Sunday, February 24, 2008

Parshat Ki Tissa 3

The Soul of the Torah

The difference between the two sets of tablets that Moshe brings down from Mt. Sinai represent the two completely different spiritual levels that the Jews are on at the time they receive them. The first tablets are described (Shemot 32;15) “They were tablets written on both sides, with the writing visible from either side. The tablets were made by G-d and written with G-d’s script engraved on the tablets”. In contrast, the second tablets are made by Moshe. “Carve out two tablets for yourself, just like the first ones. I will write in those tablets the same words that were on the first tablets that you broke.... Moshe carved out two stone tablets like the first”.

Writing is described as the soul of a book. It needs a physical form, e.g. a scroll or book, to contain it, but it is the words that give inner meaning and purpose to that form. So too with the tablets. Before the sin of the Golden Calf, B’nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) had attained the highest spiritual level. In the forty nine days from the Exodus until Mt. Sinai, they rose up through the forty nine levels of spirituality to reach the level of Adam and Eve before their sin. It was as if their bodies had been directly created by G-d, like those of Adam and Eve. They were therefore able to receive the tablets that had been hewn by G-d Himself. At this level the inner light of the soul permeates the body so thoroughly that it is clearly visible. So too the tablets - the words are visible from either side.

After the episode of the Golden Calf, B’nei Yisrael descended to the level that we remain on today. Our physical bodies are all that we perceive. The only way that we can make the inner light of the soul shine through, is by constantly working on controlling our physical drives and desires, thus elevating our bodies to become a pure vehicle for the soul. This is analogous to the second tablets, which were man made.

We see from this that the way that we are able to receive the Torah is totally dependent upon who we are. In the world of physics it is obvious that a vessel must be suitable for its contents; Pouring boiling hot coffee into a thin plastic cup will melt and destroy the container. What is less obvious is that the same rule also applies in the spiritual realm. For someone to receive Torah at a higher level than that which they themselves are on is destructive. Therefore G-d made the Torah compatible with the spiritual level of the people.

This rule is equally applicable now as it was 3300 years ago when the Torah was given. The Torah is ready and waiting for anybody who cares to seek it. When an individual delves into Torah learning, he or she relives the experience of Mt. Sinai. This is shown in the Halacha regarding the weekly Torah reading. The Shulchan Aruch (Orech Chaim 146;4) states “One doesn’t need to stand while the Torah is being read”, and the Rama adds “There are those who are stringent to stand, and this is what the Maharam did”. The Mishna Brura explains “Even the Maharam agrees that there is no legal obligation to stand, but he holds that it is appropriate to go beyond the letter of the law and stand, because when a person hears the Torah being read he should feel as if he has just received it from Mt. Sinai, and at Mt. Sinai all of Yisrael were standing.”

However, we must make sure that we are suitable vessels to contain the Torah that we learn. If we are not constantly “carving out” our physicality to prepare it as a slate for the Torah to be written on, we run the risk of not being able to contain the Torah that we try to absorb.

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