One of the cardinal principles of Judaism is the belief in the Divine origin of our Bible. While Moshe Rabbeinu was the greatest of human beings, his input into the wording of the Torah is minimal at best. In this regard, Moshe was not more than a recording secretary, faithfully transcribing the word of G-d.

Yet while G-d is the author of the Torah, He has no say in its development and application in day-to-day life. Lo Bashamayim hee, the Torah is not in heaven; it is the Sages of each generation who must apply its divine principles to real-life problems. Hence, in a famous Talmudic passage (Bava Metzia 59b), the Rabbis reject the opinion of one of their colleagues, even though G-d Himself testified to its correctness. The legal principle of following the majority overruled even G-d. In fact, the Talmud (in anthropomorphic terms) relates that G-d, upon hearing His view rejected, smiled and proclaimed "my children have defeated me, my children have defeated me." The Torah from heaven must give way to earthly interpretations.

Of course, the perspective from heaven differs from those here on earth. The written Torah prescribes the death penalty for a whole host of sins. Mot tamut, he shall surely be put to death, is a constant refrain in the Bible. How can one not receive the death penalty for violating G-d's will? Yet it was only rarely that we actually, literally followed this divine guidance and executed someone.  In the human world, there are all kinds of technicalities that spare a person such a fate. Rabbi Akiva went so far as to declare that if he were sitting on the court, no person would ever receive capital punishment.

Theory and practice are meant to complement one another. The Divine imperative of mot tamut alerts us to the seriousness of these matters, even if it is never implemented. This dichotomy between the Divine theoretical world and the world of reality manifests itself in many ways. Such Biblical laws as those describing the rebellious child who is to be killed, or the total destruction of an ir nidachat (a city whose inhabitants have worshipped idolatry), or a house stricken with leprosy may fall into the category "never were nor will they ever be." However, they do form part of the Divine message and teachings of the Torah. Similarly, the Torah prescribes that we must punish an "eye for an eye". However, our Oral Law teaches that in actuality, the only penalty is a monetary one. The Torah must record the punishment that the perpetrator deserves; writing down the "real" punishment would be a perversion of the pristine truth of Torah.

Perhaps the best example of this notion is found in this week's parsha. "You must love your neighbour as yourself, I am G-d" (19:18). This verse, according to Rabbi Akiva, is the fundamental principle of the Torah, encompassing the essence of Judaism. Yet this same Rabbi Akiva tells us (Bava Metzia 62a) that if you are walking with a friend in the desert and the only canteen of water available is yours, you are to drink it yourself, though this will surely cause the death of your friend. Chayecha kodmim, your life takes precedence, declares Rabbi Akiva.

And, truth be told, is it really possible to love your neighbour as yourself? Does Jewish law even demand it? We only observe the laws of mourning for our close relatives, not for our friends. In the real world, we must make do with the words of Hillel, and "not do to others what we would not want done to ourselves."

The Torah wants us to recognize that we must strive for an even higher goal. Only when we meet our Maker in the world of eternity, unencumbered by earthly concerns and realities, will we be able to fully understand the second half of the verse, "I am G-d". With that recognition, we will understand what it means to love those created in the image of G-d. Knowledge of G-d and love of man are corollaries of each other. All the rest is commentary. Go and learn, go and implement.