The Wings of Morning -
A Torah Review

Yaacov Dovid Shulman

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Volume VII, Issue 31

Tazria 5763, April 2003

Unless otherwise noted, translations and original material copyright © 2002 by Yaacov Dovid Shulman (


The Pentateuch

The Pentateuch, also known as The Five Books of Moses and (in the Semitic original) Chamishei Chumshei Torah (or, in brief, the Chumash–lit., "The Fifth"), has over the years–nay, centuries–appeared in a bewildering variety of formats, ranging from the sumptuously generous to the low production pocket-size edition. Perhaps most impressive for a monumental seriousness of form (despite recognized drawbacks in portability and ease of use) is the traditional scribal version executed on vellum, encased in a handsome (one might say celebratory) velvet cover or a hardback, lambent case (as in the Spanish tradition).

A wealth of commentary and analysis on this elusive work, central to an understanding of the Western tradition and–as some admirers would have it–the blueprint from which the universe was constructed (by what might arguably be described as the central figure of this pre-post-modern work, God), has been published over the millennia. Amongst these, that gargantuan and sprawling text, the Talmud, is perhaps the most enigmatic, its vast and cyclical, Joycean text frustrating and delighting readers to this day.

Yet no amount of critical explication can prepare the reader of each new generation for his or her direct confrontation with this puzzling, convoluted, fiercely intelligent and often dizzyingly obscure text. Beginning with a grand apotheosis invoking the creation of the universe (with a grandeur reminiscent of the most inspired, vaulting passages of Beethoven's soaring Seventh Symphony), the protean text proceeds to a series of profound, multi-valenced set pieces that present a basic texture of reality–yet whose ambiguity confutes the often rather one-dimensional exegeses that have so closely accompanied this Ur-text of civilization. (Cf. Rashi for a putative example of the latter; cf., however, Maharal for a refutation of this view of Rashi; cf. the oeuvre of R. Yitzchak Hutner for an August elaboration of the views of the Maharal.)

As the often terse, quizzical, and magisterial narrative expands to all mankind, condenses itself to focus on the Semitic patriarchies of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, flows into the Egyptian diasporum and then grows in crescendo to the apex of the Exodus and from there to the epiphany of the Transmission of the Torah, followed by the Greek tragi-comedy of the Golden Calf incident, narrative, poetry, myth and pathos mix in a masterly play of light and shade. Then–to the naive reader's bewilderment–the subtext of ritual, legalism and societal odyssey grows to intense explicitness as the narrative retreats to become a series of episodes peeping out from behind great tapestries of civil and ritual law and, most comprehensively, the tabernacle sacrificial practicum.

Whether or not, as some have argued, the Chumash is a work that reaches beyond the bounds of literature (cf. the views of the noted rabbinic scholar, R. Shimon bar Yochai, in his massive, unfinished Zohar), its prodigious interweave of disparate theme and style, its extravagance and grandeur, its opaqueness and lucidity, its antediluvian gravitas and deft intimacy of touch, the divine brinkmanship of its puzzling reiterative aspect, its simultaneous building of a mythos and subversion of that very mythos, make this a work of infinitely subtle genius that must claim a central locus in the consciousness of every post-Nietzschean reader who seeks an inexhaustible guide (even as it undercuts its own certitudes: its notions of causality, nature and being, nation and stranger) to a world whose sub-logical, quantum nature/non-nature is the underlying threnody of our existence. Through these troubled times and in the quicksilver, quicksand regions of our souls, the Chumash bears repeated reference.

by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook

The most extraordinary thing about spiritual unfolding is not reaching your goal, but the manner in which you attain it after having proceeded upon the paths that are uniquely suited to doing so.

Therefore, you must gain clarity as to what means will bring your internal visions (which convey all of your deeds, desires and feelings to a higher level) to a good state. Once having done that, you must cling to those visions.

The same applies to learning Torah–which is, generally speaking, as much of a necessity as is bread for the body, especially its aspect of in-depth learning, which in particular raises the spirit.

Truthfully, it would be completely impossible to realize with any breadth of understanding that the in-depth aspect within the written and Oral Torah constitute the essence of learning, because the influence of the urging toward dealing with he means (which are apparently lower than the essential goal) must have a greater influence than the urging to the goal-oriented matters.

By nature, our spirit is drawn to a goal more than to its means. Our imagination will not question the essential goal of perfection, but it will question the means. Lacking as it does understanding and being deficient in reasoning, it may think that it can reach the goal without those means.

And so it is must be instruction of a higher order, refined and wise, that will clarify the truth that these means are necessary and of great value.

Therefore, matters of moral reproof and general guidance (which are basic and central) were manifestly stated by all the prophets. But the activities mandated by the Torah, which constitute the means and preparatory stages leading toward the goal, could be revealed only through the prophecy of Moshe, dean of the prophets.

By analogy, the existence of life in the world-to-come is only alluded to in the Scriptures. Because its intrinsic worth is so great, that suffices. Had its existence been stated more explicitly, it would have proven so entrancing as to have left no room for any other visions–all of which, in actuality, help elevate us: e.g., the well-being of the community and the individual (even in the this-worldly present) and the love of God itself, which transcends everything else (with all the variegated, individual sources from which foundation of love is drawn).

Only after time passed and (due to he destructive influence of he "minim," who claimed that only one world exists) the recognition of the existence of the world-to-come weakened, were the sages forced to introduce the phrase "from this world to the next world" into the prayer book, in order to restore that awareness.

The same applies to the definite demand for in-depth and higher-tier learning. We must maintain our concern for its relationship to and our appreciation for the value of learning matters dealing with activities. The latter require some special act to make them attractive, involving the revelation of how essential it is to learn and perform them. In contradistinction, foundational in-depth learning requires only an inner, general recognition, small in quantity, because by its nature it exercises a great appeal.

It is precisely through [this balance] that the Torah will remain properly amongst the Jewish people and shine with its great light.

Orot Hatorah 8:5

by Shlomo Gavriel Rosenthal

It was revealed to the holy R. Pinchas of Koritz that he would not be able to help people by miraculous means unless he would be given ordination by a student of the Baal Shem Tov.

So he went to the Toldos Yaakov Yosef. When he came to him, R. Pinchas told him, "I always had a question: why is it that when the king takes off his crown he puts it on a hook? That is not worthy of a king. It would be better for him to put it on someone else's head, which is more respectable than a hook. So it occurred to me that if he puts it on someone's head, that person will think that he deserves it, but the hook doesn't have any such feelings. And the Baal Shem Tov gave you the crown."

The Toldos understood what he was getting at and gave him his rabbinical ordination.

Sifran shel Tzaddikim

by Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz

One time the Baal Shem Tov prayed with his group and, as usual, they prayed with great feeling. Afterwards, hey saw that the Baal Shem Tov was upset. Later on, he told them, "While you were praying, the ‘Baal Davar' filled each of you with feelings of pride at praying with such feeling. And as a result, you were under intense scrutiny in heaven, and I had to do a great deal to absolve you of any wrong."

One time a man came from Teplik to R. Nosson (student extraordinaire of R. Nachman of Breslov) to hear him speak. Afterwards he found in R. Nosson's room a piece of paper on which R. Nosson had written, "So-and-so came from Teplik, and so now I will begin teaching in public." R. Nachman had instructed R. Nosson that when a certain number of people come to him, he should begin teaching, and this person completed that number. Yet later on this person left R. Nosson, unable to fathom how a person with his meager ability to serve God should be the cause of R. Nosson's beginning to teach Torah in public.

Kokhavei Ohr I:10

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