The Oral Torah

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Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

According to the Midrash [Yalkut Shimoni- Ki Tisa 393] when Moshe first received the Luchot at Har Sinai on Shavuot, they contained both Torah She’bich’tav [Written Torah] and Torah She’be’alpeh, which was passed on by word of mouth from generation to generation.  However, as Moshe observed the celebration and dancing of Bnei Yisrael after the sin of the Eigel Zahav [Golden Calf], “the words [on the Luchot] flew away”. The Beit HaLevi explains that what departed was only the Torah She’be’alpeh portion, leaving only Torah She’bichtav. Because it is difficult to comprehend and impossible to fulfill Torah She’bichtav without the Torah She’be’alpleh interpretations, this departure made the Luchot heavy, causing Moshe to drop them.

Rav Soloveitchik noted, that the second Luchot, presented to Bnei Yisrael on Yom Kippur, contained only Torah She’bichtav, with the intention being, that Torah She’be’alpeh be passed on exclusively via oral transmission. And this is what R’Yochanan meant when he stated in Gemara Gittin [60a] that “HaKadosh Baruch Hu did not make a covenant with Bnei Yisrael except for the sake of the oral transmission, as the pasuk states [Shemot 34:27] “KI  AL  PI  HA’DEVARIM  HA’EILEH  KARATI  ITECHA B’RIT VE’ET YISRAEL”, For according to these words [Al PI] have I sealed a covenant between you and Israel. This pasuk appears only at the giving of the second Luchot.

The Rav further added that the Beit HaLevi citing a statement in Gemara Eruvin [54a], that had the sin of the Eigel Zahav not taken place and the Luchot not been broken, then Israel would never have suffered the yoke of foreign domination. Once having sinned, however, Israel became vulnerable to outside conquest. HaShem foresaw that these nations would then take our religious texts and take them as their own. Therefore, by separating this portion of the of the Torah, Torah She’be’alpeh remains the unique and exclusive possession of Israel.

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

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