Photo Credit:

The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l. The Rav’s unique perspective on Chumash permeated many of the shiurim and lectures he presented at various venues over a 40-plus-year period. His words add an important perspective that makes the Chumash in particular, and our tradition in general, vibrant and relevant to our generation.



Mazal Tov to Bracha, Aliza and Shoshana Rapps upon reaching major milestones in their Jewish Education. Hakarat HaTov to TAG and Bruriah High School.

  * * * * *

The Torah commands us to remember the day of the exodus (Exodus 13:3). Rashi derives from this verse the daily obligation to remember the exodus. While Maimonides derives the daily obligation from a different source, he uses this verse to support his comparison of the obligations to remember both Sabbath and Passover, Zachor (Hilchot Chometz Umatzah 7:1). What does the obligation to remember entail? Why is it so intricately associated with certain observances and commandments?

How do different cultures transmit their ideas, hopes, and aspirations from one generation to the next? Ancient civilizations, like the Greeks and Romans, are known to us only through their written works. Aristotle and Plato are known to us only through their writings. There is no connection between Greek culture in the time of Aristotle and Plato and the Greek nation of today. There is no associated oral tradition that sheds light on their lives and accomplishments.

Our tradition is built on the combination of a written and oral transmission. Both are indispensable components of our past, present, and future. Moses was commanded to record our eternal obligation to eradicate Amalek in a book and relate it to Joshua. A written record alone was insufficient as it could remain unread and become stale. He had to transmit the obligation to Joshua as well, to etch the message into his memory as well as the collective memory of future generations. The written word was insufficient to accomplish this. Indeed, it is our collective memory built on a written, as well as an oral tradition, that differentiates the Jewish nation from all others.

We have a written and oral Torah that jointly forms the foundation of our value system and tradition. Perhaps the oral law can be considered the stronger of the two in our national experience. Chazal tells us that the commandment to write the Torah and explain it well (Deuteronomy 27:8) was not for our national benefit. It was intended for the 70 nations, who know of only the written word but do not acknowledge the oral tradition. For the Jew who combines the written and the oral traditions, the commandment to explain it well is superfluous. Inherently it will be explained well to the Jew through the oral tradition he receives from the previous generation and will be responsible to transmit to the next generation.

To appreciate the importance of our oral tradition, let us examine the laws of testimony. A court requires oral testimony by each witness, in its presence. It is unacceptable for a witness to send a recorded transcript in place of an oral testimony in-person. While a written record can be employed to jog a witness’s memory, it can never provide the core testimony in a case. The court must investigate and interrogate the witness carefully, asking detailed questions designed to expose false witnesses. The witness must pass these tests to determine if his testimony is valid. Judges must ascertain that the witness recalls each detail, that nothing is forgotten. It is unacceptable for a witness to omit details, whether or not he deems them important. When it comes to establishing guilt or innocence, no detail is too small to be considered.


Previous articleDelayed Payment
Next articlePopular ‘Potter’ Star, Unpopular Israel Defamer, Dead at 69
Rabbi Joshua Rapps attended the Rav's shiur at RIETS from 1977 through 1981 and is a musmach of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. He and his wife Tzipporah live in Edison, N.J. Rabbi Rapps can be contacted at