The Baal Haturim writes a roshei teivos for “v’elle shemos bnei Yisrael”
ר”ת ואדם אשר לומד הסדר שנים מקרא ואחד תרגום בקול נעים ישיר יחיה שנים רבות ארוכים לעולם.
A person who learns torah twice and targum once with a nice nigun will live a long life.
I was wondering what was so special about this mitzvah that it promises longevity? To complicate matters, the sefer chasidim (301) says as follows: “If a person says ‘I don’t want to live anyway’ and therefore he doesn’t want to do this mitzvah, he nevertheless is obligated to perform this mitzvah and read…” This is similar to the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents, which the torah itself says guarantees long life, yet one who does not want a long life must still honor his parents.
Again, what are we supposed to be learning about the importance of Shnayim Mikra? To answer this question, we first must understand, what is the connection between this mitzvah and the words “v’ele shemos…” and the names of the Bnei Yisrael who went down to Egypt? Rav Moshe Feinstein (O.C. volume 5 chapter 10) discusses giving children secular names, and he explains, at the same time, the importance of the Yiddish language as part of our heritage. In conclusion he writes that it is important to name one’s children after their ancestors because it gives honor to the family. This brings together two of the reasons that the Jews were redeemed from Egypt: They did not change their names and they did not change their language. This is a central idea of our Jewish identity. When one learns Shnayim Mikra, many people seem to think of it as a boring, reading exercise. Some people ask “are we supposed to read it like tehillim?” (I myself used to wonder “how are you supposed to read tehillim?”) Part of our religious conviction is to understand that there are reading exercises, which are fundamental to the way that we live. As a young child, I was read many stories about the “wagon driver” who was totally illiterate, but during his work would say tehillim by heart. These people were called “Tehillim-Zugers” (psalm-sayers). Their tehillim, to us, does not seem to have much value. In truth, however, they were connecting to Hashem with the maximum of their ability. This was not an intellectual connection, but a commitment to connect to the best of their ability. When one fulfills the mitzvah of shnayim mikra, even at the most elementary level, just as a “psalm-sayer”, he is also nourishing his connection to learning Torah and it’s weekly involvement in our lives.
Many times I am asked “why should I bother to daven if I don’t have kavana? Is it Tehillim?” My answer to that is twofold: First, one can work on himself to improve his concentration during prayer. If one does not even pray, how can one improve?! Secondly, by coming to shul and praying, you are making a statement of who you are: “Though I may not understand or be actively connecting, I am a Jew who prays.” And with Hashem’s help, the concentration will come. So too, even if one ‘davens’ Shnayim Mikra every week, at surprising times the meaning will jump out at him.
In conclusion, even actions without proper understanding, will help bring us closer to Hashem. Just as when we are giving our children Jewish names, reviewing the parsha without proper understanding, or even coming to shul to pray without always concentrating or understanding, we may not feel we are connecting, nevertheless, it moves us forward in life. However, the better we do, the sooner our redemption will come.
This can be the understanding of the Baal Haturim. The person whose life is wholesomely connected, though through seemingly perfunctory acts, those acts will add to his quality of life (שנים רבות וארוכים). The Sefer Chasidim reinforces that this is not optional, we have an obligation to do this, just as we have a full time obligation to honor our parents.