How do we derive the meaning from Biblical passages? The answer is as different as the number of religious perspectives. Even within each religious group there are disagreements about what a verse actually means, or how it is applied to a current public problem. This is also true in Judaism.
There is an incredible diversity about how to interpret the biblical passages and how to apply them to our lives. However, despite the differences in interpretative details between the various subtitles in Judaism, a piece that unites all Jewish scholars is embracing the process of analysis of a biblical verse (or more specifically, a Torah).
Jewish tradition does not require that we all embrace a single perspective, but embrace the diversity of perspectives – as long as they fall within the traditional structure of Torah analysis.
What does it really mean?
Well, for at least 2000 years, the rabbis see four levels of understanding something from the Torah. The first level is the simple meaning of surface, what many would label a "literal" reading of the Bible. Judaism refers to this as "simple" level. The first rabbinical sages, already experienced at times when Hebrew was no longer the spoken language of the Jewish people, recognized that the Hebrew of the Torah can be translated in many ways, based on the structure of the Hebrew language.
leads to the second level, which is a reference to a deeper meaning on the verso, often based on the various translations of Hebrew. The third level is one that takes that suggestion and expands it to a more complete explanation. This level will link the verses in one biblical book to one verse in another using a little of the same language to find a deeper meaning.
The fourth level is one of the essays that we rarely find out, because it is a "secret" or mystical level of reading the verse.
From the portion of the Torah this week, which will be read in every synagogue all over the world, it's a great example of how it works. Deuteronomy 8: 1 states: "All the commandments I command you on this day will take care of you, so that you may live, multiply and enter and possess the land that God has sworn to your fathers."
The English translation of Hebrew does not reveal some key aspects of the original Hebrew. First of all, the Hebrew word for "commandments" is actually written in the singular form and the word translated as "everything" can also be translated as "each". Therefore we can also translate the opening phrase as "Every commandment".
Furthermore, the pronoun "you" is singular at the beginning of the verse but moves to the plural form as the verse progresses. Finally, the Hebrew word for "commandment" is mitzvah, which includes not only rituals but also all ethical and moral commandments.
The first level of interpretation, or the simple level, is that if we follow all the commandments of God the Jewish people will grow and prosper in our Promised Land. However, the structure of Hebrew indicates that there is a deeper meaning.
The 16th century rabbinical commentator, Kli Yakar, states that all the details about the Hebrew above regarding the verse are meant to teach that the execution of even one mitzvah (commandment) is enough to save the world.
How can it be? Well, there are two initiatives that can start. First, if you make a single commandment it can lead you to do more, ergo changing your life and dedication to God and the morality of the Torah. Jewish tradition teaches that every commandment we make brings a spark of divine presence into our world.
An even bigger initiative, however, is that if you act, inspire another person to follow your example and do that too. The resulting wave can be very influential, creating a sort of "butterfly effect". So the lesson we can draw from this simple verse can be meaningful to people of all religions.
Our individual actions are extremely important, as the example we set, good or bad, can have an influence far beyond our expectations.
Rabbi Jack Romberg has served the Temple Israel and his faithful since he arrived in Tallahassee in 2001.
Read or share this story: https://www.tallahassee.com/story/life/faith / 2018 / 08/03 / effect-un-mitzva-ha-long-ripple / 899.424.002 /