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Rabbi Yaakov Hillel
Rosh Yeshivat Ahavat Shalom
Torah from Sinai
A Share in Torah
“And Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Behold, I come to you in a thick cloud, in order that the nation will hear when I speak to you, and then they will believe also in you forever” (Shmot 19:9). Belief in Moshe as Hashem’s prophet, who gave the Torah to the Jewish nation exactly as he received it directly from the Al-mighty, is an integral element of our faith to this day, three thousand years after the Revelation at Sinai. Moshe received the Torah in its entirety: “Even the new insights an experienced student will recite to his teacher were already said to Moshe at Sinai” (Vayikra Rabbah 22:1). Our Sages teach that every Jewish soul ever to be born was present when the Torah was given at Mt. Sinai, as we learn from the verse, “Those who are here with us today, standing before Hashem our G-d, and those who are not here with us today” (Devarim 29:14-15). Every Jew has his own personal share in Torah, related to his soul alone, which only he can bring to light. Even those souls who were as yet physically unborn received their share of Torah at Sinai (Shmot Rabbah 28:6). To this day, every Jew can still reach an advanced level of Torah knowledge, and uncover the new insights which are his personal share in Torah, originally granted at Sinai and waiting to be brought to fruition. Our Torah is not ancient – it is new and alive, and given afresh every day (Mechilta, cited by Rashi, Shmot 3:11; Berachot 63b).
However, this raises a question. On the one hand, we say that there is always “new” Torah waiting to be revealed in every succeeding generation. On the other hand, our Sages teach us that “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Yehoshua, and Yehoshua to the Elders, and the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets passed it on to the Men of the Great Assembly” (Avot 1:1). In other words, Moshe received the entire Torah at Sinai – not only the specific portions related to him and his generation, but even whatever new interpretations Torah scholars in the future would bring to light. We can gain insight into this question by studying an incident related by our Sages (Menahot 29b). “When Moshe went up to Heaven, he found the Holy One, blessed be He, tying crowns on the letters.” These were the taggin, small “crowns”added to the top of certain letters as written in Torah scrolls.1 “[Moshe] said before Him, ‘Master of the Universe, what obligated You?’” In other words, Moshe asked, what need was there for these tiny crowns? The taggin do not serve as letters, vowels, or punctuation, and they have no affect on the way the letters are read. Hashem told Moshe that in a future generation there would be an especially great Torah scholar named Akiva ben Yosef, who would “expound mounds upon mounds of halachot upon every single tip on the letters.” The Midrash records that he would derive three hundred and sixty-five original novellae in halachah and aggadah from every last stroke of the quill (Otiot D’Rabbi Akiva, Ot Tzadi). Moshe asked to see him, and Hashem showed him Rabbi Akiva delivering a Torah lecture. To Moshe’s dismay and anguish, he did not understand the lecture! Then Rabbi Akiva’s students asked him the source of a halachah he taught them. He answered that it was “a halachah given to Moshe at Sinai,” and Moshe’s mind was put at ease. If Moshe Rabbenu did not know what the taggin were for, he clearly did not know the “mounds upon mounds of halachot” which Rabbi Akiva expounded based on those crowns; he did not know it was possible to expound on the taggin to begin
The letters shin, ayin, tet, nun, zayin, gimel and tzadi (known by the acronym shatnez gatz) have three crowns on each letter. The letters bet, daled, kuf, het, yud, and heh (bedek hayah) have one crown on each letter. The remaining letters, alef, vav, chaf, lamed, mem, samech, peh, resh, and taf (ochel mesaperet) have no crowns. 2
with. Obviously, these had to be completely new, original insights, unknown even to Moshe Rabbenu. Also, as we see, Moshe did not understand Rabbi Akiva’s presentation of the lecture – it would seem that his new teachings had not been part of the tradition Moshe received at Sinai. Did Moshe receive the entire Torah, or were there parts of it he never heard? The Arizal and the Ohr HaHayyim both suggest an answer to this question (see Shaar Maamare Razal, p. 11a). They write that Moshe did in fact receive the entire Oral Torah, down to the new insights propounded even in our contemporary bate midrash. He knew the halachot Rabbi Akiva taught; that was not the problem. What was unknown to him was the way these many halachot were derived from the crowns on the letters. This knowledge is the personal share in Torah of scholars throughout the generations. They reveal all the minute details and fine points of the halachot, received by Moshe as part of the Oral Tradition in general, and how they are alluded to in the crowns atop the letters in the Torah scroll. However, in my humble opinion, this cannot be the only answer to the above question. Is this all our great Torah scholars have accomplished and originated in Torah in thousands of years of intensive, utterly devoted toil? Surely they have achieved greater profundity than merely understanding how the halachot they were taught are alluded to in the Torah’s tiny crowns and various letter combinations. While they are all contained in our Torah, discovering these hidden references and allusions is certainly not the main objective of our learning.
There is another important question critical to our understanding of the Jewish nation’s acceptance of and ongoing relationship with the Torah. Our ancestors accepted the Torah with the famous words naaseh v’nishma, “We will do and we will hear” (Shmot 24:7). There were no preconditions and no hesitations; their acceptance of the Torah was wholehearted. And yet, our Sages tell us, “Israel did not receive the Torah until the Holy One, blessed be He, held the mountain over them like a tub, as it says, ‘and they stood under the mountain’ (Shmot 19:17). Rav Avdimi bar Hama said, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel, ‘If you accept the Torah, well and good. And if not, here will be your burial place’” (Shabbat 88a). Tosfot asks the obvious question: hadn’t they said, “We will do and we will hear,” accepting the Torah willingly, lovingly, and unquestioningly? If they had openly declared their readiness to first and above all fulfill the Torah’s commandments and later understand the reasons behind what they were fulfilling, what need was there for coercion?
Our Sages tell us the element of coercion served as a disclaimer on the nation’s part. Should they be called to account in the future for failure to observe the Torah, they could always say they had been forced into accepting it (see Rashi). In fact, they tell us that it was only close to a thousand years later, in the time of Mordechai and Esther, that the nation voluntarily accepted the Oral Torah. It was then that “they fulfilled and accepted [the Torah] upon themselves and on their descendents” (Esther 9:27). What does this mean? Our Sages tell us, “When [the people of] Israel said ‘we will do’ before ‘we will hear,’ a Heavenly Voice proclaimed, ‘Who revealed this secret to My children? It belongs to the angels alone’” (Shabbat 88a) – apparently, they gave the right answer. Were these words total acceptance of the Torah, or not? Our Sages tell us that they did indeed accept the Torah immediately and unconditionally – the Written Torah, but not the Oral Torah (Tanhuma, Noah 3). As the Midrash points out, the Written Torah, consisting of the Five Books of Moses, is much shorter and easier to learn than the Oral Torah, which is considerably more difficult and complicated (see Berachot 63b). The presentation of the commandments in the Written Torah is more general, unlike the daunting, overwhelming responsibility of the infinitely detailed Oral Torah. A life dedicated to intensive Torah study calls for sacrifice: “This is the way of Torah. Eat bread with salt, and drink a measure of water, and sleep on the ground, and live a life of deprivation, and toil in Torah. If you do so, you are happy and it is good for you. You are happy in this world and it is good for you in the World to Come” (Avot 6:4). The newly-liberated Jews in the desert were not quite ready to kill themselves over Torah (see Berachot 63b, citing Bamidbar 19:14), so they limited their acceptance to the less burdensome Written Torah. When it came to the Oral Torah, Hashem had to “hold the mountain over them like a tub” and compel them to accept it by force. Unreserved acceptance of the Oral Torah came only in the time of Mordechai and Esther, after the Purim miracle.
Let us try to understand more about the difference between the Written Torah and the Oral Torah as they were given to Moshe. Our Sages explain that the Written Torah is a concise body of general principles, while the Oral Torah is an enormous mass of detailed explanation of those principles. However, Hashem taught Moshe the Oral Tradition only as general principles (Tanhuma Noah 3, Ki Tisa 16). Otherwise, they ask, how could Moshe possibly have learned the entire Torah? “Its measure is longer than the earth’ (Iyov 11:9).
The Sages in subsequent generations expounded and elaborated on the innumerable details contained in those principles, as we learn from Moshe’s vision of Rabbi Akiva. He taught Torat Moshe, but brought to light the most refined, precise details of the halachot, and developed original interpretations based on even the tiniest of strokes of the quill.
Torah for the Times
Every era and every location presents new situations and circumstances, each with their halachic ramifications. Our Torah authorities continually apply the eternal principles received through Moshe at Sinai to new situations as they arise. A classic example is the invention of electricity. Electricity itself is a new phenomenon, obviously unknown when Moshe or the Sages lived and taught. However, the methods by which we understand and define the halachic status of electricity as concerns Shabbat and the Festivals is found in Torat Moshe. There are no “Hilchot Electricity” in the Gemara, but the foundations on which a contemporary analysis of “Hilchot Electricity” are based have their source in the Gemara. The same is true of new developments in all fields, bar none: Through their extensive knowledge of the principles taught in the Talmud, our great Torah authorities are able to define them by halachic criteria, and rule on the complex questions they bring in their wake. These are Rabbi Akiva’s “mounds upon mounds of halachot,” which Moshe could not understand. They concerned matters which could not have been relevant in his time. As they became current and necessary, the Torah scholars of the generation derived them “from the tips on the letters”: through allusions, proofs, and references from the principles of Torat Moshe. This is one reason why our Sages tell us that “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai” (Avot 1:1). “Sinai,” in this context, is also a concept. They discuss “Sinai” (length-and-breadth knowledge of all the Torah given at Sinai), and “oker harim” (literally “one who uproots mountains”). Oker harim is profound analytical study which allows the “experienced students” in every era to suggest additional explanations which expand on the obvious literal meaning of the teachings of the Oral Tradition (Berachot 64a). “Sinai” is encyclopedic, generalized knowledge, what we may call Torah as Moshe learned it at Sinai. Oker harim uproots this mass of knowledge and subjects it to painstaking scrutiny and analysis, producing new thoughts, ideas, and interpretations related to contemporary situations, as Rabbi Akiva did. The Maharal explains that Moshe’s Torah was given as general, comprehensive principles, and Rabbi Akiva’s, in minute detail (Hiddushe Aggadot on Menahot 29b). Rabbi Akiva’s details are included in Moshe’s principles, and they are brought to light by Rabbi
Akiva’s students in all succeeding generations. Through their toil in Torah, scholars throughout the ages develop completely new insights specific to their times; this is their personal share in Torah. At the same time, Torah study, no matter how contemporary and new, is always derived from Torat Moshe (see Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac Haver’s Ohr Torah, Likutim, for a detailed discussion of this topic).
With this in mind, let us try to understand what happened in the time of Mordechai and Esther to make the nation ready to accept the Oral Torah unreservedly. During the Jewish nation’s sojourn in the desert, they were spiritual millionaires, enjoying unparalleled, overt closeness to the Al-mighty at every turn. The Pillar of Cloud led them by day, and the Pillar of Fire lit their way by night. They were surrounded and protected by the Clouds of Glory, which sheltered them and cared for their needs. Their water came from the miraculous Spring of Miriam, and they ate manna, bread which fell straight from Heaven. They learned Torah from Moshe Rabbenu, who conveyed to the nation what he received from the Al-mighty Himself, fulfilling our Sages’ teaching, “The Torah was only given to those who eat manna” (Tanhuma Beshalah 20). There were many sources from which they could derive spirituality and a connection to Hashem. The unique conditions of the generation in the desert provided an opportunity to study and absorb Torah unequaled in any other period. The nation’s life improved still further when they entered Eretz Yisrael. Spirituality was easily accessible, because they were granted many great spiritual assets. Our Sages teach that Eretz Yisrael is holier than any other land on earth (Kelim 1:6), and that its very air imparts wisdom (Baba Batra 158b). They had prophets and righteous kings, and they had the Temple and the atonement of the sacrifices. They achieved perfection through all the commandments, in particular those which could only be fulfilled in the Holy Land. After the destruction of the First Temple, the shattered nation was exiled from their sacred homeland, and Hashem no longer communicated with them directly through prophecy. As a persecuted nation far from home, they found themselves in dire straits. Then came Haman’s incredibly wicked plot to eradicate the Jewish people altogether, leaving no trace behind, G-d forbid. It was then that they realized that without the Oral Torah and the intensive study it requires, they would have no hope of survival.
Our Sages teach that “from the day the Temple was destroyed, the Holy One, blessed be He, has nothing in His world other than the four cubits of halachah (Berachot 8a). The same was true of the nation: everything else, all the other spiritual avenues of closeness to Hashem which had been theirs in the past, were gone now. The Oral Torah alone would be the one remaining light illuminating the long years of exile. In the troubled centuries ahead, every individual Torah scholar would be able to find his own share in Torah, given to his soul at Sinai. This has proven true throughout our history, wherever our nation has lived. Communities with yeshivot and kollelim, where Torah scholars are involved in in-depth Torah study, have survived intact and have hope for the future. Communities without Torah and Torah institutions are always in danger of fading away and eventually, disappearing.
The Great Light
Our Sages tell us that the verse “the nation who walks in darkness saw great light” refers to the study of Gemara (Tanhuma Noah 3, citing Yeshayahu 9:1). Torah is hard work, but the very exertion we invest in learning turns out to be the greatest joy this world can offer. The intense enjoyment and total involvement in learning of our great Torah scholars is awe-inspiring. I personally was privileged to witness this in an unforgettable incident a number of years ago. On one occasion, I came with a number of people to consult with the saintly Steipler Gaon, of blessed memory, who was close to ninety at the time. It was the fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz, and a swelteringly hot summer day. There was certainly no air conditioner in the Steipler’s house – not even a simple fan. All things considered, at his age anyone else would have been resting in bed, wanting only to get through the fast. Instead, we found him totally absorbed in learning mishnayot, and his enthusiasm and vitality were astonishing to behold. The ten of us stood in that steaming hot room, waiting and watching, and he did not even see us until several minutes passed. The pleasure he took in Torah was so intense and so real that he had no need and no desire for worldly comforts and pleasures.
Our Sages outline the transmission of the Torah from Moshe to future generations (Avot 1:1): “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai, and passed it on to Yehoshua, and Yehoshua to the Elders, and the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets passed it on to the Men of the Great Assembly.”
Why is it, the commentaries ask, that the word “received” is used only regarding Moshe, while for the others, it says that they “passed it on?” Why not say, “The Almighty passed the Torah on to Moshe, and Moshe passed it on to Yehoshua,” or “Moshe received the Torah from the Al-mighty, and Yehoshua received it from Moshe,” and so on down the line? Apparently, as concerns the transmission of Torah from generation to generation, there is an important difference between the way Moshe received the Torah from Hashem and transmitted it to his students, and the way they went on to transmit it to subsequent generations. Moshe Rabbenu was a great prophet, a great leader, scholar, and teacher, and much, much more. And yet, the Torah records only one word of praise for this incomparably great tzaddik: “And the man Moshe was very humble, the most humble of all people on the face of the earth” (Bamidbar 12:3). His perception of himself was, “And what are we?” (Shmot 16:7), implying “We are nothing.” In fact, it was specifically because of Moshe’s vast humility that he was chosen to receive the Torah from Sinai. Humility is of paramount importance in Torah. It is one of the forty-eight ways by which Torah is acquired (Avot 6:6), and according to many opinions, it is at the very top of the list (see Kli Yakar on Shmot 25:10). Our Sages compare words of Torah to water. Water does not flow up, it flows down. If we wish to acquire Torah, we must be lowly and humble. Just as water seeks ground level, so does Torah seek the modest and the humble. Arrogance drives Torah away, while humility attracts it (Taanit 7a). The “water” of Torah descends from the highest of all locations – it comes from the Al-mighty Himself, giving it the power to return to its original source. When the Torah we study reascends to its lofty source, we too are elevated spiritually. This is why the mishnah says that “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai,” rather than “from Hashem, Who revealed Himself at Sinai.” Sinai itself is symbolic of humility: “The Holy One, blessed be He, passed over all the mountains and hills and rested His Presence on Mt. Sinai, and Mt. Sinai was not high and mighty” (Sotah 5a). Hashem humbled Himself, as it were, and chose Mt. Sinai, the lowliest and humblest of mountains, because the prerequisite for Torah is humility (see Megillah 31a). According to Kabbalistic teachings, the connection is even more profound. Moshe received the Torah not for himself alone, but for the entire Jewish nation, not only those living at the time, but for all generations to come. Moshe received six thousand years’ worth of Torah, enough for the entire Jewish people until the coming of Mashiah. Torah is our guide for perfecting ourselves and the world as a
whole, bringing Creation to completion and fruition. Torat Moshe has within it enough to teach everyone how to achieve this lofty goal, until the end of time. In order to receive so much Torah, one must be very, very humble indeed. If Moshe had viewed himself and the world as perfect, or not far from it, how could he have received the complete manual for perfecting the defects of humanity and Creation? He would not have seen any need for improvement to begin with. It took the unlimited humility of Moshe Rabbenu to realize just how very much he personally, mankind, and the world at large were lacking, and receive the vast body of Divine instruction on how to correct that lack. Anyone less humble would have been incapable of receiving the Torah in its entirety. Half a Torah, so to speak, an incomplete, partial Torah, could not bring the world to its ultimate perfection and rectification, so it had to be Moshe, “the most humble of all people on the face of the earth,” who received the Torah from Sinai. Moshe was in fact the only human being capable of this enormous accomplishment. Our Sages tells us that “Moshe was equivalent to all of Israel” (Tanhuma Beshalah 10) and “equivalent to six hundred thousand [of Israel] (Devarim Rabbah 11:10). Moshe, although one person, corresponded to and encompassed the entire six hundred thousand souls of Israel. He received not only the Torah which related to him personally, but the Torah which relates to all of Israel throughout all generations. This is also why Moshe “received the Torah,” while the others “passed it on.” Having received the Torah in its entirety, he was then able to pass it on as he had received it. It was no longer necessary for those who followed him to be on his level of spiritual perfection, because they no longer had to work from scratch. They had only to go back to the original link, the Torat Moshe, the halachah received by Moshe at Sinai, which he, with his magnificent, unparalleled humility, was able to receive from the Al-mighty and pass on to all generations to come.
Written and Oral
However, if we look at the continuation of the first chapter in Avot, we find that our Sages later return to the term “received” in describing the transmission of the Torah: “Antigonos of Socho received from Shimon HaTzaddik...Yosse ben Yoezer... and Yosse ben Yohanan... received from them,” and so on (Avot 1:3-12). Apparently, even after Moshe, the Sages were still “receiving” Torah, as Moshe had. We can explain this by studying a teaching of Rabbi Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin (Pri Tzaddik, vol. III, Maamar Lag B’Omer, p. 88b). He writes that the spiritual root
of the souls of the earliest Torah sages, those mentioned in the Tanach such as Moshe, Aharon, and the prophet Shmuel, is the Written Torah. The spiritual root of the later Sages, those mentioned in the Mishnah and Talmud, is the Oral Torah. From the time of the Giving of the Torah until the time of Mordechai and Esther, the root of the Written Torah was predominant. While the Jews of that era fulfilled the commandments in keeping with the requirements of the Oral Torah, their learning was based on explanation and understanding of the verses of the Torah, as taught by Moshe and passed down from generation to generation. There were no doubts and no differences of opinion; Moshe had transmitted a clear, unquestioned, firmly established tradition which remained intact and unchanged for centuries. However, with the destruction of the First Temple our nation’s circumstances changed drastically, and from then on, the root of the Oral Torah became dominant. This principle can help us understand a certain profound concept related to the Written Torah and the Oral Tradition. The Arizal teaches that Lag B’Omer is celebrated as a day of rejoicing because it was the day when Rabbi Akiva ordained his five surviving students, after twenty-four thousand had perished in a plague. However, according to some opinions, Lag B’Omer is the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai. Reb Tzadok explains why the anniversary of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai’s passing on Lag B’Omer is celebrated as a joyous occasion. Generally speaking, the passing of a tzaddik is marked by a fast, with Moshe Rabbenu’s yahrzeit of the Seventh of Adar as a well known example (see Orah Hayyim 580:1-2). He explains that there is a difference between tzaddikim whose root is in the Written Torah, for whom we fast, and those whose root is in the Oral Torah, whose yahrzeit is celebrated. Our Sages teach that the anniversary of their death is an especially auspicious time for their Torah to enter the hearts of their students. It does not disappear when they leave the world; it continues to flourish through their disciples, making their yahrzeit a time of joy (see Tanhuma Behaalotcha 15, citing Kohelet 12:11). As we explained, study of the Written Torah is in keeping with the tradition received from Moshe, consisting of explanation of the Torah’s verses and knowledge of halachic rulings. Study of the Oral Torah is in-depth learning and original exposition in the style of Rabbi Akiva; it is the Torah we study in the period of exile which began with the destruction of the First Temple. The transition from Written to Oral Torah would have been impossible if there had not been a foundation for both in Moshe’s original reception of the Torah. This is why the continuous transmission of the Oral Torah from generation to generation is called “Kabbalah.” Literally translated as “receiving,” Kabbalah means “transmission dependent on individual effort.”
The Sages received the principles of the Oral Tradition in a direct line of transmission going back to Moshe. From Rabbi Akiva onwards, the Torah learned and taught by the Torah sages in every generation is their own development, clarification, and application of these principles, very often to new circumstances and cases as they arise. It is their personal share in Torah, received at Sinai, the fruit of a life of dedicated, intensive study. This revelation of “new” Torah is especially beloved and a source of special joy. Our Sages tell us, “The teachings of the rabbis are more precious than words of Torah” (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:18; Avodah Zarah 35a, Rashi). This is because they are the product of labor and toil (see Reb Tzadok HaKohen’s Mahshevet Tzaddik, p. 158 and Michtav Me’Eliyhau, vol. 4, p. 56). This Torah brings with it happiness and contentment for another reason as well. After the destruction of the Temple, there were many differences of opinion among the Sages, almost over every single halachah, as we see throughout the Mishnah and the Talmud (see Sotah 47b). The Sages of the Talmud ruled decisively on many of these questions, and their decisions are absolute and irrefutable, binding for the entire Jewish people in all generations to come. There were also many questions which were still left open, to be decided on by the Torah scholars of succeeding generations, although these decisions are not binding on the entire nation (see Rambam’s Introduction to Yad HaHazakah). In addition, there are the numerous questions which arise with changing times. Resolution of these uncertainties by illuminating the principles of the Torah is itself a source of joy. When a great Torah scholar who developed and taught much Torah leaves this world, his personal contribution to Torah ascends with him to the Yeshivah shel Maalah (Heavenly Yeshivah), and we rejoice along with him as in the case of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai on Lag B’Omer. With this in mind we can better understand our Sages’ teaching that Moshe received the entire Torah at Sinai, including whatever an experienced student in all generations to come would yet originate. While their innovations are “new,” they are based on and derived from Torat Moshe, the Oral Tradition which he received at Sinai. However, they can only come to light at the right time, through the efforts of the right person, in accordance with the share he received at Sinai.
Carving Out a Share
We find an allusion to this transition in the Torah’s words concerning the first and second Tablets of the Law. The first were “G-d’s handiwork, and the script was the script of G-d, engraved on the Tablets” (Shmot 32:16). Moshe shattered these
sacred Tablets when the nation sinned with the Golden Calf (32:19). When the time came for the second pair of Tablets, Hashem told him, “Carve out for yourself two stone Tablets like the first ones, and I will write on the Tablets” (34:1). We may say that the first Tablets, entirely G-d’s Own handiwork, represent the era of the Written Torah. The second Tablets carved by Moshe represent the era of the Oral Torah, which every individual carves out for himself, so to speak, by delving into the teachings of the Sages and developing new insights from their ancient words. The first Tablets were shattered by the tragic sin of the Golden Calf. The era of the Written Torah ended with a correspondingly great tragedy, that of the destruction of the First Temple. It was time for the “second Tablets,” symbolic of the Oral Torah, which would accompany the nation throughout the exile. However, on the “manmade” Second Tablets as well, it was the Al-mighty Himself who inscribed the letters. This teaches us that even the “new” explanations developed and revealed by the Torah scholars and students in every generation were all originally taught to Moshe at Sinai, when he received the general principles of the Oral Tradition. Subtle allusions to all these new details were already in place, waiting only to be brought to light as needed by later scholars. The mishnah records the transmission of the Torah until the Men of the Great Assembly, or in other words, until the time of Mordechai, who was one of its members. This marked the end of the era of the Written Torah as it was received by Moshe. In Mordechai’s time, the nation embraced the Oral Torah anew, with the same willingness and enthusiasm as they had for the Written Torah centuries earlier at Sinai. In all generations since, every individual Torah scholar carves out his own portion in Torah, connecting to the special share in G-d’s Word granted to him at Sinai. The centuries between Mordechai and Rabbi Akiva were the era of the development, establishment, and transmission of the halachic Oral Tradition which was completed by Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, Rabbi Akiva’s great disciple, concluded with the Torah’s esoteric secrets, committed to writing in the Zohar. We do not celebrate the Torah of Mordechai and Rabbi Akiva on the anniversaries of their death. We do this only for Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, who completed the process by revealing the hidden Torah, on Lag B’Omer, the day when he was ordained together with Rabbi Akiva’s four other students. According to Reb Tzadok, this was the same date on which Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai later passed away.
Rabbi Akiva’s five remaining students would transmit both the revealed and the hidden Oral Tradition, now fully developed, to future generations, ensuring its continual rejuvenation, from generation to generation, throughout the dark years of exile until the coming of Mashiah. Our Torah is timeless, forever fresh and vital, the repository of the G-dly wisdom that has carried our nation through the hardest and most anguishing of times. Every one of us has his own share in Torah. It waits for us alone to develop it and bring it to light in all its sanctity and beauty, in the unique manner relevant to ourselves and the specific times we live in. Our Sages, by expounding “mounds upon mounds of halachot upon every single tip on the letters,” led the way for each of us to claim his own share in the greatest treasure ever bestowed upon mankind – the eternal Torat Moshe.
This essay contains divre Torah. Please treat it with proper respect.
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