Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musings Before Shabbat-Kedoshim 5760

Torah for Dummies

In 5757, I wrote these words for parashat Kedoshim:

I seem to recall that among the spate of pop-psychology books that appeared in the last decade or two was one called "Life's Little Instruction Book." Well, I submit that this book had already been written thousands of years before - in Parashat Kedoshim. Some might point to the Aseret Hadibrot as the basis of life's instructions, but there is one striking difference that prompts me to suggest that we might do better to look to Kedoshim. The Ten Commandments are perhaps the equivalent to a bulleted executive summary. The first chapter in Kedoshim is the actual book.

What's different? Consider how many times we are reminded "ani Ad-nai" in Kedoshim as opposed to the Ten Commandments. In the Ten Commandments, we get the "why" right up front, and all that follows is the what. In Kedoshim, we get both the what followed by constant reminders of why."Ani Ad-nai." (An aside-I was hoping to find some interesting numerical coincidence in how many times "Ani Ad-nai" appears in Kedoshim. Statistically, it is 20. Ten times as "Ani Ad-nai Eloheichem"; Eight times as "Ani Ad-nai", once as "Ani Ad-nai Mekadishchem" and once as "Ki Kadosh Ani Ad-nai." ) Perhaps- ten times for the Ten Commandments. Add the 8 solo "Ani Ad-nai's to get 18 ? Or, since two of the "Ani Ad-nai Eloheichem"s appear in the middle of a "sentence", perhaps we can discount them and have 8 each of the "Ani Ad-nai"s and "Ani Ad-nai Eloheichem"s plus to "Mekadishchem" and "Ki Kadosh" to make our 18? Would that it were simpler to find some connection.)

But I digress.

In Kedoshim, the instructions come with the constant reminder of why the instructions should be followed. Because we should be a holy people. Because we have a covenant. We must remember: "If you are my people, then I am Gd." Not many instruction books come with rationales. It's nice to know we can count on one instruction book that will always help us to understand why.

Now back to 5760. Since those days, a new kind of book has appeared on the market. It all started with the "...for Dummies" and the "Idiot's Guide to..." books. Those nooks use little tricks and devices to get you to pay attention or note *really important* things. And it does understand the sometimes the reader needs a rationale to go along with the rule or instruction. (In fact, today, it is sadly often assumed that, without some sort of supporting rationale, instructions are useless or ignored by most people.) Our holy Torah does the same. It's no coincidence that Torah works hard to get out attention when due attention is needed. It repeats, reinforces, summarizes, provides rationales, etc.

Nowadays, we even have executive summary books. No need to read that latest best-seller. Just get the executive summary. Better yet, get it on tape and listen to it as you drive to and from the office! (Chabad, Aish and the rest are way out in front here-I do know people who listen to tapes of rabbinic commentary in their cars.)

It troubles me a little, however, when we think that by noting the salient points of a book (whether pointed out to us or we figure them out for ourselves) we know what the book says. In an ideal world, we would all read everything cover to cover -again and again. Hafach bah v'hafach bah-turn it and turn it.

But Gd is a realist. Our tradition dealt with realities. Our Torah does contain summations, reiterations, and all sorts of literary and rhetorical devices to get the message across. Parashat Kedoshim is a fine example of that. It's not the only part of the Torah that might qualify as "Torah for Dummies" or "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the 613 Mitzvot" or even as "Inc Magazine's Executive Summary: The Torah" but it certainly fits the category to some degree.

It's intellectually popular to deride the "popular" literature for the "simple folks" like the "...for Dummies" and "Idiot's Guide to..." and their ilk. And, I too, worry about them, and suggest they be used only with caution, and with the intent to delve deeper. But they can be used.(After all, even Steinsalz has provided a sort of beginners guide for his translation of the Talmud.) But these books have their place in our lives, just as the predecessors have their place in our holy Torah. Let us use them wisely.

Shabbat Shalom,


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