The Torah is likened to both fire and water - two opposing elements. We are drawn to water but fearful of fire. Is there reason to be afraid of the secrets of the Torah? * On Hayom Yom for 16 Menachem Av. by ChatGPT
"The travels of the Baal Shem Tov when he first revealed himself as a tzaddik were for three purposes: Redemption of captives, promoting Torah and piety, and revealing the Inner Dimension of Torah (Chassidus)” (Hayom Yom entry for 16 Menachem Av).
The Torah, in its entirety, embraces two dimensions - the Revealed as well as the Inner, each aligning with a distinct branch of Jewish learning: Halacha (Jewish law), grounded in Talmudic analysis, represents the Revealed aspect, while Kabbala and Chassidus (mysticism) embody the Inner Torah. These two facets are not adversaries; they complete and enhance each other, forming a comprehensive panorama of our understanding and practice of Judaism.
The Revealed Torah, often dubbed the 'Body' of the Torah, encapsulates the Written Torah (the Five Books of Moses) and the Oral Torah (the Mishnah and Talmud). These texts offer a roadmap for Jewish life and practice, delineating a complex tapestry of commandments and laws that direct every aspect of Jewish life - from the profound to the mundane. This practical, palpable component of the Torah can be equated to water, which breathes life in an evident and nurturing manner.
Conversely, the Inner Torah, known as the 'Soul' of the Torah, probes into the mystical and esoteric realms of Judaism. It seeks to unravel the deeper meanings, mystical insights, and divine secrets encoded within the very texts that guide our daily life. This facet of learning is primarily reflected in Chassidic teachings, Kabbalah, and Jewish mysticism, all striving to kindle the soul's love and awe of God, much like fire incites and consumes.
Both dimensions are critical for a complete Jewish experience. The Revealed Torah, akin to water, animates our practical observance, steering our physical actions. The Inner Torah, akin to fire, imparts warmth and passion, illuminating our spiritual voyage and infusing our mundane actions with profound meaning and purpose. Together, they strike a harmonious balance in our approach to Torah and Godliness, empowering us to serve Hashem with both body and soul.
The Hayom Yom passage continues, highlighting the inherent challenge in disseminating the teachings of Chassidus: The Mitteler Rebbe would explain: 'The Revealed Torah is called water; one goes to water. The Inner Torah is called fire; one fears fire. Therefore, the teacher must go to the recipient and say to him, 'Do not fear, for Hashem your G‑d is a consuming fire.'"
The spiritual universe brims with rich metaphors and analogies, as our sages frequently used these tools to illuminate complex concepts. Among these metaphors, an intriguing one presents here in likening Torah to both water and fire. These are two elemental forces of nature that stand in stark contrast to each other. These metaphors may initially appear paradoxical: how can the Torah embody the calm of water and the intensity of fire simultaneously?"
FLOW LIKE WATER Within the realm of nigleh, the Prophet Isaiah metaphorically extends an invitation to engage with the Torah, likening it to water that quenches our spiritual thirst: "Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the water..." [Isaiah 55:1]. The Talmud emphasizes this notion, associating the Torah's longevity with the humbleness signified by water: "Why are the words of Torah compared to water? To teach you that just as water leaves a high place and goes to a low place, so too the words of Torah endure only with one who is humble in spirit." [Bava Kamma 17a]
Similarly, Chassidus itself depicts Torah as water, a force descending from a higher realm to a lower one. In Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi employs the metaphor of water to represent Torah: "The knowledge and comprehension of the Torah that one studies are absorbed in one’s mind and encompass it; and one’s mind is absorbed within them and is encompassed by them... This is the meaning of the verse, ‘Behold, My word is like water’ - just as water descends from a higher level to a lower level, so too does the Torah." [Tanya, Chapter 5]
TRANSFORM LIKE FIRE Yet, fire, in its power and intensity, is no stranger to the Torah either. In the realm of nigleh, Deuteronomy provides a direct association of Torah with fire: "The Lord came from Sinai...from his right hand went a fiery law for them." [Deuteronomy 33:2]. The Prophet Jeremiah advances this comparison, aligning the word of God to fire: "Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?" [Jeremiah 23:29]. The Talmud mirrors this fiery quality, underlining the potential danger when Torah is misused: "Death and life are in the hand of the tongue...[referring to] a Torah scholar whose Torah study can be a 'potion of life' if used correctly, but can become a 'potion of death' if used incorrectly." [Taanit 7a]
Chassidus follows suit, recognizing the fiery aspect of Torah. In Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman refers to the Torah's words as a burning fire in the Torah student's bones [Tanya, Chapter 24]. The fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn, elucidates on this fiery quality of the Torah, describing it as something that can consume undesirable traits within a person: "When a person studies Torah lishma (for its own sake), the Torah becomes to him 'a fiery law'... The heat of the fire of Torah consumes the 'straw' within the person - the undesirable traits of the animal soul." [Likkutei Diburim, Vol. 1, p. 43]
PEACE BETWEEN THESE POLAR OPPOSITES This stark juxtaposition leads us to ask: how do these contrasting forces reconcile? The answer lies in understanding their place in divine service. Rabbi Schneur Zalman in Likutei Torah elucidates: "Michael is from the side of water... and Gabriel is from the side of fire... and they are both unified in the secret of the Divine Chariot... for they are both included in the world of Atzilut which is the aspect of the 'face of the King'" [Likutei Torah].
While at first, the fiery nature of the Torah may be cause for fear, in reality, it should be a source of transformation and illumination. Like a flame that purifies gold, the fire of Torah burns away impurities, leaving us refined. Despite the contrast between water and fire, both elements are fundamental to life, reflecting the multifaceted nature of the Torah.
As we anticipate the arrival of Moshiach, we look forward to a time when all opposition will be harmonized. A time when all forces, as vast and different as they may be, will find their rightful place before the King of all worlds. In that era of ultimate peace, the tranquility of water and the passion of fire will merge, reflecting the ultimate unity and harmony of all creation.