The Fire of Torah by Tzvi Atkin


The Pasuk in Tehillim states, “MiKolot Mayim Rabim, Adirim Mishberei Yam, Adir BaMarom Hashem”, “more than roars of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, you are mighty on high, Hashem” (Tehillim 93:4). Rashi and Radak explain that the waters mentioned symbolize the Haftarah for Parashat VaYishlach in which the Navi states, “VeHaya Beit Yaakov Aish… U’Beit Eisav LeKash”, “And the house of Yaakov will be like fire… and the house of Eisav like straw” (Ovadya 1:18).

The Chatam Sofer asks that if the enemies of Israel are compared to water and Israel to fire, shouldn’t we conclude that our enemies will destroy us since water extinguishes fire? He responds that there is one time that fire can destroy water. When a pot is placed in between fire and water, the fire remains unscathed yet the water evaporates. Similarly, if the Jewish people are mixed with the nations of the world, the nations will destroy us. However, if we use our Torah and Mitzvot as a division between the Jewish nation and the other nations of the world, we will surely defeat them. 

What is the source of the Navi’s comparison of the Jewish nation to fire? Rav Ephraim Shapiro explains that this flame stems from the Torah, which itself is compared to fire. In Parashat VeZot HaBeracha, Moshe says that Hashem came from Sinai and gave an “Eish Dat”, a “Fiery Oath” to Bnei Yisrael. Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, the founder of The Torah U’Mesorah Organization, points out that at first glance it seems that the words in the Pasuk are misplaced. In Hebrew, unlike in English, the noun is stated before the adjective (e.g. “Yeled Gadol”, as opposed to “Gadol Yeled”). Therefore, it seems that if the Torah wants to describe the Torah as a fiery oath, it should say “Dat Eish”, not “Eish Dat!” Rav Shraga Feivel explains that this odd placement demonstrates that the essence of Torah is fire. In reality, the Torah is not being called a “fiery oath”; rather, it is being called an “oath that is like fire.”

Rav Shmuel Berenbaum expresses a similar idea. He quotes the Gemarah (Shabbat 88a), which states, “Kafah Aleihem Har KeGigit,” that Hashem lifted up Har Sinai above the heads of Bnei Yisrael and told them that if they did not accept the Torah, they would be buried under the mountain. Tosafot ask that if Bnei Yisrael already said “Na’aseh VeNishma”, “We will do and we will listen”, why did Hashem need to force them into accepting the Torah? Tosafot answer that once Bnei Yisrael witnessed the fire at Har Sinai, they were frightened and considered breaking off their agreement to accept the Torah. Therefore, Hashem needed to threaten them into accepting the Torah. The Gemara states that because of Hashem’s “coercion,” if Bnei Yisrael were later asked, “why didn’t you keep the Torah”, they could respond that they were forced into accepting it. However, the Gemara clarifies that Bnei Yisrael reaccepted the Torah with love during the times of Achashveirosh. Rav Shmuel then asks, why was it necessary to have fire at Har Sinai; doing so gave Bnei Yisrael a possible excuse for not keeping the Torah for almost the next one thousand years!? He answers that the fire was so crucial because the essence of Torah is fire. Since giving the Torah without fire would be hiding its essence, it was worth giving a possible excuse to Bnai Yisrael.

What is the significance of fire? Firstly, fire is used to refine metals so that all of the metal’s externals are taken away and it is left with its core. So too, learning Torah helps one purify themself of sin, corruption, and hedonistic tendencies and instead connect oneself to their Neshama, or soul, their core. Additionally, fire represents enthusiasm and passion. Torah is not meant to be studied like all other areas of thought; it is the study of G-d’s words, and must therefore be learned with emotion and fervor. Hopefully, this Shavuot, Hashem should help us learn His Torah with passion and discover its hidden fire.

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