Who Owns Torah?


Happy Tuesday, everyone! I hope your weeks are off to a great start. This week I want to talk about a question that I studied at the Hadar Institute in New York a few weeks ago with my friend Laynie Solomon. And that question is, “Who owns Torah?”

This week we read the second portion in Deuteronomy, called Parshat Va-et’chanan. And this portion is full of content. We read about Moses pleading with God to let him into the land of Israel, we read a regurgitation of a ton of laws, we read a retelling of us receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai and entering into covenant with God, and perhaps most famously, we read for the first time the words of the Shema.

But I want to focus on the recalling of our receiving of the Torah and entering a covenant with God, because this week’s portion has a fascinating verse that partly answers the question: “Who owns Torah?” 

In Deut. 5:2, we read “Adonai Eloheinu made a covenant with us at Horeb (at Sinai).
Deut. 5:3 It was not with our ancestors that Adonai made this covenant, but with us, the living, every one of us who is here today.”

On this verse, the 14th century French rabbi & philosopher Gersonides taught, “Every generation must think that the Torah was given directly to them.” 

So we own the Torah? We were at Mt. Sinai? What does it mean for us and what does it mean for the modern Jew? 

Martin Buber helps with a framework to help understand what’s going on here. He writes that, “Creation is the origin, redemption the goal. But revelation is not a fixed, dated point poised between the two. The revelation at Sinai is not this midpoint itself, but the perceiving of it, and such perception is possible at any time.”

In other words, Creation and Redemption are fixed poles on the spectrum of life that we will never fully grasp or understand. Revelation however is somewhere in between, and completely up to us to perceive it. It isn’t about how much you know, it doesn’t matter if you grew up in day school your whole life or converted to Judaism last week. Revelation is about taking a plunge into the unknown, seeking understanding and meaning in our tradition.

So who owns Torah, well, you do. We do. But only if you reach out and grab it. Because evelation isn’t passive. 

Have a great rest of your week and I’ll see you next Tuesday.