Throughout the Bible various instances are cited, likening the relationship between G-d and his people, to one between husband and wife. Crucial to remember, the Bible always speaks in the language of man (anthropomorphisms). Similarly, the Bible uses metaphors and symbolic language to liken Israel and the Torah to husband and wife. When immersed deeply in the study of Torah, and glimpses of spiritual insight are reached, it is as if a lover is down on the street and looking longingly upwards, catches a glance of his beloved from behind the window lattice of a royal tower.
A person came to the court of the holy sage, Rabbi Mendel of Kotz.
“So, why have you come here?” asked the righteous Rabbi.
“I’ve come all this way to find G-d.” the guest replied.
“Then you have wasted time and money. G-d is accessible to anyone everywhere.” said Rabbi Mendel.
“Then why should I have come?”
“In order to find yourself.”, replied the Rabbi, – “to find yourself.”
We are about to go on a short journey into the realm of the legitimate keepers of the Torah. Those who put their minds, hearts, and souls into learning the Holy Torah. Those who willingly shoulder this task, will discover great rewards, and will come upon a spiritual landscape that is both vast and beautiful. The rewards of such a journey lead to clarity and happiness.
For the returning 10-Triber, along this journey, come philosophical and physical attacks, one of them being Replacement Theology, This is the theology which underlies the reasoning and conviction of those groups who say to Jews: “Who cares about your ‘man-made’ laws? The antiquity and continuity of your Written and Oral Traditions do not matter. G-d has kicked you out of his Kingdom, tossed you out of the ballpark, thrown you through the window. We are the New Israel. We are no longer ‘under the Law'”
To all this, we respond:
“Oops, you missed it. Your continued persistence to follow in the footsteps of ancient 10-Israel, who rebelled against the Torah and rejected G-d’s appointed Guardians of His Torah, (the Jews – Psalm 60:7; Gen 49:10), has obscured one of the main themes of the Bible to you.”
Surely, The L-rd has chosen Jacob to be His, and Israel as His prized possession…? Surely, the L-rd will not abandon His people, nor forsake His heritage? (Psalms 132:13, Psalm 135:14).
In reality, the Torah contains all that is needed in order to achieve self-awareness – an awareness of what G-d demands of us. The Torah is whole, all-inclusive and provides continuous sustenance to those who seek Him. The same Torah berates us when we sin, but also reminds us of G-d’s everlasting love and undying patience. G-d will never turn His back upon His chosen people. No matter how far they stray, the door of repentance remains open, allowing the repentant soul to return and bask in the light and warmth of an all-loving, all-forgiving G-d.
“He, being Merciful, forgives iniquity, and does not destroy; frequently He turns his anger away, and does not stir up all His wrath” (Ps. 78:38);
“For Thou O L-rd are good and forgiving and exceedingly kind to all those who call upon You” (Ps. 86:5).
An interesting parable illustrates this concept. It is said that when Thomas Edison had finished putting the final touches onto his first light bulb, he requested from one of his young helpers to carry upstairs the new fragile bulb. The nervous lad dropped the fragile bulb, and Edison’s team had to work a full 24 hours more, in order to make a second bulb. When it was finished, Edison once again gave it to the very same helper who had dropped the first bulb. He knew that more than a light bulb was at stake. All the more, so does G-d never take away His love for, or belief in His chosen people. They were chosen to receive the Torah and even if they sometimes drop the light, G-d continues to grant chance after chance, never giving up, and always leaving open, the doorway home.
Austin and Mitchell live next door to each other, and frequently borrow from one another. Austin, however, was better at borrowing than returning. When Mitchell came by, one bright day, he said to his neighbor,
“Would you like to put my power drill and work table in your garage?” “Why would I want you to do that?” asked Austin?
“Because”, said Mitchell, “I like to keep all my tools in the same place.”
When nations borrow from us, fine, but not when they want to completely replace us. Our sages and our G-d understood long ago, that there would be those who would try and claim the Torah as their own, and to our exclusion.
Moshe asked G-d, “Shall I write it (the Torah) down for them?”
G-d answered, “I chose not to give it entirely in writing for I foresee a day when they shall be subservient to other nations, who will then take the Torah (and claim it as their own). Therefore, I shall give the Torah in writing but the Mishnah, Talmud, and Aggadah shall be transmitted orally, so that even when they become subservient to other nations, they shall remain distinct” (Shemot Rabbah 47:1).
Vowels and the Torah
Once a non-Jew asked the great and saintly Shammai: “How many Torahs do you have?”
“Two”, he answered, “One Oral and one Written, as it says: These are the statutes and judgments and laws [Hebrew: “TOROT” (i.e. the plural of Torah], which the L-rd made between Him and the children of Israel in Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses” (Leviticus 26:46).
The non-Jewish fellow said, “I believe you concerning the Written, but not in regards to the Oral Law. Convert me on condition that you teach me only the Written Law.”
Shammai became indignant and sent him away. The man then went to the equally great and saintly Hillel who accepted him for the conversion program. On the first day Hillel taught the person the alphabet: Aleph, beth, gimmel, dalet, etc. On the second day Hillel reversed the letters.
The prospective convert disagreed and said: “Yesterday you taught me a DIFFERENT sequence.”
Hillel answered, “My son, you are relying on me anyway so rely on me concerning the Oral Torah too.”
In other words we would not know how to pronounce the Hebrew Alphabet if not for the Oral Tradition. Similarly in order to understand the Laws we have to rely on Oral Tradition. Without such a tradition even the Written Law would not be accessible.
Listen to this my beloved friends, – our Rabbis and scribes only started putting vowels to Hebrew consonants between the 6th and 10th centuries of our common era. This is the opinion of archaeologists today. The earliest vocalized texts, 895 C.E., are the Cairo Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and 12 Minor Prophets). The twenty-four books of the Bible were vocalized in the Aleppo Codex, 930 C.E., almost ruined in the anti-Jewish pogroms in 1947. Also, the Leningrad Codex with the Hebrew Bible was dated at 1000 C.E.
The Torah scrolls received from the Torah’s revelation at Mt. Sinai, were written without vowels. Throughout the forty years of wandering in the desert, and even during the times of the Prophets, the Torah was read and understood without vowel indicators (The Hebrew alphabet consists of written consonants only, each of which have various vowel pronunciations).
How was this possible?
Complete, utter and absolute reliance was on the Oral Tradition. In the case of the Torah, extra-textural knowledge is crucial to determine the simple meanings of many texts and elucidation of G-d’s wishes. Three times, for example, the Bible says not to cook meat with the three-letter Hebrew word chalav (milk). Chalav can be just as easily pronounced cheylev (animal fats). Without any authoritative Oral Law, we would not know the Divine command was not to cook with some animal fats. This passed on through many millions of people having no questions or doubts because of the clear Oral Bible, which specifies the three letter word to be chalav – milk.
Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz once went to visit his uncle, Rabbi Avraham Yaffeu, who was the head of the Novhardok Yeshivah. This Yeshivah was a college of higher Rabbinic studies that emphasized a particular type of Musar. “Musar” means “Reproval” and is the name applied to a rigorous ethical-spiritual movement in the Torah world. The aim was to hunt out and remove even the slightest hint of ulterior motivation in the service of God and humanity. Rabbi Chaim asked the Rosh Yeshivah (i.e. dean) who amongst his amazing student body was the most outstanding. Rabbi Chaim first showed him various brilliant students with high IQs and photographic memories. He then singled out one boy who was not absolutely the most brilliant. This young man, said Rabbi Chaim, is the greatest searcher. Namely he tries with every fiber of his being to seek out and know G-d’s words, wisdom and will. He puts all his heart and soul into this search and so will excel beyond the others. The student in question became Rabbi Yisroel Kanievsky (“The Stiepler”) who was renowned for his Torah scholarship, community concern, and ability to perform miracles. He passed away only recently. This is the ongoing tradition that has never ceased.
It is easy to preserve, maintain and faithfully transmit the Torah because we cherish it so much.
Cherish is the word I use to describe all the feelings I have, hiding for you inside. You don’t know how many times I’ve wished that I had told you.
You don’t know how many times I’ve wished that I could hold you*.
You don’t know how many times I’ve wished that I could be molded into someone who could cherish you as much as you cherish me.
And we do cherish you and we do cherish you. Cherish is the word.” (Approximately Terry Kirkman). *
“It (the Torah) is a tree of life for those who hold it. And its supporters are happy” (Proverbs 3:18).
Maimonides (Rambam), a world class physician, and philosopher, a giant of mind and soul, carefully recorded the generations since the Giving of Torah at Sinai until his own time 800 years ago. There had passed only 120 generations. We can even list them exactly. Using an Aish HaTorah text, the translation of the names of these spiritual Torch bearers, is as follows
“Unbroken Chain of Transmission”
- Joshua 1312 BCE
- THE ELDERS 1260-860 BCE
- Pinchas and the 70 Elders
- Eli the Kohen
- Samuel the Prophet
- King David
THE PROPHETS 860-360 BCE
- Elijah the Prophet
- Yehoyda the Priest
- Zechariah ben Yehoyda
- Baruch ben Neriah
THE GREAT ASSEMBLY 360-260 BCE
- The Great Assembly consisted of 120 Elders, including Ezra, Zecharia, Daniel and Mordechai
- Shimon the Tzaddik
TANA’IM – MISHNAIC ERA 260 BCE – 200 CE
- Antigonos of Socho
- Yose ben Yozer, Yose ben Yochanan
- Yehoshua ben Perachiah, Nittai of Arbel
- Yehuda ben Tabbai, Shimon ben Shatach
- Shemaya and Avtalyon
- Hillel and Shamai
- R. Shimon ben Hillel, R. Yochanan ben Zakkai
- Rabban Gamliel the Elder, R. Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, R. Yehoshua ben Chananiah, R. Shimon ben Netanel, R. Elazer ben Arakh.
- Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel I, Rebbe Akiva, Rebbe Tarfon, R. Shimon ben Elazar, R. Yochanan ben Nuri.
- Rabban Gamliel II, Rebbe Meir, Rebbe Yishmael, Rebbe Yehuda, Rebbe Yose, R. Shimon bar Yochai
- Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel II
- Rabbi Yehuda the Prince (Codifier of the Mishnah in 190 C.E.)
AMORA’IM – TALMUDIC ERA 200-500 CE
- Rav, Shmuel, Rabbi Yochanan (Compiler of the Jerusalem Talmud)
- Rav Huna, Rav Yehuda, Rav Nachman, Rav Kahana, Rabba bar bar Channa, Rav Ami, Rav Asi
- Rabbah, Rav Yosef, Rav Chisda, Rabba bar Huna
- Abaya, Rava
- Rav Ashi, Ravina (Compilers of the Babylonian Talmud in 500 C.E.)
- And onwards. 120 generations of unbroken transmission up until today.