Publishing Torah Books

The last of the 613 commandments of the Torah is for each individual to write a Torah scroll, or to have one written: “Now write for you this song, and teach it to the children of Israel” (Devarim 31:19). This is a fitting culmination for the commandments – providing the means for their preservation and study.

The Sefer HaChinukh explains that it is not enough that a person can, if he wants, borrow a Torah scroll from a neighbor, or use an old one that he inherited. While a highly motivated person will go to the trouble of studying from a borrowed book, people naturally tend to occupy themselves with the objects they find at hand, especially those that are new. Thus, the more Torah scrolls we write, the more likely a person is to interest himself in one and apply himself to Torah study.

This explanation applies equally to any book of Torah learning, and this is exactly what the Chinukh explains: “Even though the primary Torah obligation is only by an actual Torah scroll, there is no doubt that each person should do according to his ability also for other books written in explanation of the Torah, and even if his ancestors left him many others.”

This reasoning suggests that just as a person may be more inclined to study from a newly written Torah scroll, so are people naturally inclined to study from newly composed books which are written in the style of a particular time or community, even though the new books are not of course better than the old ones.

Rav Natan of Breslav, who devoted painstaking effort to publishing the works of his Rebbe, Rav Nachman of Breslav, as well of his own works, also dilates on this topic. He first points out that originally only the written Torah (the Tanakh) could be written; the oral tradition was forbidden to write. But eventually the Sages decided that writing down the oral tradition was indispensable for its preservation. Rav Natan writes: “And this is the aspect of printing holy books on the holy Torah which has become so very widespread lately, and it is a great thing and this is the nearing of the Mashiach.” He explains in the name of Rav Nachman that “having an abundance of books is a great benefit and a great repair for Israel.” Later he adds “HaShem, may He be blessed, did a great kindness with us that the process of printing was revealed to the world, because through this holy books are multiplied in the world” (Likutei Halakhot Kiddushin 3:20-23).

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