Sunday, December 21, 2014
Week 14 (Book 4a): Being Faithful
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 wisdom.
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 well:
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 Chassidic circles.
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).
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