Torah as instruction
TorahParshat Va'etchanan

Torah as instruction

Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11

(File photo)
(File photo)

Our portion is filled with important things: the Shema and the Ten Commandments. However, I want to focus on something that appears more mundane. In Deuteronomy 4:1, the Torah says, “And now, O Israel, hear the laws and rules that I am instructing you all to do in order that you may live and come and settle the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors gives to you.” The word “instructing,” melamed, meaning to teach or instruct, jumps out at me.

I did a little research and this word, in this form, does not appear in the Torah anywhere else. It does, however, appear in five additional places in Tanakh. To me, this speaks volumes. In the book of Judges, its use is the name of an object and, along with three other locations, they are in the context of being prepared for battle.

In Psalms 144:1, it reads, “Blessed is the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for warfare.” Interestingly, the same language is used in Psalms 18:35 and II Samuel 22:35, stating, “Who trained my hands for battle, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze!”

It seems as though to be instructed is to be trained in battle. However, in Psalms 94:10, it asks a question: “Shall the One who disciplines nations not punish, the One who instructs people in knowledge?”

We’re left with two questions: Are we really preparing for battle? What does “instruction” really mean?

There might have been a time in which we were talking about actual physical battles, but for us, that isn’t helpful. The battles we face are all around us. We make thousands of decisions, we have hundreds of personal encounters, we face challenges unforeseen daily. We face a world unimagined by the Torah. And yet, we do have instruction. The Torah and the rabbis who interpret it for us have given us blueprints to engage with this challenging world. Frameworks and values, sensitivities and intentionalities, tensions and contradictions.

The Torah, this week, is a reminder that there is so much we have yet to learn. pjc

Rabbi Jeremy Markiz is the director of Derekh and Youth Tefillah at Congregation Beth Shalom. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.

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