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.

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ramchal defines the personal attribute called taharah:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pesach, Matzah, Maror

AishDas’s motto is lifted from the motto of HaOlim, founded by Dr. Nathan Birnbaum which existed from the 1910s through the 1930s, ending with the decimation of European Jewry.

“Da’as, Rachamim, Tif’eres”

Knowledge of G-d coming from an intimate relationship with Him, mercy toward others, and harmony of mind and emotion. The idea is an understanding of the three pillars upon which the world stands, described by Shim’on haTzadiq (Avos 1:2).Torah is the study of Torah. It is the shaping of the mind and personality. In the ideal, the Torah one learned is inseparable from the rest of his thinking; so that even his choice of an end table for his living room is affected by his Torah self. The Alter of Slabodka once heard a student boast about having completed all of gemara. His retort, “It’s not how many times you go through sha”s, it’s how many times sha”s goes through you!” Tif’eres.

Avodah is service of G-d. It’s having a relationship with Him. Seeking His Will, and to express that Will in the world. The same biblical term for knowledge is used for marital intimacy. Da’as.

Gemillus Chasadim, supporting others through kindness and generosity, can not only be an activity. It must flow from empathy, from maternal-like care for another. Rachamim.

Shim’on haTzadiq is teaching us that the world stands on three things because all human activity centers around how he acts in three relationships: with G-d, with other people, and internally with himself. The Maharal (Derech haChaim ad loc) writes that this is in turn because man lives in three worlds: this one, in which he interacts with other people, the world of his mind, and heaven, which gives him a connection to G-d.

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.

Rabban Gamliel requires we mention and explain three things in order to fulfill the mitzvah of the seder: Pesach, Matzah, uMaror.

Pesach is described as ” zevach pesach hu — it is a praise-offering of pesach.” There is no avodah clearer than that of the beis hamiqdash, and the pesach is in praise of our Creator, an expression of our awareness of His Grandeur. Da’as.

Rabban Gamliel says that matzah as something we eat because “lo hispiq betziqam — there wasn’t sufficient time for their dough to rise”. A lesson in zerizus: haste, alacrity and zeal. Matzah is also a lesson in anavah, modesty, not being “puffed up” like normal bread. It is “lecham oni — the bread of affliction”. And last, in its guide as “lechem oni, she’onim alav devarim harbei — ‘oni’ because we answer ‘onim’ over it many things”, it teaches us to find these ideals in learning Torah. The perfection of one’s internal self. Tif’eres.

Last, we each maror because “vayimararu es chayeihem — they embittered their lives”. Maror is sharing the pain of another. Rachamim.

And so, Rabban Gamliel is not only requiring that we relate the mitzvos of the evening to the telling of the story of the exodus, but he is making that retelling an all-encompassing experience. The exodus gave us a mission to support the world on all three pillars, torah, avodah and gemillus chassadim.

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]

Footnotes:
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]

Footnote:

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.)


APPENDIX:

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.