In Moshe’s closing words to the Jewish people, he recounts how God gave the Torah to the people. The passuk tells us that the Torah was “esh dat” — “a fiery law.” Rashi quotes the Midrash Tanchuma that defines this fire as follows: “Black fire on top of white fire.”
I believe that this obscure reference to the black fire and the white fire provides the foundation for appreciating the sanctity and eternity of the Torah. Each of these fires reflects a different aspect of the Torah. The black fire represents the letters and words of the Torah. It is these letters and words, dictated by God to Moshe, that create the Jewish way of life and the mitzvot and values that we must follow. It is this black fire that the gemara tells us that Rabbi Hananiah ben Teradyon saw as he was being burned together with the sefer Torah, “The parchment is burning but the letters fly into the air.”
However, the Midrash also refers to a white fire. In the presence of the letters of the Torah, what is the significance of this white fire? When writing a sefer Torah, there are specific halachot regarding the formation of the letters and specific halachot regarding the spaces that need to be kept between each letter. If one letter touches another letter or there is an inadequate margin on each column, the Torah is not kosher. The white fire refers to the importance of the empty space, space where letters are not allowed to be written.
In life, we are faced with many situations for which the answer is written in the Torah or the hundreds of rabbinic volumes that serve as the basis for our halakhic system. However, there are also myriads of issues that are addressed directly by the sources, issues that require us to apply the written law to new and different situations. The white fire represents these laws that are not directly addressed by the sources. The Midrash teaches that the white fire is just as holy as the black fire. In order to live as Jews, we must be able to interpret the words of the Torah as well as apply those works and laws to situations that arise in every generation in every place. It is the combination of the black fire and the white fire that create the living Torah that we conclude with this parsha.
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