Torah: Pursuing Connections

In medieval Jewish literature, the consonants of the Hebrew alphabet are compared to a body and the vowels to a soul [1]. Yet, a Torah scroll is written only with consonants. Indeed, a vocalized Torah scroll is unfit for ritual use [2]. The Torah requires a person to supply the vowels, the vocalization, the soul, in order for it to become animate, alive, heard [3]. Without the person, the sacred text remains mute. Without the theologian to animate it, to provide it with a voice, tradition might otherwise remain inert….

By providing the Torah with a voice, with animation, the theologian thereby becomes a co-author of the Torah, a collaborator with God in perpetuating and in helping to augment and to amplify in the present the voice once heard at Sinai [4]. As Meir ibn Gabbai wrote, “Even the sages who arise in each generation receive that which is granted from Sinai….If new teachings [regarding the understanding of the Torah] are produced daily, this proves that the fountain [of revelation] ever gushes forth and that the great voice [from Sinai] sounds forth without interruption.”
— Byron Sherwin [bracketed material added by Sherwin]*

Similarly, I suggested to a recent (Jewish Study Center) on “How to Give a Dvar Torah,” offering a dvar torah is an opportunity — and, perhaps, a responsibility — to animate the Torah for new situations and communities.

*Sherwin, Byron. “An Incessantly Gushing Fountain: The Nature of Jewish Theology” IN Contemporary Jewish Theology: A Reader. Elliot N. Dorff & Louis E. Newman, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Originally published in Problems in Contemporary Jewish Theology and subsequently in Toward a Jewish Theology (both, Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellon Press, 1991).

Sherwin’s endnotes:

[1] Sefer ha-Bahir, ed. Reuven Margaliot (Jerusalem: Mosad ha-Rav Kook, 1951), no 115, p.51….

[2] See e.g., Joseph Karo, Shulhan Arukh-Yoreh Deah 274:7.

[3] See David ibn Zimra, Teshuvot ha-Radbaz, 4 vols. (Furth, 1781), vol.3., no643, p.43b….

[4] Meir ibn Gabbai, Avodat ha-Kodesh (Jerusalem: Levin-Epstein, 1964), 85b-86a.

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