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People of the Book

People of the Book

Jews have long been known as the "People of the Book." Here's why.


Judaism is unique in that every single Jew is commanded to know the Torah. The first sentence that a Jewish child is taught is Torah tziva lanu Moshe, morasha kehilat Yaakov ― "Torah was commanded to us through Moses and it is the inheritance of every Jew."

Torah was meant for everybody. It is not the exclusive domain of some priestly class. Rather, it is a living, breathing document ― the lifeblood of our Jewish nation. We are required at all times to involve ourselves personally in its study and practice.

As Maimonides writes (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Torah Study 1:8-9):

Every Jew is obligated to study Torah, whether he is poor or rich, healthy or ill, young or old. Even if he is a pauper who derives his livelihood from charity, or if he has family obligations to his wife and children, he must still establish fixed times for Torah study ― both day and night, as it says (Joshua 1:8), "You shall think about it day and night

The great Sages of Israel included wood choppers, water drawers and blind men. Despite these [difficulties], they were occupied with Torah study day and night, and were amongst those who transmitted Torah in the unbroken chain dating back to Moses

It is interesting to note that the Vatican, by contrast, had an index of prohibited books until not too many years ago. The number one book on that index was the Bible ― the Five Books of Moses. They said it was dangerous to the faith and hence prohibited to study.

The Value Of One Drop

Some people are hesitant to learn Torah because they can’t imagine ever becoming a scholar ― so therefore why even get started? But that is faulty thinking. Every drop of Torah study is precious and eternal.

The story is told of Rabbi Yosef Kahaneman, who lived in the Lithuanian town of Ponevich. In the 1930s, when the Nazi threat grew grim, Rabbi Kahaneman escaped and made his way to Palestine. Upon arriving on the shores of Tel Aviv, he proudly proclaimed: "I have come here to establish a yeshiva."

Those who had come to greet the rabbi were perplexed: "Apparently you are not aware," they told him, "that Rommel's troops are now stationed in Egypt, and planning a total invasion of Israel. The Jewish Agency is destroying its records; the rabbis are distributing thousands of burial shrouds throughout the country. Our annihilation is imminent!"

"That will not deter me," replied Rabbi Kahaneman. "Even if I am able to spread Torah learning for only a few days, that in itself would be of eternal significance."

Rabbi Kahaneman built the yeshiva in Bnei Brak, and named it after his Lithuanian town of "Ponevich." Today it is the largest Yeshiva in Israel with thousands of students.

The Time To Learn Is Now

Some people use the excuse, "I’m too old to begin learning." But Rebbe Akiva ― who became the greatest sage of his generation with 24,000 students ― didn’t even learn the Aleph-Bet until he was 40 years old!

On Shavuot, we stay up all night learning Torah, to declare that when it comes to Torah study, there is no time like the present.

As Maimonides writes (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Torah Study 3:7):

Perhaps one will say: "[I will interrupt my studies] until after I make money, and then I will return and study. [I will interrupt my studies] until after I buy what I need and can focus less on my business. Then I will return and study."

If you think like this, you will never merit the Crown of Torah. Rather, make your work provisional and your Torah study permanent. Do not say: "When I have free time, I will study," for perhaps you will never have free time.

Shavuot is the time to make a personal commitment to study Torah regularly. The options are endless. You could:

The most important thing? At least study a little bit, each day.

May 14, 2002

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Visitor Comments: 2

(2) Ady, January 14, 2013 3:15 AM

This blows my mind apart, wow!

I hadn't thought of it like that. As l was reading this article, HaShem was in effect saying to me - what are you going to do about it? Also as Ruth above stated about not putting into action what one knows, this is also true of myself. Yes l am guilty of this shortcoming as well in the past. It is far easier to say to oneself - this is not for me - or someone else can do this and so on, but if one has the knowledge and the skills / abilities, one is to pass it on. This article is very inspiring and acts as an encouragement to both study and teach the truth of the TORAH to others, be they Jews or Gentiles of the Book.

(1) ruth housman, June 6, 2008 3:23 PM

to study is also to act

The basics of Torah it is said, lie in the statement do unto others...and of course the proviso must be, do in ways of compassion and love...

I think this is applicable to the entire world What is contagious is enthusiasm and positivity. I know students who don''t put into action what they know, even rabbis who do not listen and truly, have a touch of arrogance. To truly KNOW Torah is to ACT with humility towards everyone knowing the beggar on the street might be holding in his hand, Elijah''s cup.

The lessons of Torah are in the doing and people who have never studied Torah, know this intuitively and are so blessed.

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