first-time-readerSomeone asked me a question today on a passage in the Torah. In the middle of our discussion, he felt he needed to excuse his ignorance as a beginner. He said, “This is the 1st time I’m reading this text!” To that I responded, “Beautiful — I wish it was my first time reading the text, too.”

When the Torah writes of the arrival of the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai, it says “Today they came to the desert of Sinai (Exodus 19:1).” Why didn’t it say “On that day they came..” since it is a historical account? The commentary of Rashi writes, “Because the words of Torah should be new to you like they were given today.”

When I study the Torah, I’m tempted to filter the verses through my own previous conception of what the text means. I’ve read it a number of times over the years, and I’ve developed some conclusions in my mind about the messages being conveyed. In addition, I have previous life experience, including performing the Torah’s Commandments, which can also give me preconceived notions about the message to be found in the verses.

In either case, I can end up imposing my impressions on the text. If, instead, I exercise humility, set my previous knowledge aside, and open my mind solely to what the text is saying, it is likely I will come much closer to comprehending the message of the text, or a new facet that I had not seen before.

If the Torah were introduced to the world today, for the first time, it would be much easier to open our minds and hearts to its message. We’d be cracking open a new book, from a new Author, with the excitement inherent in learning something completely new. The text itself would have a chance to speak. That is why the words of Torah should always be new to us, as if they were given today.

In the holiday prayers, Shavuos is called “The time of the giving of our Torah.” Our holiday celebrations do not simply mark the time that things happened in the past — rather, G-d renews the spiritual benefits of each day in its time. On Shavuos, we can feel a spark of the original experience of receiving the Torah at Sinai. Each year, it is as if the Torah is being given again, anew. Shavuos provides us the opportunity to receive the Torah as if it were a brand-new book, and to make a new commitment to listen to the direct message of the Author, G-d Himself.

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