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Shabbat Parashat Ki Tisa 5773

Parashat Hashavua: The Oral Law A Torah of Life

Harav Shaul Yisraeli based on Siach Shaul, pg. 294-5

The pasuk says in our parasha: “For based on (lit., on the mouth of) these things, I have forged a treaty with you and with Israel.” The gemara (Gittin 60b) derives from this pasuk that the treaty between Hashem and Israel is based specifically on the Torah Sheb’al Peh (the Oral Law).

The Oral Law is the foundation of that which separates Bnei Yisrael from the nations of the world. Many, many nations are connected to the Written Law (Tanach), whereas the Oral Law remains uniquely ours. The Written Law can be placed in a bookcase and remain there without obligating one too much. It can even be in an adorned bookcase, and it can be sandwiched by very impressive books, while life goes on as usual.

The Oral Law is a Torah of life. It envelopes a person from the time he rises in the morning until the time he goes to sleep. It guides his behavior minute by minute, hour by hour. It tells him not just what to eat, but also how to eat and how to obtain the food. It teaches us that not only must one’s food be kosher, but the mouth that eats it must be kosher. The Oral Law teaches us what our eyes, our legs, and our hands should be used for. It shows how to take real advantage of the blessings of Hashem and how to react properly when the Hand of Hashem strikes painfully.

While the Written Law requires that a person approach the given text, the Oral Law comes to a person, as it is made for one person to use it to inspire his counterpart. Success in the learning process depends not only on he who absorbs it but on he who passes it on.

Because the Oral Law is a Torah of life, it is for every Jew. It is not focused on one segment of society but on all. We all say in our prayers: “For [the words of Torah] are our life and the length of our days, and we will focus our thoughts on them both day and night.”

The forging of a covenant implies a special relationship between the Creator and the Jewish Nation. At a time [apparently written in 1977] of political upheavals, lack of clarity, pressure from the U.S., and threats from enemies who surround us, we must open the Torah and learn how to react. We should read the opening to Yehoshua, which describes the initial conquest of the Land and the guidance Yehoshua received to succeed. He was told: “Just be strong and assert yourself … the book of the Torah should not be separated from your mouth, and you shall contemplate it day and night” (Yehoshua 1:7-8).

This is both a warning and guidance. It is possible for us to think mainly about equipping ourselves with better military technology and improving our training, and we might thus neglect the spiritual side. We may forget the need to develop a way of life that is unique to our nation, and instead become a nation like other nations. We might hope that then we will be treated normally. Hashem told Yehoshua that at a time of conquest, it is all the more crucial to strengthen the covenant with Hashem, one which will never let us down.  That is what gives us the courage to stand up to the pressures, with a confidence in the justice of our struggle and a feeling that in the end justice will prevail. 
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