In last week’s column you explained the story in the Talmud of Moses ascending the mountain and finding God writing crowns on the letters of the Torah. That reminded me of a question I’ve had for the last several months, when I read what an Orthodox rabbi also commented on that passage. He pointed out that God got his timing wrong, that he wasn’t quite done with writing the Torah by the time Moses got up there to receive it by God’s own invitation. If God could mess up on that one, who’s to say he doesn’t mess up on more things and get the timing wrong?
Firstly, there must be some misunderstanding either in the understanding of the article you allude to or its author as an Orthodox rabbi. An Orthodox rabbi, who believes in the basic 13 Maimonidean Principles of Faith which form the foundation of traditional belief, knows that G-d is all-knowing and above time and doesn’t “mess up” and come late to appointments! He would also know that every section of the Talmud, including the Aggadic portions, contains profound messages to be learned from; even the most minuscule feature of each story carries meaning for our lives. It is incumbent upon us to delve deeply enough into those stories to extract their significance and then to apply them.
It is actually quite noteworthy that G-d chose to be writing the “crowns” on the Torah letters at the moment in time that He asked Moses to ascend Mt. Sinai. Sinai was a teaching experience where, together with transmitting the laws of Torah, the Al-mighty conveyed the essence of those laws.
One message being expressed to Moses was the attention to details. It’s a well-known adage that “the devil is in the details.” Judaism teaches the opposite: “G-d is in the details!” G-d was teaching us for all time that the minutiae of every command are critical for its implementation. Imagine calling a friend in Chicago and someone answering in Los Angeles. You call the telephone company to complain that you dialed the entire number correctly, only changed one small detail in the area code! You obviously must get all the details right to hook up to where you want to connect to.
Another example in life is a symphony. In order to appreciate the beauty of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in C minor, the orchestra must get every detail right. Each note, each instrument, must be perfectly timed or it’s just not what Beethoven meant and you can’t hear his music.
The same applies to the mitzvot. They are our “hotline” to connect directly to the Al-mighty, but if we dial one digit wrong, we will connect to the wrong number. Moreover, the beautiful music contained in the mitzvot will be off by a note, often sounding sour to the trained ear. The lesson of the crowns is that “G-d is in the details.”
Another lesson to Moses was that, as the story went, he was shown that there are reams of information encoded in every little crown, and certainly in the words themselves. Each crown, letter and word is like part of a super-disk with megabytes of knowledge ready to be played out, given the right “software” in the minds of scholars dedicating their lives to understanding, knowing and observing all of “G-d’s Mind” related in the Torah. It was the lesson of the infinite nature of Torah, and hence, the Jewish people who study and represent it.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.