SALT - Tuesday, 21 Elul 5777 - September 12, 2017


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  • Rav David Silverberg
            We read in Parashat Vayelekh of God’s command to Moshe just before his passing: “Write for yourselves this song, and teach it to the Israelites; place it in their mouths” (31:19).  According to the plain meaning of this verse, this command refers to the poem of Ha’azinu, which God dictates to Moshe in the next parashaChazal, however, understood this verse as a command to write the entire Torah.
            Commenting on the phrase “simah be-fihem” (“place it in their mouths”), the Gemara in Masekhet Eiruvin (54b) infers that a teacher of Torah must present the material to the students “ad she-tehei sedura be-fihem” – in such a manner that it is “arranged in their mouths.”  This appears to refer to the need to teach Torah in a clear manner, such that the student can digest and internalize the information properly, without confusion.
            Rav Yaakov Mecklenberg, in his Ha-ketav Ve-ha’kabbala, explains that the Gemara made this inference from the fact that the Torah here uses the verb s.m. for “place,” as opposed to the verb n.t.n.  The difference between these verbs, Rav Mecklenberg asserts, is that whereas n.t.n. denotes any kind of “placement,” the verb s.m. has the specific connotation of a careful, calculated, orderly arrangement.  Rav Mecklenberg draws proof to this theory from the Torah’s command in Sefer Vayikra (6:3), “ve-samo eitzel ha-mizbei’ach,” which requires the kohen to take the ashes from the top surface of the altar, where the sacrifices are burnt, and place them alongside the altar.  Chazal, in Torat Kohanim, understood the word “ve-samo” to mean that the kohen performing this ritual must place the ashes calmly (“be-nachat”), in a manner which ensures that the ash is not scattered about.  Rav Mecklenberg applies this same reading of the verb s.m. to the formulation here in Parashat Vayelekh regarding the teaching of Torah – “simah be-fihem.”  Chazal understood that Torah must be taught in an organized, calculated fashion, ensuring that the information is not “scattered” in the students’ minds, but rather properly arranged.  Sometimes, teachers might seek to flood the students with material, transmitting to them large volumes of knowledge, but the information is studied in a disorganized manner, which does not allow the students to properly assimilate it in their minds and understand how the various pieces of information fit with one another.  The Gemara here compares the desired method of Torah instruction to the careful placement of ashes in a neat, orderly pile, urging educators to try as best they can to present the material slowly, patiently, and in an organized fashion, so that all the information can be properly understood and put into its proper context.