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The Three Essential Adjectives of Torah

It is explained in Chassidut that the Torah is described by means of three essential adjectives: “the Torah of truth,” “the Torah of kindness” and “the Torah of life.”

This phenomenon of three specific adjectives for describing Torah parallels a statement by the sages that all matters relating to our Holy Torah appear in groups of three (Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 88a): “Blessed be G-d who gave the three-part Torah (Torah, Prophets, Holy Writings) to the three-fold nation (Priests, Levites, Israelites) in the third month (Sivan) by means of the three (Moses, Aaron and Miriam).”

The description “Torah of truth” appears in the Book of Malachi (2:6): “The Torah of truth was in his mouth… and he turned many away from iniquity.” The adjective “Torah of kindness” appears at the end of the Book of Proverbs in the chapter describing the “woman of valor” (Proverbs 31:26): “She opens her mouth with wisdom and on her tongue is a Torah of kindness.” The description “Torah of life” was coined by the Sages of the Great Assembly in the final blessing of the Amidah: “For with the light of Your countenance You gave us, Hashem, our G-d, the Torah of life.”

The three essential adjectives of our Holy Torah–the three-fold Torah–parallel our three forefathers: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Indeed it is written at the end of the 13 qualities of G-d’s mercy (Micha 7:20): “Show truth to Jacob, kindness to Abraham, as You swore to our forefathers from days of old [the secret of the Torah: “the first of G-d’s works of old” (Proverbs 8:22)]. “Truth to Jacob” reflects the “Torah of truth.” “Kindness to Abraham” parallels the “Torah of kindness.” “That you swore to our forefathers” (G-d swore, as it were, by “the life of G-d,” at the time that Isaac was bound as a sacrifice) alludes to the “Torah of life” (in the secret of Isaac, who lived 10 ? 18 (chai–life) or 180 years).

“The world stands on three things: on Torah study, on the service (of G-d), and on kind deeds” (Ethics of the Fathers 1:2). The pillar of Torah parallels our forefather Jacob (the third forefather); the pillar of service reflects our forefather Isaac (who stretched forth his neck as an offering to G-d); the pillar of kind deeds is represented by our forefather Abraham (the paradigmatic man of kindness).

From all the above we learn that the description of Torah as “truth” represents the level of “Torah which is within Torah.” The connection of truth with Torah in its essential, pure form is emphasized in the verse from the Prophet Malachi quoted earlier: “The Torah of truth was in his mouth… for the lips of the priest safeguard knowledge, and people should seek teaching from his mouth” (Malachi 2:6,7). The description of Torah as “life” signifies the level of “service inter-included within Torah” and indeed the phrase appears in the prayer service, in the amidah (and as the sages declared, “The prayer services were decreed to parallel the sacrifice of the continual-daily offering” [Talmud Bavli, Brachot 26b]). The description of Torah as “kindness” reflects the level of “kind deeds inter-included within Torah,” and as such appears in the Holy Writings specifically in the chapter portraying “the woman of valor” (Proverbs 31) as practicing lovingkindness and generosity in a self-sacrificing manner.

The Ba’al Shem Tov teaches (in the famous letter which he wrote to his brother-in-law Rabbi Gershon of Kitov), that in verbalizing each letter in the Torah one should intend three dimensions: Worlds, Souls, and Divinity. These dimensions underlie all aspects of existence but are revealed only by means of the letters of Torah. The rectification of “worlds” is accomplished through the “Torah of lovingkindness,” as it states (Psalms 89:3): “the world is built [rectified] by love.” The inter-connection of all “souls” of Israel is enabled through the “Torah of life”–“the source of our life and the length of our days (nightly prayer service).” Similarly, before prayer, the actualization of the “pillar of service” paralleling “The Torah of life,” it is customary to say: “I take upon myself the positive commandment of ‘and you shall love your neighbor (fellow Jew) as yourself.'” Finally, the revelation of “Divinity” is drawn down into this level of reality by means of the “Torah of truth.” “There is no truth except for Torah (Talmud Yerushalmi, Rosh-HaShanah 3:8).” “G-d, G-d, is truth.” “Truth” is the “seal” of the Holy One, Blessed be He” (Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 55a), serving to reveal “Divinity” in the world.

Thus we see that the “Torah of life” functions as the medium which connects the “Torah of lovingkindness” with the “Torah of truth” just as the level of “Souls” serves as an intermediate dimension connecting between “Worlds” and “Divinity.” The order?from above to below–of “Divinity, Souls, and Worlds” parallels the order in the saying quoted above from the Ethics of the Fathers: “The world stands on three things: on Torah study, on the service (of G-d), and on kind deeds.” This is the secret of the verse (Leviticus 26:42): “I will remember my covenant (that of the giving of the Torah) with Jacob (the ‘Torah of truth’), as well as my covenant with Isaac (the ‘Torah of life’) as well as my covenant with Abraham (the ‘Torah of lovingkindness’) will I remember.”

Furthermore, with reference to their transcendent supernal root, the three essential adjectives of the Holy Torah parallel the three “heads” of the supernal Crown as discussed in the Kabbalah: “The unknowable head” (in the soul this is expressed in pure “faith” in G-d), the “head of nothingness” (in the soul reflected in “pleasure”), and the “head of infinity” or literally “of the long face” (in the soul this corresponds to “will”). In each of these three heads, there is found a root-source for its particular “vessel,” and a root source for its particular “light.” The roots of the “vessels” within the “heads” parallel Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (from above to below): Abraham corresponds to the quality of faith in the soul (with reference to Abraham it is written [Genesis 15:6]: “And he believed in G-d, and He considered it as righteousness, “Similarly, he is referred to as “the first of all believers “[Talmud Bavli, Sukkah 19b]. Isaac parallels the level of “pleasure” (Isaac’s name means “laughter,” stemming from his mother Sarah’s experience at his birth [Genesis 21:6]: “G-d has given me laughter, all who hear about it will laugh for me.”) Finally, Jacob reflects the quality of “will” (as in the verse “Jacob was a perfect man” [Genesis 25:27], “perfect” in the sense of motivated by a single, perfect will, as explained in Chassidut).

However, with reference to the supernal roots of the “lights,” the particular aspects of the Torah given over to each of the three heads (for “Torah is light” [Proverbs 6:23]), we find the reverse order: the “Torah of truth” (paralleling Jacob) was given over to the potential (the vessel) of faith in the soul. This is the secret of the saying of the Zohar: “He (the male manifestation of Divinity, the ‘light’ which bestows reality with Divine illumination) is truth, and she (the female manifestation of Divinity, the ‘vessel’ that receives Divine consciousness) is faith.” Next comes the “Torah of life” (paralleling Isaac) which was given over to the potential for pleasure in the soul. This is the secret of “for with You is the source of life” (Psalms 36:10)–the “source of all pleasures”–as explained in Chassidut. Finally, the “Torah of lovingkindness” (paralleling Abraham) was presented to the potential of will in the soul. This is the secret of “He (G-d) desires lovingkindness” (Micha 7:18), which reflects the pure will to do charitable deeds and likewise the arousal of G-d’s will to create worlds, as expressed in the verse cited above: “The world is built upon lovingkindness.”

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