More Than a Piece of Paper

by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – September 16, 2012

In the Torah section of VaYelekh, we are enjoined, “And now, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the Children of Israel” (Devarim 31:19), the source for the Jew’s obligation to write a Torah scroll (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 270).

The question arises: Where can it be inferred from this verse that the entire scroll must be written?  The verse seems to talk only of “this song,” which, as Rashi notes, refers to the following Torah section of HaAzinu?  Maimonides in his Mishne Torah (Hilkhot Sefer Torah 7:2) explains that we are commanded to write a Torah scroll that contains this song, being that we are not permitted to break up the writing of the Torah into sections.  Since it would not be permitted to write only this Torah section separately, the law must be to write the entire Torah.

This explanation of Maimonides raises another question: Separate sections of the Torah are permitted to be written, for example, to be inserted into amezuzah or tefillin.  So why would it not be permitted to write this section separately?

R. Avraham Pam, the famed rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah VaDaat, offers (Sholom Smith, A Vort from Rav Pam, p. 236) an intriguing solution.  The purpose of writing this is to “teach it to the Children of Israel,” whereas the sections inserted into a mezuzah or tefillin are not meant to studied – just enclosed in their cases to remain there.  When for the purpose of studying, a section of the Torah should not be seen as a solitary piece of paper.  One must see the Torah as a whole.  Otherwise, one loses perspective.  When one understands the importance of the Torah as G-d’s Wisdom and Guide to us and also recognizes the true length and breadth of its entirety, he can be motivated to aspire to study it in its entirety.  If, on the other hand, the Torah is reduced to solitary pieces of paper, one can tend to be complacent with mastering a limited amount of material rather than exerting oneself to master, as much as possible, the entire scope of Torah wisdom.

Unfortunately, R. Pam notes, latter generations have tended to minimize their drive towards mastery of the entire scope of Torah wisdom, satisfying themselves with bits and piece of the whole, thereby falling very short of a true understanding of Torah thought.  It is this tendency that the aforementioned verse intends to combat.

The Torah is more than a piece of paper.  Its scope is vast and its lessons many, and we should make every effort possible to study it in its entirety as much as we can.  It is G-d’s Word.  Studying the Torah can lift us to great levels of understanding.  But we have to want to.  We have to have the drive for it.  We cannot be complacent with limited sections of the whole.  We must seek to ingest it all – for our own good.