by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths
So went one of the comments to the article, “Spiritual or Physical.” Is this correct? Are the majority of the mitzvahs that we hold so dear today only additions to the Torah, invented by the rabbis?
This is not a new argument. In fact, we find an example of it in Torah itself, when Korach challenged Moshe and Aaron.[i] “Who are you Moshe to make up these rules, appointing yourself over us? G-d did not tell you to do this. This is of your own doing.” This was the gist of Korach’s complaint.
Throughout our history, we have seen many groups of Jews come and go, making this same accusation. Perhaps the most famous are the Sadducees and the Karites which both claim that only the written Torah is from G-d, and the rest is merely rabbinical additions, i.e. invented by men.”
Is there any basis for their claim? Are tefillin a rabbinical mitzvah just like Shabbos candles? Can you prove that their point is not valid?
If the Sages were unable to convince their dissenters, I doubt that I can say anything that will change a drop of their thinking, but I can give you a defense against them.
Actually, in one way, they are right. The Torah that we have in our hands today has been given to us by the Sages. None of us received it directly from G-d, not even from Moshe. In this sense, it is all “rabbinic.” True, the Sages did not invent it. But still, who could make the least bit of sense of the written Torah without our mesorah (tradition)? If it were not for the Sages, would we even know the difference between an aleph and a beis (A and B)? Not only do we owe our understanding of the Torah to them, but the Hebrew language has been handed down from generation to generation only because of their perseverance.
There are many places where we see that the written Torah had to have had an Oral Torah accompanying it right from the beginning. And what is the Oral Torah? The Talmud, which comprises the sayings and teachings handed down from Moshe to Joshua, to the Elders, to the Prophets, to the Men of the Great Assembly, to the Sages, to the rabbis, and on to us.
From where do we know that a man is not allowed to have intimate relations with his daughter? The Torah only tells us that he is not allowed to have such a relationship with his wife’s daughter and with his granddaughter, but his daughter is not mentioned. Ah, we can say, if he is not allowed to have such a relationship with his granddaughter, then certainly he is not allowed to have one with his own daughter. True. But now you are discussing the Oral Torah, not the written Torah.
In the book of Numbers,[ii] a man is locked up and killed because he was gathering sticks on Shabbos. Where does the written Torah say that we are not allowed to gather sticks on Shabbos? It doesn’t. We learn it from the Oral Torah.
The Torah tells us that punishment must be “an eye for an eye.”[iii] Would it enter your mind that a Jewish court would ever blind someone? G-d forbid! The Oral Torah explains that “an eye for an eye” means that the punishment must be monetarily equal to the crime.
“Bind the money to your hand”[iv] certainly seems to tell us that that we are to tie that money to our hand when we come to Jerusalem to distribute a certain tithe. No. The Oral Torah explains that “bind the money to your hand” means that you are not to spend the money on the way. It must be spent only in Jerusalem.
The written Torah says, “These are the decrees, judgments and Torahs which G-d gave….”[v] What does it mean by “Torahs” here? These are the Written and Oral Torahs.
When we look at the history of the Jewish people, we see many ups and downs, many opinions, many cults and groups. We even see wars among ourselves. Who was right? Whom did G-d bless? He has blessed the ones who have survived and produced a vibrant Jewish population today. Those who veer from the Written and Oral Torah have no real reason to guard the Shabbos, so they don’t. They have no real reason not to intermarry, so they do. They have no real reason to keep their families Jewish, so in one or two generations they are gone.
The truly sad thing about this reader’s comment is that he is treating the Sages’ teachings as if they are an unnecessary burden. These teachings, when done properly, not only do not increase our burdens, they actually lighten them.
[i] Numbers 16:3
[ii] Numbers 15:32
[iii] Exodus 21:24
[iv] Deuternomy 14:25
[v] Leviticus 26:46
BS"D - בסיעתא דשמיא