Secrets of Survival Part II
At the Burning Bush Moshe’s first response was to ask G-d two questions. “
Why me and why them?” He questioned G-d’s selection of him as the Redeemer
and he questioned the merits of the Bnai Yisroel to be saved. (3:11 Rashi)
G-d answered (free translation), (3:12) “I chose you so that everyone
would know that I am taking them out of Egypt (rather than you Moshe) and
the merit of the Jews is their Yichus (ancestory) and the fact that I will
give them the Torah.”
In last week’s issue I presented the three basic elements of Jewish
survival: 1) Torah 2) Mesorah (transmission fo G-d's word from generation
to generation) 3) Eretz Yisroel (land of Israel). This week I would like
to continue that discussion by revisiting Yakov’s blessing to Ephraim and
Menahse as well as this week’s incident of the Burning Bush.
Ignoring Yoseph’s insistence on Yakov placing his right hand on Mensahe
and his left hand on Ephrayim, Yakov refused to un-cross his hands. He
explained to Yoseph that although Menashe was older Ephrayim would be
greater. The placement of his right hand on the head of Ephrayim rather
than the head of Menashe was deliberate and necessary. It was a statement
of relative importance. True, Menashe in his capacity as a civil servant
interfacing with the non-Jewish world needed greater encouragement to
remain true and uncompromising in his devotion to G-d. On the other hand,
Ephrayim’s singular devotion to studying the word of G-d was the truest
calling of a Jew. As such, placing his hand on Ephrayim’s head rather than
Menashe’s head proclaimed the primacy of Torah study over anything else.
A note of clarification: It is not my intention to weigh in on the Kollel
(full-time post-graduate study of Torah) non-Kollel discussion. Regardless
of whether or not a family should study Torah to the exclusion of any
other pursuit is a matter of personal choice and availability. However, on
the issue of what defines us as Jews is the term “Chosen.” We were chosen
for one and only one reason. We were chosen to receive the Torah from G-d
on Mt. Sinai. (3:12) “…When you take the people out of Egypt you will
serve G-d on this mountain.” No other endeavor defines us as unique among
the nations; therefore, Yakov insisted on placing his right hand on the
head of Ephrayim because he had chosen to devote his life to the study of
We have presented two clear instances where the Torah emphasized the
primacy of Torah: 1) When Yakov blessed Menashe and Ephrayim and 2) G-d’s
answer to Moshe at the Burning Bush. To better understand the unique
designation of the Bnai Yisroel as the “Chosen People,” we must go back
further in the history of Torah and the history of the Patriarchs.
G-d’s commands must come directly from G-d. They cannot be the inventive
genius of human intellect deciding what G-d wants humanity to do and what
He does not want humanity to do. The absolutes of right and wrong, good
and evil, must come directly from G-d. The moment of Matan Torah
(Revelation) was and remains the single most direct presentation of G-d’s
will. Prior to Matan Torah His wishes were revealed to humanity through
the medium of prophecy. It started with Adam and Chava and extended
through the various chosen prophets such as Chanoch, Mesushelach, Lemech,
Noach, Shem, Ever, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yakov (to name a few). The
bottom line is that the Mesorah, the transmission of G-d’s will from
generation to generation was always predicated on their being a previous
generation to teach the subsequent generation. No generation ever came
upon G-d’s commandments by the accident of human intellectual
Torah – the record of G-d’s intention for humanity – should have been the
property of all. However, as the Mishnah in Avos (5:3) states, Avraham was
granted the exclusive on Torah because the rest of the world had rejected
it by dint of their chosen ethics and values. Nevertheless, let us be
perfectly clear that Avraham’s understanding of G-d’s intentions for
humanity was taught to him by the earlier prophets Noach, Shem, and Ever.
(On his own he realized that there must be a Creator. Knowing the
Creator’s intentions for humanity was taught to him by the great prophets
who preceded him.)
Avraham studied in the academy of Shem and Ever. Yitzchak studied in the
academy of Shem and Ever. Yakov studied in the academy of Shem and Ever.
Not only did Avraham teach Yitzchak and Yakov and not only did Yitzchak
teach Yakov, each of the Patriarchs also learned about G-d and His
intentions from their great – great – grandfathers, Shem and Ever.
We assume that there were others besides the Avos who studied in the
academy of Shem and Ever; however, Yakov was unique among them all. The
Medresh records that Yakov studied from Shem and Ever as a young man and
everyone knows that he attended the academy for an additional 14 years on
his way to Lavan.
Yitzchak blessed Yakov and Eisav in the year 2171 when they were 63 years
old. Yakov left the academy of Ever (Shem had died in 2158 at the age of
600) in the year 2185. The recorded death of Ever was in 2187 at the age
of 464. These dates are determined by adding up the ages at which certain
individuals died as recorded in Sefer Bereshis (book of Genesis). It is
also accepted that there could be a two year margin of error depending on
how close the exact date was to the end of the year.
E.g. If the birth occurred a month before the new year it could have been
recorded as a full year when in reality it was only one month. If the
death occurred a month into the new year it might have been recorded as a
full year when in reality it was only one month. Ever may have been born
right before the year 1724 and may have died at the beginning of 2187. It
would have been recorded that he died at the age of 464 years when in
reality he was 462. That could mean that he died two years earlier in the
The above calculations answer the question as to why Yakov left the
academy of Ever after 14 years. Why didn’t he stay longer? However, if
Ever died two years earlier than the recorded date (in 2185 rather than
2187) it coincides with Yakov’s departure from the academy. Yakov left the
academy because there was no one left to teach him. For all intents and
purposes he was the greatest scholar remaining in the academy and without
a teacher to teach him he could no longer justify delaying fulfilling
Yitzchaks command to go to Lavan and get married.
Shem and Ever were not Jewish. Their job was to teach about G-d to anyone
who desired to know. Avraham, the first Jew, extended that job into the
realm of outreach. Rather than wait for students to come seeking the
knowledge of G-d and truth he and Sarah went out to find students and
spread the knowledge of G-d. Yitzchak and Rivkah’s main focus was raising
and teaching Yakov and Eisav and they continued Avraham’s work in a
limited capacity. Yakov’s job on the other hand was to give birth to the
nation and his focus would be almost exclusively devoted to raising them.
Granted, his presence wherever he went made a monumental impression on all
by proclaiming the truth of G-d and His intent for humanity; however, that
was by example more so than direct teaching.
Yakov is called the “Chosen One” from among the Avos (Patriarchs). That
designation has many meanings and applications and I would like to suggest
that it relates to the essence of why we are called the “Chosen People.”
Just as the Chosen People reflects on the fact that we were the only
nation gifted to receive the Torah, so too Yakov is called the Chosen One
because with the death of Ever he became the single complete repository
and protector of G-d’s commandments. Basically, it means that with the
death of Ever the transmitted truth and knowledge of G-d’s intentions for
having created humanity, the entirety of the Mesorah from Adam on down,
was left to Yakov to keep, protect, and teach.
The Rambam writes that all knowledge of G-d’s commandments, including the
Seven Mitzvos given to the Sons of Noach, must come from the Toraha s
taught by the Jewish people. If a non-Jew does one or all of the Seven
Mitzvos on his own without acknowledging that what it is and how it must
be done comes directly from the Torah and can only be understood as taught
by the Rabbis, he will not receive reward for doing a Mitzvah, a
commandment. In essence he is doing what his own inventiveness dictates
and not what G-d dictates.
Seventy years after leaving the academy of Ever, Yakov blessed his
grandchildren Menashe and Ephrayim. The blessing focused all future
generations on the reality of G-d’s constant supervision and intervention.
At the same time the placing of his right hand on the head of Ephrayim
established the primacy of Torah as the defining criteria and endeavor of
the Jewish nation, the Chosen People. Note that Ephrayim’s great grandson,
Yehoshua would be the only other person besides Moshe solely responsible
for the entirety of the Mesorah.
192 years later Moshe met G-d at the Burning Bush on Har Sinai. Wondering
by what merit the nation deserved to be saved Hashem told him, (3:12) “…
When you take the people out of Egypt you will serve G-d on this
G-d said, “Moshe, the Bnai Yisroel are the children of Yakov. Yakov, the
Chosen One, was granted the awesome responsibility of bearing and
protecting the entire Mesorah. It was his responsibility to pass it on to
his children, the Chosen People. I trusted no one else for that job. Even
the angels knew Yakov’s choseness when they saw that it was his image that
I had engraved on my celestial throne. Yakov and the other Avos did their
job well. Their time came and went and now it is time for Me to fulfill my
promise. All of time and all of creation await this moment. Go to Egypt
and tell Pharaoh to let My people go. They have an encounter with destiny.
It is time for them to become the bearers of the Mesorah. It is time for
them become My kingdom of priests and holy nation. They have been chosen.
“Torah was commanded to us by Moshe the inheritance of the congregation of
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Torah.org
The author is the Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley
Village, CA, and Assistant Principal of YULA.