Layers of Meaning


The high point of my week when I was eleven was walking to synagogue with my father on Shabbat morning. We were rarely alone on the walk home as people would gather round him to ask questions. So, the ten minute walk alone with him was heaven. He was invited one week to speak in a synagogue, Guttman’s, that was a thirty minute walk away. Heaven! I still remember every word we discussed on the way there. It was Shabbat Vayeilech, the shortest portion of the year, but the Torah reader, although mechanistically perfect, was so slow that it seemed the longest portion. I silently prayed that if they were ever to invite my father again, that it not be for Nasso, the longest portion of the Torah. My prayers were not answered. I was so excited to spend the half hour with my father that I forgot that it was the week of Nasso.

I recalled the words of One Irish Rover: “Tell me the facts real straight. Don’t make me older!”  I was suffering! Twelve people brought the same offering and yet the Torah describes one after another in exact detail. I am not exaggerating when I say that it took this man more time to read a single one of the sacrifices than it would have taken to offer all twelve!

Why does the Torah describe all twelve in exact detail if they were identical? The Midrash explains that each person had entirely different intentions when bringing his offering. The offerings may have been identical, but the focus of each was unique. Isn’t there a shorter way to get that idea across?

By the time my father rose to speak everyone was exhausted. “I would never be too tired to listen to twelve masters speak one after the other, each revealing another layer of meaning in a single verse.” He paused. “Especially if listening to all twelve reminds me that each layer I can reveal in the text is as precious as all the others. We just received a powerful message that the layers of Torah each of us reveals is precious to the One Who gave the Torah. I hope that we all remember that, each time we learn, we pray, we observe a Mitzvah.”

I was in the highest heavens as we walked home and my father revealed twelve layers of the opening verse of the portion. Each time I read a verse, recite a prayer, or observe a Mitzvah I have an opportunity to discover a entirely new layer of meaning, and there are infinite layers. The layers are the adventure of my service of God.
Thank you & Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
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