The month of Sivan is here, and with it the celebration of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, the biblical festival of Shavuot (6/7 Sivan, this year 9/10 June).
In an age when most of Europe was illiterate, a twelfth century Christian monk wrote “The Jews, out of their zeal for God and their love of the Law, put as many sons as they have, to letters (to study), that each may understand God’s Law… A Jew, however poor, if he had ten sons, would put them all to letters, not for gain, as the Christians do, but for the understanding of God’s Law; and not only his sons but his daughters.” (B. Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages, p. 78)
These quotes from people outside of the Jewish people reflect just how obvious the Jewish commitment to education is. Of course, this is also a theme in Jewish literature and is explored by Jewish thinkers throughout the generations. Here is an example, from Maimonides’ legal code, the Mishna Torah:
“With three crowns was Israel crowned – with the crown of the Torah, the crown of the priesthood and the crown of kingship. The crown of the priesthood was granted to Aaron… The crown of kingship was presented to David… But the crown of the Torah is for all Israel… Whoever desires it can achieve it… [and] the crown of the Torah is greater than the other two.” Maimonides, Laws of Torah Study, 3:1
While there are necessary hierarchies when it comes to political and spiritual leadership, access to Torah is unlimited, guaranteeing the democratization of Jewish knowledge.
Fun Fact: Israel is the third most educated country in the world, according to 2019 data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), behind only Canada and Japan.
One of the ways a continual and regulated commitment to Jewish literacy has been achieved over the generations is through the weekly study of the Torah portion (Parshat HaShavua). The sages ensured that every Jewish community was reading the same section of the Torah each Shabbat, and this continues to this day. Perhaps even more critical is the custom to learn the parsha during the week preceding the communal Shabbat reading in preparation.
Below you can find some parsha resources for your own study and as educational resources for your work.