Parashas Tzitzis

This week’s shiur rounds out our discussion of Shema with the third paragraph. In the first paragraph we accept Hashem as King, and that evolves to the theme of Vehayah im Shomo’ah, accepting the King’s commandments. Beliefs motivate action. In parashas tzitzis we look at how mitzvos reciprocate by shaping our minds.

The meaning of parashas tzitzis is studied by comparing it to the other phrasing of the same mitzvahgedilim ta’aseh lekha –you shall make cords for yourself on the four corners of your kesus (covering).” How do gedilim differ from tzitzis? Why is one on your beged and the other on your kesus? Why four corners? Why eight ends (four strings, folded over)? How does all this connect to the notions of not straying after our eyes and hearts, or with remembering the Exodus? How can we actually feel what it means to remember yetzi’as Mitzrayim?

Chayei Sarah – Kibbush and Chizuq

1. Buying Ma’aras haMachpeilah

It is interesting to note that Judaism’s holiest sites were not conquered but bought. Parashas Chayei Sarah opens with Avraham purchasing the Ma’aras haMakhpeilah and the fields around it. Later, Yaakov buys the city of Shechem from Canaanite princes, the sons of Chamor (Bereishis 33:19). Similarly, Shemuel II concludes with David haMelekh purchasing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from Aravnah the Jebusite.

R. Yoseph Ber Soloveitchikzt”l, explained the meaning of qinyan, acquisition, in a speech given to the student body of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in the Spring of 1985. He noted that the root of the word qinyan is /קנה/, to manufacture. (It is also used in lesaqein, to repair.) This is because of the origin of the concept of commerce. Originally people owned what they made, the animals they raised, the plants they planted. The need for people to acquire things they were not personally able to make, lead to trading, barter, and eventually money. Purchasing uses the same root, because purchasing is a surrogate for manufacturing things yourself. I manufacture this, or provide this service, convert it into money, and exchange that effort for someone else’s manufacture or effort in providing that.

Once something is bought you have therefore also acquired its entire history. The person who sold it to you has effectively declared that “all I have done to increase its value was as a surrogate for you doing it yourself.”

2. Kibbush vs Chazaqah

R. Aharon Soloveitchikzt”l (Logic of the Mind, Logic of the Heart) writes of two kinds of acquisition. The first is “chazaqah”, holding. It comes from Hashem’s commandment to Adam “to guard the garden and keep it”. (Bereishis 2:13) This is the gift of reaching unto things through cultivation, work and dedication.

The other kind of acquisition R. Aharon calls “kibbush”, grasping. This kind of activity comes from Hashem’s other imperative to Adam, “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth vekhivshuhah — and subdue it”. (Bereishis 1:28)

In approaching the Benei Cheis, Avraham describes himself as “geir vetoshav anokhi imakhem — I am a stranger and a resident amongst you”. Avraham lived in two worlds, in the spiritual as well as the physical. He was amongst the Benei Cheis, but also apart from them. This gave Avraham two tools: chazaqah and kibbush.

The Western World is based on “might makes right”, “kochi veotzem yadi asa li es hachayil hazeh – my might, and the strength of my hand won me this battle”. The spirit of the West is “the hand of Eisav— the spirit of kibbush. Avraham didn’t feel the need to enforce his will with power, it was okay for him to be a geir.

Without kibbush society would not progress. We would have no new science or engineering, no new territory, evil would not be vanquished. But kibbush must have limits. While Hashem did command “vekhivshuhah”, He certainly wanted man to rise above the level of warring tribesmen.

The other is the gift of cultivation, of work and dedication and of reaching unto things and people through love, consideration, and guidance (“chazaqah”). We can attain great heights through kibbush, but we can’t just constantly be looking to go further and to extend, we have to also develop what we have.

R. Aharon finds in this distinction the source of the gender differences in halakhah. Males have a tendency toward uncontrolled kibbush, while women are more focused on chazaqah. This places women on a higher spiritual plane than men. When a woman says “she’asani kirtzono — for He has made me according to His Will”, it is implied that men are further from that Will than she is. Women’s innate qualities as the last created creature (Rabbi Soloveichik words this as “the crown of Creation”), are already aimed at the fulfillment of G-d’s ultimate desire for mankind. The reason for the extra mitzvos and extra ritual placed on males is to reign in that uncontrolled kibbush.

What is that “ultimate desire for mankind”?

3. The two Batei Miqdash

R. Chaim Soloveitchik holds that there is a distinct difference between the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel that came with the first commonwealth and that of the second.

The first Temple did not create a permanent qedushah (holiness). The reason given is “that which was acquired through conquering is lost through conquering. The First Commonwealth built on land acquired in the wars of the days of Yehoshua and the Shoftim (Judges), was itself conquered.

The Second Commonwealth was “merely” an immigration of a group of Jews who decided to live in the land as Jews. It is predicated on the mitzvos done there, the education of children raised there. That kind of sanctity can not be undone. “Qidshah lisha’atah viqidshah le’asid lavo – it was sanctified for its time and sanctified for all time to come”. Even today, Har Habayis (the Temple Mount) has the sanctity of the Temple.

R. Aharon understands his grandfather’s words in the light of this distinction. The first commonwealth was founded on kibbush. It therefore had an inherently inferior qedushah. The second commonwealth was built by chazaqah. When Hashem tells Zecharia, “Not by force and not by might but by My spirit”, He is saying that the second Temple should be build on chazaqah, not kibbush, to lead to a permanent sanctification. “Neqeivah tesoveiv gever.”

Rav Aharon Soloveitchik notes Chanukah’s connection to Sukkos. According to Seifer haMakabiim, on the first Chanukah people who had just missed being oleh regel, going up to the beis hamiqdash, with their esrog and lulav, did so then at their first opportunity. Beis Shammai taught that one should light 8 lights the first night of Chanukah, 7 the second, learning from the 70 bulls offered for the mussaf on Sukkos, which also declined in number each day: 14 the first day, 13 the second, etc… Rav Yosi bar Avin or R’ Yosi bar Zevida explains that Beis Shammai are emphasizing the link between Chanukah and Sukkos. (We follow Beis Hillel, and teach that the ideal is to increase as the holiday progresses. They do not deny the connection; but rather Beis Hillel asserts an overriding halachic principle — that we increase in holiness over time.)

The concept of being a geir vetoshav is at the center of the similarity between the two holidays. Sukkos is a time when the toshav leaves his home to experience geirus in the Sukkah. Chanukah is also about the ger’s Chazaqah, the rededication of the second Beis haMiqdash. Not about winning the war – the war wouldn’t be over for years – but about being able to live in Israel as Jews, with access to the beis hamiqdash.

4. Qinyan as Chazakah

We go from looking at Rav Aharon’s elaboration of his grandfather’s concept to using his brother’s, R. Yoseph Ber’s insight to extend R. Aharon’s concept of chazaqah to things acquired by commerce as well. To buy something is to exchange a token of the chazaqah you have put into something else, and trade it for chazaqah on this object.

By combining these ideas, we understand why Chevron, Har haBayis and Shechem were bought. Buying is a means of chazaqah. It is inherently holier than if our claim were based on military victory.

The same idea can be used to understand why the gemara in Qiddushin (2a) asserts that the form of marriage is identical to that of a qinyan. This idea is proven from a gezeirah shavah (a comparison of terms) between the phrase “ki yiqach ish ishah — when a man takes a woman” (Devarim 22:13), and Avraham’s offer to Efron “nasati keseph hasadeh, kach mimeni — I have placed money for the field, take it from me” (23:13). In both cases the expression of “qichah — taking” is used.

(The halakhah is not teaching that women are ch”v bought and sold like chattel. You don’t need a gentile slave’s consent in order to buy him. Purchasing’s two parties are owner and buyer, not buyer and item bought. The fact that the wedding can not occur against her will shows that it isn’t a purchase. Second, the laws of ona’ah – overcharging and underpaying – would apply, and the value of the ring would need to be within 1/6th of the bride’s value.)

In the case of Chevron, Avraham was acquiring the entire field — from the beginning of time until the end. By making marriage assume the qinyan format we are acknowledging that the bride and groom were literally made for each other, and hopefully will remain together until the end of time. By using the form of chazaqah, the marriage, qiddushin, is on a higher plane. Like the ma’aras hamachpeilah, like the second Beis haMiqdash, the qiddushin thereby has the possibility of being an eternal holiness.

5. Gevurah and its Resolution

In Avos 4:1, Ben Zomah says “Who is a gibor, a warrior, one who is koveish his yeitzer, his inclination [toward evil]”. This is a proper use of kibbush, to vanquish evil, to change it into a tool for serving Hashem. It is interesting to note that the one who uses kibbush is called a “gibor”, from the same root as a word for man in the sense of specifically male as used in our pasuq in Zechariah – “gever”.

We find the term gibor in a prophecy about the messianic age. “How much longer will you stray, back-slidden daughter, and remain hidden and withdrawn? For Hashem has created something new on the earth, neqeivah tisoveiv gever — woman shall encircle man.” (Yirmiah 31:20-22)

We can attain great heights through kibbush, but we can’t succeed in establishing a Paradise on earth unless we couple it with chazaqah. At the end of history, the Jewish people, the fallen daughter, the ger vetoshav, will return to Hashem. The principle missing in this galus, the balance of kibbush and chazaqah, will be restored. As man realizes that he is a spiritual being, thereby being freed from needing to be overly focused on the gibor’s battle against the yeizer. The neqeivah, the feminine side, chazaqah, will be restored to its rightful role.

In the time of the Messiah, there will be no pursuit of kibbush, rather everyone will pursue the gift of chazaqah. So women’s Divine endowment and her mandate to be true to that endowment is consonant with humanity’s spiritual and moral goals in the Messianic Era.

Changing Name

There are two places in halakhah where the criterion for whether something is significantly changed is whether there was a shinui sheim, a change in name. The first is in the laws of Shabbos, something is nolad (“born”, i.e. unusable because it did not exist when Shabbos began) if it underwent a change that changes what we call it. For this reason, one may not melt ice to produce water on Shabbos — “ice” and “water” are different names. (This is true for the few languages I could check. It would be interesting to see if anyone discusses the permissability of melting ice by someone whose first language does not use different words for them.) However, R’ SZ Aurbach is quoted (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchaso 10:5, fn 15) as limiting this gemara to water. Frozen orange juice is called “frozen orange juice”, and thus there is no shinui sheim.

The second case is in property law. Changing something is a form of qinyan, acquisition of the object. One kind of shinui could be a shinui reshus, moving the object from one person’s property to another. Another is changing the object itself to the extent that there is a shinui sheim. A theif who steals wood and makes a hole in the wood, is obligated to return the wood (and the difference in value). If, however, the owner gave up on reclaiming the object (thus giving up ownership) and the thief made something out of the wood (thus acquiring ownership), the thief would have to repay the value, not return the wood.

This could be understood in terms of applying halakhah to the world as experienced. See (“The Nature of Reality” for an explanation, and other possible cases in “The Unobservable, the Unobserved, and the Observed“.) Word give us labels, but by giving groups of things shared labels, they color our world by defining which set of pigeonholes we use to group things as being essentially the same, and assign new things.

For example, in English speaking countries it’s common to ponder if Judaism is a race or a religion. On the one hand, it is racial in that once someone is born a Jew, they are always a Jew, regardless of belief. On the other hand, someone can join the fold through geirus. But the question isn’t one of Judaism, it’s one of English. These are the kinds of peoplehood we assume exist because these are the words the language gives us. The language was primarily shaped by Christians, though. Therefore there is no guarantee that there exists exactly the right pigeonhole to place Jewish peoplehood.

Returning to the subject of shinui sheim, this is a change defined in human perception terms. We’re saying the minimum unit of change is from one conceptual category to another. The physical magnitude of the change is irrelevant — look back to our contrast between melting ice and melting frozen orange juice. It is measured in terms of change in human conception.

Models of Creation

Updated by user suggestion. Element added: tzimtzum.

We can’t really understand how the Ribbono shel olam does anything, and so in contemplating the concept of creation we have to fall back on simplifications, models that capture some aspects of the process that we can understand. Traditionally a number of such models have been used; and in fact, the same authority could appeal to more than one. They do not necessarily contradict, they look at the incomprehensible (by man) at different angles and thus match reality in some ways and oversimplify in others.

I thought I would post a survey of some of these models, and I invite the readership to help round it out with anything I may have missed.
1- Manufacture: From this perspective, Hashem first made yeish mei’ayin (ex nihilo, something from nothing) the materials in a step called beri’ah, and then through yetzirah gave them the forms we know today.

2- Speech. The word used in the Torah is “vayomer — and He said”. The world is spoken. As the Baal Shem Tov points out, this is different than writing. Print is written, and then persists without further involvement by the writer. Speech exists as long as the person is speaking. Hashem is still saying the words “yehi or“, since light still exists. Light is in fact the words being spoken.

(Tangent: There is a huge moral implication about the value of words. By this model, you and I are words being “spoken” by the A-lmighty, and thus speech is the essence of our power to create and our very beings. Perhaps this is why dibbur is a word for speech, sharing the same root as “davar” [thing].)

3- Atzilus: Creation is to G-d as light is to a lightbulb. Hashem can choose whether or not to radiate this Light and the how and what should be shined. (In that sense, it’s different than Platonic Emanation, which is a necessary consequence of the Godhead’s existence.)

Atzilus is a model by which such Light shines down from on high, through layers of increasing abstraction until it reaches the physical plane.

The Rambam argues that models #1 and #3, which the Rambam describes as identifying Hashem as Cause vs Agens, are really identical in the Moreh Nevuchim I ch. 69. We also find the Ramban opening his commentary to chumash with the beri’ah – yetzirah perspective of manufacture, but also refer repeatedly to the notion of atzilus and the descent of the Light through veils to lower and lower worlds.

4- Panentheism (not to be confused with pantheism): The idea that the universe is of G-d. He is greater than merely being the universe, but “ein od milvado — nothing exists aside from Him.” The universe isn’t merely made byG-d, or a “radiation” of His G-dhood, but is actually of Him. Based on this model, Chabad teaches that creation is an illusion, an occluding of our ability to see that everything is Him, and thus giving off the appearance that there are multiple existances.

Tzimtzum: This doesn’t merit its own bullet item, because tzimtzum is a feature of either the atzilus or panentheistic models for understanding creation. Tzimtzum is the Divine constriction that makes conceptual room (so to speak) for existence.
The best description I’ve seen for tzimtzum is the metaphor of a slideshow. The projector produces a clear undifferentiated white light. Without the slide, the screen is simply white, with nothing existing on it. The presence of people, buildings, or whatever on the screen is due to the slide selectively blocking light from reaching the screen.

But obviously tzimtzum is metaphoric. As is clear from my circumlocution of “conceptual room (so to speak)”, no one is suggestion that Hashem actually constricts Himself. That would be suggesting a change in an unchanging G-d, and a reduction of His Absolute infinity. Neither idea is consistent with Yahadus.

So the question becomes interpreting the metaphor, given that we can only understand a glimmer of what it’s a metaphor for. And this becomes the basis of the distinction between the atzilus and panentheism models. The first approach is that what was constricted was not the Ein Sof (the Absolute Infinite) Himself, but the Light which is ne’etzal from Him. The “veils” that occlude some of the Divine Light are like the slide in the slide projector metaphor. The second is that we’re speaking of the Ein Sof, but it’s only an illusion — in reality, everything is G-d, but we are given the illusion of things existing as distinct from Himself.

Vehayah im Shamoa

We entered Shema last week by following the detailed look at the text started with Birchas Ahavah, Kel Melekh Ne’eman and the rich first sentence of Shema.

This week we looked at the second paragraph of Shema, and started by noting similarities and contrasts with the first one. This invited us to take a step back to look at the structure of Shema as a whole, and the role and progression of each section of it.

Another point discussed at more length: How does the first sentence and paragraph of Shema constitute qabbalas ol malkhus Shamayim (accepting the kingship of [the One in] Heaven) when there is no mention of the word Melekh in them? We looked at Rav Hutner’s take on the contrast between qabbalas ol malkhus Shamayim on Rosh haShanah, one of the days of yir’ah (awe/fear) and Shema which speaks in terms of ahavah, and the meaning of accepting Hashem as King.

I also gave out a sheet, perhaps to keep in your siddur or tallis bag, which lays out some structural points in tables. The original MS word version requires solid hebrew support, so it’s available in PDF (Adobe Acrobat) as well.


In this shiur, we look at the rest of the first paragraph of Shema. Some of the issues discussed are:

  • Why do we say “Barukh sheim“?
  • How can a person choose to fulfill the commandment to love Hashem? Can you choose an emotion?
  • What does it mean to serve Hashem with our whole hearts? Two approaches to the idea of serving Hashem with the yeitzer hara (evil inclination).
  • The progression outward of our ahavah, to levavekha (your heart), to nafshekha (your living soul), to me’odekha (all your resources), and its parallel in the subsequent mitzvos.
  • Looking at the mitzvos in the paragraph as a tool for unifying religion and the “real world”. Religion as sanctifying life rather than a retreat from it.