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22 Cheshvan 5766 - November 23, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
The Need to Conceal the Rationale of Mitzvos

by HaRav E. E. Dessler

[This shmuess was delivered at the Mashgiach's monthly shiur on Shabbos parshas Chukas 5764 and was written up by a member of the audience.]

Part II

In the first part, HaRav Dessler asked several questions about the topic of the rationale of mitzvos, based on the famous discussion in Chazal of the Poroh Adumoh.

"Hashem spoke to Moshe and to Aharon, saying, `This is the chukah of the Torah that Hashem has commanded saying . . . '" Rashi comments, "Since the Satan and other nations taunt Yisroel by asking them what is the meaning of this mitzvah and what is its rationale, the Torah writes chukah—it is a decree from Me and you are not allowed to seek its rationale."

What is the substance of the Torah's answer to other nations? The answer does not seem to supply any new information whatsoever.

Elsewhere, the Torah teaches that Yisroel are regarded as wise and understanding precisely because of the chukim that are beyond human comprehension.

Chazal clarify and specify how every detail of the Poroh Adumoh atones for the cheit ha'eigel, point by point. So why is this mitzvah termed "a decree from Me and you are not allowed to seek its rationale"?

Rashi writes that Bnei Yisroel were given the mitzvah of Poroh Adumoh at Moroh, before they sinned with the cheit ha'eigel and not after.

Why does the Torah write, "This is the chukah of the Torah"? Why not just say, "This is the chukah of taharoh"?

Why does the Torah need to write the word "saying" (leimor) twice?

Although we ask in Birchos Krias Shema that we wish to understand and shed light upon our Torah study, it is in fact dangerous to know the reasons behind the mitzvos, and this knowledge is, chas vesholom, liable to endanger those who know it. We see that where the Torah gives the rationale for mitzvos, that knowledge caused gedolei olom to stumble. Such knowledge is only secondary to other Torah knowledge, and also presents unquestionable risk to loyal Torah observance. As the Ponovezher Rov said he learned from HaRav Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk, when studying Torah one should not ask "why" (the reasons behind a mitzvah) but rather "what" (just clearly defining the mitzvah itself).

Rabbeinu Yeruchom, the Mirrer Mashgiach, explains that our native thoughts are not those of the Torah. We need to refine our thoughts and make them conform to the Torah. Only through the radiance of the Torah will we see the real light. This daas Torah is obtained through tradition, from our rav, and our rav obtained it from his rav. No matter to what extent we imagine that we understand the Torah, its hidden reasons are much more profound than what is revealed to us.


Now, with Hashem's help, we understand well why the Torah does not write in parshas Poroh, "This is the chukah of tumah" or "This is the chukah of tohoroh" as the Or HaChaim asks. On the contrary, from the mitzvah of Poroh Adumoh we learn the proper attitude towards all of the Torah's mitzvos. They are all, "This is the chukah of the Torah," and are, "a decree from Me and you are not allowed to seek its rationale."

A person who performs the Torah's mitzvos exclusively because Hashem has commanded him to carry out his Creator's will, without sophisticated motives and without even wanting to effect tikkunim (spiritual rectification) in the Celestial worlds by performing them, successfully rectifies the cheit ha'eigel. Seforim Hakedoshim (and the Beis HaLevi in parshas Ki Siso elaborates upon it at length) write that the root of the cheit ha'eigel consisted of bnei Yisroel's desire to imitate the ways in which the world was created and their knowledge that an image of a bull is engraved in the Merkovoh (Celestial Chariot). They erroneously supposed that they could cause the Shechinah to reside on them through creating an eigel. Bnei Yisroel's intent was entirely virtuous — to be zocheh that the Shechinah reside upon them by means of the eigel.

However, they were terribly mistaken. Although it is surely true that what a person does in Olam Hazeh effects blessed tikkunim and benefits the Celestial worlds, since the Creator decreed that all worlds be controlled by what man does in Olam Hazeh. This is, however, only if his actions are explicitly commanded by HaKodosh Boruch Hu.

On the other hand, if a man will do something that the Torah did not command him to do, what he does will be entirely useless. No tikkunim will be effected and the Shechinah will not be caused to rest on him in such a case. Tikkunim are effected only when a person performs his Creator's will. When he does something without Hashem's command, those deeds remain mere mortal acts.

Accordingly, in the construction of the Mishkan— that atoned for the cheit ha'eigel as the Medrash Rabba parshas Vayakheil tells us — the Torah writes concerning every detail, "as Hashem commanded Moshe." Everything was carried out according to Hashem's command and absolutely nothing was done because it was inferred by their intellect. Although Betzalel knew how to combine the letters by which the heaven and earth were created and knew the profound secrets in his holy work of building the Mishkan, his only kavonoh was to do as Hashem commanded—only to do His will and not because his own intellect instructed him to do so. Because of this pure kavonoh of following Hashem's will solely because that is His will, could the Mishkan atone for the cheit ha'eigel that was contradictory to strictly following Hashem's will without relying on one's own understanding.

In Daas Torah (II, pp. 169-170), Maran the Mirrer Mashgiach, R' Yeruchom zt'l writes: "In parshas Pekudei concerning the arrangement of the Mishkan and its keilim, the phrase "as Hashem commanded Moshe" is written next to each detail. Moshe and the chachomim with him did not do anything based on their own decisions or understanding. They only did what they were commanded and how they were commanded to do it.

"About Betzalel, the Torah writes, `He filled him with G-dly spirit . . . and with every craft . . . stone-cutting for setting, and wood-carving' (Shemos 35:31-32). Why is a G-dly spirit needed for a simple act of carpentry?

"Betzalel did not do anything in the Mishkan by himself or how he understood it. Everything Betzalel did was only because a spirit of G-d filled him. Betzalel did not even join two planks, a simple task that everyone knows how to carry out, without Hashem commanding him. Furthermore, Betzalel only used the knowledge he now received from Hashem to build the Mishkan, without using his previous knowledge. This obedience to Hashem is expressed in the saying of Chazal (cited in Rashi, Shemos 38:22) — "You were in the tzeil (shadow) of Hashem."

This was Betzalel's greatness—all that he did was not because of his own brilliance, excellence and wisdom. He knew and understood everything only through Hashem's wisdom. He heard everything from Hashem and carried out all material and spiritual aspects of all the actions with all their inner meaning and fine details strictly, according to how Hashem told him. The Name of Hashem was within him. Wherever he was, Hashem was with him, and this was the source of the Mishkan's kedushoh and because of this the honor of Hashem filled the Mishkan.

This is what Shmuel said to Shaul, `To obey is better than a choice offering' (Shmuel I, 1:22)—the aim of offering korbonos is obeying HaKodosh Boruch Hu. The objective of bringing korbonos is the annulling of one's own entity, becoming closer to Him and being His loyal servant. If one is not submissive to Hashem what use is there for offering a korbon? Without gaining the objective, the offering is worthless. `Listen and your soul will be rejuvenated' (Yeshayohu 55:3).

To further clarify this subject, let us cite more of the clearly defined teachings of the Mirrer Mashgiach (Daas Torah, II pp. 198-199): "The substance of this world is `doing.' Simply doing, without any sophisticated reasons for my doing so. `I am commanded and therefore I am doing it, with no additional reason for my doing it. I am doing it without understanding it at all.' Doing anything based solely on one's understanding is not the substance of Olam Hazeh! `That I command you today, to perform them' (Devorim 8:11). The substance of Olam Hazeh is `to perform them' — to perform acts in a way that is as dry as a bone. To perform simply, without any sophisticated reasons motivating me. The substance of Olam HaMa'aseh (the world of human activity) is that it is a world of emunoh. I believe although I am engulfed in complete darkness, and act simply because I am commanded.

"It is related about R' Zundel Salanter zt'l (see Chochmah UMussar I, essay 175) that when he arrived in Yerushalayim he counted its houses. When people asked him why he did that, he answered: `Is it not written, "Count her towers" (Tehillim 48:13)!'

"Can we grasp the secrets hidden in acting with such simplicity? What is `count its towers'? It is doing something without any reason, carrying it out although it is an extremely dry act without knowing why one is doing it. Nonetheless, this is the substance of Olam Hazeh— doing things that are as dry as a bone. `I believe' is what is needed and no more. It is written `Count its towers' so therefore let us count!

"The gemora (Bovo Basra 75a) teaches us from the posuk: `And make your gates of carbuncle stones' (Yeshayohu 54:12) the following: `R' Yochonon would expound: In the future HaKodosh Boruch Hu will bring precious stones and pearls that are thirty by thirty . . . That talmid mocked: At the present we do not find [precious stones even as big as] an egg of a small bird called ta'atzil. So how can we possibly find precious stones that are so large? At a later time he sailed on a boat and saw mal'ochei hashoreis sawing down precious stones and pearls that are thirty by thirty.' (Beyond question, he was not a simple talmid since we see that he was zocheh to see mal'ochim!). `He came before R' Yochonon and told him: "What the Rebbe expounded was correct. What you told me would be, I indeed saw." He said to him: "Ignoble person! If you did not see [what I taught you to be true] you would not have believed [what I taught you]! You mock what Chachomim say." R' Yochonon stared at him and [that talmid] turned into a pile of bones.

"R' Yochonon didn't kiss his talmid because he was zocheh to see mal'ochim. What a person tangibly sees should be preferable to what he understands with his intellect. But R' Yochonon said to him: "If you did not see, you would not have believed." Your refusal to rely on what I told you shows you do not at all understand the substance of Olam Hazeh. It consists in one's remaining a simple person without actually seeing and without understanding. "I do not understand, I do not know, but I believe" — and not more than that! Do we not have a posuk, "And make your gates of carbuncle stones?" That posuk is true whether I understand it or not! Do we not have a posuk, "Count her towers?" That posuk is true whether I understand it or not!"

End of Part II

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