Parashas Re’eh: The “Pilpul” of Shem
Understanding the Matter Within A Matter
Rabbi David Katz
In this week’s Parsha of Re’eh the illustration of Shem’s dictum in learning Torah: “Pilpul” comes into extreme focus and high gear, in a rather unassuming portion of the Parsha dealing with food consumption. [*Note: Pilpul literally means “spice”, and is the term of which the Torah of Shem is derived, often explained as the search for understanding the matter within a matter.][**Note: Food consumption as the Torah prescribes it is termed: “Kosher”, literally meaning “prepared”; throughout this article we will employ both pilpul and kosher frequently.] We find that in the passage of kosher foods of which to partake or to absolve from, comes a rather benign verse in the Torah suggesting to not eat from a carcass, and to either give it to the Ger that is in your gate, or to sell it to a gentile. Immediately several issues come up: what is the usage of “Ger” here, is a Ger different than a gentile, and is the Ger the same or different than a Jew? [All of these questions are thus contingent on if the Ger is Jewish or not, as we will explain.]
In Devarim 14:21 the verse reads as such: “Do not eat any carcass, “to – the – Ger” that lives in your domain you shall give it, and he shall eat it; or sell it to the gentile, since a Holy nation you are to Hashem Your God…do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk.”
As has been explained in numerous articles, there is much discussion with the term “Ger.” A Ger can be literally defined by the Bible Commentator Rashi as simply a person dwelling by a Nation of which he is not from initially, and therefore this is foreign to him. A Ger can mean literally a stranger or foreigner in its loosest sense. In a more legal sense the term Ger explodes into something massive, that at least resembles if not defines the nature of the Pilpul of Shem and his Torah.
Once one investigates the truest sense of the Ger and its legal conclusions, the concept of understanding the matter within a matter is highlighted at maximum intensity, and thus reveals the inner mind of the Torah; this is synonymous with the concept of the Torah of Shem within the Torah of Moses.
If in our verse we simply ignore any depth whatsoever, and label this “Ger” in our verse as a convert to Judaism, aside from being clearly wrong and out of context while very misleading, we will perpetuate a grave error in this matter of understanding, and leave a wealth of redeeming knowledge buried in the sand – a tragedy, being that the Truth demands this story of the “Ger”[at least in our verse] to be told, and to let it tell the truth on its own innate volition! Simply researching this word in this verse combined with an effort to understand the Torah, has its own microcosmic power of redemption inside in the form of the inner mind of the Torah, i.e. the place of Shem’s Torah within the Torah of Moses.
[It should be noted, that when Moses ascended to heaven to receive the Torah, Hashem allowed for Moses to teach over to Israel and the World a simple straightforward Torah, to which Moses rejected, and on his own volition he included this pilpul, thus adhering to the Torah in its truest and original sense by acknowledging Shem. It should also be noted that Moses was an incarnation of Shem, thus making this decision all the more natural, especially since Shem was at Sinai according to the Midrash for 1300 years awaiting what would be of the Sinai revelation. Shem was indeed honored in the highest sense, especially since the Torah was victorious and will produce a Redemption (that Shem himself will be part of as one of the Four Craftsmen,) as evidenced by Shem’s encounter with the Davidic Dynasty that he helped create with Tamar his daughter and Judah; for Shem was released from Sinai by King Solomon in a metaphysical encounter after 1300 years of service in Torah by Shem, thus illustrating that the son of David was now complete and befitting a Torah victory. King Solomon clarified this by expressing to Shem the Torah of David through matters of pilpul, in the form of the Three Books of Solomon: Koheles, Shir HaShirim, and Mishlei – all derived from the Torah of his father David.]
To return back to our verse in the parsha and to address the Ger in its proper and worthy context, we will open the Torah in a brand new way [actually in an ancient way] and delve into matters of pilpul. Our Ger is literally in every way and in every major commentary and way of thinking a reference to the Ger Toshav, a Noahide [in general terms] who lives in the Land of Israel, and through this verse we learn one of his major identification features: he eats “Neveilah” – loosely translated as carcass, yet the true implication is that he is not bound by Kosher meat, in fact, he is identified as not eating kosher meat. Now that we have identified him as a Ger Toshav and not a convert, we can let the pilpul begin!
Our Ger is not Jewish; thus to have said that he was a Jewish Convert, this teaching [wrongly] would position him to eat non-kosher meat! This is a major offense in the laws of Torah for a Jew, while denying any type of identity of the Ger Toshav – as this is his identity! The questions are now endless, for we can entertain, ‘what is the difference then between a Ger [Toshav] and the gentile?’ that the verse suggests that we can sell the meat to the gentile, while the Ger can eat the meat if it is decided to give the meat to him.
Now that we have addressed the Ger Toshav is the Pshat [simple meaning] of the verse, one must ask “what is a Ger Toshav?” As one explores the various “Ger” quotations in Torah along with the commentary so as to ascertain which type of Ger the Torah is in fact referring to, we will find varying opinions. These opinions [for the Ger Toshav as we have defined him here] will range from simply rejecting idolatry, accepting the Seven Laws of Noah, eating Neveilah [as in our verse; non-kosher meat], living in Israel, etc. From this point in the pilpul [understanding the matter within a matter], we can ascertain that there are levels of the Ger Toshav, based on his observance; these levels can even top out at the observance of the Ger to an extent that he is termed the Ger Tzedek. [The Righteous Ger] This last definition gives way to the end of our Parsha that says while the holidays of Shavuot and Sukkot are to be of Joy: you and the Ger within your Domain. This fits well with the Ger Tzedek that we identified in the 10 Commandments in Parashas Va’eschanan where we found the Ger there to be Shabbat observant in a unique way, contrary to the gentile and even the Ger Toshav.
In closing, our Parsha is Blessed with the Ger quotation, and as a Noahide issue [thus going back to Shem by nature] we were sure to find the pilpul aspect of Torah front and center. Once it is acknowledged correctly, the pilpul opens up magnificently as to all of the different levels and ideas amongst the Ger: Toshav, Tzedek, etc. and the distinctions that are literally endless, as the Toshav can be defined many ways, giving way to the concept of Ger to be bottomless in its inherent Wisdom – the symbol of Shem. The one unifying factor amongst the Ger quotations in the Torah, is this faction of Torah is activated with the advent of the Jubilee Year [50th year cycle in the Land] in the Land, for the Jubilee triggers the Ger into a proactive character in Torah. The Jubilee is called the border of Redemption, and it should be no surprise to see the Noahide is a key member of the Redemption. Like most matters in Torah, it is murky in nature and law based in its application, yet this is where the pilpul of Torah dwells the most!
In our current state of affairs, the Land of Israel is here, Jews are dwelling in the Land, and the Gerim are coming out of the Darkness. All that is missing is the Jubilee year, of which the Rambam says will bring back to the table every aspect of the Ger Toshav [and obviously Ger Tzedek]. According to this position in time we would see open steps of the Complete Redemption, one that is finished off with the Four Craftsmen of Redemption; the 4th Craftsman is of course Shem ben Noah. To understand his position as the Righteous Priest, we would have to delve into matters of pilpul in the area of redemption…would Shem’s Torah have it any other way?
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