Wednesday, May 21, 2008



by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

A critical question was asked over at a more, shall we say, skeptical oriented Jewish blog. Why did all the depth of the Torah, the Mishnah, the Gemora, the deep delving into meaning, start so late? Why don't we have writings from the generation in the desert, from Yehoshua bin Nun, from the Elders, or the Judges, or the Men of the Great Assembly, or the prophets themselves? (Yes, we have the words of Hashem from the prophets, or the brief events of the judges, but we don't have any Torah study from them.)

My answer? Perhaps because this was the time of prophecy. Connecting with Hashem, reaching out to Shamayim (heavenly sources) was not only something happening to the prophets, but was simply quite normal. There were thousands, tens of thousands, of acknowledge prophets. (Not all their prophecies were recorded, and only a few specifically preserved for all generations, as they applied to all generations or the far future.)

In such an environment, when one needed clarity on Torah points, one either queried ones neighborhood prophet, or delved into developing such a connection oneself.

Then the days of such open, or perhaps we should say easy [not that it was simple, but it was reasonably within reach for most, and even came upon some not working for it) came to a close. That path of prophecy was shut to us. And people quickly learned, "Torah lo b'Shamayim", the Torah is no longer in heaven, it's up to us to interpret here on Earth. Even though the most holy, the tzaddikim, and the specially studied, the mekubalim, could reach for other doors (such as Ruach HaKodesh), it has been beyond the reach of most, and no longer a normal path.

So we delve with the powers of this world...Mishnah, Gemora, Rashi, Tosfos, Mishneh Torah, Tur, Shulchan Aruch, Aruch HaShulchan, Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Mishne Brura, and strive with earthly intellect to reach as far as we can towards G-dly understanding.

But, as the time of Moshiach draws near, as perhaps the glimmer of the Geulah just maybe starts to be visible, some of those ancient paths closed will start to open, just a bit, again. We should not turn away from the possibility of prophecy, though we also must remember (and learn from our mesorah) the ways of testing it, to verify it's not a trick of the other side (G-d forbid).

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Anonymous said...

some what suprised by your question
especially since torah shel bal peh was not written down and furthemore torah was not forgotten (halochos) till the destruction of the beis hamikdosh

Marbitz Torah Lishma said...

The Simcha of Lag Baomer is a strange concept. The Shulchan Aruch says on the day A Tzaddik dies you make a fast. Where did this day of happiness come from? The GR"A says it was the day that the Students of Reb Akiva Stopped dying. The Question still stands Reb Shimon Bar Yochai died on this day, what is the Celebration about? The answer brought by the Kadmonim is that Reb Shimon Bar Yochai himself said there should be a celebration on the day of his death. The Shach in Hilchos Aveilus also brings down a similar premise that if a father says not to act like an Avel the full 12 months we follow his command. This is because the whole Halacha of mourning is only in honor of the parent. Therefore if he asks you not to act in a manner of mourning then of course you listen. Now we must understand why did Reb Shimon say to celebrate his death when we know when a Tzaddik dies it like the Destruction of the Beis Hamikdash? There is yet another problem with the Lag Baomer Celebrations the Shoel Umashiv and the Chasam Sofer in their Seforim in a very strong language say that the Minhag of burning clothing which is prevalent at the Kever of Reb Shimon Bar Yochai in Miron is a problem of Baal Taschis (Destroying things without Purpose) and worse Darchei Amori (Behaving as a Idol worshipper). In defense we have a Mesorah that the Ohr Hachaim Hakodesh followed the Minhag of burning the clothing. The Aruch Hashulchan provides another reason for the Celebration of Lag Ba'omer that that it was the day Reb Shimon and his son where finally allowed to leave the cave in which they where hiding. A remez to this concept is that the Gemora that says the story of Reb Shimon leaving the cave is on Daf: Lamed Gimmel. The Mon also started falling on Lag Ba'omer. There is a Zohar in Parshas Hazinu that says that the day that Reb Shimon said over the secrets of the torah was on Lag Ba'omer and that was the day he died ,The students where afraid he would die before he would give over all the secrets, so when it happened they where overjoyed. In his final conversation he said "The whole day is in my control and now I have the right to say over all the secrets before I go to the next world in order that I not be embarrassed when I go up to Shmayim" . There are two thousand two hundred and twenty five Teachings from Reb Shimon Bar Yochai in Sifra, Bavli, and Yerushalmi. But the Secrets of the torah the SOD he was only able to tell over the day he died.
In conclusion, what is the answer to all the above questions? The reason the day the Tzaddik dies is such a sad day that it is considered similar to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash is because of the loss of Torah to the people in this world. The Tzaddik is going to Gan Eden .The only people who lose out are the people he left behind in this world. The day Reb Shimon died is fundamentally different. That is because as the Zohar says the secrets of the torah the actual text of the Zohar was able to be said and copied over on this day so it is not a day of sadness and fasting but a day like Purim and Shavous a day of receiving the torah of Nistar (the hidden aspects of Torah) and therefore a day full of joy happiness and a celebration. The significance of the Mon was as the Mamar Chazal says the Mon was only given to those who ate the Mon. Now to the final question why burn the clothes? When Reb Shimon bar Yochai left the cave everything one looked at got BURNT thereafter the other would look at it and return it to the way it was. The reason why everything was burnt up was that they where so separated from the frivolity of this world they could not stand to look at it .The burning of the clothes symbolized that we should aspire to be like Reb Shimon and try to separate ourselves from Gashmius of this world and try to live on a higher spiritual level. The burning of clothing being allowed to teach a moral lesson would still seem to be a problem. This too can now be answered. The gemara in Mesechtos Tomid states when the Kohanim had Guard duty and they feel asleep on the job the Gemara says "Reshus Hayah Lisrof Es bigadav" Therefore we plainly see a source that allows the burning of clothing to teach a lesson in Halacha .This is as long as there is a lesson to be learnt hence the Chasam Sofer and the Shoel Umashiv are answered. There is also the question of what is the reason for the fires? The simple answer given is just as we know we light a small candle for a soul on a Yahrtzeit like the Chazal say "Ner Hashem Nishmas Adam" therefore for a great soul we light a large fire. There is another answer given that Reb Shimon was on such a level that with his Ohr Hatorah he was able to stop the Night from coming therefore we light fires to symbolize the light of his torah that is still here.

joshwaxman said...

interesting idea. but isn't there a problem with learning halacha from a prophet? Thus people ask about Tishbi Yetaretz? And are compelled to say that what e.g. Yechezkel or Yirmeyahu said he said as a Torah scholar, not as a prophet? I can't recall the source for this in the gemara, but IIRC this is a concept.

joshwaxman said...

for example, the idea of "lo bashamayim hi."

Akiva said...

Anonymous - Generalizations and platitudes are nice, but I thought our tradition exactly was to QUESTION, to DELVE, to LEARN, not to accept by rote and blind faith.

[Side note - Emunah is not blind faith that every word of every Torah source is accepted as literal, unquestioningly.]

So why are you surprised? Torah she bal peh was not written down, ok. Why not any perushim on Torah she b'ktav? That's 900 years of missing scholarship! Was Rashi the first to ever ask a question on a pasuk of chumash?

Josh - I agree in theory, but see my point above.

Akiva said...

...and it's not like we have some things, or terse things, or cryptic things, or fragments from those 900 years. We have ... nothing.

Actually, the only thing we may have from those 900 years is the Dead Sea scrolls. And after 40 years under lock and key, they still haven't been released. (What's in them that's so controversial?)

Anonymous said...

You ask 'why'? Because these so called sources where not invented then. Most Jews had no idea of such writtings from Sinai. What a suprise. They can supplement the Tanach, but they sure are not Torah. Replacement theology maybe keeping Jews busy with mind games and empty rituals worthless in this world and the next world. But we won't listen to anything, when have we listened. Only when tragedy G-d forbid hits us will we wake up.

Anonymous said...

Everythings a trick when you are told that you are on the wrong path. The prophets where hated by 'religious' Jews who where going down the wrong path. Nothing new under the sun. Remember all you self rightous, haShem decides, not the mesorah. Therefore YOU WILL reject haShem's choice for you. The talmud states you will get the Mashiach you never wanted.

joshwaxman said...

"Actually, the only thing we may have from those 900 years is the Dead Sea scrolls."

Indeed. And in fact some later disputes find purchase in this work. For example, there is the MMT scroll, the Miktzas Maasei Torah, which represents the disputes between the Essenes (if this was they) and the Perushim, and a dispute about whether tumah flows up or not, which eventually was a (IIRC) machlokes Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel.

Not to mention that Mikra itself forms a peirush, and understanding, of Torah, in terms of both halacha and narrative. To toss out three examples, Yechezkel on whom a kohen may marry and Yirmiyahu on Hotzaah, and Yeshayahu on oneg shabbos. Later, we have the "Chassidim" (in the time of the Maccabbees) who refused to fight on Shabbos, but then a derasha was made of pikuach nefesh docheh Shabbos.

Whether the specific derashos existed, and whether this specific methodology existed, or whether certain derashot were as mnemonics to reinforce interpretations already known via oral tradition, might be a separate question, where different people will likely give you different answers.

The example I love to bring up is "bein einecha." Chazal say they have a tradition this means on the head-pate. Reinforcing this Oral tradition is the Epic of Baal, discovered in fairly modern times, in which the text reads something like "He {=Baal}smote Prince Yam on the head-pate, he smote Prince Yam bein-einohi."

But I am not going to spend the time today arguing this point. Too much to do.

Kol Tuv,

joshwaxman said...

About the other matter, my fear, BTW, is that some Jewish messianic movements throughout the ages have tended towards antinomianism based on similar arguments.

Anonymous said...

"So why are you surprised? Torah she bal peh was not written down, ok. Why not any perushim on Torah she b'ktav? That's 900 years of missing scholarship! Was Rashi the first to ever ask a question on a pasuk of chumash?"

Many midrashim ARE commentaries on torah shebichtav.

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