"Write down this poem and teach it to the people of Israel" Deuteronomy 31:19

By Sally Berkovic, September 22, 2011

Artscroll, Hertz, JPS, Koren or Soncino - every shul-goer has his or her preferred edition of the Five Books of Moses. The typeface variations, selection of commentaries, quality of the paper and accuracy of the English translation are just some of the issues a discerning reader considers. However, there is one constant - the Hebrew text remains the same. Until the mass production of books, owning a book was for the educated and wealthy. Reading was for the privileged.

And yet, in this week's parashah, God's final commandment to the Jewish people is that they should "write down this poem and teach it to the people of Israel". The Talmud explains that this means each of us is obligated to write a copy of the Torah for ourselves (Sanhedrin 21b).

Walter Benjamin, cited by Robert Alter suggests, "Only the copied text commands the soul of him who is occupied with it, whereas the mere reader never discovers the new aspects of his inner self that are opened by the text… the reader follows the movement of his mind in the free flight of day-dreaming, whereas the copier submits it to command."

However, so few people write their own Torah, rather we delegate this task to a trained and paid scribe. So if we cannot afford to own a Torah, what can we own? As individuals we have a responsibility to own our Judaism, and in each generation, the Torah poem must be understood and interpreted anew, paying close attention to its rhythm and rhyme. While the lessons of the Torah can be found in many books and in the people who embody Torah scholarship, we must also write our own stories to complement those of the generations before us. The full story since Sinai is yet to be told.

Last updated: 11:29am, September 22 2011