The Multilayered Torah
The Torah as we all well know is multilayered. The rabbis have taught us
that there are seventy facets to every piece of the written Torah. We are
also aware that no written word can adequately convey to us all of the
nuances and possible meanings that lie embedded in the written word.
Therefore the Torah requires elucidation, commentary and explanation in
order for any proper understanding of its message to be gained.
The entire book of Dvarim is an elucidation and explanation of the first
four books of Moshe. As such, by the inherent nature of explanation and
commentary, different words and phrases will be employed to describe events
and commandments that were previously mentioned in the Torah.
A prime example of this appears in this week’s parsha where the Torah
repeats for us the Ten Commandments revealed to Israel at Sinai. The wording
here in Dvarim differs slightly from the wording recorded for us in Shemot.
The Talmud in its rendition of the Oral Law states that these discrepancies
– such as the use of the word shamor instead of the original zachor
regarding the observance of the Shabat – indicate that these words were
stated simultaneously by God, so to speak, a feat that is beyond human
comprehension and ability.
The Talmud means to indicate to us with this statement that all of the
possible interpretations and layers of meaning in the Torah were given to us
simultaneously and at once at Sinai. Only the Oral Law and the work of the
commentators to the Torah over all of the ages has revealed to us these
original layers of meaning and interpretation for our study and practice.
By using different words to explain what was already written, the Torah
guides our understanding of the Torah only by way of the Oral Law and the
great commentators of Israel over the ages.
In the final commandment of the Ten Commandments, the Torah here in Dvarim
uses the word titaveh whereas in Shemot it used the word tachmode. The Torah
points out to us that there are different forms of desire and wanting
something. One is an impulsive, spur of the moment desire that arises out of
seemingly chance circumstance – an advertisement in the media or a chance
meeting or sighting. Such a desire is not planned and stems from the
inherent human weakness within all of us to want to possess what we do not
yet have. But there is another type of desire. It is long planned and had
been part of our lives for years and decades. It borders on being an
obsession or an addiction within our makeup.
Both of these types of desire can destroy a person. The Torah cautions us
against these symptoms of self-destructive behavior. And by the use of these
different Hebrew verbs, the Torah indicates to us that there are different
types of desires and that one must be defensive against all of them.
The Talmud tells us that the eyes see and the heart thereupon desires.
Guarding one’s eyes guards one’s heart as well. This example of the Torah’s
self elucidation of the matter makes the lesson clear to all and challenges
us to apply it wisely in one’s own life.
Rabbi Berel Wein