We ended off last time with the transmission of the Torah from the Prophets to the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah. I quoted most of the textual questions that the Maharal asks on this Mishna, but some of them will remain unanswered in our forum. I included them to sensitize you to the types of questions that are asked, in the demand for textual and logical integrity of each Mishna. You may want to pursue the complete text yourselves to ferret out the more subtle issues the Maharal disccuses. We will go to the main element of this Mishha.
Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Yehoshua; Yehoshua to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets transmitted it to the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah (Members of the Great Assembly). They made three statements (taught three things): Be deliberate (patient and restrained) in judgment; establish a large cadre of disciples; and construct a boundary around the Torah.
Through the time of Anshei Knesset Hagedolah, there was accurate a faithful transmission of every element of Torah. The word “transmitted” is used in this Misha to imply that whatever the student received was passed on. But in Mishna 3, the language changes, and it says that “Antignos Ish Socho RECEIVED from Shimon Hatzadik,” implying that the quality of the transmission is determined by the ability of the recipient. Even if the transmitter is able to transmit everything, the deficiencies of the recipients limit him. The generations were deteriorating, and this was anticipated by the Anshei Knesset Hagedola when they made their three statements.
“They made three statements (taught three things)…”: Didn’t such great people have much more than these three things to teach? And what is unique about these specific things?
The Great Assembly foresaw the coming deterioration of the intellectual ability of the people as they lost their involvement with wisdom was diminishing. As a doctor prescribes a remedy for a weakening organ to supplement what the organ is missing, the Great Assembly wanted to prescribe a remedy for the deteriorating grasp of wisdom that was beginning to develop.
A lack of knowledge and intellectual achievement within the Jewish people exhibits itself in three ways.
- A breakdown in the civil judicial system which governs personal disputes. A judge needs to understand the fundamental principles of the laws, in order to reach a proper verdict. This understanding depends on an intuitive logic which is necessary to properly apply the general principles written explicitly in the Torah.
- A deterioration in the quality of Torah scholarship, the more theortical dimension of Torah study.
- A defeciency in a person’s observance of Mitzvot, where a permitted activity can mistakenly lead him to a forbidden activity (i.e when he sees it is permitted to cook chicken with milk, he will mistakenly think it is also permitted to cook meat with milk).
The instructions of the Great Assembly to the Jewish people at this time was to correct these three problems. In response to a deteriorating judicial system, they advised “Be deliberate and reserved in judgement.” In response to a deterioration in the quality of Torah study they advised “Establish a large cadre of students,” since an increase in the number of students nurtures clarity in Torah study. In order that commandments shouldn’t be violated in practice, they advised “Make a fence around the Torah,” in order to ensure proper observance of the Torah itself.
These three elements also encompass the three broad categories of the population. There are the leaders, who are responsible for correct judgements affecting the community, and their potential deficiency is being addressed with “Be deliberate in judgement.” Those involved chiefly in the study of Torah are admonished “Establish a cadre of students” which will ensure improved learning of the Torah. The third category are those of the community who aren’t involved in study, and they require fences around the Halacha, due to their lack of clarity. The Anshe Knesset Hagedolah saw that every group of the nation was deteriorating, and they made declarations to address the needs of each group.
The inclusion of the number, three, is also significant. (Since the Rabbis knew that we know how to count, the Maharal is always bothered when they have to tell me the number explicitly.) Firstly, the number implies that these declarations are all inclusive, because they encompass every category of the nation.
On a deeper level, these declarations were to rectify deficiencies of the “sechel,” the intellectual/spiritual dimension of man. This dimension of wisdom includes three levels, “chochma”, “binah” and “da’at.” “Chochma” refers to basic facts, and our grasp of the principles underlying these facts. “Binah” is our ability to generate new information from these facts and the underlying principles. “Da’at” is knowing how to apply this information in practice. (There are a number of ways to understand the breakdown of these three levels of wisdom. We will be touching on this a number of times, from a number of different perspectives.) These admonishments are to rectify each of these three levels of wisdom.
Grasping the underlying principes of specific facts is something that requires “svarah,” intuitive logic, which is the major intellectual component necessary for a judge to render wise judgements. “Be deliberate in judgement” instructs us to ensure that our basic analysis is logical and straight.
“Binah,” generating new Torah insights and information, comes from sophisticated intellectual inquiry and discussion. The antidote for a deterioration in this area is increasing the number of students involved in Torah study, thereby increasing the give-and-take and (hopefully) minimizing incorrect conclusions.
For people who lack “da’at,” not knowing exactly how to behave in practice, fences around the letter of the law will ensure that they not violate the actual law itself.
“They said THREE things…” For in essence these three declarations encompass every facet of wisdom, being exhuastive in their scope, and are THE recipe to limit its deterioration.
Next class we will finish this Mishna with an introduction to the importance of the number “three” which seems to underly many Mishnayot in the first chapter, being a fundamental number in the study of mussar/discipline. Over the coming Mishnayot we will weave a thread through many “trios” that we find in Judaism.