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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Judaism - belief in the Jewish experience

We will now begin to attempt to understand Chumash - its mateial, philosophical, and mystical expressions, the nature of its system and its essence. However...

What drives our search is our sense that there is something very, very special about the Torah. We may have gotten a glimpse of lights from above - the experience of the granduer and sweetness, the wisdom and infinity of the Torah. But for those who have not merited eyes to see, we, as the Jewish people. have merited to see this vision for thousands of years. Our people - Talmudists and the halakhacists, the rationalists and mystics, the ba'alei mussar and Chasidim; ancient and modern, Eastern and Western, simple and complex, men and women - have all found the soul of the Torah and their own soul within it...

As Moshe Rabbeinu prepares to depart from this world he recounts the face-to-face relationship that Yisrael have had with Hashem (Devarim 4:34, 5:4), hearing His loving voice from heaven through fire (Devarim 4:33, 36, 37), proclaiming his eternal (Devarim 29:14) covenant (Shemot 24:7, Vayikra 26:16; Devarim 4:13). And this good voice (Devarim 5:27, 6:3), the inheritence of Yisrael (Devarim 33:4) will bring us wisdom and understanding (Devarim 4:6), and justice (Devarim 4:8, 16:19). And when we keep this Torah, which is in our mouth and heart (Shemot 13:9; Devarim 30:14), Hashem will rejoice over us (Devarim 30:9).

The nevi'im remind us that the the words of the Holy One of Israel (Yeshayahu 5:24), which made Sinai melt (Shoftim 5:5; Tehillim 68:8), is the key to our success as a nation (Yehoshua 1:7, 8; I Melachim 2:3) if it is engraved onto our heart (Yeshayahu 51:7). But it is also the life-giving waters which will bring the individual to fruition (Tehillim 1:2); a perfect, trustworthy, upright friend while an enlightening, pure, true Master (Tehillim 19); a wonderous, mind-expnading, enlightening revelation, a comforting song, more valuable than gold and silver (Tehillim 119).

Chazal, too, shared the vision of Nevi'im: The Torah is our wife (Pesachim 49b), waiting for us from before the creation of the world (B'reishit Rabbah 1:1), from before birth (Nidda 30b), given as a gift to those who so merit her (Nedarim 55a), bringing us perfection. She brings with her splendid riches (Shemot Rabbah, 33:1) and royalty (Avot 6:6, 6), ever-renewing power (Avot 6:1; Zevachim 116a) and fiery energy (Bava Batra 134a), true freedom (Avot 6:2) and life (Shabbat 88b; Kiddushin 30b; Avot 6:7). We become partners in creation (Shabbat 10a), higher than a prophet (Bava Batra 12a), like a priest (Menachot 110a; Sanhedrin 59a), yet like an angel (Moed Katan 17a). The Holy One, Blessed be He hovers in our midsts (Berachot 8a).

The so-called rationalists also encountered the Torah in her granduer:

The Rambam codifies that the mind-expanding (Hilkhot Issurei Bi'ah 22:21) waters of knowledge (Hilkhot Mikva'ot 11:12) are perfect, pure, holy and true, and that every single word in the Torah has wisdoms and wonders for the one who understands them, but the end of her wisdom will not be grasped - her measurment is longer than the earth and deeper than the sea (Hakdama l'Perek Chelek). This table before G-d...adorned with delicious fruits(Hakdama l'Mishna), the crown of Torah (Hilkhot Talmud Torah 3:1), is life itself (Hilkhot Rotzeach 7:1), and will ultimately bring one to love of Hashem (Sefer ha'Mitzvot #3).

The Derashot ha'Ran defines the Torah as the greatest thing for the human species, that which will not only save Man from the ways of death (Derush 3) and for our own merit (Drush 7), but it also serves as conduit for the Divine flow (Derush 11).

R. Hirsch views the Torah as the seed (Collected Writings, I, 194), and Divine soil (Horeb, Introduction) - spiritual riches (Ninteen Letters, Letter Fifteen) - which will make our inner self come alive (Nineteen Letters, Letter Two; Commentary on Shemot 19:10), and is the basis for our being a holy nation (Commentary on Shemot 19:6) - an ordered program for G-dliness (Nineteen Letters, Horeb).

R. Soloveitchik views the learning and living of Torah as a mighty and forceful (Halakhic Man, 84) yet intimate and warm I-Thou (On the Love of Torah: Impromtu Remarks at a Siyum), covenental (The Lonely Man of Faith, pg. 43) religious experience, where one breaks through the barrier seperating the Absolute from the contigent and finite (Worship of the Heart, 5), as the Shechinah breathes upon one's neck (RCA Convention 1975); a transgenerational (Halakhic Man, pgs. 81, 120) creative act of bringing transendance into the world (Halakhic Man, 108), and personal purification (Derashot ha'Rav, 207), through halakhic truth, cognition and epistemology (Halakhic Man, 85) - and after such an experence all questions become interesting but not tormenting (The Lonely Man of Faith, pg. 7).

And the Ba'alei Mussar saw the power of Torah in transforming the person: The Torah is the singular path (Ohr Yisrael, Letter Fourteen), which will save Man from evil (Messilat Yesharim, Chapter 1; Adam Bikar, 44; Alei Shur II, pg. 116), and the sweet and pleasurable waters (Da'a't Chochmah u'Mussar, 2, pg. 67), like rain nourishing a sprouting Man (Adam Bikar, 34), will bring him to life (Ohr Yisrael, Letter Ten), a life of self-control (Chovot ha'Levavot, Sha'ar ha'Prishut, chapter two), until his every word, eye movement and hand motion proclaims holiness (Sha'arei Teshuva 3:148; Torat Avraham, pg. 82), righteousness (B'ikvot ha'Yirah, pg. 129), and truth (Shiurei Da'at, I, pg. 304).

The Kabbalists and Chassidic masters described their experiences in their unique language: The Torah is the highest emanation from Hashem (Derech Hashem 4:2), the light of the Ein Sof (Chesed l’Avraham 2:10; Leshem, Sha’ar 3), the revelation of His transcendent Mind and Will (Maharal, Derush al ha’Torah and Tiferes Yisrael, 11; Recanti, Ta’amei ha’Mitzvot, 3a; Avodat ha’Kodesh 1:22; Tanya 5, 23; Nefesh ha’Chaim 4:6) – it is One with Him, yet one with Yisrael (Zohar, Acharei Mot; Derech Eitz Chayim). This timeless light (Ohr Torah, Likuttim; Sefat Emet, Nasso) finds its expression in this world, written with black fire upon white fire, in the names of the Divine as written in the Torah (Zohar, Yitro 87a; Ramban, Ma’alot ha’Torah, pg. 14), all unified in the Shem Havaya (Sha’arei Orah, hakdama), further revealed in the shapes and crowns of the letters (Hakdama Tikkunei Zohar; Ramban, hakdama l’Torah; Ramchal, hakdama l'klalei Chochmat ha'Emet; Rosh Milin), a system of word permutations and mathematics (Arizal, Likutei Torah; Tanya 23), but most fundamentally the Divine soul is found in the clothing of mitzvot (Nefesh ha’Chaim 4:30; Orot ha’Torah 2:2). The Torah, like Man, is composed of a body, a soul and a soul of a soul (Zohar 3:152a; Maharal, Tiferes Yisrael, 13), and in its different dimensions it contains all of wisdom (Ramban, hakdama l’Torah), may bring one to ruach ha’kodesh (Maggid Mesharim); and being aligned with Yisrael’s spiritual and physical composition (Sha’arei Kedusha 1:1), it has the power to break klippos (Arizal, Sha’ar Ruach ha’Kodesh; Chesed l’Avraham 2:28), to feed (Orot ha’Torah 6:6) and uplift one’s soul (Arizal, Sha’ar ha’Gilgulim, hakdama 1, 18), create spiritual energy (Tzidkat ha'Tzaddik 241), and enliven and fix all worlds (Arizal, Pri Eitz Chayyim, Hanhagas ha’Limmud; Derech Hashem 1:4:9; Gra, Mishlei 23:24).

There are literally tens of thousands of more sources like this. For me, and for most people, this was enough to inspire teshuva. However, in a future post we will consider some possible objections that the skeptic might have and address them.

"Through the recognition of the greatness of Torah they recognize her G-dliness." - R. Kook, Pinkas Rishon l'Yaffo, # 91

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