Between the Lines—Ki Tissa

Weekly Midrash Commentary by Rabbi Abigail Treu

שמות פרק לא פסוק יח

וַיִּתֵּן אֶל מֹשֶׁה כְּכַלֹּתוֹ לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ בְּהַר סִינַי שְׁנֵי לֻחֹת הָעֵדֻת לֻחֹת אֶבֶן כְּתֻבִים בְּאֶצְבַּע אֱלֹהִים:

שמות רבה (וילנא) פרשה מא

מהו ככלותו אר"ש בן לקיש כל מי שהוא מוציא דברי תורה ואינן ערבין על שומעיהן ככלה שהיא עריבה לבעלה נוח לו שלא אמרן, למה שבשעה שנתן הקב"ה התורה לישראל היתה חביבה עליהם ככלה שהיא חביבה על בן זוגה מנין שנא' ויתן אל משה ככלותו.

When God finished speaking with him [Moses] on Mount Sinai, God gave Moses the two tablets of the Pact, stone tablets inscribed with the finger of God. (Exod. 31:18)

Exodus Rabbah 41:5
What is the meaning of "When God had finished?" Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish said: If one gives a discourse on the Torah, which is not as pleasant to those that hear it as the bride is pleasing to her spouse, then it were best that he should not have said it at all. Why is that? Because when the Holy One, blessed be He, gave the Torah to Israel, it was then as dear to them as a bride is to her spouse, as it says, "And God gave unto Moses as his bride the two tablets of the Pact . . . "

If the Torah you teach isn't sexy, don't teach it. An unassailable marketing message rooted in a play on words: "had finished" is kekaloto, which─especially written as it is, missing the letter vav toward the end─could be rendered instead "as his bride." Since the midrash was initially taught orally, listeners might be tantalized, too, by the Hebrew "pleasant," which sounds identical to (but is spelled differently from) the word "naked" so that Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish, in giving this analogy the first time, would have been giving a rather suggestive drash.

In our day, when Jews live in a world competing for our spiritual allegiance and where we freely choose the communities in which we take part, the message is paramount. The teachers of Torah─broadly defined not only as rabbis but as cantors, Jewish educators, leaders of Jewish organizations, and lay leaders─are, in fact, marketers of Jewish living. Beyond those professionally affiliated, we as parents "market" Judaism in our homes to our children, to our non-Jewish neighbors, to the Jews we know who are not interested in their heritage. That Judaism has to be appealing. It has to be something that one would desire the way newlyweds desire one another. We have to be intoxicated with the idea that lifelong commitment to it would be the best possible choice we can make for ourselves. Otherwise, it will fizzle out. Jewish living that lacks passion is not worth passing on; but a passionate choice to live with Judaism for the rest of your life, day in and day out, is the root of Torah worth teaching.