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As a service to those of you who may not have seen this past Friday’s newsletter, we’ve copied the announcement below.

Please also note that we are not planning to check the comments here moving forward. To contact us, please refer here: http://www.inner.org/about/contact

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear friends and extended Gal Einai family, 

This is an announcement that we’ve been looking forward to making for a long time now .. but we are very happy to be making it during this doubly happy two Adar season!

Friends and extended Gal Einai family…

Welcome to the All New Inner.org!

The first thing you may notice is that the template looks similar to the present version of our Hebrew site, Pnimi.org.il. Aside from fostering a sense of camaraderie between the different departments here at Gal Einai, we also happened to like their design. 

Although we are still working to fill in gaps and broken links, most of the content from the old Inner.org is already there (over 1,300 pages worth).

We’ve also imported all the posts from RabbiGinsburgh.com, and don’t currently plan to update RabbiGinsburgh.com with new content. So Inner.org will be once again, as it was in the past, your one-stop resource for everything English-related.

Once the remaining touches to the site are fixed up, and aside from new pre-Shabbat articles, regular updates to the site will generally be made on Sunday. So come Sunday night Israel time, you should be able to check for links related to the weekly Torah portion, etc…

In addition to the original Inner.org content, and RabbiGinsburgh.com content, we’ve also uploaded over 100 transcripts from the past two years. They can all be viewed Here, with the Purim related transcripts already added to our special Purim Page Here.

Please, although we know about some of the missing pages and broken links already, if you come across something in need of fixing, please reply to this email! As for the non-existent homepage video … we are working on that one too!

Also … most important of all … Inner.org and all the products and materials coming out of Gal Einai are here for you to benefit from. If you have a suggestion, idea, any piece of advice that you think would be helpful for us to take into consideration while moving forward, please let us know!

Gal Einai Editorial Team

 

half_shekel

This week, together with the weekly Torah portion of Pekudei, we read the additional portion of Parashat Shekalim, which is the commandment to give one half of a shekel as a donation to the Tabernacle. So, let’s go ahead and talk about money…

The wise King Solomon said, “And money answers everything,”[1] and there is no-one around who doesn’t know what money means. Nonetheless, we may have missed that in Hebrew, the Holy Tongue, the word for “money” (כֶּסֶף) refers to a coin system (nowadays banknotes too). Additionally, it also refers to silver, the metal from which we make jewelry etc. Indeed, the value of money in the Torah is indexed according to the value of silver (so, for example, the half-shekel in the Torah is equal to approximately eight grams of pure silver).

Silver is Money

Obviously, there is a historical reason why important coins are principally made from silver, but like everything else in the world, there is a much deeper reason for it, which we can glean from the Torah’s inner dimension.

We know that side by side with silver coins are gold coins. In fact, in a central discussion in Jewish law, [2] the sages compare the values of silver and gold. The basic Aramaic terms that are used in this discussion are “currency” (טבעא) and “goods” (פירא; lit.: “fruit”). So the question is asked: When Reuben has twenty silver coins and Shimon has one gold coin, and they make an exchange, which is the “coin” and which is the “goods”? One repercussion of this question in Jewish law relates to the laws of purchase, since withdrawing and readying the goods is considered a complete purchase (and the other side is obligated to turn over the monetary reimbursement), but withdrawing money (such as from the bank or ATM) is not considered as the final purchase and the transaction is not complete until the goods are delivered.

The conclusion reached is that when relating to the relationship between silver and gold, gold is the “goods” and silver is the “currency,” i.e., the money. The Talmud relates that in his youth, Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi (Rebi, the author of the Mishnah) thought that the opposite was true, that gold is currency and silver is the goods. But when he grew older, he reached the conclusion that silver is currency, and his reasoning was that although gold is more important than silver, gold is not more “effective” than silver, i.e., it does not become negotiable currency so easily.

Silver in the World of Chaos

This question in Jewish law is also relevant to an essential question in the realm of economics and business. Business begins with the assumption that everything in the world can be measured by the same standard―anything is marketable. So, for example, one could price a rare painting by Rembrandt relative to a jar of pickles… So, money is a brilliant invention that attempts to compare everything according to the same scale. However, there is a dire danger hidden here, because this outlook on life could turn the world into a completely “flat” place―where nothing is important, nothing has any real value, and nothing is sacred. Everything would be a matter of money, and nothing more; and just as money has no smell, so no scent and no special taste exist that cannot be bought for money. Everything rolls around and around (סְחוֹר-סְחוֹר) like a coin, and this is also the meaning of the word, “trade” (סְחוֹרָה).

In the terminology of Kabbalah and Chassidut, the world was created in two stages―the World of Chaos, followed by the World of Rectification, as indicated at the beginning of the Torah, “In the beginning God created… and the earth was chaos and void and darkness upon the face of the abyss [the World of Chaos]… and God said, ‘Let there be light!’ and there was light [the World of Rectification].” The World of Chaos is in a state of “chaos and void” where everyone attempts to control and “buy” everything. Therefore the World of Chaos ended in smithereens, while the World of Rectification has an organized, stable system that allocates everything its own value and location.

In our context: by chaotic standards, money “makes the world go around,” and nothing else. Anything can be bought and everything can be sold. For enough cash, one can negotiate values, memories and tradition, or even one’s homeland. One can barter people, even one’s parents, wife or children, or I can even sell myself as a slave. On these terms, anything can become negotiable currency; it’s just a question of supply and demand. This warped mindset is represented in the Torah by the Canaanites, “Canaan [a synonym for a merchant[3]] who keeps fraudulent scales; he loves to cheat.”[4] But, this clever trader successfully confuses himself and he no longer knows (and doesn’t really care) which is currency and which is the goods. It might be that the best and tastiest “fruit” looks like a silver coin. On the other hand, he is capable of wolfing down silver coins, like a monkey in the zoo [this confusion is alluded to in the numerical value of “chaos” (תֹּהוּ; 411) which equals “coin” (מַטְבֵּעַ; 121) plus “fruit” (פְּרִי; 290)].

Abraham’s Coin

But, what does Judaism have to say about money? Just as the Canaanites were merchants, so too (by contrast), Jews are renowned for their selling abilities. Moreover, we are greatly involved in minting coins and setting exchange rates, as the sages state that Abraham minted a special coin[5] and Jacob established currency and markets,[6] not to mention Joseph, who was the most famous finance minister in history.

The coin system in the Torah is attributed to Moses, as Nachmanides mentions,[7]  “Moses established a silver coin in the Jewish People because he was a great king and he called that coin ‘shekel’.”

Not for naught is an emphasis placed on the fact that Moses “was a great king,” because establishing a coin in general is related to the essence of the kingdom-government. This is established in the law that “the law of the government is law”[8] relates only to a government that has a coin system in use (because social consensus is what gives real power to the government, just as only social consensus gives any value to currency). In the World of Chaos, there is no central government, “Everyone would eat their comrade alive,”[9] “There was no king of the Jewish People, everyone did what was right in his own eyes,”[10] therefore there is no stable currency. But, the World of Rectification judges and rules, has a king, and a rectified government that mints coins.

The wisdom of the World of Rectification is in its ability to use money in the correct way; knowing how to distinguish between the “currency” and the “goods,” because, “There is nothing that does not have a place.”[11] It allows free movement and business between the different entities without eradicating their unique identity. Therefore, a conclusion must be reached regarding questions such as the status of gold and silver coins relative to one another. In order to “mint a coin” (לִטְבוֹעַ מַטְבֵּעַ) one needs a keen eye (טְבִיעַת עַיִן) to recognize the innate nature of the “goods” and which item is most suited to be negotiable currency.

The real test of wisdom is to know that there are some things that are just not up for sale at all. You can’t just sell and buy something holy (and there is a complete halachic system that establishes what and how we redeem and secularize something that has been sanctified); you can’t just sell the Land of Israel, “And the Land shall not be sold permanently, because Mine is the Land”[12]; nor can you sell yourself to someone else as an eternal slave.

Love Coins

Getting back to the contest between gold and silver on the international stock exchange, according to Kabbalah and Chassidut, silver alludes to the attribute of loving-kindness and love. Taking a linguistic approach, the letters of the world for “silver” (כֶּסֶף) have a second meaning, as in the phrase, “You surely yearn (נִכְסֹף נִכְסַפְתָּה) for your father’s home,”[13] or, “For the work of your hands you yearn”―referring to a combination of will, love and an aspiration to acquire something. In general, will is the engine that drives all of our actions, and the will that motivates the attribute of loving-kindness is a loving will, which is associated with tremendous yearning.

This is why the principal coin is one of silver. Because the foundation of trading lies in the will to acquire one’s desire, and the yearning for it, i.e., “demand.” I want pickles and you want a work of art, but the common denominator is an aspiration to own something that is not yet mine. This is why we are able to set a basic unit of currency for our yearnings, by which we can evaluate anything in the world. According to Kabbalah, loving-kindness―the motivating force behind all attraction, love and yearning―accompanies all the attributes of the heart, which form the basis for all human interactions. In even the simplest transaction it is this attraction that allows a transaction to take place―“yearning” (כִּיסוּפִים) that turns into “money” (כֶּסֶף).

With all due respect to our jar of pickles, it is clear that the type of yearning we expect from a Jewish soul should be directed at loftier matters (those accompanied by material goods that make them more tangible, like the special place allocated to pickles alongside the kugel[14] on Shabbat). The mitzvah of giving a silver half-shekel means donating the essence of one’s love to God, “And you shall love Havayah, your God.”[15] The reason for this mitzvah is explicitly stated in the Torah, “The rich shall not increase and the poor shall not reduce from the half-shekel, to give God’s donation to atone for your souls.”[16]

Just as an animal sacrifice or a minchah offering of plant life can atone for the soul of the one who offers up the sacrifice, so too a coin―man-made with an inanimate metal―can also atone for one’s soul. Yet, although a person’s soul is not a saleable item, nonetheless, in God’s great loving-kindness and compassion, He allows us to make an exchange transaction: the soul of an animal in place of our human soul, or a half-shekel to atone for our soul, as alluded to in the identical value of “soul” (נֶפֶשׁ) and “shekel” (שֶׁקֶל).

Even though the Temple in Jerusalem has not yet been rebuilt, and the mitzvah of giving a half-shekel is not in practice, to a certain extent, every coin that we give to charity is “ransom” for our souls. Because if money represents our life’s ambition and we are prepared to forfeit it for the loftier purpose of charity and loving-kindness, then “Charity is great because it brings the redemption closer.”[17]

Jews are Worth Gold

By contrast to silver, which represents the simple attribute of love and loving-kindness, gold is symbolic of the attribute of judgment and fear.

So, which attribute is greater, loving God or fearing Him? With reference to common fears like fear of punishment, it is clear that love is greater, since someone who observes mitzvot because he is afraid of the punishment that awaits him after his 120 years have passed has not observed the Torah “for its own sake,” and still has only his own interests at heart. But, someone who observes mitzvot out of love takes a step outside of himself and truly approaches God, therefore, “Greater is one who acts out of love than one who acts out of fear.”[18]

However, there is a much higher level of fear of God, and that is the awe experienced when standing before God, so much so that there is an existential sense of shame in my being an infinitesimal dot in the presence of an Infinite God. This type of fear is worth gold. With all due respect to silver, gold is considerably more important than it. If silver is a noble metal, the kingdom’s minister of finance, then gold is the king himself (like King David who was a red-gold-headed king, and even his name (דָוִד; 14) equals “gold” (זָהָב; 14). Why is this type of fear more important than love? Because, love is a force that diffuses from the soul’s essence, while fear is an aspect of the essence itself.

This is the inner significance of the conclusion that gold is considered “goods” (i.e., the purchase) while silver is the currency that buys it. Gold coins do exist, but gold is much more than just negotiable currency. One can trade love and yearning, but one cannot trade the quality of fear, “Fear of God is pure, it stands for eternity”[19] like pure gold whose unique beauty is never tarnished, can never be measured and is not tradeable.

Love Like Golden Fire

From another perspective, there are two types of love of God: love that is like silver, and love like gold. Rebbe Shneur Zalman of Liadi, author of the Tanya, explains the difference between the two:

There is also an aspect of love that is more valuable than them all, like the value of gold relative to the value of silver, and that is love like flames of fire, of the aspect of higher might… for by contemplating God’s great infinity… the soul ignites and bursts into flame towards the precious splendor of His greatness… like flames of fire, a burning flame that rises high… and from this it comes to thirst… and then to the stage of love-sickness, and after that it reaches complete and utter consummation of the soul…

Regarding love that is compared to silver, the individual does not leave himself completely, but is attracted to love God by acknowledging God’s loving-kindnesses to him and the like. Then his soul is moved into a corresponding dance of love. But, love that is like gold is far more forceful than that, “As forceful as death is love.”[20] The soul is ignited and flares up like a gold-red flame, so much so that the individual reaches a state of thirst, and the thirst is magnified until one’s soul becomes “love-sick,”[21] and finally is literally consumed with love. Love like silver is a product of our Jewish nature―a very deep and wonderful source―but love like gold is far more valuable, since it is a product of the tremendous distance from God that the soul experiences in this world, “My soul thirsts for You, my flesh is consumed by You, in an arid and fatiguing land without water.”[22] This type of love can never become negotiable currency, nor be given a fixed denomination; however, it is the most praiseworthy fruit-purchase that can be made.

So we see that the significance of the mitzvah of giving a silver half-shekel is to give up our deepest love and yearnings in a coin of love that “makes the world go around.” This silver is given in exchange for the gold that is the soul itself, which stands in pure fear in God’s presence, and bursts into a flame of  unsurpassed love that is as forceful as gold and fire.

In the joyful spirit of Adar, we will conclude with a Purim-style recipe for the half-shekel. Chassidim know that as a side-dish to one’s alcoholic beverage, it is recommended to eat pickles (which serve to neutralize the alcohol with vinegar). Having mentioned that the value of “shekel” (שֶׁקֶל) is equal to “soul” (נֶפֶשׁ) we will now add that our dear friend, the pickled cucumber (מְלָפְפוֹן חָמוּץ) shares the same numerical value… So, since the reference is to a half-shekel, we should suffice with eating just half a pickle, saving the other half for the next glass… Lechaim lechaim!



[1] Ecclesiastes 10:19.

[2] Baba Metzia Ch. 4, Maimonides, Hilchot Mechirah 6:1-3.

[3] As in Genesis 38:2, “The daughter of a Canaanite man,” which Unkelus translates as “merchant” (תגרא); or Proverbs 31:24, “And she gave a belt to the Canaanite” i.e., to the merchant.

[4] Hosea 12:8.

[5] Baba Kama 97b.

[6] Shabbat 33b.

[7] Nachmanides, Exodus 30:13.

[8] Baba Batra 54b-55a.

[9] Avot 3:2.

[10] Judges 17:6.

[11] Avot 4:3.

[12] Leviticus 25:23. See also Nachmanides explanation ad loc; Hasagot Haramban Leseifer Hamitzvot prohibition 227.

[13] Genesis 31:30.

[14] Yid. “pudding”; usually made from lokshen (vermicelli pasta).

[15] Deuteronomy 6:5.

[16] Exodus 30:15.

[17] Baba Batra 10a.

[18] Sotah 31a.

[19] Psalms 19:10.

[20] Song of Songs 8:6.

[21] Ibid 2:5; 5:8.

[22] Psalms 63:2.

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house of tzadikim

One of the most famous figures in the Chassidic world is Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk, who is also sometimes referred to by the name of the book he authored, Noam Elimelech. Rabbi Elimelech―together with his older brother, Rabbi Zushe―were disciples of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s successor, Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch. Later, Rabbi Elimelech became a Rebbe in his own right—an esteemed Chassidic leader—settling in the Polish town of Lizensk. Some of the greatest Chassidic leaders of Poland were his disciples, such as the Magid of Koznitz, the Seer of Lublin and Rabbi Mendel of Riminov. One might say that the entire Polish “branch” of Chassidut stemmed from Rebbe Elimelech.

His book, Noam Elimelech was published after he had passed away on the 21st Adar 5547 (1787) and immediately became an essential volume in every Chassidic home. Even to the present day, Rebbe Elimelech’s tomb is a place of prayer with many miraculous stories attached to it, and his book Noam Elimelech is highly praised and even used as a segulah (spiritual remedy) by many.

The Book of the Righteous

Of all the Chassidic Rebbes, Rebbe Elimelech represents the model tzadik (righteous individual). In his book the tzadik plays a prominent role, so much so that it is often affectionately referred to as “The Book of the Righteous.” The sages teach that every year on Rosh Hashanah, three books are opened before the Almighty: The Book of the Righteous, The Book of the Intermediates, and The Book of the Wicked. On almost every page of Noam Elimelech, the reader opens to something that relates to the service of the tzadik and how he clings to his Creator to draw down blessing and abundance to the Jewish People.

But, what does a simple Jew do when he learns something from Noam Elimelech at his Shabbat table? He may sit back and admire the level of tzadikim portrayed in the book, delve into the teachings himself, or simply imbibe the scent of sanctity that radiates from this holy book. Another option is that he may also begin to glean from the sparks of advice to reinforce his own service of God. Whichever option plays out, the general impression is that Rebbe Elimelech is not speaking directly to us. The righteous sit and bask in the glow of the Divine Presence, and we have the privilege of watching them, and following in their footsteps.

The Book of Intermediates

We can better understand the high ranking of Noam Elimelech if we compare it to the Tanya, authored by Rebbe Shneur Zalman of Liadi who studied in the same study hall together with Rebbe Elimelech. Unlike the Noam Elimelech, the Tanya is explicitly a systematic guide book for every Jew, as Rebbe Shneur Zalman explains in the introduction. The intention behind authoring the Tanya was that it should be a summary of the personal guidance he would give to those seeking his advice.

In short, Rebbe Shneur Zalman explains that while becoming a tzadik is a gift from heaven, to be an intermediate is something everyone can achieve. The intermediate in the Tanya is not one who is balanced between half mitzvot and half sins, but one who is completely in control of himself (“the mind controls the heart”), and does not transgress even minor sins—neither in deed, nor in speech, and not even in thought! However, despite his apparently righteous behavior, he is called an “intermediate” because he still has a balanced tendency towards both good and evil—the Divine soul and the animal soul. The evil inclination still exists and exerts a strong effort to tempt him to fulfill his desires and evil ideas, but through the power of his free will, and with Divine assistance, a person can and should always lean to the side of good. A true tzadik is not only someone who ceaselessly does good, but even to the depths of his soul, he abhors evil and detests it. As the sages state, he has “killed the evil inclination.” But, the person with both tendencies shouldn’t deceive himself! He should always be prepared for battle so that he can always emerge victorious.

This is why Rebbe Shneur Zalman called his book, “The Book of Intermediates” – it is a guide book for every one of us, who can and should aspire to reach the level of the intermediate. The task of the tzadik is also mentioned in brief in the Tanya,[1]

Because the sustenance and vitality of the psyche, the spirit and the soul of the regular people is from the psyche, the spirit and the soul of the tzadikim and the sages who are the leaders of the Jewish People in their generation.

However, throughout the Tanya, there is no doubt that the individual is expected to serve God by his own drive and momentum. Tzadikim are not here to do the work for him.

While there is no contradiction between the two books, there is a difference in their emphasis. Rebbe Shneur Zalman offers us direct guidance and demands more and more effort from us, while Rebbe Elimelech gives us a glimpse into the world of the tzadik.

Everyone is a Tzadik

In our generation, we need to make a closer connection between Rebbe Elimelech and Rebbe Shneur Zalman. As long as we are discussing the individual’s service of God, the advice is to follow the Tanya of Chassidut Chabad. Yet, the primary service of Chassidut Chabad today is not what you do with yourself, but how you touch the lives of other Jews, as the Rebbe of Lubavitch used to say, “Go out and teach!” (וּפָרַצְתָּ). If you know how to put on tefillin, go out onto the street and give another Jew the privilege of donning tefillin. If you know how to study Torah, go out and establish a Torah class in your neighborhood. Moreover, you should act to change the current communal state of the Jewish People, as the Rebbe cried out, “Overturn the world today!”

As long as our principle stance is with our faces turned outwards, to bring about the Ba’al Shem Tov’s messianic goal of “Your wellsprings will disseminate outwards,” then everyone is empowered to affect others, and we are all serving as a “stand-in” for the tzadik. The tzadik’s power of influence, as Rebbe Elimelech teaches us, is both in the spiritual and material realms. If you help someone who has got into a sticky financial patch, or give advice to someone in distress, then you are currently wearing the hat of a tzadik (which is why it is recommended to own the book Noam Elimelech and to study it). So, don’t forget who you are, don’t deceive yourself, and however much you influence others, you should still be connected to someone who you identify as a true tzadik acting on his behalf and as his emissary.

Between Two Tzadikim

One might think that all tzadikim are exactly the same, however, this is a common mistake made by those who see things from afar, somewhat like all those who think that the “religious Jew” with his yarmulke and beard are all a genetic clone of the same man… However, although there are some things that are the same, every tzadik has his own character and his own way of serving God.

For instance, the two aspects of a tzadik are mentioned in Kabbalah as the “higher tzadik” and the “lower tzadik.” The “higher tzadik” is like the figure of Joseph, who hovers slightly above reality, looking at everything from above and controlling what goes on. On the other hand, the “lower tzadik” is more involved with reality, and suffers from the darkness and distress he sees around him, yet nonetheless remains righteous. The archetypal soul of this lower level is Benjamin (who, like Joseph, is also referred to as “the Righteous Benjamin”), who suffered from his older brother Joseph’s prolonged disappearance.

Even Rebbe Elimelech, who speaks so profusely about the tzadik, constantly distinguishes between different types of tzadikim, and in many cases he compares two different types, as in the following passage[2]:

The world is always in need of two types of tzadikim: One who always thinks in the higher worlds and unifications, and constantly adds light higher and higher. The other is one who always thinks of the needs of this world who need to make a living, and blessing and life and everything else they need. Through these two tzadikim the world exists.

Since we have already mentioned two types of tzadikim, we should mention another wondrous and beloved Chassidic figure together with Rebbe Elimelech and Rebbe Shneur Zalman: Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (who is also referred to as “the advocate of the Jewish People”). Rebbe Levi Yitzchak too is from the same study hall where these other two tzadikim studied. Rebbe Levi Yitzchak’s book is called, “Kedushat Levi” (lit: “Levi’s Sanctity”) which is also an important addition to any Chassidic bookshelf.

So now we have completed the list of basic Chassidic books that should be found in every Jewish home: Noam Elimelech, Tanya and Kedushat Levi. One indication of this selected threesome is in the phrase from our prayers, “with clear lips and with a holy tune” (stated with reference to the song and praise of the angels). “Clear lips” (שָׂפָה בְרוּרָה) relates to the Tanya, which clearly explains to us all what we should be doing[3]; “tune” (נְעִימָה) relates to the Noam Elimelech (נֹעַם אֶלִימֶלֶךְ); and “holy” (קְדוֹשָׁה) relates to the Kedushat Levi (קְדוּשַׁת לֵוִי). The latter two words are in close proximity, while the first which relates to the Tanya, stands somewhat on its own. The Kedushat Levi and the Noam Elimelech represent the two aspects of the tzadik who serve as inspiration and guides for us, while the Tanya is the work book of the intermediate which stands in between the two tzadikim.

Now, to conclude, let’s do a little sum: if we add these three figures, intermediate-tzadik-tzadik (בֵּינוֹנִי צַדִיק צַדִיק) we find that they equal 536. However, this number is exactly equal to the average value of the sum of the three books Tanya-Noam Elimelech-Kedushat Levi (תַּנְיָא-נֹעַם אֱלִימֶלֶךְ-קְדוּשַׁת לֵוִי)!

All of God’s people are righteous, beginning with the intermediate level, which connect to all the types of tzadikim. It is the intermediates who will themselves become the tzadikim and bring goodness to the world.

From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s class to the Torat Hanefesh School of Jewish Psychology on 26th Shevat 5774



[1] Ch. 2.

[2] Noam Elimelech Parashat Vayechi, on the phrase, “And Joseph took.”

[3] When Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch was born, his grandfather, Rebbe Shmuel of Lubavitch, blessed him that he should give Chassidic discourses with “clear lips.”

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Patience! Patience!

patience

The sin of the Golden Calf is a sin of a lack of patience.[1] The Jewish People were waiting for Moses to descend from Mt. Sinai and they thought that his descent had been delayed, “And the people saw that Moses was late in descending from the mountain and the people crowded around Aaron and said to him, ‘Rise and make a god for us.’” It certainly wasn’t easy to wait for so long. Immediately after the revelation at Mt. Sinai, Moses ascended the mountain, entered the fog where God was, and left us down below in tense expectation. Another day and another day went by, forty days had already passed, and our patience snapped. How much longer could we wait? Even the sages stated (as Rashi quotes) that before his ascent Moses had told them that he would not return for another forty days. Yet, forty days had already passed and there was no sign of life from Moses. What would be?

Apparently, God wanted to put us to the test of patience. There are many who stood up to the test, but irritability had set in at the edge of the camp, as it says, “And the people saw” and everywhere that it says “the people” (הָעָם) and not “the Children of Israel” (בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל) it is referring to the simple folk, and even to the “mixed multitude” who left Egypt with the Jewish People. Aaron was patient and he tried to bide his time: first he told them to bring their jewelry… then he built an altar… and finally, he proclaimed, “There will be a festival for God tomorrow.” But, it was impossible to restrain the hurrying sinners, “And they rose early in the morning” and the dancing immediately began. By the time Moses arrived it was already too late.

The History of Impulsiveness

This was not the first time that a lack of patience had led to tragedy; neither would it be the last. In fact, historical tragedies as a whole seems to be the result of impulsiveness, and if people would just wait a little longer, everything would look completely different.[2]

The first sin in the history of mankind stemmed from a lack of patience. If Adam and Eve had just waited a few more hours, until sunset on Friday evening, and the beginning of the first Shabbat, they would have been permitted to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. But, it isn’t easy to wait; such a succulent fruit that looks so tempting just asks us to eat it right away; especially when the snake nags us that “nothing will happen.”

Nor did King Saul pass the test of waiting for the prophet Samuel. It was indeed a difficult trial. The Philistines had gathered for war and the Jewish soldiers had fled for their lives except for Saul and a handful of his faithful followers. Saul’s patience snapped and he offered up the sacrifice, then Samuel arrived and told him, “And now, your kingdom shall not be established.”[3] You failed the test.

Even King David was no exception. The sages state, “Bathsheba was predestined for David, but he ate her unripe [i.e., he took her prematurely].”[4] Instead of waiting patiently for her to be ready for him, like a sweet ripe fruit, he snatched and “ate” her like an unripe fruit and the bitter results speak for themselves.

Patience Man!

Patience and restraint are a central issue in rectifying the psyche. This quality has special significance regarding human relationships, especially between husband and wife. A good marriage begins with patience, with each of the members of the marriage being considerate towards the other and suiting themselves to the other’s pace.

A baby cannot postpone its needs, because for an infant, what he cannot perceive here and now doesn’t exist for him. As we grow up, we begin to understand the secret of patience. Someone who psychologically remains a child can only swap supplying an immediate need for a greater need that comes later. But someone who reaches true adulthood can understand that it is emotionally healthier to act with restraint. Don’t be too quick to flare up in anger but be patient. Don’t be too quick to eat; wash your hands, make a blessing and eat slowly. Don’t jump to conclusions, throwing out words and doing things that you might regret later. Don’t be too quick to act before you know what and how you should be doing it. Don’t be impulsive.

Patience results when the soul is in complete control over the body and the mind is in control of the attributes of the heart. Moreover, patience comes from faith. When we believe that there is Someone up there who is in charge of things, we don’t need to press for them to happen and we know that everything comes through at the right time. But, if it is only my ego that fills my environment, then I become impatient and insist that they happen now, because maybe I will not achieve what I want to.

This is where the fall of the sin of the Golden Calf began. In order to receive the Torah, in order for the Divine Presence to dwell within us, we had to forfeit our instinctive desires and to wait and relax until God appeared. But the people wanted “God Now!” They wanted an approachable, tangible and sparkling god who they could see and dance around; an “instant” Golden Calf who began mooing straight out of the fire [in fact, “calf” (עגל) in Aramaic means “speed”]. The Jewish People could be appeased, but the mixed multitude was impudent and impulsive and they couldn’t be restrained.

Moses Had Time

We mentioned the sin of the people who couldn’t wait patiently. But, what really happened to Moses while everyone was waiting for him? What delayed him up there on Mt. Sinai? The sages explain that Moses told the Jewish People that he would be back in forty days, but he didn’t intend to include the day of his ascent, because it wasn’t a complete day. However, this caused a misunderstanding, because the Jewish People did count the day of Moses’ ascent, which is how they miscalculated his return by one day.

Moses was super-patient. When he needed it, he took all the time in the world. Just as he knew how to patiently look after his sheep, and only at the age of eighty years old did he go back to Egypt to redeem the Jewish People, so he was capable of being on Mt. Sinai day after day (and even food can wait patiently until Moses descends from the mountain). The Torah is “longer than a measurable land,”[5] and until everything is clear to the finest detail, there is nothing to hurry for. He couldn’t bring back an unfinished product, he had to reach final perfection and only then could he descend. If he needed to be on Mt. Sinai for forty days, then they had to be forty complete days, from beginning to end.

Moses’ patience is related to his humility, as Rashi interprets the phrase, “And the man Moses was very humble― [i.e.,] lowly and patient.”[6] Moses had the positive quality of bashfulness, “The impudent faced go to Hell and the bashful-faced to Paradise.”[7] He wasn’t under any pressure to get anywhere, and even when God sent for him to redeem the Jewish People, he refused again and again, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?”[8]

Don’t Tarry

Yet, there is a limit even to patience. Someone who waits too long will hesitate to act on reality when the right time comes. We can always prepare ourselves better, waiting till the absolutely perfect moment arrives. But, this tendency towards perfectionism is liable to sabotage any positive act, because any abstract idea that is effected in practice becomes limited as soon as it is realized.

Even Moses needed to know when it is good to wait and when we need to take immediate action. In fact, when God first spoke to Moses he made this mistake and refused too many times, until God was angry with him. In our case too, we can hear from the verses a very gentle note of criticism, “Moses was late” for his meeting with the Jewish People; he wanted to be absolutely sure that everything was ready and perhaps was even a little bit bashful[9] of descending with the Torah. Bashfulness, or shyness, can be a positive quality but if it oversteps the limits of good taste it might turn “stale.”[10]

Interestingly, the only other time in the Torah when the root “late” (בֹּשֵׁשׁ) appears is with reference to Adam and Eve before they sinned, “And they were not bashful” (וְלֹא יִתְבּשָׁשׁוּ).[11] This alludes to the fact that Moses attempted to rectify Adam’s sin of not knowing how to wait, but he went to the other extreme and was too bashful. Careful restraint also requires quick action at the right moment, as in the expression coined by the Ba’al Shem Tov, “deliberate agility” (זְרִיזוּת בִּמְתִינוּת). The correct balance between waiting and acting results from integrating Moses’ approach with the approach of the people. Had there been good communication between Moses and the Jewish People, there would have been a balance between Moses’ tendency to wait and the people’s demand that he descend to them at long last. Correct communication between them would have prevented the misunderstanding, and it would have been clear to all how the days should be counted. Good communication would have “transmitted” to Moses, even as he was still up there on Mt. Sinai, the spiritual status of the people below, and he would have known that the time had come for him to descend, before it would be too late.[12]

Positive Impudence

We must use the quality of impudence positively, using it as a catalyzer that promotes restraint while cautioning not to procrastinate too much and get up and get things done. According to the sages there is some criticism on Moses for accepting the impudent mixed multitude as a part of the Jewish People. But, so say the Kabbalists, Moses returns and is reincarnated throughout the generations to rectify their souls. The rectification of the mixed multitude is to use that very same quality of impudence to make an impression on reality without being too bashful, to establish the kingdom of Israel upon earth, and not to suffice with a heavenly Torah and letters that fly through the air.

There is a prohibition against impatiently “pressing for the end [i.e., the final redemption]” (לִדְחוֹק אֶת הַקֵץ) when it stems from a lack of faith, yet we are now at the end of the redemption and it is forbidden to “distance the end” (לְהַרְחִיק אֶת הַקֵץ).[13] The same sage who said, “The impudent faced go to Hell” also said, “Be as bold as a tiger.” We do need a touch of bold impudence so that our positive bashfulness will stop hiding behind the walls of the synagogue and will go out to lead reality and rectify the world.

From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s class, Adar 11 5772



[1] See also, The Mystery of Marriage ch. 9.

[2] See Shemot Rabah 32:1.

[3] I Samuel 13:14.

[4] Sanhedrin 107a.

[5] Job 11:9.

[6] Numbers 12:3.

[7] Avot 5:20.

[8] Exodus 3:11.

[9] The words for “bashful” (בּוּשָׁה) and “late” (בּוֹשֵׁשׁ) share the same two-lettered “gate” in Hebrew (בש).

[10] “To become stale” (לְהַבְאִישׁ) also shares the same two-lettered “gate” as “bashful” (בּוּשָׁה) and “late” (בּוֹשֵׁשׁ).

[11] Genesis 2:25.

[12] See the article, “Who is to Blame for the Sin of the Golden Calf?” in our book in Hebrew, “The Inner Dimension” (הממד הפנימי).

[13] Ketubot 111a; there it states one version that God made the Jewish People swear that they would not “distance the end” and a second version that states, “that they shall not press for the end.”

How much attention should men pay to their clothing? The standard reply is probably: a little, but not too much. Maimonides writes, “The clothing of a Torah scholar should be clean and good-looking and it is forbidden that a stain or an oil mark be found on his garment, etc. Neither should he wear royal garments, such as gold or scarlet clothing, which attract everyone’s attention, nor a pauper’s clothing that degrades the one who wears it, but normal, good-looking clothes.”[1] By all means, jewelry and fashion generally belong only to a woman’s world, while men are also limited by the prohibition, “A man shall not wear a woman’s dress.”[2] Yet, the High Priest is an exception to this rule. He does wear, “gold or scarlet clothing, which attract everyone’s attention” and some of his garments, such as the breast-plate and the head-plate, are quite clearly jewelry.

Moses and Aaron

The priestly garments are not just an added extra for the kohanim (priests), but an integral, essential part of their priesthood. The service of a kohen who serves in the Temple wearing everyday clothing and not the priestly garments is invalid. Similarly, the High Priest is ordained as such by wearing the High Priest’s garments.[3]

In order to glean some insight into the mysteries of the priestly garments, we will compare between two brothers.

Aaron the High Priest is obviously the one who plays the main role in the Torah portion of Tetzaveh. In the first part of the Torah portion a complete wardrobe of magnificent clothing is sewn for him, “And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, as honor and for beauty.” In the second half of the portion appears the commandment relating to the seven days of “filling-in” when Moses served in the Tabernacle, offered up sacrifices, and inaugurated Aaron and his sons into their service.

By contrast, Moses appears in the portion as Aaron’s assistant, and is even commanded to dress him, “And you shall dress Aharon…” Moreover, this is the only Torah portion since Moses’ birth that does not explicitly mention his name, although he is mentioned in the second person, as in, “And you shall command.” It’s as if Moses has cleared the stage for his older brother, and wishes neither to compete with him nor to offend him.

Whereas Aaron has eight magnificent, colored and tailored garments, the verses make no explicit mention of Moses’ clothing. However, the sages ask, “What did Moses wear during the seven days of ‘filling-in’? A white robe.” So now, if we include the basic priestly outfit of the lay kohanim (priests), which is comprised of four garments―a tunic, pants, a cap and a belt―referred to as “white clothes,” we now have three sets of clothing: Moses’ one garment, Aaron’s eight garments and the lay kohanim’s four garments.

The division into 1, 8 and 4 is a clear allusion to the three letters of the word “one” (אחד) which have numerical values of 1 (א), 8 (ח) and 4 (ד), respectively. Let us use this allusion to assist us in our quest to reach a more profound dimension.

God is One

Every day, twice a day, we say the word “one” out loud with special intentions, “Hear o’ Israel, Havayah is our God, Havayah is one.”[4] When saying the word “one” we should have in mind the numerical value of each of the letters of the word in Hebrew, with the intention that the alef (א), with a numerical value of 1 alludes to the Almighty; the letter chet (ח), with a numerical value of 8, alludes to the 7 heavens together with the 1 earth; and the letter dalet (ד), with a numerical value of 4, alludes to the four spatial directions.[5] This means that we have no perception of the alef because God Himself is a singular unity, above any definition or limitation and we have no comprehension of Him whatsoever (“No thought grasps Him at all”). Nonetheless, His unity penetrates the world and is apparent in it as it descends from heaven to heaven until it reaches the earth (the letter chet) and diffuses throughout the spatial directions (the letter dalet), which is how we know Him as “King of the Universe.” Between the letter chet and the letter dalet, the greater novelty is that of the chet, which succeeds in descending and evolving from a higher world to a lower world, as opposed to the dalet, which represents diffusion on one plane (the difference between two-dimensions and three-dimensions).

Now let’s get back to clothing. Our clothes are our ability to appear outside. However, during this appearance, there is a danger that our clothes might betray us. Indeed, the letters of the word “betray” (בָּגָד) are identical to the letters of the word “garment” (בֶּגֶד) and the sages make this connection in their explanation of the phrase, “The scent of his garments―the scent of his betrayers.”[6] However, in a more positive scenario, our clothing represents our inner truth, and through the garments that we wear to cover our bodies, others can receive a distant sense of our soul, hidden deep within. Our clothing is like our PR campaign, and we need to take care that it is a genuine expression of our inner essence and does not turn into a glittering, but hollow shell.

Moses does not participate in this PR campaign. He is the last one suited to do so, because he stutters, “Of heavy mouth and heavy tongue.” We might say that he is not particularly “photogenic.” Moses clings to the Divine truth, and he knows God better than anyone else. That’s why he wears a white robe – because he integrates God’s brightest light, as He is in simple unity, above and beyond all the different colors and their shades. This is exactly like the letter alef (א) of the word “one” (אֶחָד), which alludes to God’s unity.

The four garments of the lay kohen succeed in making white light tangible and perceptible to the human eye. They wear not only one simple white robe, but a detailed outfit of white clothing that includes the belt of the lay kohen in which there is a combination of different colored threads.[7] This is the first stage of our PR campaign―like the letter dalet (ד) of the word “one” (אֶחָד), which alludes to the four spatial directions.

The eight garments of the High Priest are the climax of our campaign. Here we have a beautifully colored array, which includes a variety of shades, from the vegetable (linen), animal (wool) and mineral (gold and precious gemstones) kingdoms. They even incorporate bells that draw our attraction through our sense of hearing. Everyone is impressed and praise the High Priest, “True, how magnificent was the sight of the Kohen Gadol [High Priest]!”[8] This is the letter chet (ח) of the word “one” (אֶחָד), which successfully illustrates God’s unity within the myriad changing shades of this world.

Father and Mother

We began with the differences between men and women regarding clothing. Indeed, we can perceive Moses and Aaron as “father” and “mother” figures. The father wears a white robe, “A clean and good-looking” garment, while the mother wears layers of beautiful garments (like the three layers of Aaron’s clothing: a tunic, above which is a coat, above which are the apron and the breastplate.) The father represents the abstract essence, the unity that precedes multiplicity, so he suffices with one simple, modest garment, without jewelry or flair. By contrast, the mother knows how to work well with the myriad shades of reality, which is why her wardrobe holds far more than her husband’s shelf; one dress for today and another one for tomorrow, in a variety of colors and styles.

The Tabernacle and the Temple are a home, and the home is run by the woman, the housewife. This is the task of the kohanim, above all Aaron the High Priest runs the show―like a devoted mother who takes care of the cooking, the laundry and the cleaning. Moses, on the other hand, does not regularly serve in the Tabernacle, he concerns himself with Torah study and he comes into the Tabernacle to hear God’s word, the Torah. When he nonetheless has a task to do, as in the seven days of “filling-in,” he retains his loyalty to his unique task and adds nothing to his one simple garment.

Truth and Peace

Here is what the sages have to say about the difference between Moses and Aaron:[9]

Moses would say that justice must prevail. But Aaron loved peace and pursued peace and promoted peace between man and his fellowman, as it says, “True teaching was in his mouth, and injustice was not found on his lips. In peace and equity he went with Me, and he brought back many from iniquity.”

Truth makes no compromise; it therefore suits a man of truth to wear a white robe, as if he sees everything in black or white, with no shades of grey in between. But, truth alone cannot succeed in creating positive communication between people in our world, which is why together with the man of truth there needs to be a man of peace who is suited to wear beautiful, colorful clothing. That is why Aaron carries the names of all the tribes on his shoulders and upon his heart, because he promotes peace amongst them.

A man of peace is prepared to make a detour from the absolute truth for peace’s sake, since, “It is permitted [and even a mitzvah] to modify [one’s words] for peace.” But, Moses states the unprejudiced truth without embellishments:

Moses would verbally rebuke them, but Aaron never told a man ‘you acted corruptly’ or a woman, ‘you acted corruptly’… Two people who were in dispute went to Aaron. He sat with one of them and said to him, ‘See what your friend is saying, “My heart is in turmoil… I am pulling my hair out, how can I look up and look at my friend? I am so embarrassed that I sinned against him.”’ He would sit with him until he eliminated all the jealousy from his heart. Then he would go to the other friend and speak to him similarly, and when they met, they would hug and kiss each other.[10]

However, Aaron needs Moses by his side, to dress him and inaugurate him into his service, so that the peace he achieves represents the innermost truth, and so that his multiple garments will not “betray” him. As mentioned above, the letters of the word “garment” are the same as “betray” (בגד) and they are consecutive letters in the order of the alef-bet. But, before these three letters comes the first letter, alef (א), which is represented by Moses, as above. The alef (א) must enter the garment (בגד) as is alluded to in the verse, “And Leah said bagad (בגד)” in which the word is read as if it is two words with an additional alef (בָּא גָד), meaning that within the garment is an alef, which is reminiscent of the One and unique God who is the source of all varieties of color and clothing.

Adapted and translated from our book (in Hebrew), “Earth, Heaven and Abyss,” p. 161



[1] Hilchot Dei’ot 5:9.

[2] Deuteronomy 22:5.

[3] Maimonides, Hilchot Klei Hamikdash 10:4.

[4] Deuteronomy 6:4.

[5] Shulchan Aruch Harav 61:6.

[6] Sanhedrin 37a.

[7] Hilchot Klei Hamikdash 8:1.

[8] From the Yom Kippur prayers.

[9] Sanhedrin 6b.

[10] Yalkut Shimoni, Parashat Chukat 764.

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mikdash1

Translation not reviewed nor edited by Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh

The answer to the question in the title of this article is that it depends who you ask.

There are those who say that it is obviously us who will build the Temple, since “And they shall make Me a Temple”[1] is one of the 613 commandments of the Torah. Indeed, Maimonides rules that “It is a positive commandment to make a house for God.”[2] Just as human beings built the Tabernacle, and the First and Second Temples, so too, we want to construct the Third Temple ourselves. Of course, there are a number of preconditions that need to be met before we can build the Temple, but once they have been accomplished, it is our responsibility to perform the commandment. If there are legends that state that a miraculous Temple will descend from Heaven, and the like―they cannot be taken literally.

However, there are others who say that the Midrash and the Zohar explicitly state that the Third Temple will not be constructed by humans but it will be the Divine handiwork of God Himself, and this is what will make it unique and ascertain that it will never be destroyed. This is not merely a fictional legend but explicit statements brought by the greatest commentaries as an explanation to the Talmudic discussion of the topic.[3] So, building the Temple is not like the other mitzvot in which we do not rely on miracles. This is because everything that relates to the Temple is for the ultimate purpose of the dwelling of the Divine Presence and not just to perform the technicalities. This is why God Himself chooses to be an active partner in building His House.

Bridging the Opinions

Apparently, there is no need to settle on either one of the opinions because, quite simply, there need not be any contradiction between them. Everyone certainly agrees that from the perspective of halachah (Jewish law) it is our obligation, but the possibility exists that God will decide to do it Himself. This means that if the halachic and practical conditions are ripe to build the Temple everyone will agree that it is a mitzvah to do so, and they will also acknowledge the fact that God has entrusted the task to us. On the other hand, if the Temple is really constructed in a miraculous way, then it will become clear that God has decided to “take things into His own hands” and obviously, no-one will dare oppose it. In this case, God has decided that there is no point in waiting for us…

However, this formula for bridging between the opinions does not suffice. Because, although this is not a halachic dispute, we still need to know how to envision the Temple that we are anticipating. Looking forward to the Temple’s construction is a principle that connects with every facet of our lives, as expressed in particular in the siddur (Jewish prayer book). But what type of a Temple should we expect? Moreover, the Temple is not just an insignificant detail, but the climax of the complete redemption process, as Maimonides describes the process of the revelation of Mashiach, who will eventually build the Temple. From here, the next question is how to describe the redemption itself? Do we want the redemption to stem from our arousal to build the Temple from below, or for Divine revelation from above? Each side has its own advantages, but also a certain disadvantage.

A Human Building

It would be wonderful if we could build the Temple! And how special it would be if we could succeed in rising above all the differences of opinion and unite around one Temple for all, in a flash of creativity and in high spirits, like the Children of Israel who volunteered their donations for the construction of the Tabernacle in the wilderness.

The Tabernacle was designed and built by the artists, all under the guidance of Moses, the faithful shepherd. Or, it could be like in the times of King David, “And the people rejoiced in their donation, because they wholeheartedly volunteered for God.”[4] And even the Second Temple, “And the builders established God’s Hall… and they replied in praise and thanks to God, who is good, forever is His loving-kindness upon [the People of] Israel and all the people sounded a great blast in praise of God for the establishment of God’s House.”[5]

Nonetheless, there is a nagging doubt, because as mere mortals, we are limited by definition, and all our work is transitory, so how can God, who is infinite and unlimited, dwell within our handiwork? And how can we be certain that what we have made with our own ten fingers is truly God’s will? Indeed, we have already lived through that movie and we are well aware of what happened to the First and Second Temples in the end. What would be the essential difference between what transpired then to what will be now? We are not interested in an archeological reconstruction of the past, just as it would never occur to us to throw out all the scientific achievements and revert to the middle ages.

A Divine Building

So let’s try the second option for size. Indeed, if the Temple would appear as a crystal clear Divine revelation, all our doubts would disappear and everything would become as clear as day. Just like the miracles of the Exodus chased away every shadow of doubt and brought with them the light of definite faith. We don’t know exactly how the Temple will be built when it is “Made of its own accord by the hands of Heaven” (as the Midrash phrases it), but it is easy to understand that in this case, the dwelling of the Divine Presence would not be limited by our finite, mortal standards. God would choose how He wants to appear, while we would stand in awe and be nullified by His Divine revelation, as in the description of the fire that descended in the Tabernacle and in the Temple.

However, this advantage is also a disadvantage. Because, if everything is so Divine and sublime, where is our place in it all? God does not need to build a house by Himself for Himself. The goal is that the Divine Presence dwell amongst us, as the verse is interpreted, “‘And they shall make a sanctuary for Me and I will dwell amongst them’; It does not say ‘within it’ (בּתוֹכוֹ) but ‘amongst them’ (בּתוֹכָם), i.e., within each and every Jewish individual.”[6] But if we are only spectators to a sublime audio-visual production, would it change anything inside us, or would it only shine a great light on our souls from outside, without the soul participating in the process? The next question is what will happen once we become accustomed to the great light and no longer see anything new about it? Will we then fall from our lofty spiritual level, as the Children of Israel fell into the sin of the Golden Calf after the great lights they saw at the Revelation at Mt. Sinai?

Is there a third option that includes and truly merges the other two possibilities?

Three Types of Consciousness

Yes, there is a third possibility, but in order to reach it we must open a window to view our entire relationship with God.

A fundamental rule of Kabbalah and Chassidut states that every process must pass through three key developmental stages: “pregnancy,” “nursing” and “intellect.” So too in our perception of a. the world at large, b. the “other” who we confront and c. the Almighty, appears in three major setups, or three different types of consciousness.

The fetus in its mother’s womb is not aware of any other being who it can manage a relationship with. Its world is everything for it; it literally lives in the belief that “There is none other beside him.” He is stable and absolutely calm without any changes or events. Even as adults, we can live in this state of consciousness regarding God in the belief that this world is firm, stable ground, nurtured by the womb of mother nature with everything working like clockwork according to the laws of nature and science. And where does God come into the picture? In the worst case, His existence is completely suppressed or He is related to as a distant “Super Power” who we have no contact with (like a distant father who cannot interfere with what goes on inside the womb). But, even believing people can live in such a state of consciousness, when they accept the stability of the natural world and its laws as their standard, and God’s appearance and miracles as something extraordinary when it is imperative to the situation.

The consciousness of “nursing” is the opposite. After having been hurled into a threatening world in which I am no longer alone, “I” form a relationship with “you.” A relationship such as this gives rise to a profusion of emotions, whether they be love and attraction, or repulsion and hatred. In an adult, the “nursing” consciousness is expressed by not looking for safe, stable ground that appears boring and bland, but change, newness and a nostalgic yearning for something beyond. Someone like this might be an artist with a tumultuous soul, who abhors routine and is drawn to the unique and the transient (as opposed to the previous type who might be suited to be a cool-headed scientist). With regards to God, this consciousness is one of dependence and need, and a constant dialogue that searches for the revelation that lies beyond the screen of the natural world. Such an individual thrives on the miraculous and the sublime and expects to see the signs that God distributes along our way in His Divine Providence. At this level, the miraculous plays the key role and nature is its stage.

But, above the “nursing” stage is the consciousness of “intellect,” which is the fully developed consciousness of maturity. In the “nursing” stage there was a great sense of dependence on the other, like an infant who is never far from his mother’s breast. This is a state of immaturity in which one is in need of constant support. But, an adult individual stands on his own two feet and controls his own life. If he is not stupid, he knows very well that there are other people around him but he has a healthy relationship with them in which “I am I” and “you are you” and we can nonetheless identify with one another and reflect one another. A nursing infant cannot leave home, because without a direct connection with their parents, they’re lost. But, an adult has confidence in himself and he also knows that wherever he goes, his parents are with him. This is how it is with reference to God, too. In a state of “nursing,” one feels their existence as separate from God, therefore one needs an “artificial soul”; i.e., Divine revelation that vitalizes him. However, now I understand that God created me with my own separate consciousness and through it specifically I can reveal Him. In truth, everything I do is from Him, because my soul is a spark of Him, “Literally a part of God above.”[7]

The Deeds of the Righteous

Let’s get back to the construction of the Temple. So far we have seen two separate methods, either we build the Temple, or God builds it. But, the Talmud[8] unites these two possibilities in a surprising way:

Bar Kapara taught, greater are the deeds of the righteous than the work of heaven and earth, for regarding the work of heaven and earth it states, “Even My hand has founded the earth and My right [hand] has nurtured heaven,”[9] while regarding the work of the hands of the righteous it states, “Your habitation, You have made, Havayah; the sanctuary of Adni, Your hands have founded.”[10]

The latter verse is from the song that the Children of Israel sang after the splitting of the Red Sea. There, “hands” is in the plural, referring to two hands, while with reference to the creation of heaven and earth, the verse states, “My hand… My right [hand],” referring only to one hand. From here the Talmud learns that the works of the hands of the righteous, i.e., the Temple, is greater and more significant than God’s workings of creation. Yet, how can the Talmud state that the Temple is the work of the righteous, while bringing proof from a verse that explicitly states that God’s “hands” built the Temple?!

The Talmud understands that the Temple is simultaneously the work of God’s hands and the work of the hands of the righteous. The righteous build the Temple with their own hands and this act itself is considered as if the Almighty had built the Temple, “Your hands have founded” via the righteous.

The explanation for this is buried within the “intellect” level of consciousness, as explained above:

While in a “pregnant” state, there is total differentiation between God and man, as expressed in the verse, “The heavens are heavens for God and the earth He gave to humankind.”[11] So, if a Temple will be built, it is all our own work. How can it be that in our realistic world there will be crude interference in the form of a miracle? This approach does offer us the human act, but we are left within our own limits of flesh and blood and a drop of intelligence.

In a state of “nursing” consciousness, we turn to God and wait for Him to relate to reality, without which we are lost an abandoned. However, even in this case, it is not possible to integrate all of the possibilities so, either we do it, or God does it. From this perspective, we hope for a miraculous appearance in building the Temple, something that will break through the limits of nature and announce the dwelling of God’s Presence in the Temple. We have left space for God Himself, when He comes to dwell among us, without taking our human limitations into consideration, however we have not yet reached a complete union, because it is as if we are left out of the picture.

However, if we rise to the consciousness of “intellect” we stand as an independent individual who is nonetheless completely annulled to God’s will, so much so that he even represents it, as if he is His long arm. In this way, God’s domain and the domain of mankind are united―man acts and does what he can, but since he is a “servant of God” all his acts are considered as if they are acts of God. The truly righteous individuals are those who live in this state of perfect consciousness, like Moses who established the Tabernacle, or like King David, who yearned to build the Temple and like Mashiach (of David’s lineage), who has the responsibility to build the Third Temple. However, “all Your people are righteous,”[12] therefore we can all unite to rule that we should build the Temple. Even so, it will be our own handiwork and the Divine Presence will penetrate not only the entire material plane, but also and mainly, it will manifest within our souls, because the handiwork of the righteous is the work of God’s hands.

An excerpt from the article (in Hebrew) entitled “Who will build the Third Temple?” in our book Malchut Yisrael, Part 3



[1] Exodus 25:8.

[2] Hilchot Beit Habechirah 1:1.

[3] Rashi, Tosfot and Chidushei Haritba on Sukah 41a.

[4] I Chronicles 29:9.

[5] Ezra 3:10-11.

[6] See Reishit Chochmah, Sha’ar Ha’ahavah ch. 6 et al.

[7] Tanya ch. 2.

[8] Ketubot 5a.

[9] Isaiah 48:13.

[10] Exodus 15:17.

[11] Psalms 115:16.

[12] Isaiah 60:21.

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Halachah and Kabbalah

misphat

 

The Individual and the Collective

There is a misconception that the Torah deals only with the four-cubits of the individual and his direct relationship with those around him, but that it has no say in the public arena (i.e., social, governmental, or political systems). From here, the mistaken belief that one should “be a Jew at home and a gentile outside” results, and if a Jewish rabbi rules on a matter of public importance, he is harassed by those who complain that he should never state his opinion. However, those who criticize the rabbi have no idea what the Torah is, and in their ignorance, they compare it to other religions in which there is a definitive distinction made between “religion” and “politics.” Just as the Torah guides the individual in his home and family life, so too it guides the entire Jewish people and shapes Jewish life in the public arena. In fact, to a certain extent, the Torah’s foremost concern is the public arena, and it reverts to the minutiae of our personal lives only once the community has been rectified.

Moreover, the Torah does not only offer advice, but it makes rules and demands. The correct mental attitude towards it is one of unwavering obligation to observe what is written in it, as the Children of Israel proclaimed at the foot of Mt. Sinai, in the declaration that still echoes in our psyches to this day, “We will do, and we will listen!” Even though there are still Jews today who do not yet assert this openly, since God gives the Torah to us every day anew, and the Torah’s verses are knocking at our doors right now, asking us to let them in. This is why any rabbi who does not express the Torah’s standpoint and halachic (Jewish law) rulings on current public events, is misappropriating his role.

Halachah and Kabbalah

How do we discover the Torah’s perspective on various issues that we encounter in reality? Quite simply, we approach the subject as it appears in halachah, following the conventional halachic method. By “translating” the fundamental principles into relevant, applicable halachah, we produce the relevant decisions to the subject at hand. In hilchot Shabbat, for example, extensive Torah study was required to rule whether using electricity on Shabbat is permitted or prohibited; so too, extensive research is required to reach conclusions regarding the Torah’s ruling on public concerns.

But that’s not enough. Sometimes halachah seems to be on a collision course with reality. Halachah is dry and decisive, telling us “do this” and “don’t do that.” However, reality is apparently no less stubborn. We find ourselves caught between the Torah’s uncompromising ruling and the world at large, which doesn’t really take an interest in what the Torah has to say. Even if we decide to stubbornly stand our course, knocking our heads against a brick wall, as it were, we still lack an inner integration that totally identifies with the halachic ruling, which appears to “attack” reality’s mundane perception of the situation. But, if the Torah’s standpoint is challenging even to those who promote it, how can we expect to convince other Jews to accept it?

In order to find a solution, we are compelled to reach the rich and thriving world of the Torah’s inner dimension. Behind every halachic ruling (and certainly behind every complete system of halachot), hide myriad dimensions, which the mysteries of the Torah’s hidden wisdom reveal. This inner wisdom reveals God’s countenance that is behind the Torah, i.e., the Giver of the Torah Himself. Thus we reveal that halachah is not merely a heavy tome of laws but an expression of life (“eternal life You planted in us”). Incorporating the inner dimension of the Torah into our everyday lives of halachah can be compared to the wondrous biological systems of our body, which enable life to materialize through it. So too, the Torah’s inner dimension helps organize our halachic approach by weaving a complete, orderly system from a variety of different opinions. Kabbalah breathes life into the dry bones of halachah, making its details come to life by revealing how the different opinions each represent one facet of a complete unit.

The moment the world of halachah joins the inner dimension of faith, which is also reflected in our souls, it no longer appears ominous, but begins to be joyful and illuminating, vibrant and attractive, and we automatically resonate with it and desire to act by it. Similarly, we gain the ability to influence others and break through these boundaries.

This is how the wisdom of Kabbalah serves as an appropriate bridge between the world of halachah and observing it in practice, bringing these two parallel worlds together. It also softens the bluntness initially associated with halachah and simultaneously softens the stubbornness of reality, oiling the systems and preventing friction between them. Indeed, wisdom in general, and the wisdom of the mysteries of Kabbalah in particular, are compared to oil.

An excerpt from the article (in Hebrew) entitled “Reality, Halachah and Kabbalah?” in our book Malchut Yisrael

rebbetzin

The 22nd of Shevat marks the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, devoted wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. What follows in an excerpt from a class given on the 22nd of Shevat 5757 to women in Rechovot.

The Purpose of Creation

The account of creation commences with the words, “In the beginning God created,” and the final verse of creation concludes with the words, “That God created to do.”[1]

The sages explain that “God created to do” means that when God created the universe, He gave the souls of the Jewish People―His human messengers on earth―the responsibility of completing creation through their deeds. By rectifying creation in this way, the Jewish soul consummates God’s initial creation. Thus, the closing statement of creation, “That God created to do” is infused with great significance; the ultimate purpose of creation. This is especially relevant to the function of the Jewish woman, as we shall see.

In Kabbalah, the woman represents the sefirah of kingdom, which is the final stage that assimilates all the energies from the sefirot above it, thus integrating the Divine influx into the lower realms and ultimately reflecting it all back up to the Creator. Thus, the sefirah of kingdom, the definitive feminine principle in Kabbalah, as with the concluding words in the account of creation, is also identified with the final purpose of creation.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Divine Name that appears exclusively throughout the first account of creation is the Name related to nature,[2] Elokim, while God’s Essential Name, Havayah, does not appear there explicitly at all. Nonetheless, there are several words in this account that have numerical values that are multiples of 26, the numerical value of Havayah (הוי’).[3] The most significant word that is a multiple of this number is the final word, “to do” (לַעֲשׂוֹת), which has a numerical value of 806, which equals 31 times 26. Now 31 is the numerical value of another one of God’s Appellations, pronounced Kel (אֿל).[4] From here we see that the secret of this last word, which is infused with the final purpose that God intended to complete and consummate creation, is the product of these two Names, Kel and Havayah.[5]

Constructing Rachel’s Persona

Indeed, in Kabbalah we find another allusion to the numerical value of “to do” and its secret meaning to the ultimate rectification of creation. This is because 806 is also the numerical value of a very significant Kabbalistic idiom, “Constructing Rachel’s persona” (בִּנְיָן פַּרְצוּף רָחֵל). This phrase refers to the most general feminine figure in the Torah, our Matriarch, Rachel. Since Rachel represents the entire Jewish People, completing her construction is the ultimate stage of the redemption process. “Constructing Rachel’s persona” is also often referred to as “constructing the [sefirah of] kingdom,” which, as mentioned above, is also a feminine concept in Kabbalah.

The Torah describes the creation of Eve, the first woman, with the words, “And He [God] constructed the side.”[6] The Talmud[7] learns from this verse that “additional understanding was given to a woman than to a man,” because the word “And He constructed” (וַיִבֶן) shares the same root with “understanding” (בִּינָה). A woman is called a “house,”[8] and with her innate understanding and insight, she is the one who builds the home, as the verse states, “The wisest women, [each] builds her home.”[9] So we learn that a woman needs to be “built,” and once she is constructed it is also she who has the innate ability to build. Rachel in particular is referred to as “the mainstay of the home,”[10] a reference to the foundations of a building.

Direct Light and Reflected Light

Chassidut teaches us that God is re-creating the world at every moment. Inherent in the concept of constant re-creation is the concept of Divine Providence, because while at every moment He is recreating the substance of creation, He is also making events happen in either manifest or mysterious ways. To the extent that we are able to comprehend it, God is communicating with us through those events that relate to us. He is addressing us through them in anticipation of our response. Thus, the explanation of the phrase, “Which God created to do” is tuning into God’s creation (“Which He created”) followed by our integration of God’s communication through creation, and our subsequent correct response (“to do”). This is one example of “rectifying” reality.

God creates reality at every moment with an influx of Divine energy, which is referred to in the Torah as God “speaking” directly to reality, e.g., “Let there be light!”[11] Moreover, the Ba’al Shem Tov teaches us that not only is God constantly re-creating the substance of reality, but through His constant re-creation of the world, God is speaking to us. Everything that God does is a linguistic proverb that is asking something of us, and if we would only be able to understand God’s language and reply accordingly, creation would be rectified.

God’s speech, His kingdom, which creates and vitalizes our material world at every moment, is concealed by so many layers that it is very difficult to reveal it. In Kabbalah and Chassidut this is referred to as the “falling” of kingdom, which has been so distanced and concealed from God’s infinite light that it has no recollection of its initial state of union with the Divine, and experiences itself as a completely separate state of consciousness.[12] This is why reality does not always respond correctly to God’s messages.

An example of a proper response is in God’s command “Let there be light,” the response to which was, “And there was light,” which relates to the light that is reflected back from reality by God’s own words, as it were. “And there was light” (וַיְהִי אוֹר) has a numerical value of 238, the value of Rachel (רָחֵל), which indicates, as mentioned, that reflected light from the rectified sefirah of kingdom pertains to the construction of Rachel’s persona.

So we see that Rachel, the kingdom, is particularly related to language and speech. The ultimate “to do” is intercepting God’s words and “speaking back” to the Almighty in the correct manner[13] through our appropriate reaction to His Divine input.

The Right Place, the Right Time, the Right Response

A magnificent anecdote that beautifully illustrates the application of this principle in real life was told by Reb Chesed Halberstam, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka’s aide and driver. Once when she went shopping, they approached a traffic jam that was caused by a large van that had parked in the middle of the street, preventing the traffic from moving. Reb Chesed immediately began reversing the car to make a detour to their destination. However, as he started to back the car away, the Rebbetzin stopped him. She explained that her father, the previous Rebbe, always taught her that whenever someone is confronted by an event, especially when he is on the way, it is by Divine Providence. As the verse states, “From Havayah are the steps of man prepared and his path does He desire.”[14] When one is on a journey, one is more exposed to Divine Providence than in any other context.[15] If we have refined our eyesight then everything that God shows us is providential, and we should learn the lesson it is intended to teach us, and act on it. So, said the Rebbetzin, we can’t just leave the scene without trying to understand the message that God is trying to convey to us. They got out of the car and saw that the van was a moving van, and that furniture was being removed from a nearby apartment. When they inquired, they discovered that a family was being evacuated from their home. The Rebbetzin located the mother of the family, a Russian immigrant, who explained to her that they were being evacuated because they were unable to pay the rent. The Rebbetzin asked how much they owed and she replied that the sum was 4,000 dollars. Immediately, the Rebbetzin wrote out a check for 4,000 dollars and told the van to take the furniture back into the apartment.

The female is more receptive to Divine Providence than the male. As we can see from the above story, this is a result of her firm belief that everything is from God. She also knows better how to respond correctly to God’s messages, which in the story is responding by writing and giving the check. This is the meaning of “To do” that we explained above, the last word of the creation account. By her correct response of writing out the check and giving it to the needy family, the Rebbetzin took the somethingness of creation (the painful evacuation of a family from their home), and returned it to a revelation of Divine nothingness (an act of loving-kindness that revealed the Godliness of creation).[16]

When we are receptive to God’s Divine Providence in this way, every scene is revealed as a Divine conversation between God and His creation. This conversation is consummated through our correct approach to the circumstances through our good deeds.



[1]     Genesis 2:3. “To do” (לַעֲשׂוֹת) also means “to rectify.”

[2]     The numerical value of the Name “Elokim” (א־לֹהִים) is equal to the numerical value of “nature” (הטבע).

[3]     The Tikunei Zohar explains that the secrets of the first word of creation, “In the beginning” (בְּרֵאשִׁית), allude to the purpose of creation. Similarly, the concluding word of this story, “To do” (לַעֲשׂוֹת) is also clearly related to the purpose of creation, referring to the fact that God created the world for us to rectify it.

[4]     Havayah corresponds to the sefirah of beauty, relating in particular to Divine compassion; Kel corresponds to the sefirah of loving-kindness. For more on the different Names of God and their significances, see What You Need to Know About Kabbalah, Part III.

[5]     These two Names of God appear in juxtaposition in only one verse in the entire Torah, “Kel Havayah and He will illuminate us” (אֿל הוי’ וַיָּאֶר לָנוּ); Psalms 118:27. When he first mentioned the phrase “Mashiach Now!” the Rebbe explained that when he said “Now!” he envisioned the word written in Hebrew letters (נאו). This spelling has a numerical value of 57, which is the sum of the values of these two Names, Kel (31) and Havayah (26) and this was the Rebbe’s intention when he said “Now!” When these two Names are united, then Mashiach, the ultimate purpose of creation, appears “Now.”

[6]     Genesis 2:22.

[7]     Niddah 45b.

[8]     Shabbat 118b; Gitin 52a.

[9]     Proverbs 14:1.

[10]    “Mainstay” (עֲקֶרֶת) is conjugate to “barren” (עֲקָרָה), a word which is used in the Torah in relation to Rachel in particular (see Genesis 29:31). Moreover, the Rebbe would profusely use the phrase, “Action is the imperative” (הַמַעֲשֶׂה הוּא הָעִיקָר), where “imperative” (עִיקָר) also has the same root, and “Action” (מַעֲשֶׂה) is the same root as “To do” (לַעֲשׂוֹת).

[11]    In Kabbalistic terminology, the influx of Divine energy is called, “Direct light” (אוֹר יָשָׁר), and our reaction to it is “returning light” (אוֹר חוֹזֵר).

[12]    See our book in Hebrew, Inyan Hatefillah Ve’hahitbonenut, p. 32.

[13]    We see how this is achieved in the midrash which describes Rachel’s words to God, which He accepts and says, “Withhold your eyes from tears” etc. See, Eichah Rabah, introduction 24.

[14]    Psalms 37:23.

[15]    Elsewhere, it is explained that while in general we are in contact with the three lower levels of the soul (the nefesh, ruach and neshamah), while travelling one is more connected to the second highest level of the soul, “The Living Soul” (חַיָּה).

[16]    This is similar to the teaching of the Magid, the Ba’al Shem Tov’s successor, that God is re-creating the world from nothing at every second and simultaneously, through the mitzvot that they do, the tzadikim are returning God’s creation to nothing by recognizing and acknowledging that phenomenon of constant re-creation. In this way they manifest and reveal God’s “nothingness” in the apparent somethingness of creation.

holding hands

Why do we need to honor our parents?

You might ask, what is the question? Who knows what’s good for a child better than their parents? But it’s no so straightforward. The commandment to “Honor your father and your mother” is not directed at a young child, but to an adult who is obligated to keep the mitzvot. Perhaps there are those who believe (mostly children…) that the commandment to respect your parents ends with the bar-mitzvah celebration, but in truth, it is the opposite.

Let’s imagine, for example, a middle-aged individual who has a family of his own, and might even be more astute than his aged parents―they are worldly and sophisticated, but his parents belong to the old school. Nonetheless, even in such a case, one must always respect parents. We must take care of our parents as they grow older, address them respectfully, never calling them by their first names, etc., etc. This is a particularly relevant situation in our day and age when many ba’alei teshuvah (returneees to God and His Torah) have rebelled against their parents approach to life, yet nonetheless, respect them.

True, honoring one’s parents is an accepted social norm in almost every human society, and the sages even offer one example of a non-Jew who behaved respectfully towards his father (Damah ben Netinah[1]). Nonetheless, since this practice has been permanently sealed as a mitzvah―in the Ten Commandments, no less―we can study the reasons for the mitzvah and delve into its depths.

First, let’s note the location of the mitzvah. The Ten Commandments are clearly divided into two halves, the first five commandments, written on the right hand tablet of the Tablets of the Covenant, and the second five, on the left side. The first five commandments deal mainly with commandments between man and God, such as belief in God, “I am Havayah your God”; the prohibition against idolatry, “You shall have no gods besides Me; Shabbat, “Remember the Shabbat day.” The five second commandments are devoted to commandments between man and his fellowman: “Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not falsely testify against your fellowman. Do not covet…”

Yet, the commandment to honor one’s parents appears at the end of the first five commandments, which implies that it belongs to the commandments between man and God! On the other hand, the fact that it concludes the commandments between man and God alludes to the fact that this commandment serves as a transition between these commandments and the commandments that relate to man and his fellowman.

Gratitude

Let’s now turn to the greatest commentators to reveal a variety of ways to explain the commandment of honoring one’s parents. Here is what Sefer Hachinuch has to say:[2]

The roots of the mitzvah are that one should acknowledge and do acts of kindness for one who does him a favor, and he should not be an ungrateful, neglectful villain, which is an extremely evil and despicable trait before God and mankind. He should pay attention to the fact that his parents are the cause of his existence in the world, therefore it is truly essential for him to do everything in his power to respect them in every way, because they brought him into the world and they exerted themselves in various efforts when he was a child.

Simply put, a good person is one who knows how to be appreciative of the kindnesses that people do for him, and not ungrateful. Since there is no kindness greater than that which parents have granted their children, honoring one’s parents is simply a matter of good human relations. However, the Chinuch continues:

Once he has established this trait in his psyche, he may elevate it to realize the Almighty’s kindness, for He is his cause and the cause of his forefathers back to the first man, Adam. He has brought him into the world and supplied him with his needs his entire life and structured his composition and perfected his limbs, and has given him an intellectual, understanding soul. And if God had not graced him with his soul he would be like a horse, a mule that does not understand. And he should meditate upon how very much he should be careful in His service.

The essence of this teaching is that someone who is grateful towards his parents will know how to be grateful towards his Creator.

Indeed, although gratitude is the basis of all good human relationships, there is something unique in the gratitude expressed by honoring one’s parents. Whereas regular gratitude might be perceived on a fundamental give-and-take level of relationship whereby if I express gratitude for the kindnesses people do for me, then others will relate to me accordingly. This implies that in fact the person only has their own best interests at heart, and would gladly relinquish the tedious obligation to express thanks every time someone does him a favor. By contrast, honoring one’s parents is a far more correct and suitable type of gratitude―it’s good to live with a sense of reliance and dependency and to express our gratitude to those to whom we will always be indebted, even when they no longer have the power to help us. Therefore, this mitzvah is a custom built bridge that connects between human relationships and the relationship between man and God. It is good to feel dependent on God, to thank Him at every moment for the gift of life that He grants us in His loving-kindness, and obviously, to perform His will and His commandments.

Tradition! Tradition!

Rabbi Isaac Abarbanel finds another reason for the commandment of honoring one’s parents:

The foundation of this mitzvah is so that the parents’ conveyance should be important in an individual’s mind and he should believe in it and rely on it. And since the power of this commandment to believe in the conveyance of one’s predecessors―which is an all-inclusive principle in the Torah and no reality can be imagined without it―therefore this commandment is included in the five Divine commandments on the first tablet, and is not one of the humanitarian commandments that are on the second tablet.

In simple words, the Torah is founded on “conveyance” (קַבָּלָה), i.e., “tradition.” Without a living tradition that transmits the Torah from generation to generation, we would not observe the Torah, nor would we believe in it. This tradition is transmitted via our parents and respecting our parents means respecting their heritage. This is how Abarbanel explains why this mitzvah is written on the first five “Divine” commandments, which deal with the relationship between man and God, and not in the second, “humanitarian” commandments, which deal with regular human relationships.

Does this opinion hold that honoring one’s parents is only a commandment between man and God? Taking a more detailed look, we see that it is an “intermediary” between human relationships and man’s relationship with God. This is because the commandment to honor the conveyer of tradition did not appear from nowhere, but developed, as it were, from the correct human relationships which are supposed to exist in every human society. After all, our Jewish parents don’t only transmit folklores, but provide the child with a fundamental value system. Moreover, our parents were the first to bring us into contact with the concept of authority – therefore any good social system must be built on the foundation of a sense of respect towards one’s parents as representatives of heritage, authority and hierarchy. One might say that this is the meaning of, “Good manners preceded the Torah”[3]; initially, respecting one’s parents was “good manners,” but now, since the revelation of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, parents are the bearers of our special Jewish heritage, the heritage of the Torah, “Moses commanded us the Torah, a heritage for the congregation of Jacob.”[4] Therefore, our respect for them should be more sophisticated.

Our First Father and our Last Father

In his commentary on the Torah, Nachmanides reveals an even deeper level to this mitzvah:

This [mitzvah] completes everything that we are obliged in the words of the Creator in and of His own honor, and it now continues to command us regarding the creations and it begins with the father, who for his offspring is like the Creator who participates in his formation; for God is our first Father and our parent is our last father… as I have commanded you in My honor, so I command you to honor the one who is a partner with Me in your formation.

Nachmanides’ interpretation implies that the parents themselves serve as an intermediary between the Creator and His creations. “There are three partners in the creation of a child—the Almighty, father, and mother.”[5] The parents supply the physical body while God supplies the soul. Yet, despite this division of realms, the body hosts the soul, and the Almighty does the incredible feat of connecting the two.[6] This is why even the parents’ role in the partnership also represents the Divine part. If one contemplates only oneself, then life appears to be obvious. It’s quite clear to me that I exist. But if we broaden our scope to include our parents, who brought us into the world, we can sense the incredible wonder of our life as something that was created from the Divine nothingness. In addition, we also realize that our beloved parents are our “last father” in the chain that is headed by our “first Father,” the Creator Himself.

Three Connections in Honoring One’s Parents

We have seen three different explanations of the mitzvah to honor one’s parents. If we were examining this in a detached, rational way, we might suffice with that. Indeed, a so-called “objective” researcher, loves finding differences of opinion and presenting a variety of approaches.

But, learning Torah cannot conclude there, because it is a “living Torah” with which we identify and which we observe. So, what does one do when the same mitzvah has a number of different reasons? Which do we take home to work with?

One might say that everyone should choose whichever explanation he finds easiest to integrate. Some feel that they belong to the school of the Sefer Hachinuch, others might go to study at Abarbanel’s yeshivah, while others will stoop beneath the broad shade of Nachmanides’ umbrella. However, a deeper approach is to inter-include all the different interpretations to form a mosaic that connects them all into one complete tapestry. The latter approach is that of the Torah’s inner dimension, the ability to incorporate different (or even opposing) ideas into one scheme.

In our current context, we will use two familiar “triplets” that correspond to the three explanations that we have learnt. One well-known idea from the Zohar states, “There are three connections, the Jewish People, the Torah and the Almighty. The Jewish People connect to the Torah and the Torah connects with the Almighty.”[7] This triplet is woven into our entire world―there can be no Torah without God, there is no Torah without the Jewish People, and for the Jewish People, life without the Torah is not a life.

Now we can see that the Sefer Chinuch emphasizes the “Jewish” aspect of the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents―for us, our parents are the most significant Jews who we come into contact with. Abarbanel’s interpretation deals with the Torah’s perspective, as it were―it is thanks to our parents that we receive the Torah’s heritage. Nachmanides’ interpretation deals with God’s angle―our parents are the rope that connects us with God, our first Father.

Looking at the mitzvah in this way allows us to accept all three interpretations at once, without forgoing any of them! In fact, combining all three in this way completes the whole picture. Nonetheless, even after each explanation has its place within the whole picture, it may certainly be that each individual still chooses the one example that appeals to him most, each according to his way and to his soul-root (as in “Educate a youth according to his way”).[8]

My Sweet Parents

The second triplet that comes to our aid are the three basic terms that the Ba’al Shem Tov introduced, which have become a basic tenet of Chassidut (even though they were relatively unknown until relatively recently). According to the Ba’al Shem Tov every proper process in God’s service is comprised of three basic stages, submission, separation and sweetening.[9] Our context supplies a ready explanation for these three concepts:

We begin with a sense of submission. The first words a Jew says when he wakes up in the morning are “I thankfully acknowledge You, living and enduring King, for You have compassionately restored my soul within me.” You just opened your eyes and you are living and breathing? Don’t be ungrateful! Know how to say thank you.[10] This should also be our initial relationship with our parents: know how to thank those who brought you into the world and brought you up (as in the Sefer Hachinuch’s explanation). From this perspective, honoring our parents educates us not to be egoistic and arrogant, but to recognize the fact that we are dependent and reliant.

Having initially submitted ourselves in this way, we now come to the stage of separation. Once I am prepared to surrender myself to God, with an initial sense of the fact that I am inconsequential and that I have a lot to rectify―I begin to distinguish more and more between good and evil, and to identify which path should be avoided and which to adopt. This is how it is with honoring one’s parents: we realize that our parents are the ones who gave us our first value system to distinguish between good and evil—prohibited and permitted, truth and falsehood—and through them I receive my Jewish heritage (as Abarbanel explains); the tradition of the Chosen People who God gave the Torah to.

Once we have gone through the stages of submission and separation, we can move on to the sweetening stage. In our service of God, after toiling to separate the bad parts of myself, and to identify with the good parts, I eventually begin to see how they all give rise to something good and how everything has a positive side that eventually sweetens reality. With regards to our parents: beyond the all-important sense of gratitude towards them, and beyond the unrelinquishable chain of tradition that they transmitted to me, I look straight at my parents and realize that as they are, for me they are God’s representatives on earth (as Nachmanides explains).

Then we realize that God is our Father (and to a certain extent, even our Mother[11]) and not for naught did He create us by means of our two parents via who we get our first glimpse of the world. God chose to reveal Himself to us as a “Father” figure, and as such, my own father means everything to me. My “final Father” who brought me into the world reflects my “First Father”; everyone’s sweet Father in Heaven.


[1] Kidushin 31b.

[2] Mitzvah 33.

[3] See Vayikra Rabah 9:3.

[4] Deuteronomy 33:4.

[5] Niddah 31a.

[6] See the Rama’s note on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 6:1.

[7] Zohar Vayikra 73a.

[8] Proverbs 22:6. The complete verse reads, “Educate a youth according to his way and even when he grows old he will not budge from it.” In our context we can interpret this to mean that initially, one follows the way that best suits the youth, one of the many possible paths of the Torah that he might choose. Later, when he has grown older and wiser, he can realize the interinclusion of all the different possible paths. Yet, even at this stage of life, he will not budge from his original approach because he still has a penchant for it because it is something that belongs to his soul-root.

[9] Keter Shem Tov 28. For an expansion on this subject, see our book, Transforming Darkness into Light.

[10]  The initial letters of “Know how to say thank you” (דַּע לוֹמַר תּוֹדָה) spell out the name of the letter dalet (דַּלֶת), which alludes to lowliness (דַּלוּת).

[11] For example in the verse, “As a man whose mother comforts him, so I will comfort you” (Isaiah 66:13).

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tzadik featured

According to Kabbalah, every month in the Hebrew calendar was created by means of one of the letters of the alef-bet. Here, we delve into the mysteries of the letter tzadik, which is the source of the month of Shevat.

Can anyone become a tzadik (righteous individual)?

On the one hand, “tzadik” is a title given to very unique individuals. A tzadik is someone who has completely overcome his evil inclination, so much so that he has totally released himself from its clutches, and all that interests him is what is good and pleasant, “The desire of the righteous is only good.”[1] Becoming completely righteous is a Divine gift,[2] indeed, the sages state that the righteous are few, “God saw that the righteous were in the minority and He planted them in each generation.”[3]

On the other hand, there is a famous verse that states, “Your people are all righteous, they will inherit the land eternally.”[4] Even if this is referring to a vision of the future, nonetheless, we are gradually approaching it, and we can realize that inside every Jewish individual is a potential tzadik. Maybe some of our readers feel somewhat uncomfortable with this thought, because they presume that being righteous means no longer taking pleasure in the joys of life. However, stay calm – it’s not such a terrible thing to be righteous… Quite the contrary, a tzadik knows best of all how to enjoy life to the fullest and get full satisfaction from his efforts.

How Does a Tzadik Eat?

This month we are all invited to follow in the footsteps of tzadikim by revealing our own inner point of righteousness, because the month of Shevat was created with the letter tzadik (צ), whose very name alludes to a righteous individual. Of all the twelve senses of the soul, the month of Shevat corresponds to the sense of taste, or refined eating habits. So let’s focus on how a tzadik eats, which in practice relates to how each and every one of us should eat.

Our first insight here is that a tzadik does eat, and does so unashamedly. The Torah does not command us to fast, nor to afflict ourselves in any way. The only time in the year when we are commanded to fast is on Yom Kippur (the other fasts relate to the destruction of the Temple and once it is rebuilt they will transform into days of joy and the fasts will become festivals). On every other day of the year we have many commandments that relate to food: on Shabbat and festivals it is a mitzvah to eat, and even on regular weekdays there are an abundance of reasons why we serve a “mitzvah feast” (סְעוּדַת מִצְוָה), such as at a wedding or a bar mitzvah, etc… And, of course, before and after we eat we say a blessing every time.

The most significant day of the month of Shevat is Tu Bishvat, the fifteenth of Shevat,[5] which is the New Year for Trees, and although there is no explicit commandment to eat on this day, who doesn’t sweeten the bitter cold of winter by observing the custom to eat fruit on Tu Bishvat?[6]

According to Judaism, there is no particular holiness in excessive abstention from the material world. Our aim is to make use of the world correctly by moderate contact with materiality through which we do not drown in our natural instincts but elevate and sanctify them. The true test is not whether one fasts or eats; the question is whether one eats like an animal, or like a human-being. Does food control you and pull you down to it, or do you control it and elevate it towards you? Instead of being enslaved to food, constantly flooding the taste buds and loading the poor stomach with more food, a tzadik is in full control and feeds his body in exactly the right measure. This is why, “A tzadik eats to sate his soul; but the stomach of the wicked wants more.”[7] Unrefined spiritual taste buds cannot truly enjoy food, because they constantly desire to consume more and more. By contrast, a tzadik, who neither starves himself nor eats crudely, can take pleasure in good food, thankfully blessing God “for eating the food with which You nourish us and constantly provide for us, every day and at all times and every moment.”[8]

Soul over Body

Let’s delve a little deeper into the form of the letter tzadik (צ), which we mentioned above is the letter that corresponds to the month of Shevat. The exact way that the scribes write it in a Torah scroll, tefilin (phylacteries), or a mezuzah (parchment attached to doorpost) is a bent-over nun (נ) with a yud (י) above it to the right. However, there are two methods of writing the yud (י) that is part of the tzadik (צ): some write it like a regular yud (י), in which case it turns to the back of the nun (נ) “looking” at it from above, like so:

tzadik

Others write it as a backwards yud, turning to the right with its back to the nun (נ), like so: [9]

tzadik reverse

The letters yud and nun correspond respectively to the soul and the body: the letter yud is the opening letter of the Essential Name, Havayah, and its form is like a concentrated point, which represents the light of the soul before it enters the vessel of the body. The nun is one of the seven letters that “fall” from the root of a word, and it is also the initial letter of the word “fall.” Like a body without life-force flowing through it from the soul, the nun is constantly falling. Each of us has a body and a soul, and we need to put our soul in control over our body. The tzadik is the one who successfully completes this task, like Joseph who overcame his strong physical inclination and listened to his soul. To be sure, this is the symbolic meaning of the letter tzadik in which the letter yud “rides” upon the letter nun and directs it.

The initials of “mind” (מֹחַ), “heart” (לֵב), “liver” (כָּבֵד) allude to the word “king” (מֶלֶךְ), meaning that when the mind, the seat of the soul, controls the heart and the liver, the individual becomes a “king.” The word “king” (מֶלֶךְ) has a numerical value of 90, which is also the value of the letter tzadik (צ). This teaches that within himself, the soul of the tzadik is like a king who rules over his physical body (which means that he is suited to rule over others too).[9]

The Body Assists the Soul

After the soul takes hold of the reins to control the body, what type of relationship can we expect it to have with the body when the tzadik needs to eat and take care of his other physical needs?

There are two different approaches to this question: one approach states that, “All your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven.”[10] At every meal, even when it is not a Shabbat, a festival, or a mitzvah-feast, we should not just be eating for the sake of eating, except as an act by which the body contributes its part in assisting the soul to do good deeds “for the sake of Heaven.” Eat well, sleep well, be healthy, work for your living, rest and take a stroll―all as a means to a positive end. This is how Maimonides, the great legislator and a great doctor in his times guided us in his codex of Jewish law regarding correct nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. He sums up the subject with the words:

One who follows medical guidance… should have the intention that his body should be whole and strong so that his soul should be unswerving in knowing God, for one cannot understand and comprehend intellectual pursuits when he is hungry and unwell… this means that one who follows this path throughout his life is constantly serving God… for his whole intention is to supply his needs so that his body will be whole in God’s service.[11]

Indeed, a healthy soul requires a healthy body. This approach is alluded to in the letter tzadik that is written with the yud looking to the right. Because, in this case the ultimate purpose is the service of the soul―the letter yud― turns upwards to know God, while the body―the letter nun―is no more than an instrument to allow the soul to advance towards its goal. This is why the “soul” turns its back on it and concentrates on the main issue at hand.

Perfect Harmony between Body and Soul

However, there is a second, higher level than this, which is the approach of the genuine tzadik.

Firstly, the tzadik has succeeded in releasing himself from the identity problem that accompanies us. We all live with a type of personality disorder in which we are unable to decide whether “I” am my soul or my body. Sometimes one may be true and at other times, the other. Sometimes a regular individual just wants to gobble up everything in sight, to laze around, get annoyed and throw off any yoke of authority. But at other times the “I” wants to do good, shining deeds, like a tzadik. So we always have this question of who am “I”? By contrast, the tzadik identifies entirely with his soul, and when he says, “I,” it has only one positive, pure meaning.

Since this is so, the tzadik is exempt from the dual-personality complex that accompanies the standard relationship between body and soul. He looks at the body from the perspective of his soul and he sees it as a God-given gift. He understands that just as he must perform loving-kindnesses for others, he must also do a favor to his own body. Just as I feed my children and just as I feed my livestock or pets (who must be fed before I sit down to eat), in the same way, I feed my body and care for it. This is what is related of Hillel the Elder―a classic example of a tzadik―who before he ate would say that he was about to do a kindness for the “miserable pauper,” referring to his body (or more accurately, the lowest part of the soul that is enclothed within the body.)[12]

In this way, eating and other physical needs are not just a means by which we achieve a positive goal; rather, they are the purpose in themselves. I tend for the needs of the body that was entrusted to me, and that in itself is God’s will. Thus we not only observe the saying that “All your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven,” we also follow the precept to “Know Him in all your ways.”[13] Even as I carry out the most trivial tasks, I am aware of God and perform His will at that moment. This level is alluded to in the letter tzadik when the letter yud turns towards the letter nun―the soul compassionately looks towards the body, taking care of all its needs. Since the body in itself is lifeless “dust of the earth,”[14] Every time the soul feeds the body, it literally revives it like resuscitating a dead body.

When all is said and done, there was a good reason why we were born as human beings with a physical body, and not as Heavenly angels. It is clear that the body equips the soul with something that it is lacking. Kabbalists explain that trapped within the foods we eat are holy sparks, fragments of a special life force that cannot be found elsewhere. Only our bodies are able to release these sparks from their prison, and this is the way the soul is nourished with Divine life force. The tzadik hunts down[15] the holy spark and elevates it. In this way, every time we consume food in the correct way, the bond between body and soul is reinforced: the soul is kind to the body and the body nourishes the soul, and from the bond that is created in this way, the letter tzadik is formed. Even if we are not tzadikim (yet…), nonetheless, we can all learn from the tzadik’s behavior and begin following in his footsteps, “But the way of the righteous is like the light of dawn; shining ever brighter until the day is perfect.”

Wishing us all a good month in which we merit “to eat of its fruit and to be satisfied by its goodness.”[16]



[1] Proverbs 11:23.

[2] Tanya ch. 14.

[3] Yoma 38b.

[4] Isaiah 60:21.

[5] This year (2014) Tu Bishvat falls on the16th of January.

[6] See Magen Avraham 131:16.

[7] Proverbs 13:25.

[8] From the Blessing after Meals.

[9] See the Kuzari, beginning of 3rd article.

[10] Avot 2:12.

[11] Hilchot Dei’ot 3:3; see also Shemoneh Perakim ch. 5.

[12] Vayikra Rabah 34:3; as explained in Tanya, ch. 29.

[13] Proverbs 3:6. Although Maimonides in Hilchot Dei’ot equates “All your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven,” with, “Know Him in all your ways,” nonetheless, Chassidut explains that these are actually two different levels – as explained in our book in Hebrew, “The inner dimension” in the article relating to Parashat Tetzaveh.

[14] Genesis 2:7.

[15]  Note that the letters of the word “hunt” (צָד) are the initial letters of the word “tzadik” (צַדִיק).

[16] The blessing after eating fruit of the seven species (בְּרָכָה מֵעֵין שָׁלוֹשׁ).

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