June 10, 2022

Yevamot 88

There is a lovely phrase used repeatedly in today’s daf (Yevamot 88b) that I feel is a wonderful message for us all as we approach Shavuot which, among other things, celebrates the giving of the Torah.

In its discussion about the reliance and reliability of one witness in certain instances, the Gemara uses the expression: כל מקום שהאמינה תורה עד אחד – ‘wherever the Torah believes in one witness’. Interestingly, it doesn’t say ‘wherever a judges believes’, but rather, ‘wherever the Torah believes’, which I think conveys a profound idea that just as we are each beckoned to follow and believe in the Torah, the Torah believes in us.

This idea, which was taught by Rabbi Sacks in relation to God when saying, ‘more than we have faith in God, God has faith in us’, is a profound idea. Yet while we often speak of faith in God, and even God’s faith in us, what does it mean to say that that the Torah ‘believes in us’?

I think that to answer this question we must review the context of the original statement, because while I have translated the word שהאמינה as ‘believes [in one witness]’, here it actually means, ‘is prepared to rely [on one witness]’.

Yet having now drawn this distinction, and having now sharpened the question to be: ‘what does it mean to say that the Torah is prepared to rely on us?’, we nevertheless need to consider how we answer this question.

I think that the point here is that while Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah, the Torah isn’t just a scroll or a book. Instead, it is a guide from God to us to live a life that reflects the will of God for the benefit of us as individuals, as a community, and as a society. And though God gave us the Torah, it is up to each of us to make the choices that reflect the will of God as found in the Torah.
Still, there may be some of us who think that this is beyond us. And this is why we must know that not only does God believe in us, but God – and the Torah itself – actually relies on us to transform the sacred words on the Torah scroll and in our Torah books into a sacred life – namely one that reflects the will of God as found in the Torah.

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