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Thought for the Day: Taking HaShem and His Torah Seriously

One of my professors in graduate school was trying to think of the best way to teach a well known idea to his freshman physics class.  He asked my research adviser if he had a good way to teach the idea and my research adviser responded, "Is it even true?"  As frustrating as that response was to all of us, it happened to be a great question.  The answer was that, no, it wasn't true (at least not always).  They ended up publishing a paper in the scientific journals about that.  The moral of that story is just because everyone knows something is true and just because you've been over it 100s of time... it might be worth another look.

I think this to be an essential guiding principle in learning chumash.  Each parsha should be learned (twice in the original, once with targum, once with Rashi) each year as if this is the first time you are seeing it.  First of all, I know that the way I learn parsha is to zip through it much faster than I should.  But I have lots to do and, gosh, its just parsha; right?  So the truth is, it may as well be the first time I am seeing the parsha.  Secondly, and more to the point, it is so much more interesting learning parsha that way.  When you look at the details, amazing things appear.

Today's rant was initiated by someone commenting to me yesterday, "Oh c'mon.  If you just read the bible stories without all that commentary, Eisav doesn't look so bad, Efron doesn't seem like such a swindler, and so on."  You know me.  I very calmly said, "WHAT?!?  You can't even read the so called stories without our m'forshim!"  On further consideration, however, I realized that if you just take the text seriously you almost can't help but see the characters the way Chazal present them to us.  It doesn't happen immediately, of course, but as one's familiarity with the "simple" text increases, so does one's appreciation for the beauty and depth of our sages.

Case in point: Avraham Avinu's dealings with Efron.  Avraham Avinu asked to buy the small cave at the end of Efron's property.  Efron offers to give him the field and cave for free.  Magnanimous?  Avraham Avinu was not asking to buy property to start a new business venture, he wanted a place to bury his beloved wife and soul mate; why would he want the field?  The Beis HaLevi explains that Avraham Avinu mentioned that the cave was at the very end of Efron's property specifically to highlight the fact that this was a small request that would not impact Efron's use of the field.  Efron's response meant, "If I sell you the cave, I may as well give you the field because you and your sons coming to visit a few times a year will make my field worthless.  Once I am giving you the field, I may as well throw in the cave!"  Avraham Avinu heard all that and responded by paying top dollar for the entire estate.  All that simply from taking the text seriously.

Perhaps, even knowing all about the modern history of the Mideast, you feel this is being too hard in Efron, the upstanding Hittite.  In that case, you may have a career in the UN or NPR.


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