Ha’azinu 5782 – Nothing Superfluous, Nothing Trivial

D'var Torah | Deuteronomy

Another fundamental assumption of the Rabbis about the Torah is that there is not even one superfluous word in the Torah. There are lessons to be learned from every word or phrase no matter how seemingly trivial. For instance, the Genesis narrative includes a lengthy genealogy that mentions that Lotan’s sister was Timna (Genesis 36:22) and that Timna was a concubine of Eliphaz, Esav’s son (Genesis 36:22). But how do these arcane facts advance our understanding of the Torah or offer information that is crucial to our lives as Jews?


According to RaShI, Timna was deeply enthused with attaching herself to Abraham’s clan. So much so, she did not mind becoming the concubine, that is, a sexual partner, of Esav. RaShI intimates that non-Jews found Judaism supremely attractive: making them willing to settle for a non-legal status so long as they were counted as part of a Jewish household. This is the lesson of the Torah and one that justified a seeming triviality. The Jewish people were both the chosen people and the people of choice. While the condition of Jews in the world may belie this fact, it is incumbent upon Jews to relish their attractiveness and be proud of the esteem in which they are held.


RaShI’s comment is less an accurate description of gentile feelings towards Judaism (certainly not during the eleventh century in Franco-Germany) and more a statement of personal pride. RaShI held Judaism in such high regard he could not imagine anyone thinking otherwise.


All this connects with Deuteronomy 32:47, a verse in which Moses insists that the Torah is “not a trifling thing for you.” On the surface, this phrase justifies the Rabbinic view that there is nothing superfluous in the Torah. But beneath the surface, as RaShI points out, we see that there are lessons to be learned from the often-overlooked parts of the Torah. And the theme of revisiting what we have overlooked is apropos for this time of year.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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