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PARASHAT NITZAVIM 5757
[The Torah] is not to be found in the heavens, that you should ask, "Who will go up to the heavens to get it and teach it to us so that we may fulfill its commandments?" (Devarim 30:12)
What does [the above-mentioned verse] mean to say? Explained Rebbi Yirmiyah: The Torah has already been given over to us [to understand based on our own mental faculty], and even if a voice from heaven insists that we interpret it otherwise, we need not heed it. (Gemara Bava Metzia 59b)
If a prophet announces that Hashem has revealed to him the meaning of a certain passage in the Torah, we are not to heed his words. To the contrary, he is to be judged as a false prophet and put to death (Rambam, Hil. Yesodei ha'Torah 9:4).
What is the logic behind this bizarre law? Why shouldn't we be granted, at least periodically, divine help in sorting out the intricacies of the Torah's laws? The Vilna Gaon (Kol Eliyahu #227; Toldot Adam [biography of Rav Zalman of Volozhin] 4:14) finds the answer to this question in a cryptic Midrash describing Creation.
"Kindness met with truth; righteousness encountered peace. Truth will sprout from the ground, and righteousness shines from the heavens." (Tehilim 85:11,12)
When Hashem created Man, the heavenly hosts were divided.... Kindness said, "Let him be created, for he will do kindness!" Truth said, "Let him not be created, for he is full of lies!" Righteousness said, "Let him be created, for he will perform righteous acts!" Peace said, "Let him not be created, for he is always quarreling!" What did Hashem do? He took truth and cast it to the earth! Said the heavenly hosts before Hashem: Master of the Universe! How can You cause such disgrace to your beautiful adornment? "Truth will sprout from the earth." (Bereishit Raba 8:5)
What does the Midrash mean by contending that Hashem "cast truth to the earth?" And in what way will it later "regenerate?" The Vilna Gaon explains as follows.
The goal of mankind in this world is to gain an understanding of the ways of Hashem as they are expressed in the Torah and its laws. However, it is truly impossible for man's puny mental capacity to fathom Hashem's divine will to the fullest. ("My thoughts are not like your thoughts; My ways are not like your ways -- Yeshayah 55:8.) This is why "truth" -- a commonly used alias for "Torah" -- insisted that Man should not be created. Man is so full of lies, he will certainly not be able to understand the true meaning of the Torah's laws!
Hashem retorted by casting truth from the heavens, and letting it sprout back from the earth. The "true" interpretation of the Torah's laws will not be based on a pre-existing heavenly template. Instead of an absolute, divine truth, the "true" meaning of the Torah's laws will be determined by the assessment of the scholars of the Torah. Any interpretation of the Torah that they come up with which is within the framework of the 13 exegetical principles that Moshe taught us, is truly the divine will. Mankind can indeed relate to such a Torah-truth, which "sprouts from the earth" and not from heaven.
This is the meaning of our verse, which states that "[The Torah] is not to be found in the heavens." Hashem made it clear that no heavenly messenger will ever attempt to teach us an "ultimately true" meaning of the Torah, for the Torah has no such meaning! Its meaning was left for *us* to determine, for otherwise Man would not have been able to ever reveal the Torah's true meaning.
If we take the Gaon's words further, we can discover a beautiful gem in the words of the Midrash. There are a few obvious questions on the Midrash cited above:
(a) If the Midrash accedes that man can be kind one to another, why did it
insist that man cannot be at peace with one another?
The answer to our first question is that peace requires a much more intimate relationship than benevolence. One can be kind to a person who one looks down upon. Peacefulness, however, is a relationship between *equals*. In order to be at peace with each other, people must have the same beliefs, the same goals, and the same understanding of the purpose of life. However, as the Gemara puts it, "Just as all faces our different, so are all outlooks on life different." Because of this, man, by nature, is bound to quarrel with his fellow man.
However, when it comes to understanding the words of the Torah we find a remarkable phenomenon. Two scholars can reach entirely different conclusions as to the meaning of a verse, and we can still say that "These and those are both the words of the Living G-d" (Eruvin 13b). This is because the will of Hashem is not limited to a single, objectively true interpretation of the Torah. Rather, Hashem's will includes any of the conclusions that scholars may reach drawing on the 13 exegetical principles, as we have explained above. (It is only as far as Halachic *practice* that we must brand one of the interpretations as being "Halachically correct." All of the interpretations, though, are truly the Word of Hashem.)
Because of this strange circumstance, it is possible for two Torah scholars to have entirely different approaches to a certain law, and yet each of them can respect the other as having arrived at the "true" interpretation of the law! Different outlooks no longer are cause for quarrels and resentment. It is finally feasible for there to be peace even in this world of ambiguity and distortion. This is the answer to our second question. Once truth was cast to the ground, only to be reborn through the scholars of the Torah, then peace no longer objected to the creation of man. Righteousness won out, and Man was created.
This theme, that Torah ultimately brings unity to the world, is reflected in many of our Sages' teachings.
Torah scholars bring peace to the world, as it says... "Hashem gave Torah ("Oz") to His nation, Hashem blessed His nation with peace. (Berachos 64a)
Through giving the Torah to us in the unique manner in which it was given, Hashem brought peace to the world. We learned that is possible to appreciate our friend's view even if it is not identical to our own. This is the way a true Torah scholar conducts himself (as anyone who has merited to develop an intimacy with one of the generation's Torah leaders knows). By example, the rest of the world learns from Torah scholars to live in peace and harmony.
May Hashem bless us that we may see the day when the entire world is at peace, and united in the service of Hashem!
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