Eight-year-old Josh sat in his living room excitedly opening his birthday presents. He had already received some new toys from his grandparents, but his parents told him that their present was extra special. He’d be able to use it to light up whatever he wanted, to make unique shapes on the walls, and to play games in the backyard. As he took his brand-new flashlight out of the box, he excitedly flicked the switch to turn it on. Nothing happened. He flicked the switch off and back on, and again nothing happened. He pointed it around the room, then ran outside to the backyard and pointed it around out there as well. It must be broken, he thought sadly, as he trudged back into the house and dejectedly ate his birthday cake.
That night, he went to sleep with all his toys in his room, even his broken flashlight. As he was falling asleep, his mom knocked loudly on the door. He opened it, and quickly noticed that all the lights in the house were off. His mom asked if she could use his flashlight, as there had been a power outage. He took his flashlight and started explaining to her that it didn’t actually work. As he flicked it on, though, the hallway was suddenly bathed in light! As he moved around the house, the flashlight filled the dark house with a warm glow of illumination. His parents, noticing his confused expression, explained to him: “Your light is powerful beyond measure, but in the presence of sunlight, your flame is subsumed. Only in the dark, when the light has faded, can your small flame shine bright and be seen for what it truly is.”
Twelve Lines of Separation
The Jewish divorce document, called a get, is written according to a very specific format. One requirement is that it must be written across twelve lines. Tosafos (Gittin 2a) asks why this is so, first suggesting that perhaps it is because the word “get” has the gematria of twelve. Tosafos then gives another, much more enigmatic explanation: In total, there are twelve lines separating the five books of the Chamisha Chumshei Torah, as there are four lines of separation between each sefer in the five books of Torah. Since a get is a document of separation, separating man and wife, it therefore adopts this feature of separation from the Sefer Torah, requiring twelve lines as well. This is a compelling answer, because the Torah is the original “document” of the world, so it therefore seems reasonable to model the get, a halachic document, off of the foundational document of Torah. The document of separation therefore contains twelve lines, corresponding to the twelve lines of separation in the Torah. (This is the opinion of the Ri”y, in the name of Rav Hai Gaon and Rav Saadia Gaon.)
However, there is a major problem with this answer. Between each sefer in the Torah, there are four blank lines, but there are five books in the Torah for a total of sixteen lines! Why, then, are there only twelve lines in a get?
Tosafos explains that the lines between Bamidbar and Devarim are not regarded as lines of separation because Devarim is not considered a separate sefer; it is purely a repeat of everything that came before it. To a large degree, Sefer Devarim repeats many of the episodes found throughout the rest of Torah. This idea is reflected in the various names that are used to refer to Sefer Devarim:
- Chazal refer to Sefer Devarim as “Mishneh Torah,” which means a repeat or second Torah.
- The Latin name for Devarim, “Deuteronomy,” means “second law,” and originates from the Greek words deuteros nomos (second law).
However, we are still left with a question: Why does Devarim’s status as a repeat sefer preclude its four lines of separation from being included in the lines of a get? There are still four lines separating Bamidbar and Devarim!
Furthermore, the very nature of Sefer Devarim’s transmission appears highly problematic. The commentators explain that Moshe spoke the words of Devarim of his own volition, and Hashem then “ratified” these words as part of Torah. How can Moshe’s words be included in the Torah? The fundamental nature of Torah is its Divine authorship! In order to answer these questions and understand the deep nature of Sefer Devarim, we must develop an essential principle.
Explaining the Historical Transition
We have previously discussed the two unique stages of history and their respective features. We will now take a step back and attempt to understand why this transition occurred.
To briefly review:
- The first stage of history lasted from creation until the time of Purim and Chanukah. This stage was highlighted by the miracles of yetzias Mitzrayim and Matan Torah and the presence of nevuah. During this period, Hashem’s revelation in this world was apparent and clear. The physical world was naturally seen as an expression of a spiritual reality, and it was easy to source the physical back to the spiritual.
- The second stage, which began around the time of Purim, marked the end of open miracles and prophecy. We no longer experience open miracles, only hidden ones. Hashem is no longer openly manifest and clearly visible in this world; we no longer naturally source ourselves back to Hashem. (This is a theme deeply connected to Tisha B’Av, when we lost the Beis HaMikdash, our place of unique and incontrovertibly clear connection to Hashem.) In this stage, the world denies Hashem’s involvement in the world, claiming that life is meaningless, disconnected from anything higher. This age is one of atheism and nihilism, of accepting only that which can be quantified using science, logic, technology, and the five senses. Our challenge, therefore, is to choose to see Hashem; we must choose to see past the surface, to uncover the miraculous within the natural, the infinite within the finite, and the ethereal within the mundane. (The Anshei K’nesses Hagedolah were the leaders of the Jewish People during this Second Temple Era, and they took it upon themselves to ensure that we did not become consumed by this new age of secularism and atheism. In order to help us source everything back to Hashem – to link this physical world to something higher – Chazal instituted standardized tefillah and berachos to be said throughout the day, the yearly cycle, and the various stages of life. Without open revelation of Hashem’s attachment to, and involvement in, this world, these frameworks help us maintain awareness of that connection.)
It is clear that we now live in the second stage of history – one of darkness, distance, and seeming disconnect from Hashem. It is also clear that this was not always the case. We must therefore address the question of why this transition took place. Why did the very nature of reality shift at this point in time? Why did we need this new challenge of free will?
Inspiration and Actualization
The secret behind this transition is one of the most foundational concepts of Judaism, a phenomenon we have previously introduced. The Arizal, Ramchal, Vilna Gaon, and many other Jewish thinkers explain that every process contains three stages:
- The first stage is the high, the inspiration, the experience of perfection and clarity.
- Next comes the second stage: a sudden fall, a complete loss of everything that was experienced in the first stage.
- Then there is the third stage, a return to the perfection of the first stage. However, this third stage is fundamentally different from the first. It is the same perfection, the same clarity, but this time it’s a perfection and clarity that you have earned. The first time it was given to you; now you have worked to build it for yourself.
The first stage is the ideal, a gift to help you experience the ultimate goal, the destination. It’s a taste of what you can and hopefully will ultimately accomplish. But it’s not real; it’s given as a gift and is therefore an illusion. It serves only as a guiding force but cannot compare to the genuine accomplishment of building something yourself. It is therefore taken away to allow for the second and most important stage: building it yourself, undergoing the work required to attain this growth in actuality, and working for the perfection that you were shown. A gift isn’t real, but something chosen and earned is. We are in this world to choose, to assert our free will, and to create ourselves. Once we have tasted the first stage, we know what we are meant to choose and what we are meant to build. The third stage is a recreation of the first stage. While it appears to be the same, it’s fundamentally different; it’s real, it’s earned, it’s yours. The first stage was a gift, an illusion; the third is the product born of the effort and time you invested.
The first stage of history was a gift, an experience of the ideal. It was not difficult to find Hashem or to connect to that which is higher. Hashem openly revealed Himself through nevuah and miracles, it was a time of transcendence. We then lost that ideal. Nevuah and avodah zarah were removed from the world, the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, and a cloak of darkness fell over existence. We are now in the second stage, where we must rebuild toward the original goal, toward the transcendent ideal. We no longer have open revelation with its accompanying prophecy and clarity. However, it is precisely for this reason that we can choose to witness the truth and depth of the world, to see Hashem in everything, and to connect to the divine in all that we do. In a darkened world, we are uniquely able to cast our own light.
Accompanying this transition from the first stage to the second was another unique shift, one that has become the very lifeblood of the Jewish People. When the curtain fell over the first stage of history, the stage of Torah SheBa’al Peh was born. (It is important to note that Torah SheBa’al Peh itself originated at the same time as Torah She’bichsav, but the emphasis on Torah SheBa’al Peh and its development took place during this second stage.)
In our next article, we will delve deeper into this fascinating topic and try to understand it on an even deeper level.