Making Torah Fixed

         One aspect I love about Judaism is that the opinions of the minority are preserved in the text. Generally, the school of Hillel is victorious over the School of Shammai. However, the words of Shammai are preserved in the text. Shammai says the following in Avot: עשה תורתך קבע אמר מעט ועשה הרבה והוי מקבל את כל אדם בסבר פנים יפות “Make Torah a fixed practice, say little and do much and receive everyone with a cheerful countenance.”[1] While the last statement might seem ironic given other stories, we know about Shammai, it’s the first that I want to focus on-making study of Torah fixed. The Gerer Rebbe from 19th century Poland, in his book Sefat Emet, writes ופי’ חקת כמ”ש עשה תורתך קבע. הפי’ להיות נקבע בגוף האדם ידיעת התורה כיתד שלא תמוט… Another explanation for “hukkat” is, as it says, “make your [study of the] Torah fixed” –meaning, knowledge of the Torah should become fixed in the body of a human being like a stake that will not move.[2] The statement from Pirkei Avot is usually interpreted to mean: “choose a regular study time and stick with it.” But the Sefat Emet interprets it rather to be an injunction to “fix” Torah–or to engrave Torah–within. The act of engraving here is linked to stabilizing. Internalizing Torah is a way of making it stay put, lodging it resolutely within. Like a stake planted firmly in the ground–maybe anchoring a tent for shelter, maybe asserting a territorial claim– “fixed” Torah is immovable.

How do we engrave Torah on our hearts and in our bodies, as a well that nourishes and/or as a stake that stabilizes? It’s easier said that done. We often view study of Torah as an intellectual exercise, yet for the Sefat Emet is talking about it as a physical and an emotional act. Tomorrow morning, I will speak about the four worlds: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual, and how each and every one of them connects directly with immersion in Torah. It is my goal that Mosaic Law Congregation continues to be a community in which Torah is fixed-not only Torah Study but also where we explore our feelings of engagement with Torah, where we physically feel Torah in our bodies and where Torah helps us draw spiritually to the Holy One. It’s not an easy task yet perhaps this Shabbat can become a starting place through engagement with it.


[1] Mishnah Avot 1:15

[2] Sefat Emet on Parshat Hukkat

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