If in my statutes you will walk (im bekhukotai telechu)” (Lv 26:3).
PART I – The Irrational Commands
Generally speaking, the commands are divided in two main categories (Lv 25:18): “Khukot (statutes) and Mishpatim (laws or judgments)”.
While Mishpatim (judgments) are logical (ethical and comprehensive) laws, the Khukot are the kind of commands that are beyond human reason. The “Red Heifer” is the typical example for this category. It’s the kind of commands that don’t seem to have a rational Divine logic, and we don’t see any benefit in doing them. Obviously from God’s point of view every law is logical. The logical ‘prohibition to murder’ and the seemingly illogical command ‘not to cook a kid in it mother’s milk’ are both rooted in God’s Divine mind who sees the need for us to obey both. But from our point of view, the Khukot don’t seem to be logical, and we to try to guess and find reasons behind those commands so that we will feel some motivation in fulfilling them. But sometimes our only motivation for those “illogical laws” is: “Because God says so and He knows better; period”.
So in essence all commands are rational; but the reason for some of them has not been revealed to us, and those are the ‘Khukot’ (translated as: statutes).
“If in my statutes you will walk” (Lv 26:3).
Why the first paragraph emphasizes that the blessing comes by walking in the Khukot (statutes)? The reason is that God requires from us “Emunah” (that is: fidelity in “faith”). God demands to obey everything in complete Submission, even if we don’t understand why. That’s the secret of:
“We will do and [then] understand” (Naasheh veNishma; Ex 24:7).
Nevertheless, I’m not telling you to live in blind faith, being religiously manipulated, not knowing what you are doing and why. That’s not the case. Study and investigation is required, and it “leads to action” (Kiddushin 40b). Both extremes are wrong, the one who believes everything without question and the one who questions everything without believing.
Just like Khukot seem irrational (or ‘supra-rational’) to us, we don’t need to understand everything God commands from us in order to follow Him; we must have “faith” in Him. Because sometimes our personal understanding of certain laws separate us from God, but by “walking” in faith in those seemingly irrational commands, we learn the path of obedience and submission and eventually, when we reach certain level of ‘adherence to God’ (devekut), ethical or spiritual reasons behind those commands will be revealed – it can be compared to a man that digs a well in the desert and living water springs under his feet. He was in the wilderness, but he had faith there was water there and that’s why he kept digging.
By doing this, we receive “rain in due season” (Lv 26:4); which is the sweet flavour of experiencing new revelations of God’s word, as it’s written: “my doctrine will drop as rain” (Dt 32:2).
PART II – The Oral Torah
“If in my statutes you will walk, and my commands would you observe, and do them” (Lv 26:3).
Since Khukot are a sub-category of Commands (mitzvot), there’s a reason for the Torah using both expressions, according to the Zohar.
The ethical and spiritual reasons and principles that motivate us to understand and obey those seemingly irrational commands are not developed in the Torah; “We” develop them. Therefore, the Zohar says the Khukot pertain to the Divine Attribute called: the Oral Torah (the Torah that is developed by mouth – Torah she be’al Peh).
The word “beKhukotai” shares root with: ‘Khakika’ – ‘engraved’; because the Torah must be carved on us, thus becoming ourselves a living Torah whose words are dynamic and comprehensible to us.
You might argue we don’t need “Oral Torah”; only what is written in the Bible is enough for us; we don’t rely on men, but only in God’s word. ‘Protestant Christians’ and ‘Karaite Jews’ would often add the words of the Prophet: “cursed be the man that trusts in man” (Jer 17:5), together with: “Do not add… neither diminish anything from [the Torah]” (Dt 4:2). Have you considered that the Bible we rely on was written and canonized by men?
- The Torah was written down in a specific language (Hebrew, thus being subject to ambiguity).
- To make the matter worse, the original doesn’t have signs, punctuation or vowels (our traditional reading comes from the Mesorah of the Pharisees).
- It was entrusted to specific people (the Jews and their culture).
- Its interpretation is in the hands of men (every translation of the Bible is the translator’s personal interpretation).
- Therefore, it’s literally IMPOSSIBLE NOT to have “Oral Torah”.
Think of it, whenever you discuss with your friend about a Biblical verse and share ideas and opinions, the moment you open your mouth, that’s it! You are giving oral interpretations and are contributing to Oral Torah. Karaites and Protestants also have “external literature” outside the Bible; books written by their pastors, by their rabbis, by their ministers, or by themselves! All of that, my friends, is Oral Torah. Since the Torah is not in Heaven, but in our hands, there’s not such a thing as “Sola-Scriptura”.
Now, there are many religions and sects and sects within sects, all of them based on the Word of God. All of them claim to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, and all of them contradict each other. The question is: Who then is giving the real Oral Torah that everyone should follow? Did God delegate this duty to someone? The answer is Yes.
According to the Torah you have to rely on the Judges of Israel, also called the Sages, and not on your own understanding; for it’s written:
“Trust… not on your own understanding” (Prov 3:5),
“Al pi haTorah asher yorukha” – “on the Oral [explained, spoken part] of the Torah which they will direct you… you must do, and don’t decline neither to the right nor to the left” (Dt 17:11).
According to our sages, personal interpretation is permitted, but BEFORE THAT we need a foundation. Interpretation without foundation is like building houses upon sand. Baal Shem Tov explained that the first step is submission (ie. learning from the sages – being humble and recognize that you don’t know it all, and that you might be wrong), the second is separation (being able to distinguish the many laws under the many different levels of interpretation) and only then comes the Sweetening, that is: when you can give your own insight, working on what has already been established; because first of all, the Scripture was entrusted to a community, not to one person alone; and is meant to be observed in community; not in disorder, as it’s written: “in those days there was no ruler in Israel and everyone did as he saw fit” (Jdg 17:6).
God commanded the Jews to wear fringes (Tzitzit) on their clothes. The Torah expects all the community to obey this in unity, but doesn’t explain how to do it. So if all the community is wearing fringes according to what the sages established, why would you come with your own personal invented version of the tzitzit?
PART III – The Nasty Aroma
The correction for “doing what we see fit” is to be attached to the sages of the Torah and the Tzadikkim (righteous ones, or saints, who are the pillars of the world [Prov 10:25]); for it’s written “the ruler over man shall be the righteous; he that rules in the fear of the Lord” (2S 23:3). We cannot turn away from their word, not to the left nor to the right (Dt 17:11), for it’s also written:
“Be warned, my son… of making many books there is no end” (Ecl 12:12);
one of the possible interpretations for this verse is that ‘Not all the many interpretations and details of the Torah need to be written down; just rely on the sages, as a son relies on his father. “Much scoffing wearies the flesh” (Eccl 12:12), and here our sages interpret that someone who scoffs at the words of the sages will be condemned to boiling excrements (cf. Eiruvin 21b) [[the word normally translated here as: “study” (lahag – להג ) is not the common verb for Study, and in fact also means to prattle, to ridicule]].
What does it mean to be punished with “boiling excrements”? This metaphor refers to the mental status of such person who thinks to be wiser than the sages and therefore mock at them; since he is not able to digest their words (because he doesn’t understand them) he expels them in a putrid and heated manner thus making others to smell an unpleasant odor. As a result his judgment is perverted, as it’s written: “the wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted” (Hab 1:4). “His judgments they don’t know” – בל ידעום (Psal 147:20), meaning (in the secret of this verse): their mind ידעה is confused בלבל (cf. Likutei Moharan I:61).
PART IV – The Three Torot
From the words of the Zohar we understand at least three levels of Torah.
- The highest level is the Wisdom of God with which he created the World, as it’s written: “when He established Heavens I was there” (Prov 8:27). This is the Torah in a level that we cannot even begin to grasp. This in Kabbalah corresponds to the “upper intellectual Sefirot”.
- The second level is when God’s Wisdom descended at mount Sinai and was written down by Moses directly from God’s mouth, as it’s written: “write this for memorial in the Book” (Ex 17:14) and also: “This is the Torah that Moses set before the people Israel” (Dt 4:44)—“by the mouth of God, through the hand of Moses” (Nm 9:23). This is the Written Torah, which corresponds to the 6 emotive Sefirot (Zeir Anpin).
- The lowest level is when the written Torah was given in hands of the sages of Israel in order to interpret it and guide the people as a community, for it’s written: “It’s not in Heaven” (Dt 30:12). The Torah of the community corresponds to the lower Sefirah: Malkhut – the Shekhina, and in order to have harmony in the 10 Sefirot, the Oral and the Written Torah work in harmony and in unity as if they were one.
PART V – The Fourth Torah
Thanks to our ancestors’ Oral Torah we know the existence of ‘Messiah’ (who is not directly mentioned in the Torah except by inferences on a few vague verses), but he was revealed through Oral Torah, as his name implies: M-Shiakh – מ שיח (from speaking, from conversation); and this also is a hint that his mission on Earth has to do with Dialoguing and speaking.
“I will give you the rains in due season” (Lv 26:4).
Messiah (through Oral Torah) will reveal a higher aspect of the Torah, as it’s written: “a [new] Torah will issue from me” (Is 51:4; cf. Vayikra Rabbah 13:3). Not that there are Old and New laws, for none can add or subtract from the Torah. The Torah is always the same; what changes is the level of revelation according to the place in which the Torah is engraved; the level of God’s mind, the level in which is printed in a stone, or in which is written in our hearts (Ez 36:26) (cf. Likutei Halakhot, Eruvei Tekhumin 5:22).
Messiah is the true Tzaddik to whom we must attach to learn Torah, for it says: “the ruler over man shall be the righteous one; he that rules in the fear of the Lord” (2S 23:3), and about Messiah is written: “I will raise to David a righteous branch” (Jer 23:5) “and will rest upon him… the fear of the Lord” (Is 11:2). He’s the maximum foundation of the world (Prov 10:25), as our sages said: ‘for the sake of one Tzaddik was the world created’ (Yoma 38b).
He will bring deeper wisdom, judgments and interpretations, as it’s written: “I will cause a branch of righteousness to grow up to David, and he will execute laws” (Jer 33:15). As the old Samaritan saying goes:
“When Messiah comes, he will explain all things to us”, and this is according to the Scripture:
“for what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand” (Is 52:15).
Messiah’s Torah, which is developed through Oral Torah, will bring the Written Torah to a new level, as close as possible to God’s abstract and ineffable Divine Torah, which will cause a new era in which: “They will all know me” (Jer 31:34) and in which the highest Torah, which is God’s Wisdom will run free and be received by kids and elders equally, thus transforming this world into Godliness (cf. Maharal, Netzakh Israel ch. 42). The world and the manner in which we obey the commands will transcend the physical barriers we experience today (cf. Torah Ohr, Miketz 37b), it will be like the Torah before Adam (cf. Hemshekh v’kakha 5637, ch. 18). Therefore it’s written:
“Eye have not seen, oh God, except you, what it’s prepared for he who waits for him” (Is 64:3 ; cf. Sanh 99a).
May it be speedily in our days!