By Lori Hope Lefkovitz.
Lori Hope Lefkovitz, the Ruderman Professor of Jewish Studies, directs the Northeastern Humanities Center and the Jewish Studies Program at Northeastern University. The founding director of Kolot: The Center for Jewish Women and Gender Studies, the first such center at a rabbinical seminary.
Her article opens with a quote from Pirkei Avot 17:3: Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah said: Where there is no Torah, there is no right conduct; where there is no right conduct, there is no Torah. Where there is no wisdom there is no fear of God; where there is no fear of God, there is no wisdom. Where there is no understanding, there is no knowledge; where there is no knowledge, there is no understanding. Where there is no bread, there is no Torah; where there is no Torah, there is no bread.
Let’s define some of the key terms of this passage from Avot. Right conduct refers to the concept known as derech eretz, a complex idea whereby this tractate of the Mishna defines prophesy, as meaning: mussar. Mussar has the meaning of: awareness of the finger of HaShem within our lives. Prophets to not foretell the future – this tuma represents a form of witchcraft. Prophets mussar commandments seek to give direction to the Yatzir Ha’Tov within the Cohen peoples’ hearts in our struggle with our Esau nature, commonly known as Satan or Yatzir Ha’Rah. Clearly the Torah concept of Satan diverges completely from the European Goyim religions who view Satan as the Devil who rebelled against God, and got cast into Hell.
Avot likewise teaches that derech ertetz precedes the Torah. Meaning the entire revelation of the Torah at Sinai, it stands upon the foundation of mussar: the awareness of HaShem within our lives. Naturally if Israel stood at Sinai and their hearts compared unto Par’o, at the time of the splitting of the Sea of Sof, then Israel could not have accepted the Torah at Sinai!
The next דיוק made by the quoted passage from Avot: wisdom and fear of G-d. Wisdom stands apart from knowledge. Wisdom compares to a person who acquires a skill by constant repetition of that labor. Like a brick layer. Laying brick with precision and speed qualifies as a “Chochmah/wisdom”. A person repeats a work over and again and attains a mastery. Open any Book of the Talmud, you will see on every page 4 lines of Rashi & Tosafot commentaries above the first line of the Mishna or Gemara. This organization of every page of the Talmud – likewise comes from Avot 1:1 – Moshe received the Torah at Sinai and transmitted it to Yehoshua, and Yehoshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets, and the prophets to the men of the Great Assembly. Moshe repeated the instruction of the Torah no less than 4 times. Hence every page within the Talmud has 4 lines of Rashi and Tosafot commentaries above the opening line of the Talmud – a reference to Avot 1:1.
Fear of G-d, refers to a person who strives to build a good reputation: Baal Shem Tov. A man can work his entire life to build a good reputation and one silly/foolish act can destroy that good name. Something like a catholic priest who secretly rapes little choir boys. Or christian hate propaganda which maligns Jews as the spawn of Satan and the Nazis base their murder of Jews which resulted in the Shoah upon the some 2000 years of the christian message of hate. An evil eye and an evil tongue, they both accomplish the same effect, simply they employ different senses of the body, whereby they encourage others to hate and despise some targeted others. Once had a girl friend who referred to this plague, she called such people who practice this type of behavior: “psychic drains”. Other people understand that term as a type of energy sickness, how we can feel sick and even have some symptoms from being energetically depleted. Europeans did not just wake up one day and decide to murder 75% of all Jews in Europe, and do this crime in less than 4 years.
The reputation of European society as 1st world has collapsed as a consequence to the Shoah crimes against humanity. Post WW2 all the mighty empires of Europe collapsed. The sun set upon the British empire. Europeans now bear the name: crude barbarians, peoples who have no culture, dignity, or respect. Actions have their consequences. Cowards love to point blame fingers at others, but the systematic murder of European Jewry could not have occurred had Hitler not had willing helpers. The Allies new of the death camps and refused to bomb the rail lines. Almost all countries across the planet closed their doors to Jews seeking asylum refuge. The Chamberlain appeasement – two state solution of Czechoslavakia – destroyed that nation prior to the world war. Britain imposed a two state solution upon India, and 5 major wars ensued. Europe demands a two state solution on the Jewish state, that Israel surrender its amazing victory of the June 1967 Six Day War. Irregardless that to divide the Jewish state would result in total ruin of the Jewish state! Europe would happily occupy Israel, like the Nazi’s occupied Czechoslavakia in 1938!
The next דיוק/inference distinguishes understanding from knowledge. The Talmud defines understanding as development of the ability to discern like from like; to learn a matter in the midst of another matter. Knowledge compares to simple rote learning; children possessing the ability to repeat verbatim, word for word what they have learned. The quoted passage of Avot then returns full circle and compares Torah to bread. Eating bread requires vigorous mastication; something like ruminant animals. Ruminants, as a point of observation, they all have 4 stomachs!
Chag Shevuoth culminates the counting of the Omer. Previously my commentary addressed the k’vanna of counting the Omer. The Omer makes a דיוק on removing the chametz prior to Pesach. The search to remove chametz (leavened bread) serves as a משל, which teaches the נמשל of removing avoda zara from our lives. Comparable to La’van searching the Tents of Yaacov in search of his stolen god. Learning by means of applying a logical דיוק\inference essentially defines the concept of משל\נמשל. Wisdom and understanding stand apart and opposite of simple rote knowledge. The latter exists as passively acquired information. Whereas the former most essentially requires an active “awareness”, comparable to mussar, to discern the “black fire from the white fire”. The developed photograph from its negative sheet of transparent film images. Something like male and female bolt & nuts. The zivug couple of Pesach/Shevuoth contrasts slaves leaving Egypt to the free Cohen nation in possession of the awareness to accept the revelation of HaShem into our lives for all generations which our people live on the face of this earth – by all generations swearing the oath brit of נעשה ונשמע. We will do and hear: what does this oath mean? The Cohen nation accepts full responsibility for both the blessing (the 1st commandment) and the curse (the 2nd commandment). All the rest of the Torah commandments serve as simply a commentary to these opening first two commandments which all generations of Israel have a Torah obligation to accept.
Lori Hope Lefkovitz makes reference to the concept of the רמח”ל, Rabbi Luzzatto kabbalah of the Moshiach commonly known as “tikkun olam”, a term which has the same definition as derech eretz, meaning emotional maturity. New babies, by definition have never developed the wisdom of derech eretz. Slaves coming out of Egypt compare to new babies. The mussar of the revelation of derech eretz, of HaShem within our lives, defines fear of heaven and Torah wisdom.