Shelach 5754

(Another version of this thought was included in Mesukim MiDevash for parashas Shelach, in the “Bemachashavah Techilah” column, pp 1-2. -micha)

 

Inherent Tension

Judaism sees man as a synthesis of two opposite concepts. On the one hand, man is a physical animal, on the other, he carries “the spark of the Divine.” As the Torah describes it:

Then G-d formed Man, dust of the ground and breathed into his countenance the breath of life.

Bereishis 2:7

Each of his parts pulls man in its direction. The physical man shares many of the needs of a creatures. He feels hunger, has sexual urges, wants comfort, heat when he is cold. He longs to satisfy his nerve endings.

We should be clear that the physical is not inherently evil. Shabbos would not be complete without three meals. Simchas Yom Tov, the joy of the holiday, is defined by the Torah by eating — by the holiday meal and partaking the Yom Tov sacrifices.

The spiritual man craves G-d and spirituality. He wants to be more than mere animal. Just as the physical man is not inherently evil, the spiritual man is not inherently good. Cult members too are striving to speak to G-d, to experience Him. As the Pesach Hagadah states, “In the beginning our ancestors were idol worshipers.” We take pride that they searched for G-d even though they reached the wrong conclusion.

While we are tempted to think of these two parts of our mind as complete opposites, they have one thing in common. They describe man as a creature, as a passive being pushed by the forces around it.

Every person is torn between these poles. We find ourselves pulled by the physical and the spiritual parts of our minds. The fact that there is a “self”, the one feeling this pulling, gives us a third piece to the human puzzle. There is a part of man that must do the deciding, that is endowed with the G-d given free will to choose his actions.

Since it is the “I” who is getting pulled by these two forces, the part involved with free-will must also be the seat of awareness. When we describe man as being “in the image of G-d”, we are describing this element of him. Aware, a decider of his fate, a creator.

Tzitzis as a Description Human Nature

R. SR Hirsch understands many aspects of this mitzvos to be osos, symbols Hashem uses to convey certain concepts and priorities to the core of each Jew. He finds the role and function of each of these components of the human condition alluded to in the mitzvah of tzitzis in two different ways: in the color of the strings in the tzitzis, and in their number. In “Collected Writings” (Volume III page. 126) Hirsch comments:

We find only three terms to encompass the colors of the spectrum: adom for red, yaroq for yellow and green, and tekheiles for blue and violet….

Red is the least refracted ray; it is the closest to the unbroken ray of light that is directly absorbed by matter. Red is light in its first fusion with the terrestrial element: adom, related to adamah [footstool, earth as man’s footstool — M.B.] Is this not again man, the image of G-d as reflected in physical, earthly matter: “vatichsareihu me’at mi’Elokim” (Tehillim. 8,6).

The next part of the spectrum is yellow-green: yaroq.

Blue-violet is at the end of the spectrum: techeiles.

The spectrum visible to our eye ends with the violet ray, techeiles, but additional magnitudes of light radiate unseen beyond the visible spectrum. Likewise, the blue expanse of the sky forms the end of the earth that is visible to us. And so techeiles is simply the bridge that leads thinking man from the visible, physical sphere of the terrestrial world, into the unseen sphere of heaven beyond….

Techeiles is the basic color of the sanctuary and of the High Priest’s vestments; the color blue-violet representing heaven and the things of heaven that were revealed to Israel… no other color was as appropriate as techeiles to signify G-d’s special relationship with Israel. A thread of techeiles color on our garments conferred upon all of us the insignia of our high-priestly calling, proclaiming all of us: “Anshei qodesh tihyun li — And you shall be holy men to Me” (Ex. 19, 6).

If we now turn our attention to the pisil techeiles on our tzitzith, we will not that it was precisely this thread of techeiles color that formed the krichos, the gidil, the thread wound around the other threads to make a cord. In other words, the vocation of the Jew, the Jewish awareness awakened by the Sanctuary, that power which is to prevail within us, must act to unite all our kindred forces within the bond of the Sanctuary of G-d’s law.

By wrapping a blue thread around the others we are demonstrating a fundamental principle. Physicality and mental exploration have great value, but only as tools. The end must be to strive to go beyond the spectrum, to reach to be closer to Hashem then we are today.

Elsewhere R. Hirsch explains the concepts symbolized by the numbers 6, 7, and 8. Dr. Isaac Levy includes this explanation in his English translation of Hirsch’s commentary to this week’s parshah (16:41):

The origin of this meaning is to be found in the work of the Creation. The visible material world created in six days received with the seventh day a day of remembrance of, and bond with its invisible L-rd and Creator, and thereby its completed consummation. Similarly the symbolism of the number seven in the Menora, in the Temple, in the Mussaf offerings, in the sprinklings of the blood on Yom Kippur, in the Festivals of Pessach and Succoth, in Sabbath, Schmita, Tumma etc. etc. The symbolism of the number eight: starting afresh on a higher level, an octave higher. The eighth day for Mila, Schmini Atzereth and Israel as the eighth of G-d’s Creations. With the creation of Israel G-d laid the groundwork for a fresh, higher mankind and a fresh higher world, for that shamayim chadashim and the `eretz chadashah for which Israel and its mission is to be the beginning and instrument (Is. LXV,17).

So that there are three elements in us. (a) our material sensuous bodies, like the rest of the created visible world = 6; (b) the breath of free will, invisible, coming from the Invisible One = 7; (c) the calling of Jew, coming from the historical choice of Israel = 8.

This too parallels the understanding of man that we have outlined. The six is physical, the seven represents free will, and the eight is man’s striving to be something more.

Tzitzis, worn so that “ye shall remember and do all My commandments”, is explained in this light.

These are the three elements out of which the tzitzis threads are woven. All these three elements are given to us, are woven into our being and are to be realized in completing our calling. But in these three energies two are to be the directing and ruling ones; the “six” in us is to subordinate itself to the seventh and eighth which are also given as part of us, and is to allow itself to be overcome, wound round, by the firm restraining bonds of duty…. Once the bodily sensuality has submitted itself to the bonds of duty through the Divine and Jewish elements, it becomes completely equal to its brother-energies, and like them, is to expand in free development within the limits of Jewish human duty.

The physical man finds expression, but only after he has been channeled and guided by G-d-like free-will and a drive to surpass nature. This is the essence of Hirsch’s vision of Torah im Derekh Eretz — Torah with the way of the world. Man’s goal is not to strive for spirituality to the exclusion of the physical, but rather to use the physical drives as tools for human growth.

In Hirschian thought, the complete human masters the art of six and seven, the physical and the mental. Notice that Hirsch calls the seven divine, not the eight of the spiritual creature. It is the free-will that makes man like G-d, merely being a passive resident of heaven pales by comparison.

According to the Rambam, it is the eighth string which is the techeiles. In this way the tzitzis instructs each Jew that he has the tools to strive for some thing beyond mere human. He must take his physical resources and divine intellect and apply it to the spiritual realm.

© 1995 The AishDas Society

Parashas Eiqev

In this week’s parashah Moshe describes Hashem as “… haKel haGadol haGibor vihaNorah — the G-d, the Great, the A-lmighty, and the Awesome …”. These words were incorporated by the Anshei Kinesses Hagedolah into the opening of the Shemoneh Esrei.

The same phrase is also found at the conclusion of the poem “Nishmas”. There, the poet goes even further and gives each one an explanatory phrase. This yields the strange result that the very same poem that says that “even if our mouths were filled of poetry like the sea, and our tongues – joy, like the many waves, and our lips – praise like the expanses of sky … we would still not be sufficient to praise you”, this same poem then praises G-d in four words!

A student who lead the congregation as Chazan before the tanna Rabbi Chanina once embellished on these four simple adjectives. After he was finished, Rabbi Chanina corrected him, “Have you finished all possible praise of your Master?” No list of complements could completely describe Hashem. Had Moshe not spoken these words, and Hashem not told him to write them into the Torah, we would not have the chutzpah to use these four. (Berakhos 33b)

According to the Vilna Gaon, “haKel haGadol haGibor vihaNorah” was not only included in the first berakhah of the Shemoneh Esrei, but it is the basis for the structure of the rest of the berakhah too.

To the Vilna Gaon, these four names of G-d form a progression. They summarize how man approaches G-d.

Kel means not only G-d but judge or legislator. To be HaKel, THE Legislator, means that Hashem rules over the entire universe, His authority is all-inclusive.

Rabbi Yochanan (Megilah 31a) said, “Where ever you find G-d’s greatness, that is where you find His humility”. Perhaps we can understand this apparent paradox by comparing G-d’s properties to those of humans. Schools have a problem of overcrowding. There are just so many students a teacher can adequately pay attention to. As the number of students grows, each one can only get less and less attention. Not so Hashem. His infinity is not just that He is a “Kel“, G-d over all, but also “Gadol“, great enough to give personal attention to each person.

HaGibor. We said already that Hashem Legislates to all, and that He is not limited to looking only at the universal picture, but can pay attention to each and every one of us. The combination of these two facts yields “HaGibor“. G-d has the power and uses it to guide each of us in our daily lives.

VehaNorah. There are two types of Divine intervention, the behind-the-scenes subtle activity, that the non-believer dismisses as mere luck, and the flashy miracle that defies the law of nature. While the former is more common, it is the miracle that inspires awe.

These thoughts are elaborated twice in the berakhah, once before the quote of the pasuk, and once after.

Baruch. Chazal write often that “‘berakhah‘ is a term of increase”. To call G-d “blessed” means that He is limitless. This is HaKel.

Ata. It is incredible that man has the gall to talk to G-d, to refer to the Creator as “You”. What grants us that power? HaGadol, He is big enough to attend to each of us.

Elokeinu. The Vilna Gaon teaches that this corresponds to “HaGibor“. Elokeinu, our G-d, is different than HaKel, The G-d. There is a possessiveness, this might and authority of HaKel doesn’t only apply to the big picture, but he guides each of us, our fates and destinies.

Elokei Avoseinu. In our lives, Hashem’s intervention is subtle. However, for our forefathers He performed miracles. Whereas Elokeinu, our G-d, refers to Hashem’s constant guiding of history, Elokei Avoseinu, G-d of our Fathers, asserts that the same One can work outside of the laws of nature. In order to work toward the day when we too will merit an age of miracles, we next recall each forefather, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, by name, to recall and resolve to emulate their character strengths.

Next we repeat the four names of Hashem from this week’s parashah, and then elaborate on the themes in a different variation.

HaKel. This is elaborated as “Kel Elyon“, G-d above all. Again, we declare that He commands everything.

HaGadol. As we said earlier, this means that He not only looks at the universe as a whole, but pays attention to each and every one of us. This is why “gomel chassadim tovim”, Hashem supports us through His kindness.

HaGibor. The consequence of being the G-d above all, and able to relate to the individual is that this means He touches each of our lives. The Vilna Gaon translates “konei” in our context from the root of “litakein”, to fix. Konei hakol, Hashem fixes all, heals the sick, raises the downtrodden and the depressed.

VihaNorah. “Zokheir chasdei avos“. Hashem remembers how our fathers went beyond the call of obligation. We are only “benei beneihem“, the children of their children, twice removed from their stature. But whatever of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov we carry, may it be enough that we too merit miraculous intervention, that Hashem bring us our redeemer.

The Kohen and the Menorah

Hashem chose Aharon and his descendants to serve Him as Kohanim. It seems strange. If anyone should be chosen to be the first Kohen wouldn’t it be Moshe? Wasn’t he the Eved Hashem — the greatest servant of the Almighty?

The Gemara attributes to Moshe the attitude of “let the law uproot mountains.” He lived to the ideal, teaching by setting an example of what man can become. He was able to separate himself from everything earthly, and single-mindedly pursue the higher ideal. Moshe begins his final speech to his people with the words “Hear O skies and I shall speak; listen O earth to the words of my mouth.” Rashi comments that Moshe had to use a stronger language in speaking to the earth, as he was a man who was more heavenly than earthly. He was further from the earth, so it had to listen more carefully.

In contrast, Hillel (Mishnah Avos 1:12) enjoins us to learn from Aharon, who he describes as as a “lover of peace and a pursuer of peace. A lover of Mankind who brought them close to Torah.” Aharon represents another kind of teacher, one who is part of the people, and works from within the community.

Though society needs both a Moshe, an ideal to aspire to, and an Aharon, it is the Aharon who is chosen for the Kehunah, the priesthood. In order to represent the masses in the Avodah, you must be part of them.

In this week’s parashah, Hashem tells Moshe to instruct Aharon “Biha’aloschah es haneiros — when you cause the candles to go up”. This is a very odd way to phrase it. More straightforward would be bihadlikchah — when you light the candles.

One of the explanations Rashi offers for this strange terminology is that it refers to a law about how the menorah is lit. One may not light the menorah directly, by letting a fire touch the wick. Instead the Kohen holds a fire close to the lamp, and the wick bursts into flame from the heat.

This is a beautiful metaphor for how the Kohen teaches. He doesn’t instruct directly. Instead, he loves mankind, and by bringing the light of his example close to the masses, brings them to emulate.

The same is even more true of the Jewish People’s job to be a Mamleches Kohanim viGoy Kadosh — a Kingdom of Priests and A Holy Nation. We do not spread the truths of ethical monotheism to the world by prosletization, in fact it is asur to teach Torah to non-Jews. Rather, by striving for kedushah in the midst of the nations, we can teach by example.

© 1995 The AishDas Society

Parashas Chuqas

When looking at the mitzvah of tzitzis for parashas Shelach (Toras Aish: Vol. 1, No. 4, Mesukim MiDevash) we discussed at the color of tekheiles. This week’s parashah opens at the opposite end of the spectrum, the red heifer. As a preface, here is a very brief review of the relevant concepts.

We noticed that man feels torn between two poles: his physical desires, and his spiritual ones. But in order to feel pulled, the identity, the “I” that is feeling, must be a third entity that the two are actually pulling upon. This entity is active, a creator “in the image of G-d”, self-aware and the seat of free will. The physical and spiritual components are mere creatures of their respective realms, they feel like helpless subjects to the forces of their respective universes.

R. SR Hirsch found this concept key to understanding a number of the symbols that Hashem uses to communicate to man. In particular, the Torah has only three words for colors: adom, red; yaroq, green-yellow; and tekheiles, blue. (All other color words refer to particular colored objects. For example, “argaman” doesn’t mean “purple” it means “purple wool”.) These primary colors represent those same three pieces of the human condition. In our discussion of tzitzis we focused on blue. Tekheiles is the color of the sky. It is the end of the spectrum, and hints at the unseen beyond. Therefor it is the color of the Beis Hamiqdash and describes the special relationship between G-d and Israel. Tekheiles is used as a tool to inculcate within us the role of the spiritual man.

The parah adumah, the Red Heifer, brings us to the meaning of red. “Adom” is from “adamah“, earth. It is the closest to the energy that gets absorbed by matter. Therefor, red represents the physical man and the universe he lives in. With this background, we’ll try to under stand some elements of the mitzvah of Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer.


What does it mean to be tamei or tahor? When the Torah discusses the subject, it uses the avoidance of tum’ah as a goal in itself, not as something that needs further justification. The explanation Hashem gives us for certain animals being non-kosher is merely “tamei hu lachem — it is tamei to you.” (Vayikra 11:4) Elsewhere, we find tahor used to mean pure; for example, pure gold is repeatedly called “zahav tahor.” (e.g. Shemos 25:31) But what is it that is pure, and from what kind of adulteration is it pure?

The Ramchal defines the personal attribute called taharah:

Taharah is the correction of the heart and thoughts… Its essence is that man shouldn’t leave room for the inclination in his actions. Rather all his actions should be on the side of wisdom and awe [for the Almighty], and not on the side of sin and desire. This is even in those things which are of the body and physical.

– Mesilas Yesharim Ch. 16

To the Ramchal, taharah is purity of the “heart and thoughts”. The tahor man has “no room for the physical.” It is the purity of the deciding mind from the physical creature.

To cast the words of the Ramchal into the terms we discussed in the introduction, taharah and tum’ah focus on the relationship between the physical and the mind. Taharah is the purity of the mind from physical prejudices. Tum’ah is its adulteration, so that the decision making process can not be freed of the physical urges.

This is mussar’s description of a personality trait called “taharah.” The halakhah‘s concept seems to derive directly from it. Rav SR Hirsch describes the tum’ah of a dead body:

A dead human body tends to bring home to one’s mind a fact which is able to give support to that pernicious misconception which is called tum’ah. For, in fact, there lies before us actual evidence that Man must — willy-nilly — submit to the power of physical forces. That in this corpse that lies before us, it is not the real human being, that the real human being, the actual Man, which the powers of physical force can not touch, had departed from here before the body — merely its earthly envelope — could fall under the withering law of earthly Nature; more, that as long as the real Man, with his free-willed self-determining G-dly nature was present in the body, the body itself was freed from forced obedience to the purely physical demands, and was elevated into the sphere of moral freedom in all its powers of action and also of enjoyment, when the free-willed ruling of the higher part of Man decided to achieve the moral mission of his life;

– Commentary on Lev. 11:47

R. SR Hirsch portrays the tamei object as one that causes the illusion that man is nothing more than a physical object, an animal, a helpless subject to physical forces and physical desires. In reality,

death only begins with death, but that in life, thinking striving and accomplishing Man can master, rule, and use even his own sensuous body with all its all its innate forces, urges, and powers, with G-d-like free self-decision, within the limits of, and for accomplishment of, the duties set by the laws of morality; …

“Thinking striving and accomplishing Man,” the conscious man, should use the “sensuous body with all its innate forces, urges, and powers,” the physical man, as a tool for doing good. The object which halachah calls tamei is that thing which will cause mussar’s tum’ah to awaken itself within the mind. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The mind that is prejudiced by physical needs and urges can not fully choose its own destiny.

Since the tamei is that which reinforces the idea that man is a being of mere physicality, tum’ah is only associated with the dead bodies of animals “whose body-formation is similar to that of Man, primarily the larger mammals.” The shemonah sheratzim, the only smaller animals that are tamei, are vertebrates “that live in the vicinity of human beings,” the weasel, mouse, mole, etc… All these are animals we see about us, living much as we do. The animals that closer resemble man have stricter rules of tum’ah. Similarly, menstruation and sexual emissions, which also cause tum’ah are things that happen to man, unwittingly, “willy-nilly submitting to the power of physical forces.”

In contrast, to become pure we immerse in a miqvah. The root of the word “miqvah” is ambiguous. The straight-forward definition would be “a gathering of water,” which a miqvah is in a very literal sense. But the word can also be read “source of hope.” Perhaps this is an allusion to the idea that it provides us with the faith that we are not mere creatures of the laws of biology, but can rise above those laws to master our own fate.


The sprinkling waters of the Parah Adumah consists of five ingredients: the red cow, a spring of hyssop, a piece of cedar wood, red wool, and water.

The parah is a work animal. However, to be usable for the mitzvah, this cow must never have been harnessed. It represents the physical man, which, in the state of tum’ah, is not controlled by the creative mind. For this reason, the parah must be pure red – the color of unadulterated physicality.

After the cow is burnt is referred to by a new noun – “sereifah“, a burnt thing. The first step to becoming tahor is destroying the notion that man is and ought to be an uncontrollable animal.

To this is added the hyssop, the cedar and the scarlet wool. The three are tied together by the wool to make a bundle. The hyssop is of the smallest plants native to Israel, it grows in the cracks of neglected walls. The cedar is among the tallest and proudest. This contrast is reduced to ash, showing the meaninglessness of ego and conceit, the flaws that conscious, self-aware beings are prone to.

The wool is called “tola’as shani”. “Shani” is from “shanah”, changed. The focus is on the fact that it is no longer what it was. That which was once white, a clean slate, is now red, overrun by physicality. These three are added to the “s’reifas haparah” – the entity that is mostly destroyed, but still retains some of the “parah”-ness.

This bundle is burnt to show the second step toward taharah. After the physical man is brought into control, we rid the mind of the effects, the flaws, caused by this contact.

The last ingredient is “mayim chayim”, living or “raw” water. Similar to the waters of the mikvah, the Parah Adumah water must be collected from nature. Water, the archetypal fluid, demonstrates change. By being “raw” the water is connected to the waters of creation, described in Bereishis 1:2-3.

This is the last step to reach taharah. Now that we have eradicated the error that man is a creature, a victim of physical forces, and the secondary effects of that error on the mind, we must be reborn (mayim), hopeful (mikvah) and committed to a new future.

© 1995 The AishDas Society

You Lifted Us from Amongst all the Languages

In the Amidah for Yom Tov, we credit Hashem as the one who “lifted us from among the languages”. Importance is given not just to our nationhood (“You chose us from among the nations”) but also to our bond of common language.

George Orwell made our generation very aware of how language shapes thought by having the fascist state further its thought-control through replacing current English with NewSpeak. I was recently reminded of this idea when someone on the net asked the old question, “Is Judaism a race or a religion?”

On the one hand, your Jewishness is typically inherited from your mother. This would lead one to think of Jewish identity as racial. On the other hand, we accept converts, as would a religion.

As I see it, the problem is caused by the pigeon-holing. Why must it be one or the other? Because English has these two terms readily available, we — without even thinking — try to force this concept into one of these two categories. English, though, was created by Christians, and need not have a term that describes how Judaism views itself. We don’t even notice how the language channeled our thoughts.

(For that matter, the quote that is this post’s title is not translated all that literally for this reason. We refer to ourselves as a “lashon“, a group of people united by language, who were elevated from other such groups. The Arab People are a lashon. In Darfur, Sudan, Arabs slayed numerous Africans. The Arabs shared a religion with Darfur’s Moslems. Genetically, the two groups are indistinguishable. One group speaks Arabic, and has the literature and cultural elements that comes with it. The other does not. The genocide was over leshonos, not religion or ethnicity. Yet English has no equivalent for “lashon“. And so we can ask, how close are its concepts to those denoted by “am“, “kelal“, “adas” and so on?)

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, in his commentary to this week’s parashah makes a similar observation. Hebrew has no word for “religion”. It’s an alien concept. “Religion” connotes a belief system, rituals, ways of escaping the world into G-d’s comfort. But Judaism is about bringing G-d’s ways into how we act and react in the everyday world.

Another example he offers is “virtue”. In Latin languages the root is “vir”, manliness, virility. The German equivalent, “Tugend”, is from “taugen”, meaning useful. In Hebrew, the word is “mitzvah” a commandment. The Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l, pointed out how it had also had connotations of the root mem-tzadi-vuv, and could indicate “to aim” or “to focus”. There is no way for a Hebrew speaking person to talk about doing the right thing without some level of his mind getting vague hints that the “right thing” is “doing what G-d commanded so that we may achieve His goals for us”.

The Torah begins the story by telling us “The whole earth was of one language and uniform ideas (devarim)” (Breishis 11:1). The source of the problem was not only that their ability to communicate aided their plans, but it also lead them to being of like mind. One person was able to mislead an entire generation.

According to traditional histories, Avram was 48 when the Tower of Babel was built. He was an adult who consciously chose not to participate in the endeavor. And as a reward, when the other clans were given their own languages, causing them to spread out and become separate nations, Avram was not so punished, and still spoke and thought in Hebrew.

The gift of speaking Hebrew, then, is no small thing. It’s not just exposure to a holier mode of speech. Hebrew gives us the tools to organize our concepts in the way Hashem intended. Instead of asking whether Judaism is a race or a religion, with the connotation of those words, we can look at Am Yisrael, and Adas Yisrael, and the meaning given those terms by the Chumash.

Parashas Lekh-Lekha 5756

Most young Yeshiva children come home sometime around Shavuos with the story of how Hashem offered the Torah to all the nations of the world, but only the Jews accepted it.

The medrash, as told in the Yalqut Shim’oni, tells how first Hashem went to Edom and offered them the Torah. They asked, “What is written in it?” Hashem replied, “Do not murder”. Edom declines because “our very substance is murder because our father, Eisav, was a murderer”.

Next, Hashem approaches Ammon and Moav. When they asked, “What is written in it?” Hashem replies “You may not commit adultery”. They too reject the Torah, because, “our very substance is adultery because our father, Lot, was sexually immoral”.

The third example given in the Yalkut is the Ishmaelites. They too want to first know what is written in the Torah before accepting it. To them Hashem says, “Do not steal”. They answer, “our very substance is theft, because our father, Yishmael, was a thief”. In this way, each nation declined, until Hashem approached the Jews.

Hashem’s answer to each of the nations is strange. Why choose the one sin their forefather was known for? Especially since in each of these cases the sin is prohibited to all Benei Noach; they may not do any of these things even without getting the Torah.

By comparing this medrash to the opening pasuk in this week’s parshah, we can get a better understanding of the point of the story.

“Hashem said to Avram, ‘Go for yourself from your homeland, from your birthplace and from your father’s house to the land which I will show you’.” (12:1) The first sentence recorded in the Torah of the Jewish mission on earth is a commandment for Avram to leave his home and his father.

Avram didn’t say, “I can’t worship G-d because my very substance his idolatry, because my father, Terach, manufactures idols”. Hashem orders Avram to leave the culture that made him, to leave his father’s sphere of influence, and he does.

Avram’s reply was “And Avram went, just as G-d told him”. (12:4) If Hashem said he could change, rise above Ur Casdim to become fit for both the land of Israel and the father of the people of Israel, then he goes.

Is man a creature of fate or of destiny? Is his future foretold, etched in rock, unchangeable? Or can he rebuild himself into something greater than he was?

Clearly the Torah insists on the latter. The very key to accepting the Torah is to be committed to use its ideas and its mitzvos to improve and to grow.

This was the failing ascribed to the other nations in the medrash. They saw a given flaw in their national character as their substance, immutable. Hashem wasn’t asking them about a particular prohibition, but about their commitment to leave their “father’s house”. If they do not believe they can change, what purpose can getting the Torah serve them?

HaKel HaGadol HaGibbor veHaNora

I

In this week’s parashah Moshe describes Hashem as “… haKel haGadol haGibor vihaNorah — the G-d, the Great, the A-lmighty, and the Awesome …”. These words were incorporated by the Anshei Kinesses Hagedolah into the opening of the Shemoneh Esrei.

The same phrase is also found at the conclusion of the poem “Nishmas”. There, the poet goes even further and gives each one an explanetory phrase. This yields the strange result that the very same poem that says that “even if our mouths were filled of poetry like the sea, and our tongues – joy, like the many waves, and our lips – praise like the expanses of sky … we would still not be sufficient to praise you”, this same poem then praises G-d in four words!

A student who lead the congregation as Chazan before the tanna Rabbi Chanina once embellished on these four simple adjectives. After he was finished, Rabbi Chanina corrected him, “Have you finished all possible praise of your Master?” No list of complements could completely describe Hashem. Had Moshe not spoken these words, and Hashem not told him to write them into the Torah, we would not have the chutzpah to use these four. (Brachos 33b)

According to the Vilna Gaon, “haKel haGadol haGibor vihaNorah” is not only included in the first brachah of the Shemoneh Esrei, but it is the basis for the structure of the rest of the brachah too.

To the Vilna Gaon, these four names of G-d form a progression. They summarise how man approaches G-d.

Kel means not only G-d but judge or legislator. To be HaKel, THE Legislator, means that Hashem rules over the entire universe, His authority is all-inclusive.

Rabbi Yochanan (Megilah 31a) said, “Where ever you find G-d’s greatness, that is where you find His humility”. Perhaps we can understand this apparent paradox by comparing G-d’s properties to those of humans. Schools have a problem of overcrowding. There are just so many students a teacher can adequately pay attention to. As the number of students grows, each one can only get less and less attention. Not so Hashem. His infinity is not just that He is a “Kel“, G-d over all, but also “Gadol“, great enough to give personal attention to each person.

HaGibor. We said already that Hashem Legislates to all, and that He is not limited to looking only at the universal picture, but can pay attention to each and every one of us. The combination of these two facts yields “HaGibor“. G-d has the power and uses it to guide each of us in our daily lives.

VihaNorah. There are two types of Divine intervention, the behind-the-scenes subtle activity, that the non-believer dismisses as mere luck, and the flashy miracle that defies the law of nature. While the former is more common, it is the miracle that inspires awe.

These thoughts are elaborated twice in the brachah, once before the quote of the pasuk, and once after. They provide the structure for the entire blessing.

II

Baruch. Chazal write often that “‘brachah‘ is a term of increase”. The relationship between the idea of “increase” and G-d is unclear. We can’t really be claiming that G-d is missing something, and requires, increase — can we?

One resolution, in line with the Gaon’s approach to the b’rachah as a whole, is to say that it is a statement of fact; we are saying “You are maximally increased”. This is “haKel“.

A second is to define the word as, “You are the Source of all increase”; a statement that we recognize that all of our blessings come from G-d.

Third, Rabbiner Hirsch’s approach, is to focus on the one thing we can contribute to G-d. Since He allows us to make free choices, by choosing to support Hashem’s goals we are adding our efforts to his. By this approach, “baruch” means “I commit myself and my resources to You”.

Ata. It is incredible that man has the gall to talk to G-d, to refer to the Creator as “You”. What grants us that power? HaGadol, He is big enough to attend to each of us.

Hashem, the tetragrammaton. Chazal note that this name of G-d is used in Tanach to refer to Him when his actions appear merciful to us. Alternatively, we can look at the root of the word. The word is normally seen as a contraction of “Yihyeh – Hoveh – Hayah” — “Will be, is and was”. A G-d who is above time. The Trancendent Deity. A third alternative is that of Rabbiner Hirsch’s who sees it as the causative form of “havah“, to exist. G-d who sustains our existence.

Pairing off each of these three with the commentary’s corresponding translation for “baruch”, we can render “Baruch Ata Hashem” in these three ways:

  • You are inifinitely increased, You who are even above time.
  • You are the source of all blessings, You, the G-d of Mercy.
  • I commit myself to increase your influence in this world, you who gives me and the world our continued existence.
  • Ata Hashem. You are so trancendent, you even have the ability to be immanent. G-d is not too great to care about a single inhabitant of some uninteresting planet in some typical galaxy. No, because He IS great, because he IS above limitation, is why we can say “Ata“, “You”.

    Elokeinu. The Vilna Gaon teaches that this corresponds to “HaGibor“. Elokeinu, our G-d, is different than HaKel, The G-d. There is a possessiveness, this might and authority of HaKel doesn’t only apply to the big picture, but he guides each of us, our fates and destinies.

    Hashem Elokeinu. Two paradoxes. Our G-d, like Ata, reinforces the idea of an Immanent Deity.

    But also, we unify the Merciful One with the G-d of Justice. As Nachum Ish Gamzu would say “Gam zu litovah“, “this too is for this best. Or in the words of his pupil, Rabbi Akiva, “All that G-d does, he does for the good.” All that G-d does is good. Some seems harsh and punishing, some is more obviously merciful. But it’s all one. The difference is in our perception, not in the One who acts.

    Elokei Avoseinu. In our lives, Hashem’s intervention is subtle. However, for our forefathers He performed miracles. Whereas Elokeinu, our G-d, refers to Hashem’s constant guiding of history, Elokei Avoseinu, G-d of our Fathers, asserts that the same One can work outside of the laws of nature. In order to work toward the day when we too will merit an age of miracles, we next recall each forefather, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, by name, to recall and resolve to emulate their character strengths.

    Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov are seen as archtypes of three different types of divine service. The Maharal (Derech Hachaim on Avos 1:2) finds them to be the masters of Torah, Avodah and Gemillus Chassadim.

    Elokei Avraham. G-d of this world, the world where people interact, feel hunger, pain. Where we need a society to support each other. The G-d who commanded us to be kind to each other.

    Elokei Yitzchak. Yitzchak was otherworldly, nearly a sacrifice entirely to G-d. Elokei Yitzchak is the G-d of Avodah, of prayer and Temple service. G-d of our spiritual selves.

    Elokei Yaakov. The G-d of the “whole man, who sat in tents” of study. Perfection of that third world between the spiritual and this one, the mind which must decide which is to be the source of inspiration, and which to be the means to get there.

    When you say Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, v’Elokei Ya’akov, you not only acknowledge that this G-d that we relate to on these three different levels is one and the same, but also we commit ourselves to improve in all three pillars of our life.

    III

    Next we repeat the four names of Hashem, and then elaborate on the themes in a different variation.

    Kel Elyon. This is an elaboration of “haKel”, G-d above all. Again, we declare that He commands everything. Even the other’s deities, the embodiments of nature, represent subjects to His Will.

    Gomel Chassadim Tovim. Hashem supports us through His kindness. As we said, “haGadol” means that He not only looks at the universe as a whole, but that He also is “big” enough to pay attention to each and every one of us.

    Gomel. To support, not just a single act of kindness, but like its root “gamal”, a camel, a continued source. Chassadim. Chessed, to go beyond the call of duty. Tovim. As we said above, ALL that he does is for the good, whether we can percieve that good or not.

    ViKonei Hakol. The consequence of being the G-d above all, and able to relate to the individual is that this means He touches each of our lives – HaGibor. The Vilna Gaon translates “konei” in our context from the root of “litakein”, to fix. Konei hakol, Hashem fixes all, heals the sick, raises the downtrodden and the depressed.

    “Konei” has two other meanings, to make or to acquire. These two meanings are related, for as R YB Soloveitchik zt”l teaches, the root of ownership is that people own what they make. From there, they barter or buy to transfer the ownership to others in exchange for ownership something they couldn’t make.

    Hakol, THE all, in distinction to “kol”, all. “Hakol” should be translated as “the universe”, not as “everything”.

    ViKonei Hakol can therefor also be rendered Owner or Maker of the universe.

    Zocher chasdei avos. VihaNorah. Hashem remembers how our fathers went beyond the call of obligation. We are only “bnei bineihem”, the children of their children, twice removed from their stature. But whatever of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov we carry, may it be enough that we too merit miraculous intervention, that Hashem bring us our redeemer.

    Umeivi goel livnei vineihem. Umeivi — lehavi, to bring, not lishloach, to send.

    Another thought that hit me is how aptly these words literally apply to my generation. Two generations before me, “chasdei avos” our ancestors were pushed beyond the call of duty, to sanctify G-d’s name in Aushwitz, Treblinka, Babi Yar and dozens of other infamous locations. Umeivi go’el livnei vineihem. May Hashem bring the redeemer to us, their children’s children.

    Lima’an sh’mo, for the sake of His name. Not for our sake. G-d, don’t wait for us to merit it, to earn the redemption. For your sake. “Sheim”, name, is from the same root as “sham”, there. Both are references to another thing. The Jewish People are one of G-d’s names. People see us as Your People. Redeem us to redeem your name, so that people will think highly of the ideals of ethical monotheism.

    Bi’ahavah. With love. Maimonides defines the term as a perception of one’s unity with the beloved. In redeeming us “lima’an sh’mo”, for the sake of His name, G-d shows that we are His and He is ours.

    IV

    Melech. King. Not a “moshel” a dictator, but one who rules with the support of His people. “Ki lashem hamluchah umoshel bagoyim — for G-d has the Kingship, but he is a dictator over the nations”. Until the day that they accept Hashem’s rule, “And G-d will be King over the entire land, in that day He and His name will be one/unique”.

    Ozer. Helper. Beyond being just a king, one who organizes society, G-d also helps the individual.

    Umoshia. Savior, one who gets us out of trouble, even when we are not putting in effort for Hashem to be considered a helper.

    Umagein. Even further, a sheild, one who prevents the trouble to begin with.

    Although the Gaon doesn’t say so, the “Melech Ozer uMoshia uMagein” progression matches his approach to “haKel haGadol haGibor viHanorah”. Melech, like keil, is a legislator who takes the global view. Ozer implies the one-on-one of haGadol. uMoshia parallels His intervention in our lives, in contrast to uMagein, how he protects those who go beyond the call of duty on His behalf.

    Baruch ata Hashem…. As above.

    Magein Avraham. Protector of Abraham, the one who mastered the idea that this world is the tool, not the goal. That we are in this imperfect world together to help eachother, and to perfect it.

    Abraham would tell his guests, “Don’t thank me, thank the Creator of heaven and earth, who is truly the one who gave you this food.” This is the Protector of Abraham.

    Of Arks and Rainbows

    There are two events in the Torah that can be identified as yeshu’os, by which I mean events where Hashem saved someone even though they didn’t really merit it.

    The more obvious is Yetzi’as Mitzrayim, the Exodus. Hashem saved us just as we were slipping from the “49th level of impurity” into being hopelessly corrupt. And in the introduction before Az Yashir, the song by the Red Sea, we are told that “Vayosha’ Hashem… — and Hashem saved on that day Israel from the hands of Egypt…” (Shemos 14:30)

    An earlier example is when Hashem saved Lot and his family from the destruction of Sodom. There too Lot was saved primarily in Avraham’s merit, that Avraham should be spared the pain of losing his nephew.

    There is a common feature in these two stories. The ones being saved are restrained from rejoicing over the fall of those who were not. I would suggest that this is a property of yeshu’ah. Without the element of witnessing divine justice, there is no justification for reveling in the fall of the wicked. And here the potential witness was saved by Hashem’s mercy, justice isn’t in evidence.

    Among the reasons the gemara (Megillah 14a) gives us for why we do not recite full Hallel on the last day(s) of Pesach is a medrash about G-d’s discontent with the angels joining in our singing Az Yashir. “The work of My ‘Hands’ are drowning in the sea, and you sing?” The day we crossed the sea is not to be one of unrestrained joy. Note that we do not have a similar muting of the joy of Chanukah, despite the deaths of the Saleucids and Hellenized Jews. The Exodus, however, was a yeshu’ah.

    With Lot this point is particularly stressed. Lot was told not even to look back at the destruction. His wife was turned into salt for trying to do so.

    What about Noach? Was his a yeshu’ah, or did he earn being saved?

    There is a famous Rashi on the words of the first verse of this week’s parashah. “Noach was a wholehearted man in his generation.” (Ber’ 6:9) Rashi notes two interpretations of this comment. On the one hand, it could be taken as a compliment of Noach. Even in the environment and culture of Noach’s contemporaries, he was still a good person. Alternatively, it could be taken as a criticism. By the low expectations of that period, he was a good man. But had he lived in Avraham’s day, he would have been a nobody.

    There is another debate recorded in Rashi that also touches on our question. In (6:16) Noach is told to make a tzohar for the ark. Rashi quotes Bereishis Raba, and again there are two positions. One defines “tzohar” to be a window, the other a gem.

    I would like to suggest that these two Rashis are recording different aspects of the same disagreement. According to the first position, we look at Noach in terms of the relative scale of his potential. Noach did an excellent job, given what he had to work with. In that light, he merited being saved. Therefore, Noach was not in the position of Lot, he was allowed to see what transpired to his peers. Therefore, this tanna would have no problem saying that the ark had a window through which Noach could see out.

    The second looks at him in an absolute scale. By that standard, he didn’t get as far. His salvation would therefore be seen as an act of Divine Mercy, a yeshu’ah. So to this opinion, the tzohar couldn’t have been a window. It was a gem that obscured his view.

    After Noach left the ark, Hashem made a covenant with him. Hashem gave Noach seven mitzvos for all of humanity to observe and promised Noach that He would never again flood the entire world.

    There are two seemingly contradictory halachos about rainbows. The first is that we make a berachah of thanks when seeing a rainbow (Berachos 59a). On the other hand, we are told not to gaze at a rainbow because it’s a sign of Divine Anger, that G-d is telling us that it’s only his promise to Noach that keeps Him from again flooding the world. (Chagiga 16a)

    There is another difference between having the light come into the ark via a window or a gem. Light that comes in through a cut stone will be refracted. The inside walls of the ark would have been covered with little rainbows.

    Perhaps this is another reason why G-d chose the rainbow to be the sign of his covenant with Noach. The rainbow reminds us that the world is our “ark” by painting a similar spectrum on our “walls”. The sign of the rainbow is therefore that of a yeshu’ah, of unmerited salvation. For which we should be thankful, but not proud.

    Atah Qadosh

    “You Are Kadosh, and Your Name Is Kadosh, and kedoshim praise You every day. Selah! [For you are G-d, King, Great and Kadosh. –Sepharad] Baruch Atah … the Kadosh G-d.”

    The question of kedushah is also central to the opening phrase of one of last week’s parashiyos. “Kedoshim tihyu… – Be kadosh for I Am Kadosh.” (Vayikra 19:2) But what is kedushah? Translating it as “sanctity” or “holiness” falls short as the meaning of the English words is not too clear, nor are we sure that they truly capture the connotations of the Hebrew original.

    The Toras Kohanim (Sifra) on the pasuk writes “‘kedoshim tihyu’ – perushim tihyu, you shall be separated”. Along these lines the Ramban writes “make yourself kadosh with that which is permitted to you” by refraining from the permitted. It would seem that they are defining kedushah as separation.

    However, Rav Shimon Shkop (Shaarei Yosheir, introduction) notes that this definition fails for the clause – “for I am kadosh”. There is no purpose or meaning in Hashem restraining Himself.  (For that matter, it is arguable that such perishus on Hashem’s part would mean the item in question would cease to exist!) Perhaps we could also note that the Ramban could not be defining kedushah since he uses the word “kadosh” in the definition. Rather, the Ramban is suggesting the way in which to obey the pasuk and become kadosh to someone who already knows what kadosh is.

    What we do know about Hashem is that He desires leheitiv, to bestow good upon others. The entire universe exists so that Hashem could have someone to receive His gift. Rav Shimon translates “ki Kadosh Ani” as “for I am fully committed to helping others.” The call to be kadosh is the call to live one’s life for the sake of bettering others. To be kadosh is to avoid that which serves no one but the person himself.

    Returning to the recurring theme of the opening berachos of Shemonah Esrei…

    If we turn to the phrase inserted in nusach Sefarad, we find kedushah associated with Hashem being King, and being Gadol, Great. These are both words that the Gra finds very significant in understanding the first berachah. Moshe’s praise, “haKel haGadol haGibbor vehaNorah – the G-d, the Great, the Mighty and the Awe Inspiring” finds reiterating development throughout that berachah. We therefore enter this berachah after having defined Gadol as “gomeil chassadim tovim – supports through good acts of kindness.” Hashem is Great because his Good fills all of creation. The total commitment to giving to others that Rav Shimon uses to define kedushah.

    So, our berachah becomes, “You are committed to being meitiv others, and your reputation (shimcha) is that of being meitiv others, and people who do good to others praise you. Selah!” It is not simply that the class of people who are committed to working for others rather than being self-focused also praise Hashem. It is working for the betterment of others which itself is praise.

    It is not coincidence that there are three clauses, and three iterations of the word “Kadosh” in the verse at the heart of Kedushah (Yishayahu 6:3). As we say in UVa leTzion, Targum Yonasan explains the pasuk as follows: “Kadosh in the heavens above, the home of His Presence; Kadosh on the earth, the product of His Might; Kadosh forever and ever is Hashem Tzevakos – the whole world is full of the Radiance of His Glory.” The “home of His Glory” is where Hashem is Kadosh. The earth, is where Hashem’s name, how people perceive him, is Kadosh. And the kedoshim, the people who allow others to experience Hashem’s good, fill the world with His Glory – their sanctity is his praise.

    Miqeitz: Time and Process

    The parashah opens “Vayhi mikeitz sh’nasayim yamim — and it was at the end of a pair of years of days”. After Yosef spent two years in prison, Par’oh’s dream leads the wine steward to remember Yosef and eventually leads to his redemption. But why does the pasuk say “sh’nasayim yamim”, rather than just “shenasayim”? [1]

    Second, why is the term used here for the arrival of the denoted time “mikeitz”, at the endpoint (from “katzeh”, edge [2])? How does it differ from saying that the “z’man”, or “eis” (both meaning “time”) had arrived?

    This duplication of terms for time is echoed in next week’s parashah, when Ya’akov describes his age to Par’oh as “The days of the years of my travels…” [3] as well as at the beginning of parashas Vayechi, in counting out Ya’akov avinu’s lifespan, “… And the days of Ya’akov was, the years of his life…” [4] The repetition implies that there are distinct concepts. Yom and shanah refer to different things.

    Most ancient societies viewed time as cyclic. Among the motivations suggested [5] for the building of the Tower of Bavel was the fear that the flood was part of a 1,656-year cycle, and they would need to prepare for a second flood.

    The position is understandable. Plato [6] concludes that since our means of measuring time was the cyclic movement of astronomical objects so must the time they define be cyclic. The month and its cycle of phases, the year and its cycle of seasons define a cycle of time. The seasonal cycle also shapes the farmer’s lifestyle into cycles. Time cannot be measured without a predictable repetition of events, be it the falling of grains of sand, the swing of a pendulum, the escapement of a clock, the vibration of a quartz crystal or the waves of light emitted by cesium atoms.

    This mindset is alien to modern man. The contemporary western view of time is linear, a dimension — a progress from the primitive to the advanced. This notion that history progresses comes from Judaism, from our view of time as running from First Cause to Ultimate Purpose, a history spanning from Adam to the Messianic Era and beyond. This acceptance is an accomplishment of the Chashmona’i revolution against the Greek mindset. Linear time gives us a view of man in which he can redeem himself; he is not doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over. On the other hand, Judaism simultaneously embraces a cyclic view of time. As the Hagaddah phrases the purpose of the seder, “A person is obligated to see himself as though he himself came out of Egypt.” Every Shavuos we are to accept the Torah anew. Our holidays not only repeat the cycle of the Exodus, they are tied to agricultural events and thereby the cycle of seasons. The holiday is both reliving the Sukkos of the desert as well as celebrating bringing in our crops. [7]

    The Zohar [8] describes a system of grammatical gender follows the conventions of sexual reproduction: Biblical Hebrew uses masculine nouns for those things that we think of as initiators that start a process. Feminine nouns take that seed and develop it into something more complete and usable. “Yom”, being in the masculine is therefore an initiator. “Yom” represents a unit of progress. It is a unit of linear time, a progress from birth to death. The culmination of history is notably called “acharis hayamim” [9] and in the navi, “yom Hashem” [10].

    In contrast, “shanah” is from the same root as “two”, “to repeat”, “to learn”, or “to change”, and perhaps even that of “to age” and “to sleep”, as in “venoshantem ba’aretz” [11].

    Shanah speaks of a retreat. A person can actively embrace that retreat, use it as a chance to build on what one already has. Or, it can be a time when he simply is a victim of circumstance.

    While there is a need for progress, there is also a need to step back, to review, to develop the idea into something we can incorporate within ourselves and can use as a basis for future growth. It can be a time to regain a balance between technological progress and one’s basic humanity and values. If he embraces and uses the time, then he has achieved productive review, “years of days”.

    Perhaps this is why the Malbim [12] explains Ya’akov avinu’s reply to Par’oh as having two parts. To Par’oh’s question about years, he answers that he traveled this earth 130 years. About days, Ya’akov laments that he did not use his time as productively as did his fathers, “Few and insufficient were the days of my life’s years, and they never reached the days of the years of my forefather’s lives.” [13]

    R’ Aharon Kotler zt”l commented to a student on the occasion of the birth of the student’s son about the phrase “The bris should be be’ito ubizmano”, using both “eis” and “z’man” to denote its proper time. Rav Aharon explained the difference. If the baby is healthy, then the bris is at the pre-decided time, on the eighth day. If not, then it will be at the right time for that individual baby. Ideally the bris would be at both.

    A z’man is a time that comes according to a pre-scheduled appointment, ready or not. It is a point in a shanah, in cyclic time that runs its celestial heartbeat regardless of human action. And so, the repeat of the exodus is “Z’man Cheiruseinu”, our time of freedom. An eis is a landmark in the course of progression. And so, one is “kovei’ah ittim baTorah”, one sets aside times for Torah.

    But neither a z’man nor an eis can represent the goal of the trip. Reflection without progress and progress without reflection as to its purpose does not get one to a meaningful goal. A keitz, an endpoint, can only come from both.

    Yosef’s experience in the pit was not simply measured in years of survival, but also in personal progress. After the culmination, the qeitz, of shenasayim yamim, he was ready to emerge a leader.


    Footnotes:

    [1] We find the exact same turn of phrase in Shmuel II 14:28 and Yirmiyahu 28:3. In all three cases, the time measured is one in which someone (here — Yosef, Avshalom in Shmuel II) or something (the utensils of the Beis HaMikdash in Yirmiyahu) was in hiding.

    [2] C.f. Shemos 36:33, “And he made the middle bar to pass through the boards [of the Mishkan] from the katzeh to the katzeh.”

    [3] Bereishis 47:8

    [4] Ibid. v. 28. Notable is the use of singular “hayah” referring to the days.

    [5] Bereishis Rabba 38:1, third opinion

    [6] Timaeus 36c-d

    [7] Vayikra 23:39,43

    [8] Pinechas 249a-b

    [9] Eg. Sukkah 52b

    [10] Eg. Malachi 4:5

    [11] Devarim 4:25

    [12] Bereishis 47:8

    [13] Bereishis 47:9

    Welcome

    We recently concluded Mesukim MiDevash, a weekly collection of divrei Torah on the subjects of machshavah, mussar, and the meaning of various teflillos. If you’re curious about what I was thinking about before starting this blog, many of the articles there are mine. Before that, mainly around seven years ago, I wrote the Aspaqlaria column you find in this directory. Most of those articles appeared in Yitz Weis’s Toras Aish.My current forum for sharing these kinds of thoughts is through public speaking. However, I wanted to spark a broader dialogue on the fundamental issues of our lives, so I started this blog. Feel free to comment, correct, and challenge the ideas in these “pages”. It is important to think about and grapple with these issues, even though many of them resist a full resolution. The intent behind this blog is to start the ball rolling, not to present prepared and simple answers to an inherently complex subjects.As I see it, the most fundamental things lacking from contemporary expressions of traditional Judaism are the philosophical underpinnings that give that observance context and structure, and the proper focus on tikun hamidos — realizing that the purpose of mitzvos is to enoble the self, and the goal of enobling oneself is to better one’s observance, to become a better eved Hashem.

    The Fire Within the Bush

    “Dirshu Hashem behimatz’o — seek G-d when He can be found, qara’uhu bihyoso qarov — call Him when He is near.””Shuvu eilai, veashuva aleikhem — Return to Me and I will return to you.”Contrasting images. The first is one of G-d initiating the repentance process, and man responding after Hashem has first made Himself available. The second is G-d’s cry for us to initiate, and then He will respond. A relationship is cyclic, feeding back upon itself. There is no clear initial point; each step gradually deepens the bond.

    In Unsaneh Toqef, we find the following as part of the description of what the high holidays are like in heaven. “And a great shofar will be blown, and a small still voice will be heard, and the angels will be atremble, and panic and fear will grip them, and they will cry ‘Here is the day of judgment!'” The “small still voice”, the “qol demamah daqah” is a quote from Melachim I, from a lesson Hashem teaches Eliyahu hanavi. First the prophet is buffeted by a powerful wind, and G-d says, “I Am not in the wind”, then he hears a loud crash, “I Am not in the crash”, then a fire, and G-d says that He is neither there. Then “a small thin voice”. What sets the angels in panic? Not the great and mighty shofar, but the response within the human soul. What forces them to proclaim the day of judgment? Not the clarion call announcing that now is “He can be found”, but the person seeking Him, returning to G-d so that He will return to them.

    Moshe rabbeinu’s first recorded prophecy, his sight of the burning bush, has a similar lesson.

    2: And Hashem’s angel appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and, here! the bush burned with fire bo’eir ba’eish, and the bush was not consumed.3: And Moshe said, “I will turn aside now, and see this great sight, madu’ah lo yiv’ar haseneh — why the bush does not burn.”

    4: And when Hashem saw that he turned to look, Hashem called him out of the midst of the bush, and said: “Moshe, Moshe!” And he said: “Here I am.”

    In pasuq 2, a mal’akh appears to Moshe, and the bush is bo’eir ba’eish. However, Moshe turns aside from that vision. He turned to see that lo yiv’ar hanseh — no, it’s not really burning. There is a fire within the bush, only at the core. The mal’akh speaks mitoch, from within the bush. The truer revelation that Moshe rabbeinu saw beyond the angel was one if tzimtzum, Divine Constriction. When Moshe realizes this, the nevu’ah is elevated from a prophet’s speech to an angel to Moshe’s unique ability to speak “face to ‘Face'” with G-d. Moshe merited this nevu’ah because he was “anav mikol adam — more modest than any other man.” His anivus is a reflection and imitation of that very tzimtzum, which is how Moshe alone would turn to take another look.

    The mal’akh appeared in the big, the flashy. The first glance made it seem that the whole bush was aflame. It’s like the shofar gadol blowing, announcing Hashem’s presence. The angel declared behimatz’o — here and now Hashem could be found. But Moshe’s response one to the qol demamah dakah, he saw Hashem limiting his presence to allow for a response, to demand derashah — seeking Him out. Realizing that you must respond, that you aren’t simply entitled, that is anivus. And therefore Moshe connected to the A-lmighty in a way no one else did before or since.

    Some thoughts about Parashas Yisro

    I
    There is a difference in how Moshe Rabbeinu’s sons are named. Shemos 18:3-4:

    And her two sons; that the name of one was “Geirshom” because he said “I was a geir (foreigner) in a strange land.” And the name of one was “Eliezer” because E-lokei Avi (the G-d of my father) was be’ezri (at my aid), and He saved me from the sword of Par’oh.

    Notice that in the naming of Geirshom, there is mention of what Moshe said, however in the nammming of Eliezer, there is no such mention. But also notice that the “ki” comes before the “amar”, in other words, the reason for the naming is because of what Moshe said, not that Moshe gave the reason in his declaration.

    There is a question addressed by rishonim: Why is the older one named for the exile, whereas the second son is named for something that happened earlier, before he was forced away from Mitzrayim? Shouldn’t they have been named in chronological order? One answer is that in those times (as we see in the naming of Yitchaq, Yaaqov and Yaaqov sons) naming normally fell to the mother. Tzipporah got the right of naming the firstborn, and she opened by thanking G-d for the events that brought Mosheh to her — his exile from Egypt. Then Moshe named Eliezer. (This is the origin of the custom in many Ashkenazic communities of alternating who names the children, started with the mother naming the firstborn.)

    If I may use this idea to explain the distinction I made earlier… Tzipporah named Geirshom not because Mosheh was exiled, but because Mosheh said he was exiled. To her, it was not exile from Egypt but coming to Midan, finding his mate, teaching monotheism. However, Geirshom was named for the distress Mosheh felt at being separated from his people. He was named for what Mosheh said, his perception.


    II
    Why did Yisro decide to come to Mosheh and the Jews in the Midbar? The parashah opens “Vayishma Yisro” (and Yisro heard). The gemara (Zevachim 116a, quoted by Rashi) explains that Yisro heard about the crossing of the Yam Suf and the attack of Amaleiq.But when Yisro finally has a chance to talk to Mosheh, what does Mosheh tell him about? In Shemos 18:8 Moshe tells Yisro about “kol hatela’ah”, all the tribulations, that the Jews underwent. Which Rashi quotes the Mechilta explaining refers to Yam Suf and Amaleiq?

    Why did Moshe tell Yisro about the two things Yisro knew already?

    There is critical value to repetition. We say in Shema “and you will know today, and you will answer onto your heart.” The Sefas Emes explains, you can know something with your mind, and yet not internalize it in your heart. To internalize it, you must place it on your heart, even though it doesn’t get in. Eventually, it will break through.

    This repetition to produce a change of heart is central to Mussar. The means of changing a middah is first qibbush hayeitzer, conquering it. By repeatedly resisting a desire, one can reach tiqun hayeitzer, the point at which it’s repaired.

    One of Mussar’s key tools is the idea of making a qabbalah, accepting upon yourself an activity that slowly, incrementally, whittles away at a problem or builds up a strength. Through repetition of the qabbalah one can change the emotions.

    Another tool is hispa’alus, studying or davening with “lips aflame”. Each time one learns about a middah with hispa’alus it makes an emotional impression. However, it’s slow an incremental. It will take many days of work to actually change a middah.

    The difference between Yisro’s initial hearing about Yam Suf and the attack of Amaleiq and Moshe’s repetition is in the words “kol hatela’ah“. Repeated, it took on emotional content. Yisro no longer heard stories, he heard about trevails.


    III
    “VeHar Sinai ashan kulo” (Shemos 19:18). Rashi points out that the word “ashan“, with two patachs for vowels, is a verb. The normal assumption is that the phrase means “And Har Sinai was entirely giving out smoke.” However, there was a heavy cloud on the mountain (v 16), what would be the point of smoke too above it?Perhaps, and I stress that “perhaps”, it should be rendered “and all of Har Sinai turned into smoke”? That the mountain lost its solidity when Hashem was upon it?


    IV
    There are three prohibitions stressed in the laws of making a mizbei’ach given at the end of this week’s parashah. “Gods of silver and gods of gold do not make for yourself. A mizbei’ach of earth shall you make for Me…” (Shemos 20:19-20) “And if a mizbei’ach of stone you shall make for Me, do not them hewn; because your sword you placed upon it and profaned it.” (v. 21) “Do not go up steps onto my mizbei’ach, that you shall not reveal your nakedness on it.” (v. 22)Three prohibitions: (1) not making idols for the altar; (2) not using a sword, a tool of war, to make it; and (3) not using steps because of a lack of tzeni’us, that it calls ervah. These are the three sins that one must violate even at risk to one’s own life — idolatry, murder, and sexual immorality.

    According to the Ramban, a message of the mizbei’ach is that the person sees the death of the animal and responds “That death should have been mine; it was I who forfeited my right to exist.” Therefore, in building the mizbei’ach, the means of re-earning the right to exist, the three prohibitions that override life are doubly inappropriate.

    Purpose of Qorbanos

    When reviewing what I wrote on this subject for the Mesukim on Vayiqra, I noticed some more points. First to summarize:Rambam (naively reading the Moreh Nevuchim): Hashem gave us qorbanos, a normal idolatrous practice, to wean us from avodah zarah.Ramban: How is this possible? Noach offered a qorban and there were no idolators or peer pressure. Rather qorbanos are to unify all planes of human existance: the thought of teshuvah, the speech of confession, and the action of the qorban. In addition, the person who sinned and brought a qorban sees the offering and realizes the severity of the act; that justice untempered by mercy would have called for his own death, not an animal’s.

    (The question remains how the Ramban understands qorbanos that are less related to sin.)

    Narvoni: The Rambam doesn’t speak of qorbanos as caused by the practice being avodah zarah. Rather, the practice expresses an inate human limitation. And if one doesn’t allow an expression for avodas Hashem, the need would lead people to avodah zarah.

    Abarbanel: There are many proofs that qorbanos are part of an ideal, and not a concession to human limitation.

    I then suggested a variant on the Narvoni’s idea that doesn’t fit the Rambam’s words, that the need to give in worship is a human need, but a positive thing, not a limitation. Any real relationship seeks expression in giving — whether it’s qorbanos or flowers. (And in both cases, the primary gift is the act of giving; Hashem doesn’t need the qorban and my wife tends not to take a second look at the flowers.)

    So much for the summary.

    1- The word “qorban” is the “-an” (object related to) suffix added to /qrb/ (to come close, the root of the word “kiruv”, to cause to come close). However, this has (at least) two meanings: an object that expresses a closeness already felt, or one that causes a closeness.

    Perhaps this is reflected in our machloqes. The Rambam, especially as understood by the Narvoni, sees a qorban as an expression of a feeling already there, one which we therefore see in avodah zarah, and which the person needs in order to feel like a worshipper. The Ramban sees a qorban as a tool for acheiving closeness by unifying all his abilities to this end.

    2- The Meshech Chokhmah (introduction to Vayiqra) finds a role for each explanation. The Rambam’s notion of weaning was the role of bamos, of altars built to G-d on mountaintops, outside of the mishkan. The weaning period ended when the Beis haMiqdash was dedicated in Yerushalayim, which is why bamos became prohibited at that time. However, we failed, avodah zarah and bamos thrived throughout the first Temple. Qorbanos in the Beis haMiqdash is called a rei’ach nikho’ach (a pleasant smell before Hashem) because they were to unify the worlds, as explained by the Ramban.

    In light of the two meanings we gave to qorban, this explains why bamos were not mandatory — they were only for an expression of a feeling already there. As it says in parashas Vayiqra, “ish ki yaqriv mikem qorban — a person, when he brings from you a qorban”, when he chooses. However, the qorbanos at the mishkan or beis hamiqdash are not if/when, but obligatory. Because they create the motivation even when it’s not already there.

    3- Allowing the Meshech Chokhmah’s idea that the Rambam’s and Ramban’s ideas can coexist, we can reach an interesting conclusion. According to the Ramban, the point of qorban is about it being an action more than the physical object being offered. Perhaps this is true even when the qorban is Rambam-esque, an expression of a human need. Like the husband who brings flowers, the primary gift is the giving itself, the statement “I need to give”.

    4- What a far cry from the 9 seconds given to Qorbanos between “Atah Hu” and “Rabbi Yishma’el” in the minyan I attend every morning. Where’s that “need to give” that marks having a true relationship with the Creator?

    I don’t think all the thoughts above will help. I think the gap between mind and heart is too great for philosophising to create an emotional need. Emotions are build slowly, through repetition. Perhaps we should pick one tefillah from Qorbanos, maybe the Tamid that the Shacharis we are davening derives from. And not only having these kavanos when saying it, but also simply thinking, “Ribono shel olam, I can’t even feel the loss of qorbanos. Please help me!”

    Tum’ah and Taharah

    [From this week’s Shabat B’Shabbato by Machon Zomet. I found this devar Torah to be particularly Aspaqlaria-esque. See also my take on tum’ah from Mesukim MiDevash on Chukas.]POINT OF VIEW
    Ritual Impurity and Purity
    Prof. Shalom Rozenberg

    I will take this opportunity to discuss the significance of ritual purity and impurity in Jewish thought. To do this, I will relate the matter to the three basic concepts of the Torah: creation, revelation, and redemption.

    Creation lowered nature and the entire universe from the realm of absolute authority. According to the approach of the idol worshippers, both mankind and the deities are powerless against the arbitrary fate which controls all of nature and mocks it. The belief in a Divine power established an alternative approach to the concept of creation. According to this approach, the Almighty is not part of the world and is not under its control. He created it. And this leads us to revelation, the giving of the Torah.

    Archimedes was showing great wisdom when he claimed that according to the laws of physics if he had a balance point outside of the earth and a long enough lever he could move the earth from its position. When the Almighty said to Moshe, “here is a place, with me” [Shemot 33:21], he gave man just such an Archimedean point. Resting on this point with the use of the lever of prophesy, it is possible to move the world from the point of view of ethics. According to the approach of the idol worshippers, mankind should learn ethics from nature, where the law of the jungle is the supreme rule. The Torah has given us a different perspective, that of the Almighty. We must be critical of nature and sometimes struggle against its indifference to suffering. The Torah “preceded” the world and takes priority over it.

    The next step is redemption. Nature is not moral and it is not a proper model. The command “Do not kill” that descends from heaven will in the future bring peace to the entire world, including the animal kingdom. The ruthless wars of the jungle will in the future come to an end. Redemption issimilar to returning to the Garden of Eden, a world of peace, as is written by Yeshayahu: “A new baby will play at the hole of a serpent, and a weaned child will move his hand toward a snake’s nest” [11:8]. Even the serpent, the symbol of evil, will make peace with mankind and will have respect for the weak and vulnerable. The world can be different, without sickness or death, a place where “death will be eliminated forever, and G-d will erase the tears from every face” [Yeshayahu 25:8].

    Death and the Temple

    This ideal world is reflected in the Temple. Ritual impurity represents tragic reality, described in the Torah as expulsion from the Garden of Eden. At the center of the tragedy is the concept of death. This serious impurity is related specifically to man, because of his greatness and glory. Man is “gavra,” a person, subjective and active. Death transforms him into “cheftza,” an inanimate object. This steep descent is symbolized by the concept of “tum’a,” ritual impurity.

    A dead body is indeed at the highest level of “tum’a,” but there are other phenomena that are symbols of death, such as tzara’at — leprosy — and zav — an impure flow — in addition to blood flow of a woman and the sperm of a man. These are not absolute death but only partial. Tzra’at is a symbol of the death of organs of the body. The blood of nida and wasted sperm are death of a potential life. The main details of the laws of ritual impurity stem from these principles.

    How does one become impure? One becomes impure when he becomes involved with death. The type of involvement is set by the normal life style. The greatest expression of social living with another person is dwelling together in the same tent or house. A person becomes impure when he is in a “tent” together with a dead body. Material objects mainly become impure through their normal use, every object in its own way, leading to the acts of touching and carrying. In general, it can be said that when death, total or partial, interferes in the normal sequence of human life, ritual impurity occurs.

    Purification, on the other hand, is linked to a return to the original world, before the sin. This primal world is characterized by water in different forms: it is always water that was not drawn by man, and in some cases it is the fresh water of a spring. It is as if we return to the water which covered all the earth before the dry land was revealed, before man was created. This water is a symbol of renewed birth, of rejuvenation that G-d provides for man. The Temple is a model of the Garden of Eden, a model of the world of the future, and this explains the connection between the laws of ritual impurity and the Temple. Death is not allowed to enter into the Temple. It is forbidden for a chain of events that included death to leave any impression on the Temple. Death must remain outside the Temple.

    We must be careful not to judge ritual impurity according to the common categories of nature. In some ways, it can be compared more to a legal concept than to a dangerous negative energy. But it is really much more than that. Tum’a is a phenomenon that ideally should not have appeared in the world at all. In some ways, the laws of ritual impurity are a protest against cosmic reality. Morality cannot be derived from nature. Morality stems from revelation, from the Divine point of view. Nature must be redeemed, and ritual impurity should disappear from the world. It is wrong to accept the unredeemed reality as it is and to surrender to it. Nature as it exists is not a judge but rather should itself be judged.

    And this leads us to the existential principle so well expressed by the Chassidic approach: “As long as the candle continues to burn, it can be repaired.” And the world is in need of repair. This is also a principle that we can learn from the laws of ritual impurity and purity.

    [This is actually a mussar vort. Rav Yisrael Salanter passed a shoemaker working late at night. He asked the shoemaker why he was working so late, and the response was as above. Rav Yisrael learned from this that the job of personal repair is lifelong. The soul is compared to a candle, “neir Hashem nishmas adam — the candle [lamp] of Hashem is the soul of man.” (Mishlei 20:27). As long as the candle continues to burn, it is still possible to make repairs. (Dov Katz, Tenu’as haMussar) -mi]

    Tum’ah and Taharah, part II

    Rav Y Henken replied to my previous entry on this subject (repeated here for the benefit of Google). He wrote:

    See in my “New Interpretations on rhe Parsha” (Ktav) and also Shu”t Bnei Banim vol. 4 maamar 22.

    Q. Why is a woman in childbirth considered to be ritually impure?

    A. That is a difficult question. Vayikra is full of laws of tumah and taharah. One of the six orders of the Mishnah is devoted to them. But there is little discussion of the meaning behind ritual impurity, and why it should be forbidden in the Temple.

    To be sure, tumah is often connected with death and decay, and as such can be seen as antithetical to the idea of haShem, the living G-d. This would explain why the most potent source of tumah is the human corpse, and why various types of animal carcasses transmit impurity. Similarly, leprosy and certain diseases of the reproductive tract that cause tumah are forms of decay. The menstruant woman is impure because menstruation marks the waste of the ovum, the loss of a potential life.

    The rock on which this explanation founders, however, is childbirth. Why is a woman impure after childbirth? Nothing seems further from death and decay than bringing a child into the world. Even if birth involves an element of illness for the mother, why should that outweigh the emergence of a new being?

    The answer, it seems to me, is that not only death and decay are opposed to the idea of G-d, but birth as well. HaShem does not die, but neither is He born. The flux of human life, birth and death together, is antithetical to G-d’s immutable and eternal nature. Tumah represents the waxing as well as the waning of life and has no place in the Sanctuary, the abode of the Eternal. For that reason a woman in childbirth is impure, for nothing is less G-d-like than the cycle of generation.

    This can explain several of the laws of purity and sacrifices. Why is a woman impure for one week if a boy is born, but two weeks if she gives birth to a girl? Because the female is the more visible link in the reproductive chain.

    Why is it forbidden to add leavening and honey to meal-offerings (Vayikra 2:11)? Because these substances accelerate the formation of chametz: chametz waxes and swells more than matzo but quickly goes stale, whereas matzo can keep indefinitely. Chametz therefore symbolizes mortal existence, and has no place in the sacrifices.

    Finally, why is chametz forbidden on Pesach? Because Pesach is the holiday of belief in G-d, we must avoid leaven, which symbolically contradicts His unchanging nature.

    Notes

    1. Commentators are cautious in ascribing reasons for tumah and its categories; for example, see Sefer HaChinuch, no. 159 (Chavel ed. no. 152). In Moreh Nevuchim 3:47, Rambam wrote that impurity exists simply in order to make the Sanctuary off-limits to most people.

    2. For a summary of the types of impurity see Otzar Yisrael, s.v. tum’ah vetaharah, and Encyclopaedia Judaica, s.v. ritual impurity.

    3. See Ramban, commentary to Vayikra 12:1.

    4. Contrast this both with Christianity and the cult of the chief Canaanite deity, Baal, who was believed to die each year during the dry season and to be reborn with the first rains.

    5. By contrast, the preservative salt is required for all sacrifices (Vayikra 2:13).

    6. See below (in “New Interpretations on the Parsha”) Pesach, pp. 190-192.

    My own take, from an essay on parah adumah (which further elaborates on the theme):

    What does it mean to be tamei or tahor? When the Torah discusses the subject, it uses the avoidance of tum’ah as a goal in an of itself, not as something that needs further justification. The explanation Hashem gives us for certain animals being non-kosher is merely “tamei hu lakhem — it is tamei to you.” (Vayikra 11:4) Elsewhere, we find tahor used to mean pure; for example, pure gold is repeatedly called “zahav tahor.” (e.g. Shemos 25:31) But what is it that is pure, and from what kind of adulteration is it pure?

    The Ramchal defines the personal attribute called taharah:

    Taharah is the correction of the heart and thoughts… Its essence is that man shouldn’t leave room for the inclination in his actions. Rather all his actions should be on the side of wisdom and awe [for the Almighty], and not on the side of sin and desire. This is even in those things which are of the body and physical.
    – Mesilas Yesharim Ch. 16

    To the Ramchal, taharah is purity of the “heart and thoughts”. The the tahor man has “no room for the physical.” It is the purity of the deciding mind from the physical creature.

    To cast the words of the Ramchal into the terms we discussed in the introduction, taharah and tum’ah focus on the relation ship between the physical and the mind. Taharah is the purity of the mind from physical prejudices. Tum’ah is its adulteration, so that the decision making process can not be freed of the physical urges.

    This is mussar’s description of a personality trait called “taharah.” The halachah’s concept seems to derive directly from it. Rav SR Hirsch describes the tum’ah of a dead body.

    A dead human body tends to bring home to one’s mind a fact which is able to give support to that pernicious misconception which is called tum’ah. For, in fact, there lies before us actual evidence that Man must — willy-nilly — submit to the power of physical forces. That in this corpse that lies before us, it is not the real human being, that the real human being, the actual Man, which the powers of physical force can not touch, had departed from here before the body — merely its earthly envelope — could fall under the withering law of earthly Nature; more, that as long as the real Man, with his free-willed self-determining G-dly nature was present in the body, the body itself was freed from forced obedience to the purely physical demands, and was elevated into the sphere of moral freedom in all its powers of action and also of enjoyment, when the free-willed ruling of the higher part of Man decided to achieve the moral mission of his life;
    – Commentary on Lev. 11:47

    R. SR Hirsch portrays the tamei object as one that causes the illusion that man is nothing more than a physical object, an animal, a helpless subject to physical forces and physical desires. In reality,

    death only begins with death, but that in life, thinking striving and accomplishing Man can master, rule, and use even his own sensuous body with all its all its innate forces, urges, and powers, with G-d-like free self-decision, within the limits of, and for accomplishment of, the duties set by the laws of morality; …

    “Thinking striving and accomplishing Man,” the conscious man, should use the “sensuous body with all its innate forces, urges, and powers,” the physical man, as a tool for doing good. The object which halachah calls tamei is that thing which will cause mussar’s tum’ah to awaken itself within the mind. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The mind that is prejudiced by physical needs and urges can not fully choose its own destiny.

    Note that tum’ah robs oneself of bechirah by being convinced — adulterating bechirah, if you will — of the idea that man is merely a subject, not an object. In the terms of the Gra’s Peirush al Kama Agados — purity of the ru’ach (soul as wind, as actor) from the nefesh (the animal soul).

    The notion of subject vs object and its relationship to cheit’s power to be metamei is also discussed by Rav YB Soloveitchik in a 1974 teshuvah derashah. See our R’ Dr Arnold Lustiger’s, “Before Hashem You Shall be Purified”, Ohr Publishing, 1998.

    The Rav starts with R”H 29a, where R’ Nachman says that someone who is half slave, have freeman (e.g. a slave who was owned by two partners, and subsequently freed by one of them) can not fulfill the mitzvah of hearing shofar from his own blowing. As a non-Jewish slave becomes a Jew when freed, such a person is half Jewish. Unlike other mitzvos, where he can fulfill the mitzvah himself — e.g. he can daven for himself, and need not rely on a fully Jewish chazan.

    RYBS explains that blowing shofar is different because the mitzvah is not in the blowing, but in the hearing. The berachah reads “…who commanded us to hear the sound of the shofar.” Inherent in the mitzvah is two kinds of individuals, the tokei’ah (the blower) and the shomei’ah (the listener), the nosei (mover) and the nisa (moved). An active subject and a passive object.

    It’s not halachah that splits the individual in this way, it’s sin. Sin splits the personality into tamei and tahor components. The call of the shofar is the nosei awakening the nisa, calling across that chasm created by sin to restore unity, to bring us closer to the image of the Singular Nosei in Whose “Image” we were created.

    The message of the shofar is that all is not lost. That no matter how much ruach one is mitamei, the core remains. Teshuvah is always possible. “For on this day, He will place kaparah atonement upon you, to make you tahor from all your sins; before Hashem you will become tahor.

    If taharah is purity from the idea that man is merely a physical being, an object that is “forced [into] obedience to the purely physical demands”, than kaparah is the containment of that idea. Placing a kapores, a lid, upon the nefesh, man’s mammalian nature. Through kaparah one cordons off the animal within oneself, but did not yet address the damage to one’s decision-making due to habit.

    Purpose of Qorbanos, part II

    “This is what is meant by the verse (Tehillim 89:7), “For who in the heavens can equal God, can compare with God among the divine beings?” Said the A-lmighty, “If I wanted a sacrifice, wouldn’t I simply ask Michael, who is right here next to Me, to offer to Me a sacrifice? From whom do I want a sacrifice? From Israel!”
    – Tanchuma, beginning of Parashas Tzav

    The Kotzker Rebbe explains this medrash. Hashem does not desire the qorban itself. Mal’achim could make a far more perfect offering with no adulteration of intent. Rather, the qorban is in the decision to give. Hashem gave us the power to decide, and our handing back that which is truly ours is what brings us close to Him.

    Barukh shekivanti!

    Ki Arumim Heim

    “And the snake was [more] arum than all the animals of the field…” (Bereishis 3:1)In this pasuq, “arum” is variously translated. JPS has “subtle”. Others have “sly”, “cunning”, and the like. In Iyov (5:12), Elifaz describes Hashem as One Who “annuls the thoughts of arumim”. In these contexts, it would appear that being an “arum” is no compliment. But in the very next pasuq in Iyov (v. 13), it is attributed to Hashem, who “overtakes the wise in ormah”! And in Mishlei (12:16), “A fool — in the moment his anger will be known; but the arum covers an insult.” The word “arum” describes a kind of wisdom that isn’t entirely negative.Then we get further in the story of Gan Eden, and after Chavah and Adam eat from the fruit, “Their eyes were opened and they knew they were eirumim.” (3:7) Same root, but in this case the translation is consistently “naked”.

    Another point that confused me about the story is the choice of word used for garment when Hashem dresses them. There are a number of such words: “beged”, which is the same root as “bagad”, to spy; “kesus”, a covering… The latter in particular would have been the more obvious choice. They were ashamed of their nudity, so Hashem covered them. However, HQBH chose to call the garments “kasnos or” (v. 21), “leather tunics”. The next time we encounter the concept of a “kusones” is in the garments made for kohanim (Shemos 28:4). Hashem gave Adam and Chavah uniforms, something that implies a mission and a station. This isn’t simply a response to physical nudity.

    Our rabbis retold: Yisrael are dear, for HQBH surrounded them with mitzvos; tefillin on their heads, tefillin on their arms, tzitzis on their clothing, and mezuzos on their doorposts. Of these [King] David said, “Seven times a day do I praise You by Your righteous laws.” (Tehillim 119:164). When David went to the bathhouse and saw himself arum, he said: “Woe is me, that I stand arum without a mitzvah.” But when he remembered the milah in his flesh, his mind was set at rest. After he left, he gave song, as it says “For the conductor, on the eighth [lit: an eight-stringed instrument, but intended here to be milah, the eighth mitzvah] a song of praise of David.” (12:1)
    – Menachos 43b

    To be arum is to have wisdom, but no mitzvos, no higher goal to which to set it. The snake was arum in this sense. The wise person who Hashem frustrates is one who abuses that wisdom, plotting how to do something better off undone.

    Chavah and Adam ate from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and suddenly they realized they were arumim. They realized there is such a thing as having a higher calling as opposed to wasting one’s life in frivolity. No longer was a life of “working and protecting” (c.f. 2″15) the garden sufficient. In full realization of their ability to create, they had a need to produce, to properly channel their knowledge.

    Hashem removes them from Gan Eden, from a position where one can live on dependency, and needs only to preserve what was given. Instead, He gives them kusnos or, uniforms for a life of creative service.

    Different Parts of the Same Body

    We can draw a theme from parashas Bamidbar through the beginning of Beha’alosekha.In Beha’alosekha, Moshe and Aharon count the Jewish People “according to their families, by their father’s household” (1:2), divided by sheivet. Sheivet is defined patrilineally. Membership in the Jewish People as a whole is matrilineal, though. Why? We also find this asymetry in a law mentioned later in that parashah — pidyon haben. While the father’s oldest child gets twice the inheritance of his other children, when it comes to the sanctity of the firstborn, and the need to redeem it, it’s the mother’s firstborn that is holy.We see a hint to the difference in a verse, “These are the children of Moshe and Aharon; the children of Aharon are…” The medrash explains that Aharon’s children are the children of Moshe, their mentor, as well. (Unlike Moshe’s own children, who did not follow their father as their mentor.) Fatherhood is captured by formal education. In fact, the mitzvah of chinukh, formal education, falls only on the father.

    Mothers inherently teach, whether they wish to or not. They are the ones home, setting the tone that the children grow up within, the attitudes they absorb preconsciously. Deeper than formal education, the exchange of ideas, this is the exchange of culture, ideals, and values. In fact, a command to provide this education, which would necessitate formal and procedural “teaching” in order to fulfill this mitzvah, would get in the way of the true transmission of the instinctive culture.

    The difference is summed up by Shelomo haMelekh: “Shema beni mussar avikha, ve’al titosh toras imekha — Listen, my son, to what your father gives over, and do not abandon your mother’s Torah.” It’s no coincidence that Chazal tell us “Do not read ‘toras imekha’ but ‘toras umaskha’ — the Torah of your nation.” Torah as orakh chaim, as the way the people live.

    I analyze this aspect of things in more detail in Mesukim Midevash for Bamidbar. There are two aspects to Oral Torah which affects our understanding of the decline of generations in light of our progress to the messianic era, as well as explaining the need for mussar and the other derakhim that emerged in the late 18th and 19th centuries. I also wrote on this topic earlier, in an entry titled “The Fall of Mimeticism and Forks on the Hashkafic Road“.

    But here I want to look at what it says about the nature of the shevatim. We all share common values, which is why Jewishness is matrilineal. Our roles, our assigned duties, are those of our sheivet, and since this can be formally taught, it’s patrilineal.

    Parashas Naso continues this count down into the families of Leviim, and describing their duties.

    In his Shabbos morning derashah, R’ Ron Yitzchak Eisenman (the rav of my shul), repeated an interesting point he found in a seifer titled Yalqut Shemu’el by R’ Shmuel Fine, a rav in Detroit in the 1930s. Among the coverings of the utensils of the Mishkan named when speaking of the duties of the Leviim to carry them form place to place were ones made of the leather of techashim. Tachash is the same kind of leather used in the top layer of the Mishkan’s roof. The word “tachash” is difficult to translate. Some, following a comment in Yechezqeil that Hashem made us shoes of tachash leather in the desert, identify it with an aquatic animal, since Bedouins use that to make their shoes. Others translate it as a “unicorn”. The Targum Unqelus defines it as “sasgona”, which the gemara (Shabbos 28a) tells us is an animal that rejoices (sas) in its many colors (gona). The Tankhuma (Terumah 6) says it has six (sheish – sas) colors. Chazal also say the tachash was created once, just for the Mishkan, which would fit the unicorn or the sasgona. (See Rabbi Nosson Slifkin’s Mysterious Creatures pp. 74-79 for a complete inquiry into the identity of the Tachash.)

    The Yalqut Shemu’el asks why the animal used must be one that is sas, rejoices, in his colors. The sasgona is not only a single creature of diverse colors; it takes joy in its diversity! This is a key ingredient to building the Mishkan and in fact of building any qehillah. We shouldn’t merely tolerate Jews of other stripes, we should rejoice in their existence. Yahadus is stronger because we have Modern Orthodox Jews who take that Judaism to the streets, Yeshivish ones who are constantly raising the bar on the standards of Torah study, the chassidim who breathed life into America’s kashrus industry, the Zionists who secured for us a homeland and the anti-Zionists who insure we don’t worship it as an end in itself. Within the four amos of halakhah we need multiple expressions.

    The tachash is not only identified with the sasgona, but also the unicorn. A kosher animal that had one horn, one qeren. “Keren” also means pride or power. As we say in Shemoneh Esrei “The sprout of David should sprout soon, and he will lift his qeren for your redemption.” The tachash is not simply a plurality, it’s a union of disparate parts, a synergy to make one greater force, one inseparable being.

    We must learn to look at other forms of Torah observance as “different parts of the same body”. Not to be tolerated despite their differences, but loved because of them. All come from the same toras imekha, the same basic worldview, values and aspirations. We differ, as did the shevarim, in mussar avikha, in the formal layer of education after that, where we learn our roles and where we fit in that greater mission.

    This was the message Hashem gave Aharon in the beginning of parashas Beha’alosekha. Chazal write that when the heads of the shevatim brought their qorbanos (listed at the end of Naso), Aharon, whose role included being the head of Levi, was pained at not being able to participate. Hashem comforted him by pointing to the story of Chanukah. The chanukas habayis, the consecration of the Beis haMiqdash, by Aharon’s descendents the Chashmona’im, was greater than the offerings of the nesi’im. Why?

    Each of the nesi’im brought what was physically the same offering. However, each offering was distinct in intent. The Ramban itemizes the allusions each nasi could find in the same offering that relate to his particular tribe, to his particular ancestor. The offerings were colored by mussar avikha, by each sheivet’s particularist role.

    Aharon is then told, “When you cause the menorah [flames] to go up, toward the face of the menorah its lamps should burn.” The menorah has one central trunk, from which emerge six branches. The flame atop each branch must point toward the middle. Each branch is a different wisdom, a different skill-set. They all emerge from the same basic Torah, from the mother-taught values that define our Jewishness. It is Aharon’s job to remind us that they also must be channeled back toward that central core.

    We all work toward a common goal. Knowing that each of us are unique, bringing unique thoughts and abilities, unique perspective and educational background, leads us not only to realize the full value of our own part in the greater whole (no man is “just another brick in the wall”) but to treasure the contributions of others because they are so different than our own, and bringing something to the whole that we can’t.

    Tzitzis, Advance and Retreat

    There are two descriptions of the mitzvah of tzitzis. First, from parashas Shelach (and Qeri’as Shema):

    … [T]hey should make for themselves tzitzis on the corners of their garments (bigdeihem) throughout their generations, and that they put on the tzitzis of each corner a thread of blue wool (techeiles). And it shall for you tzitzis, and you will see it and remember all the mitzvos of Hashem… (Bamidbar 15:38-39).

    There are a few points I want to stress about this quote:

    1- The term for garment used is beged. Hebrew has a number of terms for clothing. That it’s called a beged rather than a kesus or a levush is significant. The uniform of the kohanim is called the bigdei kehunah. By saying the mitzvah is on our begadim is to cast the mitzvah in terms of the uniform for a role. (For an analysis of these terms with respect to bigdei kehunah and all the mentions of clothing in Megillas Esther, see “The Natures of Clothing“, and with respect to the clothing of Adam and Chava see “Ki Arumim Heim“.)

    2- The term for the tassel is tzitzis. Tzitzis is actually an agricultural term, it means “sprout” or “small growths”. Tzitzis implies human growth. It is associated with the idea in Menachos 39a that “the beauty of techeiles (meaning tzitzis in general -Rashi) is 1/3 gedilim (knotted cords), and 2/3 free.”

    3- Hashem describes techeiles as a thread of blue wool on the tzitzis. From this phrase, the Rambam and Raavad (as opposed to Rashi and Tosafos, see below) conclude that only one of the strings should be blue. The Rambam defines that as one of 8 string-ends coming out of the knotted portion. The Raavad, that it’s one of 4 strings, i.e. two ends are blue. (The Vilna Gaon writes that he is convinced that one of these two positions should be followed, but couldn’t determine which.)

    From the Rambam’s position, R’ SR Hirsch explains techeiles as the Jew’s higher calling. It is the eighth string, going beyond the six days of physical creation and even the seventh day of the sanctity imbued within this world. It is sky-blue, the primary color most associated with spirituality — beyond the physical red (adom, red= adamah, earth= dam, blood), and even the green of growth.

    The techeiles, then, imposes spirituality on the growth of the tzitzis. As Rav Hirsch describes it, human growth must be expressed freely — represented by the 2/3 of free-string tassel, but only after it was channeled by that blue thread. )I discuss this idea in more detail in Toras Aish for parashas Shelach.)

    4- Hashem gives a motivation and purpose to the mitzvah. It’s a mnemonic device to remember not to chase aveiros, and to do mitzvos.

    But there is a second presentation in the Torah of the mitzvah. The mitzvah is repeated in Devarim 22:2, to appear next to the laws of shaatnez. This teaches that techeiles, which is definitionally blue wool, is put on a linen garment despite the laws of shaatnez. There the Torah reads:

    You shall make for yourself gedilim (cords) on the four corners of your covering (kesusekha), with which you cover yourself.

    In this presentation, all three points that I stressed above are different.

    1- The term for clothing is kesus, a cover. And in case we missed it, the pasuq continues by saying “which you cover (mekhaseh) yourself in it.” As opposed to the uniform of the beged, this is clothing that one wears to hide. The beged is an appointment to a duty, the kesus, a retreat from shame.

    2- There is no mention of the free strings of the tassel, only of the gedil, the knotted part. This is in concert with the notion of it being a kesus. There is no emphasis of human creativity and individuality.

    3- It’s from this pasuq that we learn there are eight ends of strings in each tassel. A gedil, a term for a cord or rope from the root /gdl/ – large, must be more than one string. Gedilim, in the plural, is therefore at least 2 pairs of strings, four in all, or eight ends. In fact, Rashi and Tosafos conclude from this pasuq that there is one gedil of white strings, and one of techeiles, i.e. two full strings (four ends) are blue.

    The image of the mitzvah of techeiles, then, is that it’s one of man’s forces — with no description to its role in binding and guiding the others.

    4- Hashem doesn’t say why we should wear it. Gedilim are worn simply because Hashem said so.

    In R’ JB Soloveitchik’s terms, a beged is worn when one is in a state of advance, a kesus, when one seeks retreat. We’re not looking at man advancing, but his withdrawing in order to re-aim himself at the higher goal. Thus, we only speak of the gedil, the channeling of forces.

    To use another of R’ Soloveitchik’s models, we can say that Adam I, majestic man, is given begadim with which to accept the responsibility that comes with his ability, and to aim his mastery of the world in positive directions. Adam II, covenental man, is given a kesus with which to hide his needfulness, to help him retreat long enough to find G-d.

    Therefore, in Bamidbar, the beged is associated with human creativity, with instructions how to sanctify it, and with a personal motivation for keeping the mitzvah. Whereas in Devarim, the focus is not on our sanctifying ourselves, but in our accepting G-d’s role in sanctifying us.

    Both relationships are true. As Rabbi Aqiva asked “Before whom do you make yourselves tahor, and Who makes you tahor?” There are times when we should take the initiative, and times when we are unable, and allow Hashem to do it for us.

    In general, I’m trying to explore the concept of clothing, of uniform, and the proper use of chitzoniyus(externals). Like it or not, others do form their first impressions of us from our clothes. While we all know it’s silly to judge people by their clothing, it happens preconsciously and we can’t stop ourselves from forming that first impression. Nor can we change the entire human race from forming such impressions of us.

    And there is no neutral clothing. Wearing a black fedora means that people’s first impression of you is “he’s yeshivish”. Not wearing one, though, equally creates an impression, the person will conclude you’re not all that yeshivish (assuming you’re a man, of course). You’re judged in comparison to the stereotype of people with similar clothing. To avoid wearing clothing of any particular subculture marks you as an outsider, an oddball. Etc… But the point is, you’re always marked. There is no non-uniform.

    The other contrast to a beged is a levush. (I’m using the terms as I see them in Tanakh. When Chassidim call their clothing “levush”, it’s obviously based on a different understanding of the differences in connotation between the words.) Achashveirosh’s royal robes are “levush malkhus”. Not begadim, because he wasn’t inherently a royal person. Achashveirosh is portrayed in the megillah as a real follower, being lead around by his advisors, a drunkard, and not the swiftest thinker. Begadim help one assume a role. Levush helps look like they are in a role they really aren’t.

    We often end up viewing ourselves and trying to remake ourselves to live up to our clothing. That’s the role of beged, raising our self-image to motivate us to improve. However, without knowing the proper time for begadim, one could try to don a beged only to have it devolve into a levush, a means of fooling ourselves into thinking we are holier than we are.

    The key is knowing when is a time for advance, and when for retreat. Knowing that is knowing when we’re using chitzoniyus constructively, and when not. But most of us are not in the habit of even noticing the choices we make, never mind working toward improving them. At risk of getting overly repetitive, I see no way of knowing when to don the beged and when the kesus without keeping a daily cheshbon hanefesh.

    Mas’ei — the Journey as a Name of G-d

    Parashas Mas’ei opens with a description of Benei Yisra’el’s trip through the desert, and lists the forty-two stops made along the way. An oft-quoted Zohar identifies the stops in the desert with each of the letters in Hashem’s forty-two letter name. What’s the particular significance of the journeys and stops in Sinai that give them such cosmic significance?Jean-Paul Sartre, when asked to summarize the existentialist movement in philosophy, gave the following dictum: Existence precedes essence. What that means may be most easily explained by contrasting people to tables. With a table, you can study the plans for the table, the wood and other materials from which it will be built, and with a little math and science know everything there is to know about the table. The essence of the table precedes its actual existence. With human beings, it’s the reverse. I’ve existed since (at least) my birth. But who I am, my essence, is not what I was or even knowable back then. With human beings, our existence comes before our essence.Another existentialist, Søren Kierkegaard, characterized his religion in a way we can apply to ours. The ideal is not to be a good Jew, but becoming one.

    The same point was made earlier by the Kotzker Rebbe. The Kotzker asked his Chassidim, “If you see two people on a ladder, one on the fourth rung and one on the tenth, which is higher?” The chassidim, probably knowing it was a leading question, answered the obvious, “The one on the tenth rung.” “No,” the rebbe replied, “he might be descending the ladder. It is the one who is climbing upward.”

    When we stand for Shemoneh Esrei we do so with our feet together to emulate the angels. “Veragleihem regel yisharah – and their legs are one straight leg [each].” (Yechezqeil 1:7) Angels stand on a single leg, a pedestal, stationary. As Zechariah (3:7) repeats Hashem’s message to Yehoshua Kohein Gadol, “then I will give you to walk (mehalkhim) among these that stand still (ha’omedim).” People are mehalkhim, goers; angels, omedim, standing still.

    Angels might be on a higher rung on the ladder, but since only people have the power to ascend it, we have the potential to be loftier.

    This is because we have free will, the ability to make and remake ourselves. The power of teshuvah.

    In short, life is a journey, not a destination.

    And so, Mas’ei benei Yisrael, the journey and growth in the desert, was to imbue the Jewish people with the essence of being a nation of kohanim. Therefore, it truly is His Name, a representation of Hashem’s Presence in this world.

    A Second Covenant

    “To enter into a beris, a covenant, with Hashem your G-d, and in His oath, which Hashem makes with You today.” (Devarim 29:11) The Ramban comments that the beris mentioned here is a new one made in Arvos Mo’av, in addition to the one made at Har Sinai. (The Rav has some Torah on this as well.)I would like to suggest the following distinction between the two covenants:At Har Sinai, we were “ke’ish echad beleiv echad — like one man, with one heart”. We were unified because we chose to follow a common objective. Man joins the community — the connection is made outward from the individual.

    Rashi comments on the dots over “lanu ulvaneinu in “The hidden are for Hashem our G-d, vehaniglos lanu ulvaneinu la’asos es kol divrei haTorah hazos — the revealed are for us and our children to do all the words of this Torah.” (29:28) He quotes the opinion of R’ Nechemiah that with these words we accepted areivus zeh lazeh. That lanu, written in the plural, falls the responsibility for the known sins of individuals. The community is responsible for its members, even those who choose not to follow its goals. As parashas Nitzavim opens, “Atem nitzavim hayom kulkhem — You are standing here today, all of you.” The connection is made from the community in toward the member — and so membership is automatic, regardless of personal choice.

    It is different but similar to a distinction The Rav makes between the am, and the eidah. The am is the community of fate (which would include all Jews) and the eidah (from the word eidus testimony, those who believe in and live according to the revelation in Sinai), the community of destiny. Man chooses to follow his destiny, fate is imposed upon him. Note the purpose of this second beris: “lema’an haqim osekha hayom Lo li’am, veHu yihyeh likha lEi-lokim — so that you will be established for Him a community of fate, and He will be for you a G-d.” (29:12)

    The power of speech

    I had an epiphany during leining this past Shabbos (parashas Bereishis). Such things are notoriously difficult to convey, but I’ll try anyway.Usually, shmuessin on the subject of shemiras halashon revolve around showing how much power is in speech, how speach is a real “thing”, and has a challos (impact) the world.I realized something, though: It’s the exact reverse! It’s not merely that speech is a real thing, the point is that every real thing is in truth “just” speech! All of creation is “And E-lokim was saying….” Our words have power because words are the more primary ontology, they are more real than, and the source of, objects.

    But the name of the city was “Luz” originally

    And he [Ya’aqov] called the name of that place Beis-el, but the name of the city was Luz originally.

    – Bereishis 28:19

    Luz, the original name for Beis-el, is apparently the name of a kind of tree, usually translated “chestnut”. It’s one of the kinds of wood from which Ya’aqov avinu made sticks for the sheep and goats to look at while drinking.

    Bereishis Rabba (69:8) discusses the amazing properties of living in the city of Luz:

    • They always told the truth.
    • No one in the city died. When people got old and tired, they needed to move out for nature to take its course.
    • The city was never conquered by Sancheirev, and wasn’t destroyed by Nevuchadnetzar at the end of the first commonwealth. Even though both invaded Luz.
    • Luz is where they made the tekheiles dye.

    Luz is also the name of a special bone in the body, where the skull and spine meet. Two medrashim associate the luz bone with Hadrian y”sh. Bereishis Rabba has him trying to grind a luz and failing. There’s a strong parallel to the city of Luz resisting conquest at the end of the first beis hamiqdash, since the Hadrianic persecutions are at the end of the second commonwealth. Second, Qoheles Rabba has Hadrian asking R’ Yehoshua’ ben Chananyah about techiyas hameisim, and RYbC explains that Hashem starts by softening the luz with dew.

    (This connection to dew is why the praise of “morid hatal — He Who lowers dew” is in the berakhah of Shemoneh Esrei that ends “Who revives the dead”. It also explains why there is a version in which one says in the summer “morid hatul”, with a qamatz, making it the end of the sentence with “mechayei hameisim”, while in the summer they would say “umorid hageshem” is with two segol’s, connected to “mekhalkeil chaim” — rain being necessary for this life — “bechesed”…)

    Luz seems particularly connected with Yaiaqov, the one who renames it. First, his service of G-d centers around emes, truth, the middah exemplified by the citizens of Luz. He uses the luz sticks. And according to the Ben Ish Chai, there is a connection to his father-in-law’s and brother-in-law’s names, as well as his own names/titles.

    And the mequbbalim write: There is a bone in a person’s body which receives no benefit from food, except from the se’udah revi’is on Motza’ei Shabbos. And this bone does not disintegrate in the grave. It is called variously “niscoi”, “luz”, and “besu’el”. These three names have the acronym of “lavan”, which are also the final letters of Yisrael, Yaakov and Yeshurun, and from this bone the body will be rebuilt at techiyas hameisim, and this is specifically applied to Israel only, as the pasuk says: “Ve’atem hadeveqim Bashem E-lokeikhem, chayim kulekhem hayom — and you who cleave to Hashem your G-d, you are all alive today”.

    – Ben Ish Chai, yr. 2, Bereishis 27

    So, given that Luz was renamed Beis-el, why does the gemara and medrash sometime refer to the city as “Luz”? (Particularly when referring to the city in the times of Sancheirev and Nevuchadnetzar, after many years of it being the Kingdom of Israel’s Beis-el.) And what exactly is the common theme here between the tree, the city, the bone and all the people?

    The mishnah says “derekh eretz qodmah laTorah — proper behavior in society is a prerequisite to Torah.” Our aggaditos and midrashim seem to converge on underscoring that point. Luz is the city of truth, it has the permanence of truth both territorially and in the lifespans of its inhabitants. And it’s truth, the personality trait about which Yaiaqov centers his service of Hashem, which determines techiyas hameisim. All of these medrashim refer to Luz, to the trait. When referring to applying the pursuit of truth to Torah study or worshipping Hashem, then we progress from Luz to Beis-el.

    The stick shows the influence of environment. As does the longevity only imparted when one is actually in the city. Luz, the trait, is not a personal endeavor. (Which raises questions of emes vs. shalom, coordinating truth and peace.)

    The bone luz is situated just where the mind connects to the body. It is therefore, in a very real sense, “beis keil”, G-d’s “home” in this world. Ya’aqov builds a circle of stones in which to sleep at this spot, which — as R’ Hirsch notes ad loc — is the first home of Israel. He gets a vision of a ladder between heaven and earth, an externalized luz bone between mind and body.

    Once one has the foundation of “Luz”, one has the proper personality and attitude to provide some solidity in time and in social context. Then one is capable of building that derekh eretz into Torah, making their soul a house of G-d.

    Parshas Vayeitzei: Mountain, Field, House

    The Gemara (Pesachim 88a) discusses the future return to the Beis Hamikdash in terms of a quote from this week’s parashah.

    And R. Elazar said: What is it when it says (Yeshaiah 2) “And many nations will go and say ‘Let us go and go up to the mountain of Hashem, to the house of the G-d of Yaacov!'”? [Does it mean] the G-d of Yaacov, but not the G-d of Avraham and Yitzchak? Rather, [Yeshaia means] not like Avraham, by whom it is written “har, a mountain, as it says (Bereishis 22) “which is called today The Har Where Hashem will be Seen”, and not like Yitzchak, by whom it is written “sadeh“, a field, as it says (Bereishis 24) “and Yitchak went out to converse [with G-d] in the field”. Rather like Yaacov, by whom it is written “bayis“, a house, as it says (Bereishis 28) “And he called the name of the place Beis-El.”

    Each of the forefathers had an encounter with G-d at Moriah. To Avraham it was a har, to Yitzchak, a sadeh, and to Yaacov, a bayis. R. Elazar is saying that the third Beis Hamikdash will be similar to Yaakov’s experience, a bayis.

    R. Yisrael Avraham Abba Krieger (Divrei Yisrael I) explores the meaning of each of these terms, to help us understand how each of the avos related to G-d, and how this is reflected in the Batei Mikdosh.

    To Avraham, it was like climbing a mountain. Not everyone can climb a mountain, and even then you need favorable conditions — rain can wash away the trail, wind can cause landslides. As King David wrote, “Who can climb onto the Har of G-d?” Avraham’s encounter at Moriah was during the akeidah the last of ten challenges he faced to get to this point. He had to climb from an environment ignorant of G-d, and struggle until he reached the pinacle.

    Yitzchak was able to build from that platform. He didn’t need to struggle go to some remote inaccessible place. He davened in the middle of the sadeh. With no borders, allowing the holiness to radiate to the rest of the world.

    Yaacov came to Moriah, and found a bayis. While a sadeh does not require that kind of struggle, it is still open to the elements. A bayis protects those who enter it.

    We can find these same three kinds of relationships looking at the three Batei Mikdosh.

    When Yehoshuah came to the land, after 40 years in the desert, he had to conquer it. We went through the struggles of that era, the Shoftim, and Shaul before we were ready to build the First Beis Hamikdosh. It was the top of the har, high and glorious, but hard to reach.

    The problem with the trail up the har is that if you veer even a bit from the road of halacha, you are no longer at the peak. R. YAA Krieger draws the image of the Yom Kippur scapegoat, pushed off the edge of the mountain, and falling until destroyed. So too the first commonwealth. When we couldn’t maintain that spiritual height, we plummeted into exile.

    Zerubavel, Yeishua, Nechemia and Ezra regroup to rebuild the Second Beis Hamikdosh. It didn’t have the loftiness of the first, the aron and other articles of the kodesh hakadashim were missing, as was the pillar of cloud that represented Hashem’s presence over the aron. The elders who saw the second bayis remembered the first and cried, only the youth rejoiced. It was a sadeh, not as lofty, but there was no struggle to climb.

    As the Jews lost grounding, other nations, the Hellenes, the Romans, entered the sadeh. It has no border, no protection from the winds that blow us about the face of the earth. After a while, Rome — whose ancestor Eisav was called in last week’s parashah a ‘man of the sadeh‘, destroyed the Temple, and scattered us.

    The Third Temple, however, will be in Yaacov’s mode. It will be a bayis, a home, protecting us from the elements, spiritual protection insuring permanence to the kingdom and the ideals it will stand for. “For My bayis will be called a beis tephillah, a house of prayer for all the nations.”

    When learning this dvar Torah, I was reminded of a verse which appears to imply the opposite, “And I will remember My covenant of Yaakov and even My covenant of Yitzchak, and even My covenant of Avraham, and the land I will remember”. Here it appears that the final return to Israel will be built on Avraham’s mode, not Yaacov’s.

    There is a famous gemara which talks about Hashem “wearing tephillin”, as it were. The verse in His “tephillin” is “And who is like Your nation Israel, a singular people in the land”. While our tephillin speak of our attachment to G-d, His are about our love for Him. Similarly, we call the holidays by what Hashem did for us, while He calls them by what we do for Him. We call it Pesach, to recall how Hashem skipped our doors the night of the tenth plague. In the Torah, the holiday is named after the mitzvah of Matzos.

    We approach this relationship thinking of the bayis, the protection and home G-d provides for us. Hashem “remembers” the covenant of Avraham, the years of climbing the har, of 10 trials and wandering in the desert. This is typical of all good relationships, where each focuses on what they’ve recieved, and not what they’ve given.

    To this day, each new son is marked with the os bris, the sign of the covenant with Avraham. In the merit of this os and keeping the covenant of serving G-d even when challenges stand in our way, may we merit to soon see the day of the permanent bayis.