In the Name of the One Who Said It

(I think this will be the last post in this series on ge’ulah.)

גדולה תורה יותר מן הכהונה ומן המלכות, שהמלכות נקנית בשלשים מעלות, והכהונה בעשרים וארבע, והתורה נקנית בארבעים ושמונה דברים, ואלו הן:… והאומר דבר בשם אומרו. הא למדת: כל האומר דבר בשם אומרו מביא גאולה לעולם, שנאמר “ותאמר אסתר למלך בשם מרדכי.”

Torah is greater than the priesthood or sovereignty, for sovereignty is acquired with thirty virtues, the priesthood with twenty-four, and Torah is acquired with forty-eight qualities. These are: … and (#48) saying something in the name of its speaker. Thus we have learned: One who says something in the name of its speaker brings ge’ulah to the world, as is stated (Esther 2:22), “And Esther told the king in the name of Mordechai.”

- Beraisa, Avos 6:6

What is it about giving credit when repeating something that it alone is singled out for mention as the final item on the beraisa‘s list, as though it was the loftiest of the qualities necessary to acquire Torah? And more startling – this is the means to bring the ge’ulah? Right. Yes. Proper. Of course. But what does giving credit for a thought have to do with redemption?

This conclusion is drawn from verse about Esther. Somehow this trait shows why Esther had what it took to not only spiritually cause the redemption from Haman’s plan, but to merit to be the aegis by which Hashem impemented that ge’ulah. We can go beyond that “somehow”, though. Because the Torah give us an archetype of a person in a redemptive role, and even focuses our attention on the qualities that were the key to his uniqueness. Moshe Rabeinu, who is described as being the world’s greatest in three domains: anavah, as an eved Hashem, and in his prophecy.

Here are some of the conclusions about anavah that we have explored in the past:

  • Anavah is the emulation of Hashem’s tzimtzum (“constricting” Himself to make “room” for us, so to speak). It is this constriction that made Moshe the greatest of all prophets — both in his making “room” in his soul for Hashem’s word, but also in Moshe Rabbeinu’s greater insight into what Hashem is all about.
  • Anavah is the middle path between ga’avah (egotism) and shefeilus (lowliness). This might be why the Rambam recommends the Middle Path with respect to all middos (Dei’os ch 1) but advises going to the extreme with respect to anavah (2:3). It’s the ultimate pursuit of a blend of the dei’ah‘s actual extremes.
  • Because of this, anavah motivates. It doesn’t lead me to believe I am too puny to get anything done, nor have me complacent in my accomplishments, real or imagined. We looked at a number of figures from history who erred in either direction, and portrayed Esther as an example of someone who found the proper balance. She accepts Mordechai’s “perhaps it was just for a moment like this that you came to royalty” as well as being willing to say “if I am to be lost, I will be lost”.
  • In the same essay I suggested that anavah therefore also brings happiness, contentment with one’s lot, one’s role to play in history. Thus Esther’s anavah leads to “when Adar enters, we increase in joy.”
  • This is why an enigmatic gemara defines an anav as someone who always prays in his maqom qavu’ah (permanent, established, location). Anavah is having one place in the big whole.
  • Rav SR Hirsch links anavah to the word “anah“, to respond (the thesis of the same essay as the previous point). This ties together the notion of tzimtzum, leaving room for the other, with the notion of finding my place and role in the big picture (which in turn requires the balance between knowing the significance of my place and knowing that it’s not everything).
  • And last, I suggested that this is how one gains permanence to one’s accomplishments. By acting toward Hashem’s plan, lesheim Shamayim, one is promised permanence. This is why Moshe couldn’t bring us into Israel, because exile was inevitable. And why “a congregation” — and “a dispute” — “which is for the sake of heaven, it’s end is to be eternal.”

“Listen” to how well the emerging picture dovetails to Rav Shimon Shkop’s words:

The entire “I” of a coarse and lowly person is restricted only to his substance and body. Above him is someone who feels that his “I” is a synthesis of body and soul. And above him is someone who can include in his “I” all of his household and family. Someone who walks according to the way of the Torah, his “I” includes the whole Jewish people, since in truth every Jewish person is only like a limb of the body of the nation of Israel. And there are more levels in this of a person who is whole, who can connect his soul to feel that all of the world and worlds are his “I”, and he himself is only one small limb in all of creation. Then, his self-love helps him love all of the Jewish people and [even] all of creation.

In my opinion, this idea is hinted at in Hillel’s words, as he used to say, “If I am not for me, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am I?” (Pirqei Avos 1:14) It is fitting for each person to strive to be concerned for himself. But with this, he must also strive to understand that “I for myself, what am I?” If he constricts his “I” to a narrow domain, limited to what the eye can see [is him], then his “I” – what is it? Vanity and ignorable. But if his feelings are broader and include [all of] creation, that he is a great person and also like a small limb in this great body, then he is lofty and of great worth. In a great engine even the smallest screw is important if it even serves the smallest role in the engine. For the whole is made of parts, and no more than the sum of its parts.

This notion of an engine running the process we call history is also a theme I touched on before.

When you drop a drop of ink into a cup of water, the ink spirals around in some chaotic pattern and eventually diffuses until the entire liquid is a uniform light blue. Even though each time you repeat the experiment the dance and spiral is different, something about it in the general is predictable. If you had different snapshots of the sequence that were significantly far enough apart in time, you could place them in historical order. Entropy always increases until it reaches the maximum. The system runs a certain way, reaching equilibrium.History also has a known final state — the Messianic Era. The colorless, pure potential of this world will be eventually assigned a meaning represented by the sky-blue of techeiles, of the vision of sapphire paving stones under the heavenly throne during the revelation at Sinai (Exodus 24:10). Even though people have free will, and therefore how the process unfolds is not fixed, the general parameters are known. And, like the ink in the water, it’s hard to understand the purpose of any particular dance or spiral in the process of history. But, we are tending toward an equilibrium.

And that means anything not in the equilibrium state will eventually cease to exist. At the end, there is no clear water. And, at the end, there is no evil. Evil must inherently destroy itself, or else there could be no guarantee of that Messianic equilibrium.

To the extent that we work with Hashem’s process, our actions are part of the final end-state, and thus gain permanence. The only way we can make an eternal contribution to the universe is buy signing on to that process. This is akin to the words of Great Britain’s Chief Rabbi, R’ Sir Jonathan Sacks (A Letter in the Scroll: Understanding Our Jewish Identity and Exploring the Legacy of the World’s Oldest Religion, pp. 39-41, 47, as quoted recently by R’ Gil Student):

[T]he Baal Shem Tov–founder of the Hassidic movement in the eighteenth century–said that the Jewish people is a living Sefer Torah, and every Jew is one of its letters. I am moved by that image, and it invites a question–the question: Will we, in our lifetime, be letters in the scroll of the Jewish people?

At some stage, each of us must decide how to live our lives. We have many options, and no generation in history has had a wider choice. We can live for work or success or fame or power. We can have a whole series of lifestyles and relationships. We can explore any of a myriad of faiths, mysticisms, or therapies. There is only one constraint–namely, that however much of anything else we have, we have only one life, and it is short. How we live and what we live for are the most fateful decisions we ever make.

We can see life as a succession of moments spent, like coins, in return for pleasures of various kinds. Or we can see our life as though it were a letter of the alphabet. A letter on its own has no meaning, yet when letters are joined to others they make a word, words combine with others to make a sentence, sentences connect to make a paragraph, and paragraphs join to make a story. That is how the Baal Shem Tov understood life. Every Jew is a letter. Each Jewish family is a word, every community a sentence and the Jewish people through time constitutes a story, the strangest and most moving story in the annals of mankind.

That metaphor is for me the key to understanding our ancestors’ decision to remain Jewish even in times of great trial and tribulation. I suspect they knew that they were letters in this story, a story of great risk and courage. Their ancestors had taken the risk of pledging themselves to a covenant with God and thus undertaking a very special role in history. They had undertaken a journey, begun in the distant past and continued by every successive generation. At the heart of the covenant is the idea of emunah, which means faithfulness or loyalty. And Jews felt a loyalty to generations past and generations yet unborn to continue the narrative. A Torah scroll that has a missing letter is rendered invalid, defective. I think that most Jews did not want theirs to be that missing letter…

I am a Jew because, knowing the story of my people, I hear their call to write the next chapter. I did not come from nowhere; I have a past, and if any past commands anyone, this past commands me. I am a Jew because only if I remain a Jew will the story of a hundred generations live on in me. I continue their journey because, having come this far, I may not let it and them fail. I cannot be the missing letter in the scroll. I can give no simpler answer, nor do I know of a more powerful one.

Anavah: knowing that one is only one letter, but that anyone could make oneself critical to the kashrus of the entire scroll.

This series on ge’ulah started with the Qetzos haChoshen’s analysis of a medrash. To quote myself:

R. Shimon said: When the Holy One, blessed be He [-- HQBH], came to create Adam, the ministering angels formed themselves into groups and parties. Some said, “Let him be created,” while others urged, “Let him not be created.” … Love said, “Let him be created, because he will dispense acts of love”; Truth said, “Let him not be created, because he is compounded of falsehood”; Righteousness said, “Let him be created, because he will perform righteous deeds”; Peace said, “Let him not be created because he is full of strife.” What did Hashem do? He took Truth and cast it to the ground. Said the ministering angels before HQBH, “Sovereign of the Universe! Why do You despise Your seal? Let Truth arise from the earth!” As it is written [in the continuing words], “אֱ֭מֶת מֵאֶ֣רֶץ תִּצְמָ֑ח — Let truth bloom up from the earth.” [v. 12]

-Bereishis Rabba 8:5

Man was created with Hashem’s knowledge that with the existence of free-willed beings, Truth would be submerged and have to emerge over time through the process we call history.

The Qetzos haChoshen has a beautiful comment on this medrash. He noted that here truth is described as tatzmiach, blooming. When we make the berakhah after an aliyah, we say “vechayei olam nata besocheinu — eternal life [or perhaps: life of the world{-to-come}] was planted within us.” The Qetzos explains: Torah is the seed from which our medrash tell us Truth blooms.

The process then, is the sprouting of truth. The anav knows to contribute to it, that he may be a mere screw, a single letter, that will not be famous or recorded in the annals of history. But he can make himself critical to reaching the end. Part of eternity.

Now we can finally answer my opening question. Why is Esther’s citing Mordechai as her source when telling the king of the plot to kill him so critical to redemption, and the final skill necessary to acquire Torah? It combines all these elements. It’s an anav‘s acknowledgment of her role in history. By giving credit she declares herself part of a greater whole, she has her own place in a bigger picture. And she does so with respect to the revelation of truth.

To close with another medrash (with thanks to MBD for turning it into song lyrics, and to Nachum Segal for playing them on the radio last week):

שנו רבותינו בשעה שמלך המשיח נגלה, בא ועומד על הגג של בית המקדש והוא משמיע להם לישראל ואומר: “ענוים הגיע זמן גאולתכם, ואם אין אתם מאמינים ראו באורי שזרח עליכם.” שנאמר: “קומי אורי כי בא אורך וכבוד ה’ עליך זרח… והלכו גוים לאורך, ומלכים לנגה זרחך” (ישעיהו ס:א,ג).

The Rabbis taught: As the time that the messianic (i.e. annointed) king is revealed, he will come and stand on the roof of the Beis haMiqdash. And he makes himself heard to Israel and says, “Anavim – Modest Ones! The time for your redemption has arrived. And if you do not believe, look with my light that is dawning upon you.” As it says “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of Hashem has dawned upon you…. And nations shall walk by your light, and kings by the brightness of your dawning.” (Yeshaiah 60:1,3)

- Pesiqta Rabasi 31

At the time of redemption, how does the mashiach refer to us? As anavim.

One thought on “In the Name of the One Who Said It

  1. Pingback: Pesachiah is Mordechai | Aspaqlaria

And your thoughts...?