And these are the laws that you should set before them. (Shemos 21:1)
This is a critical and oft underappreciated nugget of information. Not one Mitzvah in the entire Torah is capable of being carried into action given only the parameters provided in the text. There are almost 30,000 details that comprise phylacteries and 5,000 in the ubiquitous mezuzah with little information to guide to their uniform completion. What’s called “killing”? When does life begin? When does it end? What one person calls “family planning” another may legitimately define as “murder!”
The Torah cries out for explanation. There must be, by definition, a concomitant corpus of information that accompanies the Torah with all of its laws. There is and that is what we call the “Oral Torah”. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch uses the analogy that the Written Torah is like the notes to a scientific lecture. Every single jot and fine detail have significance. If properly understood it can awaken the actual lecture.
The notes remain useless to someone who has not heard the lecture from the Master Teacher. Therefore, in the Oral Torah is the sum of the lecture while the Written Torah is merely a shorthand record. Without an Oral Torah, that book the whole world holds in such high esteem, the Bible is rendered in-actionable. It becomes a frozen document that cannot be lived.
When my wife and I were engaged, at the party there was a cousin of hers that has written voluminously about the holocaust. He himself survived, somehow, seven concentration camps. One of the Rabbis encouraged him to speak. He claimed to be unprepared and that he was not a good English speaker. He spoke amazingly well.
First, he looked out at a room filled with newly observant Jews and wondered aloud, “Where do you people come from?” He then quoted the Talmudic principle, “Torah returns to those who have hosted it.” He explained, “If you are sitting here today then it’s probably because you have some great ancestors who were willing to and did give blood to keep this Torah alive.” He went on to talk about my wife’s and his illustrious family tree.
Then he said that had he known he was going to speak he would have brought with him a document he held in his hands that morning that answered a question that had been nagging him for almost four decades. “We all know Hitler’s “final solution” for European Jewry. What was his global scheme? Where was his plan to eliminate the rest of world Jewry?” He then paraphrased what he had learned from that document. Here is a printed transcript with a partial English translation: “This document transmits a memorandum dispatched by I.A Eckhardt from the chief of the German Occupation Power. It is an order dated October 25, 1940 from das Reichssicherheitshauptamt-the central office of the German Security Forces to the Nazi district governors in occupied Poland, instructing them not to grant exit visas to Ostjuden- Jews from Eastern Europe. The reason behind this order is clearly spelled out: the fear that because of their “Othodoxen einstellung” their orthodoxy, these Ostjuden would provide “die Rabbiner und Talmudleher” – the Rabbis and the teachers of the Talmud, who would create “die geistige Erneuerung” the spiritual regeneration of the Jews in America and throughout the world.”
Sometimes the enemy can see us better than we can see ourselves. Eliminate the Talmud Jew! They understood what the lifeline of the Jewish is. Not only is Talmud Torah Knegged Kulam, is Talmud Torah the catalyzer of all Mitzvos, said Rabbi Avigdor Miller ztl., but Kulam Knegged Talmud Torah, everything and everyone opposes Talmud Torah. The Talmud tells us that the greater someone or something is, the greater is its opposition.
Rabbi Shimon Schwab ztl. explained the words from Tehillim (119) Zeidim Helitzuni Ad Meod… U’M’Torascha Lo Natisi… The scorners mocked us, very much but we did not depart from your Torah. He understood it like this; The Scorners mocked us by calling us extremists but (we are not extreme at all) we were just keeping your Torah. It seems the shore line of their values eroded to the point that just learning Torah, fulfilling Mitzvos, and living wholesome lives is perceived as extremism. It’s just what we’ve been doing for 3,336 years, joyfully and without interruption.