Pluralism and Individuality

On the verse:1 “Take this Torah scroll,” our Sages comment2 that on the last day of his life, Moshe our teacher wrote 13 Torah scrolls. Twelve were given to the Jewish people, one for each tribe, and the thirteenth was placed in the Holy Ark. “Were anyone to try to falsify any [portion of] the Torah, [this scroll] could be taken out from the Ark, [to disprove the claim].”

The Torah is eternal. This applies even to the stories of the Torah, for they provide lessons for the Jewish people in every generation. Although there is room for variation with regard to some customs, there is a general uniformity in Torah practice.

To explain: There may be differences in local customs, and at times the view of one Halachic authority is accepted over that of another, for “these and these are the words of the living G‑d.”3 This is possible because the Torah was given to be studied “as a general set of rules, with particular — and even the most detailed — applications.”4 Every Jewish soul has its roots in one particular element of the Torah, and must conduct itself as directed by that particular element.4

A parallel applies to “the duties of the heart,” the inner dimension of our Divine service, and its expression in the emotions of love and fear. Here, there is room for plurality, for each person has his gate, the medium through which he is elevated and establishes a connection with G‑dliness.4 This individuality applies, however, only with regard to particular elements of our Torah heritage.

To cite an example: There are various versions of the prayer services. These differences have their source in the fact that “there were 13 prostrations in the [Beis] HaMikdash paralleling the 13 gates which will be in [the Beis HaMikdash of] the Future Era.”5

Twelve of the 13 gates are for the 12 tribes, one gate for each tribe. The thirteenth gate is “the general gate,” for the entire Jewish people without distinction. In the analog, this refers to a version of the prayer service which is applicable to all Jews.

It is true that there is an advantage for every tribe to follow the prayer service appropriate for it, entering through its individual gate. Indeed, “at the time when every individual knew the tribe to which he belonged, it was preferable that every individual enter through his [tribe’s] gate.... At present, however, when [by and large] we do not know to which tribe we belong, it is preferable to enter via the general gate. [This applies] even to select individuals such as priests and Levites, who know the identity of their tribe. This general gate refers to the version of the prayers authored by the AriZal.”5

The same holds true with regard to Torah study. There are individuals whose souls share a connection to Nigleh, the revealed dimension of Torah law, and others who share a connection to P’nimiyus HaTorah, the Torah’s mystic heritage. When one does not know where one’s soul is rooted, however, one should use “the general gate.”

The Alter Rebbe was chosen to compose his Shulchan Aruch.6 In this text, he carefully selected rules of conduct as prescribed by Nigleh. He also founded Chabad Chassidus, setting up an approach for the study of P’nimiyus HaTorah and for our Divine service. And he developed a version of the prayer service which is appropriate for every Jew.7

These three contributions are appropriate for the Jewish people as a whole, and for every individual. Using them, a Jew can negotiate his ascent to all levels through prayer, and draw down influence through the medium of the Torah.

May it be G‑d’s will that we follow the paved path prepared for us, and spread the wellsprings of the Alter Rebbe’s teachings (this includes the rulings of his Shulchan Aruch and his version of the Siddur) to all Jews. And through spreading these wellsprings outward, we will merit the fulfillment of the promise of Mashiach’s coming. May it be in the immediate future.

(Adapted from Sichos Shabbos Parshas Nitzavim-Vayeilech, 5715)