Student Teaching in the New Millenium

Is the Torah a Bad Salesman? (5771 Eikev I)

In Deuteronomy on August 17, 2011 at 10:53 pm

You shall do these things.
All of them. In the darkness
You are in the light.

Isaiah 49:14-51:3
Deuteronomy 7:12-8:10

Is perfection a commandment? The first Aliyah of our parsha focuses on keeping all of the commandments, even those that “one would trample with his foot” as Rashi teaches us. Why would we trample a commandment with our feet? Because they are too hard for us? Because there are too many? Because they seem outdated? Because they seem unimportant?

What would it mean for a man to achieve perfection? Isaiah asks “why, when I came, was no man there?” (50:2). Gershwin, two thousand years later, would ask in Porgy and Bess “ain’t there no man here?” The context is a hurricane scene. No one in the community would brave the storm to help their friends. Bess, the heroine, asks the above question. “Ain’t there no man here?”

Is perfection the measurement of our achievements? Is perfection the measure of how scrupulously we observe the commandments? Is perfection measured tangibly? Or is perfection something else entirely?

Both Deuteronomy and Isaiah call the people to service and hardship; Deuteronomy to the shouldering of the commandments, and Isaiah to the shouldering of service, hard and cruel service, to God. Why would the text call us to things that, time and again, are presented as difficult, unappetizing and unjust?

Is the Torah a bad salesman? Or is the answer the sell itself? Isaiah addresses us directly to say that God granted him the tongue and ears of the learned (50:4-5). How does it mean to be learned? Perhaps more importantly, what does it mean to become learned? What does on need to become learned?

Isaiah also says “though he walk in darkness and have no light, let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely upon his God.” (50:10) Does this support or deny the existence of a “perfect” Law? Does this support the parsha’s seeming commandment to perfection?

No, it does not.

Final question: what is the difference between someone with heart and someone without?


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