Wednesday, April 04, 2012
The Torah is Not in Heaven
One of the most famous parts of the Haggadah Shel Pesach is a ‘song’ called Dayenu. Most Orthodox Jews probably know the famous tune that goes along with it. Dayenu means ‘enough!’ The song consists of a series of versus praising God by saying that even if he would have done a lesser kindness for us, it would have been enough for us. Each continuing stanza is an ‘improvement’ over the last one, which culminates in the ultimate kindness of building the Beis HaMikdash.
There are many questions about this song. One of the more famous ones is about the the following stanza:
Had God brought us to Mount Sinai and not given us the Torah, that too would have been enough.
The question arises, Really? It would have been enough for us just to go to that famous mountain and not been given the Torah??? That would have been enough for us? What would that have accomplished? Of what value is going to Mount Sinai without receiving the Torah? Isn’t the Torah what Judaism is all about? Wasn’t that the entire purpose of our Exodus from Egypt?
There are many answers to this question.
Rav Velvel Soloveitchik - the Brisker Rav - answers that indeed the experience of Har Sinai instilled Yiras Shamayim - the awesomeness of God casuing us to have great reverence for Him. That alone – even without the Torah - is a very high religious level of achievement for us. We give gratitude to God for imbuing us with this realization. Of course the Torah gives us even more as it gives us a means to express that gratitude.
But my personal favorite is the answer given by Rav Yechiel Mechel Epstein – the Aruch HaShulchan. There is a famous Gemarah in Bava Metzia (59a) that tells the story of a great dispute between R’ Eliezer and R’ Yehoshua. It was a dispute aout whether a special type of oven called the Tanur Achnai was considered ritually pure. R’ Eliezer held it was not pure. R’ Yehoshua who represented the majority opinion said it was pure. R’ Eliezer was so sure that his view was the correct one that he actually called upon God to mediate the dispute. Immediately a Bas Kol (a Heavenly voice)came down from Heaven and declared R’ Eliezer to be right.
R’ Yehoshua thereupon stood up and declared, “Lo BaShamyim He!” “The Torah is not in Heaven!” “We do not listen to ‘voices’ from Heaven!”
“God in his infinite mercy gave the Torah to man and gave us rules about how to decide matters of dispute in Halacha.” “In matters like this, the majority rules. My position is that of the majority. Hence we ignore God’s imprimatur of your view and follow the majority.”
So strongly was R’ Yehoshua’s admonition of R’ Eliezer that he excommunicated him for the rest of his life!
That God could have told us His laws via Ruach HaKodesh at Mount Sinai - that would have been sufficient. But that he gave us the ability to decide questions in Halacha for ourselves using the rules of exegesis and is willing to accept our decisions as right even when they are ‘wrong’ (as the case of Tanur Achnai shows) that is the most precious gift of all.
Adapted from Torah L’Daas by Rabbi Matis Blum