One of the first verses of the Torah we learn by heart as children is “Torah tziva lanu Moshe, morasha kehillat Ya’akov”. (Devarim 33:4) But have we ever to stopped to think about what this passuk means?
Regarding the first part, the Gemara, at the end of Massechet Makkot, points out that we were given only two commandments directly from God and because of the nation’s great trepidation upon hearing God’s voice, the remainder of the Torah was delivered by Moshe. This is supported by our verse as the numerical value of the word Torah is 611 corresponding to the number of mitzvoth we received from Moshe.
However, the second half of this verse also raises questions. What exactly does “morasha” mean and why use the term “kehillat Ya’akov”? The Netziv, in his commentary HaEmek Davar, relates to both these questions and explains that “morasha” stems from the word “yerusha” meaning inheritance, something which a person receives without any effort. This is relevant to Torah because the masses, denoted by the phrase “kehillat Ya’akov”, merit their portion in the Torah through the scholars (talmidei chachamim) who immerse themselves in Torah study. Seeing as one cannot acquire Torah if one is also preoccupied with earning a living, those who sustain Torah scholars receive the Torah as a “morasha” by merely ensuring that Limmud Torah is supported and upheld.
This is a somewhat radical idea and one which can be disputed by taking a closer look at various statements in Pirkei Avot. It may reflect less of an exegetical attempt to explain the text but rather the Netziv’s attitude to Limmud Torah. His understanding of the term “morasha” is consistent with his comments to our parsha, Vaera.
Towards the beginning of our parsha, the Torah states:
“I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov and I will give it you as a morasha, I am the Lord” (Shemot 6:8).
Commenting on the use of the word “morasha” in this verse, the Netziv explains that Hashem awards Eretz Yisrael to the nation not only when we are living therein, but even when we are in exile. Despite the fact that there will be times when Am Yisrael will not be inhabiting the land, Eretz Yisrael will still belong to us. In other words, as stated previously, the Netziv understands the term “morasha” to refer to that which one receives automatically with no effort required on the part of the recipient.
Maharam MiRotenberg connects the two uses of the term “morasha” and explains them both in his commentary to Devarim. He points out that in reference to the Torah, it means that the Torah is not attained simply as a “yerusha”, inheritance, but rather one has to endeavor and toil night and day in order to take possession of it.
This is the opposite of the idea posited by the Netziv but can be supported by the mishna in Pirkei Avot which states, in the name of Rabbi Yosei:
“Prepare yourself to study Torah because it is not an inheritance to you” (Avot 2:12).
In other words, Torah must be acquired, must be studied, must be achieved. We do not simply receive it as a gift. If it is a present from God, it is only so in the sense that we are afforded the opportunity to immerse ourselves in its profundity. As Rambam states in Hichot Talmud Torah (3:1), “the crown of Torah – is placed, standing and ready for all, as it says ‘morasha kehillat Ya’akov’, anyone who wishes can come and take it”.
Rambam is explaining that Torah is available for any member of the Jewish nation to take, discover and study. Interestingly he quotes the verse discussed above which employs the term “morasha”. As cited in the name of Maharam, it would appear that Rambam understands “morasha” to mean a gift in which we need to invest in order that we may fully appreciate and take advantage of what we have received.
Now let us return to this week’s parsha. As discussed, the term “morasha” is used in connection with the gift of Eretz Yisrael. Here too, we are required to work at appreciating this gift and maximizing its potential. Living in Eretz Yisrael is not easy but in order for us to really acquire it, it is necessary to make that extra effort.
Interestingly, Rav Hirsch, in his comments on the verse in Devarim, explains the fact that the Torah is termed “morasha” with the following words:
“Morasha means a national statement that the Torah will pass from generation to generation by inheritance. Torah is morasha, it is the primary possession which will pass by inheritance. Not the land and its goodness but the Torah is the national legacy of Israel, while the land and its strength are mere consequences of this possession.”
We find these words of Rav Hirsch somewhat surprising. Surely, the word “morasha” is employed to describe not just the Torah but also Eretz Yisrael. Why would Rav Hirsch choose to ignore this? It is possible that he is making an ideological statement stressing the fact that we should direct our energies to Torah learning and education rather than settling the land of Israel. It is well documented that Rav Hirsch was not a great supporter of the early pioneers at the end of the eighteenth century when Zionism was rebuilding Israel.
Whatever Rav Hirsch’s motives may have been, whether ideological or exegetical, we disagree with his suggestion. We cannot ignore the fact that the text itself refers to the two gifts we receive from Hashem, Torah and Eretz Yisrael as “morasha”. These were the two reasons for which Am Yisrael was redeemed from Egypt and they form the basis for our legacy as a nation.
We could subscribe to the notion that Eretz Yisrael is a mere vehicle for promoting the ideals of Torah. However, if we examine Torah in its entirety we note that the vast majority of those ideals relate to our behavior and existence as a nation, governing its own country. If we view Torah in this way, Eretz Yisrael becomes an essential part of this message. Unfortunately, over the many years of galut, we have lost the true vision of Torah and focused instead on the obligation of each individual to observe the mitzvoth. Now that we can again envisage what it means to live as Jews in Eretz Yisrael we can unite these two ideals, Torah and Eretz Yisrael. And, as we stated above, both these concepts require our full efforts and labors in order that we can appreciate and benefit from the “morashot” that Hashem has given to us.
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