כְּתָב-לְךָ אֶת-הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה: כִּי עַל-פִּי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, כָּרַתִּי אִתְּךָ בְּרִית--וְאֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל
The spirituality hovering above and buried within the Torah has been called many names: Light,[i] Divine flow,[ii] Transcendence,[iii] or most commonly, the Shechinah (Divine presence).[iv]
The entire Torah is but one Name of Hashem, one manifestation of the Divine.[v] The Holy One has a dwelling place within the infinitude[vi] of the four amot of halaka,[vii] and when one sits and learns the Shechinah is with him,[viii] kissing his words…[ix]
"The study of Torah has a great cathartic impact upon me. It is rooted inthe wondrous experience I always have when I open up a gemara. Somehow,when I open a gemara, either alone or when I am in company, when I teachothers, I have the impression -- don't call it hallucination -- I have theimpression that I hear soft footsteps of somebody, invisible, who comes inand sits down with me, sometimes looking over my shoulder. The idea is not a mystical idea -- the mishna in avos, the gemara in Brachos says yachid sheyoshev v'osek batorah, shechina shruya. We all believe thatthe nosein hatorah, the One who gave us the Torah, has never deserted theTorah. And He simply accompanies the Torah; wherever the Torah has a rendezvous, an appointment, a date with somebody, He is there.
"It is a total, all-encompassing and all-embracing involvement -- mind and heart, will and feeling, the center of the human personality -- emotional man, logical man, volunteristic man -- all of them are involved in the study ofTorah. Talmud torah is basically for me an ecstatic experience, in which one meets G-d. And again I want to say that whatever I told you now is not just mysticism or, due to my mystical inclinations; it isn't so. The gemara says so -- chazal have equated talmud torah with revelation, and the great event, the drama of Jewish [living] is reenacted, and restaged,and relived, every time a Jew opens up a gemara. (Rav Yoseph Ber Soloveitchik; Also see Family Redeemed, Torah and Shechina; See here for an interesting discussion of this passage)
In this context the Ran[x] explains the dual purpose of halakha. Indeed one aspect of the halakha, let us call it Mishpat ha’Ivri, is to maintain an organized and well-functioning society. Generally halakha accomplishes this task but there are times when a king or the court itself must override the norm in order to uphold order.[xi] However, the higher-order function of halakha, even the civil laws, is to facilitate the manifestation of the Shefa ha’Eloki, the Shechinah.
This point taken together with another axiom of the halakhic system leads to radical conclusions. The Ran[xii] maintains that we are emphasizes many times that we are obligated to follow the rulings of the Sages even if we think it is wrong and even if it is objectively – from G-d’s perspective – wrong. “” In other words, the Jewish Sages determine how the Shechinah will manifest in this world![xiii]
With this principle we can understand a famous statement of the Sages.[xiv] “Why was the Beit ha’Mikdash destroyed? Because they did not say Birkat ha’Torah before learning (B”M 85b).” How are we to understand this enigmatic statement?
The Midrash Rabbah[xv] reveals to us the true purpose of the Beit ha’Mikdash. It gives an analogy of king who gives his daughter away in marriage but finds in difficult to part with her. He tells his son-in-law to build a small room in their home so that he can come and visit. So too Hashem has difficulty in parting with the Torah[xvi] so he gives it to us and tells us to build a small room where he can visit. In other words, the entire purpose of the Beit ha’Mikdash was to provide a dwelling place for the Shechinah so that she may be near those who learn Torah.
The Midrash implies that Hashem gave the Torah to Israel just like a father gives away his daughter; control is relinquished and given to a new entity. Thus, this Midrash hints to the great radical teaching of Judaism – Israel controls how the Divine teaching and presence is manifested in this world. However, since Hashem loves His Torah and wants to be “near” it we are commanded to build a small dwelling place for Him.
Therefore, when we stopped learning, and especially in a way that shows our control over Torah – through innovating new interpretations[xvii] - then there was no reason for the Beit ha’Mikdash to stand (and, as Israel transgressed the three cardinal sins, there were plenty of reasons for it not to stand!).
Now we return to Birkat ha’Torah. The Tz’lach (end of Brachot) writes that Birkat ha’Torah transforms Torat Hashem to Torato (Tehillim 1). In other words, every morning we reassert our great gift and privilege - our control over the Torah. And when we control the Torah Hashem desires to be reconnected with it. “Why was the Beit ha’Mikdash destroyed? Because they did not say Birkat ha’Torah before learning.”
[i] “The Rabbis said (Chagiga 12a): ‘By the light which G-d created the first day, Man could see from one end of the world to the other.’ Rejoined the Ba’al Shem Tov: ‘And where did He hide that light? In the Torah!” (Zemach Zedeq, quoted in Siddur Maharid, translated by Bezalel Naor in “Lights of Prophecy”)
[ii]Rabbeinu Nissin Gaon, Derashot ha’Ran, Drush #11
[iii] One rendering of the word Kedusha. For sources in Chazal, see Eliyahu Zuta Parsha 10; Mishnat R. Eliezer Parsha 13; Otzar ha’Midrashim, pg. 79.
[iv] Are all of these descriptions of the same thing? Is “light” equivalent to “Shechina”? I would argue that “light” means consciousness. For example, see Zohar 1:30b-21a; Yedid Nefesh 1:2; Maharsha on Chagiga 12a (sources quoted in Sarah Yehudit Shneider, You Are What You Hate, pg. 310).Therefore, every little step towards knowledge is a step towards truth…Hashem Elokeichem Emet.
[v] The obligation to recite Birkat ha’Torah stems from the verse “When I call out in the name of Hashem, they will ascribe greatness to G-d.” R. Yosef Gikatilla in Sha’arei Orah explains that indeed the entire Torah are names of G-d, but they are all united in the root of Shem Hashem. Also see R. Kook, Orot ha’Torah .
[vi] Shiurei Da’at, vol. 1, Darkah shel Torah.
[vii] Brachot 8a
[viii] Avos 3:6;Chelek Gimmel 118a
[ix] Nefesh ha’Chaim, Sha’ar Dalet, Chapter 12 (based on Hakdamat ha’Zohar)
[x] Derashot ha’Ran, Dursh #11. Also see Rambam, Moreh Nevukhim 3:27 and R. Bachya, Hakdama l’Torah. Also see Ramchal, Hakdama l’Messilat Yesharim.
[xi] See Sanhedrin 46a and Yevamot 90b. Aish quotes the Shelah ha’Kadosh (Shnei Luchot HaBrit, Shoftim 101a) “Justice, justice shall you pursue. It says "Justice" twice. The first is directed to the judges who judge in accordance with Torah law. There is a second "justice" for compromise or emergency decrees, which are done occasionally by a prophet or king, in order for the world to exist. Therefore, the verse concludes that you may live, and inherit the land which the Lord your God gives you. As the Sages said "Jerusalem was destroyed only because they gave judgments therein in accordance with Biblical law."
[xii] Drush # 3 and 7, based on B”M 59b and 86a
[xiii] The Ran himself may not agree to this formulation since he maintains that even though all opinions were given to Moshe at Sinai there is still an objective “heavenly Shulkhan Arukh.” Therefore he is bothered by the possibility that the Sages sometimes ruled mistakenly and it could be dangerous to one’s spiritual health. In my formulation this wouldn’t be a question – everything that the Sages decided determine what is spiritually healthy. See Sh”ut Chavot Yair.
[xiv] The following is based on R. Asher Weiss, Michat Asher, Hakdama l’Bava Batra.
[xv] Terumah 33:1; Also see Ramban, beginning of Terumah. This gives new meaning to Avos 3:6;Chelek Gimmel 118a
[xvi] This refers to “Torah ha’Keduma” which is found in many statements of the Sages (and later Kabbalists)
[xvii] Zohar, Balak