A Taste of Torah in Honor of Shabbat
by Rabbi Avi Weiss
Shabbat Parshat Terumah
2 Adar 5758
Each of the holy objects in the Tabernacle had symbolic
meaning. Consider the Ark (Aron) in which the Torah was placed. (Exodus 25:10-22) Its very
structure teaches much about the process of Jewish law (halakha).
The Ark was made up of three boxes. The outer and inner
boxes were gold, the middle was wood. What does this symbolize? Gold is inanimate, rigid
and unbending. Wood grows, it has the capacity to bend with the wind. What this
teaches is that like the inner and outer goldboxes, halakha has its limits. But
within these limits, halakha like wood, has some flexibility.
In other words, Jewish law is not monolithic. Within rigid guidelines there may be
opposite opinions--but the power of halakha is that two positions, even if antithetical,
may be correct in the spirit of "both views are the words of the living God."
On the sides of the Ark were staves (poles) by which the Ark was carried. This to
teach us that the Torah applies in every place and in every time. In other words, Torah is
not stagnant; based on its Biblical foundation and the thirteen principles for developing
the law--halakha continues to evolve.
No wonder the holiday of Shavuot, unlike all other
festivals, is not tied to an historical event. Nowhere in the Bible is it linked to the
giving of the Torah. This because Jewish law is forever being given. A decision found in
Rav Moshe Feinstein's responsa, a declaration pronounced by the Lubavitcher Rebbe,
are all manifestations of the continuum of Torah.
There is one other part of the Aron that deserves
mention. At the top was the cover (kaporet) upon which were the keruvim, two figures
looking like child-angels. For me, the keruvim symbolize that halakha is not a
computer-like system which operates irrespective of the individual and his problem.
The figure of the child-like face atop the Ark teaches that Jewish law is a living
structure that takes into account the situation.
Commenting on the expression emet le-ameto (literally,
true to the truth), the Gaon of Vilna notes that emet is knowing the law; ameto is
recognition of the circumstances. A decisor of Jewish Law must not only be erudite
in the halakhic text, but also must have an understanding of life itself.
No wonder then, when we return the Torah to the Ark, we proclaim that the Torah is the
"Tree of Life." (Proverbs 3:18) Note, the Torah is not referred to as the Tree
of Knowledge--because knowledge alone is not enough to comprehend Torah. One also requires
deep insights into life itself, and the recognition in the words of the Proverbs that
"its (the Torah) ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace."
Thus, the message of the Ark goes beyond the specifics of how it was constructed. It
speaks to some of the central messages of Jewish law itself.
of "A Taste of Torah" by Rabbi Avi Weiss from other Parshiyot
VISIT THE HIR'S NEW WEB BAYIT
© 5758/1997. Rabbi Avi Weiss, Hebrew
Institute of Riverdale
All rights reserved.
Comments to Webmaster