Yisrael and Torah … Two Halves of One Whole

Why are the demographic categories of the Jewish people divided into two distinct pesukim?
What is the underlying dynamic of the conversion process?

Today you are all standing before HaShem your Elokim — your leaders, your tribal chiefs, your elders, your law enforcement people, every man of Yisrael.  Your young children, your women, and the righteous converts in your camp  — even the lumberjacks and the water-carriers.

— Devarim 29:9,10

Yisrael-the Jewish People; and Oraysa-the Torah; are one.

— Zohar III:73

Our nation is a nation only through her Torah

— Rav Saadiya Gaon

When our Masters entered the vineyard at Yavneh, they said,”The Torah is destined to be forgotten in Israel, as it is said, “Behold, HaShem Elokim says ‘days are coming and I will send forth a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of HaShem.’” (Ahmos 8:11).  And it is said, “And they will roam from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east; they will flail about back and forth to seek the word of HaShem, and will not find it.” (Ibid 12). … Rabi Shimon bar Yochai said: Heaven forefend that the Torah should ever be forgotten in Yisrael, for it is written, “for it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their descendants.” (Devarim 31:21) Then how do I interpret, “they will flail about back and forth to seek the word of HaShem, and will not find it”? They will not find a clear halachah or a clear Mishnah in any one place.

— Shabbos 138B-139A

There is a one nation scattered abroad and divided among the nations in all the provinces of your highness’ kingdom …  

— Esther 3:8

Rabi Yohsi of the Galilee said “ There is no ‘elder’ other than one who has acquired Torah wisdom”

— Kiddushin 32B

In both the written and oral Torah a rich and diverse metaphorical imagery exists to describe the relationship between K’lal Yisrael– the Jewish People; and Torah. Torah is alternatively described as our sister, our bride, our legacy, our primary topic of conversation, our obsession, our “tree-of-life” lifeline — and more. The relationship is layered and complex and every metaphor illustrates a different facet of K’lal Yisraels rapport with the Torah.

Yet there is one teaching of our sages that seems to go beyond describing a multifaceted relationship between two disparate entities and, instead, portrays the fusion of K’lal Yisrael and Torah into a single being. Torah is not something that we enjoy a relationship with, Torah is our alter-ego … our secret identity.  Accordingly there are direct corollaries between what happens in the life of K’lal Yisrael and in the texture of the Torah.

To use a somewhat coarse allegory to correspond to the subtle abstraction being allegorized; one could not stab Mr. Hyde in the heart and express surprise at the news of Dr. Kekyll’s death nor could one feed a starving Dr. Jekyll and be disappointed that Mr. Hyde had survived the famine. As they share an identity what happens to one must happen to the other.

The Maharal of Prague utilizes the truism of the shared identity of K’lal Yisrael and Torah to explain the Gemara in Shabbos 138-9: “how do I interpret, ‘they will flail about back and forth to seek the word of HaShem, and will not find it’? They will not find a clear halachah or a clear Mishnah in any one place.” On the one hand, just as Klal Yisrael, while battered and beaten in a seemingly interminable exile, is ultimately indestructible, so is the Torah.  A Torah forgotten is a Torah annihilated and destroyed.  But on the other hand, explains the Maharal, just as Klal Yisrael is a the one nation or, more precisely, the nation of oneness, scattered abroad and divided among the nations so too is the Torah , the truly integrated discipline, disorganized and scattered unlike any other field of study.  The Torah cannot remain intact and integrated as its alter-ego, Klal Yisrael, suffers dispersion and disintegration as a result of galus.

Another classic application of this truism is provided by the Izhbitzer at the beginning of our Sidra.

We are all aware that the root of the great sequoia-like Torah “Tree of Life”, that part of Torah that encompasses the whole, is the Decalogue. Jewish thinkers as diverse as Rav Saadia Gaon, the Kuzari and the Ohr Hacahim all have approaches to help us understand this all-embracing aspect of the Aseres Hadibros– the Decalogue. What is is more esoteric is why, in written form, the 10 were written on two stone cubes instead of one and thus separated into two distinct sets of five.  But, here again, the Zohar (II 82A) emphasizes the fusion of K’lal Yisrael and Torah into a single being to shed some light on this mystery.

A close reading of the pesukim that begin our sidra–weekly Torah reading;  reveals that there are ten overarching categories of souls that define and encompass all of K’lal Yisrael.  Moreoever, they too are split into two sets of five.   Passuk 9 lists: 1. leaders, 2. tribal chiefs, 3.elders, 4. law enforcement people and 5. every man of Yisrael.  Continuing to take of inventory K’lal Yisrael,  passuk 10 lists:  6. young children, 7. women, 8. righteous converts,  9. lumberjacks and 10. water-carriers.  Just as all of the mitzvos of the Torah are contained within the ten that are engraved on, and through, the luchos-the stone cubes; the 600,000 soul roots that comprise K’lal Yisrael are contained within the ten demographic categories enumerated in these pesukim and just as the luchos present two distinct sets of five so too do these pesukim. The Zohar goes on to explain that sorting the ten into two sets creates coupled pairs such that “the heads” (category 1) is paired with “young children” (category 6)  and so on.

The Izhbitzer expands on this teaching and elucidates how and why these categories are linked:  The etymology of the word taf-young children; derives from the root tipah-a drop; indicating that they have but a drop of wisdom.  They are linked to the head(s) — the very font of all wisdom.  There is no disconnect from those endowed with a drop and those possessed of an ocean.  So if the children make a mistake it impacts the heads for whatever droplets of wisdom they have were sourced in the head.

The etymology of the word shevet-tribes; derives from the word root that means a branch indicating the tribes koach hatzemichah-capacity for sprouting, branching out and expansion.  When an immature sapling begins its growth it has but one central shaft that will thicken and heighten; eventually growing to become the trunk of the mature tree. While it is young none of the eventual branches are visible, they exist in potentia within the central shaft but have yet to actualize their potential.  “Tribes” are paired with “women” because this expansion and growth is brought from the potential to the actual via the motherhood of the women. When a soul exists within the soul root of its father it is constrained and folded within itself and the being of its progenitor.  All sprouting forth and branching out only occurs after birth through the medium of the mother/ woman.

The Izhbitzer posits that “law enforcement people” are those possessed of the awe of Heaven. Presumably, it is their awe that motivates them to ensure that HaShems laws are not transgressed. This, he explains, corresponds to the lumberjacks who, as wielders of axes that chop and destroy living things, embody wrath.  The coupling of these two reveals that the awe of Heaven underpins and informs any and every expression of Jewish fury. In a similar vein “every man of Yisrael” are those whose hearts are full of the love of HaShem. This love compels them to strive and, when necessary, to grapple with angels and men and to vanquish all who’d dare to torpedo this love. They are paired with the “water-carriers” who draw water from the well.  Water is symbolic of all lusts and pleasure-seeking (cp Mei Hashiloach Chayei Sara D”H v’Yitzchak ba). As such, the pairing of these demographic categories shows that all Jewish hearts yearn and lust for, all that they truly love in their heart of hearts, is G-d.

When we think about gerei tzedek-righteous converts; conventional wisdom dictates that it was their own consciences that set the dynamic in motion that culminates in their conversion. No outside source influences them to recognize the legitimacy and veracity of the tenets of Judaism and, out of sincere conviction, leave falsehood behind and adopt the Torah of truth. Moreover conventional wisdom views conversion as something happening in the individual life of the convert not as something happening in the in the national life of the People.  Analyzing the coupling of categories 3 and 8 the Izhbitzer turns conventional wisdom on its ear and, more than in any of the other pairs, demonstrates the shared identity of Klal Yisrael and Torah.

In truth the dynamic of geirim converting is set into motion by chiddushei Torah-authentic Torah novellae; generated by bona fide talmidei chachamim-Torah scholars AKA the elders of Israel.  For as Rabi Yohsi of the Galilee taught none but he who has acquired Torah wisdom can be termed an elder.  When a talmid chacham has an epiphany, a moment of pure insight, and generates a chiddush-a new and original Torah concept; he has conquered new ground for the holiness of Torah.  The Torahs boundaries have expanded through his spiritual/ intellectual efforts. And, as Yisrael and Torah comprise two halves of one whole and vice versa, whatever “vibrates” in Torah evokes a sympathetic vibration in Klal Yisrael. If there is an expansion in the boundaries of kedushas haTorah-the sanctity of Torah; then inevitably, there must be a spreading out of the borders of kedushas Yisrael-the sanctity of the nation of Israel.

Conversion is not so much a movement of the gentile towards the nation of Israel as it is the cup of kedushas Yisrael running over to shower itself upon, and to be absorbed by, new souls who were not within its metaphysical borders before.  It is not the migrant or refugee crossing the frontier of a new country and applying for and gaining citizenship.  It is the neighboring country proactively moving back the boundaries of its neighboring country, annexing the new territory and granting citizenship to the souls within the newly conquered territory.  Unbeknownst to the gentile experiencing a religious awakening that leads him/ her to convert, his/her crisis of conscience did not spontaneously generate. It is the chiddushim of the zekeinim-elders; that invite and absorb the geriei tzedek-righteous converts.

~adapted from Mei Hashiloach Nitzavim D”H Rosheichem
and Drashos Maharal, Drush ahl haTorah pp
36, 37 London print


2 comments on “Yisrael and Torah … Two Halves of One Whole

  1. Thank you for the kind words. A gmar chasimah tovah.
    The brilliance is that of the Maharal and the Izhbitzer. I just try and adapt their Torah for the English speaking public as best I can.





    Kitiva v’Chatima Tova, L’Shana Tova u’Metuka

Comments are closed.