The Torah: A Non-linear Document


Candlelighting, Readings:
Candlelighting: 4:52 p.m.
Torah Reading: Exodus 13:17-17:16
Haftarah: Judges 4:4-5.31
                  Judges 5:1-31 (Sephardic)
Havdalah: 5:54 p.m.

We’re used to thinking of time in a linear fashion with a past, present and future. The Torah operates in a different dimension with the past and future blending with the present, and with events in the future sometimes impacting the past.

In Beshalach, the Torah states that Az Yashur Moshe, which is usually translated as “Then sang Moses.” However, grammatically, it actually means, “And Moses will sing.” Rashi, quoting the Midrash, observes that this is a biblical source for the concept of Techiat HaMaysim, resurrection of the dead. At that time, Moshe will once again sing this song of praise to God.

Interestingly, the Zohar states at the parting of the Red Sea, God woke up Jacob and told him to rise and to witness his children leaving Egypt. Taking Jacob to the Red Sea, God showed him the Egyptians lying dead.

The Rabbis ponder that since many of the Israelites had assimilated and had worshipped idols, in what merit were they redeemed?  Indeed, according to some of the commentators, four-fifths of the Jews died during the plague of darkness as they were unfit to leave.

The Meam Lo’ez commentary cites a variety of opinions to address this issue. According to Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah, the Jews were redeemed for the sake of Abraham. Others say it was in the merit of Jacob, while others state it was in the merit of the Matriarchs. Others maintain it was in the merit of the Torah they were destined to accept, as well as the merit of their deeds of kindness and of the sacrifices they would offer in the future.

Other Rabbis, who offers other opinions, also question in what merit young Moshe was saved when his sister Miriam put him in the water. The answer: the merit of the Torah he was destined to give to the Jewish People. According to the Sages, Moshe was born on the seventh of Adar and was hidden for three months before he was sent away. The day he was put into the basket and placed in the water was the sixth of Sivan, the date when Moshe was ultimately to give the Torah to the Children of Israel.

An important concept in Judaism is Ben Mezakeh Av — a son gives merit to a father. That is, a father is given significant credit for having and raising a righteous son — so much so that even an idolater like Terach could earn the World to Come by having a son such as Abraham.

What’s fascinating is how far this concept is taken in the Midrash. Similar to the Jews being redeemed from Egypt due to the virtue of their descendants in the future, we find a parallel idea relating to Abraham. One Midrash, Bereishit Rabbah quotes Rav Shmuel, the son of Rav Yitzchok, who states that Abraham was saved from the fiery furnace of King Nimrod only because of the merit of his grandson Jacob.

With this concept we can understand an opinion in the Talmud relating to Korach. Tractate Sandhedrin (110a) quotes Rav Yochanan, who comes to a startling conclusion based on a verse in Numbers [16:32] that the Earth opened its mouth and swallowed all of Korach’s people and all the wealth. Since the Torah mentions Korach’s people, it excludes Korach himself! When the Torah, a few verses later in verse 35, states that Korach’s 250 followers were consumed by fire, he was also not mentioned. Korach didn’t die by being swallowed by the Earth or by fire. Rav Yochanan believes he lived an extra day and died in the plague that took place the next day.

Many commentators grapple with why Korach was given an extra day. The Torah Temimah commentary gives two answers; one is that perhaps the merit of his children granted him another day; it’s possible that Korach’s mistake was not realizing that his future illustrious descendants didn’t give him license to challenge Moses for the leadership. Rather, they gave him the merit to survive an extra day in their merit.

The relevance of the future having an impact the past also relates to the giving of the Torah. In Genesis [26:5] we read, “Because Abraham heard my voice and observed … My commandments, statutes and laws.” Based on this verse, the Sages deduce that Abraham intuitively observed the Witten and Oral Torah.

Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Goodman quotes Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov who states that when God spoke to us at Mount Sinai, “We heard a great voice that did not stop” [Devarim 5:19] for this voice has reverberated ever since. This voice also was heard by Abraham as he was able to tune into the sound waves of Torah that were destined to emanate from Mount Sinai at the giving of the Torah. Therefore God says that Abraham heard my voice and observed my commandments etc. Abraham was able to tune in to a higher frequency.

Rabbi Zev Brenner is president and CEO of Talkline Communications Network, a Jewish radio and TV network and host of its flagship program “Talkline with Zev Brenner.” This d’var Torah is in honor of his daughter, Yehudis Chana’s bat mitzvah.