Summer Reading

Every school and library seems to provide a comprehensive Summer Reading Program. Some of the selections are to build and maintain skills acquired during the previous year, while others are on the lighter side meant for at the pool or beach. As Jews, we can also add special summer Torah Readings to this list. 

The first Shabbat every year after Tisha B’av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, we read Parshat Vaetchanan. It contains within it several familiar passages including the Shema, the words we retort to the Wise Son on the Seder night, and of course the Ten Commandments.

There are two questions that need to be asked regarding the reading of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5:5:

  1. Why do we read the Ten Commandments a second time? We already read it in Exodus 19.

  2. There are several differences in the rendition in Deuteronomy vs. in Exodus! How can that be?

The reason we read the Ten Commandments a second time is because Moshe is reviewing the travails of the forty years in the desert; and one of the premiere highlights is our receiving of the Ten Commandments.

An answer as to why there are some changes between the first and the second reading is because Moshe heard more than he recorded in the first mention of the Ten Commandments. Therefore, when he records them again in Deuteronomy, he includes some of the details he did not record the first time. (Why he didn’t include it all the first time could be the subject of a future article).

There is a profound lesson to be gleaned here from our Summer Torah Reading. Namely, after we enjoy a read, song, movie, conversation, a visit… we may leave behind the experience with a sense of, “finished that, check it off the list.” However, the truth is that if we revisit it in our minds or in actuality, we will observe and perceive so much more that is there that we did not absorb the first time around. 

This is also a reason why we read the same Torah year in and year out. Firstly, because it is divine, the amount of wisdom we can learn is endless. Secondly, because we are a year older, hopefully wiser, and the world has changed lots over the last twelve months, the Torah has messages for our world today, that may differ than the messages for the previous year.

In any case, here’s wishing you an enjoyable summer with lots of productive Summer Reading.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Ephraim Epstein