A Vital Transmission
by Rabbi Yehudah Prero
Pirkei Avos, the Ethics of the Fathers, is traditionally studied in the weeks
between the holidays of Pesach and Shavuos. This tractate, which contains
teachings relating to ethics, character, and proper behavior, begins with a
unique introduction. The first Mishna states: "Moshe received the Torah at
Sinai and transmitted it toYehoshua, Yehoshua to the Elders, and the Elders
to the Prophets, and the Prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly."
This Mishna is carefully worded to impart a number of lessons. "Moshe
received the Torah," the Mishna states. Why does it not say that Moshe was
given the Torah at Sinai? The Maharal answers this simply. Moshe alone was
not given the Torah at Sinai. The entire nation of Israel was given the Torah
at Sinai. The entire Torah, from detailed laws concerning when animals are
Kosher, to specific codes of conduct regulating business activities, to the
ethics contained in Pirkei Avos, all belong to the entire nation of Israel.
The Mishna cannot say that the Torah was given to one specific person, as
that is not the case. It is for the entire nation or Israel to call their own
and to cherish. However, Moshe did receive the Torah. He inculcated the Torah
into his life, and absorbed the Torah into his being. Because he received it,
he was then able to transmit it, to his brother Aharon, to his student
Yehoshua, and to all of the nation.
Why was Moshe successful in transmitting the Torah, ensuring that it would be
passed down to the next generation? The Mishna says Moshe received the Torah
at Sinai. The Mishna could have said that Moshe received the Torah from G-d.
However, the author of the Mishna chose instead to state the location of the
giving of the Torah. The reason for this, according to the writings of Rabbi
Nachman of Breslov, is that Mount Sinai was chosen to be the site of the
giving of the Torah for a specific reason. Our Sages have taught that there
was disagreement among the mountains as to which one was worthy enough to be
the site of the giving of the Torah. Only Mount Sinai felt it had no
legitimate reason to be the site of this monumental event. It was a small
mountain, and it therefore humbly bowed out of the "competition." Because of
the humility of the mountain, Hashem chose it for the site of the giving of
Moshe, the Torah tells us, was the humblest of all men. Moshe realized when
he received the Torah that it was not for him to cherish solely. He realized
that whether he was worthy or not, he was now the one responsible for
teaching the Torah to the entire people. His humility told him that he was
not suited for the job. However, it was given it to him, nonetheless.
Therefore, Moshe had to teach the Torah with all his might, assuring that all
of the Torah was taught, that every small detail was covered, and the
importance of all minutiae stressed. Moshe, and specifically Moshe, received
the Torah at Sinai - the site which epitomizes humility. Because he, the
humblest of men, received the Torah at the site which is an everlasting
lesson in humility, he was able to properly transmit the Torah to the entire
nation of Israel .
Yet, we find later in Pirkei Avos that the language of "transmission,"
"Mesorah," is not used. The Mishna states by each Sage that he "received,"
"kibel," from the Sage who preceded them. Why was the language of how the
Torah and its lessons were taught from generation to generation changed? The
Maharal explains that the verb to describe the learning process was selected
to reflect positively on the one who is the subject of the action. Moshe did
a proper job of transmitting to Joshua, and therefore the use of the term
"transmit" is appropriate. However, in later generations, there was something
lacking in the transmission process. However, there were individuals who
"received" the Torah from their teachers properly. It is these individuals
who taught lessons which they felt would be of benefit to their generation,
which did not "receive" the Torah in its entirety from their teachers. It is
the lessons of those who "received," those who because they understood the
importance of Torah to the nation of Israel tried to spread the growth of
Torah knowledge and study, that are recorded in Pirkei Avos.
Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is April 13, 1999. During the
Holocaust we lost a generation of teachers and students. We lost a vital link
in the transmission of the Torah. The Torah, as Pirkei Avos tells us, belongs
to the entire nation of Israel. Every individual should have the opportunity
to study it, delve into it, become familiar with it, and appreciate it. There
are those of us who luckily have received the Torah. Despite the loss of
fathers and mothers, the teachers, and their children, the students, we were
fortunate to receive the Torah. There are many of our brethren who were not
so fortunate. They are not familiar with the Torah. Pirkei Avos tells us how
we are to respond. If we were fortunate enough to receive the Torah, we must
faithfully transmit it to others so they can study it as well. It is not
enough that some of these people may "receive" the Torah. We must do our best
to create an informed generation, so that it can be said that we
_transmitted_ the Torah, they we did our best to teach our brothers and
sisters the Torah, and we did it successfully. We tragically lost an
incomprehensible amount of teachers and potential teachers. To perpetuate the
memory of those we lost, we should faithfully attempt to educate our sisters
and brothers about that which they do not know, the Torah.
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For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.
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