Torah is Perfect
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
After King David refers to the sun—“The heavens declare God’s honor…”—he says as follows: “God’s Torah is perfect, restoring the soul; God’s testaments are trustworthy, making the simple person wise. God’s pekudim are upright, gladdening the heart, God’s mitzvos are clear, giving the eyes light” (Psalms 19:8, 9).
Ibn Ezra comments:
Up to this point, (referring to the heavens) King David refers to how an understanding person (who studies the heavens) finds testimony to God (His existence) and His actions. And David says there is also yet another witness that is more honored than the sun, and more trustworthy, and that is God’s Torah…”
Man’s study of the universe is via derivation and deduction, and subject to our feeble human perception and limited thinking. Whereas Torah’s superior status is that it is God’s articulation, precise formulations of selected words, sentences and sections that lead to discoveries which man cannot find otherwise. Although man can misinterpret Torah, yet, Torah offers man far greater guidance to truths than man’s study of nature. This makes Torah an unparalleled gift, and why King David refers to it as “perfect.”
Torah “restores the soul” as Radak says, the intellect (soul) is a “captive” among man’s other faculties—human emotions—that chase instinctual gratification. This chase inhibits man from using his limited energies in application to wisdom. But Torah catches man’s attention, and he finds its wisdom more appealing than physical satisfactions. Thereby, Torah releases the captive intellect and restores it to its natural state, and enables it to attain its full potential. This is the meaning that it “makes the simple person wise.” This is the measure of Torah’s capacity, that it imbues even the lowest of people with wisdom. This is Radak’s meaning of “And notice it restores the soul from captivity and confinement to her (rightful) birth and the place of her glory.” “Rightful birth” means the soul lost its attachment to wisdom when man chased lusts. But there is no permanent damage, as the soul—by design—finds great satisfaction in wisdom, and that cannot be changed. Chasing desires distracts the soul, but cannot disintegrate it. Thus, the soul can attain “its place of glory,” its full potential.
Ibn Ezra says pekudim (typically translated as statutes) refers to a deposit; matters that God “deposited” in man’s heart. How has God deposited? This refers to the design of the heart (emotions) and human intellect. God designed both in a manner that they find Torah pleasing. God “deposited” a design in the emotions and intelligence, that, when studying Torah, both faculties find Torah to perfectly comply with their design; there is no conflict but a pleasing satisfaction in Torah’s principles and in engaging its thought. Just as God designed the stomach to respond to food with satisfaction and happiness, the emotions and intelligence find Torah wisdom its perfect food.
“God’s mitzvos are clear” means that man can fully grasp them without confusion. What is unclear is not recognized, but Torah is clear. Torah also “gives light to man’s eyes.” Light is necessary to detect what exists, what is real. In darkness, one can only imagine what exists. But Torah’s “light” offers man knowledge of what is real, what is true. Being aware of all that exists, man is at ease, as he eliminates ignorance and its associated anxiety. But beliefs without validation from reality or God, like superstitions, mysticism, and segulos are not found in Torah. Maimonides teaches we are to accept as true only what our senses witness, what our minds demand must be so (reason), and what God says (Letter to Marseilles). Otherwise, we are not to accept any premise or the beliefs of others, be they a rabbi or a person of great reputation. We respect truth alone, not reputations or titles.
Ibn Ezra teaches that, “for a wise person to understand God and His actions, Torah surpasses the study of nature.” Torah restores the soul to its original potential, elevating it to its highest level. We see this measure as it makes the simple person wise. God designed man to find Torah pleasing, both emotionally and intellectually. As Torah contains clear principles and laws, that enlighten man to all truths.
We must take to heart these words of our greatest leader, King David. Psalms contains deep wisdom that our rabbis have unveiled in their commentaries. So we must not simply read Psalms, but analyze it. Otherwise, we miss its precise lessons and the happiness offered by its pearls of bright wisdom.