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

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

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.


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.

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.

Tzitzis: Advance and Retreat, part II

I discussed the role of tzitzis and the various roles we have for clothing in a number of earlier posts in this topic.

The following is a different take on the idea from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the UK. He is closest in topic to my “Tzitzis: Advance and Retreat“. I wrote about two aspects to the mitzvah based on the differences between its two appearances in the Torah, Rabbi Sacks does so on the basis of the two manners in which we wear it. Also, I took the distinction in a Soloveitchikian way, advance vs. retreat. Rabbi Sacks uses a related but somewhat different distinction, public vs. private.

Our sedra ends with one of the great commands of Judaism – tsitsit, the fringes we wear on the corner of our garments as a perennial reminder of our identity as Jews and our obligation to keep the Torah’s commands:

“G-d spoke to Moses, telling him to speak to the Israelites and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments for all generations. Let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner. That shall be your fringe: look at it and recall all the commandments of the Lord and observe them, so that you do not stray after your heart and eyes which in the past have led you to immorality. You will thus remember and keep all my commandments and be holy to your G-d.”

So central is this command, that it became the third paragraph of the Shema, the supreme declaration of Jewish faith. I once heard the following commentary from my teacher, Rabbi Dr Nahum Rabinovitch.

He began by pointing out some of the strange features of the command. On the one hand the sages said that the command of tsitsit is equal to all the other commands together, as it is said: “Look at it and recall all the commandments of the Lord and observe them.” It is thus of fundamental significance.

On the other hand, it is not absolutely obligatory. It is possible to avoid the command of fringes altogether by never wearing a garment of four or more corners. Maimonides rules: “Even though one is not obligated to acquire a robe and wrap oneself in it in order to tsitsit, it is not fitting for a pious individual to exempt himself from this command” (Laws of Tsitsit, 3: 11). It is important and praiseworthy but not categorical. It is conditional: if you have such a garment, then you must put fringes on it. Why so? Surely it should be obligatory, in the way that tefillin (phylacteries) are.

There is another unusual phenomenon. In the course of time, the custom has evolved to fulfil the command in two quite different ways: the first, in the form of a tallit (robe, shawl) which is worn over our other clothes, specifically while we pray; the second in the form of an undergarment, worn beneath our outer clothing throughout the day.

Not only do we keep the one command in two different ways. We also make different blessings over the two forms. Over the tallit, we say: “who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to wrap ourselves in a fringed garment.” Over the undergarment, we say, “who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us concerning the precept of the fringed garment.” Why is one command split into two in this way?

He gave this answer: there are two kinds of clothing. There are the clothes we wear to project an image. A king, a judge, a soldier, all wear clothing that conceals the individual and instead proclaims a role, an office, a rank. As such, clothes, especially uniforms, can be misleading. A king dressed as a beggar will not (or would not, before television) be recognised as royalty. A beggar dressed as a king may find himself honoured. A policeman dressed as a policeman carries with him a certain authority, an aura of power, even though he may feel nervous and insecure. Clothes disguise. They are like a mask. They hide the person beneath. Such are the clothes we wear in public when we want to create a certain impression.

But there are other clothes we wear when we are alone, that may convey more powerfully than anything else the kind of person we really are: the artist in his studio, the writer at his desk, the gardener tending the roses. They do not dress to create an impression. To the contrary: they dress as they do because of what they are, not because of what they wish to seem.

The two kinds of tsitsit represent these different forms of dress. When we engage in prayer, we sense in our heart how unworthy we may be of the high demands G-d has made of us. We feel the need to come before G-d as something more than just ourselves. We wrap ourselves in the robe, the tallit, the great symbol of the Jewish people at prayer. We conceal our individuality – in the language of the blessing over the tallit, we “wrap ourselves in a fringed garment.” It is as if we were saying to G-d: I may only be a beggar, but I am wearing a royal robe, the robe of your people Israel who prayed to You throughout the centuries, to whom You showed a special love and took as Your own. The tallit hides the person we are and represents the person we would like to be, because in prayer we ask G-d to judge us, not for what we are, but for what we wish to be.

The deeper symbolism of tsitsit, however, is that it represents the commandments as a whole (“look at it and recall all the commandments of the Lord”) – and these becomes part of what and who we are only when we accept them without coercion, of our own free will. That is why the command of tsitsit is not categorical. We do not have to keep it. We are not obligated to buy a four-cornered garment. When we do so, it is because we chose to do so. We obligate ourselves. That is why opting to wear tsitsit symbolises the free acceptance of all the duties of Jewish life.

This is the most inward, intimate, intensely personal aspect of faith whereby in our innermost soul we dedicate ourselves to G-d and His commands. There is nothing public about this. It is not for outer show. It is who we are when we are alone, not trying to impress anyone, not wishing to seem what we are not. This is the command of tsitsit as undergarment, beneath, not on top of, our clothing. Over this we make a different blessing. We do not talk about “wrapping ourselves in a fringed garment” – because this form of fringes is not for outward show. We are not trying to hide ourselves beneath a uniform. Instead, we are expressing our innermost commitment to G-d’s word and call to us. Over this we say the blessing, “who has commanded us concerning the precept of tsitsit” because what matters is not the mask but the reality, not what we wish to seem but what we really are.

In this striking way tsitsit represent the dual nature of Judaism. On the one hand it is a way of life that is public, communal, shared with others across the world and through the ages. We keep Shabbat, celebrate the festivals, observe the dietary laws and the laws of family purity in a way that has hardly varied for many centuries. That is the public face of Judaism – the tallit we wear, the cloak woven out of the 613 threads, each a command.

But there is also our inner life as people of faith. There are things we can say to G-d that we can say to no one else. He knows our thoughts, hopes, fears, better than we know them ourselves. We speak to Him in the privacy of the soul, and He listens. That internal conversation – the opening of our heart to Him who brought us into existence in love – is not for public show. Like the fringed undergarment, it stays hidden. But it is no less real an aspect of Jewish spirituality. The two types of fringed garment represent the two dimensions of the life of faith – the outer persona and the inner person, the image we present to the world and the face we show only to G-d.

One nit, though. Rabbi Sacks is weaving the above out of custom, not halakhah. There is no duty to wear two kinds of tzitzis, one public, one private. Rabbi Seth Mandel posted the following to Avodah:

The facts of the matter are that a tales koton is an article of clothing invented in Ashk’naz, that was apparently not known to S’faradim in the time of the early rishonim. All of the references to it (as I said in my post discussing why it is tales — talesim and tales koton, not k’tanno) that the Beis Yosef and the R’Mo bring are from people like the Mordekhai, the T’rumas haDeshen, the Or Zarua’, whereas the Ba’al ha’Ittur, who is the source of much of what the Tur writes, makes no mention of them. By the time of the M’habber, however, S’faradim were also wearing them; he says “tales qoton shelonu.” Everyone understands that in the time of Hazal, there was no such thing; their tales was their outside garment, not a toga, but another garment of the Roman times called the peristyle, which was a rectangular piece of cloth that they wrapped themselves in sort of like Indian women wrap themselves in a sari.

We have some idea of what the Ashk’naz garment looked like, some had straps over the shoulders (not a hole cut for the head, like nowadays), and some buttoned (i.e. fastened with hooks) at the sides. It was worn under the clothing, with no tzitzis out: that we know from pictures depicting Jews throughout the medieval period that show all sorts of distinctive Jewish clothing — but NO tzitzis showing. NEVER. Unless the pictures showed the Jews at prayer with a tales godol; in those cases, the artists showed the tzitzis.

Because this beged did not conform to what Hazal say about a talles, neither in terms of size nor in the way it was worn, many rishonim in fact doubted that it really fulfills the mitzva d’orayso of tzitzis. To quote a few: the Mordekhai says “hanei talesos q’tannim shelanu einam min hamuvhar” [our talis qatan's are not of the choicest] because you cannot cover yourself in them. The Orhos Hayyim says that someone who makes a b’rokho of l’his’attef on them “over b’lo tissa [violated 'do not take Hashem's name in vain].” The R’Mo in Darkhe Moshe says that the b’rokho is ‘al mitzvas tzitzisv’hata’am nir’eh li ki ‘hash’shu l’divrei hposqim she’ein yotz’in b’tales qoton kozeh v’lakhen lo m’var’khin l’hit’attef d’az havei mashma’ d’akhshav m’aqayy’min hamitzva [the reason seems to me that they were concerned for the words of those who rule you do not fulfill your obligation with a tallis qatan like this. Therefore we do not bless ‘Who commanded to us wrap ourself’ for that would sound like we are now doing the mitzvah.” IOW, you are not yotze the mitzva with a tales qoton. Other rishonim defended the use of a talles kotos as fulfilling the mitzva at least partially, primarily basing themselves of the minhog of all Jews to wear them.

So if you are not yotze the mitzva, why wear it? As the Tur says in siman 24, in his pep talk “even though a person is not obligated to buy a tales with four corners to become obligated in tzitzis… nevertheless, it is good and proper for every man to be zahir and zariz in the mitzva, and have a small garment with tzitzis that he will wear all the day, because the ‘iqar of the mitzva is remembering the mitzvos…”

This custom of wearing the tales koton totally under one’s clothing continued in Ashk’naz throughout the generations, up until modern times when we have photographs, not pictures. I could point to the many street photographs of Poylin and Lita, of Warsaw and Vilna, of Hungary and Galitzia, before the war, of streets crowded with Jews and no tzitzis visible. To be sure, some were wearing long coats, so we wouldn’t see them anyway, but enough children and Jews without coats or short coats are visible to prove that tzitzis of a tales koton were not worn out. Lest someone claim that these might be the amaratzim and the g’dolim wore, let us look at the pictures of R. Chayim Ozer and R. Boruch Ber and R. Shimon Shkop accompanied by their talmidim, all of whom wore short coats….

Interestingly, Rabbi Sacks gives a solid motivation for making a point of not wearing the strings of one’s tallis qatan outside one’s pants.

Gender Differences: Oaths

The Torah uses two different words for husband: ish, in particular when used with the feminine possessive “ishahh” (her man); and ba’al. Interestingly, in the beginning of parashas Matos, the section on annulling vows, only ishahh is used (v. 8, 9, 11, 12, twice in 13, twice in 14, 15; observation made to Avodah by Akiva Miller), ba’al is not used at all.

This is noteworthy because ba’al is the term used for the owner of proper or the master of a slave.

וְהָיָה בַיּוֹם-הַהוּא נְאֻם-ה’, תִּקְרְאִי אִישִׁי; וְלֹא-תִקְרְאִי-לִי עוֹד, בַּעְלִי.

And it will be on that day, by the authority of G-d, that you will call Me “Ishi“, and will not call me anymore “Ba’ali“.

- Hosheia 2:18

“Ishi” is a language of husband and the attachment of one’s youth; ba’al is a language of mastery and awe.

- Rashi ad loc

By not using the term ba’al, the Torah here seems to be quite clear that the authority to annull vows has nothing to do with the man having authority over his wife.

Rav Hirsch writes (new translation of commentary on Bamidbar 30:4):

A man’s vow is binding on him from the outset. He can — and should (see ibid. 59a; cf. Commentary, Devarim 23:22ff.)  — submit his vow to the national community and its representatives, so that they should examine the vow and decide on its fulfillment. Only in this way can a man dissolve his vow. For a man creates his position in life independently, and if he binds himself with a vow that cannot be absolved, he introduces into his life a new element that is not ordinarily applicable. This element changes and individualizes his life, and, since he is independent, he is able to take this individuality into account when he shapes the conditions of his life.

Not so for a woman. The moral greatness of the woman’s calling requires that she enter a position in life created by another. The woman does not build for herself her own home. She enters the home provided by the man, and she manages it, bringing happiness to the home and nurturing everything inside the home in a spirit of sanctity and orientation toward God. The woman — even more than the man — must avoid the constraint of extraordinary guidelines in her life, for they are likely to be an impediment to her in the fulfillment of her calling.

From this standpoint, one can understand the prescriptions instituted here out of concern for the woman. The Word of God seeks to insure the vowing woman against the consequences of her own words, and therefore confers on the father and on the husband a limited right to annul vows — on the father, as regards vows of a youthful daughter still under his care; on the father and on the fiancé, as regards vows of a betrothed daughter; on the husband, as regards vows of his wife.

I think Rav Hirsch’s intent is better understood if we revisit his writings on gender differences. (The following is taken from an earlier post.) His translation of Tehillim 45:14 is “But the king’s daughter is all glorious within, more than the golden borders of her raiment.” As Michael Poppers pointed out (on Avodah), this better fits the hyphenation of “kol-kevudah” as well as the use of “kevudah” not “kevudas“. The commentary reads:

“But”, the singer adds with infinite tact and delicacy, “though the princess may appear glorious and splendid in public, she reveals her true glory in quiet, more private circles, and the splendid qualities she shows there are much greater than the exquisite beauty of the gold borders which shine at the hem of her garment.” Penimah “within,” is always used to designate an inner recess as opposed to the outer chambers.

What may better capture RSRH’s position is his comments on “peru urvu umil’u es ha’aretz vikvishuhah — be fruitful and multiply and fill the world and subdue it” in Judaism Eternal, ch 11 (The Jewish Woman).

Vikvshuha is read malei [full, ie with the vav], but written chaseir [deficient]. In other words, while it is read as though both should participate in conquering the world, it’s written “vikivshah“, that only one of them should.

… [T]he command to “subdue”, and with it to procure the means necessary for marriage and for founding a household, is addressed only to the male sex, to whose function it belongs to compel the earth through labour to serve the needs of man. Hence the command to marry and found a household has absolute force only for the male sex. Since, however, these commands are after all addressed to both sexes, it is obvious that for the performance of man’s task of building up the world the Law-giver reckoned on the harmonious and equal co-operation of both sexes. Further, by excusing the female sex from the hard labour of subduing and mastering the earth, … [H]e left it free to be devoted to the higher and more humanistic task of employing the products of man’s labour for the ethical purposes of building up a house and family, that is to say, in the service of his true vocation and his welfare as a human being.

R SR Hirsch explains this verse as being about the Talmudic aphorism that “man brings in the grain, and woman makes it into bread”. Man conquers and acquires, woman develops the raw material into a finished product. Man builds a society, woman gives it a religious backbone. Ideally it would be man who produces technology, and women who make sure we don’t dehumanize ourselves in the process.

This is akin to an observation by “Dear Abby” (Pauline Phillips, born Pauline Esther Friedman). She wrote that men are goal oriented, while women are process oriented. This is an alleged gender difference from a totally unrelated source, albeit one probably based on anecdotal evidence, that would fit the roles assumed above.

Rav Hirsch speaks in terms of “inside” vs. “outside”, community in service of its members, vs the expansion of the community’s domain, reach, and standard of living. (Until here the review.)

This partnership, between the man extending the reach of qibbush and woman making sure it is done in a sacred manner, that I associate with the notion of ish ve’ishah.

In contrast, this is how we described the concept of ba’alus in the past:

R’ JB Soloveitcik identifies of the root of “qinyan“, \קנה\, with the notion of manufacture and repair. That a qinyan is a means of exchanging ownership caused by developing one thing for the work someone else put into their object or service. I therefore suggested, “By making marriage assume the qinyan format we are acknowledging that the bride and groom were literally made for each other, and hopefully will remain together until the end of time.”

Thus, qinyan refers to the work and to the responsibility of repair. This would explain why many of ususe a qinyan sudar, a kind of qinyan involving handing over a small object, usually cloth, to delegate the job of selling our chameitz. The rabbi isn’t acquiring our chameitz, he can’t own it any more than the rest of us can. He is assuming the responsibility for its sale, to serve as our shaliach, our proxy.

In the same way, Boaz takes responsibility for marrying Rus (in a quasi-yibum) by the exchange of a shoe with the unnamed relative. This too is a qinyan, “vezos hate’udah beyisrael — and this is a contract in Israel”. Qinyan as accepting responsibility.

R’ Dovid Lifshitz was once approached before shiur by someone who had recently bought a co-op. The problem was that the co-op board didn’t allow him to change the appearance of the outside of his domicile from the co-op’s standard by hanging a mezuzah.

Rav Dovid suggested (warning: I can’t recall if this was his conclusion or a hava amina, a possibility raised to be rejected) that perhaps someone who doesn’t have the authority to hang a mezuzah lacks ba’alus, and therefore wouldn’t be obligated to. (In either case, he suggested moving to a friendlier venue.) Note the implication: even if this lack of ba’alus is not sufficient to remove his obligation, it remains that a renter who can hang a mezuzah has more ba’alus than an owner who may not. And in any case, a renter doesn’t own, but is a ba’al with respect to hilkhos mezuzah. Ba’alus is not the same concept as that denoted by the English word “ownership”. A ba’al is one who has responsibility. With responsibility comes authority, but that meaning of ba’al is the derived one.

And so, we have a means of making a distinction between the two terms for husban. Ishahh, her man, is her partner in mastering the world. The ba’al, however, is the one who accepts responsibility for her food, clothing and sexual needs, and because of accepting that responsibility also must have the authority to carry it out.

By explicitly using the term ishahh rather than baalah when discussing the anulment of vows, we see that the husband has the power of hafaras nedarim not in his role of provider and therefore holding control (as anyone who holds the purse-strings will), but because it’s his role in the partnership to be the one who sets new directions, just as It’s hers to insure that they are developed in a holy way.