Once, Rav Elchonon Wasserman explained the greatness of those who learn Torah which touched upon a famous statement of Rava: “How foolish are those who stand for a sefer Torah but not for people great in Torah!”
Rav Elchonon related a story to illustrate the point: “Once, the Netziv of Volozhin, was carrying a sefer Torah to the bimah when he slammed into a bench and fell down, and the sefer fell with him. As the bnei yeshivah rushed to pick them up, the Netziv’s son-in-law, Rav Itzel Volozhiner, gave an astounding order, “First pick up the Rosh Yeshiva, then the sefer Torah!”
Rav Elchonon explained, “This is what Rava means in Makkos 22. It is only people’s foolishness that causes them to respect a sefer Torah more than a true Torah scholar. After all, why should one respect a sefer Torah inscribed on parchment more than a sefer Torah housed in living flesh and bone?”
The Divrei Shmuel explains this statement similarly, “Tzaddikim are themselves holy like a sefer Torah. A sefer Torah is merely the Torah written on parchment; how much more is it incumbent upon us to honor a sefer Torah inscribed on one’s heart! As the verse states: ‘Write them on the tablet of your heart.’”
`But Rav Reuven Margolios points out that this distinction does not apply to just any scholar. “The gemara uses the expression ‘gavra rabbah’—‘a great man’—rather than the more common ‘tzurba d’rabanan,’ which implies an ordinary scholar. This teaches that this halachah only applies if the scholar in question is one of the gedolei hador. It is only in such a case that it should be obvious to any thinking person that it is fitting to treat him with more honor than a sefer Torah. But if one is a regular talmid chacham, he is not to be more respected than a sefer Torah.”
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“A Living Sefer Torah”
Simin 136, Seif 1
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. –John 1:14 (ESV)
You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul… –Deuteronomy 11:18 (ESV)
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts… –Romans 2:14-15 (ESV)
Sorry for the lengthy list of quotes, but they were all necessary to create the foundation for today’s “morning meditation”. If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you know that I’ve written a four-part series on Exploring Messianic Divinity which investigates the idea that Jesus is God. As part of that investigation, I took a look at the various mystical and metaphorical writings that point to the Messiah as The Living Word of God. In my quote from the commentary on Simin 136, Seif 1, we see that such a concept is applied, not necessarily to the Messiah, but to a Torah scholar who is “gavra rabbah” or “a great man”. And yet, can we find any greater tzaddik in all the world than the Master and redeemer of our souls? Who else but the most exalted Messiah could redeem the world with his blood?
The murder of Rabbi Elazar Abuhatzeira, the “Baba Elazar,” on Thursday night saved the people of Israel from other tragedies, leading rabbis said Friday.
“Harsh punishments were decreed on the people of Israel, and he wanted to nullify them,” said the slain rabbi’s brother, Rabbi Baruch Abuhatzeira, also known as the Baba Baruch, speaking at Rabbi Abuhatzeira’s funeral.
by Maayana Miskin
“Rabbi Abuhatzeira Bore the Burden of Evil Decrees”
I’ve quoted this article before to establish that in traditional Judaism, it is conceivable that the death of a great tzaddik can atone for the sins of Israel. If the holiness of the tzaddik were great enough, could his death not atone for a world?
…so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. –Hebrews 9:28
In Judaism, as we saw in my aforementioned quote, a scholar becomes great, very great, through intense Torah study such that he imbues his heart with the same holiness attributed to the Sefer Torah, because Torah is written on the tablet of his heart. We also see in Deuteronomy, that the Children of Israel have been commanded to write words of Torah on their hearts. From Paul, we see that though the Gentiles did not (and do not) have the commandments of Torah given to them (us) at Sinai, nevertheless, our actions show that the Torah is written on our hearts when we “do what the law requires”. In other words, when we do what our “living Sefer Torah” does, like any good disciples, we are imitating the works of our Master and living out his lessons. Having the Torah “written on our hearts” is like a spiritual overlay of righteousness upon the physical nature of our lives; a “Tree of Life” superimposed on a living tree with its grafted in branches.
I suppose we could be tempted to say that if the Law is written on the hearts of Gentiles who follow the teachings of Jesus, that we are obligated to “do what the law requires” in the same manner and fashion as the Jewish people, but that would be taking Paul out of context. We do see a bridge of sorts between Deuteronomy 11:18 and Romans 2:14-15 in terms of the law being upon our hearts, but does that really mean that any Gentile disciple of Jesus must respond to the mitzvot in precisely the same manner as the Jews who inherited Sinai?
I believe I’ve already answered that question, at least to my own satisfaction. The Word, but not the Jewish identity, is what is being actively written on our hearts. Jews and Christians are united under the Messianic covenant as “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15) in our ability to approach the Throne of God as adopted sons, with the Jews being adopted at Sinai and we Christians being adopted at the foot of the cross. However, while the “Covenant of the Cross” accepts the Jew as an extension of Sinai because of the promise of the Moshiach, it does not link the Gentile back to what was already given to Israel through the tablets of Moses. We non-Jews, like Abraham, access God by faith alone, through Jesus, without the requirement of Moses.
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” –Romans 4:1-3
One of the things (and I’ve mentioned this earlier) about being a disciple, is that we learn from our Master by imitating him. Traditionally, Jewish disciples studying under a great Rabbi and tzaddik, will imitate everything about him, including how he dresses, his vocal inflections, his physical mannerisms, even how he eats; every little detail. All this is in addition to memorizing his teachings, learning his teaching style, and living out his understanding of Torah. I’m not suggesting we try to imitate Jesus down to such a specific level, if for no other reason than most of that kind of information is unavailable.
However, I am suggesting we imitate him in the most important aspects of his life and learning.
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” –Matthew 22:34-40 (ESV)
I believe that it is this teaching more than any other, that is written on our hearts if we are his true disciples and followers of “the Way”. If the Torah were written perfectly on the heart of Jesus Christ, should we not imitate him and continually allow the “finger of God” (Exodus 31:18, Luke 11:20) to write the Word on our hearts? Is this not what it means to be Holy? But how is this done?
We never got used to Egypt. We never felt we belonged there. We never said, “They are the masters and we are the slaves and that’s the way it is.” So when Moses came and told us we were going to leave, we believed him.
Everyone has their Egypt. You’ve got to know who you are and what are your limitations. But heaven forbid to make peace with them. The soul within you knows no limits.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
The biblical slavery of Egypt represents bondage to your own self. Every day, every moment, must be an exodus from the self. If you’re not leaving Egypt, you’re already back there.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
I’ve heard it taught in certain circles, that Egypt represents the realm of sin. This isn’t traditionally taught in Judaism and we see from the Chassidic perspective, that whatever bondage Egypt represents spiritually and emotionally, is our bondage not to sin, but to our egos, and whatever suffering we may have brought upon ourselves. This can include our sins and shortcomings, but Egypt represents less of an external force for evil and more of our internal capacity for pain, suffering and harm. In order to imitate our Master, we must learn to erase whatever “script” that is currently scribbled within us and replace it with Words of true holiness.
These are Words that can only be written with the power of the “finger of God” and we cannot do it alone. We must open our hearts and be willing “tablets” so that the finger can write. Though the final Words of Torah (which means “teaching” as I’m using it here) will never be completely written before the Messiah returns to us, we can allow the ongoing transforming of our minds and our hearts and our spirits so that we become more and more like the one we follow. In this, we continue to travel the path and draw ever nearer to God who is our goal.
The finger continues to write. There’s still time. Open your hearts.
3 thoughts on “The Finger of God is Writing”
It seems Judaism does have a concept of a great tzaddik dying for his generation’s sins, but it is only national (not supernal) salvation for the tzaddik’s own generation (not like Yeshua’s atoning death).
I’m not above extending the metaphor to include a much wider scope. I doubt that God is, either.