Off the Pulpit

The Key to the Treasure

In his short story “Scheherazade,” novelist John Barth writes that “the key to the treasure is the treasure.”

I think about this sometimes when I listen to the Torah reader on Shabbat. The ability to read an ancient text seems as great a gift as the meaning itself. For a tradition to remain accessible after thousands of years is itself an extraordinary blessing. We hold the key, and holding it is itself a treasure.

The Rabbis understood and dramatized this lesson. We are told that when the ancient Temple was burning the Cohanim climbed to the roof and threw the keys to the Temple toward the heavens, and a hand emerged to receive them (Ta’anit 29b).

Many years ago I heard my father comment on this Midrash that while the Priests threw the keys to the Temple, they did not throw the keys to the Torah. That remained in our hands, because with it we could one day rebuild what we had lost. Learning is our key, as precious in itself as the lessons it unlocks.