Divrei Azriel: Torah Even in the Depths

This week's dvar Torah is by Yoni Miller, who is co-editor of the weekly Torah thought along with Danny Shulman.

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YU RIETS Israel Kollel,

 Nachamu Nachamu Ami - Be comforted, My people - for you have Torah even in the lowest realities

 In the midst of Moshe Rabbeinu's retelling of what transpired at maamad Har Sinai, he declares to Am Yisrael the famous moving pasuk (4:35), "Ata hareita ladaat ki Hashem Hu Ha-Elokim, Ein Od Milvado."  One may wonder, how was Hashem able to demonstrate the absolute reality that He is the One and Only God?  In order to satisfy this difficulty,

Rashi teaches what precisely Hashem displayed to Am Yisrael.  "When Hakadosh Baruch Hu gave the Torah, He opened for them the seven heavens.  And just as He opened the upper spheres, so too He split the lower realms and thus they saw that He is the only One".  We are all very aware, to some extent, of the lofty and transcendent experience of the Jewish People at Har Sinai.  We heard and saw Hashem speak to us.  We saw the angels in their pristine formation in the heavenly court.  As a reward for our angelic acceptance of Torah, we were crowned with angelic crowns.  Surely, it was the singular holiest and purest moment of all time.  At no other time in our history have we truly matched the closeness, kirva la'Hashem, which we reached at Har Sinai.

But along comes our greatest teacher Rashi and tells us.  You know what else we saw at Har Sinai?  We looked way down to the bottom of creation.  We saw darkness and brokenness.  We saw pain and suffering, the lowest depths of all reality.  But why did this element have to be part of Kabbalat HaTorah?  Why damper the spiritually immaculate moment with a glimpse of hell?

Perhaps we can answer based on the following insight.  Later in our Parsha, we encounter the essential declaration of the faith and devotion of Am Yisrael (6:4).  Many have asked, why is there a need for the pasuk of Shema Yisrael to be broken up into separate clauses and not simply declare "Hashem Elokeinu Echad?" 

The Ohr-Hachayim HaKadosh answers this question by explaining that there are two levels in how we relate to the Rebbono Shel Olam.  He is firstly Elokeinu, our Lord, with whom we have a relationship with and to whom we are subservient.  Secondly, He is Echad, not simply the only G-D, but the only reality whatsoever.  Therefore the Ohr-HaChayim teaches the following - slightly jaw dropping - explanation.  Shema needs two separate clauses since we are making two independent declarations.  Namely, we are proclaiming that even if the second half of the statement were to not be truthful and there were multiple gods, we would nevertheless still declare "Hashem Elokeinu"!  This explanation seems to be very theologically troubling.  Aren't we taught to absolutely never entertain such a possibility?  Isn't any reality which is outside extraneous to one Hashem and His one Torah totally foreign to yiddeshkeit?

 Perhaps, this teaching of the Ohr HaChayim HaKadosh comes to speak to the very challenging moments when we encounter such immense brokenness and unthinkable spiritual disharmony, in our personal lives as well as in the world around us.  Sometimes we experience utter churban.  We are totally destroyed and we perceive a world which seemingly doesn't indicate "Hashem Echad." the Lord is One.  It is for times like this, of despair and doubt, that the Ohr HaChayim tells us we will still declare "Hashem Elokeinu,"  the Lord is our God.

What seems to emerge is that this was the purpose of peering down into the darkest places at Sinai, Kabbalat HaTorah.  The Gemara in Berachot (59a) teaches that "from the day of the destruction of the Bet HaMikdash the heavens in their pure beauty have not been seen."  From that day we have certainly not been zocheh to that wondrous heavenly perception which the Bet HaMikdash afforded us and the reality with which we have lived has sometimes been one of grave difficulties. 

Our consolation, however, is that our Torah is lo bashamayim hi.  Not only does this mean that it is not in the hands of angels and it is in the hands of mortal man, but it also may connote that it is not only in the shamayim moments of life.  Torah was given to be for us a guide and a companion for every element of our individual lives and of our national history. 

We can't even imagine that first Shabbos after the destruction of the Temple.. There must have been such unthinkable despair and hopelessness.  But Rashi teaches us that the Torah is with us there as well.  It's up to us to be mekabel the Torah in the broken and dark places as well.  This then, is the ultimate nechama.  As bleak as it gets and as broken as we may be, Hashem gave us Torah in that reality as well and we always have the koach to declare that the Lord is our God, "Hashem Elokeinu."