Sunday, March 25, 2018
Week 28 (from the Book): To Recognize our Limits in order to Free Ourselves from Them
On this twenty-eighth week, which includes the first night of Passover, in Perek Shirah, the small impure (non-kosher) domestic animal sings that, “G-d is good to those that are good, and to those that are upright of heart. (Psalm 125:4) Some translations believe this to be a reference to the pig, while others to the rabbit. This week also includes the yahrzeit of the Third Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel (the Tzemach Tzedek), and the birthday of the Seventh Rebbe, who carries the same name of the Third, his ancestor through direct patrilineal descent.
The pig is considered by the sages to be a hypocrite, because it proudly displays the external characteristics of being kosher, split hooves, but internally, its intestines, make it a non-kosher animal. The physical makeup of the rabbit and other animals of its kind (such as the hare and the hyrax) is the exact opposite. These animals do not have split hooves, yet their intestines are that of a kosher animal. Internally, they are "upright of heart," but their actions and external characteristics are clearly not so.
Aside from the pig and the camel (Week Thirty), the hyrax and the hare are the only other two animals explicitly mentioned in the Torah as not being kosher. The Midrash in Vaikra Rabbah 13:5 explains that the hyrax represents the Persian exile, while the hare represents the Greek one. The pig represents the Roman exile, connected to Esau and his descendants. This is the exile we are currently in. The song these animals sing is a reference to the final redemption, when even the pig will be "upright of heart,” and all these animals will be kosher.
The Tzemach Tzedek and the Rebbe represent the main thrust of the message of Passover: redemption. The name “Tzemach Tzedek” is actually one of the names of Mashiach, as is also the name “Menachem.” As we see from the animals above, redemption has two major aspects: internal traits (intellectual, emotional) and external ones (material, physical). In relation to “internal” redemption, both the Tzemach Tzedek and the Rebbe introduced very important new concepts in Chassidic thought and were finally able to publish and disseminate the works of previous Rebbes. At the same time, both were extremely successful externally, in the realm of action. The Tzemach Tzedek established agricultural settlements that saved many Jews from dire poverty, and also rescued thousands upon thousands of children forced to enlist in the Russian army. Similarly, the Rebbe was able to establish Jewish centers all over world, and helped save thousands of Jews trapped in the "iron curtain" of the Soviet Union.
The number twenty-eight represents twice the value of fourteen, yad, a reference to the strong and outstretched arm of G-d that took us out of Egypt. (See Week 14) Here, that concept is doubled, representing two outstretched arms. On Passover, we celebrate that Hashem saved us then, while fully believing that He will soon save us again, in a way that is even more miraculous than what took place in Egypt.
Twenty eight is formed by the letters kaf and chet, forming the word koach, which means strength. Koach also means potential energy, that which is yet to be revealed. The pig seems to have the possibility and potential to be kosher, but ultimately it is not – at least not yet. As mentioned earlier, the pig represents Esau, the brother of Jacob, who had enormous potential; that potential made Isaac believe that Esau would ultimately be worthy of the rights and blessings of the firstborn. Like the pig, Esau would also pretend to be a tzadik before his father, so much so that the Midrash relates that Esau would ask Isaac how to tithe salt and straw. Salt and straw do not need to be tithed, and therefore Esau’s request made him look like he was ready to go beyond the letter of the law. The Rebbe explains that salt is an example of potential energy. Salt by itself is just salt, but when combined with other food it can enhance its flavor, and even preserve it from spoiling.
This week, the lesson from Pirkei Avot comes from Rabbi Elazar the son of Azariah. Interestingly, rabbinical discussion in the Passover Haggadah begins with this rabbi’s remarks. In Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Elazar teaches us that without Torah there is no work (also translated as proper social conduct), and without work (or proper social conduct) there is no Torah. Without wisdom there is no fear of G-d, and without fear of G-d, there is no wisdom. Without knowledge, there is no understanding, and without understanding, there is no knowledge. Without flour (sustenance) there is no Torah, and without Torah there is no flour. Rabbi Elazar also states that anyone whose knowledge exceeds his good deeds is like a tree with many branches and few roots, but one whose good deeds exceed his knowledge is like a tree that has few branches but many roots.
In Rabbi Elazar the son of Azariah’s words we also see the duality and relationship between required internal and external kosher characteristics. Knowledge requires action, and vice versa. Rabbi Elazar does make clear, however, that action must take priority. This was also something emphasized by the Rebbe, who stressed that the main thing is action, “HaMa’aseh Hu HaIkar.”
The flour mentioned here is perhaps also reference to matzah and also to the custom of providing flour to the poor (Maot Chitim, literally “wheat” money), so that they can also properly celebrate Passover. Furthermore, in order to prepare for Passover, we must rid ourselves of our own chametz, both the external leavened (self-inflated) bread, as well as our “internal” chametz, our inflated ego.
This week we complete one more cycle of seven weeks. This week’s sefirah combination is malchut shebenetzach. During the Passover Seder, we experience victory, humility, and redemption, all expressed openly in this physical world. Through the song of the pig and rabbit, we learn to aspire to a life of complete integrity and complete redemption.
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