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10 Shevat 5766 - February 8, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Torah Min HaShomayim: Messages from Hashem to Man

by Mordecai Plaut

In preparation for the parsha of matan Torah in Yisro.

The Rambam takes almost 2,000 Hebrew words to discuss the 13 Yesodos of our Religion. Only two of those words are "emes," and only one instance is applied to the Torah as the last of a list of attributes: Vehakol Toras Hashem temimoh, tehoroh, ukedoshoh, emes — it is all the Torah of Hashem that is perfect, pure, holy and true.

A good part of the Torah has nothing to do with the category of truth and falsehood. The mitzvos and the instructions for fulfilling them, for example, are not true-or-false — at least in the way those terms are usually applied nowadays. It is certainly temimoh, tehoroh, ukedoshoh that we must keep Shabbos, and it is true that we must keep Shabbos, but the Commandment, "Remember the Shabbos," is an imperative statement that is not related to truth and falsehood in a simple, conventional sense.

In our parshas Beshalach there is the Shiras Hayam which is an inspiring creation, but how true is it?

"They went down to the depths like a stone." "Send Your wrath and consume them like straw." "They plunged like lead in the mighty waters." Seeing these on our own, we would probably have interpreted them as figures of speech, poetic flights expressing the same core fact that Hashem drowned the Mitzrim in three varied, elegant ways.

But Chazal tell us that these are not just arbitrary similes. They were chosen deliberately to express an important truth. The different metaphors describing what Hashem did to the Mitzrim actually refer to different classes of Mitzrim. The truly evil ones were punished by being tossed around like straw. The average Mitzri went down like a stone. The deserving ones (kesheirim) went down swiftly, like the heaviest lead.

We learn that even in the chaos and turmoil that must have ensued when, as the Torah describes so calmly, "the waters returned and covered the chariots and footsoldiers and the entire army of Pharaoh," Hashem saw to it that each met exactly the fate that was appropriate to his previous deeds. Each of these figures of speech is not a general expression that applies to all of the Mitzrim, but a specific description of the fate that met a specific class.

We do not know if this analogy is just meant in a qualitative way, that there is a slow class, a moderate class and a fast- sinking class, or perhaps there is actually some quantitative correspondence, that is, perhaps if we measure how fast a stone sinks and how fast lead sinks, we would know exactly how fast those two classes of Mitzrim sank. But in any case, the main point is not how fast they sank, but to tell us that the individual death of the Mitzrim was not up to random forces of nature, but was a Divine moral response to their deeds.

The Torah is not a collection of true facts about the world or about the history of our people, but rather a collection of messages from Hashem to us.

In parshas Bo there is a passage that illustrates this. Right after Moshe Rabbenu tells Pharaoh about the upcoming Makkas Bechoros, there is a posuk which — while it is undoubtedly true — seems to have no purpose in this particular place. It summarizes the actions of Moshe and Aharon, saying, "And Moshe and Aharon performed all these wonders before Pharaoh . . ." (11:10), and then continues with the chapter about Rosh Chodesh: And Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon in the land of Mitzrayim as follows.

Rashi notes that the first posuk is redundant and he says that it was repeated here only to introduce the following parsha. As he subsequently notes, "Since Aharon worked hard to perform the wonders as did Moshe, he was honored by being included together with Moshe in the statement of the first group of mitzvos.

The lesson here is obviously one of hakoras hatov. The Torah repeats a fact that is thoroughly familiar to anyone who has been following what has been said up until now, namely, that both Moshe and Aharon were involved in performing all of Hashem's wonders. But this fact, which is clearly not important in itself, has a very important point and that is to give us a lesson in hakoras hatov: that Aharon deserves special recognition in the Torah for his efforts.

What is important to us about the Torah is not that it is true — which it most certainly is — but that it comes from Hashem, each and every word and sentence. As a message from Hashem, it is all temimoh, tehoroh, ukedoshoh, emes. Every word — from the most esoteric laws of tumah to the seemingly simple lists of descendants — comes from Hashem to us and carries "wonders and wisdom for one who understands them and the ultimate wisdom is not accessible but is longer than the land and wider than the sea, and one has only to go in the footsteps of Dovid Hamelech who prayed, `Reveal it to my eyes that I may see wonders in Your Torah.' "

Our task is to seek these wonders and this wisdom that are embedded in the Torah by Hashem. Of course it is true — at least those sentences than can be true. But what we should seek with all our abilities is the deep and broad wisdom.

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