Off the Pulpit

At Home in Torah

Why does the Torah begin with a bet? The question receives many answers in Jewish tradition. One common answer is that since bet is the second letter, it shows there is no true beginning to study; it is an everlasting enterprise. Elie Wiesel answers it this way: “Bet is a house [both because of its shape and because it begins the word Bayit, home]… The Book of Books is a shelter, a dwelling place. A place in which men and women laugh and weep, read and write, work and sleep. A place in which people love one another before they start quarreling — or the other way around. In other words, it is a home.”

To study Torah is to enter a world in which we can be at home. Like home it invites us to reenter, again and again. Like home, it is sometimes uncomfortable, too close or suddenly alien to us. Like home, at times it forces us to live with people who irritate or upset us. But always it calls us back. It is both a spur and a refuge. Study Torah. Come home.