Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Three Torahs

Towards the end of Parshat Mishpatim, we have a slightly redundant verse (Ex. 24:12):

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהוָ֜ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֗ה עֲלֵ֥ה אֵלַ֛י הָהָ֖רָה וֶהְיֵה־שָׁ֑ם וְאֶתְּנָ֨ה לְךָ֜ אֶת־לֻחֹ֣ת הָאֶ֗בֶן וְהַתֹּורָה֙ וְהַמִּצְוָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר כָּתַ֖בְתִּי לְהֹורֹתָֽם׃

"And God said to Moshe, 'Ascend to me to the mountain and be there, and I will give to you the tablets of stone and the Teaching and the Command which I have written to teach you.'"

Why does it say "which I have written"? God is giving us the Torah and the Mitzvot, the Ten Statements in which are encoded the 613 mitzvot, which he has composed, why does He add "written"? Further, He doesn't write the Torah, Moshe does, He only supplies the text to Moshe.

The usual reading is that the Torah and the Mitzvah are the Written and Oral Torahs - this implies that there is a Third Torah being given by God. What could that be?

The Meshech Chochmah suggests two possibilities. One, from a Gemara in Brachot ch. 5 (and explained further in Nedarim), is that God is giving the Neviim and Ketuvim, and all the chiddushim yet to be written by all future students of Torah. That is, the Torah and the Mitzvah are the bones, the structure, the form of Torah. But what do the Neviim and Ketuvim add? The substance, the theology, the philosphical underpinnings, the meaning of the Torah and Mitzvot. The chiddushim of all future students continue to refine and shape our relationship to Torah, our relationship to God. As the Chasidim like to say, God Torah and Israel are One. We help out in the creation of that relationship, but all our inspiration ultimately comes from God, Who continues to write His Torah. [Yes, that's continuous revelation, but of course such revelation only comes to the prepared mind, as the Ramchal might have said.]

The other possibility, from the Rashbam, is that the third Torah is the Book of Nature. God created the Torah and gave it to us as an information transfer, but God also created the natural world and gave it to humankind to study and dominate and use, within the limits set by halacha. But we can also learn from biology, the middos, the ethical attributes that we are supposed to follow. As the gemara says, we learn modesty from the cat, we learn about theft from the ant. If animals can follow God's Will, surely we who are a higher order of creation can follow God's will as well? So we are to learn biology, specifically animal behavior, as an integral part of the Torah life. Perhaps this also extends to other fields of scientific endeavour, as we are to also have awe for God? And as we learn more about the universe and its workings, we are more awed by He who spoke and the world was.

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