Fundamentals of the Jewish Faith
Chapter Ten: The Oral Torah (Part 4)
The essential thing to understand, as Ramchal puts it, is that “the key
laws involved in both the imperatives and prohibitions (i.e., mitzvot
we’re to fulfill and sins we’re to avoid) were all handed down from
Moses”. That is, the overall structure of the mitzvot and their components
were already in place from the first; and while there were certainly
additions and deletions along the way to adjust for ever-changing
realities, the gist of each mitzvah has remained the same all the while as
it was revealed at Mount Sinai.
For as Moses charged us, we’re always to “recall the day (we) stood before
G-d (our) L-rd at Horeb” when G-d told Moses to assemble the people so
that G-d would be able to “let them hear (His) words”. For indeed, “G-d
spoke to (us) out of the midst of the fire” then, and we “heard the sound
of the words”, and G-d “commanded (Moses) … to teach (us) statutes and
ordinances”, referring to the mitzvot (see Deuteronomy 4:10-14), which
were then taught to us by the Cohanim who served as our first teachers and
by all subsequent teachers and sages.
Now, all this raises a legitimate question. Why did Ramchal decide to
address the whole issue of the Oral Torah in the first place in this work,
and why specifically here, at the end? After all, until now we’d been
discussing such erudite and metaphysical subjects as G-d, the spiritual
world, Torah and mitzvot, the Divine merit-system, heaven and hell, Divine
providence, Moses and prophecy, the redemption, miracles and more. So,
what role does the Oral Torah -- a fundamental aspect of the Jewish
Tradition to be sure, but seemingly off-topic -- play here?
In fact it fits perfectly well. It brings the whole work “down to Earth”,
if you will. For Ramchal will now illustrate how the Oral Torah leads to
practical Halacha, which is to say, how it applies to and nourishes day-
after-day holiness. For his point here is that G-d has spoken to us at
Mount Sinai, He s pelled out His wishes in writing to us there and allowed
for a system to explain all the nuances, implications, and ramifications
of those wishes (the Oral Torah), and we’ve thus come to the point where
we might honestly ask “But, where do we go from here?”.
The answer is that we’re to apply it to our lives and use it all to grow
close to G-d as He wants us to (see Ch. 3 above). For each point of
Halacha that derives from all this helps us to apply it to our lives. And
that’s why Ramchal decided to discuss it at this juncture.
So we’ll now explore how Halacha trickles downward from G-d’s intentions,
to the text, and then onto the living tradition as taught to us by our
sages and teachers.
Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has translated and commented upon "The Gates of Repentance", "The Path of the Just", and "The Duties of the Heart" (Jason
Aronson Publishers). His works are available in bookstores and in various
locations on the Web.