A Jealous Fire: One who Writes Down Halakhot is as One who Burns the Torah

by tillerofthesoil

burnttorah“Rabbi El’azar said,… ‘You, cleaving to YHWH your God, are alive everyone of you today (Deuteronomy 4:4). Now is it possible to cleave to Shekhinah, of whom it is written: YHWH your God is a devouring fire (ibid., 24)? Rather the meaning is: whoever marries his daughter to a disciple of the sages, conducts business on their behalf, or benefits them from his assets is regarded by scripture as if he cleaves to Shekhinah [cf. BT Sotah 14a, where Rabbi Ḥama son of Ḥanina explains that one can approach and withstand the consuming fire of Shekhinah by imitating the divine, e.g., by clothing the naked, visiting the sick, comforting mourners, and burying the dead]” (BT Ketubbot 111b).

“Rabbi Ḥuna son of Rabbi Yehoshu’a would not walk four cubits bareheaded, saying: the Shekhinah is above my head” (BT Qiddushin 31b).

“The General Agrippa asked Rabban Gamaliel, ‘It is written in your Torah, For YHWH your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God (Deuteronomy 4:24). Is a wise man jealous of any but a wise man, a warrior of any but a warrior, a rich man of any but a rich man?’ He replied, ‘I will give you a parable: To what is the matter like? To a man who marries an additional wife. If the second wife is her superior, the first will not be jealous of her, but if she is her inferior, the first wife will be jealous of her’” (BT Avodah Zarah 55a).

“Rabbi Shim’on said, ‘A word lingers here with us.’ He opened, saying, ‘Two verses are written: YHWH your God is a devouring fire (Deuteronomy 4:24), and You, cleaving to YHWH your God, are alive every one of you today (ibid., 4). We have established these verses in various places, and the Companions have been aroused by them.

Come and see: For YHWH your God is a devouring fire. The word has been discussed among the Companions: There is a fire devouring fire, devouring and consuming it, for there is fire fiercer than fire, as they have established [see BT Yoma 21b]. But come and see: Whoever desires to penetrate the wisdom of holy unification should contemplate the flame ascending from a glowing ember or a burning candle. For flame ascends only when grasped by course substance” (Zohar 1:50b–51a).

“The blue [light of a flame] is the Shekhinah, the Judgment that devours sacrifices and burnt offerings. If She finds men to be as dry wood, like dry wicks without oil, which is Torah and Compassion, [She] is a fire to them and burns them” (Zohar 3:33a, Ra’aya Meheimna Tsav, cf. Zohar 2:166a).

“Rabbi Abba son of Rabbi Ḥiyya son of Abba said in the name of Rabbi Yoḥanan [son of Nappaha]: One who writes down הֲלַכוֹת (halakhot), ways of conduct, is as one who burns the Torah, and he who learns from them does not receive reward… Rabbi Yehudah the son of Naḥum, the declaimer of Resh Laqish expounded: One may not recite oral teachings from a written document and one may not recite written teachings from memory. The school of Rabbi Yishma’el taught: ‘Write for yourself these words’ (Exodus 34:27). These words [i.e. the Written Torah] you may write, but you may not write halakhot” (BT Temurah 14b, cf. Gittin 60a–b; Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed 1:71).

“The Companions saw the face of Shekhinah and were encompassed by fire. Rabbi Abba’s face blazed in fire from rapture of Torah. It has been taught: All that day, none of them left the house, and the house was swathed in smoke. Words among them were fresh and ecstatic as if they were receiving Torah that very day from Mount Sinai! When they departed they did not know if it was day or night” (Zohar 1:94b, cf. Vayiqra Rabbah 16:4; Avot de-Rabbi Natan B, 13).

“As to what the rabbis have said: ‘Now is it possible for one to cleave to Shekhinah?—it certainly is!… Know and believe that there is a special quality to the essence of the purity of limbs that allows for man to hold fast to the Shekhinah even if She is a consuming fire” (Rabbi Yosef Gikatilla, Sha’arei Orah 166).

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