4 Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart; 7 and you shall teach them diligently unto your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. (Deuteronomy 6: 4-7)
There is a huge amount one can say on this short section which has become the central credo of the Jewish People. Today I want to focus in on a small section. What does it mean when it says, ” which I command you this day”? About this Rashi explains:
They should not be in your eyes like an old edict to which a person does not attach importance, but rather , like a new one, towards which everybody runs. This notion of an old edict denotes an order of the king which comes in writing. ( Rashi on Deuteronomy 4:6)
In simple terms, Rashi is saying that we are commanded to keep the words of Torah relevant to our lives. But how?
It is hard to imagine Jewish life without Rashi. Similarly it is hard to imagine contemporary Jewish life without Franz Kafka. In many ways Kafka’s An Imperial Message is a super-commentary to Rashi’s comment here. Kafka’s parable reads:
The Emperor—so they say—has sent a message, directly from his death bed, to you alone, his pathetic subject, a tiny shadow which has taken refuge at the furthest distance from the imperial sun. He ordered the herald to kneel down beside his bed and whispered the message in his ear. He thought it was so important that he had the herald speak it back to him. He confirmed the accuracy of verbal message by nodding his head. And in front of the entire crowd of those witnessing his death—all the obstructing walls have been broken down, and all the great ones of his empire are standing in a circle on the broad and high soaring flights of stairs—in front of all of them he dispatched his herald. The messenger started off at once, a powerful, tireless man. Sticking one arm out and then another, he makes his way through the crowd. If he runs into resistance, he points to his breast where there is a sign of the sun. So he moves forwards easily, unlike anyone else. But the crowd is so huge; its dwelling places are infinite. If there were an open field, how he would fly along, and soon you would hear the marvelous pounding of his fist on your door. But instead of that, how futile are all his efforts. He is still forcing his way through the private rooms of the innermost palace. Never will he win his way through. And if he did manage that, nothing would have been achieved. He would have to fight his way down the steps, and, if he managed to do that, nothing would have been achieved. He would have to stride through the courtyards, and after the courtyards through the second palace encircling the first, and, then again, through stairs and courtyards, and then, once again, a palace, and so on for thousands of years. And if he finally burst through the outermost door—but that can never, never happen—the royal capital city, the center of the world, is still there in front of him, piled high and full of sediment. No one pushes his way through here, certainly not someone with a message from a dead man. But you sit at your window and dream of that message when evening comes.– Translation by Ian Johnston
It is said that Rav Nachman and Kafka were cut of the same cloth. Rav Nachman was a believer and for Kafka the King is dead. It is a struggle in the modern era to imagine that were were handed anything other then an “old edict”. If we seek meaning in our Jewish lives we need to hear the message and transform ourselves, our life styles, and our homes. I do not believe that Judaism will last if we are just sitting at home waiting by the window. That Judaism is never going to be relevant.
We need to re-imagine ourselves as divine partners bringing the message out to the world. It is living the life of the messenger and raising our children to be messengers after us that the Torah is alive and is not just an old edict. In my moments of doubt I often think about this message that I have been schlepping around this whole time. Who wants to be just a postal worker? But, the message is not for me. We are couriers of a love letter spending our days looking for the home of the lover. This letter might bring love and comfort to the intended recipient. For that person I feel an urgency, how ever futile it might be, to get the message there. That is my daily duty. Who am I not do my job?