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The Waters of the Talmud

Adapted from a discourse of the Alte Rebbe by Rabbi Yossi Marcus[1]

“Like droplets upon tender green; like raindrops upon the grass
Ki’si’eerim alei deshe v’chirvivim alei eisev.” —
Deut. 32:2
[Translation follows Arizal.]


A Lesson in Biblical Hebrew

Deshe and eisev both mean grass.

Si’eerim and r’vivim both mean raindrops.

More precisely, Arizal explains, and so it is written in Shoroshim, “The Book of Roots,” deshe refers to young budding grass just beginning to show in the ground, while eisev refers to fully-grown blades. S’eerim refers to a very light spray, thin like hair, sei’ar; r’vivim refers to thick raindrops. Light droplets help the young blades grow; full raindrops cultivate the mature grass.

Deshe and eisev are first mentioned in Genesis (1:11), in the account of Creation, when G-d says, “Let the earth sprout deshe, eisev that bears seed, fruit trees…” So the difference between deshe and eisev can also be seen as the difference between vegetation that does not bear seed (deshe) and vegetation that does bear seed (eisev; see Zohar 1:19a). 

(The Zohar (1:18b) says that deshe and eisev are two types of angels. [Angels are the spiritual antecedents of vegetation. Just as vegetation grows from small to large, so the angels grow in stature when they are engaged in the fulfillment of a Divine mission. (See Mi Chamocha 5629.)] There are those that are created each day and do not last to the next and there are those that were created during the Six Days of Creation and remain in existence to this day. These two types are referred to in one of the morning prayers when we speak of G-d as He who “creates ministering angels, and whose ministering angels all stand at the heights of the universe…” The first reference to angels refers to the type that do not last and G-d creates them—present tense—on a daily basis. The second reference refers to the angels that remain existent at the heights of the universe throughout time.—Tzemach Tzedek’s gloss.[2]

[Apparently, deshe, which does not bear seed—i.e., does not have permanence—refers to the angels that revert to nothingness. Eisev, which bears seed—i.e., possesses permanence—refers to those angels that remain in existence. See Zohar ibid.])

Mishnah and Talmud

Torah is called rain. And just as there are two types of rain, there are two levels in Torah: Mishna and Talmud. The laconic Mishna is light rain. The heavy Talmud is thick raindrops. And just as the thick rain yields mature blades so the study of Talmud yields much more than the study of Mishna alone. Through Talmud study you can achieve salvations for the soul and reveal the soul’s love and awe of the Divine in great measure.

To explain:

The ground yields produce in two ways, paralleling deshe and eisev—or Mishnah and Talmud.

When you plant wheat, for example, the growth that ensues is of the same kind as the seed that is planted, though it far exceeds the seed in degree. As in the saying: “No man plants a se’ah except to reap many kur.”

[This is a statement of Rabbi Elazar (Pesachim 87b). He cites the verse in which G-d says of the Jewish people, “I will sow her for Myself in the land” (Hosea 2:25). Rabbi Elazar explains this to mean that G-d exiled the Jewish people among the nations—“planted them in the land”—so that converts would be added to them. He planted a se’ah to gain many kur. (Of course in the mystical interpretation, “that converts would be added to them” refers also to the “conversion” of the sparks of the world of Tohu that were scattered throughout the world. See our essay on Vayishlach.)]

The second type of growth is like the growth of fruit trees. In this case, the seed that is planted in the ground cannot at all be compared to the fruits it yields. The fruit is literally a new being.

These two types of produce parallel the two types of Divine “produce” that man evokes through the investment of his actions (itaruta d’litata, itartuta d’li’eila). One type of Divine reciprocity is comparable in kind to the investment man makes, though it far exceeds the investment in degree.

Another level of Divine reciprocity is not comparable at all to man’s investment. This level of “produce” stems from an extremely sublime place that is utterly distinct from the nature of man’s investment.

The growth of wheat can be compared to the study of Mishna, which does not produce within its student the ability to create something new. The student gains much in degree, but cannot create new insight. This is the non-reproductive deshe, which is nourished by the light rain of si’eerim.

It is only Talmud study that “bears seed and fruit trees”—through the complex analysis of Talmud, the student is able to extract new insight, new rulings that were previously hidden. Such study is compared to the growth of the fruit from the seed, an entirely new being comes into existence. (More precisely, the seed contains the fruit in an extremely concealed form. Similarly, through the study of Talmud one extracts the utterly hidden insight [so hidden, that its revelation can be called the creation of a new being].)

To study Mishna is to study only what is written, like taking spring water from the surface. To study Talmud is to dig deeply in the ground and thereby extract water from the spring. In Talmud study, a new flow is brought forth from the source.[3]   


[1] Likutei Torah 76c.

[2] The Tzemach Tzedek adds: The Zohar applies this interpretation of deshe to the word chatzir, as well, as in the verse (Psalms 104:14), “He causes chatzir to sprout forth for the animal, and eisev for the work of man.” We see that eisev is associated with a higher level of Divine service, the level of the “work of man.” See also Zohar Bereishit 19a, Terumah 171a, Vayikra 12a, and Pinchas 217a.

[3] The spring is compared to Chochmah, which transcends Binah (Tzemach Tzedek gloss).

[Chochmah is the seminal point of a concept, from which one can derive insight that can be applied to other ideas. Binah is a more articulated form of the concept, and when a person is immersed in Binah, he can be blind to the seminal point and he is therefore unable to extract its essence to create a new idea. Chochmah is therefore compared to the spring itself, while Binah is conceived as the “articulation” of the spring—the water on the surface.]



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