Two stories – -one lesson. The first one is about when G-d allowed Moshe Rabeinu a viewing of all coming generations. As part of the viewing, Moshe Rabeinu got to “sit in” on a shiur [class] given by Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva was “doresh al kol tag vetag – was finding Peirush [interpretations] in every little shtrechele [quill stroke] you find in the Torah.
Moshe Rabeinu didn’t understand how it was being interpreted and felt bad until he was comforted by hearing that all the teachings of Rabbi Akiva were really about “halacha l’Moshe m’Sinai” [Jewish Law as handed to Moshe on Sinai]. How do we understand this story when we know Moshe Rabeinu was anav mikol adam [more humble than any other man]? Why was he upset, then, if he didn’t understand how to do something Rabbi Akiva was doing (to say drash on the shtrechelech) and why was he comforted when he realized they were all teachings from him?
Second story. There was a Tanna named Rabbi Meir who used to give a shiur [class] which a lady in his town used to attend. This lady’s husband was not the greatest of guys and didn’t like his wife growing in spirituality while he was lazy and stayed a boor. So, one night, when he had a L’chayim too many and his wife was learning, he locked the door to his house. When his wife came home, he stood by the door and shouted, “I swear I’m not letting you into this house until you spit into Rabbi Meir’s face!” That was the depth of his hatred for her learning, that he wanted her to embarrass the rabbi who taught her. The wife, because she realized it was his booze at work and not intrinsically him, wanted to get into the house and back to her marriage, but there was no way for her to be able to listen to his drunken request. She stood outside, not knowing what to do. The town was not too big, so within a few moments Rabbi Meir heard what had happened. He called his students in and asked them to do him a favor. They were to go to the street where the woman lived and make an announcement. They were to say that Rabbi Meir had an eye infection which the doctors said could only be healed with saliva. They then were to ask for a volunteer who would be willing to spit in Rabbi Meir’s eyes. Sure enough, the lady volunteered, realizing it was her opportunity to do as her husband ordered…and thinking she was also saving Rabbi Meir’s eyes. Amazing story. Incredible Chesed [kindness]. Yet, the Gemorah poses a challenge and asks a question after writing the story. The Kushya [query] is “Reb Meir meemee lamad”– from where did Rabbi Meir learn that you can do it? And the sages then show how what Reb Meir did is part of the Mesorah [transmission of Torah] – stretching all the way back to Aron HaKohen. How do we understand this story?! Does even Chesed [kindness] need a Mesorah?
Rabeinu Yoel, ZTL would say “Chodosh Asur Min HaTorah” – new things are forbidden by Torah. Are we Amish, not to use electricity, because its “new” and our Babbe and Zaida didn’t have it? Is that what was meant? Obviously not, because Rabeinu Yoel was a pretty advanced rabbi, transplanting and understanding the new needs in America. So what could have been meant, that Chodosh [new things] are Asur [forbidden]? What Chodosh is Asur?
The tenets of Judaism has been accepted worldwide as truth and borrowed from by other religions because Judaism is unique in Ma’amad Har Sinai [giving of Torah at Sinai].
Whereas many folks can claim divinations and revelations, a massive witnessing of millions of people of a vision and an experiencing of that miracle is only claimed at the giving of Torah at Sinai. Only Torah was given in view of millions of people who stood together at Sinai and heard Anochi Hashem [“I am G-d”]. Moshe Rabeinu, before he died, tells us this fact, to make sure that at all times, in all generations, we should remember, we know truth because millions of us witnessed the giving of truth. We aren’t blind followers of someone who claims to have a vision. We are the only belief system where there was “Hareisa Lada’as” open vision of G-dly revelation. The basis of our belief then is the experience of three million people who witnessed the giving of Toras Emes. That is why in Shema we are warned that we not forget that which our own eyes saw – our conviction in truth is based on a mass experience.
So now we go back to the concept of Mesorah [transmission of Torah through time]. If we know we are living our lives right because of the things our ancestors witnessed, we are safe in what we do as long as what we are doing is linked to that truth they saw. Therefore, anything, Chesed, drash or daily life has to trace itself back to that moment of revelation of G-d. Chadash Asur [new is forbidden], because then it is not linked to the experience we had with truth. Moshe Rabeinu was not a Baal Ga’ava [arrogant person]. He was not worried about Rabbi Akiva being smart and teaching something he didn’t understand. He was just worried about the next generation’s connection to the truth of Torah, of the fact that we know Torah is true because we all witnessed the giving of it, and anything new is, therefore, something like other religions (a claim that someone knows the truth, but not something we can verify). Therefore, we can understand why Moshe Rabeinu was relieved to hear that all Rabbi Akiva was teaching was the actual Torah M’Sinai – Rabbi Akiva was just using various tools to point out how to remember the same Torah we all witnessed being given.
Mesorah – – it is our way of maintaining the open-eye experience of witnessing and knowing truth. And anything we do, anything we say, anything we teach, must be sourced back to Torah M’Sinai.