Sunday, December 28, 2008

Lions and Moshiach

“And the sons of Dan were Chushim.”

Bereshis 46:23

In the process of building the Mishkan, Moshe was told by Hashem to choose Bezalel of the tribe of Yehuda, and Oholiav of the tribe of Dan. Rashi[1] quotes the Midrash Tanchuma[2], who explains, “Oholiav was from the tribe of Dan, the lowliest of the tribes from among the maidservants children, [as opposed to Leah or Rachel] and the Torah considered him as great as Bezalel, a member of the greatest of the tribes, when it came to building the Mishkan.” 


The tribe of Dan was not simply a lowly tribe as a result of birth to a maidservant of Yaakov. Rashi[3] tells us that they all worshiped idols, and thus the clouds of glory spit them out! The tribe of Yehuda was a lion, the source of a lineage of distinguished kings. Yehuda led the nation in their travels, and Dan took up the rear. And yet, the only two tribes compared to lions are Yehuda and Dan. Yaakov said[4] “a lion cub is Yehuda,” and Moshe said[5] “Dan is a lion cub.” R. Avraham Ibn Ezra[6] explains that it was necessary to have a lion taking up the rear just as it was needed to have a lion leading the Jewish nation in order to protect them from both sides. So Dan was a lion, while at the same time being the weakling struggling to keep up.

What is going on with Dan? Is he the weakest or one of the strongest? Is he in the back because he in inferior, or because he is a lion?


Yaakov had died, and it was time to bury him. The Gemara[7] tells us that, “When they arrived at the Cave of Machpelah, Esav approached and began disturbing them. He said, ‘we know that there can only be four coupled buried in this cave, and thus far there are three and Leah, the remaining spot next to Leah is for me!’ They replied to Esav, ‘but you sold your rights to Yaakov.” … Esav said ‘show me the contract,’ and they replied ‘but the contract is back in Egypt!’ So they sent Naftali, who was swift like a gazelle, to retrieve the contract. Chushim the son of Dan was there, and he was hard of hearing.[8] He asked the others, ‘what is going on?’ They told him. He said, ‘And until Naftali returns, must our Father sit here in this disgraceful state?’ He took a staff and smashed Esav on the head with it. Esav’s eyes fell out and landed on Yaakov’s leg. Yaakov opened his eyes and smiled.”


So Chushim killed Esav. And yet, Tosafos[9] tells us, that the descendants of Esav have a tradition telling that that Yehuda killed Esav, and in fact this is the opinion of the Sifri. He explains that both are true. First, Chushim stepped in and gave Esav a serious blow causing his eyes to come out, but he was still alive. Then Yehuda stepped in and finished him off, killing him.

“The [Messiah] son of David will come only to a generation that is entirely righteous, or one that is entirely wicked,” teaches the Gemara[10].

Esav was either finished off by the handicapped son of the lowest tribe, or the king of the greatest tribe! In fact, R. Moshe Wolfson,[11] writes that in the times just before the Moshiach, those alive will be the reincarnations of the souls of the tribe of Dan. It is interesting that only now in history do we witness the mass phenomenon of people being brought back to Torah out of their lowliness. “A generation that is entirely wicked.” In any other time in history, there was always something in the world that was not available, that provided a lure to the righteous. “Maybe fulfilling that desire will be pleasurable,” people wondered. In our age, every single degenerate action is readily available to any 16 year old! There are so many people who are 21 years old, have already tried every single avierah in the world, and have seen how hollow life can be. Baalei Tshuva are made every day of people who are “entirely wicked,” by people who have tried everything, and have nowhere to go but up. [These people are not “evil” merely engaged in wicked deeds, usually by no fault of their own. It is not our place to judge them.]

Maybe the ultimate redemption, the death of the kingdom of Esav, will follow the death of the actual Esav, beginning with the weakest of the weak, and being concluded by the strongest of the strong.


Chushim was the son of Dan, he was one fellow. But the Torah tells us that “the sons of Dan were Chushim.” Why is he called more than one person?[12] The Sheloh[13] quotes the Arizal as pointing out that the letters of Chushim, Ches, Shin, Yod, and Mem, are the very letters “Moshiach!” The Shloh elsewhere[14] talks of the transformation of Dan from a snake, (Yaakov called him a snake[15]) into a lion, in the times just before Moshiachs arrival! In fact, the Arizal writes[16] that while the father of Moshiach will be from Yehuda, his mother will be from Dan! Perhaps these are the two sons referred to in the verse. The sons of Dan were Chushim (and Moshiach.)

We are handicapped, and are the lowest of the low in so many ways. There has never been a generation that at this low a level. But when we stand up, we go from snake to lion. When we will fight and struggle, and stand up for the truth, we will bring the redemption. We will turn ourselves from weak snakes, slithereing in the back of the camp in our filth, and idolatry, to great roaring lions. We will get up and declare, “must our Father sit here in this disgraceful state?” The Moshiach can only come to a generation that is entirely righteous or entirely wicked. Esav was only done away with by a combination, first of the weakest of the weak, and then by the greatest of the great. We are all Chushim ben Dan’s – and every Chushim ben Dan has the power of Moshiach in him.

[1] Shemos 35:34

[2] Shemos Ch. 13

[3] To Yechezkel 16:15, see also Targum Yonason to Devarim 25:18

[4] Bereshis 49:9

[5] Devarim 33:22

[6] Commentary to Bamidbar 1:19

[7] Sotah 13a

[8] This is Rashi’s opinion. See however Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 39 where it is clear the Chushim oculd neither hear not speak at all. See also Radal ad loc.

[9] Gittin 55b s.v. BiYehuda BiHarugei Malchus.

[10] Sanhedrin 98a

[11] Emunas Ittecha Vayigash s.v B’Midrash, and there in Maamar Iggeres Hapurim

[12] See the Targum yonsason that in fact understands that Dan had many children, and Chushim is simply a description of them – meaning that they were strong and incredibly numerous. This seems to be why they were not mentioned by name – because there were so many eventual descendants! Ibn Ezra suggests that there were two children, and only one survived. The same is found in Chizkuni. The general consensus among the commentaries and the opinion of the Talmud is that there was one fellow named Chushim, for there were 70 souls who went down to Egypt (see Exodus 1) and this does not work out should Dan have had more than one child. Also, the list mentions every child by name, and thus the Targum Yonasons interpretation I fascinating. Apparently, the child could not be named for his descendants were so numerous that even their ancestor could not be counted by name. See Bereshis Rabbah 94:9 “In the Torah of R. Meir it said “And the son of Dan was Chushim.” [This does not mean that his text was different – and it’s depth is beyond the scope of this footnote.]

[13] Parshas Pinchas – Torah Ohr.

[14] Vezos Habracha - Derech Chaim Tochacos Mussar.
[15] Bereshis 49:17

[16] Likkutei Amarim 16. There he explains that this is how Yaakov mistook Shimshon for the Moshiach, for his father was from Dan and his mother was from Yehuda, the exact opposite.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wash your feet

“Take a bit of water and wash your feet”

Bereshis 18:4


“Avraham assumed that the angels were Arab’s[i] who worship the dust on their feet, and made certain that no idolatry would enter his home.”

Rashi ad loc


The Arabs in the time of Avraham worshiped the dust of their feet. This sound incredibly strange – what on earth could possibly be the reason for this? R. Yaakov Emden[ii], explains this behavior based upon the concept taught in Bereshis, “you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Man is dust. Thus, the Arab’s worshiped the dust of their feet. Explaining this is difficult. What exactly was the nature of this worship? What did they believe and why did they act this way?


The Gemara gives us some insight into the modes of worship of other idolaters as well.  Baal Peor is mentioned often in the Torah. What was Baal exactly? The followers would eat and drink laxitives, so that their stools would grow soft. They would then sit before the idol and relieve themselves. This was the way to worship Baal Peor.[iii] The Gemara tells us that Jews only worshiped idols (such as baal) in order to rationalize to themselves Gilui Arayos (illicit sexual behavior) in public.[iv] In other words, the Jews did not deeply believe that the idol was a true god, but worshiping it did something to make their psyches more comfortable with the idea that they could engage in Giuli Arayos. Why on earth should defecating in front of an idol have such an effect on a person?


We will answer these two queries with a look at a Midrash.[v]


Avraham was working in his fathers idol store, and people would enter. Says the Midrash, “One man entered and asked ‘How much is that idol?’ Avraham replied, ‘3 maneh.’ Then Avraham would ask the man, but how old are you? The man said, ’30.’ Avraham replied, ‘Can your ears hear what is coming from your mouth? This idol was created yesterday, and you wish to worship it?!’ Another man entered and asked the price of a second idol. ‘5 maneh,’ Avraham told him, and then he asked, ‘how old are you?’ ’50,’ the man replied. So again Avraham said, ‘Can your ears hear what is coming from your mouth? This idol was created yesterday, and you wish to worship it?!’”


I have several questions on this Midrash. Firstly, why is the price of those idols germane to the Midrash. The Midrash does not record Avraham wishing thme good morning, which one is obligated to do even toward and idolator! This, of course, is because it has nothing to do with the message of the Midrash, and therefore is ommited! But then why is it important that they asked the price of the idol? And why was it that the Midrash tells us of people asking for prices related to their age? The 30 year old 3 maneh, the 50 year old, 5 maneh - surely this is not a coincidence! Lastly, and most importantly, were these people completely stupid? Everyone knows that the idol was created recently when they enter an idol store! In fact, they chose the idol store that they found had the best idols. So when they came in they must have known that the idols were not there from the beginning of creation. There idols clearly represented a form of worship. So what changed? What was Avraham’s argument that was suddenly so convincing?!


The answer to this question answers all of our questions. Idolatry was about worshiping oneself in sense. The fellow who went to the bathroom on his idol made a loud statement. I can do anything I want. Even in front of my idol. He was also showing his lowliness. You see, if someone is entirely insignificant, then nothing that he does really makes a difference. I am nothing and I can do whatever I wish is essentially the same statement. Those who worshiped idols essentially worshiped themselves. They did what they wanted to when they wanted to do it. The Jews did not worship idol out of an honest seeking for truth. They were drawn after that philosophy by their drive to rationalize any behavior. In our times, we see that those who can explain that man is no more than an evolved paramecium, can then rationalize any sort of aberrant behavior, for after all, who cares what man does in the privacy of his own home  any more than a rat does in the privacy of his own sewer? Avraham’s customers would buy idol that related to their stage and state in life. If they were 50, the price of their idol would have to match that, for they were “celebrating man,” in today’s parlance. Avraham replied to them, “but your whims are not eternal. You were born only 50 years ago, and your whims were born yesterday!” Avraham inspired his customers to seek the eternal truths, and not to worship the dust of their feet.


We live in a society where we are taught that the highest of values is the pursuit of happiness. We are taught to dream of what we can all want, and then build towards it. How often are we told that what we want does not really matter? How often do we hear that we are not here to worship ourselves - to give in to our every whim? It is the Jew who brought this idea in to the world. We are here to answer a calling more deep and noble than the fleeting thought. The Jew tells the world that life is not only about what we may or may not want, but about choosing right over wrong, good over evil, and truth over falsehood.


Man is made of dust, but he also has a soul. His body will go back to dust as his soul ascends to its maker. Arab’s in the time of Avraham worshiped the lowest part of man, for they were essentially worshiping themselves. Man is dust, so they worshiped dust. Avraham taught us all that man is also divine, and thus he ought to worship Hashem.

[i] Gilyonei Mikra (R. Aaron Sonnenschein) wonders how we can say that Avraham assumed that they were Arabs, when the Torah traces the lineage of the Arab people to Yishamel explicitly (Bereshis 23:16)? He quotes C.D. Chavel’s footnote in his edition of Ramban where he brings R. Ovadiah Sforno who explains that they were “like the Arabs that we see today,” but not that they were themselves Arabs.

[ii] Hagahos to Bava Metzia 86b. Other reason are offered. R. Yeshaya Halevi Hurwitz (Sheloh) explains that since they worshiped the sun, they also worshiped the scorched sand, and Maharal (in Gur Aryeh) says that it was because they were tent-dwelling travelers who did not believe in settling down.

[iii] Sanhedrin 64b

[iv] Ibid 63b

[v] Seder Eliyahu Rabbah Ch. 6. This is from a manuscript quoted by R. M. M. Kasher in his Torah Shleima to Lech Lecha 15:7 [88].

Monday, October 27, 2008

Kaddish, Hollywood, and the Spanish Inquisition

The poor Yarmulke was clearly out of its element on the young man’s long curly hair. Its precarious perch, and the several times that it nearly fell off, were as clear an indication of this fellows comfort in the Orthodox shul as were his several prominent piercings. I sat behind him, wondering what brought this sandal-clad Jew with only one of his shirt buttons closed into our shul. When he rose to say Kaddish, however, the mystery was solved. I spoke to him after services to welcome him, and discovered that his mother had died as a young woman, and that he made an appearance every year to honor her memory in the way that meant the most to him.


After a parent dies, a son is obligated to say Kaddish for one year. Kaddish is prayer declaring the greatness of God, and praying that the world recognize it. There are so many who have been brought back to Torah observance through Kaddish – people whose lives have taken paths not boasting a Shul, have had to make their  respective ways to one after feeling loss.


It is amazing what trial and loss can awaken in man. Contented and secure, so many of us often do not realize the necessity to reach out to G-d, and connect with Him in any meaningful way. But those very same people who find happiness outside the shul somehow cannot find a method of dealing with loss there. The mysteries of life are awakened when one is having a hard time. Those who are happy generally continue doing what makes them happy, while those beset with misery look for change. They explore, and seek change.


It is a tragedy of the Jewish experience throughout history that we have not managed well in prosperity. We managed to remain faithful to our Divine mission through pogrom and blood libel, but when it came to prosperity, we have somehow fallen short. Rabbi Yosef Yaavetz, one of the great Torah giants who witnessed the expulsion of the Jews from Spain observed in his work Or Hachaim (p. 8) that those who retained their rock-like faith in the face of the persecution of the Inquisition, willing to lose everything including their lives for the noble mission of the Jewish people, were the simple, uncultured, unlearned Jews, who did not occupy places in society. Those who had begun assimilating, even while following the Torah, were the first to abandon the Torah when things got tough, for they were already to far gone. It was not just the Inquisition that was pulling them to abandon their role in G-d’s plan – now their positions, estates, and lifestyles beckoned to them. Those who didn’t have it that good, had nothing pulling them from God other than murderous devils. And they retained their faith.


It is such a shame that we often maintain our relationship with G-d and truth out of lack. It is out of pain, and a sense of emptiness that we seek G-d initially. Must we always lack? Once we are fulfilled – can we then engage in the relationship with the same gusto? The Hollywood model of relationship – where with few exceptions, no relationship lasts beyond a year is a good example of this dynamic. People who are empty and looking for someone to win over, thus giving them the accomplishment of “having dated” so and so, will quickly tire of the actual relationship – for a lot of what they were looking for, and finding fulfillment in was the challenge of the dating game. They don’t know what to do with one another once they are committed. If neither one is playing hard to get, then they begin looking elsewhere.  While we must beware the dangers of oversimplifying the nature of relationships, we still must know, that the real relationship only begins truly when it is no longer simply about getting the relationship, but about building it.


King David called to God often. In good times, “As I raise the Cup of Salvation, I call to G-d” (Psalms 116:13), and in hard times, “I have found trouble and pain. So I call to G-d.” (ibid 116:3-4) It has been said by great Rabbis that we must not only sing to G-d in good times, but also in the harder ones as David did. But this young man coming to say Kaddish in his time of pain taught me that it can be much harder to call to G-d in good times than in bad. To teach ourselves to recognize that it is G-d who is running the show when we are successful and happy, and to pray with the same fire then, is the beginning of relating to G-d from within our relationship with him. Then, should the time come, G-d forbid, that one will have to recite the Kaddish, he will not be calling to G-d to search for Him, but rather to pick up the conversation where they left off during the good times. After all, it is all the same conversation.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mystics, Rationalists, and Fringes on Clothes

(the following is based upon chapter 4 of the sefer “Hamitzvos HaSehkulos” of the saintly Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe z”l)

Mystics dress in white gowns and burn incense. We rationalists wear business suits, and designer shirts and ties. But why is it that some of us can be so confused by, and indifferent to, talk about demons, angels, and heaven?

There are seven commandments that are considered by our sages to be as important as the entirety of the Torah. One of them is “tzitzis.” Tzitzis are the fringes that a male Jew is obligated to affix to his four cornered garment, should he choose to wear one. Although most clothing is no longer made with four corners, Torah observant Jews wear special undershirts of four corners colloquially called “tzitzis,” so as not to miss the grand opportunity to perform this mitzvah.

But what is behind this mitzvah? Why is it worthy of being dubbed as valuable as the entire Torah?

Tosafos (Menachos 43b) tells us that these strings are similar to a brand that a slave wears informing the world that he is enslaved to his master alone. The Midrash (Numbers Rab. 17:6) however paints a very different sounding picture of this mitzvah. “A parable – A man has fallen overboard at sea, and is in grave danger! The captain extends him a line and tells him, grab a hold, don’t let go, for letting go of this line is forfeiting your very life. “Grab onto my commandments,” says G-d; “letting go of them is forfeiting your very life.”

A glorious picture! Our tzitzis are our very lives, connecting us to G-d, our captain who is waiting for us to join him on the deck, and be saved from the turbulence of life’s raging tempests. He beseeches mankind to simply embrace Torah values and he will then pull his end of the cord. Man wearing his tzitzis is showing that he is just a tug away from an audience with the divine presence. How very different from the Tosafos’ image of the torah adherent as a branded slave is this Midrash!

Man is a composite of spirit and earth. He is caught in a tug of war between his earthly impulses and his spiritual aspirations. There are two parts to his job on this earth. He must firstly learn not to be beholden to the calls of his animalistic physical side, and he must also learn to attach to the spiritual. Man must brand himself and show that he is not enslaved to the physical but rather answers to a much higher calling. He must then also begin to grasp at and hold onto the line extended to him from the Master of the universe who is beckoning to him, and inviting him to take his rightful place on the deck of the ship.

There are two genres in classic Jewish scholarship in explaining the meaning of mitzvot. Sefer Hachinuch explains the more basic and rational reasons for the commandments. This explains the branding of the person, how the mitzvot ensure that he simply not drown in the ocean of the physical world. Others, such as Ridvaz, (in his Metzudas Dovid) explain the more mystical significances of the commandments. This provides explanations as to how the mitzvot then attach man to his Maker and bring him up onto the deck of the ship.

Rationalism and mysticism are both accurate and true. The rationalist explains how the mitzvot affect the physical world, and why they elevate a man above it. The mystic explains how it is that the mitzvot bring one into a spiritual world, and teach us “spiritual physics,” explaining how those mitzvot bring us close to G-d. Every Jew is both a mystic and a rationalist. He lives an existence of the tangible intermingled with the spirit. Those who wear tzitzis have access, on their very person to a message that encompasses the entire mission of man in this world. There is mysticism in the rational, and rationalism in the mystical. This is the secret of tzitzis.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Frog and the Scorpion

a quick thought on Yom Kippur

The frog could not sting, and the scorpion could not swim. So the frog took the scorpion on its back, at great personal sacrifice. After all, the scorpion could bite the frog at any moment. They crossed the river where the scorpion proceeded to fatally bite the man whom Hashem had condemned to death. (Nedarim 41a)

When King David completed the book of Psalms; the greatest song that any man has written to G-d, he began feeling very good about himself. He wondered to G-d, "Is there any creature that sings to You as beautifully as I do?" A frog appeared and told him, don't be too proud of yourself David, I sing a much greater song that you. And that is not all – there is a species that lives near the sea – and when it is hungry it takes mean and eats me. (Perek Shira)

What possessed Chanania Mishael and Azariah to throw themselves into the fiery furnace? They reasoned: If the frogs [during the plague of Frogs in Egypt] threw themselves into fiery furnaces despite the fact that they are not obligated to do so – we who have been commanded to give our lives for Kiddush Hashem must certainly do so! (Pesachim 53b)

The Frog sings, "Baruch Shem Kivod Malchuso Liolam Vaed," "Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity." (Perek Shira)

When Moshe went up to heaven, he heard the Angels reciting "Baruch Shem Kivod Malchuso Liolam Vaed," and taught it to the Jews, but we must say it quietly because it is angelic. On Yom Kippur when the Jew is nearly an angel, he can then recite it aloud. (Yalkut Shimoni D'varim 834)

The frog recites a song that even man cannot sing. David was shown an aspect of the frog that even man can often fall short of. What can this be? The world is a symphony. It is meant to consist of components all working harmoniously toward the ultimate goal of kvod shomayim. Every being is really no more than an ingredient in the grand scheme of G-d's will. The frog in Egypt gave his life for G-d's plan. The frog gives his life in the natural world to the animal that needs to eat him for survival. He transports scorpions on his back when G-d needs them to cross rivers.

The ultimate song is when one can find his place in the world, and live in perfect harmony, so that he knows how to give himself completely to the greater song of Hashem's plan. Sound, silence, and impeccable timing are vital for an orchestra to sound perfect. The frog is that animal that symbolizes that all is really here for nothing other than kvod shomayim. It is an animal that forgoes its immediate survival instinct and answers to a higher instinct.

The frog says "Baruch Shem Kivod Malchuso Liolam Vaed," which we cannot even say aloud. But the frog screams it out!

The frog was saying to David – "my entire existence is dedicated to the fulfillment of Hashem's will, even if it means complete self sacrifice. You were also created to be nothing more than a tool for kvod shomayim. Are you there yet?"

On Yom Kippur, when the Jewish people call out "Baruch Shem Kvod..." in booming voices, we are witnessing the elite of the human race striving to be nothing more than a "frog."

Friday, September 19, 2008

This World is like the Night-time

And more thoughts on Rosh Hashanah

“This world is like the nighttime.”
Babylonian Talmud Avoda Zarah 3b

“In the evening one lays down with tears, but in the morning – a cry of joy!”
Psalms 30:6

“Some ‘darkness’ is not darkness at all, but is in fact a light so brilliant that it afflicts man with blindness!”
Vilna Gaon (Siddur, Yotzer Hameoros)

The Jew must keep the Sabbath meticulously. There are 39 main categories of creative activities that the Jew must “rest” from on the Sabbath, as well as many, many sub-categories. If a Jew violates the sanctity of Sabbath any time from Friday night through Saturday night, he is put to death. But with gentiles, this is not so. Not only is a gentile not obligated to keep the Sabbath; shockingly, the Talmud declares that if a gentile does keep the Sabbath, he is to be put to death!
[ii] He was not truly put to death. The gentile would simply be beaten, and punished, and informed that he ought to have been killed.[iii] A gentile who chooses any day of the week, starting in the morning and culminating the next morning to refrain from work in interest of a Sabbath, has forfeited his right to live! [iv]

There are several peculiarities that must now be investigated. The first question is; why on earth should this be? Is it so horrible to keep a Sabbath when you are not meant to? We find no such penalty for a gentile who chooses to dwell in a Sukkah, don Tefillin, or hear the blast of a Shofar. Another glaring question is; for a Jew the Sabbath begins at nightfall and ends at nightfall. For a gentile, observance of such a Sabbath is not considered a Sabbath, rather he is held responsible only if he keeps 24 hours beginning in the morning and culminating the next morning. Why?

A gentile is meant to recognize reality. He is obligated to live by the Seven Noachide laws – the basic moral obligations God gave to mankind. The gentile is to recognize God, but he need not necessarily become a member of the chosen people. A gentile who keeps the Noachide laws has led a moral life and will merit a place in the world to come.
[v] There are several other laws aside from these seven, enumerated in the Talmud. A gentile may not study the Torah, for example.[vi] The Sabbath is “a sign” between the Lord and His people.[vii] Only the Jew is to keep the Sabbath.

[If a man wishes to take his wife to dinner on the night of their anniversary, the table should only be set for two. And should an extremely close and loyal friend wish to dine with them, that friend has made it clear that he truly does not understand the nature of this rendezvous.]

A gentile is expected to understand the purpose of the universe, and to know his place therein. Should he entirely misunderstand the place of the Jew in the world, he has lost his right to live and must be chastised back into his right mind.

We are still bothered by why a gentile begins his day in the daytime and not at night. Let us backtrack a bit. Our sages teach, “Abraham establish the morning prayers, Isaac the afternoon prayers, and Jacob the evening prayers.”
[viii] Now the Talmud teaches that the Jewish day begins at night, as it says in Genesis[ix], “And it was evening and it was morning.” First came nighttime; the day followed.[x] If this is so, should Abraham not have begun with the first prayer of the day - the Evening prayer - which is the first prayer after nightfall? Why did he begin with the second in the sequence of prayers?

The Sefer HaMikneh
[xi] teaches an interesting thing. He proves that at Sinai there was a major change in the calendar. Whereas until Sinai, the days were calculated with night following the day; after Sinai, the Jews began counting the night first with the day following the night. Abraham, who lived prior to Sinai, began his days in the mornings, and thus established the morning prayer, as it was the first in the sequence at that time. For gentiles, who were not party to the Sinai experience, the day still begins in the morning, and the night follows. There is a relatively simple reason for all this. The Talmud teaches that the reason that the darker animals walk first amongst the flock, is that darkness always precedes light. The Jew looks forward to better times, when “God will rule the whole world,”[xii] and he prepares for the world to come. He knows that the darkness and bad times experienced in this world are but a prelude to great things to come. The secular, Epicurean outlook, “eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” is essentially one that sees this world as the daytime. “This is the daytime, and all we have to look forward to is the grave,” is a falsehood - and the Torah is here to correct it. Thus when the torah was given, its guardians were then on the level to live a life where night precedes day. But the gentiles who did not learn this message still relate to this world in the wrong way. As the Vilna Gaon explains, when it comes to the idea – in concept - light precedes darkness, but in actuality, darkness precedes light. Jacob is conceived before Esau, but Esau is born first. Esau inherits this world, and Jacob the next world.
But when did this all change? The Talmud makes it clear that in the creation of the world, darkness preceded light.
[xiii] So when was this massive change to “night following day,” which was only corrected at Sinai? The Talmud teaches that the nations of the world heard loud sounds at the time of the Sinai experience and approached the prophet Bilaam to find out what was going on. They asked him, “Has God returned to the flood?”[xiv] and he replied, “God is establishing himself as eternal king, God is giving strength to his nation,” to which they replied, “may God bless his nation with peace.”[xv]

What is the connection between the flood and Sinai? “Day and night shall not cease,”
[xvi]was God’s vow after the great flood. But the Talmud reads more into these words. Day and night will not “yishbosu,” which is the root of the word Sabbath. “For a day and a night, they may not rest,” is an alternative translation of these words, and it is from here that the Talmud derives that a gentile may not celebrate the Sabbath. The scriptural source that night follows day for a gentile’s observance of the Sabbath, is found just after the great flood. After the flood, mankind was on a distinctly lover level than he had been prior to it. Life spans were greatly reduced. A world that once boasted permanently delightful spring-like weather was suddenly introduced to harsh winters, and stifling summers.[xvii] Humans had been capable of destroying the universe, and were likewise capable of building it. But humanity abused its great power, and was taken down a notch. They would never destroy another world, but they could not build one either. A humanity on such a drastically lower level could not truly comprehend the worlds ultimate goal. They could not live on a level where night preceded day. To them, day was primary. But at Sinai, the Jewish nation was given the keys to build the world, and with them, the ability to destroy it! They were back to pre-flood status. They now related to the world as it was created; the night precedes the day.

[There is another great connection between the flood and the generation that accepted the torah. Our sages teach
[xviii] that God originally intended to give the Torah to the generation that was wiped out in the flood, if only they had merited it. In fact, the Arizal teaches that the generation of the flood and the generation of the torah giving had the same souls. They were reincarnated. Noah and Moses were one and the same! Moses was name “Moses” because he was “saved from the water” - the water of the flood! Noah had an ark that kept him afloat in the water, and Moses had a small basket which served the same purpose for him. Both are called a “Tevah” by the torah. The flood lasted 40 days and 40 nights, as did Moses’ stay on Sinai where he was showered with Torah, and “water always hints to torah.” The Talmud shows how Moses was hinted to in the torah in the verse where Noah is told that the flood will begin in 120 years. Noah’s major mistake was that he did not expend enough energy in attempt to save his generation. Thus, the flood is referred to as “Mei Noach,” “the waters of Noah.” Moses corrected this when he told God that should He destroy the Jews, “Macheini na misifricha - Erase me from your book.” The word “Macheini” is made up of the same letters that spell “Mei noach.” Moses corrected the mistake that he made the first time around. This time he was willing to sacrifice it all to save his generation. This generation was incredibly powerful. Led by Noah/Moses, they could have either built or destroyed the world. At Sinai, they complained when they were forbidden illicit sexual behavior,[xix] which they had engaged in during the times of the flood. They constantly fought with Moses about water all thorough their excursion in the desert. This powerful generation was the one who first brought the world to a state where it would see day as preceding night. But on their second time around, they successfully reversed their goof-up. For a Jew, darkness precedes light.]

The Vilna Gaon writes, “In all worldly things, husks precede their fruit, as with Jacob and Esau – Esau emerged first, though Jacob was the first child conceived. For Esau’s portion is this world, while Jacobs is the next world. Jacob was thus conceived first because the final result is the first thought, and the result is the world to come.
[xx] When one has a goal in mind, he first envisions the goal – the results – and only then develops a scheme to reach these ends. The goal is the world to come, so it is “conceived” first. But the means are created first in practice, for they must precede the ends. Elsewhere, the Vilna Gaon explains,[xxi] “Whenever our sages speak of something ‘originally being conceived in the mind’ of God, this is the ultimate goal.” We are taught that, “originally God conceived the idea of creating the world in strict justice, but when he saw that it would not survive, he mixed mercy with that justice.”[xxii] We are similarly taught that “God created the world and it collapsed again and again until he created repentance.” [xxiii]We are taught that ““originally God conceived the idea of creating the world in the month of Tishrei, but it was not actually created until the month of Nissan.”[xxiv] Tishrei is the month of Moznaiim, Libra. Scales. It is the month of justice. The Yom Hadin, the “day of judgment” is Rosh Hashanah, the first of Tishrei upon which we proclaim, “Hayom Haras Olam,” “today is the conception of the world.” Originally, God wished to create the world in strict justice, for the ultimate goal is a world of justice. But the means to get to such a world required a more merciful relationship. The perfect conception of the world is in “din – strict judgment” as indeed the world will be in messianic times.[xxv] The day that God decides to take stock of his world, and measure its state against its ultimate goal is that very day when he first conceived of the goal, this first day of Tishrei.

[“Now that we know that symbols are meaningful, a person ought to eat pumpkins, clover, leeks, beets, and dates on Rosh Hashanah,” says Abaye in the Talmud.
[xxvi] We have all heard of dipping an apple in honey to give us a sweet new year. It sounds like a nice tradition, but there are interestingly no other holidays in the Jewish calendar with such symbols. Eat a head to avoid being a tail. Eat carrots to annul harsh decrees. Symbols on Rosh Hashanah of all days…why? The world was conceived in the month of Tishrei. Tosafos teaches that God conceived of the idea to create the world on Rosh Hashana, but he did not actually create it until the month of Nissan, six months later. Thus we say on Rosh Hashana, Hayom Haras Olam, today the world was concived – not born. There were ten statements made by God in the creation of the world.[xxvii] Nine of them begin with the words, “and God said,” except for the first one. “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” The Talmud teaches that this was a statement as well. The Chasidic masters read more into this verse. God created the world with language; but with what did he create language. “BiReshis,” using wisdom, (Reshis means intelligence)[xxviii] God created “Es,” which is the first and last letter of the alphabet. Using pure thought and intelligence, God created the alphabet – language. Using language God then created all else in existence. On the first of Tishrei, when God “conceived the idea of the world,” the he did not create for another six months, we celebrate the anniversary of God communicating in a way far beyond language. A purer level of communication that is above language, was used by God on this day. Could there be a day in the Jewish calendar more appropriate for us to attempt to communicate super-verbally, though the use of symbols?][xxix]

Ultimately the ends will explain the means. The ravages of this world will fade in the morning sunshine of the coming world. Rosh Hashanah is a glimpse into the goal of it all. It is a time when we can be aware that God has a grand master plan for our universe. The beginning of the relationship was one of pure thought. Pure goal.

[Jacob gave Rachel “Simanim,” “signs”
[xxx] the same word used for the super-verbal symbols that we use on Rosh Hashanah. It is commonly assumed that these signs were simply for the purpose of Jacob being capable of ascertaining the identity of his intended should Lavan choose to replace her with her sister. Yet when Rachel realized the horrific embarrassment that her sister Leah would suffer should she not have the “simanim,” she gave them over to her, and thus Jacob was confused as to whom he was marrying. Yet, asks the Revid Hazahav,[xxxi] the Talmud teaches that voices are distinguishable. Why was Jacob unable to recognize that this was not Rachel!? He explains that the Talmud’s rule that voices are recognizable is only true when there is no reason for one to suspect otherwise. If one receives a phone call from a woman claiming to be his mother, and she sounds nothing like her, he will certainly be suspicious, but should his “mother” tell him information that proves to him that it is her, he will assume that he has made a mistake and that it is indeed his mother. Because Leah had the “simanim,” Jacob was certain that it was Rachel! The “simanim,” which were only created to avoid confusion are the only reason that Jacob did not discover the fraudulent identity of his bride. They messed it all up! Has he not used any “simanim” at all, he would have had no problems! Why did he make them at all, and not simply rely on voice recognition? But Jacob did not make these simanim simply to discern the identity of his bride. There was much more to it. When God began his relationship with humanity, he used simanim.” And so did Jacob, our father.]

This world is a place of darkness, where we eagerly prepare for the world to come. We must never give up - as bleak as things may look. However long the night may last, the morning is always coming. For a Jew, the day follows the night.

[i] See “Maamarei Pachad Yitzchok” Sukkos: Maamar 9, where Rav Hutner elaborates. He explains that this is why the period between day and night is known as “bein hashmashos,” literally, “between suns.” There was a light originally in the sun that was hidden away for the righteous to eventually use in the world to come. The stars contain traces of this light, as they were substitutes for the sun. This entire discussion, says Rav Hutner, sheds further light on the Talmudic expression for the blind person, “Sagi Nahor,” “[one with] abundant light,” usually taken as a euphemism.
[ii] Sanhedrin 58b
[iii] Maimonides Melachim 10:9
[iv] Sefer HaMikneh Kiddushin 37b, See Chasam Sofer (quoting Sefer HaMikneh) to Shabbos 87a. See Panim Yafos Al Hatorah Genesis 8:22, and Shut Rabbi Akiva Eger 123 Hashmata.
[v] Maimonides Melachim 8:11
[vi] Sanhedrin 59a
[vii] Exodus 31:13
[viii] Brachos 26b
[ix] Genesis 1:5
[x] See Chullin 83 a
[xi] Kiddushin 37b, see note [iv] above
[xii] Zecharia 14:9
[xiii] Shabbos 77b except for a minority opinion of rashbam, that is the literal translation of the pesukim.
[xiv] Psalms 29:10
[xv] Zevachim 116a
[xvi] Genesis 8:22
[xvii] Bereshis Rabbah 34:11 “The weather was pleasant, as it is between Passover and Shavuos.” Sforno explains that the suns course was unlike today, but rather much closer to the earth, and physical life was much more like it would be in the messianic era. See Or Gedalyahu Noach, 2.
[xviii] Zohar 3:216b, Shmos Rabbah 30
[xix] Rashi Numbers 11:10 s.v Bocheh, quoting Sifri. Chida in Midbar Kedamos Dalet, 3, that because the Jews in the desert were children of illicit relationships, they could not enter the land of Israel!
[xx] Perush HaGra Limigilas Esther Al Derech Haremez 1;1
[xxi] Commentary to Proverbs 9:10
[xxii] Rashi Genesis 1:1
[xxiii] Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer Chapter 3
[xxiv] Tosafos to Rosh Hashanah 27a
[xxv] In the messianic times, we will follow the rulings of Shammai. This is often quoted in the name of the Arizal, as in Bnei Yissaschar gloss to Dvash Lifi, “Divrei Elokim chaim.” Herczeg in “Patterns in Rashi,” says that while this idea is commonly attributed to the Arizal, it’s earliest known source appears to be Sefer Vayakhel Moshe of Rabbi Moshe Prager. Tzidkas Hatzadik 169, explains that Yitzchak will be head in messianic times for it is a time of strict Din, and explains Rosh Hashanah in this light.
[xxvi] Kreisos 6b
[xxvii] Avos 5:1
[xxviii] Targum Yesushalmi to Bereshis 1:1
[xxix] Bnei Yissaschar Tishrei 2:10
[xxx] As to the nature of these simanim, see Chida in Midbar Kedemos Zayin 12, and elsewhere, quoting his grandfather Rabbi Avraham Azulai (Chesed Lavraham mayan sheni nahar 61) that Rachel was to touch his right thumb right, right big toe, and right ear, as is found in the temple service. Sefer HaChaim (part 1, chapter 2) explains that the simanim were “secrets of the oral torah, specifically the hidden meanings of the fantastic aggados.” The connection between the Rosh Hashanah and Jacob/Rachel Simanim is made by a cryptic passage in Bnei Yissaschar Tishrei 2:11 in which he mysteriously asserts that “Simanim should be done only on the first of the two days of Rosh Hashanah for the 1st day corresponds to Leah and the 2nd to Rachel, and Rachel gave her Simanim to Leah. Apparently these simanim are of the same essence.
[xxxi] Quoted in Torah Temimah Parshas Veyetze

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tefillin are Amazing Things!

As the Jewish people stood at mount Sinai and Moses descended holding two tablets, he also brought back with him 40 days of information. God chooses not to reveal himself to the world all the time. Sometimes, difficult things that seem terrible will happen and it will seem as thought God is not there. This lets us have such things as faith, and belief -virtues that would be impossible if we always saw God. But there was a time when God revealed himself to the world. He stepped into the land of Egypt and took out an opressed group of slaves, led them to mount Sinai, and revealed himself to them. He taught them the truth - that the is a Creator, and told them that it was their mission to teach the world about it. All of the civilized world accepts the Ten Commandments, for God revealed those to mankind. There was a total of 613 principles or ideas that God gave the Jewish people to make the world around them a better place. Those are called mitzvahs. Some teach us to be kind (charity, helping the oppressed) some teach us self control (kosher, do not steal) some teach us to be noble (save the life of the dying person.) Since God knows more about people than even the greatest psychologist, sometimes we must do what he says even if we don't really see how that mitzvah will help us.
Therefore, the very first thing that we must know is that somehow, and in some way ,the tefillin makes the Jewish man wearing them a better Jewish man, and makes the whole world around him a better world. Even if we didnt know any reason for it - we should do it - after all, how many of us know how Penicillin works, but we take it and it makes us better! There are many levels of depth and beauty to tefillin - i will try to explain two of them.
1) Tefillin wrapped on the arm and the head. We all have two parts to ourselves. We have our intelligence, and we have of physical bodies. A person who is trying to go on a diet sees the struggle between these two parts clearly. He sees a chocolate bar that he knows is unhealthy for him, and he decided that he had better not eat it. But someone he feels as though he wants it! His mind certainly does not want it. He will feel nothing but guilt should he eat it. And yet most of the time, diets fail. The body wins. This is true when a spouse cheats on the other spouse more often than not. The mind was saying "no" and the boys could not resist the temptation.
There are two parts to being a good person, and a good Jew. The first part it knowing right from wrong. If a person does not even know that his cholesterol is through the roof, he will not even know to lay off of the cheese doodles and Haagen-Dasz! Even after he knows this, however, he must still work to control himself, and teach his body to behave as his mind has decided. Life is about these two challenges. THe society that does not know that Murder is bad (like Jihad, or gladiator fights) is highly imperfect. But even a person whose mind does know still has much work left to do. Other religions say "Just believe in Jesus. Your faith will set you free." They do not stress Mitzvahs, for they think that only the mind counts. Other cult-ish religions stress only the actions, and tell you "stop thinking, listen only to the leader, and do what he says" Judaism tells us that we must tie down both our mind and our behavior to the Truth, to God. Our mind, and our body must be instruments of truth. If we have to choose between right and wrong, we should KNOW what is right and wrong, and the ACT accordingly. This is the measure of a great person. Tefillin are boxes with words of Truth, from the Torah inside, that speak of why were are here in this world. It tells about the Jew, his one God, his great mission in this world. Every morning, the Jew ties down his arm and head, (gently!) and says to himself, his God, and his world, "i will use my mental power and physical power toward noble goals - to make this world a better place." (on ancient times, people wore tefillin for the entire day - until the sun set! But this is almost unheard of anymore, although some great rabbis and others still do. The rest of us put them on for prayers once a day.)
2) There is another layer of meaning to tefillin too.. God is not physical. Just like you cannot ask someone to "Point to 'Love', what size is it what shape is it?" because love does not occupy a space, or have shape, the same is true for God. He is everywhere but he is not a body, or shape. Any yet, the Great Rabbi of 2000 years ago, recorded in the Talmud, tell us that "God also wears tefillin!" What does it say inside them? The talmud tells us that God's tefillin say "Who is like the Jewish people, a unique people on the earth." God has no body to put tefillin on. This is surely a story that is not meant to be taken as a description of what God wears. Here is the idea represented in tefillin. A young girl and boy fall in love, but he must go out to war. Before they depart, he gives her a locket - a little necklace with his picture on it, and she gives one to him. when they are separated, they each can look into that locket, and remember what they love above all. What the Jew loves above all is truth, Torah, and God. He has given his life throughout history rather than be forced to give up his Judiasm. The tefillin are the locket that a Jewish person wears that connect him to the one he loves, but is separate from - God. God loves us so much - we feel that when we wear tefillin. And God does not let us away from his heart for even a moment. It is almost as if "he is wearing tefillin." Not literally of course, but certainly true. There is no other nation in the world, in recorded history that has sacrificed everything again and again simply in order to remain true and good. From passover, to the Chanukah story, we have never given up our belief in one God who loves and cares no matter what anyone has tried to do to us. And they have tried it all. And yet, although the Jewish people have never done too much advertising, or PR, every single place that we have lived, the people have begun believing in one God. (Both Islam and Christianity got that part right) Everywhere that we did not live, those people are still bowing down to cows, and worshiping rivers. We are privileged to be of the people who are devoted Totally to God, and Truth. Our grandparents, and their grandparents stood for nothing more that doing everything that they could to be "God's people," of truth and love and honesty. And when they looked down at their tefillin, they knew that God had not forgotten them - just as the man at war knew when he felt the locket of his beloved fiance.