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Mesorah is usually translated as “Jewish tradition”, but its literal meaning is “transmission”.
Tractate Avot, which is devoted to Jewish ethical conduct, opens with a brief history lesson:
“Moses received the Torah at Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua, and Joshua to the Elders, and the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets transmitted it to the Men of the Great Assembly.”
We are told that each generation passed the Torah – both the Written Law and the Oral Law – on to the next generation.
Our commentaries wonder why Tractate Avot begins in this fashion.
One answer is that the act of transmitting the legacy is just as important as the legacy itself.
Jews around the world are familiar with the famous Biblical verse:
“Torah tziva lanu Moshe morashah kehilat Yaakov.” (“The Torah that Moses commanded us is the heritage of the Congregation of Jacob.”) (Deuteronomy 33:4)
In an article written in honor of Yom HaAtzma’ut, Rav Yechiel Wasserman notes that this verse employs the word, “morashah” (heritage) rather than the more common, “yerushah” (inheritance).
Rav Wasserman cites Rabbenu Bechaye, who explains that yerushah refers to a gift which comes with no strings attached. In contrast, a morashah must be subsequently bequeathed to future generations.
As committed Jews, we are challenged with the responsibility of preserving, protecting, and safeguarding the Torah while simultaneously bequeathing it to the next generation.
May we be privileged to discover the proper means to transmit this legacy to our children in a way which is meaningful to them yet does not detract from our heritage.
American-Israeli blogger “Mrs. S.” (ourshiputzim.blogspot.com) made aliyah from the United States with her husband and kids eleven years ago.
Thanks Mrs.S. for this insightful contribution and for reminding us of our responsibility in the transmission of the Torah.