Eight-year-old Josh sat in his living room, excitedly opening his birthday presents. He had already received some new toys from his grandparents, but his parents told him that their present was extra special. He’d be able to use it to light up whatever he wanted, to make unique shapes on the walls, and to play games in the backyard. As he took his brand-new flashlight out of the box, he excitedly flicked the switch to turn it on. Nothing happened. He flicked the switch off and back on, and again nothing happened. He pointed it around the room, then ran outside to the backyard and pointed it around out there, as well. It must be broken, he thought sadly, as he trudged back into the house and dejectedly ate his birthday cake.

That night, he went to sleep with all his toys in his room, even his broken flashlight. As he was falling asleep, his mom knocked loudly on the door. He opened it, and quickly noticed that all the lights in the house were off. His mom asked if she could use his flashlight, as there had been a power outage. He took his flashlight and started explaining to her that it didn’t actually work. As he flicked it on, though, the hallway was suddenly bathed in light! As he moved around the house, the flashlight filled the dark house with a warm glow of illumination. His parents, noticing his confused expression, explained to him: “Your light is powerful beyond measure, but in the presence of sunlight, your flame is subsumed. Only in the dark, when the light has faded, can your small flame shine bright and be seen for what it truly is.”


Twelve Lines of Separation

The Jewish divorce document, called a get, is written according to a very specific format. One requirement is that it must be written across 12 lines. Tosafos (Gittin 2a) asks why this is so, first suggesting that perhaps it is because the word “get” has the gematria of 12. Tosafos then gives another, much more enigmatic explanation: In total, there are 12 lines separating the five books of the Chamishah Chumshei Torah, as there are four lines of separation between each sefer in the five books of Torah. Since a get is a document of separation, separating man and wife, it therefore adopts this feature of separation from the sefer Torah, requiring 12 lines, as well. This is a compelling answer, because the Torah is the original “document” of the world, so it therefore seems reasonable to model the get, a halachic document, off of the foundational document of Torah. The document of separation (get) therefore contains twelve lines, corresponding to the twelve lines of separation in the Torah. (This is the opinion of the R’i, in the name of Rav Hai Gaon and Rav Saadiah Gaon.)

However, there is a major problem with this answer. Between each sefer in the Torah, there are four blank lines, but there are five books in the Torah for a total of 16 lines! Why, then, are there only 12 lines in a get?

Tosafos explains that the lines between BaMidbar and D’varim are not regarded as lines of separation because D’varim is not considered a separate sefer; it is purely a repeat of everything that came before it. To a large degree, Sefer D’varim repeats many of the episodes found throughout the rest of Torah. This idea is reflected in the various names that are used to refer to Sefer D’varim:

Chazal refer to Sefer D’varim as “Mishneh Torah,” which means a repeat or second Torah.

The Latin name for D’varim, “Deuteronomy,” means “second law,” and originates from the Greek words deuteros nomos (second law).

However, we are still left with a question: Why does D’varim’s status as a repeat sefer preclude its four lines of separation from being included in the lines of a get? There are still four lines separating BaMidbar and D’varim!

Furthermore, the very nature of Sefer D’varim’s transmission appears highly problematic. The commentators explain that Moshe spoke the words of D’varim of his own volition, and Hashem then “ratified” these words as part of Torah. How can Moshe’s words be included in the Torah? The fundamental nature of Torah is its Divine authorship! In order to answer these questions and understand the deep nature of Sefer D’varim, we must develop an essential principle.


Explaining the Historical Transition

We have previously discussed the two unique stages of history and their respective features. We will now take a step back and attempt to understand why this transition occurred.

To briefly review:

The first stage of history lasted from creation until the time of Purim and Chanukah. This stage was highlighted by the miracles of Y’tzias Mitzrayim and Matan Torah and the presence of n’vuah (prophecy). During this period, Hashem’s revelation in this world was apparent and clear. The physical world was naturally seen as an expression of a spiritual reality, and it was easy to source the physical back to the spiritual.

The second stage, which began around the time of Purim, marked the end of open miracles and prophecy. We no longer experience open miracles, only hidden ones. Hashem is no longer openly manifest and clearly visible in this world; we no longer naturally source ourselves back to Hashem. (This is a theme deeply connected to Tish’ah B’Av, when we lost the Beis HaMikdash, our place of unique and incontrovertibly clear connection to Hashem.) In this stage, the world denies Hashem’s involvement in the world, claiming that life is meaningless, disconnected from anything higher. This age is one of atheism and nihilism, of accepting only that which can be quantified using science, logic, technology, and the five senses. Our challenge, therefore, is to choose to see Hashem; we must choose to see past the surface, to uncover the miraculous within the natural, the infinite within the finite, and the ethereal within the mundane.

It is clear that we now live in the second stage of history – one of darkness, distance, and seeming disconnect from Hashem. It is also clear that this was not always the case. We must therefore address the question of why this transition took place. Why did the very nature of reality shift at this point in time? Why did we need this new challenge of free will?


Inspiration and Actualization

The secret behind this transition is one of the most foundational concepts of Judaism, a phenomenon we have previously introduced. The Arizal, Ramchal, Vilna Gaon, and many other Jewish thinkers explain that every process contains three stages:

The first stage is the high, the inspiration, the experience of perfection and clarity.

Next comes the second stage: a sudden fall, a complete loss of everything that was experienced in the first stage.

Then there is the third stage, a return to the perfection of the first stage. However, this third stage is fundamentally different from the first. It is the same perfection, the same clarity, but this time it’s a perfection and clarity that you have earned. The first time it was given to you; now you have worked to build it for yourself.

The first stage is the ideal, a gift to help you experience the ultimate goal, the destination. It’s a taste of what you can and hopefully will ultimately accomplish. But it’s not real; it’s given as a gift and is therefore an illusion. It serves only as a guiding force but cannot compare to the genuine accomplishment of building something yourself. It is therefore taken away to allow for the second and most important stage: building it yourself, undergoing the work required to attain this growth in actuality, and working for the perfection that you were shown. A gift isn’t real, but something chosen and earned is. We are in this world to choose, to assert our free will, and to create ourselves. Once we have tasted the first stage, we know what we are meant to choose and what we are meant to build. The third stage is a recreation of the first stage. While it appears to be the same, it’s fundamentally different; it’s real, it’s earned, it’s yours. The first stage was a gift, an illusion; the third is the product born of the effort and time you invested.

The first stage of history was a gift, an experience of the ideal. It was not difficult to find Hashem or to connect to that which is higher. Hashem openly revealed Himself through n’vuah and miracles; it was a time of transcendence. We then lost that ideal. N’vuah and avodah zarah were removed from the world, the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, and a cloak of darkness fell over existence. We are now in the second stage, where we must rebuild toward the original goal, toward the transcendent ideal. We no longer have open revelation with its accompanying prophecy and clarity. However, it is precisely for this reason that we can choose to witness the truth and depth of the world, to see Hashem in everything, and to connect to the divine in all that we do. In a darkened world, we are uniquely able to cast our own light.

Accompanying this transition from the first stage to the second was another unique shift, one that has become the very lifeblood of the Jewish People. When the curtain fell over the first stage of history, the stage of Torah SheB’al Peh was born. (It is important to note that Torah SheB’al Peh itself originated at the same time as Torah SheBichsav, but the emphasis on Torah SheB’al Peh and its development took place during this second stage.)

In our next article, we will delve more deeply into this fascinating topic and try to understand it on an even deeper level.

Rabbi Shmuel Reichman is the author of the bestselling book, The Journey to Your Ultimate Self, which serves as an inspiring gateway into deeper Jewish thought. He is an international speaker, educator, and the CEO of Self-Mastery Academy. After obtaining his BA from Yeshiva University, he received s’micha from RIETS, a master’s degree in education, a master’s degree in Jewish Thought, and then spent a year studying at Harvard. He is currently pursuing a PhD at UChicago. To invite Rabbi Reichman to speak in your community or to enjoy more of his deep and inspiring content, visit his website: www.ShmuelReichman.com