Shavuot – Torah-The Essence of Existence

By Avner Friedmann

The Torah is the infinite wisdom of Hashem[1], and as such it is one with Him. As mortal beings in physical bodies and finite minds, it therefore is actually beyond our capability to comprehend or relate to its true inner depth and profundity; as it is written[2]: “No thought can grasp Him at all.” Nonetheless, HaShem wanted to give us the ability to have a relationship with Him. He therefore put Himself in the Torah, so to speak, and brought it down to our comprehension level by level, through countless spiritual realms, diminishing the revelation of His light until the Torah became invested in tangible terms that our human minds could relate to. Finally, it took the form of the mitzvot and stories of the Torah, such as the story of Adam and Chava, Yoseph being thrown into a pit, the exile in Egypt, the building of a Mishkan (Tabernacle), Korach being swallowed by the earth, the incident of the spies etc. As the Holy Zohar explains,[3] these stories embody many levels of spiritual realities and ultaimately connect us to the infinite One, Blessed is He.

Thhe Torah is compared to water[4], as it is written[5]: “Ho, everyone who is thirsty; go to the water.” Just like the nature of water is to go from a higher level to a lower level, so does the Torah descend from its source in the Infinite, which is beyond time and space, until it finally comes to this physical universe that we live in and experience through our senses. Just as water is the source of our lives, so is the Torah the source of our lives; and just as water does not essentially change when it descends to the lower level, so the Torah has not changed from its essence in the Source. The chaining down (Seder Hishtalshelut) of the Torah, through many levels and changes is only from our perspective. In reality however, no real change has taken place at all, as it is written[6]: “For I, Hashem, have not changed.” This is why King David prayed[7], “Unveil my eyes so that I may perceive the wonders of Your Torah.”

The Torah contains many deep and hidden secrets. It is like a teacher who wants to relate a deep intellectual concept to his students, but because they are not on his intellectual level they cannot possibly grasp his thoughts; so he explains the idea through simple metaphors, with words and concepts that they can understand. In essence, the metaphor contains the entire knowledge of the teacher in an encapsulated form. Likewise, in their inner dimension, the mitzvot and stories of the Torah contain Hashem’s Will and Wisdom, but in terms that we can connect to. Just like the students will eventually grasp the deeper meanings behind the teacher’s metaphors if they diligently contemplate his teachings, so will we eventually arrive at the deeper meaning of Torah and mitzvot through diligent study and introspection.

The Talmud tells us[8] that when Moshe went up to Heaven to receive the Torah, the Angels asked HaShem, “What is someone born of woman doing amongst us?” HaShem replied, “He has come to receive the Torah.” They said, “You intend to give the Holy Torah to flesh and blood? Leave the Torah in Heaven!” HaShem then told Moshe, “Get a hold of the Throne of My Glory and give them an answer.” Moshe said to the Angels, “Look what it says in the Torah! Did you go down to Egypt? Do you have to keep Shabbat? Do you have a father and a mother that you need to honor? Does stealing, murdering, or committing adultery relate to you? Is there envy among you? Do you have an evil inclination?”  The Angels did not want the Torah to take that final step to relate to the physical world. They wanted it to remain in the spiritual realm. However, they eventually conceded and gladly agreed that ultimately the Torah should come down to earth.

The Torah is not meant for angels, but for human beings who live in a physical reality which conceals Hashem; a reality which consists of an inclination towards negative desires (the Yetzer HaRa) and in which difficult choices must be made to overcome it and keep Torah and mitzvot, thus developing a relationship with Hashem. The Medrash states[9] that ever since Moshe brought the Torah down to earth, the existence of the physical and the spiritual worlds all depend on our learning Torah. The Holy Zohar says[10] that when we study Torah and do mitzvot, Hashem rejoices with His creation; He gathers those same Angels and proudly shows them the holy nation He has below in the physical world, and they respond, “Who is like Your people, like Israel, a unique nation upon the earth.”[11]

The world was created through the Torah, for the Jewish people to keep Torah and mitzvot[12]. Torah is the manual for our lives, and makes it possible to know Hashem and come close to Him. By toiling in the Torah for HaShem’s sake, we gradually will merit to behold the great light that Hashem hid for the righteous in the World to Come[13]. May we all behold the true and complete redemption, through our righteous Moshiach, which will usher in that great and glorious time. May it be speedily in our days. Amen.

[1] Zohar Chukat 182a and Zohar Chadash 44b.

[2] Tikunei Zohar 121a.

[3] Beha’alotcha 152a, and Toldot 135a.

[4] Tanchuma Ki Tavo 3. Yalkut Shimoni Shemot 7.

[5] Isaiah 55:1.

[6] Malachi 3:6.

[7] Psalms 119:18.

[8] Shabbat 88b.

[9] Beresheet Rabah 19.

[10] Teruma 155b.

[11] Shmuel Beit, 7:23.

[12] Zohar Vaykra 11b.

[13] See Chagiga 12.

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