HaRav Kamenetsky in around 1950
In preparing for the tenth yahrtzeit of HaRav Kamenetsky, zt'l, we came across this important essay on learning Nach. It seemed that the month of Elul is a very appropriate time to learn the lessons given here. This essay was first published by us in 1996/5756.
For Part II of this series click here.
There is a measure of difficulty involved in the teaching of Nach and consequently, a measure of inaccuracy. However, before addressing these issues, I would like to dwell on the essential character of Nevi'im and Kesuvim.
An astonishing piece of gemora at the beginning of Brochos (5) explains the posuk, (Shemos 24:) "And Hashem said to Moshe, `Ascend to Me, to the mountain and I will give you the tablets of stone and the Torah and the mitzva which I have written for teaching'."
The gemora explains, " `the tablets of stone' — these are the Ten Commandments, `and the Torah' — this is scripture, `and the mitzva' — this is mishna, `which I have written' — these are Nevi'im and Kesuvim, `for teaching' — this is Talmud. This teaches us that all of these were given to Moshe on Har Sinai."
One item on this list seems to be incomprehensible. Granted, the list of terms in the posuk must be referring to different things. We can understand why `mitzva,' oral instruction, refers to the mishna, the Torah Shebe'al Peh, and why horo'oh, halachic ruling, refers to the Talmud, the source for the methodology of halacha. We know that Moshe Rabbenu received every part of the Torah on Har Sinai, with its explanations and detailed laws. During the day he learned Torah Shebikesav and at night, Torah Shebe'al Peh. We can see too, that the words `which I have written' refer to the other part of the Torah which is written, Nevi'im and Kesuvim.
What apparently defies our understanding is how Moshe Rabbenu could bequeath us the books of Shmuel, Melochim and Divrei Hayomim on Har Sinai, when they contain records of events that had not yet taken place. Furthermore, in Nedarim Chazal say that had the sin of the Eigel Hazahav never taken place, Klal Yisroel would only have received the five Chumoshim and the book of Yehoshua. Our gemora in Brochos however states that all of Nach was given on Har Sinai, before the sin of the eigel even occurred!
Transmission of the Written Torah
An answer to this difficulty is provided by another gemora. In Taanis (9) an exchange is recorded between Rabbi Yochonon and his nephew, the young son of Resh Lakish. Rabbi Yochonon came across his nephew repeating a posuk in Mishlei (19:3,) "A man's [own] sins encumber his path [but] his heart grows angry at Hashem." The gemora relates that Rabbi Yochonon sat and wondered at this, "Is there anything written in Kesuvim [from Rashi it is clear that the question includes Nevi'im], that is not hinted at in the Torah?"
Rabbi Yochonon wondered what the source in the Torah was for this idea. Could there possibly be any teaching or counsel that was not already alluded to in the Chumash? The boy said to him, "Is this [too] not hinted at? Is it not written "And their hearts quaked and they wondered to each other, `What is this that Hashem has done to us?'" When the brothers went down to Egypt and were caught up in a series of baffling circumstances as a punishment for the sin of having sold Yosef, they questioned what Hashem was doing to them.
Rabbi Yochonon's question enables us to gain a correct appreciation of the relationship of Nevi'im and Kesuvim to the Torah. There is nothing that is not alluded to in the Chumash. "Delve into it continuously, for everything is in it," say Chazal (Ovos). No situation goes unmentioned, no question is left unresolved.
To cite just a few examples, after the Purim miracle, Esther asked the Sanhedrin to record a written account of the events for all future generations. They only agreed to do so after they found support in the Torah for making such a written record (Megilla daf 7.)
The gemora also reveals allusions in the Torah to the individuals who took part in the chain of events. "Where is Esther alluded to in the Torah? Where is Mordechai alluded to? Where is Homon alluded to?" (Chulin 139)
In a number of places where halochos are learnt from the book of Yechezkel, the gemora (Moed Koton 5, Zevochim 18) asks, "Who transmitted this halacha before it was mentioned by Yechezkel?"
Hints to everything must be found in the Torah itself. This is why the closing words of the last book in Nevi'im are "Remember the Torah of my servant Moshe."
The Torah contains allusions to the solution of every dilemma and to the correct mode of conduct for every situation. We need only look for them. Had Klal Yisroel been worthy and not sinned with the Eigel, had they remained on the level that they attained when the Torah was given, when the yetzer hora was uprooted from their hearts, they would have discovered all the necessary teachings in the Torah by themselves.
Once they sinned however, they were in need of the greater detail contained in the books of prophecies. We must therefore remember that the entire purpose of these books is to explain and illuminate the Written Torah. They are firmly and inextricably linked to the Torah.
Chazal tell us that the number of prophets that arose among Klal Yisroel during the era of prophecy was more than twice that of the number of Jews who left Egypt. In other words, there have been over a million nevi'im. Special batei medrash used to exist that prepared their students for prophecy. This was the vocation of the bnei hanevi'im who are associated with Shmuel Hanovi and with Elisha. They are encountered on a number of occasions in Nevi'im, being sent to deliver a prophecy of passing import.
However, neither the names nor the prophecies of the vast majority of them are ever mentioned. The reason for this, Chazal tell us, is that, "A prophecy that was needed by future generations was recorded, one which was not needed by future generations was not recorded." This statement contains another illuminating principle.
Every parsha, every posuk and every word of the written prophecies contain a lesson that was necessary at the time they were uttered and has continued — and will continue — to be necessary. The nevi'im are instructing, reproving and guiding the members of each and every generation. They are talking to us! This is one of the implications of this gemora, the one of which everybody is aware.
I would like to examine this statement further, not only for the light it sheds on the prophecies themselves but also for what it reveals about the changing generations. Implicit in the statement that these prophecies are necessary for all generations, is the corollary that from the time of the generation which heard the prophecy onwards, prophecy was needed for this message, whereas beforehand, it was not. The generation in which the prophecy was uttered, and those that came after it, needed it to impart its lesson to them.
What of the generations which preceded the transmission of a prophecy? How did they steer their paths in life? How were they aware of the wisdom conveyed in the parables of Mishlei? How were they able to look upon the vanities of this world through the lens of Koheles? How did they follow the Davidic line as it is recorded in Melochim?
We are again forced to conclude that everything is contained in the Torah — either in condensed form or in allusions — from which the earlier generations were able to derive everything. When the generations grew spiritually weaker, they were unable to discover all of this in the Torah by themselves. The Nevi'im were therefore sent to them and the Kesuvim were given them. After having received these books however, the obligation devolved upon them to go back and uncover the basis of the books of the Nevi'im in the Torah itself.
Key to Understanding Chumash
Here are two examples of how the Torah concealed the true import of certain information, giving it in the form of a hint that was incomprehensible at the time it took place. Only with the books of the Nevi'im were later generations able to discern the Torah's intention.
The parsha of Yehuda and Tomor in the book of Bereishis is most puzzling. In the middle of the narrative of Yosef and the chain of events which led our forefathers down to Egypt, the spotlight is suddenly turned upon Yehuda, who left his brothers and joined a man from Adullam.
Yehuda married and had three sons, Er, Onan and Sheiloh. His first two sons died in his lifetime and he then had two more sons, Peretz and Zerach, from his daughter-in-law. This story seems to be out of place. It seems to interrupt the flow, as it bears no connection to the events that precede and follow it.
Addressing this point, Chazal explain that while the brothers were occupied with the sale of Yosef, HaKodosh Boruch Hu was involved in creating the light of Moshiach. As we learn about the fate of Yosef, the first Jew to go into exile, the Torah tells us about the preparations which were underway for Moshiach. Nonetheless, the story of Er, Onan, Tomor and Yehuda is recorded at great length and it clearly contains a message of it's own. What is it?
In the course of recounting the lineage of Dovid Hamelech, the second perek of Divrei Hayomim mentions, "Tomor his (i.e. Yehuda's) daughter-in-law bore him Peretz and Zerach." Rashi's comment on this is, "I am amazed that the posuk mentions something unseemly about the ancestor of Dovid Hamelech."
Indeed, there are a few additional things which amaze me. We know each and every word in the Torah is measured precisely. What then is the relevance of the information: "Onan knew that the child would not be [considered] his"? Why are we told that Yehuda went up to shear his sheep after he was comforted over the death of his wife? Why does the Torah relate all the circumstances of the birth of Tomor's twins?
"And when she gave birth he put out his hand and the midwife took it and tied scarlet thread on his hand to say, `This one came out first.' And when he brought back his hand lo, his brother came out. And she said, `What a wide opening you have opened.' And he named him Peretz. And afterwards his brother, upon whose hand the scarlet thread was, came out and he named him Zerach."
What are we to learn from all this? Why was the midwife concerned which one of them was first? Since neither of them would be Yehuda's firstborn, what was the difference between being born a fourth or a fifth son?
In the parsha of yibum the Torah states, "And [it shall be] the firstborn which she bears will occupy the place of his dead brother." Chazal received the tradition (which had originally been received at Har Sinai) that the words of the posuk are to be broken up into smaller units, each of which contains one of the halachos of the mitzva: "And it shall be the firstborn" — it is meritorious for the eldest of the brothers to perform yibum. "Which she bears" — the yevomoh must be capable of childbearing. "Will occupy the place of his dead brother" — the yovom inherits the property of his dead brother.
In the parsha of Yehuda and Tomor (Bereishis 38:8), the Ramban explains that the practice of yibum is one of the secrets of the Torah which had been handed down and was known to the Ovos and their sons even before the Torah was given. Since they had not yet been commanded to keep the mitzva as it is written in the Torah, even a father-in-law was able to carry out yibum with his daughter-in-law so as to provide his dead son with posterity. Such a case also fits the plain meaning of the above posuk, whereby the yevomoh's firstborn takes the place of his dead brother.
The firstborn had many additional privileges besides. He received the blessings and was the one who continued the family line. He inherited a double portion. His brothers were commanded to honor him.
After Er died, Onan was the eldest and he performed yibum with Tomor. However, he knew that if she gave birth to a son, that son would take his older brother's place and would be the one to continue the family line. He did not want this to happen and Hashem killed him. This was a most fitting retribution. For wanting to keep the family line all to himself, he was blotted out.
At this point, either Yehuda or Sheiloh could have performed yibum with Tomor except that Sheiloh was too young and Yehuda was married. (The Ovos tried to have just one wife.) When Yehuda's wife died, Tomor waited while Yehuda mourned for her. However, after he had been comforted, there was nothing to stop him from marrying her and when he did not, she took matters into her own hands.
When she was about to give birth to twins, it was therefore important to know which would be first for he would take the place of Er, Yehuda's firstborn and would continue the line. This is why the Torah describes the birth of Peretz, Yehuda's heir. It contains vital information, for Yaakov Ovinu later uttered words which were Inscribed in the Torah for all time, conferring royalty upon Yehuda.
We can now look into the Torah and see who continues Yehuda's line. When the lineage of Dovid Hamelech is traced in Divrei Hayomim, containing the apparent anomaly of his being descended from Yehuda's fourth son, it is stressed that "Tomor his daughter-in-law bore him Peretz," so that we understand that Peretz received the status of firstborn.
This is one example of a parsha in the Torah that acts as a beacon and as a signpost for future generations. Its meaning however, only became apparent many years after it took place, after the Egyptian exile and redemption, after forty years of wandering and the years of the conquest and division of the land, after the era of the shoftim and the rule of Shaul Hamelech. The following generation then looked back into the Torah in order to find their way forward, by closely examining its pesukim.
End of Part I