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?”