Here's an excerpt from my sermon this week. If you'd like to receive the full sermon please e-mail me. (RabbiMichaelSimon@gmail.com)
Did you ever think about how you can read and study the Torah and still have it speak to you in a modern voice? I believe the best way is with an eye and an ear firmly planted in the present time. It means letting the Torah speak to us in a voice that we can understand and appreciate and that makes sense to our own eyes and ears as we read and hear it.
Here's the thing. I'm not just making this up. I got this idea from Moses, who realized, at the end of his life, that he had to explain and teach the Torah in a way that his audience would hear and understand.
That is why, in recounting the Ten Commandments, he changed the original word zachor to shamor. Because for this new generation of Israelites, who had not known slavery, a different message was needed. For the generation that experienced slavery and the subsequent Exodus, they needed no reminder. They only needed to remember - to zachor - that God created the world. But to this new generation, the generation that had not known slavery, they are told to observe - shamor.
The most important part of this farewell address, the most important part of this message, is that Moses is speaking words that his current audience can relate to. He is not speaking the same words that he spoke in Exodus to that audience. As the audience changed so must the message. And that is why the Torah stresses for us time and time again that the covenant between God and the Jewish people is eternal. That covenant was not only made with the generation who had left Egypt. It exists for the next generation and for all subsequent generations as well. It is a covenant that was made with every single one of us. Those who were standing at Sinai and those who are living in 2009.
Moses' words clearly focus on the present, on the present generation. It means that for each generation of Jews, the Torah, and Judaism, must retain its significance. It must retain its meaning. It must be something that is observed. God’s rules and laws as well as God himself must remain both visible and viable.
The generation that left Egypt heard the Torah in one voice. The generation that was about to enter the Promised Land heard it in another. And every generation since has studied and applied that same Torah with a different voice appropriate for that particular time and place.
As we say after the Kohen is called for the first aliyah, “v’atem hadvekim b’adonai eloheichem chayim kulchem hayom," all of you who have held fast to the Lord are with us and alive today.
That is the ultimate message. To cling to the Torah and to keep it alive, with whatever words and in whatever voice we choose to hear it in.