Haamek Sheilah on Sheiltot d'Rav Achai Gaon
Kidmat HaEmek, Part I 1 קדמת העמק, קדמת הראשון א׳
1 א

דרכה של תורה


2 ב

קדמת העמק


3 ג

מבעל המחבר העמק שאלה


4 ד

קבלת הראשונים, ספרים הראשונים

Traditions of the ancients, contained within the books of our ancestors,

5 ה

וחדושי תורה להגבה למעלה,

New interpretations of the law soaring high above;1This poem by the Netziv, which rhymes in Hebrew, is a paean to the works of the earlier commentators, especially the She’iltos. The poem is meant to apply to the entire Ha’amek She’elah. The words “high above” are taken from Isa.7:11, which is also the verse from which the title of his work, Ha’amek She’elah, is derived. The verse in Isaiah states: “Request a sign for yourself from the Lord your God. Request it from the depths or from high above.” This can be read to mean that the interpretations of the Torah provided by the early generations are comparable to a sign from Heaven that attests to God’s greatness. The word le-hagbe’ah, towards above (a verbal noun), may also be read as le-hagbiah, “to lift upward.” See Pesah Ha’amek in Section 1, os 10, where the Netziv writes that his commentary lifts upward (reveals) the concepts hidden in the depths (the words of the She’iltos).

6 ו

וחקור דבריהם כבוד אומר סלה,

Analysis of their words expresses His majesty forever.

7 ז

שהם חביון עוז כל דבר סגולה,

They are His concealed Might,2The words “concealed Might” are taken from Habakkuk 3:4. This may allude to the way the words of the ancients exposed God’s presence in a manner similar to the revelation at Mount Sinai. every word to be treasured;3The early authorities were very careful with their words, such that it behooves one to pay great attention to any variation in or addition of words to understand their intent. This Netziv applies this approach on almost every page of Ha’amek She’elah.

8 ח

ובמה שיש להזהר שלא יגיעו למכשלה

They are His words of caution, protecting one from stumbling.4This denotes that by learning the early sources, such as the She’iltos, one obtains insights into the proper interpretation of the Talmud and provides further insights into how one is to practice Judaism.

9 ט

ויותר שהיה קהלת חכם עוד לימד דעת את העם ואזן וחקר תיקן משלים הרבה (קהלת יב,ט)

More than others was Koheles wise.1I translated the word ve-yoser as “more than others,” which is similar to the way that the Targum translated it. I believe that it fits best with what the Netziv writes in chapter 7 rather than the usual translation of “besides being wise.” There he notes that this phrase describes how Solomon had employed the methods of analysis and teaching listed in this verse in a manner superior to any other. He also taught the people knowledge. He pondered and sought out, and set in order many proverbs (Koheles 12:9).2The Netziv writes in the Introduction to his commentary on Shir ha-Shirim that the book of Koheles was written to teach both Jews and non-Jews that the main goal of humanity is to serve God. As Koheles 12:13 says: “The sum of the matter, when all has been considered, is this: fear God and obey his commandments, for that is man’s whole duty.” Only verses 9–12 in the final chapter of Koheles are written specifically for the Jewish nation. The Netziv uses these verses for the three different sections of his Introduction to Ha’amek She’elah to convey the main points discussed in each of those sections. The Netziv quotes verse 9 at the beginning of Section I because it describes the methodology of King Solomon’s study of the Torah, for he “exerted himself to examine the rationales of all the laws that had been received from the previous [courts], and he educated [others] in the methodology [that the previous courts applied] to reach their conclusions” (see Part 1, chapter 7). According to the Netziv, this verse describes the ultimate goal of Torah study, which is to understand the rationales and scope of the laws that the previous generations have derived from the Torah.

10 י

בעת אתה הקב"ה מרבבות קודש, ובימינו אש דת למו, נכלל בזה התואר שני חלקי תורה. חלק המבואר לכל, והמה דינים חתוכים לדעת מה לעשות ולא יעבור, וזה נקרא דת, כלשון הכתוב כדת מה לעשות, וחלק המכוסה עד שיבוא לחקירה והיקשים עד שיצא לאור, וזהו אש, שהוא מתחלק לכמה ניצוצות, וכל ניצוץ מוציא אבוקה גדולה כאשר יתחברו אליו עוד עצים וכדומה סיבות המרחיבות כח הניצוץ. כך זה דרכה ש"ת, כפטיש יפוצץ סלע.

WHEN [GOD GAVE the Torah to the Jewish people,] “He came with some of the sacred myriads;1The translation I have provided is from Rashi’s commentary on the Torah. Since God came with only some of his sacred myriads, it can mean that God is modest, as explained by Rashi on that verse. In other words, God did not wish to reveal His entire essence to Israel because He intended man to discover the Torah by his own efforts. and in His right hand was esh-das, a fire of law, for them [Israel].”2Deut. 33:2. The Netziv quotes this verse at the beginning of each of the three sections and in the introduction to his Torah commentary, Ha’amek Davar. This verse describes both the nature of the Torah and the manner in which it was revealed to Israel. More importantly, it expresses the betrothal of God and Israel that was achieved through the Revelation of the Torah to the Jewish people. The Netziv in other sections of this book describes how the nature of Torah is similar to several characteristics of fire. See the Sifrei on the passage of Ve-zos ha-beracha, 3:2: “This verse teaches us that the words of Torah are comparable to fire. Just as fire was given from Heaven, so are the words of Torah given from Heaven, as it is written, ‘You have seen that from Heaven I spoke to you’ (Ex. 20:16). Just as fire sustains the world, so do the words of Torah sustain the world. Just as one who approaches fire becomes singed, while he who distances himself from it cannot warm himself because [he has allowed] the fire to grow cold, so it is with the words of Torah. He who uses them [for personal gain] becomes lost from the world. If he separates himself from it, he experiences death, and if he toils over it, it brings him life. Just as fire will be used in this world and in the World to Come, so will the words of Torah be used in this world and in the World to Come. Just as whoever uses fire gets a mark on his body, so those scholars who toil [in the Torah] are distinguishable among mankind by the way they walk, the way they speak and the way they dress in the marketplace.” This verse describes two categories of Torah law. The first is laws that are obvious to all – laws that clearly define what an individual may and may not do. This class of laws is referred to as das, law, similar to the word das in Esther 1:15: [“Then the King conferred with the experts”… as to what should be done ke-das, legally, [to Queen Vashti…].”3Esther 1:15. The second category described in the verse consists of those laws that remain hidden until one brings them to light through analysis and analogy. This category of laws is referred to as esh (fire). In the same way that many sparks can come from a single flame, [so may an unlimited number of laws be derived from the Torah]. Each spark can create a flame whose size is limited only by the amount of fuel added or by the means used to increase the flame.4One such technique, for example, could be the fanning of the flame. The fuel or techniques may be symbolic of the toil one applies to Torah study, or it may represent the spiritual and cognitive development of the individual. Such is the way of Torah, as it is written: “Like a hammer that breaks the rock into pieces.”5Jer. 23:2. This means that from a single law, “a rock,” many other laws, “the pieces,” may be derived. See the Netziv in Part 2, chapter 10, translating and interpreting tractates Shabbos 88a and Sanhedrin 34a, which describe the verse in Jeremiah as follows: “In the academy of R. Yishmael it was taught, ‘like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces.’ Just as a hammer causes a rock to emit many sparks, so can a verse be explained in many ways.” According to the Netziv, this metaphor refers to the various opinions that result from disagreement. Another way of translating this gemara is: “Just as a rock can shatter a rock into many pieces, so can a verse be explained in many ways.” This approach of the Netziv is explained in depth in Section 2, chapter 10.

11 יא

מראש מקדם מימות יהושע ואילך נפל ספיקות אשר בו נחלקו גדולי הדור, ונמנו וגמרו עפ"י דעת רבים כמפורש בתורה ואז נקרא הלכה ברורה, ונעשה דת מאש.

From ancient times, beginning with the days of Joshua, there were cases in which the Torah scholars of each generation debated the law that was in doubt. These cases were then decided by majority vote,6These cases were decided by the Sanhedrin, as the Netziv writes in Pesah Ha’amek (3:2). in accordance with the Torah rule of following the majority.7See Hullin 11a, which explains the verse “to lean toward the majority” (Ex. 23:3) to mean that we follow the majority vote in all cases. Such a decision is referred to as halacha berurah, a clearly-defined Law. Thus, das was derived from esh.

12 יב

ובב"ר פ"א אי' ואהי' אצלו אמון, אמון פדגוג, אמון מכוסה, אמון מוצנע, ואית דאמרי אמון רבתא. ופי' ג' חלקי תורה.

The Midrash (Bereshis Rabbah, 1): writes, “‘Then I was to Him as an amon.…’8Proverbs 8:30. Amon means a guardian [pedagog]; amon means a teacher of that which is covered; amon means a teacher of that which is hidden, and some say that the word amon refers to the capital [Alexandria of Egypt].”9This Midrash derives the fourth interpretation from Nahum 3:8: “Are you better than No-amon, which was situated among the rivers with water around it…?” The Targum renders “No-amon” as the “capital Alexandria.” The point of this midrash is that there are three categories of Torah law.10The analogies are listed in ascending order of difficulty. The Netziv states that these analogies refer to three categories of law. In fact there are four, but since the last category is not accessible by man, it need not be counted separately.

13 יג

הא' פדגוג, שהוא הפשוט ומנהיג את מאן דקרי בי רב, כמנהיג האומן את היונק אשר בלי חקירה יעמוד על דעת פדגוגו.

The first category, the “guardian,” refers to laws that are easy to learn, similar to the ones that school pupils are taught. When the guardian teaches the child, the child can understand the lessons with no need for analysis.

14 יד

הב' מכוסה, שצריך דעת וחקירה איך לגלותו, כך יש חלק תורה שנצרך חקירה לעמוד עליו. אך מכוסה נודע שיש כאן ענין מכוסה וע"ז החלק כתיב אם תבקשנה ככסף.

The second category, “that which is covered,” refers to matters that can only be revealed to those who already possess knowledge and analytical skills. Similarly, the Torah contains laws that require analysis in order to be understood correctly. These kinds of laws are described as “covered” because while their general location is known, they can be retrieved only with effort, as it says, “If you search for her as for silver… [then you shall understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God].”11Proverbs 2:4–5. This refers to deep analysis of the words of the Torah to derive new concepts related to the context of the passage that are hidden within the words. The Netziv interprets the word “silver” in this verse as silver ore rather than silver coins. See Kadmas Ha’amek 2:6 and the introduction to his commentary on the Torah in os 3, where he elucidates this verse in greater detail.

15 טו

אבל יש חלק ג' מוצנע שאינו ידוע מקומו ונצרך עזר וסיוע מה' למצאו. כך יש עוד סודות התורה שאינו בא בהיקשים רק בעזרו ית' נמצא למחפשים כמטמונים, וע"ז החלק כתיב וכמטמונים תחפשנה אז תבין יראת ה' ודעת אלקים וגו'.

The third category, “that which is hidden,” refers to concepts whose whereabouts are unknown, and finding them requires help and support from God. Similarly, there are secrets hidden within the Torah that cannot be revealed through analysis or analogy alone, but require Divine assistance. This portion of the Torah is transmitted only to those who expend great effort to search for it, comparable to the effort expended in searching for lost treasures, as Scripture says, “… if you hunt for her as hidden treasures, [then you shall understand the fear of the Lord, and find] the knowledge of God.”12Id. The Netziv in Part 2 explains that “treasures” relate to inferences from the Torah that are unrelated to the context. It is much easier to mine silver and smelt it to produce pure silver than it is to find treasures that are so valuable they are secreted away and thus require external help to find.

16 טז

וא"ד אמון רבתא היא עוד חלק הנמנע להשיגו, וכאמרם ז"ל שני טפחים בידו של הקב"ה גו'.

Those who add the opinion “[that amon] refers to the capital of a country” refer to a further category of Torah knowledge, one that is impossible for anyone to obtain. As our sages, of blessed memory, said: “Two handbreadths of the Tablets were in the hands of the Holy One, blessed be He.”13Shemos Rabbah, 28:1. The Midrash quoted in its entirety is: “R. Berechiah said: The length of the Tablets was six handbreadths; two were… in the hands of Him who called the world into being; two handbreadths were in the hand of Moshe, and two handbreadths separated the two pairs of hands.” It appears that the Netziv’s interpretation of this Midrash is that the two handbreadths held in God’s hands are symbolic of those areas of the Torah that are held only by God and cannot be made known to human beings. Similarly, these areas of the Torah are compared to God’s capital – in other words, God’s essence, to which He restricts or denies access.

17 יז

וכל אלו החלקים מרומזים בתורה הק' הנקראת אש [והא דכתיב אש דת, ולא דת אש, ובתנחומא פ' וישב משמע שהתורה היא נקראת אש דת, והקב"ה נקרא אש אוכלה, ע' יומא ספ"א, לרמז עוד על מש"כ הרמב"ן בהקדמה לפי' התורה. וכל התורה הי' צירופי שמותיו ית', והיא מקורה, ומבואר אצלי בפי' על שה"ש עה"פ שמן תורק שמך, שמשמותיו הק' הורק ונעשה מצות המשולים לשמן, כמבואר במדרש קהלת עה"פ ושמן על ראשך ל"י, וכתיב כי נר מצוה וגו', וזהו מתחלה אש ואח"כ נצרף ונעשה דת].

All of the above-noted categories are included in the Holy Torah, which is called fire. (The reason that the Torah is described as a “fire of law,” rather than a “law of fire,” [is that fire is also symbolic of the Divine nature of the Torah, which is then used by man to derive the commandments].14See Commentary of Gaon of Vilna in Divrei Eliyahu, as referenced by Netziv in Ha’amek Davar ad loc. By applying gematria and recombining the letters of esh, dat and the neighboring words in that verse, we can derive that esh refers to the written Torah and dat refers to the Talmud. The Midrash (Tanhuma, Vayeshev) notes, that the Torah is a “fire of law”15This is the exact translation of the Netziv’s quote from the Midrash Tanhuma. I have not seen the version of the Midrash Tanhuma from which the Netziv quotes. The version found in the current texts (Buber Edition) of the Midrash Tanhuma reads as follows: “The Torah scholars are guardians of the Torah, that is, a law of fire given by the One Who Is a Consuming Flame.” This version provides even greater support for the Netziv’s understanding of why the Torah is called a fire of law. The Torah is described by our version of the Midrash Tanhuma as the law of fire given by the Consuming Flame; therefore, the reason why it is referred to as a fire of law in Deut. is that it was given by the Consuming Flame (God). and God is referred to as “a consuming fire.” See also Yoma 21b,16“There are six forms of fire…. The fire that consumes fire is the Shechinah (the Divine Presence).” [which describes God as a consuming flame]. These Talmudic statements allude to how Nahmanides wrote in the introduction to his commentary on the Torah: “The Torah consists of combinations of God’s Holy Names” – that is, [“fire” alludes to “God’s Holy Names,”] which are the root of the Torah. It is clear to me that this idea [that His Holy Names are the source of the Torah], is expressed by the verse in Shir ha-Shirim, “Your name is oil poured forth,”17Song of Songs, 1:3. meaning that the commandments are cast and formed from His Holy Names, and are symbolized by the word oil.18See further discussion of this concept in Part 2, chapter 7. See also the Midrash Koheles on the verse, “Your head will never lack oil,”19Koheles, 9:8. Koheles Rabbah, 8 states: “[Let your garments always be white, and your head never lack oil.] Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai said: ‘Do not the idol worshippers have numerous white garments and oil? Rather, the verse is referring to the commandments, good deeds and the Torah.’” [which compares the commandments to oil], as does the verse, “for the commandment is a lamp.”20Prov. 6:23. The fuel of a lamp is oil. [Therefore the Torah is called eish-das, a fire of law, because it emanates from God] as esh (fire) and is subsequently processed [by man] into das, law).21As we shall see in Chapter 3, the law is a combination of God’s and man’s efforts.