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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Week 10 (Book 4): Prayer out of Fear of G-d


STORY OF CHANNAH: 
10 and she was in bitterness of soul--and prayed unto the LORD, and wept sore.

QUALITY OF THOSE THAT STUDY TORAH FOR ITS OWN SAKE: and fear         

PROVERBS: Chapter 10

TZADIKIM: Rabbi Aharon Kotler (3rd of Kislev) and Rabbi Chaim Micheol Dov Weissmandl

On Week 10, we are now definitively tied to the month of Kislev. The verse from the story of Hannah is about praying and weeping out of a sense of bitterness. It brings to mind the song of the Bat in Week 10, Book 1, which speaks of Hashem bringing comfort to the Jewish people. The verse states that Channah prayed “Al” (upon) Hashem, above the level of Divine revelation known as Hashem. In Kislev also, we connect to G-d in a way that is very high indeed.

The Pirkei Avot adjective associated to this week is that Torah enclothes him with “fear,” a continuation of last week’s adjective, “the Torah enclothes him with humility.” Fear of G-d and humility are key attributes when it comes to learning Torah for its own sake. As we saw in Book 2 (Week 7 and 8), in the list of 48 the qualities needed for acquiring the Torah, fear (yirah) and humility (anavah) are also mentioned together. The struggles and revelations of Kislev and of Chanukah are related to both this humility and this fear.

Hannah’s bitter weeping and praying is also connected to Yirah. Hannah was made to feel so humble and insignificant, that it brought her to an even greater fear G-d, which enabled her to pray with such utter devotion and self-effacement. Her self-effacement was such that no words even came out of her mouth. She was completely nullified before the Master.

Chapter 10 of the Book of Proverbs contains many of the above themes. It speaks directly and somewhat harshly about the wicked, in contrast with the righteous, evoking fear of G-d with every word. The chapter also focuses particularly on the power of speech (and when it is wise to withhold it):

1. Proverbs of Solomon: A wise son makes his father happy, but a foolish son is the grief of his mother.                      
2. Treasures of wickedness will not avail, but charity will save from death.           
3. The Lord will not starve the soul of the righteous, but the destruction [wrought by] the wicked will cast [them] down. (...)
6. Blessings [shall come] upon the head of a righteous man, but violence shall cover the mouth of the wicked.          
7. The mention of a righteous man is for a blessing, but the name of the wicked shall rot. (...)
18. He who covers up hatred has false lips, and he who spreads slander is a fool.    19. In a multitude of words, transgression will not be avoided, and he who holds back his lips is wise.                     
20. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is worth little.(...)
27. Fear of the Lord will add days, but the years of the wicked will be shortened. (...)
32. The lips of a righteous man know how to please, but the mouth of the wicked [knows] how to distort.

The contrast between the righteous and the wicked is also one of the themes of Chanukah, in which the “righteous few” overcame the “wicked many.” (See Additions to the Amidah prayers during Chanukah) Interestingly, the Chassidic holidays this month, Yud Kislev and Yud-Tes Kislev, celebrate the redemption of both the first and the second Rebbes of Chabad of imprisonment due to slander.

This week includes the yahrzeits of two pioneering Jewish non-chassidic leaders in Europe and in America: Rabbi Aharon Kotler (3rd of Kislev) and Rabbi Chaim Michoel Dov Weissmandl (6th of Kislev). They offered two different models of how to adapt to the new country, which at first did not seem at all hospitable to religious Jewish Life.

Rabbi Aharon Kotler was born in Russia. Orphaned at a very young age, he studied in the renowned yeshiva of Slabodka in Lithuania. He studied under great Torah scholars, including the Alter of Slabodka, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein and others. (Wikipedia) In America, he was the founder of the Yeshiva of Lakewood, today one of the greatest centers of Torah study in America and in the world. He was also the leader of various religious organization including Agudath Israel, and esteemed as one of the greatest Torah scholars of the generation.

Rabbi Chaim Michoel Dov Weissmandl was born in Hungary. During World War II, he did his utmost to contact various political authorities and try to save the Jews of Slovakia, but was ultimately unsuccessful. He also lost his entire family in the Holocaust, and was saved by managing to saw off the lock of a carriage and jumping off a moving train. In America, Rabbi Weissmandl founded the Nitra Yeshiva, along with a self-sustaining agricultural community that followed all applicable Torah agricultural laws.

Other yahrzeits this week include those of Rabbi Yaakov David Kalish (4th of Kislev), son of Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorka, and  founder of the Amshinov dynasty, and (sometimes) Rabbi Aharon of Chernobyl (8th of Kislev), Rabbi David son of Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein of Sochatchov (8th of Kislev), Rabbi Pinchas David son of Rabbi Shmuel Shmelker Horowitz, the first Bostoner Rebbe (8th of Kislev) and Rabbi DovBer Schneerson, the Mitteler Rebbe of Lubavitch (9th of Kislev).


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Week 11 (Book 4): Creating a Kosher Environment

STORY OF CHANNAH: 11. And she vowed a vow, and said: to Lord of Hosts, if You will look upon the affliction of Your bondswoman, and You will remember me, and You will not forget Your bondswoman and You will give Your bondswoman a man-child, and I shall give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.
QUALITY OF THOSE THAT STUDY TORAH FOR ITS OWN SAKE: makes him fit to be righteous
PROVERBS: Chapter 11
TZADIKKIM: Rabbi Israel Taub, the Divrei Israel, founder of the Modzitz Chassidic dynasty (13th of Kislev), and his son, Rabbi Shaul Yedidya Elazer Taub (16th of Kislev)
On Week 11, the week of Yud Kislev, the verse from the story of Hannah recounts the vow she took if Hashem would grant her a son. Yud Kislev is also about a son - Rabbi Dovber of Lubavitch - the son of the Alter Rebbe, who followed in his father’s footsteps. The Alter Rebbe was very meticulous about his upbringing and education, raising him in great sanctity, much like Samuel the Prophet himself.
The Pirkei Avot adjective of this week is that Torah “makes him fit to be righteous.” The Hebrew words used can be more literally translated as “makes him kosher to be a Tzadik.” It is very much related to Hannah’s words above, and the need to give children a kosher environment, one that will make it possible for them to live the holy lifestyle of a Tzadik. Equally important are the prayers of the parents. Rebbe Nachman said about himself that he reached the heights that he did in the merit of his mother’s prayers. About Rabbi Chanina, the Pirkei Avot states, “Ashrei Yoladtoh,” praiseworthy is the one that gave birth to him.
Chapter 11 of the Book of Proverbs contains many of the above themes. It continues the trend of the previous chapter, contrasting the righteous with the wicked:
1. Deceitful scales are an abomination of the Lord, but a perfect weight is His will.
2. When willful wickedness comes, then comes disgrace, but with the modest is wisdom.
3. The innocence of the upright leads them, but the distortion of the treacherous robs them.
4. Riches will not avail on the day of wrath, but charity will save from death.
5. The righteousness of the innocent will straighten his way, but the wicked will fall in his wickedness.
6. The righteousness of the upright will save them, but in the destruction, the treacherous will be caught.
7. When a wicked man dies, hope is lost, and the expectation of his children is lost.
8. A righteous man is extricated from trouble, and a wicked man comes in his stead.
9. With his mouth, the flatterer destroys his neighbor; but with knowledge, righteous men are extricated.
10. When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish, there is song.
11. With the blessing of the upright, the ceiling is raised, but with the mouth of the wicked it is demolished.
As mentioned last week, the contrast between the righteous and the wicked is also one of the themes of Chanukah, in which the “righteous few” overcame the “wicked many.” It also seems related to the righteousness of the Mitteler Rebbe.
This week includes many yahrzeits, often including two of the Rebbes of Modzitz. Rabbi Yisrael Taub (13thof Kislev) was the founder of the dynasty. He is known for composing more than two hundred songs, many of which are still sung today by various Chassidic groups. His most famous song was composed during the amputation of his leg, which was done without anesthesia. He is also known as the Divrei Yisrael, the title of his commentary on the three first books of the Torah.[1]
This week (often) includes the yahrzeit of Rabbi Israel Taub’s son, Rabbi Shaul Yedidya Elazer Taub (16th of Kislev), the second Modzitzer Rebbe. He composed over 1000 melodies. He passed away in Israel in 1947. He had arrived there only recently, and it was his intent to remain in Israel and settle there.[2]
Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Yitzchak ben Rabbi Yisroel Friedman of Sadiger (11th of Kislev), Rabbi Avraham Dov Auerbach of Avritch (12th of Kislev), Rabbi Yisroel Friedman, the second Chortkover Rebbe (13th of Kislev), Rabbi David Abuchatzeira (14th of Kislev), Rabbi David Twersky of Skver (15th of Kislev), and Rabbi Menachem son of Rabbi Yaakov David Kalisch, the second Amshinover Rebbe.




Sunday, October 16, 2016

Week 12 (Book 4): The Rosh Hashanah of Chassidut

STORY OF CHANNAH: 
12 And it came to pass, as she prayed long before the LORD, that Eli watched her mouth.         

QUALITY OF THOSE THAT STUDY TORAH FOR ITS OWN SAKE:  pious   

PROVERBS: Chapter 12

TZADIKKIM: Rabbi Baruch of Mezhibuz (18th of Kislev) and Rebbe Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch (19th of Kislev)

Week 12 is the week of Yud-Tes Kislev. The verse from the story of Channah is about her increased/extensive prayer, and of how Eli, the Kohen Gadol watched (lit. guarded) her mouth. The story behind of Yud-Tes Kislev begins with a heavenly decree against the Alter Rebbe for revealing the secrets of Chassidut, which manifested itself in his physical imprisonment for 53 days, due to bogus charges of treason against the Czar. During those days, the Alter Rebbe was visited by the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezritch (whose yahrzeit is on Yud-Tes Kislev), and the Alter Rebbe was told that not only was he absolved of the heavenly decree, but that he should increase his teaching and revealing of Chassidut. With the approval now from his masters, who “watched” the Alter Rebbe’s mouth, the Rebbe’s approach to teaching Chassidut became much more expansive. Chassidim refer to the difference in approaches as “before Petersburg” and “after Petersburg,” the place of his imprisonment.

The Pirkei Avot adjective associated to this week is that Torah makes him fit to be “pious,” in Hebrew, Chassid. Yud-Tes Kislev is known as the Rosh Hashanah of Chassidut. Channah’s behavior in the above story is extremely pious.

Chapter 12 of the Book of Proverbs continues to contrast the actions of the righteous and the wicked. The qualities of being righteous (Tzadik, last week’s) and being pious (Chassid) are quite similar. The main difference is that the Chassid goes above the letter of the law in order to please the Creator. There are more than a few examples of qualities associated with a Chassid in Chapter 12:

2. A good man will obtain favor of the Lord, but a man of evil devices will condemn.(...)
10. A righteous man has regard for the desire of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.(...)
26. The righteous is more generous than his neighbor, and the way of the wicked will lead them astray. (...)
28. In the road of charity is life, and [on] the way of its path there is no death. 

As mentioned in the past weeks, the contrast between the righteous and the wicked is one of the main themes of Chanukah. The above verses also draw a contrast between the Alter Rebbe and those that slandered him and caused his imprisonment.

As mentioned previously, Yud-Tes Kislev is the day of the liberation of the Alter Rebbe, and is called the Rosh Hashanah of Chassidut. This week contains two yahrzeits very much associated with the Chassidic movement in general, and with the Alter Rebbe in particular.

The 18th of Kislev is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Baruch of Mezhibuz, the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov. He was also a disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch, and one of the most prominent rebbes in the times of the Alter Rebbe. In fact, when the Alter Rebbe was freed on Yud-Tes Kislev, he wrote to Rabbi Baruch describing the great miracles that occurred at the time.[1] The Alter Rebbe was also once challenged by Rabbi Baruch, to whom he is said to have replied, "You may be his grandson in a physical sense; I am his grandson in a spiritual sense."[2]

As also mentioned above, Yud-Tes Kislev is the yahrzeit of the Maggid of Mezritch himself. The Maggid also is quoted as saying: "Rebbe Zalmanyu [the Alter Rebbe] has the feelings of a son. I was like a son to my Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, and he is like my son."[3]

The Maggid of Mezritch was the successor of the Baal Shem Tov. It goes without saying that he was a tremendous genius and authority in both the hidden as well as the revealed aspects of the Torah. His disciples (other than the Alter Rebbe and Rebbe Baruch of Medzhibuz) became the leaders of the Chassidic movement, such as Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk and his brother, Rav Zusia of Anipoli, Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk; Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, Rebbe Aharon of Karlin, Rebbe Shmuel Shmelke of Nikolsburg and his brother, Rebbe Pinchas Horowitz of Frankfurt, and many others.[4]

The following account also illustrates just how great the Maggid’s role was in the Alter Rebbe’s redemption:

When the Maggid was on his deathbed, 18 Kislev 1772, the Maggid's son, Rebbe Avraham the Malach, was by his side, along with Rebbe Yehuda Leib HaCohen and Rebbe Schneur Zalman...

...He then turned to Rebbe Schneur Zalman. "Zalmanyu," he said, "give me your hand. You will remain alone, you are for yourself - you have your own way. You will need a lot of help from Heaven. I will yearn for you very much, and G-d willing, I will save you from all your troubles."

According to the Chabad tradition, he also said to him before his passing: "This day is our Yom Tov (festival)."

Other yahrzeits this week include those of Rabbi Baruch son of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager of Vizhnitz  (the “Imrei Boruch,” 20th of Kislev) and  Rabbi Yochanan Twersky (the 5th Rebbe of Rachmastrivka, 20th of Kislev), and sometimes Rabbi Yochanan Perlow son of Rabbi Yisrael of Stolin-Lutzk (21st of Kislev).







Sunday, October 9, 2016

Week 13 (Book 4): Being Straightforward


STORY OF CHANNAH: 13 Now Hannah, she spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard; therefore, Eli thought she had been drunken.
QUALITY OF PIRKEI AVOT: correct
TZADIKKIM: the Sdei Chemed and the Be'er Mayim Chayim
PROVERBS: Chapter 13

Week 13 is the week of Chanukah. The verse from the story of Channah describes how she prayed. Her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard – this is the ultimate example of how prayer is first and foremost a spiritual act. It is not necessary for us to emit sound for Hashem to be able to hear our cry. The story of Chanukah is also about the victory of the spiritual over the material.

The Pirkei Avot adjective of this week is that Torah makes him fit to be “correct,” in Hebrew, yashar. Yashar literally means “straight,” someone who is truthful and straightforward. Yashar is particularly related to the fulfillment of the negative commandments, “which draws forth revelations beyond the creative order.” (Hayom Yom, 14th of Kislev) The above story, Eli mistakenly suspects Channah of being drunk, when in reality she was simply praying out of a broken heart. Praying when drunk would violate a negative commandment. In fact, Channah’s actions are that of a Yashar, above reproach, drawing forth such supernatural blessings that allow her to have a child.

Chapter 13 of the Book of Proverbs contains many of the above themes. It continues the trend of the previous chapters, contrasting the righteous with the wicked (a key theme of Chanukah, as already explained). It also specifically speaks of spiritual light, the light of Chanukah:

9. The light of the righteous will rejoice, but the candle of the wicked will ebb away.

10. Only with wickedness does one cause quarrels, but there is wisdom with those who take counsel.

This week includes the yahrzeits of Rabbi Chaim Chizkiya Medini (24th of Kislev) and Rabbi Chaim Tirar of Chernowitz (27th of Kislev).

Rabbi Chaim Chizkiya Medini is most well-known for his encyclopedic halachik work of 18 volumes, entitled the Sdei Chemed (although he wrote other books as well). He was born in Jerusalem, but also liked in Turkey and Crimea. He later returned to Israel and lived in Jerusalem, he was being considered for Chief Sephardi Rabbi of Israel,Rishon L’Zion. He wished to devote himself to his studies so he moved to Hebron. Eventually he became Chief Rabbi of Hebron. He was considered to be a holy man by both Jews and Arabs alike.

Rabbi Chaim Tirar of Chernowitz is most well-known for his Chassidic/Kabbalistic commentary on the Torah, the Be’er Mayim Chayim. Rabbi Chernowitz also wrote other books, including Sidduroh Shel Shabat, which explains the holiness of the Sabbath. (Ascent) He was one of the most important disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch. He also studied under Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov.[1]

Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Chaim of Antunia (25th of Kislev), Rabbi Yochanan son of Rabbi David Mordechai Twersky of Tolna (25th of Kislev), Rabbi Elazar son of Rabbi Moshe Elyakim Briah of Koznitz (26th of Kislev), Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kohn of Toldos Aharon (27th of Kislev), and (sometimes) Rabbi Avraham son of Rabbi Nachman Chazan (leader of Breslov, 29th of Kislev), and Rabbi Tzvi Mordechai son of Rabbi Avraham Moshe of Peshischa (29th of Kislev)









Sunday, October 2, 2016

Week 14 (Book 4): Being Faithful

STORY OF CHANNAH: And Eli said to her: Until when will you be drunk? Throw off your wine from upon yourself.
QUALITY OF PIRKEI AVOT: and faithful
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 Matisiyahu, 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. Serving G-d while drunk is also what had led to the death of Aaron's sons, Nadav and Avihu, at the time of the first dedication of the Tabernacle, completed on the 25th of Kislev. 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. 
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.[2]
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).


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![1]


[2] http://matzav.com/todays-yahrtzeits-and-history-7-teves-3
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