Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Of Wives and Horses

"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one yod or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.  Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. "  (Matthew 5:17-19).

"But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the L-RD has said to you, 'You shall not return that way again.'  "Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself"  (Deuteronomy 17:16-17).

At first glance, what could possibly be the connection, if any, between the two passages of Scripture quoted above?  It may be helpful to consider a discussion that has been preserved in ancient Rabbinic literature:

When G-d gave the Torah to Israel, He inserted positive and negative commandments and gave some commands for a king, as it is written: Only he shall not multiply (yarbeh) horses to himself . . . Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart not turn away . . . (Deut. 17:16-17).  But Solomon arose and studied the reason of G-d's decree and declared that he would multiply and yet his heart would not turn away . . .  

Our sages said: At that time the letter yod of the word yarbeh (he shall not multiply) went up on high and prostrated itself before G-d and said: 'Master of the universe, have You not said that no letter shall ever be abolished from the Torah?  Behold, Solomon has now arisen and abolished one.  Who knows?  Today he has abolished one letter, tomorrow he may abolish another until the entire Torah is nullified!  G-d replied: "Solomon and a thousand like him will pass away, but the smallest tittle will not be erased from you.'  (Exodus Rabbah 6:1, emphases mine).

The idea is that in all his great wisdom, Solomon supposed that he understood the reasoning behind the commandment thinking that "If I keep my heart from going astray then I am free to multiply wives!"  In other words, he reasoned that since he understood the principle of the law he did not need to obey the literal meaning of it.   A line of thinking that is all too prevalent today.  

There are some who may object to the exegetical method of midrash as exemplified above.  After all, where did the Sages get the silly notion that the letter yod ascended to heaven and prostrated itself before G-d?  Preposterous!  But that is to miss the point.  

Midrash is an exegetical method which faithfully mirrors the world of ideas in which the Jews lived during the great formative period from the third century B.C.E. to the end of the fifth century C.E.   Therefore, the midrashic exegesis above provides us with valuable insight into the thinking of the rabbis and sages, while highlighting, illustrating, and emphasizing the truth of the eternal nature of the Torah, a truth with which Yeshua agreed and was reaffirming in Matthew 5.

Yeshua's audience would have been very familiar with this midrash, from the common fisherman to the most erudite Torah scholar.  In other words, Yeshua was teaching the people about the nature of the Torah (and Himself, for that matter) from within a framework and context with which His contemporaries would have been most familiar

Combined with Yeshua's words in Matthew 5, this midrash about the greatest and wisest king of Israel who thought he was above the Torah would have not only served to remind His audience that they too were not exempt from breaking the least of these commandments, but also would have testified to the reality that the promised Messiah for Whom they had been waiting was now walking in their midst.      


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  2. Solomons decision reminds me of Hannah's opposite decision. This week of Hanukkah we read how she was tempted to let motherly emotion guide her to save her seven sons from Antiochus's tortures. However, she overcame her emotion through her reasoning to not break the Commandments. Solomon would have had a different story had he not succumb to his emotions and walked instead with reason,don't you think­čö»

  3. "Solomon would have had a different story had he not succumb to his emotions and walked instead with reason,don't you think?"

    I think his reason was clouded by his pride more than his emotions.