Haftarah Parshat Reeh
August 3, 2002
When Isaiah comforts the thirsty and hungry of Israel who seek nourishment with the words: “Ho, all who are thirsty, come for water, even if you have no money. Come buy and eat, buy food without money, wine and milk without cost.” (Isaiah 55:1), his intention is not to offer them free food and drink. Rather, he is offering another kind of nourishment. Targum Yonathan, the 7th century Aramaic translation of the prophetic books interprets the verse: “Ho, all who want to learn, come and learn, and those without money, come, hear and learn; come hear and learn without money, for study is better than wine and milk.”
.In the following midrash, the sages expand upon the use of water as a metaphor for Torah: “’Ho, everyone who is thirsty, come for water’. As water is given from heaven… so were the words of Torah given from heaven… As water is given without cost to the world, so too were the words of Torah given without cost to the world… As water gives life to the world, so words of Torah give life to those who occupy themselves with them… As water comes down in myriad drops which become a multitude of brooks, so are the words of Torah; One day you learn one law, and the next another law, until you are filled with wisdom and well forth like a fountain… As in asking for water an adult is not ashamed to say to a child: ‘Bring me a glass of water’, so too, he/she should not be ashamed to say to a child: ‘Teach me a chapter’ or ‘Teach me a law.’ As in thirst for water people are not too lazy to go and get a drink, so in the study of Torah, a person should not be lazy.” (adapted from Midrash Tehillim 1:18)
All of us yearn to nurture our relationship with God, but often we have a sense that the task is too daunting, so we set it aside. The message of this midrash is that we should not be embarrassed to quench our thirst even if it means learning from our children. We should take upon ourselves to study a little at a time, incrementally, and allow our knowledge and wisdom to well up so that we can share “our Torah” with others. This is also the lesson that we learn from the famous story of Rabbi Akiva, who began his Torah studies with the “aleph bet” along with his children after he had already reached the age of 40. In time, with perseverance, he became one of the greatest sages of Jewish people. It is never too late to quench our thirst for Torah nor to begin our journey toward relating to God.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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