Torah for all

Moses in his final words to the Jewish people describes the Torah as being the inheritance of the entire congregation of Jacob – of all of Israel.

Moses in his final words to the Jewish people describes the Torah as being the inheritance of the entire congregation of Jacob – of all of Israel. When it was given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, tradition posits that all the souls of all of Israel throughout the generations were somehow present. Thus there exists within all Jews a spark of memory of Sinai and an affinity to Torah and its study and values.
It is that spark that lies deep within our souls that makes us Jewish – a people and a nation, a faith and a potential light unto the nations. The rabbis of the Talmud expressed their confidence in the existence of that Torah spark by stating that (my paraphrasing) it will turn Jews back to good and wisdom.
The prophet tells us that eventually no one will be permanently pushed away from his Jewish identity. The power of Torah is too great to be eternally sublimated or forgotten. It gnaws at us and gives us little peace. It has made us a different people, great and peculiar at the same time. We recognize this in ourselves. So does the non-Jewish world, and its reaction to it traverses the entire spectrum of emotion from admiration and acceptance to revilement, hatred and destruction. Be that as it may, it is the Torah, the moment of its revelation to us at Mount Sinai, that has made us a distinctive people throughout our history.
Torah therefore is a treasure that all Jews have the right and ability to possess, study and analyze. It does not belong to any specific Jew or group of Jews. In fact, the prophet warns us that “those who hold the Torah closely only unto themselves know not Me.” The Torah does not belong only to the haredim or to the national religious or to any particular political party or rabbinic group. It belongs to all Jews, and its healing and inspirational words, ideas and values are public property.
The error of many in holding the Torah as belonging to only one particular group is one of the spiritual tragedies of our time. It apparently leads those who do not ally themselves with the observant community to believe that they are free from their Torah study obligations, but that is not a true assessment of the situation and only polarizes our society. The Torah belongs to all and should be studied by all, each in his own way and abilities. And we should have confidence that the holiness of the Torah will, in the long run, affect people’s lives and turn them towards good.
Seventy years ago the great rabbi of Ponivezh, Shlomo Yosef Kahaneman, established a fledgling yeshiva on a barren hill on the then outskirts of Bnei Brak. There were many who were doubtful about the success of this ambitious undertaking. When asked “Who are you building a yeshiva for?” he answered in all seriousness “For the inhabitants of Ein Harod,” then an extremely leftist and anti-religious kibbutz.
This month, members of Kibbutz Ein Harod spent a day studying Torah, praying and discussing serious topics with the students and faculty of Ponivezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. Ein Harod has been conducting a weekly class in Talmud for the past nine years. The class was established by a young man by the name of Zisling, who lives on the kibbutz. Zisling’s grandfather, Aharon, was the first minister of agriculture of the State of Israel and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
The Torah belongs just as much to Ein Harod as it does to Mea She’arim. There is a quiet revolution occurring in our country as more and more Jews search for meaning in their lives and a stability of spirit and outlook. Throughout Jewish history, the Torah has always preserved the people of Israel, even in its darkest hours. It is available to all, and its study by all should be a major goal of our society and its leadership.
The words of Rabbi Sa’adia Gaon (ninth century, Iraq), “Our nation is a nation because of the Torah,” ring loud and true in our generation as well.