Small Jugs

In the beginning, or a few days later, Hashem created the sun and the moon.

In Bereishis (1:16) the Torah says: “And G-d made the two large luminaries – the large luminary to rule the day and the small luminary to rule the night – and the stars.” A famous gemara (Chullin 60b), quoted by Rashi, points out an inconsistency in the verse. R. Shimon ben Pazi asks why the Torah first describes the sun and moon as “the two large luminaries”, but then it calls the sun “the large luminary” and the moon is called the small one. The Gemara answers with a story (paraphrased).

Originally the sun and moon were the same size. But the moon complained to Hashem, “Can there exist two kings sharing the same crown?” How can both the sun and the moon share the glory?

G-d replies, “Go and make yourself smaller.”

The moon is hurt. “Master of the Universe, because I presented You with a true complaint, I should reduce myself?

Hashem offers consolation, and permits that unlike the sun, “Go and rule over the day and the night.”

The moon sees this as no consolation. If the sun is shining all day, it continues, “What good is a candle at noon?” It will out-shine me, how do I gain by shining then?”

Hashem offers an alternate consolation. “It is destined for Israel to use you to count days and years.” To this day, the Jewish people use a lunar calendar.

This too the moon finds insufficient. “Without the sun they can not count seasons either.” (Rashi, Chullin ad loc,
explains that the leap years are based upon the seasons. The second Adar is added is to insure that Pesach is always in the spring, the Jewish calendar is not purely lunar.)

G-d provides a third consolation. Righteous men will be called by your name, for example (Amos 7) “Ya’akov haqatan [the small]“, “Shmuel haQatan” [a tanna], (Shemuel 1 17) “David haqatan”.

The moon thought about it, but was still unsatisfied.

Hashem commands, “bring a kaparah, a korban of forgiveness, in My Name, for I have wronged the moon.”

Reish Lakish points out that this qorban is indicated in the Torah in parashas Pinechas, describing the offering for Rosh Chodesh, the start of the new month. The pasuq says, “And one sa’ir, he-goat, for a chatas Lashem, an expiation-offering unto G-d” (Bamidbar 28:15). No other holiday’s chatas offering include this last word, that the korban is for G-d. On Rosh Chodesh, when the moon is not visible, the qorban chatas is to “atone” for G-d “wronging”  (so to speak) the moon.

The Maharsha explains this gemara‘s metaphor by explaining that the moon symbolizes the Jewish people who appear small in this world. The midrash is a discussion about the need for Israel to be oppressed in this world, so that they may shine brighter in the next. He identifies the sa’ir, the he-goat of the Rosh Chodesh chatas offering, with Rome the children of Ya’akov’s brother Eisav. The sai’r represents the inheritor of Har Sei’ir. Both “eisav” and “se’ir” refer to hairiness. Surely of all of the nations of the world, history is dominated by Rome and the western civilization it spawned. And, like the moon, Israel’s fortunes rise, fall and rise again under its shadow.

Aside from the difference in ascendancy between Israel and non- Jews, there is a more obvious difference between this world and the next. Only in this world is there a physical existence. “Edom”, the name of Eisav’s nation, comes from the same root as adom (red) and adamah (earth) — again, this world. Hair is also a symbol of physicality, as we see from the laws of nazir and the obligation for married women to cover their hair. Yitzchaq associates Eisav with action “hayadayim yedei Eisav” — the hands are the hands of Eisav, in contrast to “qol Yaaqov“, Yaaqov deals in speech.

Yitzchaq looked to bless Eisav, and Yaaqov stepped in and took the berakhah. In an ideal world (one that doesn’t have the above competition between the physical and the spiritual), Eisav would have served as the physical supplier of what became the Jewish people. We see this in the content of that original berakhah. “And may Hashem give you from the dew of the heaven and the fat of the land…” But Rivka saw that G-d didn’t make that world. Instead, there is a basic split, Eisav goes off the path, and world history has to work out his error. And the berakhah Yitzchaq gives him instead: “Behold, the fat of the land is your dwelling, and the dew from the sky above. By your sword shall you live, but your brother you must serve. However, when you feel wronged, you will cast off his yoke.” (Bereishis 27:39-40)

“Lei’ah’s eyes were puffy” from crying, Chazal tell us (as quoted by Rashi ad loc) that this was because she was taunted that she, the older daughter, would marry Eisav, Yitzchaq’s firstborn, and Lei’ah would marry Ya’aqov. In this hypothetical ideal world, Yehudah’s kingship would have emerged from Eisav. (Whether Levi would still have been Lei’ah’s child seems less obvious.) And Eisav could have been given a second chance, but Yaaqov hides Lei’ah’s daughter Dinah during their encounter with Eisav.

What exactly is Eisav’s error? This notion that physicality is in competition with spirituality, rather than Hashem’s intended synergy. (I wrote much more on this Maharsha and other topic in parashas Bereishis to describe a progression of how the universe’s physicality first introduced imperfection (the trees not tasting like the fruit), physicality growing to loom as though it were an ends not a means, how this reached man’s soul causing the impurity of our motives, nd what Hashem gave us to do about it. See these posts: “The Origins of Imperfection“, “Adam and Pinnochio“, and “Havdalah“. The above analysis of the gemara is taken from Mesukim miDevash for parashas Pinechas.)

Rome followed in Eisav’s footsteps by considering the Hellenist legacy and Judaism an exclusive choice. And, like Eisav who simply couldn’t consider delayed spiritual gratification when he was starving and smelling a good red lentil soup, they chose Hellenism. To emulate Yavan.

Jewish history also followed this progression. We first experienced the Yevanim, Hellene overlords, the Seleucid enemy whose conquest plays a role in the story of Chanukah. As Noach blessed his son, Yefes, Yavan’s ancestor, “Yaft E-lokim leYefes” — G-d gave beauty to western culture, the value of physicality and aesthetics. We should have kept it external, remembered that we, as the descendants of Sheim, have a different role, “veyishkon be’ohalei Sheim” — G-d rests in our homes. Alexander the Great was a hero in Jewish history — one whose name is still worn proudly as a traditional Jewish one. Then, we had Misyavnim, Jews who made themselves Hellene. Who lost the concept of remaining distinct (and thereby contributing), and it all unraveled. The Seleucids became an oppressive regime who tried to destroy Judaism by simply subsuming our G-d into their pantheon. But the Chashmonaim restored the notion of a distinct Jewish identity.

But that too failed. We repaired out notion of spirituality, but not how to treat others in this world. Chanukah (galus Yavaan) was a religious challenge, not one of national survival. The destruction of the Second Beis haMiqdash (galus Edom) was over our lack unity. It actually lowered our spiritual potential but also changed the nature of our people-hood to one that forces us to learn how to apply that spirituality to how we treat others. Because galus Yavan was about the two coexisting together, it was a galus that occured entirely during a period in which we actually had a Beis haMiqdash. (Thus proving that “galus” doesn’t mean “exile” — we were on our land!)

The current step in that progression is that to take those distinct peices of the puzzle and use them together. Chanukah taught us “To form the ideal Jewish people. On Chanukah we learned “אַ֭שְׁרֵי יֽוֹשְׁבֵ֣י בֵיתֶ֑ךָ, ע֗֝וֹד יְֽהַלְל֥וּךָ סֶּֽלָה׃ – Enriched are those who dwell in Your House, they shall ever praise You – Selah!” We are now learning “…אַשְׁרֵ֣י הָ֭עָם שֶׁכָּ֣כָה לּ֑וֹ Enriched is the nation that is like this…” Unity. So that we can acheive the both — “אַֽשְׁרֵ֥י הָ֝עָ֗ם שֱׁ֥ה’ אֱ-לֹהָֽיו׃ — Enriched is the nation for whom Hashem is its G-d.” This is why our current struggle is with Edom, the failed vision of Eisav. The two can work together, the “sun” needn’t compete with the “moon”.

There is a Yalqut Re’uveini (an admittedly obscure, late, and Kabbalistic collection of medrash) on Ki Seitzei that connects Chanukah to a sedra often leined at about the same time — Vayishlach.

Yaaqov went back across the river to get some “pachim qetanim“, small jugs. When crossing back again to his family, Yaakov encounters an angel, identified with Eisav and his people’s guardian (among other candidates).

One of these pachim made its way down the ages to Shemu’el. Shemu’el used it to anoint Sha’ul as our nation’s first king.

From Shemu’el, the jug was eventually inherited by Elisha. When the poor Shunamit woman came to him desperate for funds so that her sons won’t be sold as slaves, Elisha told her to collect any vessel she had that could hold oil, and to borrow all such that she could from her neighbors. And Elisha then took the jug with the left over oil from the annointing of Sha’ul, and filled every utensil in her home.

(I’m sure you see what’s coming next, but to spell out the details.) This jug was then placed in the first Beis haMiqdash, not with the other jugs of oil, but with the collection of artifacts that attest to miracles (the jar of mon, Moshe’s staff, Aharon’s blooming almond branch, etc..) And the jug made it through the interegnum and was placed in a similar spot in the second bayis. The seal that most understand to be a mark of purity is taken by this midrash to also mark this special jug so that it not be confused with the regular ones.

When the Yevanim defiled all the oil, this oil wasn’t found because it wasn’t stored with the rest! (I know, if we assume this medrash is historical, it contradicts a trend of thought I developed in another recent post.) And the same miracle that supported the Shunamit is the miracle of the oil of Chanukah. The pach shemen of Chanukah was one of the pachim qetanim of Yaaqov.

Which answers the Beis Yoseif’s question: If the oil was enough for one day, the miracle was only on the subsequent days. Burning on the first day was normal. What is the miracle that we commemorate by celebrating that day too? According to this Yalqut Re’uveini, the miracle was that they filled the menorah and afterward, the jug was still full.

(The Imrei Shefer (Shabbos 21b) says something similar but less elaborate: that it’s in the merit of Yaaqov returning for the pachim qetanim that we merited the Chashmonaim finding the pach shemen.)

What’s the point of this medrash, the lesson it’s written to teach? Looking at the key themes in it, I think I can suggest an idea.

The medrash ties Yaaqov going back for the pachim qetanim his battle with Eisav’s guardian, to Sha’ul, to supporting the Shunamit to Chanukah. What do they have in common?

Why did Yaakov go back for a small jug? Didn’t he just gratefully leave Eisav behind in that area, happy that there was no fighting? Doesn’t that mean it was dangerous?

Rashi on Vayishlach quotes Chazal that Yaaqov went back because the righteous consider their money precious, because they earn their money honestly. Proper business ethics isn’t “just” the permissable way to conduct business, it actually sanctifies the activity. And therefore, the pachim qetanim were sacred to Yaaqov, not to be simply left behind.

Eisav’s role in the ideal universe was mastered by Yaaqov — he internalized the notion of the role of the physical and how to sanctify the physical. Of course at that point Yaaqov is challenged by Eisav’s guardian and succeeds.  And when he gains that mastery, that’s the moment at which Yaaqov becomes Yisrael. And according to the Zohar Chadash, Lei’ah corresponds to Yisrael, while Racheil corresponds to Yaaqov. It also says that this is why Racheil was Yaaqov’s favorite wife during the first part of his life, but after her passing, he builds the rest of his life with Lei’ah. Racheil is the “yefas to’ar — the beautiful looking” wife. It’s easy to see the spirituality of a life at battle with the physical world. Lei’ah has the deeper and longer relationship, although it’s one that must be built upon pain.

Sha’ul’s mission for his kingship is to vanquish Amaleiq. Amaleiq is a nation whose namesake forefather was Eisav’s grandson.   He is from Racheil, because his job is Yaaqov’s job rather thaan Yisra’el’s, to vanquish the improperly harnessed physicality. And then Sha’ul is succeeded by David, who is from Yehudah and thus Lei’ah, who starts the process of building the Beis HaMiqdash — sacred wealth and beauty.

The Shunamit was supported in her time of need by the rewards of Yaaqov’s sacred toiling in this world. The money which was earned through honest and forthright business dealings will always suffice.

Which brings us to Chanukah. Chanukah was a step before Eisav-Edom, back at Yavan, Rome’s role model. The Jews lost themselves to Hellene values. To a religion where even the gods represent physical forces: Ares was the god of war, Hermes was the concept of change, Venus of love, etc…

And then they find the jug of oil. The jug of holy wordliness, of sanctifying the universe through halakhah. Not disdain for the physical or the beautiful, but knowing its value — as a tool. And with that concept the Chashmonaim revived Jewish loyalty, disbanded Hellenist oppression, and restored the concept of Jewish autonomy for the next two centuries. And when we couldn’t maintain that, we still had the notion that there was a role for Yefetic culture but not a clear idea of what that role was, in stepped Edom. Through that struggle with Edom, we can restore the world to “two great lights” — Yisrael and Eisav working in harmony.

וייראוך כל המעשים, וישתחוו לפניך כל הברואים, ויעשו כלם אגודה אחת לעשות רצונך בלבב שלם!

And everything made will have fear/awe for You,
And everything created will prostrate before You,
And they will be made together in a single union to do You Will wholeheartedly!

-Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur Amidah

A Tzadiq Will Flower Like a Date-Palm

I had this thought while saying Qabbalas Shabbos this week. It’s a “Chassidishe Vort” in style, intentionally stretching the meaning of a quote in order to create a mnemonic for an important point — but with a mussar message.

צַ֭דִּיק כַּתָּמָ֣ר יִפְרָ֑ח, כְּאֶ֖רֶז בַּלְּבָנ֣וֹן יִשְׂגֶּֽה׃

A righteous person will flower like a date-palm,
Will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

-Tehillim 92:13

So, as I’m saying these words, my mind was wandering through the parashah. (Not advising this. As Tamar’s descendent wrote “for everything there is a proper time…” [Qoheles 3:1) And it hit me…

What is it we laud about Tamar’s actions? She forced Yehudah’s hand to do the right thing, and then even though he had to be tricked into fulfilling his duty, Tamar was still willing to absorb a lot of personal risk rather than shame him.

וַיְהִ֣י ׀ כְּמִשְׁלֹ֣שׁ חֳדָשִׁ֗ים וַיֻּגַּ֨ד לִֽיהוּדָ֤ה לֵאמֹר֙ זָֽנְתָה֙ תָּמָ֣ר כַּלָּתֶ֔ךָ וְגַ֛ם הִנֵּ֥ה הָרָ֖ה לִזְנוּנִ֑ים וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוּדָ֔ה הֽוֹצִיא֖וּהָ וְתִשָּׂרֵֽף׃ הִ֣וא מוּצֵ֗את וְהִ֨יא שָֽׁלְחָ֤ה אֶל־חָמִ֨יהָ֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר לְאִישׁ֙ אֲשֶׁר־אֵ֣לֶּה לּ֔וֹ אָֽנֹכִ֖י הָרָ֑ה וַתֹּ֨אמֶר֙ הַכֶּר־נָ֔א לְמִ֞י הַחֹתֶ֧מֶת וְהַפְּתִילִ֛ים וְהַמַּטֶּ֖ה הָאֵֽלֶּה׃ וַיַּכֵּ֣ר יְהוּדָ֗ה וַיֹּ֨אמֶר֙ צָֽדְקָ֣ה מִמֶּ֔נִּי כִּֽי־עַל־כֵּ֥ן לֹֽא־נְתַתִּ֖יהָ לְשֵׁלָ֣ה בְנִ֑י וְלֹֽא־יָסַ֥ף ע֖וֹד לְדַעְתָּֽהּ׃

And it was at about three months, and it was told to Yehudah saying, “Tamar your daughter-in-law had promiscuous sex! And also, she is pregnant from this promiscuity!” Yehudah said, “Bring her here, and she shall burn.”

She is brought out, and she sent message to her father-in-law saying, “To the man who these belong I have gotten pregenant.” And she said, “Please recognize, to whom are these signet ring, the cords, and the staff?”

Yehudah recognized, and said, “She is more righteous than I. For as much as I did not give her to my son Sheilah.” And he wasn’t again intimate with her.

- Bereishis 38:24-26

There are many stories told of Rav Yisrael Salanter that share a common theme. For example:

One of his disciples had invited him for Friday night dinner. R. Israel had stipulated that he would not dine anywhere till he had satisfied himself that the kashrut was above reproach. The disciple informed R. Israel that in his home all the Halachos were observed with utmost stringency. He bought his meat from a butcher known for his piety. It was truly “glatt” – free of any Halachic query or lung adhesion (sirchah). His cook was an honest woman, the widow of a Talmid Chacham, daughter of a good family, while his own wife would enter the kitchen periodically to supervise. His Friday night meal was conducted in the grand style. There would be Torah discussion after each course, so there was no possibility of their meal being “as if they had partaken of offerings to idols.” They would study Shulchan Aruch regularly, sing Zemiros and remain seated at the table till well into the night.

Having listened to this elaborate account of the procedures, R. Israel consented to accept the invitation, but stipulated that the time of the meal be curtailed by two full hours. Having no alternative, the disciple agreed. At the meal, one course followed another without interruption. In less than an hour, the mayim acharonim had been passed around in preparation for the Grace after Meals.

Before proceeding with the Grace, the host turned to R. Israel and asked: “Teach me, rabbi. What defect did you notice in my table?”

R. Israel did not answer the question. Instead he asked that the widow responsible for the cooking come to the room. He said to her: “Please for give me, for having inconvenienced you this evening. You were forced to serve one course after another – not as you are used to do.” “Bless you, rabbi,” the woman answered. “Would that you would be a guest here every Friday evening. My master is used to sit at the table till late at night. I am worn out from working all day. My legs can hardly hold me up, so tired do I become. Thanks to you, rabbi, they hurried this evening, and I am already free to go home and rest.” R. Israel turned to his disciple. “The poor widow’s remark is the answer to your question. Indeed your behavior is excellent, but only as long as it does not adversely affect others.”

- From “Tenu’as haMussar”, by R’ Dov Katz, as translated in “The Mussar Movement” by R’ Zalman Ury

Another, from the same source:

Or consider this true story. Once, in Salanty, he could not be present to supervise the baking of his matza shemura (observance matza). His disciples who undertook the supervision asked him what they were to guard against. He replied that he asked of them only one thing: that in their zealousness they were not to scold the woman kneading the dough for being slow: “Bear in mind,” he said, “she is a widow and one ought not to grieve a widow.”

A true tzadiq flowers like Tamar, only at her own expense. Never assuming “piety” to the determinent of others.

The True Hero of Chanukah

No, the title of this post doesn’t refer to HQBH, although clearly it could. (Or can it: Can we define “heroism” with respect to One for Whom there are no risks to take?) Nor Yehudah haMakabi, nor Matisyahu, nor Chana or any of her sons, nor Yehudis…

The Beis Yoseif famously asks why we celebrate the first day of Chanukah. After all, the oil burning on the first day wasn’t miraculous, was it? It was only the additional seven that constituted the miracle. There are many answers to this question. When I was in grade school, a rebbe told of a seifer that was entirely a collection of 100 answers. Some show why the first day was a miracle — they only put 1/8 of the oil in each day, they put it all in, but at the end of the day the cup was 7/8 (or entirely) full. Or, one day to celebrate even finding the oil, or perhaps the military victory.

I want to give the Alter of Slabodka’s answer, but I want to present  it on top of my own thought.

The miracle of the oil is an odd reason for Chanukah. In fact, it’s not mentioned in either of the books of Makabiim, not in Megilas Taanis, not in Josephus, not until the gemara. But what makes it odd is that it’s not a neis in the traditional meaning of the Hebrew term. A neis is a banner, a standard or a flag. When used to refer to miracles, it refers to the fact that nissim call G-d’s Presence to our attention. But the oil burning for 8 days could only have been witnessed by the Chashmonaim and the few believers who made it into the heichal (the Temple building itself) with them. Celebrating private miracles is common in other religions. However Judaism is proud of standing on the notion of national events, public miracles — nissim.

I would therefore suggest that when the gemara asks “Mai Chanukah?” it wasn’t because Ravina and Rav Ashi thought that anyone learning the gemara needed a remedial lesson in what Chanukah was about. Rather, it’s because Chanukah had to shift in meaning. Gone were the days of the Beis haMiqdash. Jewish autonomy was by that point ancient history. The authors of the gemara were living in a Babylonia where it, not Israel, contained most of the world’s Jews. Everything G-d gave us back from the Saleucids, He had since took away in the hands of the Romans. The question wasn’t “What was Chanukah made to be about?” But “What does Chanukah mean to us in the hear and now?” Chanukah was not made to be about the oil; as I argued last paragraph, we don’t make holidays for private miracles. But the miracle of the oil, and what it meant, is all that remained.

Now for the Alter…

The Alter of Slabodka says that the miracle of the first day of Chanukah is that oil itself burns. This is reminicent of the story of Rav Chanina ben Dosa’s daughter, who accidentally filled the Shabbos lamps with vinegar instead of oil one week. This was tragic, as Rav Chanina was so poor he lived off a qav of carob from Shabbos to Shabbos. (Carob grew untended, and was available for free.) Rav Chanina’s daughter was distressed by this mistake, perhaps because of their inability to afford wasted oil or vinegar. Rav Chanina answered her, “He Who made oil burn can make vinegar burn.” And the vinegar burned. (Taanis 25a) Similarly, the miracle that oil burns at all, as it did on the first day, is no less a wonder than it burning on the other 7!

Going back to my own edifice… Rav Chanina  saw the supernatural burning of vinegar no more proof of G-d’s existence than he saw everyday within nature.

Similarly there was a heroic kohein who, back in the days when everything was falling apart around him, took a sealed jar of oil and hid it. He saw G-d within the natural course of events, even when they were flowing in the direction away from holiness. And that kohein, with full bitachon, trust in the Almighty, that “this too shall pass”, another generation would arise, and someone was going to need it. His bitachon made the first day possible, and according to the Alter of Slabodka, it is seeing the world as he did which underlies its observance.

Chanukah: Never Give Up

Chanukah tells us to never give up, no matter how formidable the challenge. When the Hasmonian family realized that they had no choice other than to confront the Greeks and attempt the impossible, they linked up with a force beyond themselves and achieved the impossible. They reached for what beyond their grasp and were thus privileged to initiate events that transcended nature: the victory over the Greeks and the flask of oil which burned for eight days.

- Rav E.E. Dessler, Michtav meiEliyahu

(With thanks to Dr Alan Morinis for including that thought in The Mussar Institute’s Chanukah note.)

A Castle in the Air

(A continuation of my two Bilvavi posts [part 1, part 2]. The basic notion is the Maharal’s, that there are three aspects of the human soul, each living in a different universe: heaven, earth and the world between the person’s ears. And that each universe and therefore the corresponding aspect exists in order to enable three different relationships: between man and G-d, between him and other people, and between the person and themselves. All of which is modeled by the vessels in the Mishkan.
(Using the Vilna Gaon, I identified these aspects with the terms neshamah, nefesh and ru’ach (again, respectively), usually referred to by the acronym Nara”n (in ascending order of spirituality).)

Nara”n is perhaps one of the most fundamental concepts in Kabbalistic thought. For example, the Likuttei Amarim of the Tanya, an overview to Chassidic thought and the foundation of Chabad Chassidus, assumes knowledge of Nara”n with no explanation. Even though the concept is used repeatedly  (e.g. ch. 2, 4, 14, etc..) it is never explained.  Similarly, R. SR Hirsch (Collected Writings vol VIII)  despite his strict rationalism, uses the idea without introducing it — and even though he explains ideas that are currently far more commonly known. It appears as though even as little as a century ago, Nara”n was a well-known concept, not needing elucidation even when writing to the masses.

R. Chaim Volozhiner explains Nara”n based on the breathing imagery used in Bereishis:

וַיִּיצֶר֩ יְ-הוָ֨ה אֱ-לֹהִ֜ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֗ם עָפָר֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה וַיִּפַּ֥ח בְּאַפָּ֖יו נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים וַיְהִ֥י הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה׃

And Hashem G-d formed man of dirt from the ground and He breathed into his nostrils a living neshamah; and the man became a living nefesh.

- 2:7

Rav Chaim writes:

Our Rabbisza”l already compared the three-fold living ru’ach of man to the making of a glass utensil to reviving the dead. They said, “It is a qal vachomer (a fortiori) argument from a glass utensil, which is made by the breath of flesh and blood… Flesh and blood, which is made by the breath of HaQadosh Baruch Hu, how much more so!”…
For the message must be similar to the metaphor. When we study the breath of the mouth of the worker into the glass container when he makes it, we find in it three concepts. The first idea is when the breath of air is still in his mouth, before it goes into the opening of the hollow tube, we can only call it then a “neshimah”. The second idea, when the breath enters the tube, and continues like a line, then it is called “ru’ach” (wind). The third, lowest, idea, is when the breath goes from the tube and into the glass, and inflates in it until it becomes a container to fit the will of the glass-blower, then his wind stops and is called “nefesh”, a term of rest and relaxation.

- Nefesh haChaim 1:15

The soul is likened to the breath of air that a glass blower uses to inflate hot glass. The Nefesh haChaim, following a far older metaphor, breaks down both processes into three parts. The first is the air, as it is still in the glassblower’s cheeks. This corresponds to the neshamah, the part of man which is most connected to Hashem. When the air leaves the glassblower’s mouth, it flows down a tube. The tube connects the glassblower and his work. In the same sense, the ru’ach dwells in the connection between the physical and the spiritual. This flow, a wind, is the ru’ach. From the tube, the air enters the glass, “dust of the ground”. This is the nefesh, giving shape and purpose to our physical selves.

This metaphor gives us another description of how the ru’ach, by being the decisor, also becomes a source of desires. Recall that I started this series with the notion that the ru’ach, man’s existence in the world of his own mind and in a relationship to himself, was a the person between the angel and the little devil propped on his shoulders. And yet now we’re saying it has desires too! The ru’ach is the connection between the nefesh and the neshamah, it exists because of the tension between being both Divine “breath” and clothed in earth. Yet, because it sits in this middle world, the ru’ach is also an entity in its own right.

The text from quoted earlier from the Vilna Ga’on is part of his discussion of the following gemara:

[The elders of the School of Athens said to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chanania,] “Build us a house in the air of the world.” He pronounced a [Divine] Name, and [thereby] suspended himself between heaven and earth and said to them, “Send me bricks and cement from down there.”
They said, “Can anyone find the ability to lift them to there?”
[R. Yehushua] said, “Can anyone find the ability to build a house in the air?”

- Peirush al Kamah Agados, Koenigsburg edition pg. 10b

The Gaon explains that the house in the air is clearly a reference to the ru’ach, suspended between heaven and earth. (After all, the word “ru’ach” also means “wind”.)

The ru’ach has the ability to decide, and thus the concept of Free Will. With will comes a desire to see that will implemented, to make the worlds outside ones head match the world as we imagine it could be. With will comes a hunger for power and control. Rather than being the means to get things done, they can take over and satisfying them can become an end in itself.

A person has control over an object when he possesses it. And money gives a person more opportunities to get more of his dreams accomplished. When, sadly, someone turns it into an end in itself, they can never be satisfied. The hunger is for a means, which can only be put to trying to get more. “He who has 100 zuz, wants 200.”

This is an aspect of the nefesh as a whole. It’s clear that the role of mitzvos between man and himself are not given the same central role in Jewish discourse as those between man and G-d and between man and other people. This is because they are not an end. The point is not self-contemplation. To be the perfect self is to be perfect in one’s relationsips, the same three relationships.

… including the relationship with oneself. This self-reference is a concept that comes up often when dealing with the concept of intelligence. And self-awareness, consciousness of one’s own thought, is the essence of the nefesh, of making Free Willed choices.

Power and control when turned into an ends is unproductive. “Can anyone find the ability to build a castle in the air?”

Like one person, with one heart

For the past day and a half, all Jewish eyes were on Mumbai, formerly known to us in the west as Bombay, named for two Hindu godesses. Nine popular tourist sites were attacked, locations that attracted many American and British citizens. Nine tourist sites… and one Chabad House.

Jews around the world suddenly took an interest in IBN, CNN’s partner in India. Streaming audio or video available live, listening to the reporter telling the story from outside. Occasionally interrupting her reporting to duck down or tell her cameraman to shut off his lights as shots fire out.

Why the Jews?

Why again the Jews?

Once upon a time, all of humanity got along. We used that beautiful unity improperly, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in heaven, and we will make ourselves famous; lest we get scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” And Hashem responds, “Yes, they are one nation and they have one language, and this is what they begin to do…” (Bereishis 11:4,6)

There were few families who did not participate. One of them was that of Avraham. (Others include Malkhitzedeq / Sheim, Eiver, and Ashur the forefather of Assyria, who thereby merited the Torah script, Ashuris.) Avraham refused a unity committed to evil.

And 502 years later his children stood at Mount Sinai. “וַיִּֽחַן־שָׁ֥ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נֶ֥גֶד הָהָֽר – … and Israel camped there, under the mountain.” (Shemos 19:2) The Mekhilta (quoted by Rashi) notes the use of the singular for the verb, as though Israel were an individual, and writes, “כאיש אחד בלב אחד – Like one person, with one heart.” And with that moment of unity, we merited to be the recipients of the Torah.

Unlike the unity of the Egyptians six weeks earlier, at the Red Sea. “וְהִנֵּ֥ה מִצְרַ֣יִם׀ נֹסֵ֣עַ אַחֲרֵיהֶ֗ם — … and here, Egypt is chasing after them.” Also with a singular verb. And one of Rashi’s explanations is “בלב אחד כאיש אחד — with one heart, like one person.” In opposite order, first the heart, than the unity like a single person.

The Egyptians had no inherent unity. They had a single heart, a single desire and goal, and they unified behind that goal. Had they lived long enough for that goal to evaporate they would have once again been divided. The giving of the Torah, however, required unity as a precondition, not a consequence. As we say in the Hagaddah about the evil son’s use of the word you when asking “What is this work for you?” “Since he took himself out of the community, he denied the essence [of Judaism].” Our doxology is not only “Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One”, it first begins “Hear Israel”.

The “ish echad“, the unity of the people, precedes the “leiv echad“, the common mission. Perhaps this is why Rabbi Aqiva’s students passed away in the period of Omer in particular, in the period of transition between conditional unity and love based on a common goal, and the inherent unity as a precondition to Sinai. A utilitarian unity is not the basis of respect, it’s unity so as to use the other. (In this case, as a tool for one’s own learning.) And so the students who died “because they did not show respect one for the other” were sentenced during that time in our calendar; they didn’t survive the transition from Pesach to Shavu’os.

לֹ֣א מֵֽרֻבְּכֶ֞ם מִכָּל־הָֽעַמִּ֗ים חָשַׁ֧ק יְ-הוָ֛ה בָּכֶ֖ם וַיִּבְחַ֣ר בָּכֶ֑ם כִּֽי־אַתֶּ֥ם הַמְעַ֖ט מִכָּל־הָעַמִּֽים׃ כִּי֩ מֵֽאַהֲבַ֨ת יְ-הוָ֜ה אֶתְכֶ֗ם וּמִשָּׁמְר֤וֹ אֶת־הַשְּׁבֻעָה֙…

It is not because you are more plentiful than other nations that Hashem holds you dear and chose you; for you are few from among the nations. Rather, from the love of G-d of you, and from His keeping the promise…

-Devarim 7:7-8

Cheisheq, holding someone dear, is described as something that can be conditional (in this case, on our size). Ahavah, true love, is inherent, without reason or cause. Ahavah without an adjective is ahavas chinam.

Terrorism is an echoing of the generation of the Tower of Babel’s call, “let us make ourselves a reputation”. When they rise up they are unified like the Eqyptians. Not inherently, but functionally, behind a common cause. In Babel as Pirqei deR’ Eliezer describes it, if a person fell off the tower, worked proceeded. If a brick fell, they mourned. R’ Hirsch describes this as the first Totalitarian government — humanity was subdued to the cause. In terrorism, this is expressed in a willingness to kill innocents, to die, even to raise one’s own children with dreams of becoming “shuhada“, martyrs for the cause.

Why again the Jews?

Because in Judaism, unity is inherent, love is to be unconditional, and the value of a cause defined by the value it brings to humanity.

Why again the Jews?

Because when there is a terror attack in some exotic city, and the fate of two people I never meet hangs in the balance, everything stops. Jews in every time zone track the news obsessively. We are Benei Yisrael, the Children of Israel, siblings. All our petty (and perhaps not so petty) squabbles forgotten. Little Moishe is out safely?! Thank G-d. His parents? “About these I cry; my eyes, my eyes, spill water.”

This Shabbos (which began already in Mumbai), Moishe turned two and became an orphan. May the Omnipresent comfort the family amongst all of us mourners of Tziyon and Yerushalayim.

Bilvavi, part II

To summarize part I:

I opened by raising the question why such a significant portion of the book of Shemos is dedicated to the building of the mishkan. The rest of the post didn’t seem to address that question, but instead developed a structural model of the human soul, based on the Maharal’s understanding of Avos 1:2 combined with the Vilna Gaon’s explanation of the gemara in Peirush al Kama Agados.

There are three aspects of the soul that comprise a person’s individuality:

Nefesh: This is man’s connection to the physical world. Through it, we share that world with other people, and work together to address our needs. It is thus holds both the drive for physical comfort and pleasure as well as the ability to relate to other people.

Neshamah: A person’s presence in heaven, his connection to a higher calling, sanctity, and the A-lmighty Himself. If that calling is harnessed to serve some baser instinct, one is left with idolatry. On the other hand, as we say upon waking up in the morning, “My G-d, the neshamah which you placed within me is pure” — the neshamah itself is an image of the Divine, never sullied.

Ruach: People carry entire worlds in the space between their ears. In there they have models of what is going on outside of them, they plan and imagine outcomes and concepts. The ru’ach is the will that chooses between the conflicting callings and therefore also the egotism that is driven to see that desire be done.

Three aspects, each living in a different world, and enabling a different kind of relationship.


The Medrash describes the Jews leaving Mount Sinai wearing three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of Priesthood and the crown of kingship. R. Shimon (Avos 4:17) enumerates the same “crowns” and he adds a fourth, “the crown of a good name rests on all three.” These three crowns are Torah, avodah — as embodied by the kohein serving in the Temple, and gemillus chassadim — shown by the responsibilities of the king to his people.

The three crowns are in turn related to three of the utensils of the Beis Hamikdosh.

Three of the utensils had a crown-like ornament, called a zeir, decorating their tops: the mizbei’ach hazahav, the golden altar used for incense; the aron, the ark; and the shulchan, the table of show-bread.

R. Yochanan said “There were three crowns: that of the altar, that of the ark, and that of the table. The one of the altar Aaron deserved and he received it. The one of the ark, David deserved and received. The one of the ark is still lying and whosoever wants to take it, may come and take it.Perhaps you might think it is a small matter, therefore the text reads: ‘In
me kings will rule’ (Mishlei 8).”

-Yuma 72b

Three crowns: were made on the holy vessels. [The one] of the mizbei’ach was a symbol of the crown of kehunah; of the aron, a symbol of the crown of Torah, and of the shulchan, was the symbol of kingship, for the table represented the wealth of kings.
This is how it should be written…: For the priesthood was given to Aharon and his sons as an eternal covenant (literally: “a covenant of salt”; Bamidbar 18). Similarly, kingship was given to David and his descendants. (Tehillim 18)
In me kings will rule: And greater is the one who is ruled than the ruler is. This verse speaks of the Torah.

- Rashi ad loc

Rashi explains the Gemara as comparing the three crowned vessels of the Beis haMiqdosh with the three crowns. The altar is where Avodah was performed, so it represents kehunah. The shulchan, containing one loaf of bread for each sheivet (tribe), shows fellowship between one Jew and another — gemillus chassadim. By symbolizing prosperity, it shows the king as an exemplar of proper use of the physical world.

But the first two crowns were given as an inheritance. The Torah is available to anyone who will grasp it. The crown of the Aron, which held the luchos (tablets) and the original Seifer Torah, was not given to any one family. Yet, the crown of Torah is greater than the others. As Shlomo writes in Mishlei, the king must rule from within the boundaries set by halachah.

The Beis haMiqdosh was, and will be, a microcosm. The universe stands on pillars of Torah, Avodah, and Gemillus Chassadim. Those same pillars find representation in the mishkan. The three relationships.

The Mishkan and Beis haMiqdosh had three more, uncrowned, vessels.

In addition to the Golden Mizbei’ach inside the heichal, most of the Avodah was performed on the larger Brass Mizbei’ach outside. It represents the domain of the neshamah, lifting the animal up in a straight pillar to heaven.

The kiyor (washing vessel), which was used to wash the dirt of this world off the kohein’s feet, was made out of the mirrors of the women in the desert. They would use these mirrors to look attractive to their husbands and produce the next generation. It corresponds to the worldliness of the nefesh.

The menorah, like the aron, represents wisdom. “For a mitzvah is a lamp, and the Torah its light.” Seven branches often compared to the seven wisdoms, so that all secular wisdom are branches from the Torah, and their light points back to the Torah. The domain of the mind.

Finally, all the pieces are there to answer our original question. The ending section of the book of Shemos isn’t “simply” dedicated to the construction of the Mishkan. It is a structural model of the human soul.

Bilvavi, part I

בלבבי משכן אבנה להדר כבודו,
ובמשכן מזבח אקים לקרני הודו,
ולנר תמיד אקח לי את אש העקידה,
ולקרבן אקריב לו את נפשי היחידה.

In my heart I will build a mishkan to the magnificence of His honor,
In this mishkan I will establish an altar to the pride of His glory,
For an eternal lamp I will take for myself the fire of the Aqeidah,
And for an offering I will bring Him my unique soul.

- R’ Yitzchak Hutnerzt”l

The Torah is so sparse in the discussion of so many things. The narratives leave out all details of the scene and the people’s motivations that aren’t critical to the message. Mitzvos are reduced to their bare form, requiring derashos and other techniques to extract the details.

But not the building of the mishkan, the “dwelling place” where Hashem’s presence was felt during the period of the Exodus until the completion of Shelomo’s Temple. Here the entire construction is described in detail. Not just once, but twice — the giving over of the mitzvah and the people’s actually doing it are listed separately. Thirteen chapters. The creation of the universe fits in two, the revelation at Sinai in three! And how long did the mishkan last? The mitzvah of lulav and esrog is fit into a single verse! What’s the overwhelming significance of the mishkan that justifies such volume?


The second mishnah of Pirqei Avos reads:

Shimon HaTzaddik was from the remnants of the Men of the Great Assembly. He used to say, “On three things the world stands: on Torah, on service [of G-d], and on supporting loving-kindness.”

As we saw in an earlier post, the Maharal (Derekh haChaim ad loc.) gives broad significance to this mishnah. The three pillars upon which the world stands as being are three classes of relationship that a person is capable of: with Hashem (avodah – service [of G-d]), with other people (gemilus chassadim - supporting others through kindnesses) and with oneself (Torah). In Mussar, these are described as the three categories of mitzvos, bein adam laMaqom, bein adam lachaveiro and bein adam lenafsho, respectively.

Each relationship is enabled by a different world in which a person lives. As the Maharal writes:

Therefore, the g-dly Tanna writes that one pillar that the universe stands upon is the Torah, for the pillar completes man so that he can be a finished creation with respect to himself.

After that he says “on avodah“…. For from this man can be thought complete and good toward He Who created him – by serving Him…. With regard to the third, it is necessary for man to be complete and good with others, and that is through gemillus chassadim.

You also must understand that these three pillars parallel three things in each man: the mind, the living soul, and the body. None of them have existence without G-d. The existence of the soul is when it comes close to Hashem by serving Him…. From the perspective of the mind, the man gets his existence through Torah, for it is through the Torah that man attaches himself to G-d. To the body, man gets his existence through gemillus chassadim for the body has no closeness or attachment to Hashem, just that Hashem is kind to all. When man performs kindness G-d is kind to him, and so gives him existence.

He continues to explain that that if existence is based on three principles, then any act which takes an ax to one of these pillars should not be committed even under pain of death, existence itself would have a lower priority. This is why there are three sins that are yeihareig ve’al ya’avor — one must let oneself get killed rather than violate. Idol worship is obviously the antonym of avodah. Murder is the ultimate denial of chessed. And the Maharal explains the link between Torah and sexual immorality as follows:

The glory of the Torah is that it is separated from the physical entirely. There is nothing that can separate man from the physical but the Torah of thought. The opposite is sexual immorality, which follows the physical [chomer] until one is thought of like an animal or donkey [chamor], it is a creature of its flesh’s desires, in all things physical.


The Seifer haYetzirah describes three aspects of the soul. We find in later Qabbalah sources that in all there are five levels of soul; those are penimiyos, internal to the self, and two more are chitzoniyos. The three penimiyos are nefesh, ruach and neshamah (Nara”n); the two chitzoniyos are chayah and yechidah (Cha”i).

The division of labor within Nara”n is a subject of dispute. The Ramchal places all of thought and emotion in the nefesh, and the ruach is the first step toward being a spiritual being. The Vilna Gaon in his “Peirush al Kama Aggados” (most easily found as the appendix to “The Juggler and the King” by Rabbi Aharon Feldman) disagrees. It is his model we’ll be using as nomenclature in this blog. The Gaon writes:

“There are three watches each night. In the first, the donkey brays. During the second, the dogs bark “hav, hav“. At the third, the infant nurses from his mother’s breast, and a woman converses with her husband.” (Bava Metzi’a 83b)

The commentators explain that this [text] is about three souls of a person: Nara”n. Nefesh has in it the lust for things of the body, which is why these things are called [by the expression] “a wide nefesh“. The ruach contains honor and jealousy, as it says “a tall ruach”, “an overpowering ruach”. Apparently, ruach is the jealousy that dries one out, as it says (Mishlei 14), “The dryness of bones is jealousy, and all honor and its traits are suspended by the vanities of the world.”
The first watch is the beginning of childhood. Man is drawn to desire because of childhood and freedom. As it is said, “Things done in his youth are much vanity in his old age.” As Rashi wrote about sexual desire, and so it is for all desires. This is the braying donkey [chamor] it is a creature of its flesh’s desires, in all things physical [chomer]“.
In the middle: Man goes and chases honor and wealth, like dogs that bark “hav hav” [which in Aramaic means: "Give me, give me"].
In the third watch, when he sees that his demise approaches, he returns in teshuvah, and that is when the neshamah sparks up. That is when the baby nurses from his mother’s breasts, as it says (Mishlei 5) “Her breasts will nurse you at any time that you love her.” And a woman talks with her husband as it says (Hoshea 2), “And I will return to my first husband”, for he returns to Hashem. Because Torah brings one to action, as it says in the prayer Hashiveinu [in the Amidah], “Return us, our Father, to Your Torah, and bring us close to Your worship.”

Combining the Gra’s terminology with the Maharal, we could put it as follows:

Each aspect of the soul exists to enable a relationship. They are also our presence in a world that also exists to allow the relationship to happen.

The nefesh, our animal drives, is our presence in the physical world. Through it we have the ability to encounter other people and work together for our common welfare. It also provides us with the opportunity to extend generosity by supplying each other our physical needs. As the aphorism goes, “יענעמס גשמיות איז בא מיר רוחניות — another’s physical needs/wants are for me, spiritual.” (See here for a post on the subject.)

The neshamah, is our presence in heaven, and seat of our higher calling. It enables us to encounter G-d.

Living in tension between them is the world between our ears, our mind. Free will, self, ego.

This returns us to the observation I made about man’s three-fold nature in that earlier posting:

It is important to note how all consider the basic human condition to come in threes, even if they don’t agree what the three are. The same is true of Freud’s Id-Ego-Super Ego, Adler’s Child-Adult-Parent, etc… Why?

When the alarm goes off, a person is conflicted. We can group his calls into two. One side realizes he has important things to accomplish that day, he has to get to shul, not be too late to his job, etc… The other just wants to hit the snooze button and get more sleep. Or, in choosing whether or not to sin, the yeitzer hatov says one thing, the yeitzer hara is recommending another. A movie or television show has a person making a decision, and they have a little image of him dressed as an angel on one shoulder, and another dressed as a devil on the other.

But you notice in those pictures, there are always three images of the person — the two angels, and the person himself. When I hear opposing callings from each yeitzer, or my body wants one thing and my sense of duty says another, there is always an “I” doing the hearing who has to decide between them. In the courtroom of my mind, there is a lawyer arguing each side, and a judge.

Decision making inherently conjures up three entities. And being a person is all about freedom of will.

In each world, we can run amok in trying to master it. We could become hedonists, idolators or power-hungry egotists. That is the perversion of taking the means and turning it into the ends. We can therefore use this model to view the conflict between the yeitzer hatov and yeitzer hara, the good and evil inclinations in two different ways:

When waking up in the morning, the conflict is between the nefesh‘s desire for physical comfort, and the neshamah’s desire to do something meaningful with one’s day.  The conscious will, a function of the ru’ach, must decide between them. In this example, the nefesh is playing the role of yeitzer hara, and the neshamah that of the yeitzer hatov.

Alternatively, we can view the conflict as one between ga’avah, the need to expand the self and take over, playing in the field of nefesh; and the anavah, knowing one’s place in the scheme of things, to answer (anah), and connect to others, in the field of the neshamah. Trying to take over a domain vs. trying to establish relationship may be the more primary criterion than physical vs. spiritual. Idolatry is spirituality as well, after all.

On the other hand, R’ Soloveitchik’s Adam I, the pinacle of creation who is charged to “fill the world and subdue it” isn’t inherently evil, nor is Adam II, who seeks redemption through building communities, relationships, inherently good.

The error falls in when we confuse means and ends. Whether it’s placing the domain as the goal of the relationship or the physical as that of the spiritual.

(To be continued in part II, including how this relates to the mishkan.)


APPENDIX:

There is an interesting parallelism between this model and the “Three Viennese Schools of Psychology”.

They too recognized the three-fold nature of man implied by having conflicting desires and a third party that is the “I” who chooses between them. However, Freud did not recognize spirituality. Rather than a neshamah, he has the superego enforcing rules, which derive by parental and societal pressure. To Freud, the power of decision between the desires necessary to thrive in the physical world and the need for a redeeming relationship within that world. Thus, the superego records the taboos of society, and a person pays to fit in by repressing desire. Nefesh.

Adler saw man’s basic conflict as being the ru’ach‘s need for self-worth. Decision making becomes entirely a ru’ach vs nefesh issue — am I an animal, or a “self” worthy of respect?

Frankl recognized that man has a drive for meaning no less primary than his drives for sex, food, or comfort. A truer tension between nefesh and neshamah.

More on Finance and Bitachon

In an earlier post, I mentioned R’ Elchanan Wasserman’s essay on the Great Depression. ) Despite the past couple of days looking promising, it is still too early to rest comfortably. The markets are still volatile, meaning there is too much uncertainty. A 10% one day jump isn’t meaningful — people’s opinion of what the typical US company is worth didn’t increase by 10% in one day. People are still lost, and looking for what things should be valued. I recommend watching the VIX, a measure of the volatility of the S&P 500 as implies by options on it traded at CBOE. Until it goes back down to usual levels, people still aren’t really operating on their usual levels of trust, and it ain’t over yet.

As Rav Elchanan wrote, it’s all about trust. No actual wealth was lost in the Great Depression, and none now. What was lost was a false belief in wealth that didn’t really exist. The lesson of a depression, he writes is “אַל־תִּבְטְח֥וּ בִנְדִיבִ֑ים בְּבֶן־אָדָ֓ם ׀ שֶׁ֤אֵ֖ין ל֥וֹ תְשׁוּעָֽה׃ … אַשְׁרֵ֗י שֶׁ֤אֵ֣-ל יַֽעֲקֹ֣ב בְּעֶזְר֑וֹ שִׂ֝בְר֗וֹ עַל־ה’ אֱ-לֹהָֽיו׃ — Do not rely on generous people, in humans who have no salvation… Enriched is he whose help is the G-d of Yaakov, whose dependency is on Hashem his G-d.” (Tehillim 146:3, 5) And, “ט֗וֹב לַֽחֲס֥וֹת בַּ֑ה’ מִ֝בְּטֹ֗חַ בָּֽאָדָֽם׃ ט֗וֹב לַֽחֲס֥וֹת בַּ֑ה’ מִ֝בְּטֹ֗חַ בִּנְדִיבִֽים׃ — Better to rely on G-d than to rely on man. Better to rely on G-d than to rely on generous people.” (118:8-9, and said in Hallel, such as on this morning, Roch Chodesh).

Perhaps a key to getting through this is to say the following words of
bentching and think about what one is saying:

וְנָא אַל תַּצְרִיכֵנוּAnd Please, do not make us require,
ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּHashem our G-d,
לֹא לִידֵי מַתְּנַת בָּשָׂר וָדָםnot the power of the the gifts of flesh and blood
וְלֹא לִיֵדי הַלְוַאָתָםnor the power of their loans,
כִּי אִםrather only
לְיָדְךָYour Power (lit: “Hand”)
הַמְּלֵאָהWhich is full,
הַפְתוּחָהopen,
הַקְּדוֹשָׁהholy,
וְהָרְחָבָהand broad.
שֶׁלֹּא נֵבוֹשׁ וְלֹא נִכָּלֵםSo that we will not be shamed, and we will not be extinguished
לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד.until the end of time.

Notice we asked to be freed from “the power” or authority — literally, the “hand” — of people’s loans. Not the loans themselves. Having a loan and trusting in Hashem to have the means to repay it is very different than being under the control of the loan.

And in that is all the difference.

Mitzvos of Sukkos

(Copied from Sukkos 5766. -micha)

There are many mitzvos that are specific to Succos. Aside from the mitzvos we can observe today, Succah, Hakafos, and the Four Species, there are also a number that can only be kept in the Beis HaMikdosh, including the 70 Musaph cows, and Nisuch Hamayim followed by Simchas Beis HaShoevah. The Yom Tov has several names: In tefillah it is called Chag HaSuccos and Z’man Simchaseinu (the time of our joy), in Talmud it is simply Chag, “Festival”, and in a more agricultural vein it is also referred to as Chag Ha’asif – the Harvest Festival. One would like to have an understanding of how this diverse jumble of facts combine to make one holiday, and what this festival is supposed to represent.

The Mishna (Pirke Avos 4:1) states “Who is rich? One who is “sameiach” with his lot.” It seems from here that Rabbinically “simcha” is contentment, satisfaction. Not just joy, as one would feel at particular occasions, but happiness as a general state of mind. We say in davening “Yismichu Hashamayim Visagel Haaretz”, “the Heaven will be ‘sameiach’ and the earth will ‘gilah’”. Simcha is reserved for the immutable heavens, whereas gilah refers to the transitory earth, even though both words are normally translated as happiness.

Using this we can understand a couple of the references we listed above. Succos is called “Z’man Simchaseinu” a time to feel simcha, contentment with our lot. Succos is to celebrate how Hashem protected us and fed us during our journey in the desert (Mishna Berura 625:1). It is thus a symbol of how He sustains us throughout all time. This is our lot, with this we should be happy. The Holiday is simply “Chag”, “Festival”, as its existence as a time for rejoicing is significant.

Succos is also Chag HaAsiph – the time for gathering the grain. Winter is beginning, and we thank Hashem for giving us the food to survive it. Thus Succos had to be in the Winter, when we feel the need for Divine aid more.

This is the joy of Simchas Beis Hashoevah. Rav S. R. Hirsch, in his commentary on Chumash (Bamidbar 29:19) describes Nissuch HaMayim, the special water libations as “pouring every drop of his joy in life into the foundations of the Altar of G-d’s Torah, signifying it as coming from Him”. Again, the key to Succos is found to be Simcha in the portion G-d has allotted us.

We remarked that over Succos and Shemini Atseres seventy Musaph offerings were brought. We are told that these 70 sacrifices correspond to the seventy nations of the world. “Poseiach es Yadecha, umasbiah lichol chai ratson” – “You open Your Hand, and feed every living thing what it desires” (Tehillim 145:16). In contrast to the message of Pesach, Divine Aid in sustenance is a universal theme, and all seventy nations must give thanks.


The special mitsvos of Succos are limited today to the taking of the Four Species, and the living in the Succah. These mitsvos are awesome in scope, the span the extremes of history. According to one opinion in the talmud when Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge he picked an esrog. After the final battle before the reign of the Mashiach, the War of Gog and Magog, Yechezkel tells us that the nations of the world will demand to receive the Torah, so that they to can receive Israels lot. The prophet tells that Hashem will present them with the mitsvah of Succah, and that the one mitsvah alone will be to much for them.

There is another connection between the esrog and creation of the world. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 5:2) relates that in the original plans for the creation of the world the wood of each tree would taste like its fruit. The angels in charge of each tree refused to obey, as they were afraid that animals would eat the wood along with the fruit, and lead to the extinction of the species. One type of tree did obey Hashem’s wishes. The Gemara (Succah 35a) explains that when the pasuk asks for a “Pri etz hadar”, “A beautiful fruit of a tree” it means the esrog, for it is a fruit that is of the tree, the tree and the fruit have the same taste. It trusted in Hashem for its existence. Hashem protected it by prohibiting even the eating of the fruit of tree. It was the “Tree of knowledge of good and evil” it knew that trusting in G-d was good. Thus, when we are told to celebrate Hashem’s Sustenance, we honor the Esrog as a simple of simcha with what Hashem gives us.

There are two reasons one would need a building: for privacy, and for protection from the elements. The Succah has no restrictions on building its walls, only one the sichach, the ceiling. We move into the Succah not to diminish our privacy, but rather to diminish the man made protection from the elements. Only things fit to be utensils can become tamei. Thus, the sichach must not be of things that can become tamei. Those are things which are man’s making, the goal of the succah is to show we trust in Hashem for sustenance. Thus, the mitsvah of Succah is meaningful only in winter, when it is not the norm to be sustained in a hut.

In contrast, the final enemy is called Gog and Magog. Rabbiner Hirsch likens the conjugation of Magog to that of ma’or, lumniary. Magog is that which spreads the idea of “roof-ness”, that “my strength and the might of my hand gained for me this victory.” For them the only challenge could be succah. It is a universal theme: sustenance comes from Hashem.

At the end of days, the mighty nations will be faced with a test; can they rely on Hashem for their existence. This mitsvah is a fair test, as we said above Divine Sustenance is universal. At the first discomfort, they will fail. Without this key principle, they can not be a Chosen Nation. The giving of the Torah is likened to a marriage, with G-d The Groom presenting His bride Israel, with His ring, the Torah. A marriage requires mutual trust. Gog and Magog, without the ability to trust in the Lord, can not hope to maintain the special relationship the Jewish people have with the Almighty.

© 1995 The AishDas Society