Monday, December 20, 2010

SHeMOS (Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum)

This week we begin reading the second of the five Books of Moses, Sefer Shemos (literally the book of Names, but the world knows it as the book of Exodus). The commentaries explain to us that Shemos is actually an acronym for Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum, which is a formula prescribed by the Torah for our weekly review of the Torah. Simply put, SHeMOS consists of reading each verse twice, with it's translation once, and proceeding through the entire portion. However, like everything in Judaism, there is much more to this concept than meets the eye.

More than an effective tool for review, the codifications of Jewish law state that this practice is an obligation on every Jewish male. The Shulchan Aruch and the Mishna Berura discuss the various ways that one can fulfill this obligation. While "targum" is classically interpreted as the Aramaic translation provided by Onkelos that accompanies the scripture in nearly every single printing, most authorities agree that this should be supplemented by any of the classic commentaries on the Torah, such as RaSHI, RamBaN, or the Ohr HaChaim. Additionally, there is a time limit to each week's portion: ideally, the portion should be completed before the first Shabbos meal of the week that we read that particular portion. Of course, the deadline can be extended by ever increasing increments, up until the next Simchat Torah, but this is the preferred method.

As such, the system is set up in a way that the portion can be broken down into daily sections, paralleling the seven aliyot of the Shabbos reading. Moreover, there are various methods to how one may go about accomplishing the act of Shnayim Mikra: some sources suggest going through the portion reading each individual verse twice, followed by it's translation and commentary, and continuing in this fashion. Others maintain that one may read through the entire portion once in the verse, followed by a read-through of the targum and commentary, and then yet a fourth read-though of the verses again.

It should be noted that there is a method which consists of reading through the verses only once, and then relying on the Torah reading to complete the "double" verse obligation. This only works if one continuously reads along with the Reader; listening to the Reader does not count towards fulfilling the obligation.

Of course, there are several other methods but these are the most common. For more information, see Mishna Berura 285 (see, I even supplied a link - you have no excuse!).

It cannot be stated forcefully enough how important this particular mitzva is. Aside from the fact that this is a way of fulfilling the directive to learn the entire Torah, this is a valuable source for major foundations of faith. To my mind, there is a direct correlation between crises of faith and the laxity in observance of this practice. If a person never continues past his childish, elementray school level of understanding the Torah, how can he ever have a firm gounding in the face of the powerful elements of heresy in the world?

In yeshiva, I see an astounding display of ignorance in basic knowledge that people would have if they went throught the Torah portion every week. They're not rebelling, of course - they simply aren't aware of the value of Shnayim Mikra, or the fact that it's an obligation. Truth be told, I myself was negligent in this for a very long time, and to this day I regret it.

This week also marks the beginning of a very special time, the period of the year known as Shovavim (in an earlier post I provide a brief explanation to what Shovavim is). This is no coincidence; this time of year is a very potent time, full of opportunities to make innovations in our personal service of God, as well as fix and uproot negative traits. Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk writes in the Tzetel Kattan (#17) that if a person wants to develop and strengthen a trait, or change an aspect of his nature, he must strive consistently for forty days, with great effort and single mindedness. Through this practice, he will receive Divine assistance and continue to elevate himself to the greatest heights, successfully altering his spiritual makeup. To that end, Reb Shalom Noach Berzovsky of Slonim (author of Nesivos Shalom) writes that this is why Shovavim is longer than forty days, to provide a greater opportunity to take on new "projects" that work toward the goal of reaching shleimut (literally completion or wholeness) in serving God.

May we all merit that our innovations take root, and that we continue to grow and find new ways of coming closer to God!

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