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4 Sivan 5766 - May 31, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
From Sinai Until Now: Moshe Rabbenu's Torah

A Shmuess Delivered by HaRav Yitzchok Hutner zt'l, Shavuos 5740
Prepared from Notes Taken by Reb Leib Rutta


From Sefer Hazikaron Lemaran Baal Pachad Yitzchok ztvk'l, pp.129-130

In retrospect, it is striking that on the last Shavuos of his life he dwelt on the fact that, "Every generation loses a Moshe Rabbenu, with whom three thousand halachos are also lost" (they were forgotten during the mourning period of Moshe Rabbenu). However, we also received a special gift from Moshe, something that preserves tradition with its power to retrieve forgotten teachings — pilpul. Osniel ben Kenaz's retrieval, through pilpul, of the halachos that were forgotten during the mourning for Moshe set a precedent for future generations. Besides the actual Torah that Moshe taught Yisroel he generously shared this means of preservation so that Torah would always remain with those who received it.

The essence of the trait of giving generously is the underlying wish to confer permanence, as the Ramban comments on the posuk, "and He saw that it was good." Everything in creation was first brought into being by Hashem's utterance and then given permanence through His "seeing that it was good." It is therefore fitting that generosity was the key to the transmission of pilpul. Looking upon something with benevolence makes it permanent and eternal. Pilpul ensures the permanence and continuity of tradition by making possible the retrieval of what has been forgotten.

Our teacher continued by noting that the task of disseminating Torah includes transmitting the ability, "to continue carrying oneself even when he (the teacher) is no longer there." This represents Moshe's presence in each generation. Torah dissemination in every generation must be like that of Moshe Rabbenu. It must include transmitting learning together with the ability to preserve Torah.

There was nothing coincidental about the ideas that our teacher expressed on that occasion. They reflected the different stages of his own service. The brimming wellsprings of Torah that he disseminated were inseparably linked to his generosity and benevolence. How very significant it is that the last ma'amar that he delivered on his last Shavuos was on this very subject, on the trait of generosity, which is the key to retrieving what has been forgotten and to continuity after the mourning period.

Our teacher also said, quoting the Vilna Gaon, that the last mitzvah in the Torah, to write a sefer Torah, corresponds to "seeing that it is good" with respect to receiving the Torah in its entirety, for committing something to writing stems from the wish to accord it permanence.

Moshe's Torah

"Remember the Torah of Moshe, My servant" (Mal'achi 3:22). This posuk comes at the end of the last sefer of the recorded prophecies. The role of a prophet in Yisroel, the Rambam writes, is not, "to modify the law but to instruct about divrei Torah and to warn the people not to transgress it, as the last of them said, `Remember the Torah of Moshe, My servant' " (Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah 9:2).

The term "the Torah of Moshe, My servant," lays down a general principle applying to all prophecy.

The Sound of the Shofar

The posuk describes Hashem's voice at Sinai as "a mighty sound that did not cease" (Devorim 5:19).

In his commentary the Ramban points out that we are told that the sound of the shofar at Sinai, in contrast, "was continually growing much stronger" (Shemos 19:19). Chazal say that the shofar's blast was gentle to begin with in order to allow the people to get used to the sound gradually.

"That may have been the case with the sound of the shofar," writes the Ramban, "but Hashem's voice, while delivering the ten Dibros, was unchanging."

There is certainly a hidden meaning in this but we shall explain it on our own level.

Teaching Talmidim

"And you shall learn them (ulemadetem)," (Devorim 5:1);

"Teach them (velimadetem) to your sons that they should speak about them," (11:19);

"And you shall teach them thoroughly (veshinantom) to your sons," (6:7, Rashi: "`Sons' means disciples").

Whether or not these three pesukim are counted as three separate mitzvos, they certainly impose three distinct obligations. [Ed. note: see Sefer Chareidim 12:15 and Sefer Yereim 25-30.]

The third mitzvah differs from the first two, however, in that the command is expressed in the singular form rather than in the plural.

Moshe's Gift Brings Back His Torah

"The Torah was only given to Moshe and his descendants — as it says, `Write for yourself' (Shemos 34:27) . . . `Hew for yourself' (Ibid. posuk 1). Just as [the surplus stone from the] hewing is yours, the writing is also yours — but Moshe was generous and gave it to Yisroel. The posuk, "A generous spirited person will be blessed for he shared his bread with the pauper" (Mishlei 22:9) applies to him" (Nedorim 38).

The gemora queries this statement, showing from pesukim that Moshe was indeed told to convey the Torah to Yisroel. It concludes that it refers "just to pilpul." Rashi explains pilpul as being, "the deduction from one piece of knowledge of a further one; this was [originally] given [just] to Moshe and he was generous and gave it to Yisroel."

"I was standing between Hashem and between you at that time, to tell you Hashem's word . . ." (Devorim 5:5). This posuk thus has a double meaning. Moshe acted as a go- between in the giving of the Torah and, in addition, he generously shared the dimension of Torah known as pilpul which had been given to him, with Yisroel.

[Each mitzvah carries four supplemental obligations. These are,] "to learn, to teach, to guard and to practice," (Sotah 37, Rashi). The Maharsha shows that "guarding" cannot be understood here in the sense of guarding oneself from transgressing a negative commandment (as Chazal do when it appears as an imperative in a posuk). Here, he says, it relates to practice, that is, imposing a distinct obligation to protect oneself through constant review from forgetting what one has been taught. The Brisker Rov (on parshas Voeschanon) explains that "guarding" refers to preserving the tradition that is transmitted from generation to generation and specifically applies to the Oral Torah (See Pachad Yitzchok, Shavuos, ma'amar 38).

"Three thousand halachos were forgotten during the period of mourning for Moshe Rabbenu . . . When Moshe Rabbenu departed to Gan Eden . . . Yehoshua's strength diminished and he could not recall three hundred halachos . . . The beraissa learns, `One thousand and seven hundred halachos of varying difficulty . . . were forgotten during the period of mourning for Moshe Rabbenu . . . yet Osniel ben Kenaz retrieved them with the power of his pilpul' " (Temurah 16).

The power of pilpul is such that it brought back Torah that Moshe had given to Yehoshua that had been forgotten.

Benevolence and Permanence

"G-d saw the light, that it was good" (Bereishis 1:4). The Ramban and the Vilna Gaon explain that here, "seeing" a thing [on the part of Hashem] represents its being given permanence. The Ramban says that every part of creation was initially brought into being through Hashem's utterance and then made enduring through His "seeing that it was good." He writes, " . . . their existence depends on His will and if His will is removed from them for a moment they become nothing. When it says about every day's deeds, `And G-d saw that it was good . . .' [it means that] He wanted them to exist forever . . ."

The Ramban explains that the verb `to see' is used here in the sense of `to approve,' or, `uphold:' "Hashem approved of the light . . ." He points out that this is the way it is used in the Mishnah, "I see Admon's opinion," i.e. I approve of and uphold it (Kesuvos 12:1). [Ed. Note. See Nefesh HaChaim, Shaar III, perek 11.]

With man's creation on the sixth day Hashem saw, "all that He had made and behold, it was very good" (1:31). The Ramban writes, "This refers to the conferral of permanence, as I explained . . . Some explain that because of man's exalted level [an] extra [word] is added in praise of his creation, `that it was very good.' The higher a creature's level the more "sight" needed to give it permanence [hence the additional word].

The source of the trait of benevolence is Hashem's "seeing" that "the light was good" and that "everything He had made" was `very good.' " [See Reshimos Lev, Succos 5734, Ushpiza deYaakov.]

The Ramban (on Bamidbor 1:45) gives the following explanation for Hashem's command to count bnei Yisroel. "And, coming before the father of all prophets and his brother, Hashem's holy one, and becoming known to them by name [through the counting process] is a merit and a source of life for a person, for he [thereby] becomes part of the people and enters the record of bnei Yisroel . . . There is merit for all in the counting before Moshe and Aharon for they look upon him with benevolence." [See Reshimos Lev, Pesach 5734, first day of Chol Hamoed.]

By the same token, Chazal also mention an "evil, maligning eye" (Bava Metzia 107) and "damage caused by seeing" (Bava Basra 2). "A person may not wait in his friend's field when it is full of standing crops" (Bava Basra ibid. ) All of these are harmful and represent the opposite trait to that mentioned in the posuk, "a person who looks with benevolence," which accords permanence.

"Write for yourselves" (Devorim 31:19). This mitzvah — to write a sefer Torah — is the last of the Torah's 613 mitzvos. [The Vilna Gaon explains that] the command to write down the Torah corresponds to "seeing that it was good" — looking favorably on receiving Torah in its entirety, for writing something down is a consequence of the wish to accord it permanence [which a benevolent look, or contemplation, confers]. [See Sefer Hazikaron, end of Zichronos.]

Retrieving Forgotten Torah and Ensuring Torah is not Forgotten

"I was standing between Hashem and between you at that time, to tell you Hashem's word . . ." Here Moshe implemented the trait of "looking with benevolence" — if any part of the tradition would be forgotten, his generosity in having shared pilpul would make its retrieval possible.

"Just as [the surplus stone from the] hewing is yours, the writing is also yours." The extra stone that fell away after Moshe hewed the Luchos corresponds to those parts of Torah that could fall away from the rest and become forgotten.

"Yet Osniel ben Kenaz retrieved them with the power of his pilpul" — because when Moshe was on the mountain he received Torah pilpul and generously shared it with Yisroel.

"A generous-spirited person will be blessed for he shared his bread with the pauper" — this posuk applies to Moshe Rabbenu.

This is why the obligation `to guard' Torah refers to guarding the tradition that relates specifically to the Oral Torah, for it embodies the retrieval of Torah through Torah pilpul.

Disseminating Torah, which is Torah's transmission [to future generations] must follow Moshe Rabbenu's example.

"And you shall teach them thoroughly (veshinantom) to your sons," (6:7, Rashi: " `Sons' means disciples") — because Torah pilpul brings back halachos that have been forgotten with the passage of time.

[See Pachad Yitzchok Chanukah, ma'amar 10:6, where a principle of the Vilna Gaon's (in Aderes Eliyahu, Nitzovim 28:19) is mentioned: When the Torah speaks in the second person singular, all of Klal Yisroel is being addressed as a unit, while the plural speaks to each individual separately.

Thus, "teach them thoroughly (veshinantom) to your sons," written in a singular form, addresses Knesses Yisroel at each generation's level and refers to ensuring that Torah is not forgotten by future generations.

By contrast, "Teach them (velimadetem)," is a plural and refers to each individual. ]

All Torah dissemination must follow Moshe Rabbenu's example; every Torah disseminator must possess the trait of benevolence.

"In the future, Torah will be forgotten by Yisroel" (Shabbos 138) is a feature of our nation's life that will remain with us until the end of days. The same applies to, "Yet Osniel ben Kenaz retrieved them with the power of his pilpul." Despite being contradictory and conflicting, both these features remain with us.

"Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai says, `Chas vesholom that Torah should be forgotten by Yisroel, as it says, "For it will not be forgotten by their descendants" (Devorim 31:21)' " (Shabbos ibid..)

End of Part I

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