Is it possible to implement the Torah according to human intellect alone?
(25,2) “Speak to the children of Yisrael, and they shall take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering.”
In the Midrash it says that this posuk is explained by the posuk in Mishlei 4:2 “A good teaching I have given to you; do not forsake My Torah” - do not forsake the merchandise that I have given to you. When a person sells merchandise, does he normally sell himself with it? But Hashem said to Yisrael: I have sold to you My Torah, and I have been sold with it, so to speak. As it says (our posuk), “take Me as an offering”. It is like the parable of a king who had an only daughter, and another king came and married her and requested permission to return to his country together with his wife. The king replied: The daughter which I gave to you is my only daughter. To be separated from her I cannot; to tell you not to take her I cannot, because she is your wife. Therefore, please do me a favor - wherever you go, make for me a small room, so that I can dwell there with you both, because I cannot leave my daughter. So too said Hashem to Yisrael: I gave to you the Torah. To be separated from it I cannot; to tell you not to take it I cannot. Therefore, everywhere that you go make for Me a small house, so that I can dwell there, as it says 25:8 “And they shall make for Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell in their midst”.
But the parable does not appear to be the same as the analogy, because if the king would let his daughter leave then certainly he would not be with her. But in the case of Hashem this is not true - because Hashem is in the heavens would He be separated from the Torah? No! Firstly, the whole world is filled with His glory, and secondly, the Torah could be both in the heavens and on the earth.
However, the thoughts of our Rabbis are very deep, and there is a very great intent behind their holy words, and we can explain them according to the words of the Ran in his discourses, chapter 7. There he explains the teaching of Chazal concerning a dispute in halachah - ‘even though these declare it pure, and these declare it impure, these and these are the words of the living G-d’ - how could this be? He also explains the gemora in Bava Metzia 86a, concerning a person who has a white spot (baheress) with two white hairs in it, which, if the two hairs had turned white after the spot appeared, would be declared by a Kohen to be impure. The question arose in the Heavenly Academy about a case where it is not known which came first, the white hairs or the white spot. Hashem said that in such a case he is pure, but the Heavenly Academy said he is impure. They asked: Who will decide the case? Rabbah bar Nachmoni, who was an expert in these laws. The angel of death brought him, and as his soul was leaving his body, he cried out, “Pure! Pure!”. Why did they need to consult his opinion?
The Ran explains that divine intellect and human intellect are not at all equal, and on the contrary, they are complete opposites. And so that which is fitting to be considered pure according to the divine intellect, could well be considered impure by the human intellect, or vice versa. Now, Hashem gave the Torah to Yisrael, and in it is written that “one should go after the majority” - that the halachah is decided according to the majority opinion of the Rabbis. So we see that the Torah was given to humans, to practise it according to their human minds and human intellect. Hashem gave them permission to implement it according to their human intellect alone, even if divine intellect would teach the opposite - as Chazal said, ‘the Torah is not in the heavens’. Therefore, even if these declare it impure, and these declare it pure, nevertheless they are both the words of the living G-d - that is, the human intellect teaches like one opinion, and the divine intellect teaches the other, opposite opinion. And the reason why they asked Rabbah bar Nachmoni to decide was to see if his human intellect would also agree with them, because of our principle that we go after the human intellect. See there in the words of the Ran at length, because this is only a summary of his words.
With this we can understand what Chazal taught, that the ministering angels argued against giving the Torah to Yisrael - (Tehillim 8:5) “What is man that You are mindful of him? (8:2) “Bestow Your majesty upon the heavens”. But what exactly was their argument? Surely it is possible that they could both know the Torah! If somebody learns with his friend a chapter of Torah, does this mean that the second one is stealing that chapter from the first person? Certainly the first one knows the chapter as well as he knew it before he learned it with the second person. If so, here too with the angels. They are the ones who gave the Torah to Yisrael, but nevertheless they could still know the Torah and observe it.
But according the words of the Ran we now understand that Hashem gave the Torah to Yisrael to be observed according to whatever their human intellect teaches, even if the divine intellect teaches the opposite. As Chazal taught in the gemora Rosh Hashanah regarding the fixing of the new month: The fixing will be according to you, even if you make an unintentional mistake, and even if you make a deliberate change. And they also taught that Hashem said to the ministering angels: Let us go to the earthly Beis Din. From this it is clear that that Hashem and the Heavenly Academy agree to fix the festivals according to the earthly court, with the human intellect, even if the truth is not so.
This was the argument of the angels: What is man that You are mindful of him, that You give him the Torah to be implemented according to human intellect, and thus are matters determined to be. On the contrary, bestow Your majesty upon the heavens, so that the Torah will be implemented according to divine intellect, so that matters will be according to the truth, and not according to human intellect.
And now let us return to explain the words of the Midrash that we brought in the beginning. Behold, although it is true that Hashem gave us the Torah to implement according to human intellect, however, if it is implemented with human intellect alone, without any admixture of divine intellect, the Torah will be corrupted. Because it is impossible for the “short of days, full of troubles” (Iyov 14:1) human intellect to completely penetrate the depths of the intent of the Torah. And so if a person relies on his intellect alone, he could, G-d forbid, turn the words of Torah into heresy. Therefore, it is necessary to combine with it also some divine intellect and divine assistance.
This is what they meant when they said regarding Dovid Hamelech, (Shmuel Ⅰ - 18:14) “and Dovid was successful in all his ways, and Hashem was with him’, that the halachah was like him everywhere. The reason why Dovid Hamelech merited that the halachah should be like him everywhere was because Hashem was with him, and so the divine intellect joined together with the human intellect. Thus he was able to ascertain the truth of the Torah and establish the correct halachah. But the human intellect alone does not have sufficient power to see with light of the truth and to always determine the correct halachah.
Therefore, when Hashem gave the Torah to Yisrael to be implemented according to human intellect, He saw that this alone would be insufficient to delve into the depths of the Torah, and that it was essential combine with it divine intellect. Therefore, Hashem acted wisely and requested that there should be made for Him a dwelling place below so that He could dwell amongst them. As it is explained in the well known words of the Alshich zt”l, on the posuk “they shall make for Me a sanctuary, and I shall dwell in their midst”, that through the sanctuary and the temple, the Shechinah will dwell within each and every one of Yisrael. And Chazal taught that one who wishes to be wise should turn to the south, and the sign for this is the menorah, which was situated in the south side of the sanctuary. Because from the menorah Hashem bestowed the divine spirit on Yisrael, and with the divine intellect combined with their human intellect they can go assuredly on their way on the path of the Torah and not stumble.
Now the meaning of the Midrash is clear, and now the analogy is similar to the parable. Hashem said to Yisrael "the daughter that I gave to you is My only daughter". That is, the Torah which I have given to you to implement according to your human intellect is My only Torah, because no other Torah will be given from heaven. As it says in Chazal: We do not pay attention to a heavenly voice, because it is already written in the Torah that we go after the majority, which is according to our human intellect, even though divine intellect teaches the opposite. But "to be separated from her I cannot", because the human intellect alone is not sufficient to determine the truth in all cases, and sometimes it will make a very big mistake. And "to tell you not to take her I cannot’ - to tell you to implement the Torah only according to divine intellect is also impossible, since I have already given the Torah to you. I have already said to you in My Torah to go after the majority, which means that you should implement the Torah according to human intellect. Therefore it is impossible to take it from you, to implement it according to divine intellect alone. Therefore do this. Make for me a small dwelling, and I will dwell amongst you. This is the Sanctuary, and then through its influence, I will bestow upon you divine intellect also, to combine with your human intellect, and then you will merit to determine the truth of the Torah. All this which I have written here is completely true and correct.
An answer to the famous question about the contradiction between the beginning of the posuk and the end.
(25,2) “Speak to the children of Yisrael, and they shall take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering.”
But now to explain the simple explanation of the posuk. Behold, the commentaries ask that in the beginning it says, “and they shall take for Me an offering”, which implies that Yisrael themselves should take an offering, but afterwards it says, “from every person…you shall take My offering”’, which implies that Moshe should do this.
But Rashi explained that there are three offerings mentioned here. One is the offering of a beka (half-shekel) per head, one is the half-shekel offering for the altar, and one is the offering for the Mishkan, the personal donation of every individual. Now, it is well known that for the half-shekel offerings Beis Din would take a security from anyone who did not want to give in order to force him to give. But they did not do this for the personal offerings, and whatever a person wanted to give, he gave, of his own volition and generosity. Therefore, those half-shekel offerings which some people were reluctant to give were not so important in the eyes of Hashem, and so were not called offerings of Hashem, because Hashem requires the heart. But the offering for the Mishkan which was voluntary, this was important in Hashem’s eyes, and was called “My offering”.
Now, Chazal taught that the Shechinah (the Divine Presence) spoke from the throat of Moshe, and thus the Shechinah dwelt with Moshe. Therefore those offerings which were not important in Hashem’s eyes, Hashem commanded Moshe not to accept them himself, and instead other treasury officials collected from them, even against their will. But those donations which were important in Hashem’s eyes, Hashem commanded that Moshe should accept them himself, because it was if Hashem Himself was taking from them, since the Shechinah was with Moshe.
This is the explanation of the posuk - “they shall take for Me an offering”, that is, the donation of the shekalim, which were ordinary offerings. These everyone in Yisrael was obligated to force his friend to give also, whether they wanted to or not. But “from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity”, you, yourself Moshe "shall take My offering". My name is upon it because it is given willingly, from the generosity of the their hearts. Therefore, the Torah continues “And this is the offering which you shall take from them” - you, specifically shall take, and that is “gold and silver and copper”, which are the voluntary offerings of the Mishkan, which they are not forced to give but donate through their own good will.
How did Rashi know that the tachashim were only temporary creations?
(25,5) “Red ram skins, skins of tachashim, and acacia wood.”
Rashi explained that tachashim were a species of animal which existed only temporarily and had many colours, and therefore the Targum Onkelos translates it ססגונא, a contraction of words which mean that it rejoices and prides itself about its colours. Why did Rashi need to tell us that they existed only temporarily?
It seems that it bothered Rashi that the Torah wrote “skins of tachashim”, because in the previous posuk it wrote that they donated “goats” even though they only needed the hair of the goats as Rashi explained there, so why did it not write also here that they donated “tachashim” even though they only needed the skins. Now, the fact that it wrote in this posuk “ram skins”, and not just “rams”, is not a problem, because it wanted to say that they were מאדמים, which means that they were red, and if it had said “rams מאדמים”, it would have implied that the rams themselves should be red. But really the intent is not that the rams should be red, but the skins. But with the tachashim it a problem that it mentions the skins and not just the tachashim.
But the explanation is that if tachashim always existed in the world, then the Torah would have mentioned them and not their skins, because they are more important than their skins. But since, in reality, they were only created temporarily for the sake of the skins which were needed for the Mishkan, therefore it says skins of tachashim, since they were the main thing and not the tachashim themselves.
And Rashi brings proof for this from the Targum, from the fact that it rejoices in its colours. Only because its multicoloured skin were needed for the Mishkan was it created, otherwise it would never have been created. Therefore, it rejoiced about its colours, since through them it merited to come to the world. But if anyway it would have come to the world, it would not have rejoiced about its colours, and this the proof that Rashi brings that it was only a temporary creation.
Does the Divine Presence dwell amongst each one of Yisrael equally?
(25,8) “And they shall make for Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst. According to all that I show you, the pattern of the Mishkan and the pattern of all its vessels and so you shall do.”
The word "and" at the end of the posuk "and so you shall do" is very strange and needs explaining, because it should have said "so you shall do" since this is apparently the main point of the statement, that according to what I show you, so you shall do.
However, it is well known that the Mishkan was only a sort of representation to show how Hashem makes His Shechinah (His Divine Presence) dwell amongst Yisrael, because the main dwelling place of the Shechinah is Yisrael themselves, as it says in Yirmeyohu 7:4 "the Temple of Hashem, the Temple of Hashem they are", and so too did the Alshich HaKodosh explain our posuk. Thus the Mishkan itself is only a model to show Yisrael that just as Hashem makes His Shechinah dwell in the Mishkan, so too He will dwell amongst Yisrael.
Therefore, just as in the Mishkan not all the places were equal, because there were places which had more holiness, for example, the Holy of Holies, and there were places where the Shechinah dwelled only a little, so too with Yisrael themselves. Thus, there are very great tzaddikim similar to the Holy of Holies, for example, Moshe Rabbeinu, and those who are comparable to him. And there are tzaddikim similar to the Heichal, and there are those similar only to the courtyard - each one according to his level. Therefore, this posuk "according to all that I show you" refers to the posuk above which said “and they shall make for Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell amongst them”, exactly like the Alshich explained, that the main dwelling of the Shechinah is amongst Yisrael, but not amongst them equally, but rather each one according to his level.
Therefore, when it says "according to all that I show you, the pattern of the sanctuary and the pattern of all its vessels" it is referring to the Mishkan itself, where not all the places are equal. “And so you shall do” refers to the Shechinah dwelling amongst Yisrael themselves, where also not all the places will be equal, with very great tzaddikim who merit the dwelling of the Shechinah constantly, and all the levels below them.