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Home » Free Choice, Passover, Shavuot, Yitro

Yitro – When Student Becomes Teacher

Submitted by on January 18, 2011 – 2:58 pmNo Comment | 7,706 views

Teaching and Giving

Did you know that Jews knew and studied the Torah well before G-d gave it at Sinai? The Torah was taught to Adam, who taught it to Seth who passed it to his children till it reached Abraham, who taught it to the Jews. (1) This begs the obvious question, what did G-d give us at Sinai that we did not already have?

Before Sinai, G-d taught us the Torah, at Sinai He gave it to us. Abraham studied the Torah; we own it. It was G-d’s precious gem, His own thought pattern and mindset, but he transferred it to us. Absurd as it sounds, it is true. At Sinai we moved into G-d’s space. Not as renters, but as owners.

This ownership is expressed in concrete terms through Halacha. Before Sinai questions of Torah law were determined in heaven and Torah scholars simply accepted it. At Sinai G-d transferred ownership to us; now Torah law is formulated by Torah scholars here on earth. When the High Jewish courts vote on a matter of Jewish law, G-d accepts and ratifies the outcome. (2)

In The World

The Torah is not an abstract document studied by wizened scholars in ivory towers; it is a manifesto with real world applications. The real world applications of our ownership are startling.

The Hebrew word for permissible is Mutar, which means literally untied. The Hebrew word for forbidden is Asur, which means tied down. The forbidden item is tied down to unholy energies and can never be released from spiritual defilement. Pork for example is fastened to unholy energies; every time Jews eat pork, we nourish impure energies within us. Kosher meat on the other hand is Mutar, not bound to impurity. When it is consumed for holy purpose it enhances the holiness within us. (3)

On Passover

Let us consider leavened bread on Passover. Kosher leavened bread is permitted all year long; it is not tied down to unclean spiritual forces. On Passover, however, the bread transfers the channel through which it receives its vitality and sustenance and thus becomes forbidden. That which was permitted all year is suddenly tied down to unholy forces and is permeated with unclean energies.

Now consider this. In days gone by (when the Sanhedrin, the high Jewish court, was still functional) the calendar was governed by the sages, who heard testimony and adjusted the calendar in tandem with their calendrical calculations. Today the Sanhedrin is no longer in existence and the calendar follows a set formula, established in the fifth century. But suppose the Sanhedrin were still functional, every time the Sanhedrin would declare a leap year the date for Passover would change. On the day when leavened food was meant to be forbidden it would de-facto become permitted. On the day when it would otherwise have been permitted it would actually be forbidden.

This means that human beings can affect the spiritual composition of a given object. The leavened bread that was meant to channel holy energies on the day before Passover ipso-facto becomes permeated with impure energies on the authority of human beings. This is an amazing thought.

The reverse is equally amazing. Bread that would otherwise have been absolutely forbidden and inaccessible to holiness on the day that would have been Passover suddenly becomes kosher to eat when the Sanhedrin adjusts the calendar.

A Paradox

This is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. G-d created the bread and is in charge of formulating its spiritual composition. Yet, when we choose to move the calendar, the composition is automatically adjusted. G-d lets us make His decisions. (4)

In the classical understanding of G-d and humanity this would be an irresolvable paradox, however, viewing it from G-d’s point of view yields a different understanding.

From our standpoint, G-d is the creator and we are the created. From G-d’s standpoint, everything is G-d. G-d is omnipresent; He fills all space and nothing exists outside of Him. Though we appear to be completely separate from Him, in truth, we are part of Him. G-d sees Himself in each of us and from this standpoint there is no difference if His law is delivered directly through Him as a revelation at Sinai or through the formulation of a Talmudic sage.

Of course it is necessary that we follow the formula outlined in the Torah and vote on this matter in the context of a Sanhedrin. It is also crucial that the members of Sanhedrin be bona-fide Torah scholars whose deliberates flow from authentic Torah traditions.

But once these criteria are met, G-d speaks through the human. It is G-d’s will that we abide by the ruling of the Sanhedrin no matter which way they rule. No matter which decision they make, their rule is endorsed by G-d and becomes His will.

The Absolute Essence

At Sinai G-d invested the Torah with his essence. The first words of the Ten Commandments were Anochi Hashem, I am G-d. Anochi, is an acronym for Ana Nafshi Ketavit Yehavit, I have invested the scripture with myself. (5) The Midrash taught that when we study the Torah we acquire G-d Himself. (6) Indeed, when we encounter the absolute essence of G-d we have encountered the absolute essence of all. At this level it is all one. (7)

  1. Babylonian Talmud, 59b.
  2. Babylonian Talmud, Yuma 28b.
  3. Tanya ch. 8.
  4. The Ten Commandments are introduced with the words
    and G-d spoke to Moses, saying. Ordinarily when the word, saying, is
    used it means that G-d instructed Moses to repeat the commandment to the
    people, but in this case G-d spoke directly to the people. What might
    G-d have meant with the word, saying? (Rashi offers his own answer, but according to Chassidus) The answer is that G-d wanted Jews
    to know that they could and should say the words of Torah after they
    receive it from G-d. Every time we study Torah we stimulate Divine
    speech for G-d says the words of Torah right along with us. Kind David
    wrote (Psalms 119: 172), may my tongue repeat your words. Every time our
    tongue speaks Torah G-d says the words that we are about to say, just
    before we say them thereby causing us to repeat them after Him. (Tana
    Dbei Eliyahu Rabbah ch. 18) This means that when we say Kosher G-d
    quickly whispers the word Kosher effectively making us echo the Kosher
    he meant for us to say. In this way, the ruling of the Sanhedrin becomes
    the ruling of G-d.
  5. Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 105a.
  6. Shemos Rabbah 33: 1.
  7. This essay is based on Sefer Mamarim Melukat v.4 p. 273.

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