sukkoth (part 2 of 3) not a system

[see sukkoth part 1 here]

We left off last time explaining that the eighth day of Sukkoth, Shemini Atzereth, is a celebration of the direct relationship with HaShem that is our inheritance. Unlike the nations of the world, we don't need to relate to HaShem through any fixed structure or system, we can relate directly.

This raises a serious question. If we are celebrating the lack of rigid structure in our relationship with HaShem, how is it that we celebrate the Torah (a highly complex system for relating to HaShem) on the very same day?

My answer is that the Torah isn't really a system, this is something very simple to say but very difficult to convey.

This is how I would try to distill down what exactly Torah is:

The Written Torah is prophecy frozen in written form.

The Oral Torah is a description of the actions that flow naturally from this frozen prophetic state. Since we aren't necesarily able to internalize this prophetic state, we can perform the actions of the Oral Torah as a means to try and stimulate/reestablish the prophecy embedded in the Written Torah.

Perhaps we can describe it in terms of Tzedakkah, The Rambam explains that the highest level of Tzedakah is providing someone with the ability to help themselves. Rather than giving someone money or time or materials or knowledge, sometimes even giving someone encouragement or praise can be the highest form of Tzedakkah.

There are a number of levels of Torah and with each of them HaShem is performing Tzedakkah with us on a different level. Through the Mishnah HaShem teaches us how to judge and descriminate between things, not by telling us what to do in every situation but rather through changing the way we see and relate to the world. Through the Talmud HaShem teaches us how to think, how to use the different intellectual attributes, not by telling us what they are and giving us increased control over them but by encouraging us to pursue His own designs. Through the Zohar HaShem educates our spiritual palate just as a connoisseur might educate his protege, through feeding us tasty subtle morsels that sharpen our senses and make us aware of new flavors, experiences. Through the Written Torah, HaShem draws us close to Him. He calls to us, binds us, reveals new faces, shares private jokes.

The Torah isn't a system, it is HaShem's side of the dialog. He already knows what we are thinking and what we want most to say, so he's already replied, already comforted and consoled, already laughed at our jokes, already reciprocated our affections. Open up the Torah, start thinking about anything at all, start any conversation with HaShem in earnest, and wherever you look in any sefer on any page, HaShem's reply is right before your eyes. Take that response into account and formulate a new question, take the conversation in a new direction and still you will see right there what HaShem wants you to hear in response. As long as we are open to hearing His voice.

The world too is the same, after all it's based on the Torah. You can't escape HaShem's conversation with us, as Yonah's story teaches. The Torah, the world, everything that you can experience is what HaShem is telling you right now. The Holy Baal Shem Tov taught us this.

The Torah isn't a system. There is no system, there's only you and HaShem. We cherish the Torah on the eighth day like we cherish the most precious gift of our beloved, no matter how precious the gift itself, the fact that it comes from our beloved makes it priceless.


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