Translated by: R’ Yaakov Klein
The article that follows is part one (of three) of a remarkable essay entitled, “Mesiras Moda’ah.” This work, which is printed in the back of sefer Derech HaMelech, was penned by Rav Kaloynimus Kalmish Shapira zy”a, the Piacezner Rebbe, as an introduction to his commentary on the Zohar HaKadosh, “Reshimos HaZohar”. Aside from this essay and a single discourse, this work was tragically lost during the Holocaust. We hope you enjoy, and please remember to share this important article with family and friends!
In the process of repenting and returning to Hashem on behalf of am Yisrael and their rebellious ways, Ezra HaSofer said, “And now, what can we say to You, our God, after this that we have forsaken (ki azavnu) Your mitzvos?” (Ezra 9:10)
Let us focus in on this word, “azivah”, “forsaking”.
This word does not imply that the one who forsakes actively damages the thing he has forsaken in the act of forsaking. The damage happens afterwards, by way of another force. This is like the verse states regarding the Egyptians, “And he who did not take to heart etc., left (vaya’azeiv) his servants and flocks in the field…” (Shemos 9:21) Here too, it was not the one who forsook that killed his flock, but the hail that later fell.
However, when one forsakes the mitzvos, this forsaking is in and of itself an act of nullification. For example, one who leaves the Succah on Succos has “nullified” the mitzvah.
Why, then, did Ezra use the word “azavnu” in this context – especially when referencing the aveiros actively committed by his generation?
How to bring the Torah IN?
When Ezra contemplated the entire Jewish enterprise and scanned the entire chain of the nation’s sins from the ancient past until the present day, he said, “From the days of our fathers until this very day, we have borne great guilt.” (Ezra 9:7) He found that only unique individuals had achieved the status of tzaddikim, but not the general populace. This pained him very greatly, for Hashem gave the Torah to the entire Jewish nation – we are one unit, one body. Certainly, the collective organism cannot be fulfilled on account of scattered parts within it; one per city or two per family. Therefore, Ezra searched for some advice, some strategy for how to go about healing the brokenness of his People and how to mend the wounds inflicted in the Torah by those who had transgressed Her ways.
He lifted his eyes and saw the Torah herself, her essential spirit standing outside of the Jewish nation. All of her pleas were ineffective; even after all of her cries, “Open up for me, my sister etc.”, none succeeded in entering their hearts or penetrating the hidden places of their souls. Ezra approached to discover the path and alleyway which leads into the innermost depths of Man’s heart, the path through which the Torah would be able to enter.
He observed that emotion and intellect are the pathways of Man through which all matters of the world and its folly enter – empty beliefs, foreign thoughts, lowly impulses, and delusions. He found that when these streams are flowing within Man, they fill his spirit and defile him. By their whims, all of his actions and ambitions are decided. And the Torah, which ought to be our life-force, our soul, and the strength of our hearts, stands outside – ashamed. It is only when the maidservant, who has inherited the place of the queen, grants permission for a gift or an easy mitzvah to be given to the Torah – the princess, who stands in her humiliation outside – that Man feels compelled to do so.
Is this the way of the Torah? Should a person whose entire essence and life is not bound up with Hashem and His Torah merit to be called by the name “Yisrael”?
But in truth, how is it possible to bring the Torah – its spirit and soul which are “expansive as the earth in measure” – into the opening in the heart of man if this opening isn’t as wide as the opening of a hall, as is the case with B’nei Aliyah who are very few in number? It was this problem about which Ezra prayed and bemoaned, “From the days of our fathers until this very day, we have borne great guilt.” Even the mitzvos we have sporadically performed were only in the way of a “consolation prize” to the forsaken Torah which stood outside of us.
The Gift of Torah SheBaal Peh
And so Hashem guided Ezra and inspired him along with other tzaddikim of the period with ruach hakodesh to reveal Torah Sh’Baal Peh. Not the practical guidelines and final rulings alone; rather, they were inspired to reveal the intellect and emotion within the Torah, aligned with the intellect and emotion of Man, so that the Torah could enter through these gateways and settle within Man to become one with him. Thus, the Mishna, whose redaction began with Ezra and the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah which he established, does not simply list practical laws. It also includes discussion and analysis, so that every person in accordance with his circumstance would be able to understand and begin to bring the Torah into his consciousness. This is why the Gemara of the Mishnaic period has not remained with us, for chazal’s entire intention in giving us the Gemara was to further enable the Torah to enter our minds. Once the analysis and Gemara of the Amoraim was revealed, that of the Tannaim was hidden. When a person uses his intellect to deeply contemplate the Torah, which contains the Wisdom and Will of Hashem – for this is what He Wanted, for a certain, specific action to be considered a mitzvah – one has begun to bring the Torah inside his mind, and Hashem, God of the Jewish nation, dwells within him, as is known.
The Unique Function of Aggadah
However, if Chazal used the Gemara to speak to the intellect of Man, and to enable the Torah to enter within him by way of this study, they used Midrash and Aggadah to speak to the emotions of his heart. This is as the Gemara states, “It tugs at the heart like Aggadah” (See Chagigah 14a) – specifically the heart. In other words, Chazal constricted within the words of Midrash the emotions they felt and experienced in every mitzvah and in each word of Torah study, so that every person – in accordance with his unique circumstances – would be able to feel and become inspired upon learning and verbalizing the words of the Midrash.
The Difference Between Earlier and Later Generations
Here, there is a distinction between generation and generation. In the words of the Torah, Neviim, and Kesubvim, there is “enough to burn” and “enough for burnt-offerings” (see Yeshayahu 40:16) with which to lift the souls of every Jewish person in a fire of elevation, with passion and inspiration, until the heart trembles and melts from the awesomeness of his emotions and yearning for Hashem. Aside from the light which the holy works illuminate within the heart of every Jewish person and the holiness every letter brings upon him without his even being aware of it, how expansive and inspired does the Jewish heart grow upon reading words such as, “For what great nation is there that has a god so close at hand as is Hashem our God whenever we call out to Him?”! (Devarim 4:6)
However, the holy writings were revealed in the earlier generations, at a time when am Yisrael was closer to unity, collectivity – a single nation dwelling together in a single land under the Source of our strength, Hashem Echad. The energy of constriction had not yet implanted the claws of division between them, to separate between man and his fellow, each person arrogantly standing alone. Man had not yet experienced internal division, each bodily power and physical limbs standing alone, independent from their spiritual source. Therefore, there was no need to inspire each specific energy and limb toward every mitzvah it was appointed to accomplish and to implant the soul of each mitzvah and verse within the individual Jew’s powers and limbs. All that was needed was to inspire them collectively, to bind their collective unity to the Singular God. Then, even if an individual Jew could not perceive Hashem using his intellect, he would feel Him, and the spark of God’s Glory would become revealed within him. From the light which would overflow the banks of their hearts, the nation would become collectively inspired and draw closer to one another. Their individual limbs and bodily powers would be nullified, and they would become united within the mitzvos and Will of Hashem which would bring their souls together.
But this was not the case in the days of Ezra. The later generations descended further and further into disunity. Because of the collective separation caused by the exiles, each individual Jew experienced internal discord to the point that it was possible for a Jew to be very close to Hashem in his heart and mind, while his limbs and powers – along with everything included in them – acted, desired, and thought differently. Therefore, it was necessary for Ezra, the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah, and the Tannaim and Amoraim of those generations to bind each mitzvah and spark of Torah within the Jewish nation, to introduce the Torah into their individualism, each person’s specific strengths and thoughts. This they accomplished by way of the ruach hakodesh that is to be found in the words of Midrash.
The Distinction between Tanach and Midrash
As they appear in Tanach, the axioms are expressed in short, summarized form. Where Tanach intends to inspire the thoughts of the reader’s heart (aside from the holiness which each letter adds to him), it inspires only with general terms regarding Hashem’s traits and His creation of, and sovereignty over, the world. For example, “You have been shown today to know that Hashem is God, there is nothing but Him,” (Devarim 4:35) “Lift your eyes and see Who created these etc.,” (Yeshahyahu 40:26) “For the heavens demonstrate Your Name,” (Tehillim 8:4) and similar verses. It discusses the closeness between Hashem and am Yisrael, am Yisrael and Hashem, as well as the Torah in general and its sweet ways with which Hashem gifted am Yisrael. For example, “For what great nation is there that has a god so close at hand as is Hashem our God…,” “To Whom belong righteous laws and statutes etc.,” “Her ways are sweet ways, and all of Her paths are peaceful.” In this way, Torah Sheb’Ksav softens the body and the heart – man’s stony heart – and reveals the soul, teaching it how to yearn for Hashem and become poured out in song and praise from the depths of her heart into the embrace of her Father, saying, for example, “It is good to praise Hashem and to sing to His exalted Name.”
When a Jewish person closes his eyes and turns his face to the wall, particularly in his prayer on the eve of Shabbos, and says, “It is good to praise Hashem etc.” (Tehillim 92:20) – let us see; who is he addressing? The way of Man is that one does not talk to oneself, only to someone else. And yet here this man stands and speaks to the wall!
But leave this Jew alone now, he is engaged in conversation with the Holy One, blessed be He. From the depths, his soul sings to Hashem and says, “‘It is good to praise Hashem and to sing to His exalted Name.’ Ribbono Shel Olam, my desire to speak to You is so great, my yearning to praise You so overwhelmingly powerful, that my words do not suffice! Only ‘with the ten-stringed instrument and with the lyre, and the voice of a harp,’ with every kind of drum and violin…”
At times, the Jew is astonished at himself – “What is happening to me? Who am I, that I should be drawn so close, to speak to the Infinite and Endless One nearly as one speaks to a friend, and to say before Him, ‘And to sing to His exalted Name.’?” He literally feels how he is being lifted up by the hairs of his head and elevated beyond the mundane realm to a world of purity, among He Who is Pure and His servants who are pure, his soul singing songs and melodies to the Living of All Worlds. And from the sparks of his soul – precious jewels all – which sparkle within him and overwhelm with their love, crowns are formed with which to crown her Beloved, her King.
As we have said, this and the like would have already been sufficient to bind a nation unified in the Oneness of Hashem, so that all of its limbs, powers, and aspirations would be nullified to this Oneness; to do and to desire only the will of Hashem. However, when am Yisrael became disparate and disjointed, it became necessary to inspire and to bind each and every thread, each and every strand. Through their ruach hakodesh, the threads and strands revealed by chazal from within the entire body of Torah succeeded in binding every power to a mitzvah, every one of the heart’s emotions to specific verses in the Torah.
Therefore, even the simple understanding of the words of the Midrash and Aggadah isn’t a matter of intellectual analysis – they are words of the heart and its emotions. Not human emotions and feelings, born in the heart of Man in his own image and in accordance with thoughts and desires that have been inspired by physicality – fallen love and other lowly traits. Rather, each word of the Torah unbolts gateways into the Aron Kodesh within which the entire holiness of am Yisrael and the holiness of our God is contained. Ruach HaKodesh emerges, intent on revealing the essential spirit of Jewishness from its case. With a trumpet blast of passion and joy they enclothe themselves with one another, they are wedded to one another.