Aspaqlaria

I’m sure a reasonable number of readers are wondering just what is an Aspaqlaria anyway, and why would someone choose it as the name of a blog?

The gemara contrasts Moshe’s prophecy as being as though he saw through an “aspqalaria hame’irah”, while those of other prophets was as through an “aspaqlaria she’einah me’irah”. Similarly levels of wisdom between the earlier generations and the later are likened to the “aspqalaria hame’irah” and “aspaqlaria she’einah me’irah”. Last, the gemara uses this contrast to describe different levels of experiencing the Divine Presence amongst the deceased in heaven.

The Arukh defines “aspaqlaria” as lapis specularis, a relatively transparent mineral used in ancient times for windows. It’s a loan word whose root is the same as the English “spectacles” or “spectator” — to see.

According to Rashi (Sukkah 45b) the “me’irah” here refers to a mirror. However, that could be a lens that is as clear as a mirror, or a mirror itself.

The rishonim on Keilim 30:2 (the Bartenura, Tif’eres Yisrael and Tosafos Yom Tov) define the aspaqlaria to be a mirror, and “hame’irah” would be “well lit”. A translation of “mei’rah” that is appropriate if it means “window” as well. A clear view vs. a murky view.

In Yaaqov’s dream, a ladder ascended from the ground to heaven. In Or Yisrael, R’ Yisrael Salanter explains that the ladder was Yaaqov’s own soul. As R’ Chaim Vilozhiner writes in Nefesh haChaim (1:6 and elsewhere), of all of creation, only man is a combination of all the forces; man alone connects the worlds.An idea found in Seifer haYetzirah which thereby influences Jewish Thought from R’ Saadia Gaon’s rationist philosophy (Emunos veDei’os sec.6) to the Zohar is that the self is composed of three elements/aspects/attributes of the soul: nefesh, ru’ach and neshamah. (Another topic that deserves much future treatment.)

As the Vilna Gaon describes them (Peirush al Kamah Agados, Koenigsburg ed. 11a), the nefesh is man’s connection to the world around him, a product of his soul dwelling in a brain, subject to hormonal tides, etc… The ru’ach is man’s will, his self-awareness, the ability to live in the world of the mind. The neshamah is man’s existance in the spiritual realm, our presence in heaven, higher realities and higher goals.

The hedonist identifies with the pursuit of physical pleasures. His ru’ach is adulterated with habits of the nefesh, so that he only sees himself as a an animal being subject to the rules of nature.

There is no reason why one could not bring the neshamah into conscious awareness. Someone could drop the barrier between what he experiences on a spiritual level and his awareness.

One way of understanding the navi is just that. And this was the model I had in mind when speaking of the aspaqlaria as a mirror. The navi, by being able to see his full self, can see beyond the physical world and the world of his mind, can see the activities of angels.

(Another element of this shift in awareness is a shift from living in a reality dictated by physical law to one dominated by moral law. Rav Dessler uses this idea to explain a notion of the Maharal’s about the nature of miracles. See my Machashavah Techilah column for parashas Beshalach.)

The Rambam’s understanding of that mishnah could be either; the Tif’eres Yisra’el’s understanding is that he says it’s a mirror, the Tosafos Yom Tov understands the Rambam to translate “aspaqlaria” as “lens”. Rabbi Bulman zt”l documents the linguistic and scientific roots of the disagreement.

The difference in the metaphor is profound. Is the means to prophecy and wisdom a lens to help us see a higher realm, or a mirror that helps us better see ourselves?

This touches on two topics I’ve written about before: First the hashkafic fork, as R’ YG Bechhofer put it, between the chassid’s focus on deveikus, on cleaving to G-d, and the misnageid’s notion of the primacy of temimus, self perfection. See also my Machshavah Techilah column for Lekh-Likha which finds this dichotomy in Hashem’s injuction to Avraham that he “his-haleikh lefanai veheyei samim — walk himself before Me, and be whole.”

Second, there is a debate between the Ramban and the Abarbanel’s unserstanding of the Rambam as to the nature of prophecy. According to the Ramban, the prophetic experience is the transmission of a truth to the prophet using a dreamlike metaphor as a medium. The Abarbanel explains the Rambam as saying that the prophet peceives events actually occuring in higher realms, which his mind then clothes in the familiar when trying to make sense of it. This goes to the root of what was the “Man” in the chariot in Yechezqeil’s vision. According to the Rambam, it had to be a created thing. According to the Ramban, the Man was a metaphor standing in for Hashem Yisbarakh. Again, this was discussed in a Machshavah Techilah column, this one for Mishpatim.

In Yaaqov’s dream, a ladder ascended from the ground to heaven. In Or Yisrael, R’ Yisrael Salanter explains that the ladder was Yaaqov’s own soul. As R’ Chaim Vilozhiner writes in Nefesh haChaim (1:6 and elsewhere), of all of creation, only man is a combination of all the forces; man alone connects the worlds.An idea found in Seifer haYetzirah which thereby influences Jewish Thought from R’ Saadia Gaon’s rationist philosophy (Emunos veDei’os sec.6) to the Zohar is that the self is composed of three elements/aspects/attributes of the soul: nefesh, ru’ach and neshamah. (Another topic that deserves much future treatment.)

As the Vilna Gaon describes them (Peirush al Kamah Agados, Koenigsburg ed. 11a), the nefesh is man’s connection to the world around him, a product of his soul dwelling in a brain, subject to hormonal tides, etc… The ru’ach is man’s will, his self-awareness, the ability to live in the world of the mind. The neshamah is man’s existance in the spiritual realm, our presence in heaven, higher realities and higher goals.

The hedonist identifies with the pursuit of physical pleasures. His ru’ach is adulterated with habits of the nefesh, so that he only sees himself as a an animal being subject to the rules of nature.

There is no reason why one could not bring the neshamah into conscious awareness. Someone could drop the barrier between what he experiences on a spiritual level and his awareness.

One way of understanding the navi is just that. And this was the model I had in mind when speaking of the aspaqlaria as a mirror. The navi, by being able to see his full self, can see beyond the physical world and the world of his mind, can see the activities of angels.

These topics are only being touched upon. They ought get a more full treatment in their own entries.

One thought on “Aspaqlaria

  1. The metaphor of a mirror need not contradict the metaphor of a lens. Both could be filters through which Man must view the higher realms. As in, the lens refracts the light, but the mirror reflects the light – in either case we cannot see the Light directly, only through veils. So it need not be a “self-view”.

    In fact, that position seems almost dangerous – how can the prophet know that the revelation is Divine, rather than what he/she wants to see/know? Prophecy by its nature is supposed to be a communication from Outside, something that crosses the line between Man and God.

    I suppose, contradicting myself, then, it could be both, if you take the Chabad-panentheist view – prophecy is via that which is BOTH a lens and a mirror, breaching the apparent immanence/transcendence divide.

    thanbo

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