Why we study Torah again and again

This week’s Torah portion is a special Torah portion specifically for Hol HaMoed Sukkot — the intermediate days of Sukkot and we will soon be celebrating Simchat Torah. Now, when I am teaching Torah, I like to begin with asking the question of why we study Torah again and again and again, year after year after year. The answer, I assert, is that God is trying to speak to us through the text. Was it written word for word on Mount Sinai, dictated by God to Moses? Or did multiple authors write it, authors that we label J, E, P and D? I don’t know, I can’t tell you. But I do believe that whatever our Holy Scripture’s origins, God is trying to speak to us through the text and that’s why we continue to study it over and over and over. If God is speaking, we say, then we’re going to try to listen. As I read the text, suddenly it appeared, as if it were a diamond suddenly dusted off, catching the light, and glittering with a fiery sparkle. It felt like God was speaking to me out of the text. “See, see!” it said to me, “Moses tried to know Me too!”
Why would it be so hard for Moses to know God? Moses spoke to God peh el peh, mouth to mouth. Surely he knew God deeply and intimately, in exactly the way that we desire to know God. Yet Moses must ask, “let me know your ways, that I may know You and continue in Your favor.” And Psalms 103:7-13 tells us that God did grant Moses’ request:
“He made known His ways to Moses, His deeds to the children of Israel.
“The Eternal is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.
“He will not contend forever, or nurse His anger for all time.
“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor has He requited us according to our iniquities.
“For as the heavens are high above the earth so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him.
“As east is far from west, so far has He removed our sins from us.
“As a father has compassion for his children, so the Eternal has compassion for those who fear Him.”
What are God’s ways? God loves us, forgives us, and has compassion upon us. But Moses wants to know God even more intimately, more fully, more completely: “Oh, let me behold Your Presence!” Yet God denies this request saying, “you cannot see My face, for man may not see Me and live.” We cannot know God as thoroughly as we want for we are merely mortal. We cannot know God fully and live. But God loves us and promises: “I will go in the lead and lighten your burden.” Perhaps we cannot know God fully. Perhaps we will never understand God to our satisfaction, but we can take comfort knowing that God loves us, will lead us, and will comfort us when our burdens are heavy.
Rabbi Ben Sternman is the spiritual leader of Adat Chaverim in Plano.

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