“Now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it, so that it may be a witness for me against them.” — Deuteronomy 31:19
The Torah reading for this week is a double portion, Nitzavim-Vayelech, from Deuteronomy 29:9–30:20. Nitzavim means “standing” and Vayelech means “and he went.” The Haftorah is from Isaiah 61:10–63:9.
This week’s reading gives us the very last commandment mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.
The last directive that God gives to Moses is this: “Now write down this song and teach it . . .” The Jewish sages explain that the song God is referring to is the Bible itself. God was telling Moses to write down the words of the Bible. The sages also point to another law from these instructions – every person in every generation is required to write his or her own Torah scroll.
The rabbis explain two points regarding this commandment. The first is that even if you inherited a Torah scroll from your parents, you still are obligated to write your own. The second point is that this requirement can be fulfilled by acquiring many books about the Bible and studying them.
Why are the rabbis so adamant that an inherited Torah scroll is not enough to fulfill this obligation, but so lenient when it comes to buying books about the Torah instead of actually writing a scroll?
The answer can be understood by considering the goal of this commandment.
Through the act of writing, an important process goes on — one of internalization. This is the goal and meaning of this requirement. God wants every individual to internalize the Bible. To breathe it in and breathe it out. To know it, live it, and love it. This type of relationship cannot be inherited from one’s parents; it can only be acquired through writing a Torah scroll or buying books about it and learning them intently. Either way, the goal is to bring God’s Word inside one’s own world.
There is a great story that beautifully illustrates this idea. During the Holocaust, one prominent rabbi was worried that with the destruction of the Torah scrolls, the Bible might be forgotten. So he instructed five of his top students to memorize one of the five books of Moses, and they did. After the Holocaust, the rabbi and these five students survived and reunited with other survivors on the holiday of Simchat Torah – a celebration of the Torah. That year, along with raising up and dancing around the Torah, the five students who had memorized the Torah were held up and celebrated. They had become living, breathing Torah scrolls.
That is our goal as well. Each of us can, and should, become a living Bible. We need to live its precepts and model its meaning. In this way, we will inscribe the words of the Bible on the pages of our lives.