Over the last two weeks, we have focused on preparing for zeman matan Toraseinu by explaining (and hopefully accepting and ultimately fulfilling) Chazal’s dictum, “Derech eretz kadmah laTorah” and their teaching that the Torah was given “letzaref bahen es haberiyos,” to refine and tame those character traits that the Torah wants us to rid ourselves of. Now is the time to talk about—Torah! We will iy”H cover various facets of what Torah is, and what it does to us and for us.
First, let us understand one aspect of how we are to relate to Torah, based on the somewhat obscure phrase that in Pirkei Avos “Through 48 ways is the Torah acquired…” Acquired? What does it mean to “acquire” Torah? We know that one is to learn Torah, study Torah, understand Torah, remember Torah, review Torah, and keep the Torah. Yet to “acquire” Torah seems to be an extremely abstract concept! We know that one acquires monetary items; acquire Torah? And apparently, it is something beyond studying, understanding, reviewing, etc. So what is that? And if indeed, people study, learn, review, remember, etc., without having worked through the middos enumerated in those 48 ways—which means that they have not been koneh Torah —what indeed is missing?
Now, we actually do refer to what happened on Shavuos as mattan Torah—the giving of the Torah, and we talk about kabbalas haTorah —receiving the Torah. And so the Torah was indeed given and received (a language denoting acquisition), at least on a national level. What is that?
The truth is that we are taught a definite ramification of that mattan and kabbalas, to wit, that the interpretation of Torah no longer “resides” in the Heavens, but rather as per the understanding of people. (Of course, this means agenda-less people, people who are acquainted with the logic of Torah; people who accept that Torah is the devar Hashem and who understand the weightiness of trying to understand it; insiders of Torah, not outsiders.) This is known as the lo bashamayim hee principle, and its ramifications extend to the point of rejecting Rabbi Eliezer’s supernatural ‘proofs’ that his Halachic opinion was correct, despite a heavenly echo proclaiming that Rabbi Eliezer was correct! Nevertheless, the Rabbis who disagreed with him applied this principle of ‘lo bashamayim hee.’ Since the Torah had already been ‘given’ to people and was now subject to their understanding and interpretation, we can no longer look to Heaven to resolve our doubts. Here, we have a very real-to-life idea of what ‘giving’ Torah entailed.
However, that is only on a national level. There are still, we are told, 48 acts, 48 character traits to develop before any one individual can be said to “acquire” the Torah. Moreover, we are still not sure what it means to acquire the Torah.
Yet another indication that we are dealing with a very real phenomenon is the Gemara, which states in numerous places: “The passuk in Tehillim (1:2) says ‘Rather, in Hashem’s Torah is his desire, and in his Torah he shall toil, day and night.’ Initially, it is Hashem’s Torah, but after he (the person) toils in it, it becomes his (the learner’s) Torah.” Thus, there actually is a transition from the Torah being Hashem’s to its becoming one’s own. Yet we are stymied when we try to understand what the ‘acquisition’ that we are talking about really is.
The word acquisition denotes a legal status that we usually associate with ownership of material possessions. However, it is somewhat more complex than that. Even with material items, ownership is really only half the story. The Gemara discusses the legal status of a stolen item, and describes it as being “neither in the possession of the owner, nor being owned by the robber.” There is a concept of possession and an idea of ownership —yet they are not the same thing! The reality and concreteness of possessing an item, having it under one’s control, at one’s disposal, so to speak, is one thing. Being the legal owner, in that the item is said to belong to you, is quite another. Ownership or acquisition is actually the legalization of possessing the item. Now the item is not just by you, it belongs by you! Thus, the robber, who currently retains the item in reality (it is definitely under his control) must return it to the owner, the one who owns, who had previously acquired the item. So we can say that the actual reality is called possession, while the legal status, which demands restoration to that state even after it is temporarily discontinued (it was stolen and is now in the robber’s possession), is called ownership, or acquisition.
It is not only with regard to monetary items that these concepts exist. We find a reference to, and usage of, the word kinyan regarding marital status —“Ha’ishah niknais,” as the first Mishnah in Maseches Kiddushin famously begins. What does the word kinyan mean there?
The Rambam states in his opening words to his Laws of Marriage, “Before the giving of the Torah, a man and a woman would meet… and if they decided to get married, the woman would enter the man’s household and they would live together as man and wife. After the Torah was given, it decreed that whoever wants to marry a woman must acquire her first, and then she will enter his house and be his wife.” What this tells us is that marriage is marriage, what it always was and still is —the reality of being married. Living together as man and wife, in one household. That situation becomes a legal reality through kinyan. Think of the word kinyan, acquisition, as formalizing the situation and making it legally binding —not just a reality. Now, even was the couple to decide to go their separate ways, they can no longer just do that, for a kinyan has been made. Thus, the state of marriage now legally and formally exists, demanding restoration of the situation (until there is a ‘reverse-kinyan’ in the form of a get).
To be continued…