In the Sedra in Chapter 26 Verse 16 it says….
“Today HaShem your G-d commands you to do all these statutes and all the Judgements and you will guard and do them with all your heart and with all your soul.”
The obvious question focuses on the first word, “Today.” Was it only on that day, at the end of the Torah,a full forty years after the Torah was given that they were expected to keep its commandments?
The Alshich quotes an amazing report from the Talmud (Temura 16a). After the death of Moshe Rabbeinu, his chosen successor Yehoshua was so distressed that he forgot a full three hundred Halochos (laws). Kolev offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to anyone who could recover the lost laws by Talmudic reasoning. (This would be achieved much in the same way as a missing piece or pieces of a jigsaw could be drawn and fitted in to the empty spaces. The shape and form could be deduced from the area surrounding them.)
Osniel Ben Konoz did exactly that and the crisis was solved.
A number of questions flow from this story. Even allowing for the distress that Yehoshua felt at the loss of his teacher, why should that rob him of so much knowledge?
Why didn’t Yehoshua deduce the lost laws by Talmudic argument?
As he was a Prophet, why didn’t he simply speak to G-d and ask him what the missing Laws were?
The Torah testified previously about Yehoshua Shemos Chapter33 Verse 11 that…
“And his servant Yehoshua Bin Noon was a lad he never left the study hall.”
When I was studying to be a Rabbi, I learnt the section of the Shulchan Oruch called Yorei Deah. If you have never seen one, it is about as thick as an average city’s telephone directory. It took me fourteen months to study and know the laws it contains and a further eight months to commit it to memory. During those eight months there was no night where I had more than four hours sleep and many nights with no sleep at all.
It used to take me two and a half hours to say the entire book of by heart and on the day of my exam I did this three times. I had a little time before the actual test and I relaxed as my wife had made me a cup of coffee. Then I turned to her and said, “I’ve forgotten it!”
and I had my mind had gone blank. Knowing that I was going to fail I went to the house of the Gateshead Rov, Rabbi Rakow Shlito only to be told that he was unable to examine me that day but that I should return at the same time the next day. I went home and took my Yorei Deah and put it high on my bookshelves. I knew that no one could have worked harder than me to learn it but it just would not stay in my head. I gave up and went to bed for the first eight-hour sleep in eight months. The next morning I awoke and decided that I was not giving up after all. I reviewed the work a further three times and went off to the Exam, which I passed.
The process of learning Torah has to be an ongoing and continual one. Any break can start to erode that which has been learnt. It is likely that Yehoshua’s distress meant that he was forced to interrupt his learning and the consequences were inevitable he forgot Halochos.
The second question is intriguing. The Talmud says “Chochom Odif MiNovi” A Talmud scholar is greater than a Prophet. This teaching demonstrates that there is a difference between then two. The Alshich explains in Shoftim what the verse means when it addresses Jewish Judges and says Chpt 17 Verse 8.…
“If there is hidden from you a component of justice between blood and blood or law and law or disease and disease, words of dispute within your gates and you will rise up and go to the place which HaShem your G-d chooses”
It may be that the component of justice is hidden from “You!” it was simply not decided by HaShem that you should be the one to discover it. As a reward for something else HaShem may arrange another, in this case Osniel to find the Halochos.
The Alshich answers the last question by simply stating that Yehoshua could not have asked HaShem to tell him a second time what the Halochos were, HaShem would have refused. The refusal establishes an essential principle. If in any future date someone claims to have been given new laws from G-d which replace the Torah, we can totally dismiss him. HaShem would not even repeat the same laws a second time!
That is why the Torah says, “Today HaShem your G-d commands you to do all these statutes and all the Judgements and you will guard and do them with all your heart and with all your soul.”
The Alshich says this verse occurs at the end of the giving of the Mitzvos of the Torah. The remaining Sedras do not dictate any additional laws. On that day the keeping of the Torah became ourresponsibility. Only dedication to that mission would guarantee that it would travel through the millennia and continue to bring its message to the world.
That was and is achieved by a galaxy of names who traversed Jewish history and like Yehoshua “never left the study hall.”
Rabbi Y Y Rubinstein has thrilled audiences from Jerusalem to Manchester and Johannesburg to Los Angeles. There are two reasons for his success. One is a mastery of sources in Jewish philosophy and his understanding of contemporary events. The other is his unique delivery…If you have the opportunity to benefit from his wisdom…do not miss it!Rabbi Professor Dovid Gottlieb