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Shabbat Commentary

10/11 Sep: Veyeilekh+ Shabbat Shuva : Shabbat comes in 7:12 pm, ends 8:12 pm

Parashat Veyeilekh: Writing Your Torah

It is an interesting time of year to think about the writing of books. We are in the midst of the great metaphor of the Books of Life and Death. Just a few days ago, we stood before the ark and sang of our fates: ‘On Rosh HaShanah it is written; on Yom Kippur, it is sealed.’ And now here we are, between the writing and the sealing. The books are open.

Parashat Vayeilekh is also concerned with the writing of books. It is in this parashah that the Levites are instructed that they must put the Sefer Torah that Moses has written into the Ark of the Covenant, in order that it will serve as a witness. Likewise, we find in this parashah the command to write ‘this song’ (understood by some commentators to be the following song in Ha’azinu, and others to be the entire Torah), in order that the song will stand as a witness to us.

This latter command has been read by some to mean that all Jews are commanded to write a Sefer Torah. Though it is usually considered enough for us to own books of Torah in our homes, I find this command to write a Torah to be particularly poignant in this time of year, in which we see books as symbols of how we are living our lives. In this metaphor, we usually cast God as the scribe, penning our names into the appropriate book. However, in the text of Parashat Vayeilekh, we are commanded to be the scribes.

My friend and colleague Rabbi Jonathan Hodson likes to share a piece of advice that he received from his grandmother: ‘You might be the only Bible that some people will ever read.’ Her words seem to echo through these symbols of the season. In what ways are we writing the Torah in our lives? Which of our decisions and actions are the crowns on the letters, or the imperfections of a scribe’s hand trembling? And what Torah are others reading when they interact with us?

G’mar ḥatimah tovah – may you be inscribed for a good year.

Rabbi Natasha















September 4, 2021