Post Archive for October 2018

Shabbos Parashas Noach

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect), Chapter 7, Part 1
We now discuss knowledge we possess through hearing. At the revelation at Mount Sinai, Hashem spoke face to face with the entire Jewish People, including 600,000 men between the ages of 20 and 60 and the older men, the women, and the children. In addition, He passed on to us, through his prophet Moshe, the tablets with the Ten Commandments, written in His own hand. Hashem put the Jews of Moshe’s generation through this experience so that all their descendants throughout the generations, who did not witness the revelation personally – even those unable to engage in intellectual investigation – would have firm faith in the Torah, free of the clouds of doubt and the darkness of confusion. The voice of Torah that came forth at Sinai has been transmitted to us down through the generations.
It is the obligation of every Jew to bear in mind that when hears the Torah today, it is as if he is hearing it directly from Hashem’s mouth. And every day a Jew should regard the Torah’s words as if he heard them just now. We have no reason to doubt the Torah, neither on account of its content nor on account of its source. The Torah’s content is wholesome; in David HaMelech’s words it is “sweeter than honey” (Tehillim 19:11). And its source is unassailable, for the Torah was not given to us by any mortal man, but rather from the Creator of the world. There is no need to elaborate, for the validity of these points is beyond any reasonable doubt.
The words of the Torah that we see today are the same as those that our forefathers heard at Sinai. The Torah is implanted within us as if it has been permanently nailed into us from the time it was given. We are commanded by the Torah not to accept any new teaching or practice, even if a prophet conveys it to us in Hashem’s name. At the conclusion of Sefer Vayikra, the Torah declares (Vayikra 27:34): “These are the commandments that Hashem commanded to Moshe to the Children of Yisrael on Mount Sinai.” The Gemara in Shabbos 104a derives from this declaration the principle that no prophet after Moshe has license to introduce any innovations. Accordingly, we can point to a Torah scroll written even just now and declare with full confidence: “This is the Torah that Moshe placed before the Children of Yisrael, by the mouth of Hashem through the hand of Moshe.” There is no difference between the Torah scrolls Moshe conveyed to the Jews of his generation and the Torah scrolls we have now, except for the parchment and the ink.
Further, the Torah has been in our possession, and we have maintained it, for over three thousand years. Nothing in it has been changed, not even the tip of the little letter yud. The Torah’s continued existence and binding force – all of the mitzvos with all their details, down to the fine points – is itself reliable testimony that we received the Torah from heaven, in the same form as we have it now. We cannot deviate from it, neither to right nor to the left, nor can we deny anything written in it, far be it, and claim that we did not receive it.
Let us illustrate the point with an analogy. Suppose you come across a wondrously magnificent building with the builder’s name engraved on its outer wall. It is impossible for you not to believe that the building was built by a man of tremendous talent. What testifies to this? The building itself testifies to it! Similarly, the magnificence of the Torah’s wisdom, and the Torah’s continued endurance as the Jewish People’s perpetual instruction manual for life, is itself testimony of the Torah’s Divine origin. The word of the Eternal God is eternal!
Moreover, the Torah itself documents its nature, who wrote it, and the way it was received: in an assembly of the entire Jewish People, with the earth quaking and the entire world trembling, with Hashem coming down to earth with fire, great sounds, lightening, and flame, and with Moshe acting as the intermediary between us and Hashem. Before his death, Moshe wrote out the Torah, one scroll for every tribe, and one scroll placed in the Holy Ark, so that no forgery could be possible (see Devarim Rabbah 9:4). And we have preserved the Torah and maintained our possession of it down through all the generations.
The Gemara in Shabbos 105a presents a teaching that reflects the above discussion. The First Commandment begins with the word אנכי, meaning I. The Gemara presents three renderings of this word as an acronym. One of them is the following, with the letters of אנכי in reverse order (י, כ, נ, א): יהיבא כתיבה נאמנים אמריה – [The Torah] has been handed down in writing – faithful are its words.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Bereishis

Regarding the creation of man, the Torah reports that Hashem said (Bereishis 1:26): “Let us make man (נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם), in our image and likeness ….” The Midrash teaches (Bereishis Rabbah 8:5):
When Hashem was about to create the first man, the ministering angels grouped into various factions. Some said he should not be created, and some said he should. … While the angels were debating, Hashem created him.
It seems from this Midrash, the Maggid notes, that the Sages are reading נעשה as נַעֲשָׂה  – he was [already] made. This reading, though, runs counter to the simple meaning of the verse, which is that Hashem was saying to the angels, “Let us make man” – that Hashem was, so to speak, consulting with them, as the Sages themselves note in an earlier Midrash (ibid. 8:4). Yet, taken at face value, the verse is bewildering: What need could Hashem have to seek advice?
The Maggid quotes a Gemara passage that presents a related teaching (Sanhedrin 38b):
When Hashem was about to create man, He first created an assembly of ministering angels and asked them: “Do you think it would be good for Me to create a man in our image?” They responded: “Master of the Universe, what will his deeds be like?” Hashem told them. The angels said (Tehillim 8:5): “What is a mortal, that You are mindful of him – a man, that You take note of him?” Hashem then cast His little finger at them and burned them. With a second assembly of angels, it was the same. Hashem put the question to a third assembly of angels, and they said: “The first two assemblies gave You their opinion, and what was the use of this? The entire world is Yours – do whatever You wish within it.” After the generation of the flood and the generation of the dispersion, during which man behaved despicably, they said: “Master of the Universe! The first two assemblies spoke well, didn’t they?” Hashem responded (Yeshayah 46:4): “Until [man’s] old age I remain as I am; until [his] hoary years I shall tolerate him. I have made and I shall bear; I shall tolerate and I shall rescue.”
This teaching, too, seems bizarre. What point was there in Hashem’s creating assemblies of angels and asking their advice, only to disregard it?
The Maggid explains the matter with a parable. A baron sent an agent to another town to buy for him a certain fancy and expensive vessel. The baron warned him not to come back without it. After arriving at the town and looking all around, he found only one such item available. It was owned by a certain merchant, who demanded a high price. The agent entered into lengthy negotiations with the merchant, involving multiple visits to the merchant’s store. When they were nearing a final agreement, an unscrupulous local broker learned of their discussions and decided to try to make some money from the situation. He went to the merchant and said: “I know, my friend, as well as you, about the serious flaw in this item. If you don’t pay me to keep quiet, I will tell your customer about it, and he will back out of the deal.” The merchant was incensed, and he exclaimed: “Get out of here, you scoundrel! I’m not giving you a penny.” The broker then approached the baron’s agent and told him about the flaw. The agent was taken aback, and indeed decided not to buy the item.
After a couple of days, however, he calmed down and reconsidered. He realized that he could not return to his master without the item. So he met again with the merchant, bought the item, and went back home. When he gave the item to the baron, however, the baron decided he didn’t want it. In response, the agent raced back to the merchant to try to cancel the purchase. He said: “I found a serious flaw in this item. Take it back, and give me back my money.” The merchant replied: “No way, my friend. I know that a local broker told you about the flaw while we were still negotiating. But you let it go, and bought the item anyway. So now you have no right to cancel.”
The moral, the Maggid says, is as follows. Hashem knew in advance that man would be prone to sin. Yet, sin controverts the purpose that man was created for, which is to honor Hashem by showing awe for Him and obeying His commands. In truth, a sin on man’s part would make it fitting for Hashem to turn the world back to primeval nothingness. Indeed, from the standpoint of strict justice, even repentance should not be possible. Accordingly, before creating man, Hashem laid a foundation that would maintain man’s existence despite his fallibility. As our Sages teach (see Rashi on Bereishis 1:1), ideally the world should operate on strict justice alone, but Hashem foresaw that a world run this way could not survive, so He added a complementary element of mercy – that is, an element of tolerance.
The Gemara that the Maggid quoted describes how Hashem laid this foundation. He created the assemblies of angels, heard them tell Him not to create man, and then created him anyway – as He wanted to in the first place. The purpose of this exercise was to protect man from being obliterated because of his sins. Once Hashem “decided” to create man despite hearing the angels tell Him in advance that it would be a mistake, He no longer had the “right” to cancel what He had done. He was bound, so to speak, to live with His decision. And so, in response to the angels’ outcry over the generations of the flood and the dispersion, Hashem declared: “I have made and I shall bear.” Hashem was saying that since He created man despite his flaws, He accepted upon Himself to bear them.
The Midrash that the Maggid quoted at the outset is in the same vein. The Midrash describes the angels debating over whether man should be created. But at the time this debate was taking place, man had already been created, in the sense that Hashem had already decided to create him. Hashem was not seeking the angels’ advice. Yet, He wanted the arguments against creating man to be voiced, so that it would be clear that He was overriding these arguments, and was fully accepting the consequences that the creation of man would entail.
David Zucker, Site Administrator