Parashas Tazria – Metzora
The Real Torah of Shem
Rabbi David Katz
In this week’s Torah Portion: “Tazria” [and “Metzora”, due to a double Torah Reading based on the nuances of the Jewish Calendar] we find an interesting angle of which to view the Torah, that sheds light on the ancient Torah of Shem and his relationship with Abraham in particular. It is said that to Abraham and his descendants the gift given from Shem was that of the Oral Torah. Where the Torah would command of a circumcision upon a child of eight days, the Oral Law provides the details of how the ritual is to be performed. Added within the Oral Torah is the mystical dimension of the Torah, where we can learn from the Torah text itself and derive hidden intent and insight into the commandments. For example, where the Torah says to circumcise after eight days, or in Hebrew “השמיני” literally in the Torah verse [Vayikra 12:3] we see from the Hebrew that the word for “eight” break down to spell the two words “the name” and “wine.” [השמיני = ה''שם & יין] In Jewish tradition the name of the male is then given upon the child’s entrance into the covenant of the “Brit” (circumcision) accompanied by sacred acts of the ritual, where they are accompanied with wine. Hence, the name and the wine are intertwined within the brit, all culminating on the “8th” day of the child’s life. Such is the nature of the Oral Law in understanding the details and rituals of the circumcision all relating to the seed of Abraham by the mouth of Shem.
To the seed of Shem (to the exclusion of the Priesthood represented by Abraham and his offspring) would go the heritage of the “Written Text” of Torah and the innate ability to communicate it as such from the depth of one’s soul of which the Torah is a part of as was taught in the womb. This is the attraction to directly understand the Torah (or any Torah) on its most direct level, or what is termed Pshat (simple meaning; not to be taken in context of shallow, for simple in these terms represents the absolute and direct objective Truth.) The Oral Torah would then emphasize the “Pshuto” of the Torah, all of the peripheral laws and details not obvious or even clearly recognizable from text. Both ways are absolutely crucial to the study of Torah, yet when one draws the bottom line, all Torah ultimately boils down to the Written Law. For when the Oral component is learned, one must never lose sight of its source in the Written, as all Torah was essentially granted into the Torah of Moses in its written form on Sinai. The true Torah of Shem was a teaching that contained both levels, and when we learn the truth of Torah with Shem’s Torah in mind, we can begin to see the text differently and relate to the Torah’s Oral Tradition in a different way – the clear way, one that traces its tracks back into the text. Truth in text allows one to experience what the Talmud relates to us as: “The nature of God is not as the nature of Man, for the nature of God is to have a full vessel retaining its ability to receive more, while an empty vessel cannot receive, whereas the vessel of Man seeks an empty vessel as opposed to a full vessel. From this we can understand that the Torah Text is the full vessel and when we learn the text fully, it will compound upon its student more Torah than what he began with.
One such example of these techniques are in this week’s Torah Portion of Tazria, where to the surprise of many is the source of the commandment of circumcision. Most people would assume that the source of circumcision began with Abraham, and if they are dabbling into Wisdom they may suggest Isaac. However it is the Oral Law that tells us the Torah’s “Pshuto” in that neither Abraham or Isaac are the source of the commandment, rather it comes from this week’s Torah Portion right towards the middle of the Torah, which is termed “Laws of Priesthood”, and as we know from Shem, the entire Torah is derived from the Laws of Priesthood. So if Abraham was not the source of “brit”, then what do we learn from Abraham in this matter – anything? The answer is, we learn about Shem and his Torah!
While Abraham did not get circumcised at eight days old, it is said that Abraham circumcised himself. It is also said that Hashem did the act for Abraham. How do we ever resolve the two opinions? The answer: look to the Torah, and which Torah might you ask – the Torah of Shem! The Midrashim (Oral accounts of Torah) bring a Midrash that many overlook, simply because it is assumed we learn circumcision from Abraham, thereby missing the knowledge that we are actually supposed to learn according to the Torah’s SIMPLE MEANING. Hashem called upon the most righteous Man of Abraham’s time-Shem son of/”ben” Noah. It would be Shem that Hashem would rely upon to be the instrument of God to perform the commandment upon Abraham. Couple this with the fact that God has no corporeality and Shem was nullified to God, and voila! Abraham would be considered to have done the job himself. In the end, we have maintained all three positions, no contradiction was found, the Torah’s simple meaning was expressed, and we walk away with more Torah and Wisdom than when we started, as we approached the endeavor with a full vessel, i.e. we did not seek an empty vessel by limiting Torah with assumptions that the Torah was wrong or flawed.
Shem and Abraham had more in common than circumcision, for Shem was not just sent to perform upon Abraham as the vessel of God, he was sent to deliver the Torah as well! We again turn to the Midrash, one that states Hashem had offered the Torah to the World but only Abraham was found to accept it and its teachings. Yet there is still a deeper message here in the simple meaning, as we turn to another Midrash, one of Shem, that states, ”Shem prophesied for 400 years as he attempted to implant the Torah into the New World. We the combine the two components, and we understand that Hashem was employing Shem with the task of Torah, and this led Shem to anticipate and wait for Abraham, which happened in Lech Lecha with Shem as Malki Tzedek, and the passing of the Priesthood. Again we arrive to the simple meaning and we are left knowing more than when we started. This was the nature of the Torah of Shem, and the reason that people were not accepting his Teaching – Shem got to the Truth! The Torah of Shem is predicated on going directly to the Truth, Absolute Truth, where there is no doubt, for he has textual proof in his Teachings, incorporating “Pshat, “Pshuto”, and Harmony of both into what equates into “Word of God.” This is how Shem was a vessel of God’s will, and explains how Shem could relate to Abraham. It should then be not of surprise to learn that we particularly don’t learn circumcision from Shem, for Hashem did the action Himself as Shem was born circumcised!
When we view this week’s Torah Portion with the Torah of Shem in mind, and now we have what to look for, since we learned our lesson with Abraham (as opposed to the sourced of the Law), now we can learn Pshuto (Oral element) in the text itself, which is directly related to Shem, and his heritage!
The Torah says to clip the oragan and its flesh. There should be no reason to assume that flesh is of any importance. If one were to relate to the details of circumcision, the question may arise, “what to do if there is a contamination on the organ?” This would be even more relevant here since this Torah Portion deals with impurities! To delve into “Pshuto”, most likely there would be the inclination to recall all of the Oral Torah Logic and calculations to derive the Law of what to do in accordance within Law, especially if the Brit is to be on Shabbat!
First of all, only by the simple meaning of text do we learn that Brit pushes off the Shabbat, expressing how strong Brit is! Secondly, there is no need for discourse to learn about contamination on the organ and its relation to performing forbidden acts on Sabbath to achieve circumcision, for the Torah ITSELF tells you the answer: “It’s Flesh!” Our superfluous word, “Flesh” comes to teach “Flesh” in any and all sense of the word, with no limitations! Thus by remembering the Torah of Shem at the root of Shem and his Torah, we can see the beauty of objective Truth, such that Shem had taught and desired to bestow upon Mankind, as the vessel of God. The Written Law is certain to contain the Truth, as it was given to Moses on Sinai!
From the Commandment of circumcision, in its proper place, in the text, we can learn numerous fantastic laws, and relive the methodology of Shem himself. In the merit of the commandment of circumcision, a gift commanded to the Jewish People, and a heritage of Noahides going back to Jethro (and as explained by the Rambam, as an opportunity to Noahides; Bnei Keturah), we can all take delight in gazing upon the Torah of Shem, that just as Shem was present at the Brit of Abraham, Shem continues to be present at all circumcision, as he lives on in the text. If Elijah who was a “Righteous Priest” and was punished to witness all Brit rituals of the future, we can take refuge in Shem, a fellow “Righteous Priest”, who was given the rights of circumcision, as an honor, and remembrance of his Truth in Torah, in text, according to the absolute meaning. If the circumcision is an eternal covenant, there is none better to have as a witness, than Shem; he who was given the First Born Rights of an Eternal Torah of Truth.
May Elijah complete his Mission and usher in the Geulah with his fellow Kohen Tzedek Shem ben Noach in '72 in the merit of Bris Milah!