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Shabbat Parashat Ki Tavo 5777

Ein Ayah: A Two-leveled Story

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 5:44)

Gemara: Rav Shmuel bar Nachmani said in the name of Rabbi Yonatan: Whoever says that Reuven sinned (to the full extent ostensibly stated by the Torah, by sleeping with Yaakov’s concubine), is mistaken. This is indicated by the pasuk (following the mention of the ostensible sin): “The sons of Yaakov were twelve (in number)” (Bereishit 35:22). This teaches us that they were all equivalent one to the other. So what does it mean, “He slept with Bilha, the concubine of his father”? Because he “mixed up” his father’s bed, the Torah treats it as if he slept with Bilha.


Ein Ayah: Hashem’s divine wisdom dictates the holy recordings that must be written in the Torah. He weighs precisely how they should impact those who study that section of the Torah.

Sometimes the internal principle that needs to be conveyed by the story to make a certain impression on the spirit cannot be gained if the story was expressed in its literal manner. From the reader’s “distant vantage point,” he will not be able to understand the main principle. Then Hashem employs precise and holy measuring instruments to determine how to portray the story so that we will receive it in a manner that will provide the proper impact.

In order to reach this goal, Hashem uses the double holy utensils of the Written and Oral Law in a unified manner. In that way, when the time comes that the concepts portrayed by the written text extend beyond their proper impact, then Hashem reveals the literal truth to us through the light of the Oral Law. Then we discover what actually transpired in the event described in the Torah. At that point, we have together the imprint left by the story as the simple words describe it and give an external message, along with the deeper message that comes from the Rabbinical exposition on the words of the Torah.

Each one has its own impact on the spirit. The simple meaning of the words has the advantage of being simple and that people are used to it from the time of their youth. The Rabbinical exegesis has the advantage of its novelty and the beauty of its analysis. When the two come together, the proper impression is preserved, and there is an appropriate balance that is the Torah of Life that was given to Israel.

The actions of the forefathers have a major impact on Israel. All of the details of their lives affect the nation not only in the past but even in the present and the future. The spirit that existed in the House of Yaakov, upon whose name we are still called, lives with us to this day, and its light illuminates our lives. If an event brought fog to this lighted area in the past, it still affects us today. We suffer, and we try to bring back the full light, with the help of Hashem, Who always looks after His flock.

The great and unblemished spirit of the “stone of Israel,” our forefather Yaakov, filled his home and we are still privy to the grandeur that he provided. If there was a negative spirit, due to internal strife, it caused the light to recede somewhat from what it should have been. This lessening of light comes to us, “from a distance” in our days, as an important flaw. Therefore, according to the divine calibration of the significance of events, the change in the power of Yaakov due to the fact that Reuven moved his bed in protest, was so poignant that it was equivalent to Reuven sleeping with Bilha.

On the other hand, if we want to properly view the level of Reuven, based on this story, we need the Oral Law’s exegetical tools, which were placed in trustworthy hands, to know that one must not say that Reuven sinned the sin of sleeping with Bilha. Rather, the story was presented in this complex manner so that we will realize the deep message that the impact of what the Rabbis taught actually happened was as great as if that which the Torah described happened literally.
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