Thursday, October 2, 2008

Writing Yourself into the Torah - Getting the Hint

:ועתה כתבו לכם את השירה הזאת ולמדה את בני ישראל שימה בפיהם למען תהיה לי השירה הזאת לעד בבני ישראל

The gemara in Sanhedrin (21b) states:

Raba said - Even if one has inherited a Sefer Torah from his ancestors, it is a mitzvah to write one of his own as it is written (Devarim 31:19): And now, write for yourselves this verse...

This mitzvah is recorded in Halacha in Rambam (Hilchos Sefer Torah 7:1) and Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 270:1). Both the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch write that if one merely makes a necessary correction - a haga'ah - in a Sefer Torah is as if he wrote the complete Sefer.

It seems self evident that the basis for this Halacha is the apparent superfluous word "kisvu lachem" - write for yourselves - that is in the pasuk. It could have simply written "And now, write this verse..." Why does it say, "And now, write for yourselves this verse..."? And so, Raba teaches us that each individual Jew is obligated to write a Sefer Torah for himself.

This seems to be the simple understanding of the pasuk and Raba's Halacha. This is what we call the "Pshat".

I think that the pasuk might be telling us something more. Perhaps what we may call "remez" - a hint. It is a hint about making hints.

Chazal tell us (Yalkut Shimoni Breishis 8 Article 62) that 974 generations prior to the creation of the world G-d sat and cross-checked and tested and linked together [the letters of] the Torah. 974 generations before Creation, the Torah was signed and sealed and ready to be delivered.

Yet Chazal tell us in Midrash Rabba (Ruth 5):

One should always do mitzvos with great enthusiasm for if Reuven would know that the Torah would write about him, "And Reuven heard and saved him from their hands..." he would have carried Yosef back to his father on his shoulders. If Ahron would know that the Torah would write about him "...behold he will come out to greet you..." he would have greeted Moshe with drums and cymbals. If Boaz would know that HKBH would dictate about him, "And he produced roasted kernels and she ate..." he would have fed her fattened calves!

I have always reflected about this Chazal. What if Reuven had carried Yosef to his father on his shoulders? Isn't this Midrash telling us that the pasuk would say, "And Reuven heard and saved him...and he brought Yosef to his father on his shoulders..."? If Ahron would have greeted Moshe with drums and cymbals would the Torah not write "...behold he will come out to meet you with drums and cymbals..."? If Boaz had fed Ruth with fattened calves would the scripture not say, "And he produced fattened calves and she ate..."?

But, wait! Wasn't the Torah signed and sealed for 974 generations before creation?

We are taught that all human beings have bechira. That is why there is reward and punishment and retribution. So how can all human events be predestined from before Creation?

What if Kayin didn't kill Hevel? What if the generation of the flood had repented? What if Pharaoh had let the Jews out before all those plagues? What if the Jews did not make the Golden Calf? What if Ammon and Moav had greeted us with bread and water? What if Adam and Chava hadn't eaten from the Tree of Knowledge?

What would the Torah say?

We are forced to say that when the Chazal say that the Torah was written 974 generations before creation, it is not the Torah as we read it. It is perhaps the utterances of Anochi Hashem and Lo Yihiyeh or the Asseres HaDibros. Or perhaps, as the Ramban says, all of the letters of the Torah were designated in advance, but the arrangement of the letters was shaped by the events of the world and those who participated in it.

The Torah wrote "Vayishma Reuven" because of what Reuven did. In effect, Reuven wrote that pasuk. And who wrote "Vayikach Korach"? Korach wrote that. Who wrote "Vayashkem Bilaam"? Bilaam wrote it. Who wrote "Vayahre Pinchas?" Pinchas wrote it.

In effect, the Torah wasn't written by G-d. It was written by us.

And it still is!

Many of us have heard about Torah Codes that seem to reveal hidden secrets. Such as words that are hidden in consecutive roshei teivos or sofei teivos that I have discussed a number of times in my Blog. Also there has been much studying done on equidistant letter sequences (ELSes). Another variation are position letters, i.e. when the second letters or the third letters of a string of words form a word.

Two of the most renowned examples are:

  1. There seems to be a hint of the Rambam encrypted in the roshei teivos of the following pasuk (Shmos 11:9): לא ישמע אליכם פרעה למען רבות מופתי בארץ מצרים since the Rambam reached his pinnacle of greatness while living in Egypt. Note that this is the only occurence of the roshei teivos רמבמ in the entire Torah. It is claimed that from one of the two "mem"s (I am not sure which) at an ELS of 613 letters, the words משנה תורה , Rambam's magnum opus, is spelled out. (I do not have the software to confirm this).
  2. There is a famous story (I believe it is found in Sefer Kav Hayashar - I do not have this sefer) concerning the Ramban. The Ramban had a disciple named Avner who eventually became a heretic and scoffer. He challenged the Ramban that if his teachings are true that ליכא מידי דלא רמיזא באורייתא - there is no event that is not alluded to in the Torah - where might he find a reference to himself (Avner) and his departure from Judaism? The Ramban davened for heavenly inspiration and that night he saw this pasuk in a dream (Devarim 32:26):
    אמרתי אפאיהם אשביתה מאנוש זכרם - I have said that I will anull them in anger, I will nullify from humanity any remembrance of them.
    It was revealed to him that the third letter of the last 4 words of the pasuk:
    אמרתי אפאיהם אשביתה מאנוש זכרם - spell out the name Avner!
Here again, I am bothered by the same thoughts. What if the Rambam didn't become a great scholar in Egypt? What if he never wrote Mishna Torah? How could such a thing be? Isn't it encrypted in the Torah?
And what about Avner? What if he did not become a heretic? What would be the significance of this code in this pasuk?

We have to answer that all of our potential is encrypted in the Torah. Both our positive potential and (chas v'shalom) our potential for negative actions. When we do something in this world we "activate" the Torah's hidden hints about our achievements. Things that we accomplish, whether for the good or the bad, are "activated". Things that we do not accomplish remain buried and "deactivated" forever.

Whenever we do something, we are editing the Torah. We are changing it. We are writing a haga'ah. We are activating the letters of the Torah that tell of our accomplishments.

So now we have another meaning of "kisvu lachem". Not just to write for ourselves another copy of the Torah that's been around from 974 generations before Creation. But now, "kisvu lachem" means "write yourselves into the Torah". Write a new version of the Torah. A new version where the letters tell of what you have accomplished in your life. The letters have been there for over a thousand generations but they are not "activated". You must come and activate your version of the Torah.

And it's a good idea to do good deeds with enthusiasm.

גמר חתימה טובה
לעלוי נשמת ר' צבי ב"ר דוד יוסף שטארך, הי"ד


josh waxman said...

My take is that Torah Codes are nonsense. But let us leave it at that. Such a discussion would take too long.

However, what prompted me to comment was the following:
"This seems to be the simple understanding of the pasuk and Raba's Halacha. This is what we call the "Pshat"."

I would posit that making derivations such as this from a hyper-literal reading of the Biblical text is what we call derash. (The unfortunate trend of "what is bothering Rashi" has convinced many that many of the derashot Rashi cites are on the level of peshat, which in turn leads to a skewed perception of peshat vs. drash.)

A peshat level understanding would be that this is a common construction in Biblical Hebrew, such as "shelach lecha" and "lech lecha" and "psol lecha." That does not make the derash less compelling or binding. It just makes it operate on the level of derash.

Kol Tuv,

Fred said...

Why did you not quote the source for this?!