SPARKS OF TORAH
VOLUME 62 NUMBER 4
August 17, 2012
29 Av, 5772
Candle-lighting Time: 7:36 PM
This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in memory of Sylvia Reader who passed away this week. May her soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.
Hold on to Your Shoes
by Rabbi Raphael Leban
There was once a group of Jews known as Karaites. Their ‘mission statement’ rejected the concept of the Oral Law. Some say they still exist to this very day.
The story is told about a European king of long ago who ruled over a populace that contained many Jews, and among them, a group of Karaites.
The king decided to hold a public debate between the Jews and the Karaites, to determine which of them was the authentic representative of Jewish tradition. The debate would be held in the palace chambers, between the local Rabbi and the leader of the Karaites.
As the debate was about to begin, the Rabbi and the Karaite entered the King’s royal chambers. The Rabbi entered in his bare feet, carrying his shoes in his hand.
Taking note of the Rabbi’s peculiar manner of arrival, the king questioned why he was carrying his shoes into the palace.
“You see, your Majesty,” the Rabbi explained, “we always guard our shoes very carefully in the presence of Karaites. Our tradition tells us that on the day that Moses stood at the burning bush and was told to remove his shoes, a Karaite came and stole them.”
“That’s a lie!” chortled the Karaite. “There were no Karaites back then!”
“Exactly,” said the Rabbi.
And so the debate was settled.
There was a lot more Torah taught to Moses than is written down in the ‘Five Books of Moses’. There is an additional body of philosophical, legal and ethical instructions that accompany the Written Law, known as the Oral Law. Today, a good portion of it is actually written down, and comprises the Mishnah, Talmud and their commentaries.
In fact, our dishwasher has a bit of oral law to it also. Although you will not find it written down in the instruction manual anywhere, if you don’t give the door a good whack closed, it will not start. Everyone in the house knows it, and believe me, it is an ironclad law of the dishwasher, albeit not a written one.
In this week’s parsha there is one of the most direct references to the Oral Law found in the Five Books of Moses. G-d tells us that when we inherit the Land of Israel and live too far from the Holy Temple to bring an offering every time we want to eat meat, we should just shecht a kosher animal and eat it in a non-sacrificial manner. To shecht is to kill the animal in the proscribed Jewish way, with all its specific details and requirements. This injunction ends with the phrase, “…as I commanded you” referring to the details of the process of shechitah. However, these details are found nowhere in the Five Books of Moses, as Rashi points out in his Talmudic commentary to Tractate Chulin. Moses was clearly taught more than he was told to write down.
As anyone with a little experience studying the Talmud knows, there is not a single mitzvah that can be properly fulfilled without the accompanying details contained exclusively in the Oral Law.
Think the prohibition against murder is pretty straightforward? What about in the case of abortion? Or euthenasia? With murder as well as with any mitzvah, there are complexities and applications that are the exclusive realm of the Oral Law.
In fact, it is written in a commentary to the Mishnah called the Tiferes Yisroel that the essential and primary law is the Oral one. The Written Law serves as a sourcebook and memory aid to help us maintain the correct body of Oral Law.
And it is the Oral Law that remains uniquely the heritage of the Jewish people, unlike the Written Law, the Five Books of Moses, translations of which are printed in almost every language on the planet.
So, if you’ve ever read a verse in the Torah and felt like something was missing, it’s with good reason. Don’t settle for the cliff notes, get the whole story. It’s your heritage.
The Grass is Always Greener
by Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum
The Torah foretells of the time when we will finally be rid of our enemies. We will vanquish them and possess our land without contention. It is beautiful to imagine and sweet to envision the peace and serenity that will reign. However, the Torah warns us not to emulate the ways of the nations that we will just have defeated. Rashi explains that we should notice that these nations practiced abominable lifestyles and barbaric customs and we should wisely avoid adopting them ourselves.
One might wonder why we would even think of imitating their way of life when we just finished dispatching them? Sforno sheds some light on this and adds that we might consider copying their practices and instituting them within the framework of our religion. Although we understand the folly of their beliefs, perhaps we could modify their system and incorporate it into our own.
Netziv offers further insight into the mindset that would contemplate incorporating foreign ways into ours. When we come to Israel and see the success that the nations there enjoyed and the prosperous civilization that they developed, we might be deceived into believing that although we conquered them, perhaps we can somehow profit from their prior success. Certainly their idolatrous ways are contemptible and disgraceful; however, we can extract the good from their lifestyle and benefit from it. Thus we are adamantly warned by the Torah not to have even the slightest contact with them. Their attitudes will pollute our psyche and corrupt our perspective. We have a pristine Torah that is pure and whole and does not require any other system of thought or doctrine to buttress it in any way.
Indeed, many of the Rabbinic prohibitions that have been instituted throughout the ages address this very point. Many times we have been attracted to and enticed by the non-Jewish populace amongst whom we live, causing our assimilation and disappearance. Even though we recognize the validity of our own time-tested practices and customs, nonetheless, it is not unusual to desire novelty and the integration of interesting ideas that others employ in their own lifestyle.
Subsequently, it is clear how the Rabbinic institutions are truly rooted and find their basis within the main structure of Torah law. The edicts that they established simply mirrored the concerns voiced by the Torah and brought them to bear in a coherent structure that would allow the Jewish people to continue to function successfully without the interference and disruption that would result from outside religious influences.
Not only is this obvious and clear on an intellectual level, but history has proven it to be legitimate and accurate. Once the integrity of Jewish law has been challenged and compromised, it is only a matter of time until sufficient change occurs and concessions are made that obliterate our clarity of what is right and wrong. It is ludicrous to believe that we would be impervious to the dissemination of alien thought that will eventually drag us down into the chasm of assimilation and ruin. Therefore, with this understood, the Torah vehemently warns us not to contact and deal with the ideas of the foreign host that we reside in and to tenaciously guard our traditions.
Byte For Shabbos
The Chofetz Chaim once commented about people who only give charity and ignore the rest of the Torah. He said that the nations of the world also attend to their poor. Charity is only one mitzvah in the Torah and God chose us because He expects us to fulfill all the mitzvos.
Question for the Rabbis
By Rabbi Mordechai Becher, reprinted with permission from www.partersintorah.org.
“These are the animals that you may eat: the ox… and the zemer” (Deuteronomy14:5). Zemer, the last animal mentioned, is translated by many as giraffe (Saadiah Gaon, Rabbi David Kimchi, Ibn Janach, Septuagint). Indeed, the giraffe chews its cud and has cloven hooves, the two signs of a kosher animal. Rabbi David Lau was asked why we don’t eat giraffe meat. He responded that although it has these signs, according to Rabbi Moshe Isserless (Code of Jewish Law, Yoreh Deah, 82:3) we may only eat an animal if there is an unbroken tradition that it is kosher. Although Rabbi Isserless only states this requirement regarding birds, some commentaries understand that a tradition is also required for non-domesticated animals as well (Shach Y.D. 80:1, Chazon Ish, Y.D. 11:5) He concludes that although some would permit it, the general custom is to forbid it. The myth that it is not eaten due to uncertainty as to where to cut its neck is clearly incorrect, since one may slaughter an animal virtually anywhere on the neck, and the giraffe has the largest “target” area of any animal!
Joke of the Week
The president of the congregation went to the hospital to visit the Rabbi, who had just suffered a mild heart attack. He said, “Rabbi, the board just voted 10 to 4 to wish you a speedy recovery.”