Disciples of Moshe

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Miketz 5773 – translated by R. Blumberg]


Question: What is the right way to learn Torah? Should I try to understand the words of our Sages and the commentaries, or should I clarify what I, myself, have to say and what seems right to me?

Answer: The main point is to acknowledge and believe that G-d's intellect is infinitely above our own humble human intellect. That is the necessary approach for our Torah learning to be real. How can my impoverished intellect be exalted enough to have any contact with the Divine intellect? It is through humbly and reverently understanding my own limitations. Yet, if I do not relate reverently to absolute divine truth, if I try a bit to address it on its own level, then I am not learning the truth of Torah, but only studying my own thoughts and feelings...

That is the question -- am I thinking, speaking and innovating, or am I listening?

Moshe’s greatness was not so much that he came up with his own innovative ideas, but that he listened to the word of G-d. Once and for all, Moshe constructed the foundation of listening to G-d. As Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook wrote: “Man’s greatness, what makes him rise above all that is exalted, is his opening himself up to hear G-d’s voice, to accept G-d’s word, not to innovate with his own ideas, not to set forth a vision, not to become entrenched in the limited resources possessed by man and by every other creature, but to accept. Moshe, the greatest prophet, the most humble man on earth, achieved this exaltedness entirely by listening to G-d, and that listening was not tainted at all by the darkness of man’s limitations. The way he listened to G-d established forever how man should do that” (Olat Re'eiyah 2, 159).

What most epitomized Moshe greatness was his listening to the word of G-d, devoid of any influences from without  that could deplete that greatness. He was free of all the pettiness of man's individuality and temporality, thus enabling him to exalt himself totally to the eternal, infinite Divine truth. If I am humble, I learn Torah in order to try to exalt my intellect to that of the Torah. Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook would explain that one must strive to bring one's intellect closer to that of the explanation by the Tosafot commentary, and not to try to bring the Tosafot commentary closer to one’s own intellect. After all, the words of the Tosafot are G-dly. They constitute Divine intuition.

But if I try to clarify what I say and not what our Sages said, than I must first define who "I" am. After all, I am just the product of a certain education and environment. If it is I who determines the Torah’s meaning, then I transform it from holy to profane. Then it is no longer G-d's word. It is I. Then I no longer have Torah.

It all depends on my humbly believing that Torah is divine, far loftier that all of man's thoughts.

We certainly have nothing against secular knowledge. But the secular must be informed and illuminated by the sacred. If, however, I arrogantly raise myself up above the Torah, engaging in intellectual inquiry or merely trying to satisfy my emotions, and I turn the holy into the profane, then I am spiritually dead. The purity of my faith has then been robbed from my soul.

When this approach gains sway, the result is spiritual destruction.

In contrast to paganism, which involves man’s listening to himself, Moshe opened the gate for the entire human race to heed G-d's word.

The primary condition for achieving any contact with the Torah is absolute humility, as Maharal explains at the beginning of Netiv Ha-Torah. Otherwise, I don't see the Torah. I only see myself. “Moshe was pleased with the gift bestowed on him, for You did call him a faithful servant. A glorious crown did You place on his head as he stood before You on Mount Sinai. He brought down in his hand the two tablets of stone” (Shabbat Morning Shemoneh Esreh)

“The word of G-d – ‘Behold, the day is coming when I will send a famine in the Land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the word of Hashem.’” (Amos 8:11)