You asked:

Torah, you say, is divine wisdom. If so, why is it full of animals' hooves and fish's scales, goring oxen and adulterous human beings?

Let's take a look at the initial entry-level: Moses takes the people to the foot of a mountain in the Sinai Desert and they hear G‑d. What does G‑d have to say in His first and only presentation to an entire mass of people? "Don't make idols, honor mom and dad, don't steal, kill or commit adultery." That's the sum whole of the wisdom of the Creator of an entire universe?

Sure, the Sinai Desert is a great place for a divine, mystical experience—so why waste it on things everybody already knows? The Book of Formation, the Zohar and Rabbi Luria's Tree of Life—those would make fine presentations for G‑d's official revelation to humankind. But the Ten Commandments?

We Answered:

Exactly—and that is precisely what happened.

Let's say CNN had been there. Let's say they interviewed a participant leaving the scene. What would s/he have to say? "He told us to honor our mothers and fathers, not to steal, not to kill and no adultery"?

I doubt it. More like, "I'm just too stunned right now to speak. I need forty days to assimilate this. Maybe forty years. The heavens, all of them, came down to earth, the entire cosmic order was opened up before us, and we saw the reality of all things. Stuff the mystics grapple with and speak in riddles so no one will understand, we experienced with our own eyes and ears as physical beings. The very essence of G‑d Himself came down to earth. Our souls simply could not bear the ecstasy, yet somehow we were kept alive to witness it. What did He say? Look, it wasn't what He said—it was how He said it."

Marshal Mcluhan would say the event at Sinai was more experience than content. Experience, however, is temporal and no matter how extraordinary it may be, quickly dissipates in a world filled with the mundane. In the long term, Sinai left us more with the packaging than with the experience it contains. In every generation, we are left to unravel the ribbons and wrappings and rediscover the light inside.

So What Is Torah?

Torah is not a book. The book is there to tell a story.

Torah is not a story. The story comes to teach a way of life.

Torah is not the way of life. The way of life is only a path to a higher wisdom.

Torah is not the higher wisdom. Torah is found in all things.

Time for a Little Zohar

Here is how Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai puts it in the Zohar1:

Woe to the mortal being who says the Torah came to tell stories and earthly matters. If this were so, even today we could produce a Torah from worldly matters—and much better ones at that! If you want stories, even the monarchs of the nations have better stories. We could follow them and produce a Torah in the same manner.

Rather, all that Torah speaks is of supernal meaning and the uppermost secrets.

And so, Rabbi Shimon explains, the stories are only a garment to dress the body of Torah. The body comprises all the commandments of the Torah that tell us how to live. Within that body is the soul of Torah, and within the soul, "the soul of the soul."

The angels, when they must descend to here, invest themselves in the vestments of this world. If they did not, they would not be able to endure this world and the world would not be able to endure them.

If this is so for the angels, how much more so it is for the Torah that created these angels and all the worlds, and for which all exists: When it came down to this world, if it had not invested itself within all these garments of this world, the world would not have been able to bear it.

Therefore, this story of the Torah is the garment of the Torah. He who thinks that this mantle is the Torah itself and that nothing else is in there, let his spirit deflate and let him have no part in the World to Come! That is why David said, "Open my eyes, that I may behold the wonders of Your Torah!" Meaning, to behold that which lies beneath the garment of the Torah.

Let me show you: A garment is that which is visible to everyone. Fools see a person dressed beautifully and look no further. They consider the dress as the body and the body as the soul.

So, too, with the Torah: It has a body, which is composed of the commandments of the Torah that are called the body of the Torah. This body is clothed with garments, which are stories of this world. The fools of the world look only at that garment, which is the story in the Torah, and are not aware of anything more. They do not look at what lies beneath that garment. Those who know more do not look at the dress, but rather at the body beneath that dress. The wise, the sages, the servants of the Loftiest King, those that stood at Mount Sinai, look only at the soul, which is the actual essence of the entire Torah. In the time to come, they are destined to behold the soul, the soul of the Torah.

Reading Deeper…

It would sound from Rabbi Shimon's words that the stories and laws of Torah are no more than husk and peel to be discarded in order to get to the fruit inside. Like the Styrofoam peanuts that are such a nuisance to fish through in order to dig out the fine electronic equipment hidden in that giant UPS delivery.

But that's not possible. The stories may not be the all-and-is-all of the Torah, but they are certainly Torah, as well. All the more so when it comes to the mitzvahs of the Torah. Just like with a person: Your body may not be who you really are, but it's certainly one aspect of you.

You can see this in the quotation Rabbi Shimon brings from David's psalm, "Open my eyes, that I may behold the wonders of Your Torah!" David doesn't ask G‑d to tear away the coverings so he can see the wonders they hide. Rather, he simply asks G‑d to grant him eyes that can see—meaning, to see in the garments themselves the wonders that lie within.

Sure, you can't tell a man from his clothes. Any common criminal can appear in court in a spiffy business suit to impress the jury. But a wise person doesn't look at the suit–he looks at how this man carries his suit. And from that he can tell everything.

G‑d, they say, is in the details. Leonardo da Vinci2 was a deep thinker, a man who experienced life on altogether a higher plane. A simple painting of another merchant's daughter in the classic style of his time tells us nothing of his soul and inner thoughts. But a slight twist to the shape of that young girl's lips reveals Leonardo's being to the core.

So too, the stories and the laws of Torah contain secrets the soul of Torah itself cannot speak. The essence speaks not through the soul, but through the most outer garments.

So the Inside Story is…

Why does the Torah come wrapped in stories and rules? Because the Torah does not arise simply from G‑d's desire to reveal His wisdom. It's not like He's out to make a multimedia experience to blow our minds with wonders and fireworks. He did that already, at Mount Sinai. But that was only a teaser. Rather, Torah is an expression of His desire to be found in the details. The simple, mundane, worldly details.

As those previous-mentioned mystics will tell you: Just as the universal Soul of All Things thirsts to return to its source in the Infinite Light and to become absorbed within its oneness, and the soul of every seeking human being throbs with the same burning desire, so too and much more so, the Infinite Light yearns to be found within each and every artifact of our world.

But there's no top-down strategy to accomplish that. All He can do is hide within each thing and then throw out some hints and clues along with a searchlight to discover Him there. That's what He does with His Torah. But we are the ones that must search, and the search must be in the place where He is hiding, where He wishes to be found—meaning, on our earthly plane.

And so He speaks of earthly matters: of fish, of birds and beasts; of damages and their payments; of human blunders and their healings; dressed in stories of very human, mortal lives of measured years in discrete geographic places. Our job is not to rip away those garments and discard the peel, but rather to find the beauty of the Torah's soul within the body of its earthly teaching, to see its very essence within the garment of the stories that it tells.

And in truth, that is where G‑d is best found in His Torah—less in the content of what is said (even its inner content), and much more so in the way He tells it, in the nuances and details, there the deepest, most ineffable secrets are found. G‑d found no better place to reveal Himself than in the struggles and strivings of the human heart, captured within the cells and tissues of an earthly being. That is why learning Torah is not enough: We must practice its precepts in realtime, with all our heart and physical strength, to experience that Essence and be immersed within it frst hand. To do a mitzvah is to live G‑dly wisdom. You can't get any closer than that.

All begins with Torah and extends from there. Once the divine wisdom is discovered within those laws and stories, from there it is discovered within all events of earthly life. Until "the earth will be covered with Divine wisdom as the waters over the ocean floor" and "all worldly occupations will be only ways of knowing G‑d."

May we be there even before you have started reading this.3