Havdalah

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.

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