Section One, Lesson nine:
The Perfection of Torah
By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman © November 25, 2018
8. I believe with perfect emunah
that the entire Torah now in our hands
is the same one that was given to Moses our teacher,
peace be upon him.
In Our Beginning...
Through Avraham and his wife Sarah, Elohim, the Creator of all that exists, established our people, Israel, as a unique family. We received the name "Israel" through Avraham and Sarah's grandson Ya'akov (Jacob), whose name was changed by G-d to Y'israel. "Israel" are his descendants through the Twelve Houses that arose from Ya'akov's sons. The country named Israel is the eternal homeland of the people named Israel. In truth, the Jewish people are Israel and Genesis 12:3 applies to us first, then to our nation. If you have not read this verse please do so now.
According to my research (which I share at LearnEmunah.com/questions/history.html), circa 1948 HH (1813 BCE) Avram the Semite (who was renamed Avraham/Abraham was the descendant of Noah's son Shem through Terach the idol maker of King Nimrod of Babel) was born (Genesis 11:26). Circa 2018 HH (1743 BCE) the initial covenant between HaShem Elokeinu and Avraham was implemented (Genesis 12:1-3, 15:4). Circa 2049 HH (1712 BCE) Yitzchak ("Isaac") was born to Avraham and Sarah as the Promised Son by the will of HaShem (Genesis 17:19). Circa 2238 - 2448 HH (1522 - 1313 BCE) Ya'akov ("Jacob") and his family traveled to and dwelt in Egypt for 210 years as described at Genesis 39:1 and Exodus 12:51 (see footnote 1 on the question of the 400 years verses the 210 years issue below). Circa 2367 HH (1393 BCE) Moshe Rabbeinu ("Our Teacher Moses") was born and placed into the hands of Pharaoh's daughter in Egypt. Through Moshe Rabbeinu the Torah was later revealed to the people of Israel.
What is Torah?
Torah is "the Mind of G-d" revealed in part to Adam, to certain of his descendants, then to Noach, to Avraham, and others. It was through the writings of Moshe Rabbeinu however that HaShem Elokeinu publicly and openly revealed Himself to His people through the Written Torah. For this reason the Torah is the name used for the Five Books of Moshe Rabbeinu, as we will discuss below.
As time passed the Israelites wrote the rest of the Tanach (or Hebrew Scriptures of the Bible). In addition to these writings, the "Oral Torah" was later written down. According to Tradition the Oral Torah was revealed fully to Moshe at Har Sinai and transmitted orally until finally taken on its written form.
According to traditional Jewish reckoning the world was created in the year 1 HH (Ha'luach Ha'ivri), which is to say circa 3761 B.C.E. by our current calendar. Contemporary Jews are divided on this question due in part to current scientific theories and our well known intellectual curiosity. Solid points can be made on all sides of this debate. We won't go into this issue here, however according to traditional calculations this means that the subject matter covered in the Bible covers a span of around 5780 years as of this writing and counting. That's a long time! Kingdoms, religions, customs, calendars, languages, technologies... far more has come and gone than we realize ever existed!
So its only logical to ask: Can we be certain that what we believe today is what was originally believed when the various revelations were being revealed?
The answer is easy:
No, of course we can't!
In fact we can be absolutely certain the opposite is the case! Our beliefs reflect our own times, experiences and understandings just as theirs reflected theirs. This is not the same reality they lived in! And this is how HaShem established the world to run! Nothing static survives. Change happens and time moves on. Societies both advance and decay. And yet HaShem exists in the eternal present guiding His people.
Our aim should not be to mimic the beliefs and customs of ancient cultures but to re-discover the timeless truths contained within those experiences in order to manifest them harmoniously with our own experiences, always within the light of the timeless Torah. Doing this of course is the cause of most of the disagreements we find between the Jewish movements! Where should the lines be drawn? Who has the authority to decide? Who is authorized to update and/or properly prescribe Halacha and our understandings for the present generation? As discussed before, this awesome responsibility can only fall onto the shoulders of our rabbis! Otherwise we have chaos, each person following his/her opinions. Having said that, ultimately however you and I must decide how we will live out our Torah observance. We are, by the Will of HaShem, free people.
Perhaps we can agree that as Jews our goal should be to live Torah observant lives in terms of our present realities and understandings, not slavishly conforming to the norms of previous cultures and world paradigms. Perhaps we will choose to live according to the rules and principles of Torah, or perhaps we will do as so many and abandon the ways of our people. HaShem grants us this freedom and this responsibility.
Can we not do better than merely imitate the actions of those who came before us? We want real experiences with the Living God! We have no desire to pretend to be what we are not! We refuse to be chained to pointless past notions devoid of real meaning to us today! This is what many Jews are saying today, both among the Orthodox and non-Orthodox. At the same time, it is our Traditions that have maintained our survival for these many thousands of years. G-d forbid we should abandon them and leave the next generation devoid of that knowledge and Traditions. Finding our personal Derech HaShem (Path to G-d) requires sincerity, balance and most of all emunah (active faith), always based on Torah and the teachings of our Sages and Rabbinate. As Rebbe Nachman of Breslov reminds us:"No sophistication is needed in serving God - only simplicity, sincerity and faith.
Simplicity is higher than all else. For God is certainly higher than everything else, and God is ultimately simple!"
-- Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Sichot Haran #101
HaShem has arranged things so that throughout our generations there have always been tzadikim (righteous people) to inspire and guide us. Throughout our generations HaShem has spoken to us as individuals, as families and collectively as an extended people. Baruch HaShem! He has never left us without knowledge and the ability to draw nearer to Him with devekut.
However we must desire this!
How can we remember/learn the lessons of the past? How can we know what our ancestors did and believed? How can we observe the Covenant HaShem made with them and through them with us? We have the Tanach (the Hebrew Bible) and other sacred writings and traditions. Jews have historically been referred to as "People of the Book" for just this reason. We prize learning and study very highly.Our Holy Books guide our steps.
Balance and reason with simplicity and emunah are essential. We must study these ancient documents. We must prayerfully ponder their teachings and apply them to our lives. We must carefully consider the understandings our sages drew from these vast waters and then calm our minds and apply them according to our own times and circumstances with emunah as HaShem leads. Balance is essential! As Rebbe Nachman teaches:The Mitnagdim (opponents of the Chassidim) say that the main thing is to study Torah. The Chassidim say the main thing is prayer. But I say: Pray and study and pray -- Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Siach Sarfey Kodesh 1-87Rebbe Nachman's system works! By utilizing this balanced approach we still survive and thrive generation after generation.
Everyone should set himself a daily program of Torah study.
This applies even to people who are far from holiness and sin regularly. So great is the power of the Torah that it can free them from their sins. If even the worst sinner would take on himself to study a fixed amount every day, he would be able to escape the evil trap. The power of the Torah is so great that it can accomplish everything -- Rebbe Nachman, Sichot Haran #19
"For The Bible Tells Me So..."
Since the Scriptures are so central to our Tradition, we need to determine their reliability. Its too easy to say "God said it, I believe, that settles it" as some do. As anyone knows who has seriously studied the history and transmission of the Bible its not that straight forward. We accept that the Torah we have today is the same Torah that was revealed to Moshe Rabbeinu (which is number 8 of Rambam's Thirteen Principles of Judaism), but this acceptance needs to be based on fact rather than on religious blind faith... and it is! IF we study Torah carefully with the insights we glean from the Tzadikim and apply its wisdom to our lives.
The Hebrew Scriptures (known to most non-Jews as the "Old Testament") are commonly known to Jews as the TaNaKH. This name is an acronym:
Biblical Hebrew has no vowels so the two "a" vowel diacritics are added for pronunciation (and sometimes written as dashes below the Hebrew letters T-N-KH).
- T: The Torah or "Teaching." Torah in this context refers to the Five Books of Moshe/Moses (Genesis - Deuteronomy).
- N: The Nevi'im or "Prophets."
- Kh: Khetuvim, The "Writings."
The name Miqra which is also sometimes used means "That which is read."
The entire Tanach or Miqra is sometimes referred to as "the Torah" because it is all accepted as inspired teaching (although not as "God-breathed" in every instance outside of the Five Books). Properly speaking however Torah is the "Pentateuch": the five books of Moshe Rabbeinu. Torah (the Five Books) is not the only inspired writings, but it is the foundation of the rest.
The Tanach is one, but it is rightly understood in its traditional divisions: The five books of Moshe Rabbeinu should be called "Torah" and the biblical Hebrew cannon ("Old Testament") as a whole should be referred to as "the Tanach" This avoids confusion. By the way, the Tanach is not "Old" (i.e. passe or replaced by something "new"), it is eternally alive and fully relevant. When people refer to the "Old Testament" they are disparaging the Sacred Texts.
Torah is also considered the "Mind of the Echad Elohim (the One God). The Teaching is revealed in various ways. While Torah is the Five Books, it is much more than that. Torah is the revelation of Ain Soph (i.e. the Unknowable Eternal). Torah is Eternal Truth.
The Hebrew Bible has weathered the storms of time amazingly (miraculously) well. Its purity of transmission over thousands of years testifies that HaShem has preserved it in tact and that we can have confidence in it. The Torah is Living Message of the Living G-d to His Living Chosen People.
The Torah Song
The Oral Torah
In the beginning when Elohim (God) "SAID Let us make..." this Word was a reflection of the Eternal Torah or Mind of G-d. The Oral Torah has existed as a reflection of Eternal Torah since before the beginning of time with the timeless G-d. Both the Written and Oral Torah, including the Talmud, Mishna etc. reflect this timeless Wisdom or Mind of HaShem and through them we find G-d. Yet Torah is more than these.
In order to preserve and promulgate the instructions of the Oral Torah these truths were eventually written into books, complete with rabbinic commentary (which sometimes works well and sometimes leads to further confusion as these sages do not always agree). According to the rabbis, the Written and Oral Torah were transmitted at the same time to Moshe Rabbeinu (i.e. 'Our Teacher Moses') -- although the Oral Torah was one of the first things created by HaShem and predates the Written (i.e. Genesis - Deuteronomy) which was not revealed until Moshe Rabbeinu reached Mount Sinai. We are taught to accept every word contained in the Oral Torah and when difficulties arise to consider them signs of our lack of understanding, not problems with the texts. Without the Oral Torah it would not be possible to understand the Written and vice versa. Torah is Echad, One.
The Eternal Torah
The "Mind of God" or Eternal Torah is revealed through the Oral and Written Torah. The Oral clarifies the Written Torah and brings us to deeper levels of truth through the authority of our sages and rabbis as discussed in the previous lesson.. These deeper levels of understanding must always be harmonious with the Written Torah, which is our foundation stone. Where the Written Torah leaves words and concepts unclear and undefined, where it orders various observances without explanation or instructions on how to properly conduct them, we seek guidance from the Oral Torah and the various supplementary teachings of the sages and rabbinate. Observe the Shabbat commands the Written Torah, how to do this is largely found in the Oral Torah and supplemental texts. The same is true with many topics. We have been given a vast library of Torah knowledge to guide us and all them are sacred!
The term "Talmud" normally refers to the Babylonian Talmud, although there is also an earlier collection known as the Jerusalem Talmud.
The Talmud is composed of the Mishnah (Hebrew: משנה, c. 200 CE): The written "Instruction" or "Teaching") and the Gemara (c. 500 CE), a clarification of the Mishnah and related writings.
The complete Talmud consists of 63 tractates and is over 6,200 pages. It is written in Tannaitic Hebrew and Aramaic and contains the wisdom of thousands of rabbis and sages on innumerable subjects.
To help Jews better understand the sometimes rambling Talmud, the Rambam (Maimonides) produced the Mishneh Torah, subtitled the Sefer Yad HaHazaka (ספר יד החזקה "Book of the Strong Hand"). This work is the fundamental source book on Jewish Law (Halacha).
The Shulchan Aruch by Rabbi Yosef Karo in 1563 clarifies and codifies the Mishna Torah and presents practical guidelines for daily Jewish life. It is often referred to as the Code of Jewish Law.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (i.e. the first or alter Lubavitcher Rebbe) authored the Shulchan Aruch HaRav. The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch was written by Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried and seeks to simply the original Shulchan Aruch.
Originally the Oral Torah was passed down from teacher to student orally, however during the Babylonian captivity concerns began to arise about the purity of its transmission. Ezra, the Men of the Great Assembly, and the Pharisees/Rabbis began this herculean task. Following the fall of Masada in 71 CE the Oral Torah was written down and preserved as the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds.
We have a very large religious and legal library. Despite this, Torah remains One because HaShem is One. Sometimes the Spirit of HaShem will spark an individual and grant blessings or insights. This too arises from the Eternal Torah even thought the Days of the Prophets have ended.
Of the Eternal Oral Torah the rabbis tell us:Origin and Preexistence:The Talmud reveals a great diversity of information derived from the Eternal Oral Torah and the experiences and revelations of the rabbinic elders of Jewish people since our beginnings.
"Moses received the Torah from Sinai" (Avot 1:1). Yet there is an ancient tradition that the Torah existed in heaven not only before God revealed it to Moses, but even before the world was created. The apocryphal book The Wisdom of Ben Sira identified the Torah with preexistent personified Highest Wisdom (1:15, 26; 15:1; 24:1ff.; 34:8; cf. Prov. 8:22;31). In rabbinic literature, it is taught that the Torah was one of the six or seven things created prior to the creation of the world (Gen. R. 1:4; Pes. 54a, et al.)."For more on this topic see The Jewish Virtual Library
Adam knew the Oral Torah, Avraham Avinu knew it, as did Moshe Rabbeinu, who specifically received it at Mount Sinai, along with the Written Torah. The Oral Torah has been with the Hebrew people since the beginning and abides with us still. It is the principle nutrient that "waters the root of our family tree."
There are several elements of Judaism drawn from these oral traditions. For instance the Bible does not tell us to wear a kippa (yarmulke: skull cap) although the principle of head coverings is certainly there. This tradition comes from the Oral Torah. The Bible tells us to wear tzitzit (fringes on four cornered garments) but does not tell us to wear the tallit (prayer shawl) they are attached to nor how to tie these fringes, not how many fringes there should be. This is Rabbinic Tradition. The Bible says to mark our door posts with the words from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21 but does not describe the mezuzah that contains the scrolls, how to post it (the angle used) etc. Again, this knowledge comes from rabbinic tradition and is explained in Talmud. The Written Torah tells us to remember and observe HaShabbat but it is the Oral Torah that reveals how to do this. There are many things we learn from the Oral Torah. Without these rabbinic teachings and traditions Judaism would have little of its form or beauty.
The Written Torah is divided not only into the Five Books and their traditional chapters and verses, but also into parashot or weekly reading portions (and even daily portions). Utilizing the prescribed parshah readings the entire Torah is read by religious Jews once each year from Simchat Torah to the following Sukkot. The day after the conclusion of Sukkot (i.e. the Feast of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles) is known as Simchat Torah ("Rejoicing with/of the Torah"). This celebration marks the conclusion and beginning of the annual Torah reading cycle. Torah is the heart of biblical religion and the weekly parshah readings are a key way we connect with the Torah and its Author on a consistent daily and weekly basis. Simchat Torah celebrates the centrality of the Torah and is a component of the Biblical holiday of Shemini Atzeret ("Eighth Day of Assembly"), which follows immediately after the festival of Sukkot. For more information on Jewish holidays see my study Which Holidays Should We Observe?
The Chabad website offers the current parshah reading schedule as well as interesting commentaries on them (click the second link from the top on the left for the "Current Parsha"). There are also additional traditional readings recommended. Everything is based on the Written Torah.
Have you seen Fiddler on the Roof? This is a wonderful example of the importance of Jewish Tradition. Tradition is how the Jews have survived as a people for all these years. We study and pray and looking to HaShem with emunah, standing always firmly on our various traditions. Tradition is central to our religion and to our lives as Jews. Tradition too is based firmly on the Written Torah. Its importance can not be overstated.
Listen to the song "Tradition" from the movie below. Note the many elements of tradition present as Tevye sings about his emunah (faith).
Fiddler on the roof - Tradition (with subtitles). Shalom.
Chani Benjaminson of Chabad presents the standard Jewish explanation.
G-d foretold four hundred years of exile... G-d told Abraham [at Genesis 15:13]: "You shall surely know that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will enslave them and oppress them, for four hundred years." Nevertheless, a calculation of the years spent in Egypt reveals that they spent far less time there.
Our sages explain that the countdown of 400 years began with Isaac's birth. G-d's promise does not refer to Egypt by name, rather to a "land that is not theirs." As soon as Abraham had a child [Isaac], his seed were subjected to living in lands that were not theirs —- including Canaan which wasn't "theirs" at the time.
Isaac was sixty years old when Jacob was born [Genesis 25:26], and Jacob was 130 years old when he went down to Egypt [Ibid 47:9]. This means that 190 of the 400 years elapsed before the Israelites arrived in Egypt. So the Israelites were in Egypt for a total of 210 years.
Interestingly, when Jacob first instructed his sons to descend to Egypt, he said [Ibid 42:2], "Go down ("רדו") there and buy [food]." The numerical value of the Hebrew letters of the word "רדו" ("redu," "go down") is exactly 210!
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