Lesson on: Introduction
For reference: Throughout the course of our study Rabbi Moshe1 Chaim Luzzatto will be referred to as "Ramchal," which is an acronym for his full name.
Story: You buy your child a brand new bicycle. It comes in a pile of pieces; nuts, bolts, screws and other parts. Luckily, you have an instruction manual and a picture of the completed bike. You read the steps, gather the necessary tools and begin the task of assembly. To make your project even easier you begin sorting out the various parts, placing the same type of pieces together, laying out the pieces as best as possible. Following the various steps, the bicycle begins to take shape, and soon it is complete.
Proudly you and your child inspect the completed project, no longer the 50 separate pieces you started with, but a working whole, a beautiful bicycle, ready to ride. This task complete, you can now begin the next step, teaching him how to ride it.
If one began the process of building that bicycle without a systemized approach and a picture of the completed project (as provided in the assembly manual), he could spend countless hours trying to understand the placement of each individual piece and its proper function. A seemingly unimportant screw suddenly becomes a valuable piece if its purpose is to hold the handlebars on.
Just as there are many pieces to our bicycle, Judaism considers the Torah2 to contain 613 Mitzvot.3 When viewed individually, these commands can appear to have no relationship to one another, and the Torah can quickly become a "difficult, unsatisfying burden." The opposite occurs when one ceases to focus on the individual commands and sees them in relation to their proper context. As Ramchal states, "this is what our sages meant when they taught us, words of the Torah should always be in your hands as general principles rather than as individual details."
How safe would the bicycle be, if left over was a pile of pieces that there was no place for and were regarded as being unimportant or unrelated to your project? The fact that they were included with the bike means that the manufacturer intended them to be used -- they DO have a proper function.
This brings us to one of our favorite quotes: "The details of Scripture are not given to us so we can win at Bible trivia."
Rav Shaul (Paul) states, "ALL Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." 4
But what about those genealogies or long chapters containing the minute (sometimes redundant) details such as the construction of the Tabernacle, the offerings brought or other accounts given to us in Torah? Did Shaul mean those too? How are we supposed to understand what all that is about?
Knowing that God gives all of Scripture to us, none of it is superfluous and this is where our work begins.
As Ramchal says, "By its very nature, every general principle includes many details. As a result, when a person grasps a general principle, automatically he also grasps a large number of details. Although at the outset a person possessing a general principle might not be aware of its specific details or recognize them as elements of the general principle, later, when confronted by them, he will be able to recognize them."
However, the work of identifying and organizing the concepts contained within Scripture is just the first step (albeit an important and satisfying one). The building of the bicycle did not insure the child could now ride it without a period of learning. Neither does obtaining an understanding of the general principles of Judaism suddenly allow one to automatically comprehend the deepest truths that Scripture holds.
To quote Ramchal, "This book provides a basis which will make it much easier for you, its readers, to attain knowledge of God, through the Torah and its exposition, so that all the Torahs secrets will be within your grasp, which is Gods blessing that He bestows upon you."
Thus we embark on our study, with the help of God, to accomplish the directive of Shaul to his disciple Timothy when he stated, "rightly dividing the word of truth." 5
1. Moshe Moses