Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Health Dose of Torah–Chaye Sarah
I cringe every time someone refers to Torah as “Law.” The Torah has no vowels and no sentence structure, so, no one can ever say, “The Torah says …” Torah can say many things. As a recovering lawyer, I know that laws cannot be ambiguous; the courts rule that they are “void for vagueness.” All that said, I read a commentary based on the teachings of Rav Avraham Kook (ostensibly Israel’s first Chief Rabbi). The writer remarked about two types of Torah: a. the Torah of the Patriarchs, and b. The Torah of the Descendants. I had never thought about scripture in this light before. We normally speak of the written Torah versus the Oral Torah.I cringe every time someone refers to Torah as “Law.” The Torah has no vowels and no sentence structure, so, no one can ever say, “The Torah says …” Torah can say many things. As a recovering lawyer, I know that laws cannot be ambiguous; the courts rule that they are “void for vagueness.” All that said, I read a commentary based on the teachings of Rav Avraham Kook (ostensibly Israel’s first Chief Rabbi). The writer remarked about two types of Torah: a. the Torah of the Patriarchs, and b. The Torah of the Descendants. I had never thought about scripture in this light before. We normally speak of the written Torah versus the Oral Torah.
Thinking about the dichotomy that Rav Kook raised, a mundane piece of text (in my eyes) took on new life. This week’s portion goes on at length about the Biblical Abraham’s instructions to Eliezer. Abraham sends his servant off to the “homeland” to find a wife for Isaac (Abe’s son). The specific instructions play out several times over, and one almost wants to skip over them the last times they get uttered.
However, Rav Kook teaches that the Torah of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the discussions of our ancestors take precedence in sacred authority over the “rules and regulations” offered by Moses and Aaron throughout the rest of the text. The conversations between our sacred ancestors come candidly from their hearts. The rules of religion come through formulated statements and thought out processes. The words of the heart are always more telling than the planned words from the mind’s processes. We have the capacity to formulate formal statements. The heart, though, speaks with greater truth and spontaneity.This conversation between Abraham and Eliezer focused on finding a life partner for Isaac. Spoken from the heart, this was a matter of the heart. So consumed in justifying this enormous amount of trust placed in him, Eliezer repeated his charge over and over, to make sure that he did just as his master had instructed. The story carries an urgency about it.
When we speak with each other, the intimacy and urgency of what we share runs far deeper than any rule we read out of a legal code or rule book. In every facet of life, those called on to interpret and enforce the rules do so only in light of the human interaction that begged the question. Whether it is a penalty on the football field or the driving infraction on a highway, it ultimately falls on the one seeking to enforce the rules to decide whether to (or how to) impose sanctions for any offense. The rule does not change. What changes, is the way in which we interpersonally understand the circumstances of the moment and the people involved.
For this very reason, the “Torah of People” must hold primacy over the “Torah of Rules.” If I am responsible for deciding the fate of another in any given situation, I had better be faithful in my discernment. It is rarely in the law that we find discrimination; it is almost always in how to whom we apply it. Bigotry and ego hold its greatest power when part of a law maker’s/enforcer’s decision making.
Rabbi Abraham Heschel taught us that the world needs more Torah people and fewer Torah books. For two decades as Rabbi, I always thought that this referred to the need for people to do more good work. Torah’s greatest command is to community healing. It teaches us to secure the dignity and safety of the weakest amongst us. Torah reminds us that we are stewards of the earth and all its array. What I learned this week, though, was that these lofty ideals are still secondary to one greater command. In being Torah people, we must accept, as primary to all mitzvoth, that honoring one’s dignity transcends all other commandments. The Torah of people demands that whatever the rules of the community, the interpersonal relationship we share with each other is more important. The rest cannot matter if we do not begin every conversation with the heartfelt belief that when we speak with each other, the most sacred of engagements happens right there and then. Any conversation that begins anywhere else is blasphemy. Perhaps this makes the “Torah of People” the greatest “law” of humanity. While I am sure that most people who call Torah “law” do not see it this way, I have to reframe my own thoughts on the matter. Shabbat Shalom.