Torah Study: Books Within Books

IN THE OHLONE WAY, AUTHOR Malcolm Margolin relates the following story-about-stories asking one of his Native American sources about a particular tribal song:

“He thought for a bit and then replied that if I wanted to know what the words meant, he’d be glad to translate them for me. But if I was asking what the song meant, that was different. A song, he explained, carries much more meaning than just its words. For him, for example, a large part of a song’s meaning is about who first taught it to him — a relative? an elder? a friend? … Each time a song is sung, he went on to explain, it accumulates further meaning — from the people he is singing it with, the audience he is singing it to, the circumstances under which it is sung. … Even my own curiosity about the song, he smiled, adds to its meaning.”

This is one of the best Torah descriptions I’ve ever heard, and it’s on my mind a bit this morning as we read this week the second reference to “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” Absent the Oral Torah, which interprets this as “cost of an eye for an eye, cost of a tooth,” etc, this passage sounds like barbarism.

But absent the Oral Torah — the Mishna and Talmud, but also the midrash — our Torah is only half-complete. What we read in synagogue or living room each Saturday has its own built-in meta-story. Not only can we not understand Torah without it, we’re not even intended to; it would be like trying to duplicate your grandmother’s kugel without knowing which pan she used.

And like Bubbe’s kugel, Torah was meant to be shared. So we hope you’ll join us Saturday morning for a look through what Deuteronomy hath wrought — and how we can further wring it.

Be well, and Shabbat shalom!

Neal & Ann’s Torah Study
Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011, 10 am-noonish (RSVP)
Torah Portion: Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)
Haftorah: Isaiah 51:12-52:12

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