Torah—Vision Beyond the Text (Part 2)
Let us continue exploring, in these weeks before Shavu’ot, the metaphors of Torah in our liturgy. In the blessing immediately before the Shema’ in the morning service, we say “give light to our eyes through Your Torah” (ha’er eyneynu beToratekha) [Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat, 111], drawing upon the metaphor from the book of Proverbs that “Torah is light” (6:23). This connection of Torah (teaching) and light draws on a theme—common to many religions—that labels the attainment of ultimate understanding or a close or profound encounter with the Divine as “enlightenment.”
This blessing, deeply connected with Torah, speaks much of love, opening with the words “Ahavah rabah ahavtanu” (With great love have You loved us) and offering a reversal of the biblical text of the Shema’. In the Shema’, we are commanded to love God, but in this blessing we affirm that God has loved us, and that the great sign of that love is the Torah. Understood in this way, the Torah is not simply a code of legislation and values, nor even a gathering of teachings and source of wisdom. Torah becomes the very embodiment of the passionate connection between God and the Jewish People. This connection is taken even further in the Zohar (Va-yikra, 73): “Kudsha Brich Hu, Orayta, VeYisrael-Had Hu!” (the Blessed Holy One, the People of Israel and Torah are one!).
In the Talmud (BT Berakhot 17a), the simple biblical assertion that Torah is light becomes a central part of the beautiful and increasingly famous blessing offered by his students to Rabbi Ami when they left him: “May you see your world fulfilled in your lifetime . . . may your mind perceive wisdom . . . may you speak words of wisdom . . . and may your eyes shine with the light of Torah.” This blessing, often offered to young people at b’nai mitzvah and to rabbinical and cantorial students at ordination or investiture, has been set to beautiful melodies. See the links at the foot of the electronic version of this essay.
The traditional text of the Prayer for the State of Israel (Siddur Sim Shalom, 149) uses the phrase “send Your light . . . to its leaders and officials” almost certainly invoking Torah as a guide for the State through this invocation of “God’s light”—in other words, Torah.
We find Torah in liturgy and ritual as the source of blessings, the pathway of love and source of guidance for leaders of nations . . . as well as for each of us. May (all) our eyes shine.
The statement from the Zohar that God, Torah, and Israel are one can be heard in this melody, often sung in synagoues as the Torah is “dressed” following the reading:
The text Ha’er Eyneynu was set to a compelling melody by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach:
As always, I am interested in hearing comments and reflections on these thoughts about prayer and liturgy. You may reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.