By Rabbi Yehuda Septimus
“How did I come to love Torah?” is a question worth answering, because not every Jewish child does love Torah, even those whose parents want nothing more for them.
The answer for me is simple. My father is the reason I love Torah. The joy on his face every time he shares a piece of Torah with me. The way we would sprawl across our plush living-room carpet together on Friday nights for our post-meal chavruta. How I looked forward to our walks to and from shul, on which we easily moved from one Torah topic to another.
But I didn’t even need to be with him to learn a love of Torah from him. All I had to do was pass by his study—that floor-to-ceiling, book-filled, light filled, treasure-filled study, from which emanated a beautiful music. The songful sound of the words of Torah that could easily be heard anywhere close to the door to his study. It was the sound of tranquility, love, and goodness. The accompanying music testified clearly to the Divine source of the words.
This week’s parashah furnishes us with final of the 613 commandments in the Torah, the directive to write our own Torah Scroll: “And now write down this song for yourselves” (Devarim 31:19). On the face of it, the verse refers to the actual song of Haazinu that follows, but the Sages interpret it to refer to the writing down of the entire Torah (Sanhedrin, 21b). It follows that the entire Torah constitutes a song. But the entire Torah does not become a song automatically. As the Gemara in Megillah (32a) teaches, for Torah to be a song, we must make it songful. And as the Gemara there explains, this means not only making Torah beautiful but making it beloved to those around us.
As we say in the Shema (Devarim 6), before we can teach Torah to our children credibly (“and you shall teach them to your children”), the Torah must be present in our own hearts (“these words… must be on your heart…”). We can teach the content, but if we have not internalized it ourselves and are not committed to a life of Torah learning, the value of that teaching is profoundly diminished. And when the Torah is readily on our hearts, then teaching our children becomes so much easier. It becomes something they see us doing when sitting in our houses and going places, when going to sleep and when waking up. If we want our children to discover the song of Torah, we must set a model for them of constantly seeking out the songful-ness within Torah for ourselves.
We are at the time of year that the children of our communities have just restarted school. Of course, there is nervousness among parents. How will my children do? Will they learn what they are supposed to learn? And will they value what they are learning enough to take their studies seriously, or will they say, “What do I need all of this for?”
What can we do to help our children succeed? There is one very big thing we can and must do. We can make the education we are giving our children more credible by ensuring that the education is accompanied by our own further education.
One opportunity to strengthen the educations of our children, grandchildren, and the children of our community is by strengthening our own educations this year through a community-wide program called Tanach BeShanah (www.tanachbeshanah.com). Tanach BeShanah gives an overview of one book of Tanach per week in the time from Sukkot to Shavuot, each week featuring a different Tanach expert. Those who cannot attend every week will be given access to mp3 recordings of all the classes—both those given this year, and those from the last time the program was run. The program has been carefully planned based on an excellent curriculum developed by the London School Jewish Studies. When it ran seven years ago, over 85 people registered, coming back week after week to hear from some of the top Tanach experts in the world. People have been asking us to bring the program back ever since then. In the words of the program’s funder the last time we ran it, “It was the best tzedakah investment I have ever made.”
The most important reason to register for the course is that you will learn an enormous amount, have new vistas of Tanach learning opened and reopened to you, and you will not regret the investment of time.
But there is another reason to register for Tanach BeShanah. I cannot tell you what it means to children when they are starting school to see their parents and the adults around them doing the same, receiving loose leafs with Torah curricula of their own and committing themselves to a program of Torah study. Especially when the adults around them come home each week more excited and inspired than the week before, having heard from yet another voice in the long line of brilliant Tanach experts the Jewish world has produced.
What will the children from our community absorb from their educations? Simply put, they will absorb what they see and hear us doing in our own educations. This year, may we merit to see the positive product of the investments we make in our children’s educations. And in our own educations.
Please visit www.tanachbeshanah.com to learn more about the program and to register.