Torah for the World

Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Parshas Tazria

There are no better days for a person than the days of a baby while he or she is still in his mother’s womb. Besides the comfort of a Gan Eden existence, having all of its needs taken care of without any effort – there is also a spiritual component to this.

Reb Simlai taught that there is a torch burning on the head of the baby that allows it to see from one end of the world to the other while an angel teaches it the entire Torah. When it is born, the angel slaps the baby on the mouth and it forgets everything it learned in utero. All of us have to start from scratch to master the Torah. (Nidda 30)

Why the slap? Wouldn’t it be incredible if we were born with all that Torah? Wouldn’t the world be a great place?

It wouldn’t work. The womb is a perfect place – the world is not! There are two Torahs: Torah for the womb and Torah for the real world. At the end of days, when the Moshiach comes we may get back to the womb Torah, but for now we are slapped and told to get real.

There is a war going on. War is not pretty - but very real. There are orphans and widows, there is hunger and pain. To speak peace is beautiful but it’s hilchoso demishicha. Torah today is much more difficult to apply. Today we have to balance love and hate. Today we have to feel compassion for our enemies. Very - very difficult. There was a moving picture in the NY Times of an American soldier comforting a young Iraqi girl whose parents his friends had just killed. If I picture myself fighting this war I become frightened – not so much from missiles and grenades but from the contradictory emotions that it presents. Negotiating this type of contradiction is real world Torah.

In Bnei Brak, 50,000 people took part in a funeral for five Torah scrolls that were torched in an arson fire. The remnants of the burnt scrolls were taken in a ZAKA ambulance to the Ponovezh cemetery, and were buried between two of the famed yeshiva's leading deans.  Psalms 20 and 80 were recited, as was the "Sha'ali Srufah B'Esh" dirge written by Maharam MeRotenberg after the burning of 24 Torah scrolls in Paris over a millennium ago.

This was a very moving event. I take exception though to the words that were spoken by one of the organizers of the event. He said, "There is no question that the atmosphere of scorn for the Torah that is so prevalent in some circles is what allows this kind of horrendous act to happen."

By referring to the secular lack of honor to the Torah he shifted the focus away from the important issue – ourselves. The Talmud teaches us that if a tragedy takes place we should examine OUR misdeeds – (“yefashfesh b’maasuv” Talmud Brachos) not other people’s. Our own scorn for the Torah has to be examined. We have to ask ourselves if we are really doing what the Torah teaches. Do we really want to know? Should we love or should we hate? Or should we love people even if we hate what they do? Shifting the focus away from ourselves not only misses the point but exacerbates it. This division may be the very scorn that G-d is talking to us about! These words are a product of studying Torah for the womb and not Torah for the world. Even in our community there is a tendency to feel so much more righteous than everyone who does things differently. If everyone would do things the same we could have a Messianic Torah. We do things differently -- so we need Torah for the world! We should never participate in any conversation which causes division between Jews. The net result is always negative.

The Parsha teaches us that as soon as we are born from a woman into this world a whole new set of obligations ensues. A system which is different that anything we ever knew before.

If we really keep the Torah we will be privileged to see a time where that first Torah is the real Torah; a time where there will be no war, and we will all come together in Jerusalem . Let it be this year!

© Copyright 2005