Process and Permanence
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 far enough apart in time, you could place them in historical order – overall the blue area will get larger. Entropy always increases until it reaches the maximum. The system runs a certain way, reaching equilibrium.
History is also a process. At the time of creation, the world was not created in its ideal end-state form. To review an earlier post in which I explored this divergence… It all began on the very first Tuesday:
There is a medrash (Breishis Rabba 5:9) that comments on a change in language in the middle describing of the creation of trees. Hashem orders the earth on the third day to bring forth “eitz peri oseh peri“, fruit trees that make fruit, yet the land actually produces only “eitz oseh peri“. Between the commandment and the fulfillment, something is lost. The medrash explains that originally the wood would have tasted like the fruit, so that it would truly be a “fruit tree”. Instead of the norm being that the wood of the tree would taste like the fruit, this is now the exception. With a couple of exceptions, one of them — note this for later — the esrog, the trees, or the angels entrusted to guard them, were afraid for their survival. If the wood tasted like the fruit, animals would eat the plant rather than the fruit, and they would die out. And so, the earth “disobeyed”.What does this medrash mean? Does the earth have free will, that it can choose to disobey G-d? …
According to Rav Kook [Orot haTeshuvah 6:7], the medrash gives the reason why the holiness of our goal is not felt in our day-to-day life. Our physical framework is limited and needs support. It requires our attention. The trees didn’t embody the ideal because they were afraid for their survival. In truth, the mundane only exists to be the means to an end, but because of the needs of survival, it takes on its own reality.
The second step occurs on day four, with Hashem’s creation of the moon. … In Parshas Bereishis (1:16) the Torah reads: “And G-d made the two large luminaries — the large luminary to rule the day and the small luminary to rule the night — and the stars.” The gemara (Chulin 60b) points out an inconsistency in the pasuq. R. Shimon ben Pazi asks why the Torah first describes the sun and moon as “the two large luminaries”, but then it calls the sun “the large luminary” and the moon is called the small one. The gemara answers with a story. Originally the sun and moon were the same size. But the moon complained to Hashem, “Can there exist two kings sharing the same crown?” How can both the sun and the moon share the glory? … [longer exchange deleted]
The Maharsha explains that the story is about the Jewish people and our goals vs the world at large and theirs. … Why do we live in a world that seems to be dominated by Edom’s principal, that might makes right? Why isn’t holiness the dominant idea, and right make might?
… One day 3, the notion of needing to be concerned about the “real world” entered creation, which made it take on a life of its own, hiding its true nature of being merely the means toward holiness. Now, this second thing became a competing power. The moon sees a power struggle between itself, the pursuit of holiness, and the might of the sun.
The gemara (Succah 35a) explains, “‘P’ri eitz hadar’ — that its fruit tastes like the tree.” A defining feature of the esrog is that it did not participate in the rebellion of day three. Based on this, Medrash Rabba (15:6) identifies the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the eitz hada’as, with the esrog. … [Chavah and Adam] ate the fruit bein hashemashos, at the end of the sixth day (Sanhedrin 38b). A period of time when day and night overlap. The sun and moon, might and holiness, vie for rule.
Through these three stages we have the creation of the notion of secular, that which we can’t already see holiness and the goal of the process in it; secular rises to be an opposing power to the holy; and man internalizes this gap by eating from the fruit of the tree of knowledge.
Interestingly, these stages are revisited through the course of last week’s parashah and this one’s — Qorach and Chuqas.
What made me realize this was when we read about one of the miracles that put the complaints of Qorach’s camp to rest. Each of the princes, including Aharon, took a staff and Moshe laid them before the aron. The next morning, Aharon’s staff had produced buds, blossoms, and ripe fruit. Rav Kook raises this point in his discussion of the trees. Aharon’s staff had all the stages of producing fruit at the same time, even though in nature one develops into the other in the course of seasons.
(The almond is the first tree in Israel to bud, but it isn’t harvested until after the fruit dries out and its seed, the nut, is ready. Thus its process to create fruit is the longest of any Israeli crop. Perhaps that is why it was chosen.)
After the dispute with Qorach, the people express terror of the Mishkan. They are afraid that all who enter it die.Hashem teaches us the laws of terumah, ma’aser and other gifts to the kohanim. A farmer is reminded that he does not raise a crop without Hashem’s aid. He is called upon to sanctify that crop by dedicating some of it to the kohanim and levi’im. A sanctification of the secular. A repair of the fruit tree, the moon, and the fruit of the tree of knowledge.
A punishment of eating that fruit was that man became a mortal being (Bereishis 2:17). Overcoming death is the central theme of parashas Chuqas, which tells of the mitzvah of the parah adumah, the death of Miriam and the restoration of food, and the death of Aharon and the restoration of food.
As I wrote in yet another older essay (Chuqas 1995):
The parah [adumah] 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. [Adom – red, related to adamah – earth.]
How does one get past death, and permitted again to enter the beis hamiqdash? By remembering that the physical is not an end in itself. That the body in question was “merely” a tool to be harnessed for the Divine Goal, that what we call secular is the process for reaching holy, in which the eventual holiness is hidden.
With Miriam’s death, this lesson is learned imperfectly. We were receiving water in Miriam’s merit, and with her death we needed a new well. Moshe and Aharon manage to reestablish a source of water, but do so by hitting the rock rather than speaking to it. It is with Aharon’s death that we succeed in continuing what he established in his lifetime.
Non-coincidentally, the next event in the Torah involves Edom, the “sun” in the metaphor of the two great lights. But this devar Torah is long enough…
How does one create permanence? I asked this question a number of years ago in an essay on parashas Pequdei:
When the parts of the Mishkan were completed, the Mishkan was then dedicated in the Shmonas Yimei Hamilu’im, 8 days in which it was assembled and taken down. For the first seven days, it was assembled by Aharon and his sons, the kohanim. On the eight day, Moshe assembled the Mishkan.
What was the purpose of this? If the building of the Mishkan was just practice, to learn how to do it in the future, Moshe would have demonstrated to the kohanim how to assemble the Mishkan on the first day, not the last, after they’ve done it seven times already.
Rav Samson Rephael Hirsch sees in these 8 days a symbol for the subsequent history of all of the sanctuaries. The Mishkan was assembled in five places: Sinai, Gilgal, Shilo, Nov, and Gideon. After the Mishkan, we have had two Batei Mikdash so far, and await the building of the third. In all, sanctuaries are built eight times in Jewish history.
There is a famous Aggadita that explains why Moshe Rabbeinu could not be the one to take us into Eretz Yisrael. Anything Moshe did is permanent. This is important, because if it were possible to abrogate one thing that he did, it brings into question the permanence of the Torah. However, Hashem knew that the time would come when the Jews would deserve punishment. By having Joshua bring us into Israel, it made the choice of exile a possible punishment.
This makes Rabbiner Hirsch’s comment even more interesting. On the eighth day the assembly was done by Moshe. The eighth day also parallels the Third Beis Hamikdosh, which will never be destroyed. Moshe was not merely participating in the consecration of the Mishkan, but also was demonstrating the permanence of the Messianic age. The Temple will not fall again, there will be no more exiles.
But what gave Moshe Rabbeinu’s actions the power of permanence?
R. Yochanan Hasandler (Avos 4:14) describes what gives permanence to a congregation. “Any congregation which is lesheim Shamayim will end up existing, and congregation which is not lesheim Shamayim will not end up existing.”
Perhaps this too is the source of the permanence of Moshe Rabbeinu’s actions. Just as a congregation that is lesheim Shamayim endures, so too other activities.
There is a similar statement about arguments, to which our story of Qorach is set up as a foil. Avos 5:20:
Any dispute which is for the lesheim Shamayim its outcome is that it will be permanent, and any dispute which is not for the lesheim Shamayim — its outcome is that it will not be permanent. What is a dispute which is for the lesheim Shamayim? This is the dispute between Hillel and Shammai. What is the dispute which is not for the lesheim Shamayim? This is the dispute between Qorach and all his followers.
But why do things that are for the sake of heaven persist? For that I think we should return to the cup of water. Enough time has passed that it’s entirely an inky blue. The outcome was predetermined, but the path the process took to get there was not.
History too, is on a path. From the non-ideal state where the tree does not taste like the fruit, the holiness of its goals are not always seen in its means, to the messianic vision of “the whole world will be filled of knowledge of Hashem,” a world in which “Hashem be One and His name, One.” Not divided between tree and fruit, no more wars between the sun and moon.
Qorach played for Edom’s power, and therefore did not succeed. Because his vision did not fit that final state, it did not persist. Moshe and Aharon — and much later, the schools of Hillel and Shammai — saw their authority as a tool for making sanctity manifest, and so they did.
We tend to think of Hashem punishing sin because it’s evil. But we can equally view sin as that which doesn’t fit Hashem’s plan, and thus Hashem forewarns us that according to the rules He set up, it has no permanence. The person aligned with sin and everything he gained through his sin would perforce be destroyed. (This idea and the water-in-ink metaphor are from the Aspaqlaria reader for Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, pg. 45 “The Thermodynamics of History.)
That which is performed for the sake of heaven is part of the greater plan of the process of history — a physical action tied to the sacred goal — and therefore does have permanence. This is what we see from Qorach, teruamah and maaser, and as the parah adumah tells us — even allows what we created to survive death.
(This devar Torah was originally given at shevar berakhos for my nephew and new niece-in-law, phrased to answer the question: Well, everyone wishes you a ba’ayis ne’eman beYisrael. But how does one actually build a “permanent home in Israel?” Mazal tov Pinchas and Malkah!)