received the Torah from Sinai on that very day; therefore, the text states, “This day (hayom hazeh), Hashem, your G-d, is commanding you.”
May the insights provided by our sages guide us on our path of Torah observance. May Hashem’s mitzvot ever be new and beloved in our eyes, and may our Torah study enable us to reexperience the Revelation at Har Sinai anew, each and every day. V’chane yihi ratzon.
Shabbat Shalom v’Kativah v’Chatimah Tovah
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