Just exactly what is meant by ‘Torat emet’


The words na’aseh v’nishmah (we will do, and we will hear) are two of the most celebrated words that appear in our parasha, Mishpatim. When the Jewish people uttered this phrase during Kabbalat HaTorah, they acted like Heavenly Angels and transformed their relationship with Hashem.

This idea is found in a well-known statement in Talmud Bavli:

Rabbi Simai taught: “When the Jewish people accorded precedence to the declaration ‘We will do’ over the declaration ‘We will hear,’ 600,000 ministering angels came and tied two crowns to each and every member of the Jewish people, one corresponding to ‘We will do’ and one corresponding to ‘We will hear.’ (Shabbat 88a)

In my estimation, na’aseh v’nishmah may be viewed as our ancestors’ proclamation of their undying belief in Moshe’s divine agency and the absolute truth of the Torah.

Numerous verses in Tanach support the notion that Moshe was the shaliach v’navi Hashem par excellence. Perhaps the two most famous are found in Bamidbar 12:7-8: “Not so is My servant, Moshe; he is faithful throughout My house. With him I speak mouth to mouth; in a vision and not in riddles, and he beholds the image of Hashem.”

This is not the case regarding the phrase Torato emet, as there is only one pasuk in Tanach wherein these words are juxtaposed (Malachi 2:6). What does Torat emet denote?

I believe Torat emet signifies the eternality and unchanging nature of the Torah, a concept that the Rambam explicates in his Mishneh Torah. The Rambam explains the eternality of the Torah as being comprised of the following constitutive elements:

•It is Hashem’s commandment.

•It exists “forever without change, addition or diminishment.”

•“A prophet can no longer add a new precept [to the Torah].”


he Rambam’s formulation of the principle of the eternality of the Torah is in consonance with the following well-known Talmudic narrative:

On that day Rabbi Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument [in a highly technical dispute regarding ritual purity and impurity], but they [the other sages] did not accept them. “[Said Rabbi Eliezer:] ‘If the halacha agrees with me, let it be proved from Heaven!’” Whereupon a Heavenly Voice cried out, “Why do you dispute with Rabbi Eliezer, seeing that in all matters the halacha agrees with him!” But Rabbi Yehoshua arose and exclaimed, “Lo bashamayim he!” What did he mean by this? Said Rabbi Yirmiyah: “That the Torah had already been given at Mount Sinai; [therefore,] we pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice because You [Hashem] have long since written in the Torah at Mount Sinai” (Shemot 23:2), “After the majority must one follow.” (Talmud Bavli, Baba Metzia 59b)

This Talmudic passage is nothing less than amazing. In relatively few words, it denies the possibility of a post-Sinaitic revelation. Moreover, it demonstrates that human reason, in conjunction with the accepted principles of Torah exegesis and majority rule, are the sole determinants in any halachic dispute.

As Rabbi Aryeh Leib HaKohane Heller, one of the major halachic authorities of the past two centuries, opines: The Torah was not given to the ministering angels, but rather to humankind who is limited to sechel enoshi (human logic and reason). And the Holy One blessed be He gave us the Torah out of the abundance of His mercy and kindness to be adjudicated according to sechel enoshi, even if it never achieves emet on the level of HaSichlayim Hanivdalim (that is, Hashem and His ministering angels).