Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • V'zot Habracha
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Parashat Vezot Haberacha

The Written and Oral Torah

On the one hand, Israel is the bride, and the Written Torah is the groom, influencing the bride with its Divine wisdom. On the other hand, the Oral Torah is given over to the Jewish people like a bride, to be learned, taught, developed, expanded upon, and beautified.


Rabbi Moshe Chaviv

Tishrei, 5763
1. Israel - the Bride or the Groom?
2. The First Answer: God and the Torah
3. The Second Answer: The Written and Oral Torah

Israel - the Bride or the Groom?
"Moses prescribed the Torah to us, an eternal heritage for the congregation of Jacob" (Deuteronomy 33:4). The Sages of the Talmud expounded: "Rather than reading it 'Morasha' (heritage), read it 'Me'orasa' (betrothed)." That is, the Torah is viewed as betrothed to the Jewish people - the Torah is the bride, Israel is the groom.
In the same vein, we find in the Midrash: "This teaches that the Torah is betrothed to Israel, as it is written, 'I will betroth you to Me forever.'" And it is further written there that just as the groom (i.e., Israel), before taking his bride (the Torah), frequents the home of his in-laws, while after the marriage the bride's father comes to visit her; in the same respect, so long as Torah had not been given to Israel, "Moses went up to God;" once Torah had been given, God said to Moses, "Make for me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them."

Yet, surprisingly, we find a parable that claims the opposite: that Israel is likened to a bride. For example, regarding the passage in our portion, "God came forth from Sinai," it is explained that, "He came out to them when they came to stand at the foot of the mountain like a groom coming to greet his bride" (Tur in the name of the Mechilta, Yithro 3).
It must be explained, then, how on the one hand Israel is likened to a groom betrothing his wife-to-be, i.e., the Torah, while on the other hand the opposite seems to be the case: Israel appears as a bride being betrothed.

Lubavitch's Alter Rebbe, in his classic "Likutei Torah" addresses this question. In order to understand his explanation let us explain the meaning of the Hebrew term "Chatan," (groom) as opposed to "Kala" (bride). The word "Kala" is reminiscent of the Hebrew verb for desire or longing, as in Psalms 84:3: "My soul longs ('Kalta'), indeed, it yearns for the courts of God." Similarly, a bride looks forward longingly to her wedding day, for it is most natural for the man to give the family its spiritual direction; the woman, on the other hand, longs to receive this content. Upon receiving this spiritual ingredient she takes upon herself the duty of giving it practical expression, of working the soil in order to bring forth fruit.

The First Answer: God and the Torah
In light of this, the Alter Rebbe's first answer is understandable. Our contradiction is explainable if we look at it as expressing the difference between the relationship of Israel to God and the relationship of Israel to Torah. In relation to God, Israel is justifiably likened to a bride who pines and longs for her wedding day, who longs for a relationship that will fill the life of the Jewish people with meaning. Yet, when related to the Torah, the Jewish people are likened to a groom, for they make their influence felt upon the Torah in their studies.

The Second Answer: The Written and Oral Torah
The Alter Rebbe continues by explaining that by making a distinction between the Oral and the Written Torah it is possible to explain our two apparently contradictory sources. When Israel is the bride, the groom is the Written Torah influencing the bride through higher wisdom. The twenty-four books of the Scriptures are likened to a pitcher of water from the great sea (the number twenty-four in Hebrew spells out the word "Kad," or pitcher). From this pitcher, a little bit of water is given to a thirsty congregation.

From our point of view, though, Israel is unable to change or to add a single letter to the Written Torah. The blessing over the Torah reads, "Blessed are You, O God, Who gave us the Torah of truth …" - "This," says the Tur and the Shulchan Arukh, "refers to the written Torah." It is like an absolute truth that is impossible to appendage or detract from. To the contrary, one is influenced by every letter and crownlet in it.

The Oral Torah, on the other hand, is given over to the Jewish people like a bride, to be learned, taught, developed, expanded and beautified. Such was the case with Rabbi Akiva who expounded many of laws from each crownlet on the letters of the Torah. The Tur adds that "…and implanted eternal life within us," refers to the Oral Torah. "Implanted" like a young plant that grows and blossoms in the hands of the Sages for eternal life. The longer the groom, Israel, sits on its throne - i.e., is properly settled in its land, with the Holy Temple, a kingdom, priesthood, and prophecy - the more the Oral Torah blossoms and grows with all of its splendorous beauty, and unites with the Written Torah (see Rabbi A.I. Kook's Orot HaTorah 81) - a union that perfects each of them.

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