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Monday, 14 March 2016

Be as Flawless as an Etrog!

Daf Yomi Kiddushin 3
When Moshe Rabbeinu received the Torah at Sinai, he received both a Written Law and an Oral Law.  The latter is the explanation, clarification and specification for everything in the former.  Without it, not only wouldn’t we understand the Bible, we would completely misinterpret it and practise a religion that would hardly resemble Judaism!

But how do we know that the Oral Law Hashem gave Moshe was transmitted faithfully and flawlessly to the people?

Maimonides explains the process: When Moshe received the Torah sheBaal Peh, the Oral Law, he entered his tent and called in his brother, Aharon, to relay it to him.  After that, Aharon’s two sons, Elazar and Isamar entered, and Moshe reviewed everything he had initially taught.  Following that review, the Seventy Elders entered the tent, and Moshe once again taught the Oral Law to all assembled.  Finally, he went out and taught it to all the people.   In other words, Moshe ended up teaching it four times!

Next, Aharon reviewed it with the Children of Israel.  Then his sons reviewed it with the people.  Finally, the Elders reviewed it with the people.  And so, everyone ended up reviewing it four times!  Once that had happened, there was no doubting that the Oral Law had been transmitted completely intact!

An etrog is like a fruit in three ways and like a vegetable in one way.   Just like a vegetable grows from any water and when it is picked it is tithed, so too an etrog may grow from any water and when it is picked it is tithed.
Rashi explains: Fruit trees are watered by the rain, whereas vegetables are watered by both rain and irrigation.  Fruit trees are tithed looking backwards on the prior year, whereas vegetables are tithed with a look towards the year ahead.

Just like vegetables, the etrog is unique in that it is nourished by water from above and below.  In our tradition, water symbolizes Torah.  That’s why the Baal Shem Tov says that one who sees water should know that it is a sign of blessing.  Some go so far as to say that the ultimate blessing is a rained-out chuppah! 

Why is Torah compared to water?  Just like water flows from high places to low places, so too does Torah.  The strength of Torah is in the chain of tradition that links us to our parents and them to their parents, all the way back to Sinai.   The Torah and mitzvos that we learn and practise today is the same Torah and mitzvos that have been practised forever.  Why?  Because we accept the sanctity of the ‘water’ that has come from the high places – the generations that walked before us.

Nevertheless, the etrog is a unique fruit because it gets watered from high and low waters.  What does that mean?  Sometimes Torah comes from the low places.  Our Sages teach, “Much Torah have I learned from my teachers; even more from my friends; but from my students, most of all!”

It’s one thing to learn Torah.  It’s another thing to discuss Torah with your peers.  But the ultimate test of whether you have truly mastered the material comes when you have to teach it.  When students ask you questions, it truly hones your skills and understanding.  That’s the beauty and uniqueness of gaining nourishment from the lower waters!  Your students, the lower waters, are the future – that’s why the tithing occurs looking forwards, not backwards!

Some people think that they don’t know enough Torah to teach it.  That’s nonsense.  If you are reading this Life Yomi, then you have some Torah knowledge that many others lack!  And you have a duty to share it with them.  When you discuss it with them, you will see that not only will you remember it better, you will understand it more deeply and thoroughly! 

That’s how our Oral Law has always been transmitted.  Moshe taught it and retaught it.  Aharon taught it and retaught it.  They were asked questions, which made them think even harder and more thoroughly about the material.  That’s how they mastered it and that’s how it was transmitted perfectly through the ages. 

It’s time for you to join the transmission link!  Go out and teach Torah!  Get your water from above and below!  Become as unique as an etrog!  They say that the word etrog is an abbreviation for everything in life that we seek wholesomeness in; and so may you merit Emunah sheleimah, Teshuvah sheleimah, Refuah sheleimah, v (and) Geulah sheleimah!

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