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Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz :"Oxen and donkeys, wool and linen"

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

Again and again, we return to the paradox that to study Torah and fulfill mitzvot is to involve oneself with mundane and material things: oxen and donkeys, wool and linen, and so on.

Granted that man’s connection and identification with the mundane is indeed complete:

  • a person who gives charity becomes at that moment a tool for the mitzvah of charity;
  • the man who puts on tefillin becomes an implement of the mitzvah of tefillin, which could not have been fulfilled without a physical, human arm;
  • one who studies a page of Talmud dealing with an ox and a donkey can fully grasp and comprehend his subject.               

These things are familiar to him, and he can therefore fully identify with the problems under discussion.

But however complete his grasp, he has grasped material things.

How can we say that this, however profound, is of the essence of the divine wisdom? 

The Alter Rebbe’s answer is that these things, however lowly and material, are indeed the will and wisdom of God.

They are not a reflection of His will but are His will itself, translated into the language of the material.

The Torah itself does not undergo change; rather, it descends by “hidden steps” from level to level, assuming at each level the garments that relate to that plane of reality.

Within these garments, however, is the Torah itself, which is one with God and remains his unadulterated will and wisdom at every level.

One can say that the Torah undergoes a series of translations: a translation into the language of the seraphim, a translation into the language of the angels, a translation into the language of the soul that resides in the physical body–languages that are merely garments for the essence of Torah, which remains unchanged at all levels. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz