THE KABBALAH OF TIME:
Kahane and Wainer explain that the calendar is the master key to unlock the hidden rationale behind the formal structure of ancient sacred texts, as well as to understand basic mystical concepts. When comprehended within the context of the Jewish calendar, these works reveal the spiritual energy of each week, serving as a practical guide for self-analysis and development.
Sunday, December 21, 2014
Week 14 (Book 4a): Being Faithful
STORY OF CHANNAH: 14 And
Eli said unto her: 'How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from
QUALITY OF PIRKEI AVOT:
PROVERBS: Chapter 14
TZADIKKIM: Rabbi Gershon Chanoch
Henoch Leiner (the “Baal Techelet,” 4th of Teveth)
Week 14 is also the week of Chanukah. The verse from the
story of Channah describes how Eli, the Kohen Gadol, reprimands Channah,
telling her to remove her wine from her. It is worth noting that the entire Chanukah
miracle began with Matitiyahu, the High Priest, killed a man who wished to
bring a pagan sacrifice in the Temple. Chanukah means dedication, and it
celebrates the rededication of the Temple, once it was cleared of idol worship.
It is worth noting that Eli says to Channah to “remove your wine.” What does
wine represent and why does Eli emphasize that the wine is hers?
Wine is strongly connected to the Tree of Knowledge of Good
and Evil. It is Rabbi Meir’s opinion that the fruit of the Tree was in fact the
grape. That is also the opinion of the Zohar and of a Midrash. The Tree of
Knowledge represents secular wisdom, as opposed to the Tree of Life, which
represents the Torah. Rabbi Riskin explains that the Menorah is shaped like a
tree and may symbolize the perfect combination of the two Trees. He further
explains how that is the task of the Kohanim, to clean and purify the lights of
the Menorah. I will include his Dvar Torah in its entirety, given that this
topic is somewhat sensitive, prone to misinterpretation:
Our Torah portion opens with the
kindling of the seven lights of the branches of the menorah, specifically
ordaining that it be kindled by the Kohen-priests and that it be beaten of
gold, in one piece, from “its stem until its flower” (Numbers 8:4). At first
glance, it would seem that this Biblical segment is misplaced; its more natural
setting would have been the portions of Terumah or Tetzaveh in the Book of
Exodus, which deal with the Sanctuary, it’s sacred accoutrements and the task
of the Kohen-priests in ministering within it. Why re-visit the menorah here,
in the Book of Numbers?
The classical commentary of Rashi
attempts to provide a response: “Why link this segment of the menorah to the
segment of the tribal princes (which concludes the previous Torah portion)?
Because when Aaron saw the offerings of the princes (at the dedication of the
Sanctuary), he felt ill at ease that he was not included with them in the
offerings, neither he nor his tribe. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to him,
‘By your life, your contribution is greater than theirs; you kindle and prepare
the lights’”(Rashi, Numbers 8:2).
Why would such a task give comfort to
Aaron? Since when is cleaning and kindling a candelabrum a greater honor than
participating in the opening ceremony of the Sanctuary?
We cannot expect to penetrate the
significance of Rashi’s words (which are taken from Midrash Tanhuma 8) unless
we first attempt to understand the significance of the menorah. At first blush,
the lights of the menorah symbolize Torah, “For the commandment is a candle,
and Torah is light,” teaches the Psalmist. But the ark (aron) is the repository
of the Tablets of Stone, and it represents Torah in the Sanctuary.
Moreover, the menorah has a stem, or
trunk, and six branches which emanate from it, each with its respective flowers
- together making seven lights. And the “goblets” on the branches are
“almond-shaped,”(Hebrew Meshukadim, Exodus 25:33) reminiscent of the almond
tree, the first tree to blossom and so the herald of spring. The imagery is
certainly that of a tree. And if the Sanctuary symbolizes a world in which the
Almighty dwells -“And they shall make for me a Sanctuary so that I may dwell
among them” - a world of perfection manifesting the Divine Presence and its
consummate goodness and compassion, - then the Sanctuary symbolizes a return to
Eden, to universal peace and harmony. If so, the menorah may well represent the
Tree of Life -after all, Torah is aptly called “a tree of life to all who grasp
it” - or even the tree of knowledge, especially since the ancient Greek
tradition speaks of“the seven branches of wisdom,” paralleling the seven
branches of the menorah (including the central stem). Perhaps one may even
suggest that the menorah is the amalgam of both trees together: Torah and
wisdom united in one beaten substance of gold, a tree of knowledge purified by
the tree of life when the light of Torah illumines every branch of worldly
I believe that this fundamental unity
encompassing Torah and all genuine branches of wisdom was recognized clearly by
the Sages of the Talmud. Indeed, from their viewpoint, all true knowledge would
certainly lead to the greatest truth of all, the existence of the Creator of
the Universe. Hence the Talmud declares: “Rav Shimon ben Pazi said in the name
of Rav Yehoshua ben Levin in the name of bar Kappara: ‘Anyone who has the
ability to understand astronomy - astrology (the major science of Babylon) and
does not do so, of him does the Scripture say, ‘Upon the words of the Lord they
do not gaze and upon the deeds of His hands they do not look’” The Sages are
saying that one cannot begin to properly appreciate the world without a
grounding in the sciences.
Indeed, I shall never forget my first
conscious“religious experience.” It was in a bio lab, and we were given slides
of snowflakes. As I saw slide after slide, with each snowflake perfectly
hexagonal and dazzling with magnificently colored designs - but each snowflake
different from the other, unique to itself - there were tears coursing down my
cheeks as I mouthed the prayer of appreciation, “How wondrous are Your
creations, O G-d.”
The 12th Century Philosopher-legalist
Maimonides also understood the crucial inter-relationship between what is
generally regarded as secular wisdom and Torah. He begins his halakhic magnum
opus Mishneh Torah with the Laws of Torah fundamentals, the first four chapters
of which take up cosmogony, philosophy, science - especially the interface
between physics and theology. He concludes the fourth chapter in saying that
these studies are actually involved in the proper fulfillment of five
commandments: knowing G-d, denying the possibility of other gods, unifying G-d,
loving G-d, revering G-d (Laws of Torah Fundamentals 4,13). He actually defines
Pardes, the “orchard” reserved for those who are already thoroughly conversant
in Torah and its laws, as philosophy and science, maasei bereishit and maasei
merkavah, which the Sages of the Talmud call “great things” in comparison to
the halakhic debates between Rava and Abaye, which are called “small things”
(B.T. Sukkah, the end of Chapter 3).
Most amazing of all, Maimonides ordains
that the scholar must divide his learning time in three segments: one third for
the Written Torah, one third for the Oral Torah, and one third for Gemara. And
he defines gemara as extracting new laws as well as Pardes - science and
philosophy! Apparently an advanced Yeshiva led by Maimonides would include in
its curriculum the study of science philosophy as a means of understanding the
world, human nature and G-d!
Let us now return to the relationship
between the task of the Kohen-priest in the Sanctuary. If indeed the menorah
represents knowledge in its broadest sense, enlightenment in terms of the seven
branches of wisdom, the tree of knowledge, then the duty of the Kohen-priest
becomes clear. All of knowledge, indeed the entire world, is the matter; Torah
must give form, direction, meaning to every aspect of the material world and
the life which it breeds. The Kohen, who is blessed to “teach the Torah laws to
Israel,” must prepare, “clean”, purify the lights of the menorah. This is the
highest task of Torah - and the greatest calling of the Kohanim!
The Chanukah story is about the battle between Jewish and
Greek cultures, of those connected to the Torah and those solely connected to
secular wisdom. However, it is crucial to understand that the Torah is not
against secular wisdom. Secular wisdom has its place, along as it is, as
mentioned before, “dwelling the house of Shem.” Adam’s sin was not that he
tasted from the Tree of Knowledge, but that he did it before tasting from the
Tree of Life, the Torah. If he would have dedicated himself to the Tree of
Life, eventually the Tree of Knowledge would also have become permissible.
Perhaps that is why Eli says to Channah to remove her wine
from herself. Yes, Eli’s job as the Kohen Gadol is to remove improper
influences from the Temple, such as in the case of someone who is drunk, and
cannot properly balance how much of the Tree of Knowledge to absorb. (This, by
the way, was Noah’s problem. The Zohar explains that by planting a vineyard,
Noah attempted to rectify the sin of Adam. However, he erred and became drunk).
Nevertheless, Eli does not rule out the role of secular wisdom altogether.
There is a place for it, it may still be associated with Channah, the tzadeket,
but in the proper dosage. That is also the message of Chanukah.
The Pirkei Avot adjective of this week is that Torah makes
him fit to be “loyal/faithful,”in Hebrew, ne’eman. Ne’eman comes from the word emunah,
“faith.” Emunah is what differentiated the Jews from the Greeks, and the Jews
remained loyal and faithful to the Torah, despite Greek persecution. Emunah is
above reason, and there may be times when a person acting out of Emunah may
appear to others as irrational, or even drunk, like in the above story with Eli
and Channah. Nevertheless, a sign of Emunah is also not to be perturbed by what
others from the outside think.
Chapter 14 of the Book of Proverbs contains many of the
themes of this chapter and previous ones: being wise, upright, faithful, etc.
The contrasts between the righteous and the wicked continue in this chapter as
1. The wisest of women-each one built
her house, but a foolish one tears it down with her hands.
2. He who fears the Lord goes in his
uprightness, but he whose ways are perverse despises Him.
3. In a fool's mouth is a staff of
haughtiness but the lips of the wise guard them.
4. Without oxen the manger is empty,
but an abundance comes by the strength of an ox.
5. A faithful witness does not lie, but
he who speaks lies is a false witness. (...)
This week various yahrzeits connected to the Chassidic
dynasty of Peshischa and Ishbitz. It includes the yahrzeit of the third Rebbe
of Ishbitz, Rabbi Gershon Chanoch Henoch Leiner of Radzin (the Baal HaTecheles,
4th of Teveth), and (often) the yahrzeit of the founder of the dynasty, Rav
Mordecai Yosef Leiner of Ishbitz, the Mei Shiloach (7th of Teveth).
Prior to becoming the first Ishbitzer Rebbe, Rav Leiner was
childhood friend and close colleague of Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kotzk. Both
studied under Reb Smicha Bunim of Peshischa. When the Kotzker Rebbe set up a
Chassidic court, Rav Leiner followed him and was an influential teacher to
Kotzk chassidim. Eventually, the two parted ways, and the court of Ishbitz was
established. The Ishbitzer’s students included Rav Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin and
Rav Leibel Eiger. His main work, the Mei Shiloach, is widely studied in
Rabbi Gershon Chanoch Henoch Leiner of Radzin is the
grandson of Rav Mordechai Yosef. He was a strong leader of Ishbitzer Chassidim,
and wrote many important Chassidic works, including Baal HaTecheles.
Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Chaim Leib
Shmulevitz (Rosh Yeshivat Mir, 3rd of Teveth),Rabbi Yechezkel Shraga Halberstam,
(the eldest son of Rabbi Chaim Halberstam of Sanz, 5th of Teveth), Rabbi
Avraham Yaakov of Sadigur (son of Rabbi Yisrael Friedman, 5thof Teveth), Rabbi
Yerachmiel Tzvi Rabinowitz (Biala-Peshischa Rebbe of Har Nof, 5th of Teveth),
and (often) Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch son of the Baal Shem Tov (7th of Teveth).