Torah for All
The Torah was given to the entire nation of Israel. The Maharal from Prague explained (“G’vurat Hashem” chap.3) that the Jewish nation had to number 600,000 in order that all its differing aspects could be expressed fully. Only then, when we were considered a nation, did God take us out of Egypt and give us the Torah.
After God gave the Torah to Israel, He transmitted the authority to interpret it to the Sages, as it is written (Deuteronomy 17:8-10): “If you are unable to reach a decision in a case involving capital punishment, litigation, leprous marks, [or any other case] where there is a dispute in your territorial courts, then you must set out and go up to the place that God your Lord shall choose…You must approach the Levitical priests [and other members of] the supreme court that exists at the time…you must do as they tell you…you must keep the Torah as they interpret it for you, and follow the laws that they legislate for you.”
It is also explained in the Talmud (Bava Metzia 59b), that when the Sages disagreed with Rabbi Eliezer the Great concerning the oven of Achnei, “A ‘bat kol’ (heavenly divine voice) broke out, saying: Why do you contest Rabbi Eliezer? The halacha always follows his teachings! Rabbi Yehoshua rose and declared: It is not in heaven…for Torah was already given to man at Mt. Sinai, and we don’t listen to the ‘bat kol’.” Rather, we go according to the opinion of the majority of the Sages, as it is written: “According to the majority (the matter) shall be decided.”
The Talmud continues: Later on, one of the Sages, Rabbi Natan, met Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the prophet). He asked him: “What did God say during this argument? Eliyahu replied: “He smiled and said (with satisfaction), ‘My sons have beat Me in this discussion.” From here we see that although in heaven the opinion leaned towards that of Rabbi Eliezer, nevertheless, God agreed that the Torah had been given to the Sages, and they decide the ‘halacha’.
The Torah is Revealed Even through the Wicked
Everyone can understand that because of their unconditional bond with the Torah and its ideas, the Sages are the ones certified to interpret it, and via them, the Torah is revealed it in this world.
Nevertheless, it must be understood that, in truth, all of Israel, even the wicked, are complete partners in the Torah’s revelation. Regarding the Bible, this is well-known; as a result of the Sin of the Calf and the Sin of the Spies, important foundations of the Torah were clarified. Similarly, in consequence of the sins committed during the period of the Judges and the First Temple, numerous prophecies were given, shedding light on the foundations of faith and ethics. This idea also appears in the Haggadah of Passover: “The Torah spoke about four sons…one of them, the wicked son.” Even our reply to the wicked is written in the Torah, and all of Israel learns from them essential foundations.
This is also true regarding the Oral Torah, for every ordinance that the Sages amended was made in accordance with Israel’s circumstances, including the wicked. In order to explain this important foundation, I will mention a few examples.
The Ordinance of Reading the Torah
The ordinance of reading the Torah on Shabbat, Monday’s, and Thursday’s was made as a result of an event which occurred to our forefathers in the desert: they walked three days without finding water (Exodus 15:22). Moshe Rabbeinu and his students realized that the reason was because the people of Israel had gone for three consecutive days without learning Torah. Undoubtedly, the righteous did learn Torah; however, the implication was that during those three days, the community as a whole didn’t learn, and consequently, the decree to read the Torah publicly on Shabbat, Monday’s, and Thursday’s was amended.
The Ordinance of Blessings over Torah Reading
At first, the Sages decreed that the first person to be called-up to the Torah would make a blessing before the reading, and the last person would bless at the conclusion. Eventually, they decreed that each and every person would make a blessing before and after his portion, “a decree because of those entering, and those exiting” (Meggilah 21b). In other words, there were people who would regularly come to prayer services very late, and enter the synagogue in the middle of the Torah reading. Others found it difficult to sit for a long time in prayer and would leave in the middle of the of the Torah reading. Those who came late didn’t hear the blessing at the beginning, and those who left early, didn’t hear the blessing at the end. In order that everyone – including those who never make it through an entire Torah reading – would know that blessings are made before and after reading the Torah, the Sages decreed that each and every person must bless before and after his own portion.
Here we have an important law which was made due to the lazy and impatient, and by means of it, everyone’s understanding of just how important the blessings over the Torah are, was strengthened. Indeed, even they are partners in the Torah.
Torah Reading on Shabbat Afternoon
The Talmud relates (Bava Kama 82a) that the Sages decreed the Torah reading on Shabbat afternoon “because of idlers”. They meant those people who would not come to morning prayers during the week, and since they didn’t hear the Torah reading on Monday or Thursday, they lacked preparation for the coming Torah portion. Therefore, the Sages decreed to begin reading the next week’s Torah portion already from the afternoon service of the previous Shabbat, for even the “idlers” came to this prayer (Rashi and Rosh). Others explain that the Sages were concerned that the “idlers” would get into the habit of getting drunk during the morning meal on Shabbat, therefore they decreed the Torah reading in the afternoon prayers, hoping that due to their respect for the Torah, those “idlers” wouldn’t come to services drunk in front of the sefer Torah (Shibolei Leket). Afterwards, the great rabbis uncovered additional meanings within this decree which also benefit the righteous, namely, that it connects the present Shabbat with the following one, etc.
The Abridged Prayer on Shabbat Eve
In the past, synagogues were located outside of the city, and it was dangerous to return home from them alone at night. Although the community was urged to finish their preparations for Shabbat on time and arrive at synagogue early, as we know, there are always some people who come late. And not just a little late, but some people even arrived very close to the end of prayers, so late that they weren’t able to finish their silent prayers before the congregation left the synagogue and went back to the city. The Sages were concerned that perhaps the latecomers would return home alone, causing themselves great danger. Therefore they decreed to add an abridged blessing (‘m’ayn sheva’) similar to the repetition of the ‘shmoneh esrai’ for the entire congregation, so that in the meantime, the latecomers would finish their prayers, and could return to the city with the rest of the congregation.
Later on the kabalists, delving deeper into this, said that, in truth, owing to the great holiness of the Shabbat, there really is special meaning in saying a kind of repetition. Once again, we have found how, in the merit of those lazy or unsuccessful Jews, important ordinances were decreed.
Occasionally, there were decrees made by the Sages which were nullified because the majority of the Jews didn’t follow them. This was the case regarding Ezra’s decree of immersion in a ‘mikva’, and the prohibition of using the oil of a non-Jew. Most probably, the righteous did fulfill these decrees, but since they weren’t accepted by the average Jew, they were cancelled.
Similarly, we have found decrees and other various monetary laws, such as the ‘prozbul’, the returning of the price of stolen goods, and the inability to accept certain pleas in court for fear of fraudulent people. Behold, even the wicked amongst Israel are truly partners in Torah.
The Damage of Creating Schisms in Israel
The general rule which stems from this is that the Torah was given to all of Israel, each and every Jew has a portion in it, and it is revealed by means of all – the righteous, the mediocre, and the wicked. The reason being that even the wicked that are bound to Israel, strive for good. If they don’t manage with some of the mitzvoth, it’s a sign for a need to delve deeper in order to reveal that point which they are seeking.
Therefore, one must be very careful not to create schisms amongst Israel. There are “tzadikim” (“righteous”) who think that removing the wicked from ‘klal Yisrael’ will help guard the Torah and mitzvoth, but they don’t understand that by doing so, the damage will be many times over. As long as the wicked are included in Israel, the Torah is revealed by way of them. Through the responsibility of the Sages for the entire public, decrees are made – sometimes stringent, other times lenient. When we part ourselves from the wicked, the Torah becomes chopped and shortened, and is not revealed properly. Some believe this is a preferable, enabling the addition of more and more ‘chumrot’ (stringencies), but in truth, these ‘chumrot’ are a violation of the Torah. For example, as a result of the detachment from the wicked and the mediocre, there are people who have estranged themselves from the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel, which is equal to all the other mitzvoth. They have estranged themselves from the mitzvah of defending the Jewish nation from its enemies, for anyone who saves the life of a single Jew is comparable to saving an entire world – all the more so when he defends the entire nation of Israel. They boycott God’s wisdom revealed in the sciences, about which the Rambam wrote that through them, a person reaches a love and fear of God. They educate young men to loath work in contradiction to the Torah which praises it, and encourage unsuitable people to enter fields of teaching and education, to learn in ‘kollel’ and to make a living off ‘tzedaka’ (charity) – in contradiction to the position of the great rabbis. And they invent ‘chumrot’ all the time. Indeed, this chopping and dividing of ‘klal Yisrael’ has the same effect on the Torah. In my estimation, the vast majority of the Haredi public are not a party to these positions, however, there exists a small group of denouncers and quarrelers who lead a strategy of divisiveness, and in practice, cause the Torah to be violated.