Ki Savo – The Making of a Mentche

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The Medrish Tanchuma in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Ki Savo discusses a bunch of scenarios where it seems one is creating a situation out of nothing. The Torah states:

This day, Hashem, your God, is commanding you to fulfill these statutes and ordinances, and you will observe and fulfill them with all your heart and with all your soul. טזהַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֗ה יְהֹוָ֨ה אֱלֹהֶ֜יךָ מְצַוְּךָ֧ לַֽעֲשׂ֛וֹת אֶת־הַֽחֻקִּ֥ים הָאֵ֖לֶּה וְאֶת־הַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֑ים וְשָֽׁמַרְתָּ֤ וְעָשִׂ֨יתָ֙ אוֹתָ֔ם בְּכָל־לְבָֽבְךָ֖ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ:

The Medrish Tanchuma (Ki Savo, paragraph 1) asks, “What does ‘This day, the Lord, your God, is commanding you to fulfill’ mean? Is it only until then that Hashem command the Jews, wasn’t this the fortieth year, as it says ‘And behold in the fortieth year in the eleventh month’ (Devarim 1:3), so what does ‘This day’ mean? Rather this is what Moshe told the Jews, ‘Everyday the Torah should be cherished and loved by you as if today you accepted it on Har Sinai.’” 
This is the first example of creating a perception which seems to go above and beyond time and space and transform the simple understanding of reality. In this circumstance one has the ability to have a fresh love of Torah, so much so that the excitement and feeling is palpable – as if he is now there, at Har Sinai, when the Jewish people first received the Torah. Even though, in reality, it could be many years later, even thousands of years later, and that feeling can potentially be felt every day!

Another example the medrish gives, from the next part of this pasuk: “’and you will observe and fulfill them’ Rebbe Yochanan said anyone who performs a mitzvah in verity, the pasuk treats him as if this mitzva that was just fulfilled was given on Har Sinai.”
This seems to be saying that if a person authentically fulfills a mitzva in its entirety and purity, then it’s as if that very mitzva came out of Har Sinai, with all it’s holiness and incredible value. Even if one is in some other country like America, performing the mitzva. It sounds very special!

The Medrish quotes Rebbe Yochanan again, “Rebbe Yochanan further said, whoever does the Torah in it’s verity, the Torah equates him as if he made himself, as it says,

And Hashem commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and ordinances, so that you should do them in the land to which you are crossing, to possess. ידוְאֹתִ֗י צִוָּ֤ה יְהֹוָה֙ בָּעֵ֣ת הַהִ֔וא לְלַמֵּ֣ד אֶתְכֶ֔ם חֻקִּ֖ים וּמִשְׁפָּטִ֑ים לַֽעֲשֽׂתְכֶ֣ם אֹתָ֔ם בָּאָ֕רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַתֶּ֛ם עֹֽבְרִ֥ים שָׁ֖מָּה לְרִשְׁתָּֽהּ:

The pasuk does not say ‘la’asos osam,’ to make them rather ‘la’asoschem osam,’
to make you, (not osam with a vav, as the Etz Yosef points out in the name of the Minchas Shai, rather ‘osam’ without a vav, which can be read ‘isam’). From here we see that the Torah attributes it as if he created himself.”

The Etz Yosef quoting a Maharsha explains why it is as if we create ourselves if we learn Torah in its pure authentic truth, “because before one learns Torah in its authenticity, the difference between man (adam) and animal (biheima) is nothing. And when one knows the ways of the Torah his whole essence separates from all the other living creatures and he becomes a man (adam), which is the purpose of him being created.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
How is it possible to say that a person is no different than an animal until he learns Torah Li’amisa, Torah to its truest extent? We all know from the beginning of Breishis that man was created b’tzelem Elokim, in G-D’s image, with an intellectual and spiritual soul. We have the ability to think and make decisions on a level many times deeper than any animal. We can choose between good and bad; we don’t just run on instincts. The power of speech and communication that we have is far more advanced and complex than that of any animal. Doesn’t this obviously make any human different and distinct from any animal?! In fact Hashem acknowledges this difference in every single human being as it says in Pirkei Avos (3:14): “He would also say: Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of G‑d]; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to him that he was created in the image, as it says, ‘For in the image of G‑d, He made man’ (Breishisr 9:6)!” 

However, it would seem from the Maharsha that the Etz Yosef is using to explain the Medrish Tanchuma, that although it is true that mankind is set apart from the animals from the very beginning of creation, however all the qualities that make a human different than the animal is in fact only a potential difference. At best, it makes a human into an “animal plus.” And only when one uses these qualities to take that potential and actualizes it by using them for the ultimate purpose of creation, which is to learn Hashem’s Torah to its truest extent and apply it to one’s lives, only then does one transform him or herself from an “animal plus” to an adam, a person.

We can now understand the rest of this Mishna in Pirkei Avos quoted above, “Beloved are Israel, for they are called children of G‑d; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to them that they are called children of G‑d, as it is stated: ‘You are children of the Hashem your G‑d’ (Devarim 14:1). Beloved are Israel, for they were given a precious article; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to them that they were given a precious article, as it is stated: ‘I have given you a good purchase; My Torah, do not forsake it’ (Mishley 4:2).”

Hashem, out of His over bountiful love for His children, gave us the opportunity to go well beyond our physical state on earth, and transform ourselves into spiritual beings, by giving us His Torah. Giving our own selves the ability to convert our being, which is already part physical and part spiritual, but naturally leaning to our physical, animalistic tendencies from birth, and by choice allowing us to lean more towards the spiritual side of our essence by giving us the Torah to learn it’s depth and profundity in order to be closer to Hashem and His ways.

In this way Hashem gave us the ability to actually transform ourselves from mere creatures like any other animal into distinct people, (adam), mankind.