Three Pillars in Mikhah

Many comment on a pasuk from this week’s haphtorah:

He tells you man, what is good, and what does HaShem expect of you? Only do justice, to love kindness, and to walk modestly with your G-d.

- Michah 6:8

In modern times, much of this attention is because of how grossly this pasuk was mis-appropriated by the Reform movement as a basis for their abandonment of the mitzvos.

In contrast, the Gemarah understands the three things named in this pasuk to include all 613 mitzvos.

R. Simla’i expounded: 613 mitzvos were told to Moshe, 365 prohibitions, like the number of the days of the solar [year], and 248 [required] actions, corresponding to the limbs of a person…

Came Michah, and established them on three principles, as it says “He tells you man…” “Do justice” — that is the law. “Love kindness” — that is gemilas chessed [supporting kindness], “Walk modestly” — this is taking out of the dead, and welcoming the bride.

This is a kal vachomer [a fortiori]. If things that are not normally done in private [that is, taking care of the dead, and making happiness with the bride] the Torah obligates us to do modestly; things which are normally done in private, how much more so!

- Makos 24a

The gemara’s words require some explanation. On the one hand, it indicates that the all 613 mitzvos, can be found in this pasuk. On the other hand, it also explains the pasuk to refer to the law, chessed, taking care of the dead, and throwing weddings for brides. How does this list represent the entire Torah?

The Marhashah (ad. loc.) explains the kal vachomer to mean that the Gemarah includes all mitzvos in its explanation of “walking modestly with G-d”, that all mitzvos — even these two, must be performed lishmah, for their own sake, with no hope of glory, no ulterior motive. Only in this way do we take the “justice” and “kindness” and instill them into the core of our beings.

Traditionally, the mitzvos are divided into two categories, Bein Adam Lamakom — between man and the Omnipresent, and Bein Adam Lachaveiro — between man and his fellow man.

To the two categories of mitzvos, the Ba’alei Mussar [Masters of Ethics] add a third: Bein Adam Li’atzmo — between man and himself. However, R. Yisroel Salanter describes this third category not so much as a type of mitzvah, but rather as a description of how the mitzvah is done: was it willingly or grudgingly, was it for public recognition or because it is was mitzvah.

The Maharal uses a similar concept to explain the second mishnah of Prkei Avos. The mishnah reads:

Shimon the Righteous was of the survivors of the Great Assembly. He often said, “Upon three things the world stands: on the Torah, on avodah — the service [of G-d], and on gemillus chassadim — acts of loving-kindness.”

The Maharal explains that “you must understand, that all creations depend on man. For they are created for man, and if men do not live up to what they ought to be, behold all is nullified.” The universe stands on these three principles because man does.

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

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

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

These three pillars are tied to the concepts we developed in our studies of parshiyos Sh’lach and Chukas. We saw that halachah views man as composed of three parts, each with its own drives: the body, the mind, and the soul. This model helped us understand a number of the mitzvos.

Spiritual man lives in the upper world where he can relate to G-d. Physical man lives in the physical world where he can sense the needs of other people, and shower kindness upon them. The mind lives by itself, however it is equipped with intelligence so that it can learn Torah for perfection of that self.

The pillars also describe the three types of mitzvah. “Torah” is the means for using to “complete himself”, it is the archetype of man relating to himself. “Avodah” includes all mitzvos between spiritual man and G-d, just as “Gemillus Chassadim” includes all mitzvos between physical man and fellow man.

This means that the parts of the human condition, the three pillars described in the mishnah, and the three types of mitzvah, are all parts of the same phenomenon.

Perhaps in this light we can better understand the Maharshah’s comments on the pasuk in Michah. This pasuk also gives a three-part description of the entire Torah.

What does G-d demand of us? “Do justice” — “Avodah”, serve G-d. “Love chessed”, use your physical senses to serve your fellow man. Justice and kindness, as the Maharal tells us, are tools for serving G-d and man, respectively, for properly utilizing body and soul.

But these two pillars can not stand on their own. You must also tend to those mitzvos that are between man and himself. You must not only do the mitzvos, but do them correctly. Do the mitzvos with modesty, not as part of a pursuit of glory.

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

Tiqanta Shabbos

This week I’d like to discuss three seemingly unrelated questions about the words of the tephillah:

  1. The focus of Shabbos Mussaf davening is the paragraph that begins “Tiqanta Shabbos…” What most readily jumps to the eye about the tephilla is that the 22 words it opens with are an anagram of the Hebrew alphabet in reverse. (“Tiqanta” starts with a tav, “Shabbos” with a shin, “ratzisa” — a reish, and so on.)While many tephillos are written with an alphabetic motif, it is far more rare for the alphabet to be presented in the reverse. What concept were the authors trying to express with this sequence?
  2. Yeshayah quotes Hashem, saying: “I am the first and I am the last; and besides me there is no god. And who is like Me…” (44:6) This same sentiment is found a number of times in tephillah. The pasuq is associated in the siddur with the similar declaration of G-d’s unity of the Shema. For example, in the paragraphs following the “short Shema” of Birkhos haShachar, as well as in the berakhah of ge’ulah [redemption] after the morning recitation of Shema “Emes Atah Hu rishon, ve’Atah Hu acharon — It is true that You are The First, and You are The Last…”The Kuzari makes a point of explaining that by “The First” and “The Last” we don’t mean that G-d has a beginning or an end. But this begs the question. First and last are terms that refer to a sequence. Something can be the first of a list, or the last in a collection. What is the list here? Of what is Hashem first and last?
  3. The Torah has two terms for “because”: “ki” (which also has 6 other translations, according to Rashi) and “lema’an“. These words also come up frequently in tephillah. We don’t expect Hebrew, since it was written by G-d, to have superfluous words. The two words must differ by connotation. But what is that difference?

Cause and Purpose

Aristotle lists four kinds of causes (Physics II:3). For example, consider a coffee table:

  • Material cause: What is it made out of? Wood, nails, glue, stain, varnish…
  • Formal cause: What is the form and function, the essence? It provides a place to put things down near the couch that is easy to reach when sitting on it. It therefore has a top, legs raising it to the desired level, it’s strong enough to hold a mug (remember to use a coaster!) or reading material.

These first two categories correspond to Aristotilian notions of Substance and Form, chomer vetzurah. The nature of the object being caused. The next two relate more to time.

  • Efficient cause: What produced it? This is what we usually think of when we speak of causality. The table exists because a carpenter converted the wood etc… into a coffee table.
  • Final cause: For what purpose, telos? The carpenter needed an income. The homeowner needed something to break up the space in her living room, to hold those nice pictorial books to give the room just the right look.

He therefore has two separate studies of events — causality (efficient causes; hereafter simply “cause”, matching common usage) and teleology (final causes). He believed that every event has a cause, an event that preceded it that forced it to happen, and a telos, an following event that was the purpose for this one.

Teleology is in disfavor today. Particularly in the era of Darwin, when life was seen to be the product of accident, the concept of telos was attacked, called a “fallacy” of the classical mind. For the Jew, however, there is no question. G-d created the universe, He did it for a purpose, and He insures that the purpose will be met. People have free will, and therefore act in order to place our plans into effect.
Everything has two reasons for happening: its cause and its purpose. This is provides us an answer to our last question. “Ki“, when used for because, introduces the cause. Therefor, in the Levitic song for Tuesday, we find “Let us greet Him with thanksgiving, with song let us shout for joy with Him. Ki — because G-d is a great L-rd…”

Lema’an” is associated with purpose. In the words of the Shema, “lema’an yirbu yemeichem, viymei bneichem — so that you will have many days, and your children have many days….”

Two Sequences
Aristotle was convinced the universe was infinitely old, and that it would last forever. Part of the reason for this belief is because of his concepts of “cause” and “telos”.

The cause of an event always happens before the event itself. For example, because the wind blew a leaf off the tree, it fell. First is the wind, then the falling. But every event has a cause. The wind too is an event, and it too has an earlier cause. We can keep on chasing earlier and earlier causes, and notice that the universe must have been older and older. This gives us a sequence of events, cause to effect, cause to effect…. In fact, Aristotle saw no end to this chain, and there for couldn’t believe the universe had a beginning.

The Rambam, in the Guide to The Perplexed (vol. 2, ch. 14), points out the flaw in this reasoning. He defines G-d as the First Cause.

We can now approach our second question. G-d is first of the sequence of causes. “Atah Hu rishon — You are The First [Cause].”

Aristotle has a similar argument that the universe could have no end. The purpose of an event, what the event should accomplish, comes after the event. The purpose for G-d providing wind to blow was that He wanted the rock to fall. Again, every purpose is also an event, and we have another sequence we can chase forever, in this case later and later in time.

This answers the second half of the question. G-d is The Last, The Culminating Purpose of all of creation. “All is called in My Name, and for My Glory I have Created it.” (Isa. 43:7)

The Day the is Completely Shabbos

In Birchas Hamazon, in the “harachaman” we add for Shabbos, the culmination of human history is called “Yom Shekulo Shabbos“, the day/time that is entirely Shabbos. Shabbos is called “mei’ein olam haba — the image of the World to Come”. This concept is also the subject of the Shemoneh Esrei for Shabbos Mincha.

Shabbos is not only testimony to creation, that Hashem is the First Cause. Shabbos is also intimately connected to, and preparation for, relating to G-d as the Culminating Purpose.

Rav Yaakov Emden connects the reverse alphabetical ordering of Tiqanta Shabbos with the concept of Mei’ein Olam Haba. We can suggest that this is the reason why. The sequence of letters in the alphabet are used to represent the sequence of events of history. The order of letters shows how we are viewing that sequence.

Normally, we can only see G-d’s hand in the world as First Cause. We look around and see “how great are your works, Hashem.” The alphabet of this world starts with alpha, the one-ness of G-d, and unfurls to the plurality of creation. Shabbos, however, we reverse the order — we start with the plurality of the universe, and end with the one-ness of G-d.

The zemirah says, “mei’ein olam haba, yom Shabbos menuchah — in the image of the World to Come, the day of Shabbos brings rest.” When we realize that everything that happens to us is for a purpose, everything is part of that pursuit of the Culminating Purpose, then we are at peace.

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.

Politeness and Taharah

The word “polite” comes from the Latin “politus” via the Old English “polit”, to polish. Polish is itself of the same derivation.I think this is a very telling statement about Western Culture. Politeness is about perfecting the surface. It doesn’t demand a change of the self, but putting up the appropriate front for others.

This is the key to a contrast Stephen Covey (most famous for “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People“) makes between his approach to self-help and the majority of the field. His book is about finding your core values and seeing how to implement them — including improving your relationships. To give an example Covey doesn’t make explicitly, Dale Carnegy deals with improvement by giving pragmatic and surface-polishing approach, “How to Win Friends and Influence People“.

In Mesukim MiDevash for Chukas, I identified the Jewish approach to the relationship between mind and the physical world with taharah. Taharah is also the term used for the purity of a metal — the menorah must be made of (pure gold). zahav tahor. Taharah, then, is the lack of adulteration of the mind with prejudices caused by the body. Free to choose when to pursue its physical needs and desires, man can consciously control his relationship to the physical world and the people we encounter in it.

Judaism looks to create ba’alei chessed, people who relate to this world primarily in terms of its opportunities to give and share with others. Not to simply be polite and act inoffensively. Which doesn’t quite work; backstabbing while smiling and using just the implications is a feature of “polite society”. But to actually have a relationship with the other.

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.

The Psychological Model of Orechos Tzaddiqim

(First paragraph edited on July 16 in response to R’ Seth Kadish’s comments. -mi)The following is culled from the introduction to Orchos Tzaddiqim. Orchos Tzaddiqim, was written anonymously some time between 1306 and 1400 CE. It was written in Hebrew, but first printed in Yiddish. The earliest copies still existing are Hebrew, with great disparity in the versions of the text. The original title was “Seifer haMiddos”. The edition I’m using is a critical reconstruction by Rabbi Gavriel Zaloshinsky, who based his Hebrew on printed manuscripts; in some places where he could not determine an authotiative text, he used the language employed by earlier works upon which the author built.Orechos Tzaddiqim (OTz) starts the process speaking of our senses. Our heart follows our senses. We wear tzitzis so that we will not “wander after our hearts and after our eyes, which we are wont to stray after.” “The eye sees, and the heart wants.” Therefore, we must use our senses wisely.What does it mean to use our senses wisely? Don’t we simply see what’s out there — what’s the pro-active element. I could think of two possibilities, both true. First, and most simply, we select our environments. If some temptation poses a threat that we are not ready to handle, we can simply avoid it. Second, there is a huge step between sensation and perception. To a large extent, we choose what we see. What we carry with us and shapes us is not merely the raw physical sensation, but the order and context we impose on them.

(An interesting qabbalah would be to see if you can find each day a decision that you felt was compelled by what you experienced, and see how much of that was experience rather than the interpretation of the experience.)

Dei’os are created in five different ways. (1) Some are innate to us, there since birth — until we elect to change them. (2) Others may not be innate, but the propensity to get them is. A person could not be born vain, but born with everything in place for vanity to come easily to them. (3) Some are picked up from our peers. (4) We can also reason our way into accepting a dei’ah as proper. And, as a variation of the last, (5) some are learned from books, seem to make sense, and accepted.

The final four, the acquiring of new middos comes from our senses. Our interactions with our peers. How we perceive the ideas of others, and the ideas from which we reach our conclusions.

Dei’os, though, are not a complete description. There is not only the question of which attributes to have, but also in which proportions to have them. Interestingly, at this point, R’ Zaloshinsky’s Hebrew shifts from speaking of dei’os to middos. The word “middah” literally means measure. OTz consistently gives examples of measuring a dei’ah in two different directions: frequency and intensity. Someone can be egotistical because they frequently lord over others. Someone else may not be haughty more often than most, but when he does, he’s overwhelming about it.

A healthy person is like a stew. To make a good stew you need to put in a lot of meat, a little salt, and various amounts of other ingredients.

To know how much of each ingredient requires chokhmah, wisdom, and yir’as Shamayim — the awareness of the greatness and significance of the One in heaven, and therefore of our mission. Our middos are like pearls, and yir’as Shamayim, the strand which holds them together. Trying to proceed without yir’ah is like trying to go into banking without knowing which coin is worth more, which less, and which the king decommissioned altogether. One may be able to change one’s middos, but one can’t identify which ones need changing. Keeping the fact that we were created for a particular goal and to be a particular kind of person in mind gives us a scale by which we can assess various middos and their value to the whole.

It’s interesting to contrast this with the Rambam’s notion in Hilchos Dei’os of the shevil hazahav (the Golden Mean). The Rambam describes dei’os as the ends of a spectrum, and the Chakhom (which seems to be only one of two ideals that he draws for us) chooses the middle between them. In OTz, each middah is described as having more than one dimension, therefore there is no one middle to seek. In addition, one isn’t recommended to seek the middle in all things — some middos are the “salt”, others the “meat”. Anger has its place, but since that place is so much smaller than patience and compassion, it can be labeled in general a middah ra’ah, a bad trait. Back to the OTz’s introduction…

The next element one needs is tevunah, the ability to apply that wisdom. The chokham without tevunah is like a paraplegic; he might be able to see his goal, but isn’t equipped to reach it.

So the progression to picking up a healthy middah is: proper use of the senses to develop a dei’ah, and chokhmah and yir’as Shamayim to know the right measure for that dei’ah, and then the sevunah to be able to shape the de’iah to the desired middah.

Last is the role of hergeil, habit. Someone can be ensnared by a habit to the point where they can’t change a middah. There are times when this is constructive; we can use hergeil to build and cement appropriate middos. At times it’s destructive, so that even the chokham can’t reach his goal.

Animals are born with instincts. They therefore are born more able than we are, and stand and walk at much younger ages (in some animals, right after birth), eat on their own far younger, etc… People are born as blank slates. This means we’re born weaker. However, it also means we have the ability to write upon that slate our own personalities.

It is like a silver platter. New, it’s all shiny. Bury it for a while and dig it up, and it will require repeated polishing. Once we start setting who we are, it’s far harder to change — the habit both blinds the chokham from the dangers and poses a bigger problem for tevunah to surmount.

Hergeil is not a bad thing. Quite the reverse, it’s our ability to “write on the slate” that makes us independent and individual beings.

See but not Seen

The best day of my life — my rebirthday, so to speak — was when I found I had no head… I had for several months been absorbed in the question: what am I? The fact that I happened to be walking in the Himalayas at the time probably had little to do with it; though in that country unusual states of mind are said to come more easily… What actually happened was something absurdly simple and unspectacular: I stopped thinking… Past and future dropped away. I forgot who and what I was, my name, manhood, animalhood, all that could be called mine. It was as if I had been born that instant, brand new, mindless, innocent of all memories. There existed only the Now, that present moment and what was clearly given in it.
… It took me no time at all to notice that this nothing, this hole where a head should have been, was no ordinary vacancy… it was very much occupied. It was a vast emptiness vastly filled, a nothing that found room for everything — room for grass, trees, shadowy distant hills, and far above them snow peaks like a row of angular clouds riding the blue sky. I had lost a head and gained a world.

-D. E. Harding, “On Having No Head”, The Mind’s I (Ed. D. Hofstadter, D. Dennett) pp. 24-30

We don’t see our own heads. As D.E. Harding so humorously writes, we never experience our heads. Instead, we experience these wondrous holes in which all of our experiences, entire universes, somehow miraculously fit.

Later in the essay he notes something about movie production: When we see a memory or dream sequence that includes the person as we would see him, say, the child they once were, it lacks realism. A good producer would film the scene from the person’s perspective, placing the camera where his eyes would be. We should never see the person’s head (although perhaps a reflection of it).

An Empiricist places the most confidence in things in his physical experience that he could repeat and show others at will. Des Cartes questions that position. We can never rule out a trick of the senses or a “Deceiving Daemon”. In fact, there is only one thing he believed we can be absolutely certain of — Cogito ergo sum, I think, therefore I am. What he meant by this is that I know I exist because I’m the one doing the thinking, wondering what I could know for certain, and whether I could be certain I exist. The existence of the question itself is proof of its answer.

Returning to Harding’s idea, we are actually more sure of that wondrous vacancy than of the things we see. Whatever the truth of the things I see, the fact that I’m there seeing them is more sure to us.

In the general introduction to Alei Shur vol I (pg. 12), Rav Shelomo Wolbe zt”l writes:

We read in Berakhos 10a: “These five [passages of Tehillim that begin] “Borkhi Nafshi” (My Soul shall Bless), corresponding to what did David compose them? He didn’t say them but corresponding to HQBH and corresponding to the soul.
“(1) Just as HQBH fills the whole world, so too the soul fills the whole body. (2) Just as HQBH sees but Is not seen, so too the soul sees but is not seen. (3) Just as HQBH nourishes the whole world, so to the soul nourishes the body. (4) Just as HQBH is tahor, so too the soul is tahor. (5) Just as HQBH ‘dwells’ in the rooms of rooms (chadrei chadarim, an idiom: in a very hidden ‘location’), so too the soul dwells in the rooms of rooms.
“Let the one that has these five things, and let it give praise to He Who has these three things!”
We find that we can learn from this that the soul in particular can praise HQBH, because only it as “an aspect in common” (tzad hashaveh) with him, as it were. Only from the aspect of the soul can man serve his Creator, and in particular the “duties of the heart/mind” (chovos halvavos) which are associated with the soul — they are the essence of such service!
Also this we learn from their statement, that among the attributes of the soul is to be something that “sees but is not seen”. In this, Chazal explain to us what ruchniyus (“spirituality”) is in its entirety: it nourishes the whole world and the body and fills it; the root of every created thing in the world, and every limb in the body is in ruchniyus, and from this root life reaches them. This spirituality fills the whole existence until “there is nothing free from it”. This ruchniyus is itself tahor, it is internal, “dwelling in the rooms of rooms”…. Chazal reveal the central point, upon which we must base our avodah (service of Hashem) if we want to work in ruchniyus, and that is “Just as HQBH sees but Is not seen, so too the soul sees but is not seen.”

In an endnote (pg. 339), Rav Wolbe adds this comment from a student:

It would seem that from the words of Chazal it is not compelling that the central point of the five is in particular this one [i.e. that the soul “sees but is not seen”] of the five that features that Chazal enumerate there. However, one of the students of the yeshiva n”y found a source for it from what it says in Devarim Raba 20:26, “Let the soul come, which sees and isn’t seen, and let it call to HQBH Who sees but Is not seen.” There is doesn’t mention all five criteria, just this one — for it is in truth the central point in avodah.

This idea is the core of Harding’s observation; our soul “sees but is not seen”. The notion of “sees but is not seen” is what makes the spiritual more fundamental, the source, and the nourishing force of the physical. And, as we saw above, the observer is actually more certain and more real than the observed.

The Origins of Imperfection

The first we hear of Hashem allowing things to go in something other than the ideal way is in the creation of plants.

There is a medrash (Breishis Rabba 5:9) that comments on a change in language in the middle describing of the creation of trees. Hashem orders the earth on the third day to bring forth “eitz peri oseh peri“, fruit trees that make fruit, yet the land actually produces only “eitz oseh peri“. Between the commandment and the fulfillment, something is lost. The medrash explains that originally the wood would have tasted like the fruit, so that it would truly be a “fruit tree”. Instead of the norm being that the wood of the tree would taste like the fruit, this is now the exception. With a couple of exceptions, one of them — note this for later — the esrog, the trees, or the angels entrusted to guard them, were afraid for their survival. If the wood tasted like the fruit, animals would eat the plant rather than the fruit, and they would die out. And so, the earth “disobeyed”.What does this medrash mean? Does the earth have free will, that it can choose to disobey G-d? Rav A.Y. Kook explains:

At the inception of creation it was intended that the tree have the same taste as the fruit. All the supportive actions that sustain any general worthwhile spiritual goal should by right be experienced in the soul with the same feeling of elation and delight as the goal itself is experienced when we envision it. But earthly existence, the instability of life, the weariness of the spirit when confined in a corporate frame brought it about that only the fruition of the final step, which embodies the primary ideal, is experienced in its pleasure and splendor. The trees that bear the fruit, with all their necessity for the growth of the fruit have, however, become coarse matter and have lost their taste. This is the failing of the “earth” because of which it was cursed when Adam was also cursed for his sin.

Orot haTeshuva 6:7
Translation by B. Z. Bokser, The Lights of Penitence in “Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook,” published by Paulist Press in the “Classics of Western Spirituality” series.

According to Rav Kook, the medrash gives the reason why the holiness of our goal is not felt in our day-to-day life. Our physical framework is limited and needs support. It requires our attention. The trees didn’t embody the ideal because they were afraid for their survival. In truth, the mundane only exists to be the means to an end, but because of the needs of survival, it takes on its own reality.

The second step occurs on day four, with Hashem’s creation of the moon. See Mesukim MiDevash for parashas Pinechas for more detail, but here’s the relevent portion of the idea.

In Parshas Bereishis (1:16) the Torah reads: “And G-d made the two large luminaries — the large luminary to rule the day and the small luminary to rule the night — and the stars.”

The gemara (Chulin 60b) points out an inconsistency in the pasuq. R. Shimon ben Pazi asks why the Torah first describes the sun and moon as “the two large luminaries”, but then it calls the sun “the large luminary” and the moon is called the small one. The gemara answers with a story. Originally the sun and moon were the same size. But the moon complained to Hashem, “Can there exist two kings sharing the same crown?” How can both the sun and the moon share the glory? G-d replies, “Go and make yourself smaller.” This pains the moon, and Hashem subsequently offers three consolations. When that fails, Hashem says that we are to bring a qorban to atone for His sin. (Again, see the devar Torah in MmD.)

The Maharsha explains that the story is about the Jewish people and our goals vs the world at large and theirs. The Jews are compared to the moon (see, for example Qidush Levanah). Edom, the dominant power, is the sun. Why do we live in a world that seems to be dominated by Edom’s principal, that might makes right? Why isn’t holiness the dominant idea, and right make might?

This then is the second step. One day 3, the notion of needing to be concerned about the “real world” entered creation, which made it take on a life of its own, hiding its true nature of being merely the means toward holiness. Now, this second thing became a competing power. The moon sees a power struggle between itself, the pursuit of holiness, and the might of the sun.

The gemara (Succah 35a) explains, “‘P’ri eitz hadar’ — that its fruit tastes like the tree.” A defining feature of the esrog is that it did not participate in the rebellion of day three. Based on this, Medrash Rabba (15:6) identifies the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the eitz hada’as, with the esrog. (Although Berachos 40a records a dispute as to whether the “fruit” was wheat, a grape, or a fig, there the dispute is more pragmatic. Wheat is the archetypal food, and requires much human intervention to eat, unlike other fruit. Grapes are associated with wine, and therefore with change of mental state. And since Adam and Chavah subsequently made clothing out of fig leaves, it would seem logical to assume they were next to a fig tree when they ate from the eitz hada’as.)

They ate the fruit bein hashemashos, at the end of the sixth day (Sanhedrin 38b). A period of time when day and night overlap. The sun and moon, might and holiness, vie for rule.

The eating of the fruit, therefore, has much to do with the blending of real and ideal, and internalizing it. And ever since then, every decision man makes is an irbuviah, the product of an inseperable blend of motives.

Rav Nosson Zvi Finkel, the Alter of Slabodka, was once diagnosed with a serious illness; he needed a major medical center. He was given information about each of his choices, and asked which one he would go to. The Alter chose the hospital in St. Petersburg. Upon his return, someone from the community who had noticed that he hadn’t been around asked where he had been. The Alter replied that he had been to St. Petersburg. The man asked why. He answered, “I went to see a push-button umbrella.”

His students asked the Alter of Slabodka why he said this. After all, the decision to go to St. Petersburg was made after hearing all his options, much consideration and deliberation about which was the best hospital for his illness. Why did he say it was about an umbrella?

The Alter explained that a short while earlier, he was traveling around the region on yeshiva business and had arrived in St. Petersburg. He was amazed by this new invention he saw there, an umbrella that opens with the push of the umbrella. Laying in his hospital bed, the Alter realized that the experience colored his decision. A component of the decision was his association of the city with the latest invention and his desire to see them.

Irbuvia. A constant mixture of emotions. No good deed lacks some selfish side-motivation, no matter how small. Which is why many shuls require appeals to publicly announce donations in order to raise enough money to operate. The question is how to clear out that confusion. To choose the holy and the ideal rather than be moved by a mixture of good and evil.

To be continued, be”H…

I would like to leave you with the next paragraph from Orot haTeshuvah:

But every defect is destined to be mended. Thus we are assured that the day will come when creation will return to its original state, when the taste of the tree will be the same as the taste of the fruit. The “earth” will repent of its sin, and the way of the practical life will no longer obstruct the delight of the ideal, which is sustained by appropriate intermediate steps on its way toward realization, and will stimulate its emergence from potentiality to actuality.

Adam and Pinocchio

(First, please see part I about the eitz hada’as, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The following is extrapolated from a thought in an essay by R’ Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer.)

Until Adam ate the fruit, he consisted of free will and internalized yeitzer hatov (inclination to do good). He had no yeitzer hara; the inclination to do evil was external to him. This idea is found in Bereishis Rabba, and discussed at length in Nefesh haChaim (1:6, note).

According to Rambam in the Moreh Nevuchim (sec. 1 ch. 2), man always has choices to make — otherwise what is free will about? However, while for us the main challenge is good vs. evil, the challenge that faced Adam was not good vs evil, but truth vs falsehood.

Rabbi Dessler (Michtav meiEliyahu vol. 2 pg. 138) suggests that this is not a debate, but two aspects of the same truth. Since the desire to do evil was external, taking the form of the snake, it would have to present its argument to Adam. Adam’s only desire was to do good, so the snake’s argument would have to be a lie, presenting what it was promoting as though it were the greater good. Adam faced two conflicting stories about which path is better, and had to choose which was the truth.

In contrast to Adam, in the story of Pinocchio the main character is told that his lies are part of him, “as plain as the nose on his face”. But rather than a yeitzer hatov, the call to do good is externalized as a cricket. He is told to identify with the voice in his head suggesting wrong choices, but good choices are things someone else foisted on him. (Freud would be happy with this model: the id provides innate desires, but the superego provides rules imposed by parents and society. He didn’t believe in souls, and therefore had no reason to posit a higher calling as primary as man’s animal ones.) Pinocchio was set up to fail.

Our Sages say that a person is born with a yeitzer hara, but gains a yeitzer hatov only at his bar mitzvah. Perhaps they mean the following: Until adolescent rebellion, children choose good — but they do it because their parents, teacher, principal, etc… expects it of him. Jiminy Crickets telling them “you gotta”. Until the child is capable of rebellion, he doesn’t truly operate from the perspective of an internalized yeitzer hatov.

The key to making proper decisions is to identify oneself with one’s higher calling, to the extent that other desires are objectified, not part of the real me. To leave the Pinocchio stance and assume that of Adam. Not, “I want to play but he is pushing me to sit in school”, but “I want to help others, but he is suggesting I slow down and relax.”


Returning back to the theme raised in the week of parashas Bereishis, In the first part, I drew a progression from the medrash of the earth refusing to make the trees taste like the earth, to that of the moon arguing that the world could not have two rulers and getting reduced, to the eating of the eitz hada’as. The physical world was created as a tool for our reaching for our higher calling. In the first step, we’re introduced to the need for the world to have its own identity if it’s to maintain existence as a tool; thus, as R’ Kook put it, the means lack the sweetness of the spiritual ends. Once it has its own identity, there is now competition between the sun, which is blatantly manifest in the world, and the moon, Israel, and the entire notion of man’s higher calling. That competition creates the opportunity for evil. In the second part, I described how man permanently infused his actions with a mixture of motives, some good, some evil, when he ate from the eitz hada’as, a tree which did taste like its fruit, at twilight, the one time in which day and night, the rule of the sun and the rule of the moon, overlap. Finally, my prescription for getting away from this mixture, derived from a thought by Rabbi Bechhofer, is to leave the stance of Pinnochio, where he wanted to do wrong and his good inclination is an external voice, the cricket, to that of pre-sin Adam, who had a yetzer hatov, but the desire to do evil was the external snake.We see therefore the essential value of havdalah, separation.My father once told me that when he was young he was taught that making a decision involves two components: a push, and a pull. A push from the status quo, and a pull to the new state. The context was the decision to make aliyah. A certain threshold had to be met before someone would choose to make aliyah. The greater the push, the less happy one is with his current country, the less pull he must have to Israel. For the typical American Jew to make aliyah, where there is little to push him from his middle-class lifestyle, requires developing a great love for Israel, a great pull toward it.Separation too involves both the pull and the push. You can separate from something that interferes, or to that thing to which you are striving.

Interestingly, the same division is found in the concepts of tum’ah and qedushah. When the Torah speaks of taharah, the lack of tum’ah, the proposition is “mi-“, from, e.g. “vetiharo min hatzora’as”. What is taharah? While many object to translating it as “spiritual purity”, the word is used to describe the pure gold of the menorah”, “zahav tahor”. Taharah is freeing the soul from a kind of adulteration, just as it’s gold that is free of impurities. As R’ SR Hirsch puts it, objects and events which cause the misconception that man is a physical being cause tum’ah. The tahor soul is one that is free from the habits and effects of living within an animal body. The ideal of taharah is Adam, for whom the drive to do evil was an external snake whose arguments he could assess objectively.

On the other hand, qedushah is about pull. The tzitz on the kohein gadol’s forehead read “qadesh Lashem”. Qedushah is being set aside for a given purpose. The wedding formula, “Hereby you are mequdeshes li…, committed to me…” uses the term without speaking of G-d or sanctity. But in usual usage, if the “le-” is not provided, it means creation’s Ultimate Purpose, “for My Honor, lekhvodi, I have created it”.

Whereas taharah is separation from the wood, qedushah is separating oneself for the fruit. Both forms of havdalah.

The two are not strictly opposites. It is possible for someone to be driven by opposing forces — both very engaged in his physicality and yet also very committed to serving G-d. It is the nature of the irbuvya, the complex mixture that makes up the human psyche that we aren’t always consistent. And so we find that tum’ah and qedushah can be ascribed to a single object. The me’aras hamachpeilah, where six of our seven forefathers are buried, is undeniably qodesh. However, there is a question, based on the architecture of how the mosque is built atop the original cave, whether a kohein may go there — because the burial place itself is tamei.

But still, taharah and qedushah are therefore related. The elimination of tum’ah is a mandatory precondition for working in qedushah. While they can in practice co-exist, they ought not. The tamei person may not eat sacred food. (That marital intimacy is also barred by tum’ah is a very powerful statement about its role in Judaism; it is treated as a sacred act.) First deal with that which is threatening to convince you that you’re just a higher form of mammal, then use your human gifts for what they were intended.

The Point of Decision

A rather well-known section of Michtav meiEliyahu (vol 1 pg 113) is the Qunterus haBechirah. In it, Rav Dessler compares the decision-making process to a battle. All the fighting occurs at the front lines; beyond them, everything belongs to one camp. With each victory, the line advances. So too with free will. At the point of decision, the nequdas habechirah, decisions require conscious thought and are the true expression of free will. Beyond the point, decisions are made quickly, often even preconsciously. For example, most people do not actively choose not to shoplift — it’s simply not done. Shoplifting is beyond their nequdas habechirah. And with each decision, the nequdah moves. The first time someone refuses to pay under the table and therefore has to add sales tax to his price, it may be difficult. The second time, easier. Eventually, it’s a given — cheating the government is simply not done.A person is judged by his decisions. Therefore, we do not know where anyone really stands. We do not know what is a battlefront in his intellectual life. For you, some act may be trivial. For him, the same act may be a serious victory, one that moved his bechirah point in a positive direction.I would like to take the liberty of recasting this idea in the terms we have been discussing in the past few entries. Rav Dessler wrote about the internal battle between good and evil, but the same is true of a slightly different axis, the battle between one’s mammalian instincts and the drive for follow a higher calling.I wrote about the need to identify with the latter, and to see his baser desires as external. So that when faced with a choice, it becomes “I want to do the right thing, but he…” The position of Adam hearing the snake. Adam only had an internal desire to do the will of G-d, so that his choice was determining the falsehood of the snake’s argument. Then we explained taharah as that separation between one’s will and his physical desires, and qedushah as the unity between that will and his higher calling.

A person therefore has a conscious self, a set of base, animalistic urges, and a higher calling. The power of the bechirah is the ability to change that self by associated more tightly or loosely with either set of urges. Someone who repeatedly caves to those more crass desires will develop habits (hergel) that prejudice their conscious, human selves. That is the adulteration we identified with tum’ah. It is also the motion of the nequdas habechirah in a destructive direction.

On a more positive note, challenges faced and passed become easier with each repetition. One can thereby dedicate oneself to G-dliness through that same mechanism of repetition and habit. The nequdah moves so that more and more of the self is on the side of the battlefront of the forces committed to Him, our very definition of qedushah.

Urgency, Importance, and the Yeitzer

Rabbi Ephraim Becker wrote in a reply to a comment on one of his posts:

The Yetzer hijacks our urgency (we get more excited about playing with the latest PDA than about getting up and putting on Tefillin) and leaves us struggling with trying to uphold rules that do not move us – only the guilt remains.

Two comments later he elaborates:

Simply put, the Yetzer operates with the ancient principle that nature abhors a vacuum. A person’s mind is going to be filled with something that excites him (be that a positive, productive endeavor or a negative self-destructive one) or, when there is fear of the ‘excitement’ (as when a person is afraid to confront him or herself) then there is numbness. The Yetzer is always alert for such emptyness and offers the person here-and-now excitement in an attempt to distract the person from here-and-now growth and closeness to HaShem. In that sense the Yetzer hijacks our urgency. That is one of the reasons that it is so important to visit and revisit our urgencies and why the masters of Mussar advocated avoiding unnecessary urgency or excitement. Urgency and excitement are precious commodities, to be used with caution and purpose.

Thinking about the yeitzer hara in terms of urgency…

Time management experts point out our habit of confusing the urgent with the important. Picture being a salesman in a store, helping a customer. You get a call, and after quickly assessing the caller, you learn it’s a potential customer asking about a product. Who is the higher priority? It should be the person who is interested enough in buying that they came to your store. But since the phone call rings, and demands immediate attention (urgency), we very often fall into the trap of keeping the customer waiting for the call — in a way that may well cost you the sale. As opposed to politely putting the caller on hold.

The yeitzer is out there seeking immediate gratification. Therefore is it surprising that it too creates that sense of urgency that we so often allow to override our real priorities?

Ruach Memalela

I – Ru’ach Memalela

Here’s the creation of man, as described in the Torah.

וַיִּיצֶר יְ-הוָה אֱ-לֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם, עָפָר מִן-הָאֲדָמָה, וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו, נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים; וַיְהִי הָאָדָם, לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה.

Hashem G-d formed man, dust of the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils a living spiritual-soul; and man became a living life-soul.

- Bereishis 2:7

וּבְרָא יְ-יָ אֱ-לֹהִים יָת אָדָם, עַפְרָא מִן אַרְעָא, וּנְפַח בְּאַפּוֹהִי, נִשְׁמְתָא דְּחַיֵּי; וַהֲוָת בְּאָדָם, לְרוּחַ מְמַלְּלָא.

Hashem G-d created man, dust of the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils a living spirtual-soul; and it became in man a speaking will-soul.

- Targum Unqelus, ibid

Nefesh, ru’ach and neshamah are defined as the ideas are developed in Qabbalah. There are many posts in this blog that touch on the subject. The distinction between them must be addressed here, as all three words are used.

The Torah’s version of the pasuq uses the root “yatzar“, to gives shape or form to something that already exists. Hashem shapes man, breathes into him a neshamah, a spiritual soul, an existence in heavenly realms. This transforms man into a living nefesh. Being a nefesh alone does not make man unique. The prohibition against eating blood is “for the blood is of the nefesh.” Animals have a nefesh, which lends significance to their blood as well. The relavent term here would seem to be that the nefesh of man is chayah, living.

Unqelus uses terms that stess what is new and unique about a person. He opens the pasuq with the word “uvera“. Unlike yetzirah, beri’ah is creation of something toally new, yeish mei’ayin — ex nihilo. And while the Torah speaks of how the breath transforms man into a living nefesh, Unqelus speaks of it as a new thing — a speaking ru’ach that is within him. Ru’ach (lit: Wind) is the flow from the neshamah, the “breath” before it fully leaves the Breather, and the nefesh, the breath at rest. (See Nefesh haChaim 1:5 or the translation and discussion here.) The soul as wind, the unseen will which can change the universe.

The Torah writes of the being of dust becoming living, a changing, growing, dynamic nefesh. Nefashos existed before, in animals, as did the body. The fact that it’s living is a change, not a creation. Unqelus writes of man now having a will that speaks. As his work is a Targum, not a commentary, presumably these are two sides of the same coin: being endowed with a speaking ru’ach is key to giving chiyus (life and dynamicity) to a nefesh.

II – Two Ways of Thinking

By my own experience, conscious thought happens two ways: the internal monologue we call a “stream of consciousness”, and by setting up thought-experiments to run through. For example, there are two ways to think through the question “Does an elephant have hair?”

Streams of consciousness, hereafter seikhel (for reasons that will become evident later), are a common tool of an author’s trade because it’s thought in the form of words. A solution based on this mode of thought might run something like this: Elephants are mammals, all mammals have hair, and so unless elephants are the exception to the rule, they must have hair. Elephants are well known and discussed animals. Could they be an exception to the rule and I don’t know it? Nah, they must have hair.

On the other hand, when I someone, and realize he has red hair, I don’t simply pick up another fact about the person, I have the experience of seeing red hair. I can remember and reproduce the image of him and his red hair in my mind. The knowledge isn’t reducable to words, it involves qualia, attributes of internal experience. And when I imagine what he would look like with black hair, I manipulate an image, not simply reason with concepts reducible into the words of my seikhel. There is a shared feature to seeing and hearing something when it happened, remembering the event, and imagining what the event would be like. When I remember my son’s face, I do not simply remember facts about it translatable into my seikhel, the flow of words in my head. I actually recreate the experience of seeing it. When I remember last Yom Kippur’s Kol Nidrei, I reproduce the experience of hearing the Chazan sing it, the congregation singing along.

This is the “koach hadimyon“, “the ability to make likenesses”. It is usually translated as “imagination”, but this translation is anachronistic — the word “imagination” changed meaning since first coined by Aristotilians (such as the Rambam). Dimyon is the laboratory of my thought experiments.

Solving the elephant problem through dimyon, you can remember elephants you saw, or saw pictures of. The detail may be blurry, so you may have to manipulate the picture a bit. Finally, a version of the picture which has a tuft of hair at the tail, maybe (if your memory is good) some downy hair around the eyes and ears, strikes you as the most familiar, the most real. And again you could reach the conclusion that elephants have hair.

Note that both require being aware of one’s thoughts: there is no stream of consciousness without a “listener” hearing the thoughts. There is no dimyon without an observer (and listener) watching the theater. This is a kind of self-awareness essential for the idea of “free will” to be meaningful. Free will is the ability to choose one’s actions and reactions, which is impossible if one can not perceive which thoughts to choose among.

And therefore, the ru’ach, the seat of will, must be self-aware. Conscious thought comes from the awareness of our thoughts, including our awareness of that awareness itself, and so on in an infinite regress. Free will comes from being able to monitor one’s thoughts and edit them based on judging what one monitors.

III – Yeitzer Hara or Key to Nevuah?

Rav Yisrael Salanter opens his Igeres haMussar (The Mussar Letter, Ohr Yisrael ch. 10; heb & eng, smoother English trans.) with the following (tr. mine, but it and the comments are based on a combination of the above):

A person is free in his dimyon and bound by his reason.

The phrase here is “assur bemuskalo“. Assur literally means bound or imprisoned (beis ha’asurim = jail), but to anyone familiar with halakhah, the meaning of “prohibited” will certainly also leap to mind.

Muskal is a conjugation of the same root as seikhel (mind) using the passive mode the Haskalah chose for their name and carried echoes of that meaning to contemporary readers. It is used elsewhere in Or Yisrael to connote thought about one’s middos.

His dimyon walks him unfettered in the direction of his heart’s desire, without fear of the certain future, the time when Hashem will call to account for all he caused to happen.

Is Rav Yisrael’s dichotomy between muskal and dimyon the same as the one we laid about above between seikhel and dimyon? Can we really take a mixture of Aristotelian thought and my own observation of what goes on in my mind and assume it is Rav Yisrael’s intent? And if that is the distinction he is drawing, why is dimyon being demonized?

After all, nevu’ah (prophecy) also uses dimyon.

The information that is made known to a prophet in a prophetic vision is made known through a parable whose meaning is immediately engraved [understood] in his heart in such a manner that he knows what it is.

- Rambam, Yesodei haTorah 7:3

I think therefore we must conclude key of Rav Yisrael’s thought is more in the contrast between free and confined than in dimyon vs. muskal. Dimyon is far more readily uncontrolled. Emotions are more readily fired by events rather than ideas, and so of our thoughts, our ability to create and recreate events has a strong ability to shape our desires.

As Rav Dessler writes (Michtav meiEliyahu IV pp 251-255) in the name of the Alter of Slabodka, this very same ability, when controlled, gives us the leverage to shape ourselves, to climb the Mesilas Yesharim’s ladder to prophecy and beyond. Dimyon as a mussar tool warrants its own post, be”H.

Rav Aryeh Kaplan comments on the following story in the gemara (Yuma 69b). The members of the Anshei Kenesses haGedolah fasted for three days, trying to destroy the yeitzer hara for idolatry. A lion of fire came out of the Qodesh haQedashim and the navi tells the Jewish people that it is the yeitzer hara that they have been seeking. They trap it in a cauldron of lead, and ever since then the call for idolatry is muted.

Note the desire to worship idolatry is recognized only by the navi. It appears in a dimyon, a lion that exists in perception, but isn’t a physical thing they see. This desire isn’t purely evil, it stems from the heart of the Beis haMiqdash itself! And, as Rabbi Kaplan adds, this story is about the last of the prophets. After Anshei Keneses haGedolah, the people who trapped this inclination, prophecy ceases.

Without the challenge there is no growth; without fighting a desire for idolatry, one doesn’t develop the skills for prophecy. As it is put in Mishlei “zeh le’umas zeh — this [is created] in opposition to that” everything in this world is created to balance our opportunities for good and for evil. That quality of dimyon needed for nevu’ah that was also the main call of the idol was placed in a cauldron.

IV- The Turing Test and the Limits of Free Will

Alan Turing, one of the fathers of computing theory, decided that the question of whether machines will ever be able to think is meaningless. He instead proposed this question: Can a machine be made whose output is indistinguishable from that of a person? To that end, he designed the Turing Test. A tester is given access to two teletypes. At the other end of one connection is a human being, the other is controlled by a computer. The tester needs to decide which is which solely on the basis of the text on it. Both the human and the program must try to be identified as a human being. The program passes the test if the tester is unable to make the determination.

If you think about it, this is how we judge other people as well. We can’t know what’s going on inside their own minds. Rather, we assume they’re aware based on judging their behavior.

But I find this shift of the problem dissatisfying. It may be outside the purvey of science to discuss my subjective experience, but that does not mean it exists. I know what it’s like to be me, to see a red ball and have within my mind a mental image of the scene which I can replay by memory and modify — or even construct on my own — through dimyon.

We know from computer programming that very complex output is possible without this awareness of my thoughts, including that awareness itself as a thought of which I’m aware. Perhaps even behavior complex enough to pass the Turing Test without having “anyone home” aware of the thoughts. No “I” experiencing them.

As we saw in the previous entry, angels are credited with complex activity and yet we do not assume that it’s the product of free will.

Not all human decisions involve free will to the same extent. Rav Dessler gradiates decisions based on their distance from the bechirah point. (See this post.) Consciousness is more involved the closer a decision is to the battle-front between one’s desires. One person might have to consciously choose not to cheat a cashier at a restaurant. For others, the idea would never cross their minds — the decision is unconscious.

Psychoanalysis speaks of things happening in our unconscious, preconscious, and subconscious.

And people can be trained to have Pavlovian responses. I recall a high school science teacher make this point. He had us write an “X” in our notebook every time he said “X”. The first so many times, he said “X” while banging a ruler on his desk. He went at a rapid clip, not giving us time to think, and the ruler was much louder than he was. At some point, he stopped saying anything, and just hit the desk. Most of us kept on going for quite a while before realizing, writing “X” when we heard the slap of the ruler rather than follow instructions.

So people can act without full self-awareness. Not every decision involves seikhel that the ru’ach both produces and “listens” in on, or a dimyon that has an audience. As Rav Dessler writes, who we are is defined by where our bechirah point is, which decisions require conscious attention, what issues get address with conscious thought. And it is on the distance we moved that bechirah point, and against what odds, that we are judged.

V- A Living Soul

Perhaps we can use all of the above to address our opening question.

What does it mean to be a nefesh chayah? Sartre summarized Existentialism with the enigmatic words “Existence precedes essence.” When it comes to a table, one can know something about the plan for building the table, the kind of wood the table will be made from, etc… and thereby know much about the table before it even exists. Human beings, however, exist before their essence is defined. We are changing, dynamic beings (as also discussed in the last entry, in contrast to angels).

In terms of the bechirah point, we mean that the topic which grab our awareness and therefore more fully enter conscious decision making changes during the course of our lives. Hopefully for the better, sometimes not so. In many different directions: we can be moved to be more compassionate or at another time, to be more spiritual. There are many different values about which we can be challenged at different levels.

“For a man is a tree in the field”. This pasuq refers to the prohibition against waste; do not chop down a fruit tree when attacking the city, because that tree represents future lives. However, it is also often used homiletically. I would point out that a tree only grows on the outer edge, constantly moving the bark further out and further up. The majority of the tree is static, rigid. We too only grow under that spotlight of our bechirah point. The rest of our territory is rather rigid. We change as we move that area, changing where and how we grow.

Seikhel takes ideas and develops them into new ideas. It is a rigid system guided by logic. If it is functioning properly, the only time it would reach wrong conclusions is when working from false premises. It is therefore an ideal tool for channeling our growth. Dimyon is a more effective tool for maximizing that growth. The two combine to make a vector: one provides direction, the other, quantity.

How was our nefesh given chiyus? The Targum tells us that it was our getting something new, a ruach memalela. A will that communicates, that is both a “speaker” and a “listener”. It’s to be capable of engaging in conscious seikhel and dimyon, to be able to watch our thoughts, judge them, and adapt them, in one seamless loop. That is the engine that moves our bechirah point ever forward.

Shiluach haQen

This entry is a continuation of the previous one.

I – Shilu’ach haQein

האומר על קן צפור יגיעו רחמיך ועל טוב יזכר שמך מודים מודים משתקין אותו:

One who prays, “Upon the birds nest your mercy extends[, so too may you have mercy upon us]” … we silence him.

- Mishnah Berakhos 5:3 (33b)

פליגי בה תרי אמוראי במערבא רבי יוסי בר אבין ורבי יוסי בר זבידא חד אמר מפני שמטיל קנאה במעשה בראשית וחד אמר מפני שעושה מדותיו של הקדוש ברוך הוא רחמים ואינן אלא גזרות

Two amoraim in the west (i.e. Israel) are divided about it, Rabbi Yosi bar Avin and Rabbi Yosi bar Zeveida. One said: Because he places jealousy upon the creatures of Genesis. And one said: Because he makes the attributes of the Holy One to be Mercy, but they are only laws.

-Berakhos 33b

We are obligated to send away the mother bird before taking eggs or hatchlings from her nest. This is the mitzvah of shiluach haqein. We are told here that the mitzvah can not be about having mercy on birds because (1) if it were, there would be similar laws for mothers of other species; and (2) they exist as laws upon people, not as part of Hashem’s relationship with His birds.

It would seem that shiluach haqein is similar in thrust to why we make a berakhah on bread before other items. We show respect to bread, the staple of our diet, beyond the respect shown other foods. Similarly, Aharon, not Moshe, initiates the plagues of Blood, Frogs and Lice. As Rashi repeats form our sages, this is because the Nile saved Moshe when he was hidden there as an infant, and the sand saved him when Moshe killed the Egyptian taskmaster and buried him in the sand. Even though bread, the Nile and the sand of Egypt are inanimate objects, and do not feel the gratitude shown them, people need to express the gratitude, to reinforce the middah in ourselves.

I think this is the second explanation in the gemara. The mitzvah is not for the sake of the bird experiencing receiving mercy, but for the sake of the person having the excercise showing it mercy.

But does the bird not suffer to see her children taken from her? Why is it wrong to acknowledge Hashem sparing it that suffering? And why aren’t there mitzvos sparing other animal’s mothers such suffering?

II – Can Animals Speak?

The simplest explanation of the Targum I discussed in the previous entry describing the human soul as a “ru’ach memalela — a speaking spirit” is that there is some fundamental skill necessary for true speech that people have and animals lack. In recent years, this has become difficult to identify. There are apes that have been taught American Sign Language. They lack grammar; the ape Koko will say “Koko wants banana” and “Banana wants Koko” interchangably. Perhaps grammar is the critical skill implied. Without grammar distinguishing “I threw the ball” and “a ball threw me”, all we know is that an ape can identify that the world involves a ball, itself, and throwing, and not necessarily describing the event itself.

However, more recently the orangutan Chantek was taught ASL, and not only can phrase her needs, she invented “tomato toothpaste” as a sign idiom for catsup. While there is still no sign of an ape mastering grammar, that’s impressive.

To further complicate things, it’s unclear how non-human Chantek is. It depends what the gemara means when speaking of “adnei hasadeh“. If I take the aggadita part literally, the are human beings that grow off stalks; their navel is on a stem that goes into roots in the ground. Halachically, killing one can qualify as murder. Is this a hypothetical case — people say these things exist, and if they do, it would be murder? Or is the aggadita metaphoric, and it’s talking about apes or some subset of apes. Perhaps the aggadita speaking of how they would die if you took them from their habitats and thus “are attached to the ground”. The Malay “orang + hutan” (man + wilderness) sure sounds a lot like “adnei hasedeh” (men of the field).

Back to the point, I now find it possible but difficult to explain Targum as saying that people qualitatively have some communication skill lacking in animals, rather than quantitatively superior skills. This drove my conclusion that the speech here is internal to the self, the stream of consciousness of the seikhel, and motivated much of the previous entry.

III- Are Animals Self-Aware?

Revisiting the issue of the Turing Test and if it can produce false positives: Do animals have this ability to perceive their own thoughts? Are they self-aware? Does an animal not only recognize self, but have an “I” in their consciousness that can know what it’s like to make that recognition?

Targum Unqelus describes the human soul as being uniquely a ru’ach memalela. We noted that animals are also described as having a nefesh, but no mention of their having a ru’ach. And we also argued that self-awareness is a feature of free will, which people have and animals lack.

If the mother bird lacks self-awareness, she can still feel and respond to the pain of losing her children. It is pain because it is something she responds to by trying to minimize. But there is no “I” to experience that pain, the pain isn’t internalized by the koach hadimyon within the bird’s soul. It is pain, but it is not suffering. Which would explain why the Torah is not concerned with her suffering. Rather, it is concerned with creating people who are capable of inflicting pain. It is not Divine Mercy on birds, it is a personality-shaping law given to man.

Yeitzer haRa

(This entry draws heavily from one posted a couple of weeks ago.)

I – Defining the Term

What is the Yeitzer haRa?

The simplest translation is the inclination to do evil.

But people do not inherently know what is evil and what is not. The tinoq shenishba, the child who was taken captive and raised by bandits or a person who otherwise lacked the proper upbringing to realize something was wrong, is not held as accountable for their sin as someone who did have a more proper upbringing. If the yeitzer hara were a part of the self that was sufficiently in heaven to know what was evil to motivate someone to do it, there would be no reason for such leniency.

The second notion would be that it is an inclination to do what the person believes is evil.

This doesn’t match actual experience, though. People need to rationalize their actions. No one chooses evil because it’s evil. They may choose wrongly because they are following a different notion of good; perhaps an aesthetic good rather than a moral one. But there is always some axis on which the person sees good in their choice. Chavah took the fruit of the tree of knowledge for this very reason, it was aesthetically pleasing — “good to look at and good to eat”.

Which leads one to conclude that the yeitzer hara is a drive to do something that often is evil. But this is quite a distance from our original definition. Is it justifiable?

As we will see in a moment, I believe that it’s justifiable on linguistic grounds. But also, I believe it must be true for a priori reasons. It is impossible for the mind to contain a complete model of itself. Therefore, when we speak of ideas like the yeitzer hara, we can only speak in terms of simplified models; ways of explicating only certain aspects of the problem.

The majority of this essay is a list of some ways of explaining what the yeitzer hara and yeitzer hatov are. I would not assert that the sources of each are necessarily arguing about the nature of man. In fact, I ascribe two of them to the same source — the Rambam! Rather, I believe that they are presenting different models, and at different times in our lives or even as we face different decisions in the same day, each may be useful in analyzing our motives and overcoming the destructive ones.
II – The Diqduq

A tzurah is a form, a yotzer someone who gives form. E.g. from Yamim Noraim davening, “kehinei kachomer beyad hayotzeir — for [we are like] clay in the hands of the Potter”. A yeitzer would be a causative conjugation, it causes something else to have a form. Like a cookie cutter, which leaves its form on the cookies it defines, rather than a potter. A template.

Second, the idiom as a whole is a semichut, an “attached” conjugation meaning “of”. As in “Benei Yisrael – Children of Israel”, “beis seifer — house of books (i.e. a school)”. The rules for hei hayedi’ah, the “ha-” prefix meaning “the”, on a semichut are non-intuitive for the English speaker. A “davar qodesh” is a “holy thing”, but “the holy thing” would require a hei on both words “hadavar haqodesh“. “Devar haqodesh” would be “a thing of the holy one”. So that “yeitzer hara” is not “the evil template”, as that would mean we would always find it conjugated as “hayeitzer hara“.

So, looking at the diqduq of the words, the most literal translation would be that the yeitzer hara is something that causes our actions to have an evil form, but isn’t necessarily evil itself. In fact, it would most probably describe a drive which is not evil, but only causes evil when it is used as a yeitzer, defining the shape and purpose of our actions. As Chazal say on the pasuq in Shema, “behol levavekha – bishnei yitzrekha“, loving Hashem with all your heart means loving Him with both yetzarim. Impossible if the yeitzer hara were inherently evil.

II – Giver and Taker

Man is inherently a dialectic being; it is inherent in the human condition that our behavior is characterizable by pairs of conflicting truths. It is this tension which gives us opportunity to choose. It is also a necessary consequence of our being recipients of Hashem’s good, and thus of His ability to be Giver. We receive His Image, and thus become givers.

This dichotomy, giving vs. taking, is the fundamental point in Rav Dessler’s “Qunterus haChesed“, a section of Michtav meiEilyahu vol. 1. To be a ba’al chesed, a giver, is the key to G-dliness. It is also a theme in Rav Shim’on Shkop’s introduction to Shaarei Yosher. Hashem gave us existence, and thus to be in His Image is to give to others. Chazal comment on the Chumash’s words “Qedoshim tihyu – you shall be holy” with “perushim tihyu — you shall be separated.” Rav Shim’on explains that holiness requires separation from taking anything that we do not need for the purpose of giving good to others.

To rest for the pleasure of resting is not holy, but to do so for the purpose of being able to give tomorrow, is. Holiness is thus proportional to one’s commitment to giving. Thus, one can take in a way that expresses love for Hashem, fulfilling “bekhol levavekha“.

IV – Spiritual and Animal

Rav Hirsch speaks of man’s animal side and man’s higher calling to ennoble himself. The Vilna Gaon defines nara”n similarly — the nefesh being the life-force we have in common with animals, the neshamah is our connection to heaven, and between them the ru’ach is the will which has the freedom to decide between them. (See also the Nara”n section of this blog.) In a totally different model, the Tanya makes a distinction between the nefesh E-lokis vs nefesh habeheimis, the Divine Soul vs the Animal Soul. (Each of which has their own nara”n. Nara”n is a concept dating back to the seifer haYetzirah, but by the time it reaches the acharonim many different opinions exist as to the parameters of each concept and their roles in the psyche.)

This is also very central to Victor Frankel’s pyschological model. As his book’s title presumes, man has a quest for Meaning no less innate than his quest for physical pleasures. That meaning could be defined religiously, or it could be like his description of his own drive to make it through the camp in Terezin just to see his wife again. But it’s a drive to live for more than just myself.

This dichotomy also maps directly to our concepts of yeitzer hara and yeitzer hatov as drives that, when used as goals, produce good or evil. Our physicality isn’t inherently evil, but to live for the sake of one’s physicality is. Similarly, spirituality can be abused, but a life of constantly striving to be elevated is a good one.

To love Hashem bekhol levavekha then refers to things like being able to enhance one’s Shabbos through the enjoyment of food, rest, and other physical pleasures.

In Shemoneh Peraqim (ch 3), the Rambam talks about man’s spiritual form (meaning one’s purpose which in turn determines one’s attributes) as the source of G-dliness. It is our form which is “in the Image of G-d”. It is our physical substance which is the source of sin.
And yet the Rambam’s introduction to his commentary on pereq Cheileq (Sanhedrin ch. 10) proves that people are more than simply clever mammals using examples of negative uses of the spiritual. The Rambam notes that people will often forgo physical pleasure for the sake of honor or revenge. So one sees there is something that overrides physical desires, proving the point. However, his examples of overriding motivations are both negative ones. Just as the yeitzer hara can be used for good, the yeitzer hatov can be used for evil.

V – Reason and Desire

Another dichotomy that is often mapped to the battle between the yeitzer hatov and yeitzer hara is the battle between reason and passion. Thinking through one’s actions vs. acting impetuously on a desire. Here the lesson of loving G-d even with one’s yeitzer hara is self evident. What is true love if not passionate?

The Rambam describes this dichotomy as well (Shemoneh Peraqim ch 2, Moreh Nevuchim 3:8). The Rambam follows Aristotle’s notion (N.E 1095a) that the problem with children is that they haven’t learned to think before acting, and therefore act on their passions, not the intellect.

I think the position I explained in my entry of two weeks ago, including Rav Yisrael Salanter’s comments on dimyon vs. muskal (imagination vs thought, where imagination includes the ability to create and recreate scenarios in general) is a variant on this theme. The Igeres haMussar opens with “A person is free in his dimyon and bound by his muskal.” The dimyon isn’t evil; as we saw, it is vehicle of prophecy. However, as a yeitzer, an end, it becomes the subject of Hashem’s warning that we need tzitzis so that “velo sasuru acharei levavkhem ve’akharei eineikhem — we not wander after our hearts and after our eyes. It is when the dimyon is allowed to run free rather than be harnessed that it becomes a yeitzer hara.

Both positions can be seen as being about a desire that a person ought to have been able to decide to overcome, but could not. The first is more straightforward, dealing with the desire directly. The latter looks back a step to dimyon as a key source of desire. And therefore its focus also includes being able to assert a filter between dimyon and desire.

VI – Summary

Man is basically dialectic in nature, a composite of conflicting definitions, self-images, and desires. (Why that’s true will, G-d willing, be the topic of a future entry.) When facing a moral choice, one desire will prove superior to the others. By looking at how various ba’alei mesorah divide these choices, we can be equipped with tools to analyze and improve our decision making.

There are two parts to the problem, clearly assessing one’s desires, and being able to look beyond what one wants to be true to objectively be able do so. The above ideas suggest the following tools.

  • Assessing the value of the conflicting desires, which axis of values are each drawing from?
    • Am I trying to give to others or improve the world around me, or am I trying to get something for myself at their possible expense?
    • Am I choosing physical comfort or pleasure over spiritual ones?
    • Aesthetic pleasure over moral good?
  • Reengaging intellect
    • The classical tool of listing pros and cons will help identify which is the more reasonable choice. In this way, we can force ourselves to see if we are ranking desires objectively, or if one desire is prejudicing our thought.
    • Hisbonenus:Since the desire that is coloring my ability to think was created by dimyon, my imagining the joy of fulfilling it, can I use that same power of dimyon to redirect that passion? (Another topic already promised for a future entry.)
    • Hispa’alus: By studying something passionately or creatively I can create an emotional investment in it. In this way I can build on the positive desire. See my earlier description of hispa’alus in the Ki Seitzei issue of Mesukim MiDevash.

The two pieces of the puzzle are also the topics of two chapters of Shemoneh Peraqim. In ch. 1, the Rambam discusses mistakes in thought which lead to sin, whereas in ch. 2 he discusses “diseases of the soul” which are sensory and emotional orders. Opposite order, same two ideas.

There is a third possible tactic. It hasn’t yet been discussed in this essay, because until now we took it for granted that the person is consciously making a moral choice. However, it is possible to avoid the problem.

Rav Dessler notes that consicous decision-making really only occurs in small regions of the choices we face. Those in which are desires are balanced enough that there is an active war between them. With each decision that point moves, either in one direction or the other, as that desire is reinforced.

  • Moving the bechirah point
    • How can I use habit to avoid having to struggle to overcome the temptation? This is key to the mussar practice of accepting qabbalos on oneself, small practices that gradually move my bechirah point on the topic. The practice of qabbalos is described more fully in the Eikev issue of Mesukim MiDevash.

Afterward: The Origin of the Yeitzer haRa
The question of where the yeitzer hara comes from can be asked in two ways — historically, and developmentally. Both were addressed in the past.
The historical origin is with eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. This internalized the mixture of motivations, some good, some evil. See “The Origins of Imperfection“. That essay is primarily about the physical vs. spiritual dichotomy.

However, until that dichotomy is internalized with the first sin, choice was about truth vs. falsehood. Which was the greater good, not eating the fruit, or was the snake’s rationale the truer story? One can also interpret the transition in that essay as being about the dichotomy between passion and thought. Adam before the sin was able to think clearly, without desire clouding his judgment. Adam after the sin is a war of conflicting desires, and therefore needs tools to help reengage unbiased thought to choose between them.

These are the two parts to the problem I listed in the summary — Adam’s internalization of counterproductive desires, and the consequent inability to rely on intellect directly parallel our need to rank our desires
The developmental origin of the yeitzer hatov occurs when a child reaches 12 or 13. I suggested that this is because it can not exist without the potential to rebel. A child who hasn’t yet tasted teenage rebellion behaves because their sources of authority tell them to — parents, teachers, peer acceptance. To truly choose good, it has to be in a framework where the source of the choice is internal, not imposed.
(With thanks to R’ Daniel Eidensohn, compiler of the “Yad Moshe”, for clearing up some of my misunderstanding of the Rambam.)


As developed in the past, I believe that man’s dialectic nature is inherent in the purpose for which we were created.

“It is the nature of good to have someone to whom to be good.” With these words the Ramchal explains Hashem’s purpose for creating man (Derech Hashem 1:2:1, see also Rav Saadia Ga’on, Emunos veDei’os). The human being can be defined as a keli for shefa, a receptacle for emanations of Divine Good and sustenance. Simply and personally put, you and I exist so that G-d would have a recipient of His Good.

And yet, there is much unhappiness in this world. Hashem could have insured that receiving shefa would make us happy, but He didn’t. While it is important to note the difference between bestowing good and making happy, that isn’t enough to explain why this would be true. Suffering, even if it is in some cosmic sense “good”, is a lack of goodness in how that cosmos was created. After all, we are speaking of the Bestower who defined the emotion of happiness, and created within us the mechanisms that generate it. He could have chosen to make the two identical, that true good and only true good would make us happy. Man is therefore lacking in two ways: we are not receiving His full goodness, and amongst that Divine Good that we lack is that very union between what we want and what is good for us.

We are left with a dilemma. We would conclude that Hashem created imperfect keilim, and that is why we are not receiving the full shefa. However, we would need to explain why a Perfect Creator would make beings that don’t perfectly fulfill His purpose for them.

In the Torah, Hashem introduces the idea of creating people with the words “let Us make man in Our Image, like our Semblance” (Bereishis 1:26). The ultimate good the Creator has to share with us is His own “nature”, the gift of being free-willed, having the capacity to make meaningful decisions, and to create.

This is the root of the ideas in Rav Dessler’s Qunterus haChesed (a section of Michtev meiEliyahu vol. I). Man’s higher calling is giving, not taking — which is distinguished from receiving. Love is based on this interplay of giving and receiving.

We therefore find that even gevurah, Divine Restraint, is actually a manifestation of chessed. The Malbim understands a prophecy of Daniel to include this lesson. When Daniel sees the angel Gavri’el, the messenger of gevurah, its arrival is described by the phrase “mu’af biy’af” – its flight is described as “flying in flight”, a double language. Chazal explain that Micha’el can span the world in a single wing stroke, however Gavri’el requires two. Rav Saadia Gaon understands the doubled language in Daniel to refer to this two-part flight. The Malbim explains the reason for the difference between the angels. Gavri’el must first fly to Micha’el before proceeding on his journey, because he takes instruction and orders from Micha’el.

We say in the prayers with the bedtime Shema, “On my right is Micha’el, on my left is Gavri’el.” Micha’el is the messenger of chessed, which is a sefirah on the right side of the Eitz Chaim. Gavri’el, gevurah, is on the left. Giving is on the stronger side. But also, gevurah must report to chessed because Hashem shows restraint only when it’s the greater gift than doing for the person. “Olam chessed yibaneh – the world is built on chessed.”
This fundamental paradox, that the ultimate chessed must include gevurah, restraint in one’s giving yields a dialectic inherent in man. On the one hand, man exists to receive good. On the other, he exists to be G-d-like, and create it himself, to be mashpia’ others. Man the creature, receiver of G-d’s Good vs. man the creator who lives in His Image.
If we view the issue from the perspective of imitation Dei, emulating Hashem, we gain a second perspective on the paradox.

If you were called upon to decide which student of a Rebbe is the better student, how would you judge? Intuitively, one would choose the one who remembers the most of the Rebbe’s teachings, who includes them most thoroughly in his own thoughts, and whose words of Torah are closest to the mentor’s style. But what if a key idea of the Rebbe’s thought was the importance of individuality, and of personal creativity? The one who is most loyal to the Rebbe’s words or even his style is less loyal to this overall idea of the importance of finding one’s own contribution.

Following our Ultimate Teacher presents us with a similar paradox. On the one hand, we are “to walk in his ways” . On the other, those ways include free will, choice, and creativity. Man the student, receiving Divine Truth, can only receive it by giving it his own perspective. For both archetypes to co-exist, a must be given the opportunity to participate in creating the ability or opportunity to receive, to earn his reward. The most suitable keli for shefa is one that is created imperfect, and then is charged to perfect him- or herself. Thus, we are created lacking in the second manner we identified above, with an imperfect identification of what ought to make us happy, as well as a need for many painful lessons.
But gevurah is rooted in chessed; challenges and unhappiness exist to enable the greater gift.

This fundamental idea brings us to a dialectic inherent in man. On the one hand, man exists to receive good. On the other, he exists to create it.

The concept of dialectic is core to Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik zt”l’s philosophy. Human beings are fraught with tensions, opposing ideas that are each simultaneously true. Halachah’s role is not to resolve these dialectics; such resolution would be impossible as they’re inherent to human nature. It is through these tensions that force us to make choices that we become creative, growing, beings. Rather, halachah aims to bring us to unity by giving us the tools to navigate between the two sides.Many of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s dialectics are related, and can be seen as deriving from the same underlying principle. In Halachic Man, he speaks of the need to balance homo religiosus, the religious man who aspires to transcend the world, with cognitive man, who tries to comprehend and categorize the world. Homo religiosus relates to G d by seeking means to receive from G d. Cognitive man engages in science and technology, changing the world to supply his own needs. Halachah serves as a tool for navigating a life of both, with all the conflicting values that implies.

The notion of community is a also central to his thought; it not only refers to the greater society in which one lives, but the married couple are also a community of two, G d and Israel are viewed as a covenantal community, etc…. In short, Rav Soloveitchik uses the notion of community to refer to a wide range of constructive relationships. Community also involves the tension of giving and receiving. On the one hand, the role of a community is to provide resources and safety to its constituents. It exists to serve its members, and therefore the members expect to receive from the community. On the other hand, the most noble action a member of a community can do is one doesn’t just benefit himself but one that gives to the community as a whole. The relationship is a dialectic of both receiving and giving.

Another dialectic understanding of community that RJBS uses heavily is the community of fate vs the community of destiny. The community of fate is a group of people who are united in their shared history and their shared treatment by nature and others. This is am Yisrael, am from the word im (with), the community of all Jews, whether they adhere to Orthodoxy or not. The community of destiny is a group of people united in a shared mission. Adas Yisrael, the community of eidus, testimony to revelation. The Rav therefore permitted joining the SCA despite the participation of Conservative and Reform Rabbis, since its mission is to improve the Jewish fate, to work kelapei chutz, toward the external world. Kelapei fenim, work that is internal, must be limited to the religious community and participation in a joint organization is prohibited. Here to its a question of receiving one’s fate vs creating one’s destiny.

One last example. In The Lonely Man of Faith, the Rav presents the notions of Adam I vs. Adam II. In Genesis 1, G-d appears as “E-lohim”, a name that denotes Divine Justice. Creation builds from light, to land, onward until animals and finally people are created. Man is presented as the pinnacle of creation. He is charged to “be fruitful and multiply, to fill the world and subdue it.” Adam as presented in this chapter is man the technologist, the master of his domain. In our terms, man the creator.

In Genesis 2, we are introduced to the sheim Havayah, to the name that refers to G d the giver, the Source of mercy, Who provides all of its existence in all its detail. Adam is a needy being, searching for redemption through a covenantal relationship with G d. He seeks meaning, as is evidenced in his naming the animals. What we described as man the creature.

The marital relationship is also colored by this dialectic. In Genesis chapter 1, the time at which each gender was created is ignored. They are presented simultaneously. Marital intimacy is “to be fruitful and multiply”, for procreation. In chapter 2, Eve is created in response to Adam’s existential loneliness. “Therefore man will leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife, and they will be one flesh.” Relations are for the purpose of achieving unity. Not to create, but to gain for oneself a sense of unity and wholeness.

Free will is not only core the the creator/giver side of the dialectic, it arises from this dialectic nature. It provides the conflict of drives and desires from which to choose, the bechirah point which is the center of conscious thought.

This idea that we were created to create also means the world in which man lives is necessarily imperfect. First, because it contains other people who must be allowed their imperfections. Second, because the ability to create necessitates the existence of things that are still incomplete, opportunities for man to build and repair upon.

Yeshaiah tells Cyrus, a Zoroastrian king who believed in a good deity and an evil one, to compare the creation of evil with that of darkness. “Former of light and Creator of darkness; Maker of peace and Creator of evil.” (Yeshaiah 45:7, c.f. Birkhas Yotzeir Or in Shacharis) Both darkness and evil are described with “uvorei – and created” ex nihilo. Creating darkness entails creating empty space that contains no light. The implication is that evil is similarly a vacuum, a “place” where good was not yet performed. It is not an entity, but an opportunity for man to shine that light, to “repair the world”. To create.

Neither Random nor Predetermined

Free Will is difficult to define. We’re saying that people make choices that are neither predetermined by outside causes, and yet non-random. Moshe Koppel, in his book “Metahalakhah” proves that such a domain exists, but without showing us what that domain might contain.

A random sequence is one whose next element is not predictable given the sequence’s history so far. But it’s easy to model, simply say that each it is random. It can be done in very few bits of a programming language.

A sequence that can be reduced to a shorter one is the product of algorithm. For example:


You don’t need to have every bit listed in order to reproduce the sequence. One need only have a set of bits that mean “10, repeat” in some programming language.

For example:


Looks like it’s the old “10, repeat”. Until we get to:


Now it looks like

if not a multiple of 5
if odd 1
if even 0
if a multiple of 5 – 0

But then we get some more items:


So we theorize:

if not a multiple of 5
if odd 1
if even 0
if a multiple of 5
if odd 0
if even 1

But later on we learn:


The 25th item didn’t obey this rule… and so our model gets ever more complex as we have more data to work with. We can always explain the sequence in less space than the sequence itself. So it isn’t random. However, the description of an infinite expansion of this sequence would be infinite. It’s not an algorithm because no finite model exists. They are “non-modelable”, since neither a coin tosser nor an algorithm will model the resulting output.

There is a middle ground between deterministic and random. If one watches a person’s decisions, it will fall into that class.

Dr. Koppel, following R’ JB Soloveitchik’s approach in “Halachic Man”, sees the role of halakhah as that of maximizing free ill. Man redeems himself through a creative partnership with G-d. That creativity is a product of being non-modelable; our decisions are neither inherent in our nature nor our environment nor random — they are something new, products that our uniquely our creations.

Perhaps the same dichotomy lies behind Euthyphro’s Dilemma.

To recap my summary of that dilemma from an earlier blog entry:

In his essay “Euthyphro”, Plato has Socrates ask a young student named Euthyphro, “Is what is righteous righteous because the gods love it, or do the gods love it because it is righteous?” The Jewish spin would be to ask: Is an act good because Hashem chose to make it a mitzvah, or did Hashem command us to do it because it is good? What is the Source of morality?

The problem is that if you say that an act is good solely because Hashem commanded it, then He had no moral reason to tell us to do one set of things and not another. Can mitzvos be the product of Divine whim, the decision between “Thou shalt murder” and “Thou shalt not” entirely without any reason on His part? On the other hand, if there is an overarching definition of good and evil that Hashem conformed to, then we placed something “over” Him, something that even He is subject to.

Notice how the options presented match the ones Dr Koppel rules out with respect to free will: either Hashem’s moral choice is predetermined by an outside notion of morality, or His choice is arbitrary.

The resolution I offered to Euthyphro’s Dilemma was:

I would argue that HQBH created the world with a tachlis, a purpose, He placed each of us in it with a tachlis, and what is righteous is righteous because it is in accordance with furthering that tachlis.

Moral good is thus defined in terms of Hashem’s purpose behind creating us. Notice again the third alternative is about being purposive. Deterministic behavior is caused by one’s past. Random behavior is arbitrary, without particular cause for one outcome over another. By not being modelable, people have the ability to make decisions based upon a desired future.

Types of Thought: Progressions

The first of the requests of the Shemoneh Esrei is Birchas haDa’as, the blessing on understanding. We first state “Atah chonein le’adam da’as – You grant humanity understanding, umelameid le’enosh binah – and teach man comprehension.” What is da’as that is chonein, granted freely, whereas binah is taught, and therefore requires that the student participate by learning it? And why is da’as a feature of adam, whereas binah is that of enosh?

The Reisha Rav, R’ Efrayim Levine (HaDerash vehaIyun, Parashas Bereishis), explains that da’as is knowledge of a single fact. Singular, like Adam, an individual. While “adam” means man, it is not pluralized. On the other hand, binah is the ability to combine ideas in order to produce new ones. Binah is most effective in a community, as anyone who studied with a chavrusah experienced. One of the forty-eight ways necessary to acquire Torah listed in Avos is “pilpul hatalmidim – the sharp give-and-take of the students”. (Beraisa Avos 6:6) The usual Hebrew word for people is anashim, plural of enosh. Enosh, Adam’s grandson, was the first generation to consist of multiple nuclear families living together. Adam and Chavah were a unique couple. Their children Kayin and Hevel certainly could not combine into a society, leaving Sheis and his wife as another unique couple. Until Enosh, there was no concept of “society.” Thus, binah was incomplete until Enosh.

Perhaps we can answer our first question by utilizing R’ Efrayim Levine’s idea. Binah requires working at the idea, the give and take. Da’as may be gifted, but binah cannot be fully absorbed that way. This is the need for ameilus baTorah, toiling in Torah, “melameid le’enosh binah.”

The Eitz Chayim, the tree-structure of the 10 sefiros of Qabbalah describing how G-d’s Good flows down to us, is described either with keser, a Crown that is the source of chokhmah and binah, or it has da’as, the synthesis of chokhmah and binah. We can look at da’as either as the product of thought, or as the source for future thought. The da’as of an idea is both what it is upon which binah acts, as well as the conclusion toward which binah works. This might distinguish da’as from the realm of zikaron. It’s not just knowledge, it’s knowledge that shapes thought.

Da’as‘s role in binah is pretty straightforward. They even teach courses in deductive and inductive reasoning; there are lists on line of common fallacies of reasoning (proof by authority, post hoc ergo propter hoc, etc…) Proper reasoning is a skill to be learned. The connection to chokhmah is less obvious. On the right is a famous picture by WE Hill “My Wife and My Mother-in-Law” (published 1915) that might help. Who one sees in the picture is decided preconsciously by what one brings to the experience. See also my earlier essay “Free Will and Environment“.

Shlomo Hamelech writes, “Have you found devash – honey? Eat only your limit of it lest you fill yourself and vomit it” (Mishlei 25:16). The Vilna Gaon explains the metaphor of honey, devash, as coming from its being an acronym of de’ah, binah, and seichel (insight). One’s progress in Torah needs to be slow and progressive. “Eat only your limit” – attempting for too much too rapidly invites failure.

The pasuk does not make sense if it means the cerebral and abstract pursuit of Torah. The Alter of Kelm told a student celebrating his third Siyum HaShas, “It is not a discussion of how many times you have gone through Shas, but how many times Shas has gone through you.” It is of that kind of Talmud Torah that Mishlei speaks. And it is that kind of self-changing wisdom that we ask for when we request dei’ah, binah, vehaskeil – knowledge (dei’ah), developed through reason (binah) to be applied in one’s life (haskeil).

Someone who tries for results without the skills, for dei’ah without da’as, haskeil without seikhel, tevunah without first aspiring for binah, can not retain either – they get vomitted out.

This version of the text recognizes the progression set up in the opening of the berachah. Adam receives da’as, Enosh develops it as binah, and request from Hashem that this progression continue into haskeil. However, it has the clause “chaneinu me’itecha – grant us from You,” which does not fit binah, and certainly not haskeil. Haskeil must be self-developed; people must have the power to shape how they apply their knowledge as action, or else there is no free will.

Perhaps the Nusach Sefarad chose a different progression because this implication is difficult. But it does so at the expense of continuity with the ideas already developed. In Nusach Sefarad, the progression is chochmah, insight, according to the Tanya (Likutei Sichos, ch. 2), the gifted-from-G-d awareness of an idea, raw, undeveloped. This is then developed in binah, and da’as, knowledge, is produced.

Rather than Ashkenaz’s progression from knowledge to action, Nusach Sefarad gives the progression from inspiration to knowledge. Nusach Ashkenaz focuses on how the intellect is used for self-perfection, sheleimus. Sefaradim and Chassidim speak of knowledge as a flow from G-d’s Divine Wisdom, a connection to Him, temimus. (See also the posts on the “forks” topic, the difference between the misnageid‘s quest for perfection in the image of G-d and the Chassid’s life-mission of cleaving to Him.)

Types of Thought: Gender Differences, part II

In the previous post we spoke of gender difference in terms of extending society’s reach vs developing what we have – R’ Aharon Soloveitchik’s “kibush vs yishuv” (as discussed in this devar Torah for parashas Chayei Sarah), and R’ SR Hirsch’s outside vs inside. (And Dear Abby’s goal vs process.) And in the post before that we started discussing the Hebrew terms for various modes of thought starting with “Atah Chonein” and Ashkenaz’s “dei’ah binah vehaskeil” vs. the Sepharadi (and “Sfard”) “chokhmah binah vada’as“.

Binah and Da’as -

a convergence of the previous two topics

The gemara makes two statements about cognitive differences between men and women.נ

נשים דעתן קלות – Women, their da’as are “light”

בינה יתרה נתנה להן – Extra binah was given to them.

The fact that women are described as being more focused on binah than on da’as in comparison to men ties this post to the previous one. In the following, I take the Tanya’s position on defining da’as, but I use Rav Hirsch to explain binah, since it resembles the Tanya’s but provides more detail.

We described da’as as knowledge. But not simply zikaron, the memory of ideas, but the knowledge that changes how we think. It is thus both da’as, the synthesis of chokhmah and binah, as well as keser, their source. Males, zekharim, with their intimate link to memory, are more prone to da’as.

Binah is deductive and inductive reasoning. According to Rav Hirsch, the word is related to livnos, to build, and bein, between, making distinctions. I would suggest from this that each connotation is based on a different kind of reason:

  • Deductive reasoning builds conclusions from existing ideas. If all people are mortal, and John is a person, John is mortal.
  • Inductive reasoning divides cases into categories about which we can form rules. If we see one duck and it flies, and another duck and it flies, and another, we eventually concludes that ducks in general fly. (Of course, someone could similarly conclude that all birds fly, until his case-collection includes an encounter with an ostrich or penguin.)

In what way is there a conflict between da’as and binah? Da’as limits our modes of thought. In thinking the way one is supposed to for a discipline, one may be more accurately working within the discipline, but one will be blind to an answer if it happens to fall outside the discipline. We saw in the previous post how da’as can cause one to lose sight of their vocation, Rav Hirsch’s “danger that he may completely lost himself in this struggle, that in striving to acquire his means he will lose sight of his real vocation… It is then the woman who leads him back to what is truly human in him.” It is through binah that women

Only men can serve on a court, both for deciding cases, and in the legislative and interpretive capacity of courts of men with Moses-derived ordination. And from there, we have rules about only men giving hora’ah and only men testifying to those judges in questions of guilt. (Anyone can testify about the permissibility of an object, which is why I can rely on my wife in the kitchen.)

Making halakhah is a discipline, following the laws of how to make laws. Thus, it’s relegated to men. The greater creativity and deductive ability of a woman’s binah doesn’t produce a more right answer. However, when it came to aggadic issues, where the criterion is truth, not legal process, it was the women who historically saved the Jewish People from major errors — from their unwillingness to follow the men in building the golden calf until “neqeivah tesoveiv gever“.

A third approach, which I guess could also be the same answer in a different guise, is based on Mishlei 1:8:

שְׁמַע בְּנִי, מוּסַר אָבִיך; וְאַל תִּטֹּשׁ, תּוֹרַת אִמֶּךָ.

Listen, my son, the to instructions of thy father, and do not forsake your mother’s Torah.

To which Chazal add (quoted by Rashi ad loc), “Do not read ‘your mother’s Torah – תורת אמך’ but rather ‘your people’s Torah – תורת עומתך'”. We learn from our mothers things that are deeper than words — our values, our reflexive reactions, our emotional balance. (Again, assuming the ideal world, where each gender has the opportunity to fill the role it is better suited for.) Things we get and transmit culturally.

Textual teaching is an obligation on fathers.

Perhaps even the reason why more male prophets’ vision are recorded than women’s is because men are a better vehicle for the kind of messages that can be textually transmitted in a book. Da’as, formalized thought. While G-d’s covenant with Abraham is recorded in seifer Bereishis, His covenant with Sarah is recorded in our culture, in Jewish values, in who we are.

This cultural knowledge is the essence of Oral Torah. Arguably the entire need for a halachic process that ever increases in codified halakhah is that we need to create formal rules as we lose that natural feel for right and wrong of the Sinai Culture. As I wrote in (yet another) earlier post:

There are two ways to learn a language: The native speaker doesn’t learn rules of grammar before using them, he just knows what “sounds right”. In contrast, an immigrant builds his sentences by using formalized rules, learning such terms as “past imperfect” and memorizing the forms that fit each category. R’ [Moshe] Koppel[, in his book, Metahalakhah] notes that the rules can never perfectly capture the full right vs wrong. A poet has to know when one can take license.

He argues that halakhah is similarly best transmitted by creating “native speakers”. It is only due to loss of our progressive loss of the Sinai culture with each generation that we need to rely on transmitting codified rules. … Earlier cited cases are the loss of culture that occurred with Moshe Rabbeinu’s death, when 300 halakhos were forgotten, and Osniel ben Kenaz reestablished them – chazar veyasdum. Similarly the reestablishment of numerous dinim by Anshei Keneses haGedolah after the return from the Babylonian exile – shakhechum vechazar veyasdum. Leyaseid, he suggests, is this codification.The informal knowledge of a “native speaker” is limited by the capacity of the human mind. But still, it captures more of the ineffable whole, the true “divrei E-lokim Chaim” than can be set down as formal rules.

See this early post and the first article in Mesukim miDevash for Bamidbar on the notion of Mussar as a conscious teaching and internalizing of that which in the ideal we would have naturally absorbed from our environment. Reducing toras imekha – umasekha, to mussar avikha. The natural, free-flowing binah into a discipline of how to think, da’as.

So far, I’ve made a hash of things. I took ideas from people who contradict on how they define different terms, and blended their ideas together on the terms in which they agree. In the next entry, be”H, I will try to provide a more dictionary-like collection of the words for various types of thought.

Types of Thought: Dictionary

A while back, last time I had a chance to complete a blog entry, I promised a dictionary of terms for thought. When writing it up, I noticed I had MUCH more to say on da’as / dei’ah / yedi’ah than the other topics. In any case, here is the result.


According to the Rambam, yedi’ah is at the center of man’s mission. We exist in order to gain da’as of Hashem. In the Aristotelian understanding of knowledge, to know something is to have its form in one’s mind. Form, in the sense of form and substance — tzurah vechomer. It is man’s ability to have elements of Tzuras E-lokim in one’s soul that gives it the ability to survive eternally. This unity of knower and known is why yedi’ah is also the term used for marital intimacy.

Also, to the Rambam, da’as is tied to one’s personality. The laws of how one is to behave, what we call today “middos“, are to him Hilkhos Dei’os. This too he probably would have framed using Aristotelian terminology. Aristotle saw emotions as primarily a product of thought. Thus, da’as, the knowledge which shapes one’s thoughts are indeed dei’os.

Today we see it more as a cycle, thought shaping our emotions, but our emotions also shaping what we choose to think. To quote someone I enjoy quoting (me), “The mind is a wonderful organ for justifying conclusions the heart already reached.” This is why we find that the experience of a Shabbos has done more to preserve Judaism, and to bring people back to observing halakhah, than all of the philosophical arguments ever could. It is the heart of the Kuzari’s objection to reliance on philosophy; what any one philosopher proves, another proves something contradictory, each convinced their proof is solid — and in accordance with their personal predilections.

But this does not distance da’as from dei’os. Quite the reverse. Because they feed each other in a cycle, they are even less separable; it is harder to define where one ends and the other begins.

It would seem from the introduction to Orchos Tzadiqim that in her opinion (most scholars believe that the anonymous author of this originally Yiddish work was a woman), dei’os are the capacities themselves. Ka’as (anger) for example. She switches to the word middah when discussing the frequency or intensity of various dei’os. One person may become angry frequently. Another, perhaps less often, but when he goes into a rage he loses all self control. “Middah” is being used here in it very literal sense, the “dimensions” of the dei’ah.

Da’as reemerges in a central role in Telzhe, where the Mussar Shmuess (impassioned Mussar talk) is reinvented as R’ Eliyahu Meir Bloch’s Shiurei Da’as. Rather than using fervor and passionate experience to influence emotion, in Telzhe they focused on the intellect as their route to perfecting middos. Telzhe aspired to acquire tzurah, not the Tzurah of Hashem (as the Rambam had it), but of His Thought, the Torah. To acquire a tzurah of Torah in one’s mind, da’as Torah as a personal goal of anyone engaged in Torah study. (As opposed to something solely possessed by a distinct class of “the gedolim“.) By delving into the Why of a halachic dilemma, the Telzher reaches depths below the division of halakhah and aggadita. Connecting halakhah to its values so that one becomes unified with those values.


Tanya: Initial insight. The moment when you get an idea, but haven’t articulated it to yourself yet to work it through and develop it. The Baal haTanya notes that the word is an anagram for “koach mah — the potential of ‘what is?'” It is from this that he builds his understanding of the Chaba”d progression. (See last month’s contrast of Chaba”d, looking at the emanation of wisdom from G-d to man, and Deva”sh, focusing on man’s use and control of the resulting knowledge.)

Rav S.R. Hirsch: Accumulated knowledge. Arguably the opposite of the Tanya’s understanding.

The Brown-Driver-Briggs dictionary (usually called “the BDB”), based in Gesenius’s earlier (German) work, is a primary academic work on Biblical Hebrew. By far, not a “frum” work. There isn’t that much I can understand in their explanations of how they derive a definition, as they tend to involve cognates in other semitic languages, such as Amharic, Syriac, etc… printed in their native alphabets.

Here, the BDB gives “wisdom” or “technical skill”. An example of this usage is the Chumash’s description of the skilled and talented artisans who did the work on the mishkan — those who were “chakhmei leiv“.

Perhaps this is a facet of the general Chaba”d vs. Deva”sh dispute. Art requires two things: (1) Divine inspiration, a gift; (2) practice, practice and more practice. In nusach Sefard, where the focus in on G-d’s gift of intelligence, the chakhmei leiv are associated with initial ineffable insight granted by the Almighty. In nusach Ashkenaz, chakhmah is accumulated laboriously over years of practice, trial and error.


Rav Hirsch: The ability to make distinctions into categories (bein) through inductive reasoning, and the ability to inductively reason from a combination of ideas to their conclusions (livnos).


The BDB entry on binah has a sub-entry on tevunah, for which I was unable to find a precise definition in by a mesoretic source, and yet arises in Tana”kh and tefillah often enough to require our attention. They translate “tevunah” as the object of knowledge — the known, or that which could be known. It would seem to refer to the product of binah.


According to Rav Hirsch, haskeil is applying understanding. As we suggested in the comparison of Deva”sh vs Chaba”d, haskeil is bringing that da’as and binah to practical use. (For what it’s worth, the BDB has “consider or understand”.)


Rav Hirsch identifies a group of related roots:

  • hayah: to exist
  • chayah: to live, an intense form of existence, just as ches makes a sound that is similar but more intense than that of the hei
  • hineih: a place in which something exists, thus one worth noting
  • hagah: imagination. To picture something in one’s mind, a shadow existence.

It would seem that R’ SR Hirsch’s understanding of higayon is similar to what the Rambam calls koach hadimyon. (See “I Had a Dream“, “Ruach Memalela” and “Yeitzer haRa” for explorations of koach hadimyon.) When we say on Shabbos that we should praise Hashem “alei higayon bechinor — upon the higayon with the harp”, we could well be speaking with the sensory experience and the feelings it induces.

Rashi comments on Rabbi Eliezer’s final advice to his students (Berakhos 28b):

Be mindful of the honor of your peers, and keep your children from higayon, and place them between the knees of Torah scholars, and when you pray know before whom you stand – and on account of this you will merit the life of the world to come.

Rashi explains that higayon here means study of Tanakh “which draws the heart”, and R’ Eliezer fears may be to the exclusion of other Torah studies. This assumes a similar definition

Ramchal, on the other hand, wrote “Seifer haHigayon” on the subject of logic. Assuming a quite different definition than dimyon. The Ramchal may be drawing from the same tradition as Rav Hai Gaon, who understands Rabbi Eliezer as warning his students against sophistry, learning rules of argument to the point where you can argue any position, with no regard to truth.


Rav SR Hirsch associates the 7 lamps of the menorah with the verse in Yeshayah (11:2) “ונחה עליו רוח ה’ רוח חכמה ובינה רוח עצה וגבורה רוח דעת ויראת ה – and it rested upon him the spirit of G-dliness, the spirit of chokhmah and binah, the spirit of eitzah and gevurah, the spirit of da’as and awe of G-d.” Rav Hirsch illustrates this menorah with da’as (applied knowledge), eitzah and chokhmah (accumulated knowledge) branching to the right, yir’as Hashem, gevurah (strength to stay steadfast) and binah (reasoning) to the left. With ru’ach Hashem as the middle. This introduces eitzah as similar in kind to da’as and chokhmah, and therefore within the bounds of our discussion.

Rav Hirsch connects eitzah with other words meaning to aim. To give an eitzah is to give someone else direction. Whereas da’as is the product of my own thought, eitzah is applied knowledge acquired from without.

(Interestingly, a word in Biblical Hebrew for an advisor is aveh, from which Rav Hirsch says we get av, father. An interesting contrast to binah and ben – son.)


We touched on zikaron earlier, when discussing the relative strengths of da’as and binah between men and women. Man, zakhar, has the greater propensity for da’as, learned modes of thought, as opposed to the more free-ended reason of binah. The commonality of root implies that zikaron includes the capacity for da’as. The obligation to destroy “zeikher Amaleiq – memorials to Amaleiq” uses zeikher in the same sense as modern usage, memory. I would therefore suggest that zikaron is a general term, including da’as, tevunah, eitzah, and R’ Hirsch’s version of chokhmah — applied knowledge, logical conclusions, taught advice and collected wisdom.

I hope this little mini-dictionary will help someone say their tefillos with greater kavanah, as all these similar terms can be uttered with knowledge of more of their connotations. Please feel free to add your own experiences davening these words to the comments section below.

Three Desires

In the last entry, I quoted part of Even Sheleimah, 2:1, by the Vilna Gaon. The full paragraph reads:

The sum of all evil middos are ka’as[1] (anger), ta’avah (desire), and ga’avah[2] (egotism), which are “haqin’ah vehata’avah vehakavod — jealousy, desire and honor”.[3] Each includes two [parts]. Of ka’as: ra (evil) and mirma (duplicity). Ra is revealed, and mirmah is “echad bepeh ve’echad beleiv — one thing in the mouth, and one thing in the heart”.[4,5] Ta’avah: ta’avah and chemdah (longing): Ta’avah is [for] the pleasure of the body itself, such as eating, drinking, and the like. And chemdah is like [for] silver/money, gold, clothing and houses. In ga’avah [the two subspecies are] gei’ah (conceit) and ga’on (snobbery). Gei’ah is in the heart and ga’on is the desire to rule over others.

All this is included in the tefillah of “E-lokai netzor leshoni meira usfasi midabeir mirmah.”[6] “Velimkalilai nafshi sidom — and may my soul be silent to those who curse me” is against ga’avah. “Venafshi ke’afar lakol tihyeh — and may my soul be like dust before everyone” is against ga’on. “Pesach libi biSorasecha — open my heart with your Torah” is the opposite of ta’avah, which wants to sit in his home in menuchah (rest) to fulfill his ta’avos, and also for Torah he needs to sit in menuchah. And they say in the medrash [7], “Before the person prays for Torah ideas that they should enter his innards, he should pray that food and drink shouldn’t enter his innards.” “Uvmitzvosecha tirdof nafshi — and my soul chase after your mitzvos” is the opposite of the people of chemdah, because it is their way to constantly run ahead, “for a person doesn’t die with [even] half of his ta’avah in hand.[8]”[9]

1- Nedarim 22a, 22b; Pesachim 66b, 113b
2- Sotah 4b, 5a; Sanhedrin 98a; Avos 4:2
3- Avos 4:21
4- Michlei 4:24
5- Pesachim 113b; Bava Metziah 49b
6- Beracho 17a
7- Yalkum Shim’oni 830
8- Koheles Raba 1:13
9- C.f. Bei’ur haGr”a Mishlei 1:11; 2:12; 4:24; 7:5; 12:25; 23:27; 24:11; 30:10

Even Sheleimah 2:6:

Someone who is drawn after the ta’avah [physical desires] also loses his good middos that was in his nature by birth [and these are called begadim — clothes]. And one who is drawn after the chemdah [desire for wealth and power] loses the good middos that he acclimated himself in from his youth [and are called regalim — as in hergeil, habit]. Because he doesn’t have opportunity to guide himself because of his business. All the more so he won’t break his middos to begin with.[22]


22- See Bei’ur haGr”a Mishlei 6:27,28

This dichotomy makes sense. Ta’avos are innate. Ta’avah operates on a biological level, and therefore occludes his better natural predisposition. A love of wealth and property has to be learned. Chemdah is for things we learn to value, so it runs counter to other learned behaviors.

On Mishlei 4:24, the Vilna Gaon writes:

I already wrote that there are two kinds of middos, which are those that are the middos which are born with him by nature, and those that he acclimated himself to. Those that were born with him are called “derakhav” [above called “begadav” -micha], for they are his derekh from the beginning of his creation. Those that he acclimated himself to are called regel, because he acclimated (hirgil) to them.

To those he acclimated to, he must guard and straighten them a lot. When he guards them, then they which were in his nature, they will of course be guarded. This is “paleis ma’gal raglecha – straighten the cycles of your feet”. Those which he became used to he needs to straighten and to pass little by little from the bad middos, like a peles, and not to grab right away the other extreme. Until he habituates himself and it will be to him like nature. (And it says “ma’gal” (cycle) because to those [middos] that he acclimated himself to he has to go around and revolve…)

Vekhol derachecha yikonu – and all your paths will be established” of course those middos that are his derekh since birth are established (yikonu), from the term of “kan ubasis”. If you don’t guard those [middos that are] from habit, even “derachav” won’t be established. For middos are like a string of pearls — if you make a knot at the end, then all are guarded, and if not, all are lost. So too are the middos. Therefore [the verse] says that if one straightens the circuit of his feet (raglav), then his ways (derachav) will be set.

As we saw, he relates chemdah to raglecha, and ta’vah to derakhekha; longing for power relates to habit, and physical desire to inborn makeup. Therefore it would appear that chemdah needs to be dealt with first, or else ta’avah too will fall apart.

(BTW, this pasuq in Mishlei just cries for hispa’alus.)

The Maharal, commenting on the same mishnah in Avos as my original quote from Even Sheleimah (4:21):

The Rambam z”l writes in his introduction to this tractate. Over there the head doctor (i.e. the Rambam) starts his book [with the idea] that there are three souls: tiv’is (natural), chiyonis (living), nafshis (spiritual) — as is explained above in ch. “Rebbe Omeir”. And he za”l writes that it isn’t so that the person has three souls, rather the soul is one, only it has separate abilities. He explains the idea of these three abilities (potentialities — kochos):

Koach tiv’i (the natural potential): this is the potential which can receive hazanah (readiness?)… It is certain that this brings the desire for sexual license, that this is through excesses of nature that this koach operates. All koach of ta’avah is from the koach that is called koach tiv’i. …

The second koach is the koach hachiyoni, from which there is life. Through this koach a person travels from place to place, and from it comes revenge, jealousy and hatred….

The third is koach nafshi. From this koach will come many kochos, like the kochos of the 5 senses, the koach of thought and imagination, memory and insight.

… According to this division they said “haqin’ah, hata’avah vehakavod take a person out of the world.” For the soul has these three potentialities as we explained above. If one leaves the proper amount in these three kochos he leaves the world, for a person is only within the world via these three kochos.

For a person is in the world via koach hanafshi, if he exceeds in this koach from the proper amount, he turns toward the negative. For a person’s soul has a limit in all things, and if he exceeds the limit in excess he is turning to the negative…. Therefore he says that qin’ah which comes from koach nafshi… and qin’ah is an extended action of the nefesh – for why should a person be jealous for something that isn’t his? — therefore qin’ah is an extra action and therefore turns for the person into negative and deficiency.

Similarly, ta’avah which is from koach hativ’i, for he desires for something which a person doesn’t need. Therefore this thing too is an excess, for this koach hativ’i left the border which is proper for it, and therefore will reach him as a negative….

And the kavod is for the koach hasikhli, for the level of this koach is what wants the kavod. For it is certainly worthy of kavod, and it says (Mishlei 3:35) “Kavod chachamim yinchalu.” Because kavod is something spiritual and isn’t something physical….

(BTW, note that anger is related to koach hanafshi/hasikhli, the spiritual layer, and “whomever gets angry, it is as though they served idols.”)

Note that the Maharal considers these flaws to be excesses. Implied is that there are flaws that are deficiencies, but they aren’t listed here.

On an earlier mishnah (1:2) the Maharal also discusses the three items in terms of three aspects of the soul.

He three pillars upon which the world stands as being about the three classes of relationship that a person is capable of: with HKBH (avodah – service [of G-d]), with other people (gemilus chassadim - supporting others through kindnesses) and with oneself (Torah). Each relationship is enabled by a different world in which a person lives. As the Maharal writes:

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

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

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

He continues to explain that that if existence is based on three principles, then any act which takes an ax to one of these pillars should not be committed even under pain of death, existence itself would have a lower priority. Idol worship is obviously the antonym of avodah. Murder is the ultimate denial of chessed. The Maharal explains the link between Torah and sexual immorality:

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

So the Maharal too finds three pairs of yitzrei hara. However, whereas the Gr”a finds active-vs-thought pairs, the Maharal implies pairs of excess-vs-deficiency. Also it appears that an excess of one feeds a deficiency of the other. An excess of koach tiv’i feeds the same ta’avah as a deficiency of Torah study — ko’ach sichli.

The association between yitzrei hara and the three yeihareig vi’al ya’avor (the three sins one must die rather than commit) is also suggested by the aggadita (Yoma 69b, Sanhedrin 64a) which discusses the imprisonment of the yeitzer hara for idolatry followed by the attempted imprisonment of that for sexuality. The attempt fails because the yeitzer hara is associated with sexual reproduction in general. Just as the yeitzer hara for idolatry is described as a fiery lion that emerges from the Holy of Holies — the destructive and constructive uses are one.

The Maharsha possibly suggests a different taxonomy on the well-known aggadita on Shabbos 30b-31a:

Our rabbis taught: A man should always be patient like Hillel, and not impatient like Shammai. It once happened that two men [31a] made a bet with each other, saying, “Whoever goes and makes Hillel angry shall receive 400 zuz.” Said one, “I will go and anger him.”

That day was erev Shabbos, and Hillel was washing his head. [The man] went, passed by the door of his house, and called out, “Who here is Hillel? Who here is Hillel?” [Hillel] wrapped on [his cloak] and went out to him. He said to him, “My son, what do you require?” He said to [Hillel], “I have a question to ask.” [Hillel] said to him, “Ask, my son, ask.”

“Why are the heads of the Babylonians round?” He said to him, “My son, you have asked a great question. It is because they have no skillful midwives.”

Maharsha: There is a question in this, since this question isn’t Torah ideas, just in things of the world, even though Hillel was patient he shouldn’t have answered these question, as Shelomo says about this, “al ta’an kesil ke’avloso — do not answer a fool according to his folly”. It therefore appears that we should say that because of his patience, Hillel never thought the man came to irritate him with these questions. Rather, [he assumed] that he was hinting to him associations with divrei Torah, and that with these three questions, he was thinking of the three evil middos that are ru’ach gavoha, ayin ra’ah and nefesh rechava — which are mentioned as those of students of Bilaam.

Which is, that which he asked, “Why are the heads of…” [Hillel assumed] he was thinking about the evil middah of ru’ach rechavah (literally: “wide” willed). According to what it says at the end of the ch. “Hayashein”, … Rashi explains that they lord over and are misga’im over their brethren. [Note the word “misga’im“, in similarity to the Vilna Gaon (above). -MB]

What he meant was: That in Bavel their head wealthy people revolve, that the wheel returns them back down from their property. Why is it? Because of what sin? And Hillel answered him on this via hint that is because they don’t have easy lives, that is, … that gasos haru’ach is strong in them. For who ever has ga’avah is insane.

This evil middah is the one they have in Bavel as it says in ch. “Zeh Borear” that “chanufah and gasat haru’ach yardu leBavel — flattery and haughtiness went down to Bavel”….

[The man] departed, waited an hour, returned and said, “Who here is Hillel? Who here is Hillel?” [Hillel] wrapped on [his cloak] and went out to him. He said to him, “My son, what do you require?” He said to [Hillel], “I have a question to ask.” [Hillel] said to him, “Ask, my son, ask.”

“Why are the eyes of the Palmyrieans bleared?” He said to him, “My son, you have asked a great question. It is because they live amoung sandy places.”

Maharsha: Hillel thought that he was thinking about the second evil middah of ayin hara (literally: bad eyes). According to what it says in ch. “Cheilek”, the generation of the flood were only punished for gilgul ha’ayin (literally: eye rolling), and Rashi explains that they would lift their eyes. In a number of places, sexual license is euphamized with a term about eyes. As it says by Shimshon, that he followed his eyes… And [Hillel] replied to him because they live amoung the “cholos“, from the root “chol“, that they have no sanctity nor borders around eroticism as they have among the well-bred of Israel.

[The man again] departed, waited an hour, returned and said, “Who here is Hillel? Who here is Hillel?” [Hillel] wrapped on [his cloak] and went out to him. He said to him, “My son, what do you require?” He said to [Hillel], “I have a question to ask.” [Hillel] said to him, “Ask, my son, ask.” “Why are the feet of the Africans (Cathartans?) wide?”

“My son, you have asked a great question,” replied he. “It is because they live in watery marshes.”

Maharsha: Hillel thought that he was thinking about the third evil middah which is nefesh rechavah (literally: wide soul), to gather a lot of money. “Wide feet” as they say about what is written “‘all that they stood which is in their feet’ — this is money, which a person stands on his feet”. And he replied [that it is] because they live in betza’im, a hint to the idea that they live among nations that love betza and money. For the children of Afriki are among the children of Canaan who turned away from Eretz Yisrael. As it says in the beginning of ch. “Cheilek” … about Canaan that he commanded his sons to love theft and betza.

He said to [Hillel], “I have many questions to ask, but I am afraid that you may become angry.” [Hillel] wrapped his cloak, sat before him and he said to him, “Ask all the questions you have to ask.” He said to him, “Are you the Hillel who is called the nasi of Israel?”

He said to him, “Yes.”

[The man] said to Hillel, “If that is you, may there not be many like you in Israel.”

He said to him, “My son, why?”

[The man] said to [Hillel], “Because of you, I have lost 400 zuz!”

He said to him, “Be careful of your ruach! Hillel is worth it that you should lose 400 zuz because of him, and even another 400 zuz, yet Hillel will not lose his temper.”

In sum, the Vilna Gaon speaks of the three evil middos that take a person from the world:

  • QIn’ah = Ka’as – anger, which is either
    • suppressed and become mirmah (duplicity) or
    • expressed and becomes ra (destructive evil).
  • Ta’avah – desire, either
    • for pleasures, which is lazy and wants immediate satisfaction, or
    • for money and power (chemdah) which one pursues actively.
  • Ga’avah = Kavod – honor, either
    • expressed to others as snobbiness or
    • a conceit one fosters within oneself.

The Maharal works with a similar three, however to him they represent two different things. In terms of excess of longing for each world in which we live:

  • Qin’ah jealousy is wanting more than our place, not just walking the path to shmayim.
  • Ta’avah — too much longing for the pleasures of this world: food, sex, another hour’s sleep, etc…
  • Kavod — too much interest in the self yields egotism

In terms of deficiencies to how we relate those we encounter in each world:

  • Idolatry – the obvious antithesis of serving Hashem
  • Murder – the obvious antithesis of being kind to the other people we encounter in this world.
  • Sexual immoralityhere it’s not being described as too much desire for this world, but too little interest in refining oneself, the ultimate goal of Torah and the universe between our ears. After all, when looking at our actions’ impacts on others, the only ones harmed by consentual sex is the participants themselves.

(I must confess I find the Maharal’s model harder to understand how they fit than the other two.)

Last, the Maharsha’s three middos ra’os are those of Bil’am:

  • Ruach gavoha / gasas ruach — ego and ruling over others. This seems pretty similar to the Gr”a’s understanding of “ga’avah“, in particular “ga’on“, even down to terms each use.
  • Ayin hara — looking and chasing after things that aren’t theirs. Again, sounds much like ta’avah as described by the Gaon.
  • Nefesh rechavah – the pursuit of wealth, what the Gaon called chemdah.

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

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

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

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

In future posts I’ll have much more to say about this tripartite nature of man. In fact, it’s surprising I haven’t gone very far on this topic before now.

Bilvavi, part I

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

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

- R’ Yitzchak Hutnerzt”l

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

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

The second mishnah of Pirqei Avos reads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Bilvavi, part II

To summarize part I:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Yuma 72b

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

- Rashi ad loc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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