Monday, June 13, 2011

Generations in Decline

Catch the nuance of some Talmudic phrase and you can reap a windfall.

The "Ethics of Our Fathers" starts out saying,
"Moses received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Yehoshua"
("משה קבל תורה מסיני ומסרה ליהושע")

I don't know the source for this; My hunch is the Maharal of Prague.

The question is, why does the verse resort to two distinct verbs when one alone would suffice? That is, the verse could have said, "Moses received the Torah from Sinai, and Yehoshua received it from Moses;"
("משה קבל תורה מסיני ויהושע ממשה");
Or, similarly, it could have said, "Sinai passed on the Torah to Moses and Moses passed it on Yehoshua;"
("למשה נמסרה תורה מסיני ומשה מסרה ליהושע")
Instead, the actual verse uses both verbs, "received" and "passed on"; Why?

Answers the Maharal - to show you where a drop in the next generation's wisdom occurred. Judaism, we know, postulates that since the generation of Moses, succeeding generations suffered a diminution in Torah wisdom and intellect. The brightest generations were that of Moses' until the Men of the Great Assembly. The dumbest one, dear friends, is ours. The Ethics of Our Fathers documents for us just where these degradations occurred in the initial history of the Jewish people.

Wherever the term "received" is used, it implies the receiving end of the interaction was limited by the size of the receptacle; It could only take in as much as the receiving "vessel" will allow, and no more. The term "passed on", on the other hand, implies a transfer from one to another of the entire package, a "hand-off", with no decrement involved.

Now we can go back and chart where and by whom did wisdom diminish for his generation. The first node of transfer, that between Sinai (G-d) and Moses, is obvious. Moses, limited as a human vessel, could only receive from G-d; The term "passed on" would have been inappropriate. On the other hand, Moses passed on that which he knew to Yehoshua because Yehoshua grasped and contained all of the material Moses transferred to him. Between these two generations, and in fact not until after many more generations, until after the Men of the Great Assembly retired from the scene, did any diminution in Torah knowledge, wisdom or intellect take effect.

The first generation to fall below the par set by Moses' generation was that of Antignos of Socho. Thus the phrase, "He received from Shimon the Righteous" (where Shimon was the last vestige of the Men of the Great Assembly). Until Antignos, all leaders "passed on" their knowledge to the next leader and generation. You can thus chart the "stepping down" of generations by tracking those that "received" and those that had it "passed on" to them.

If Jewish people comprise a collective, vertical, chronological body, the first generations constituted the "head", whereas our generation today would fittingly be referred to as a "heel", given the decline of our Torah-inspired wisdom over the ages.

(An entirely different light shed on this verse can be found here.)


  1. Fascinating.

    There's no doubt that we are the heel, in every respect. Heaven help us if the world would sink to any lower depths than it is wouldn't survive! and that's probably why the world is self-destructing around us....

  2. Nice explanation, and great use of graphics!

  3. enlightening but a tad sad to think of the Yerida my friend..happy Wednesday~!:)