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Piercing the Veil of Earth

by Rabbi Eliezer Gurkow

  

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The Debate

When Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Torah the angels objected. “G-d,” they declared, “Do you intend to squander this precious commodity on mankind?1

G-d instructed Moses to respond and he did. “The Torah expressly forbids idolatry, murder, adultery and theft,” he said. Are angels even capable of such behavior? Surely G-d wouldn't instruct angels to avoid lying, cheating and duplicity. You are too exalted to be caught up in such folly” Moses pointed to these and other verses as proof that the Torah was written with the lowly human in mind.

It appears that the angels raised a valid question that Moses deflected brilliantly, but failed to answer. The angels argued that a mystical, sacred and divine Torah belongs in the heavenly abode. Its place is with angels, who would cherish her appropriately and revere her inherent value.

Moses didn't even address this argument. Instead he made a textual, seemingly simplistic, point. The Torah text, he argued, seems to have been written with the immoral, lowly human in mind.

Moses succeeding in proving that G-d wrote the Torah with the mortal human in mind, but he failed to explain why. If anything, he devolved the question onto G-d. Why did G-d write a brilliant Torah for the simple human? In the angels' words, why G-d squander his cherished gift on the lowly creatures of earth?

The angels perceived the Torah as a divine, heavenly gift. Moses defined the Torah as a book of guidance for lowly creatures with crude passions and inappropriate inclinations
Moreover, Moses' response served to reinforce the angels' argument. The angels perceived the Torah as a divine, heavenly gift. Moses defined the Torah as a book of guidance for lowly creatures with crude passions and inappropriate inclinations. Does this response itself not demonstrate Moses' and by extension humanity's, lack of appreciation for the Torah's true value? Does it not underline our inability to perceive the Torah's lofty transcendence?

I know I'm Right

The Talmud tells a story about the legendary Rabbi Yochanan and his famous disciple, turned colleague, turned disputant, Reish Lakish. Reish Lakish was a brilliant debater. His intimate grasp of the multi faceted layers of Halachah enabled him to challenge Rabbi Yochnan's teachings. The impertinent challenges often sparked great debate in the academy, a fact that caused rabbi Yochanan no small degree of anguish.

Reish Lakish passed away prematurely and Rabbi Elazar Ben Pedat succeeded him as ranking disciple in the academy. Rabbi Yochanan, who grieved the loss of his colleague / adversary, was inconsolable. Rabbi Elazar, hoping to offer comfort, began to cite supportive source text for every theory his revered teacher proposed.

Unconsoled, Rabbi Yochanan wailed, “Reish Lakish's challenges, impertinent as they were, sparked debate and analysis, thus crystallizing the import and meaning of the halachah. Your efforts simply prove that my teachings are correct. Don't I already know that my teachings are correct?”2

Light Shines in the Dark

That a light can shine in a room filled with light is no surprise. That it can permeate a room filled with darkness, banish the gloom and replace it with cheer, demonstrates the power of light.3

Reish Lakish would test his teacher's ideas against opposing theories to see if they would stand up under scrutiny. He would introduce questions, sow confusion and obscure the clarity of Rabbi Yochanan's ideas. Rabbi Yochanan would then address the questions, reinforce his theories  and replace the confusion with brilliant clarity.

Footnotes

  • 1. Bab. Talmud, Shabbat 88b.
  • 2. 2. Bab. Talmud, Baba Metzia, 84a. Reish Lakish, also known as Rabbi Shimon Bebn Lakish, was originally Rabbi Yochanan's student. He excelled in his studies and graduated to the level of colleague. He also married rabbi Yocahan's sister and thus became his brother in law.
  • 3. See Sefer Haerkim, Kehas Publishing Society, NY, 1973, p. 580, Footnotes # 372 and 373.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Torah » G-d's Wisdom

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Halachah
Jewish Law. All halachah which is applicable today is found in the Code of Jewish Law.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.