Starting in high school, I was a particularly devoted fan of two television series. One was M*A*S*H, the comedy set in a medical unit during the Korean War. The other was Hill Street Blues, a drama set in an urban police precinct.
One thing I started to notice after sticking with each, was how much delicious and wry comedy there was in Hill Street Blues. Yes, it was a drama involving assault and murder. But there was Detective Belcker, the almost animal at times undercover cop, sitting with a scowl at his desk typing up a bust. He'd be typing with one finger at his typewriter, and the phone would ring, and his face would change: "Hi, Ma." (The character was Jewish, of course.) On M*A*S*H, there was a great deal of serious social and political commentary. (Parenthetically, one of my favorite comments in a documentary about M*A*S*H came from William Christopher, who played the army chaplain: "I thought of M*A*S*H as primarily a show about a priest in Korea.")
Anyway, from these two shows I learned that some of the best comedy could be written by dramatic writers, and vice versa. It's an insight that the editors of the Torah would have mightily appreciated.
When we're little, we think of the Torah primarily as one thing -- as a book of stories, with the Ten Commandments thrown in. That's what kids usually learn, the Torah up until about two weeks ago in the annual cycle.
But these recent weeks, what a range of things we have had in the Torah! Three weeks ago, Parashat B'shalach was the dramatic story of the final escape from Mitzrayim and Pharaoh. Two weeks ago, Parashat Yitro captured the encounter with God at Mt. Sinai and the proclamation of the Ten Commandments. Last week, Parashat Mishpatim was a sudden shift -- almost entirely a listing of specific laws. And this week, with Parashat Terumah, we start an entirely different kind of section: words that spell out an architectural diagram of the new desert sanctuary.
What is the Torah? What do you call a book that is stories, laws, pictures, anthems all wrapped in one and intertwined? In the scroll, it's all written the same, in letters and words in neat columns, chanted to the same melody. But I don't think there's another work like it.
It's an everything-book. Because the call of Torah comes to every facet of life. Because as humans we learn by rules and by stories, by words and by pictures and by song. Because God has too many facets to be captured in just one kind of text. It doesn't have to be just one thing, or another. It is everything. What kind of book is it? It is one of a kind. There's no other book like the Torah.