Rabbi Oury Cherki

Ki Tavo - Torah from the Earth

Translated from Hebrew. Published at the Noahide World Center website and in Shabbat B'Shabbato.

At Mount Sinai, the Torah was given from heaven and not from the earth. A tremendous and powerful voice of G-d burst forth from the mountain peak, and the nation was not allowed to climb up or even to touch the edge of the mountain, under a threat of death. When the Torah is given in this way, it creates more fear in the soul than love, and it is a source of trembling and intimidation. Evidently, the conditions of life and awareness that existed at the time when the Torah was given were such that no other way of giving it was possible.

According to the sages the Torah was given before its proper time – that is, before conditions were right for fully integrating the Torah into life, without any feeling of coercion and acting against man’s natural instincts. If Divine guidance had waited another 974 generations, not only would the Torah have been received in a state when mankind could fully identify with it, but there would have been no need for external revelation to the soul of man. Rather, the mitzvot would have been observed without an explicit giving of the Torah, as in the time of the forefathers, who indeed observed the whole Torah before it was given to us.

Rav Saadia Gaon explains that the reason for moving up the time of the Divine revelation was to prevent a long period of suffering that would have been the fate of mankind if the Torah had not been received in ancient times.

But this means that it was necessary to add to the threatening events at Mount Sinai another more friendly momentous occasion, which would be able to heal the damage caused by holding the mountain over the heads of the people like a large bowl (the first event took place outside of the Land of Canaan, the natural place of the Torah). This was the gathering that took place on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, which the Torah describes in this week’s portion. Here, everything has been turned around. The people of the nation are at the top of the mountain, and the voices, human voices which come out of the mouths of the Levites, burst forth from the earth. This shows that the Torah of the Land of Israel stems from earthliness, from life itself, without any element of coercion. This is a type of Torah that enhances the faith in the ability of mankind – which has already heard the words of G-d at Sinai – to coordinate his knowledge with that of G-d, based on the depths of his own nature.

The dual sources of the Torah, from heaven on one hand and from the earth on the other, correspond to two sources of holiness that are described by Rav Kook (Orot Hakodesh, volume 2, General Sanctity, chapter 23). On one hand there is “normal” sanctity which fights against nature, and on the other hand is the perfection that will come about at the end of days due to the action of the “sanctity of nature,” which will defend its position with strength after it had been shunted aside during the long period of exile. In a hidden way, this has created the secularist movement, which speaks in the name of “a life of normalcy” and does not realize that its own moving force is the holiness that is hidden within nature.

In the end, both types of sanctity will achieve peace with each other and they will recognize that they have a common root. Thus, those who received the Torah from heaven will recognize the wealth hidden in those who received it from the earth, and those who received it from the earth will lovingly accept the power of life embodied in the revelation of the heavenly Torah.