The morning after our ancestors arrived at Sinai, Moses presented G-d’s proposal to appoint them His precious treasure, a kingdom of ministers, and a holy nation. Their reply: “All that G-d said, we will do.”
Two days later, Moses told them that G-d would issue the Ten Commandments and relayed G-d’s precise instructions for how to prepare. The Jews replied again, “All that G-d said, we will do.”
That very day, Moses sat down and transcribed all the portions of the Torah from Genesis until Exodus chapter 20, the chapter of the Ten Commandments. The next day, one day before the Torah was given, Moses struck a covenant with our ancestors and read aloud the chapters that he had written the previous day. To this, the Jews replied, “All that G-d says, we will do, and we will listen.”
What changed? Why did they say, “We will do” twice before and add, “We will listen” on this day?
The Power of Study
“We will do” refers to observing G-d’s commandments. “We will listen” refers to studying G-d’s Torah. It has been suggested that until this day, the Jews felt that the Torah need only be studied to know how to perform the commandments. Each Mitzvah comes with numerous detailed laws that are enumerated in the Torah. If we fail to study, we won’t know how to serve G-d properly.
Therefore, the Jews felt that they did not need to specify that they would listen. It would be sufficient to say that they would do, and it would be obvious that they would study. You can only know what to do if you study first.
On this day, when Moses chanted the first book and a half of the Torah, they understood their mistake. You see, the first book and a half of the Torah contains very few commandments. It is primarily the story of our ancestors, beginning with Adam and ending with our ancestors’ arrival at Mount Sinai. There are several Mitzvot that appear along the way, but they are tangential to the story. They are not the primary subject.
Suddenly, it dawned on our ancestors that there is value to Torah study in and of itself. Not just because it leads us to proper Mitzvah observance.
What is the deepest form of connection we can form with one another? When the Torah describes intimacy between Adam and Eve, the Torah says, “Adam knew Eve.” To know someone is the truest form of intimacy. Embracing another physically doesn’t bring us to the person inside. It is an external embrace of the body. Even the act of intimacy doesn’t guarantee intimacy. It is just a physical act. It triggers feelings and hormones, but in the end, it is merely physical.
The deepest intimacy we can form is knowing one another. When I know how my spouse will react to a given situation before it even arises, when I can sense a shift in my spouse’s mood when we sit in silence, we are intimate with each other. I don’t just know my spouse. I know my spouse’s inner thoughts and desires. I know my spouse’s feelings. I am so in tune with my spouse that a slight shift in posture or exhale of breath can tell me precisely what is going on in her mind. That is intimacy.
How can we gain intimacy with G-d? Yes, we can embrace G-d by performing His commandments. But in the end, those are physical acts. The deepest form of intimacy we can achieve with G-d is studying the Torah. The Torah is where G-d transcribed His desires, feelings, and thoughts. When I study the Torah, I internalize the inner workings of G-d’s mind and heart. This is an intimate embrace.
It matters not whether I study a mystical tract of Kabbalah or a legal tract of Halachah. Whether I grapple with a stormy Talmudic debate or a passage from the book of Exodus. If it’s the Torah, it is G-d’s thought.
The Talmud famously rules that if two people claim one garment and walk into court holding it jointly, they must sell it and split the proceeds. Who issued this ruling? Sure, I might have come up with the same verdict, but there is a world of difference between reading that law in a legal textbook and reading it in the Torah. In the former, it is just a law. In the latter, it is G-d’s personal wish.
When I study that law and imprint it in my mind, I insert G-d’s thoughts into my brain. Our brains are the deepest part of our conscious selves. We absorb the deepest part of G-d’s conscious self—His thoughts—into the deepest part of our conscious selves. Now, that is intimacy.
When we study the Torah long enough, it impacts the way we think. The human brain is elastic, and if we exercise a certain part of it, it changes verily. We can stretch or shrink it. We can dig grooves and neural pathways that never existed before. If we study the Torah with deep concentration, we train ourselves to think like G-d. G-d’s thought patterns become our thought patterns. We don’t presume to grasp the endless depth and profundity of G-d’s thoughts, but we can intuit them even before we study them.
When faced with a situation we have never encountered in our studies, we can instinctively sense the Halachah—what G-d would say. This is because we have trained our brains to think as the Torah thinks. It is akin to knowing what our spouse will say before he or she even tells us what they are thinking. When we live together long enough, we pick up on each other’s thought patterns. We know each other so well that we know the other in the most intimate possible sense.
This is why we describe one who chants from the Torah as a baal korei. Korei has two meanings. It means to read, and it means to call or to summon. When we read the Torah, we summon G-d to come and sit with us. And G-d responds. How can we know that G-d is sitting with us? In a cosmic sense, we believe it. Our sages tell us that when we study the Torah, G-d echoes every word we say. We hear our voice, but there is an inaudible echo from G-d. That is a mystical truth.
Then, there is a tangible truth. When I study the Torah and come to “know” G-d’s thinking as well as Adam knew Eve, G-d is present in my mind. When I open the book, I summon Him, and He comes calling like a father responding to his child’s call. If I can intuit the next line, the conclusion, the ruling, the interpretation, I know that G-d is in my mind. He is as close to me as I am to my spouse, if not closer. Because my wife resides in a body of her own, and G-d resides directly in my mind. That is the power of Torah study.
Moreover, once G-d is in my mind, He stays there even after I close the book and walk away. He is with me. He is in me. A part of G-d has found a home in my mind. That is true intimacy.
Our ancestors discovered this when they said, “We will do, and we will listen.”