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tzadik featured

According to Kabbalah, pills 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 (?), 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” (???????? ???????), 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 (?), 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 (?) with a yud (?) above it to the right. However, there are two methods of writing the yud (?) that is part of the tzadik (?): some write it like a regular yud (?), in which case it turns to the back of the nun (?) “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 (?), 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” (????), “heart” (???), “liver” (??????) allude to the word “king” (??????), meaning that when the mind, the seat of the soul, controls the heart and the liver, the individual becomes a “king.” The word “king” (??????) has a numerical value of 90, which is also the value of the letter tzadik (?). 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” (???) are the initial letters of the word “tzadik” (??????).

[16] The blessing after eating fruit of the seven species (???????? ?????? ????????).

tzadik featured

According to Kabbalah, pills 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 (?), 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” (???????? ???????), 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 (?), 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 (?) with a yud (?) above it to the right. However, there are two methods of writing the yud (?) that is part of the tzadik (?): some write it like a regular yud (?), in which case it turns to the back of the nun (?) “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 (?), 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” (????), “heart” (???), “liver” (??????) allude to the word “king” (??????), meaning that when the mind, the seat of the soul, controls the heart and the liver, the individual becomes a “king.” The word “king” (??????) has a numerical value of 90, which is also the value of the letter tzadik (?). 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” (???) are the initial letters of the word “tzadik” (??????).

[16] The blessing after eating fruit of the seven species (???????? ?????? ????????).

tzadik featured

According to Kabbalah, search drugstore every month in the Hebrew calendar was created by means of one of the letters of the alef-bet. Here, order we delve into the mysteries of the letter tzadik, prostate 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 (?), 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” (???????? ???????), 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 (?), 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 (?) with a yud (?) above it to the right. However, there are two methods of writing the yud (?) that is part of the tzadik (?): some write it like a regular yud (?), in which case it turns to the back of the nun (?) “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 (?), 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” (????), “heart” (???), “liver” (??????) allude to the word “king” (??????), meaning that when the mind, the seat of the soul, controls the heart and the liver, the individual becomes a “king.” The word “king” (??????) has a numerical value of 90, which is also the value of the letter tzadik (?). 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” (???) are the initial letters of the word “tzadik” (??????).

[16] The blessing after eating fruit of the seven species (???????? ?????? ????????).

holding hands

Why do we need to honor our parents?

You might ask, unhealthy 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” (????????), 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” (???? ?????? ???????) spell out the name of the letter dalet (??????), which alludes to lowliness (???????).

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

2 Responses to “Honoring Our Father and Mother”

  1. benjamin says:

    Thank you for a deeper understanding on such an important action.

  2. Silvana Origlia says:

    Maybe we don’t have families which are really of our own, beginning with us, but everything begins with our Sweet Parents and with Their Sweet Parents and so on. Honouring them, this seems to be more a need of heart than “just” an arid duty. Maybe there is even a difference between Sweet Parents – those Angels of our childhood that we never forget and who remain impressed in our souls similar to a Holy Scripture – and “only”traditional correctness of behaviour towards Parents; the Sweetness remains always the same or becomes even greater, nevertheless they change physically and then, after a long time, leave us and we don’t know exactly where. Sweet lacking Angels.