The Torah is awesome. Not just in the sense of good, or profound, or fun – though it can be all of those things. But in the sense of provoking a response of actual awe. We feel awe when we see something particularly exquisite, something that speaks to the depth of the human experience, something bigger than the eye can see and the brain can really understand. The Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls come to mind. Their beauty is apparent, but many visitors are first awed by just how big they are, so much bigger than they appear on postcards and Instagram posts.
According to Psalm 119, “I have seen a limit to every purpose; but Your commandment is exceedingly broad..” So the Torah is awesome, but just how awesome is it? The rabbis look to the prophet Zechariah for an answer.
Zechariah, son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, came and explained it, as it is written: “And he said to me: What do you see? And I said: I see a flying [afa] scroll; the length of it is twenty cubits, and the breadth of it is ten cubits” (Zechariah 5:2). Since the scroll was flying, the implication is that it had two equal sides, so that when you open it, it is twenty by twenty cubits. And it is written: “And it was written inside and outside,” i.e., on both sides. And when you peel them apart and separate the two sides, how much is it? Its entire area amounts to forty by twenty cubits, or eight hundred of God’s cubits.
The rabbis explain the prophet Zechariah’s vision of a scroll, which is the Torah, to mean that the Torah is the size of 800 of God’s cubits. But how big is God’s cubit? The Gemara continues:
And it is written: “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure” (Isaiah 40:12). If the entire world measures one square span, which is a quarter of one square cubit, we find according to this calculation that the entire world is one part in three thousand and two hundred of the Torah.
The rabbis’ acts of biblical interpretation and complex math lead to the conclusion that the Torah is 3,200 times larger than the entire world. Given this, the world can only experience a small fraction of what the Torah is. Personally, I don’t think the rabbis are imagining a giant Torah scroll that spans light years. It is the Torah’s words and ideas that are cosmic, dynamic, expansive — and yes, awesome.
The awesomeness of Torah is a good reminder that no human can truly master it. Even those of us studying Daf Yomi every day are seeing only a slice of the breadth and depth of Torah. And yet the awesome size of Torah is also an important reminder that there is room in Torah for all of us. Every single one of us has a place within the expansiveness of Torah. After all, according to the rabbis, the Torah is 3,200 times larger than the known universe!