In just over a week, Jewish people around the world will celebrate the festival of Shavuot, a holiday that marks the Jewish people receiving the Torah. For well-over 3,000 years now, the descendants of the tribes of Israel have been studying the laws that were delivered more than three millennium ago at Mount Sinai.
One might wonder how it is that a text can be studied over and over for thousands of years and still continue to intrigue, confound and entice scholars. What is it that leads Jews in communities around the world to dedicate their lives to explore the mysteries of this sacred text?
There is a pair of fascinating Mishnas in Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers that provide an insight into the unique nature of Torah. The first is attributed to a sage by the name of Ben Bag-Bag, who said: “Turn it and turn it again, for everything is in it. Pore over it, and wax gray and old over it. Stir not from it, for you can have no better rule than it” (5:25).
Those who regularly attend Shabbat services will recognize how, throughout the year-long cycle of Shabbat morning Torah reading, rabbis constantly find new messages to draw from the weekly bible portion. Add to that the text of the Talmud, which is the written compilation of the Oral Law, and there are years’ worth of study.
The second Mishna follows the first and is attributed to Ben Heh-Heh, who said: “According to the effort is the reward.” The Torah is the birthright of every Jew, but the level of joy, enlightenment and anticipation one derives is dependent on the time and dedication invested in its study.