Parsha Encounters




Parshas Devarim:
Our Sages Know Best

Dovid Manela

Parshas Devarim reiterates many of the sins and rebellions that marked Klal Yisrael's forty years in the desert. One of the most significant of these events was the Sin of the Spies, where thespies sent by Moshe brought back a false, negative report about Eretz Yisrael. Not only were the Jews punished with forty years in the desert, but also Hashem decreed that the ninth day of Av, the day the sin occurred, would be a time of tragedy, sadness and despair for future generations of Klal Yisrael. Most notably, Tisha B' Av marks the day both of the Temples were destroyed. How are we to understand the connection between the sin of the spies and the Temple's destruction?

In distinguishing between the First and Second temples, the Gemara in Yoma lists five examples of how the Shechina, the Divine Presence, was not as openly revealed in the Second Temple as in the First. Not only were these elements of Giluy Shechina lacking in the Second Temple, but after the death of the prophet Malachi, Klal Yisrael would no longer be divinely guided al pi nevuah, through prophecy, and were forced to rely exclusively on the wisdom of the Torah and its sages for direction.

In Malachi 3:22, the Prophet Malachi concludes his prophecy, "Remember the Torah of Moshe my servant. behold, I will send to you the prophet Eliyahu."

The Smag (Sefer Mitvos HaGadol) explains that the nation would continue to be devoid of prophecy until the coming of Eliyahu HaNavi in the times of Moshiach. Therefore, wisdom and guidance would have to be achieved through the strength of "remember the Torah."

The sefer, Ohr Gedalyahu, further elaborates on this point by titling the period of the First Temple, "the era of the Written Law," and labeling the Second Temple period as "the era of the Oral Law." These names symbolize two ways of perceiving and understanding Torah which are not exclusive of each other, but rather part of a continuum.

The highest level of Torah insight is the ability to see the underlying halacha and immediately realize all of its nuances and ramifications. This is considered "Written Torah," when the Oral Tradition can be readily understood by reading the Written Torah.

On the other hand, when the underlying law is not truly understood and the inferences of the Oral Tradition are not clear, then the "Oral Torah" becomes essential to guide us to the Torah's correct interpretations. In this situation, it is the repertoire of tools, given to Moshe on Mount Sinai, utilized by the Sages throughout the generations, that is our only means of unlocking the mysteries of the Torah's infinite wisdom.

During the era of the First Temple, Klal Yisrael, through the clarity of prophecy, did achieve a level of understanding equivalent to the "Written Torah," right down to inexplicit parts of halacha. However, during the era of the Second Temple, Klal Yisrael had no direct line to the source, things were much less clear and answers were not easily accessible. Therefore, our Sages had to employ the Torah's systems of analysis, derivation and logic, to be able to penetrate the Torah's wisdom.

We can therefore conclude that the destruction of the two Temples demonstrates Klal Yisrael's perpetual decline down the continuum of the "Written Torah" to the "Oral Torah," paralleled by the subsequent rise in the role of the Sages in preserving Judaism.

The Sin of the Spies represents the first of many times when Klal Yisrael who would show a lack of faith in their leaders and sages.

In response to the fabrications of the spies the Torah says, "Then I (Moshe) said to you, 'Do not be broken and do not fear them (the Cannanites).' Hashem, your G-d, who goes before you - he shall make war for you."(Devarim 1:29-30)

Despite Moshe's bold words, Klal Yisrael showed no faith. Our Rabbis explain that the Sin of the Spies, with its demonstration of lack of trust in the leadership of the Sages, was to become engrained in Klal Yisrael's basic temperament and sadly led to future catastrophies. One example of such tragedy was the rise of the Tzedukim - the Saducees, who staunchly disregarded the Oral Torah and showed a complete lack of faith in the Sages during the Second Temple era.

With the coming of Tisha B'Av, and in our present status in galus, may we all be successful in strengthening faith in our Sages, and may their insight lead us to the end of our long exile.

Dovid Manela is a participant in the Kollel's night seder program.

Parsha Encounters is coordinated by Rabbi Zvi Feiner and edited by Barbara Horwitz.



Copyright 1999 to present by Chicago Community Kollel