Clowns of This Generation

Precis: Clowns of the Generation is an earthy phrase denoting elements of society that are (mostly) non-criminal, yet can nevertheless do a great deal of damage. Clowns are superficial and have no sense of the depth and continuity of human life. The opposite of the Clowns? – Those whose consciousness spans all generations and who are constantly seeking the Face of God.

 

Who are the Clowns of the Generation?

As a Tora concept, we meet them for the first time in Rashi’s commentary on the first verse of Parshat Toldot, Breshit [Genesis] 25;19.

As a real life phenomenon, they are everywhere – hopefully more in the social media than in your real life.

These Clowns should not be confused with the joyous and funny people in your life, who are a very good thing.

The Talmud tells the story of Rabi Beroka who was with Eliyahu haNavi [Elijah the Prophet] in the crowded market place of BeLapat. Rabi Beroka asked Eliyahu if any of the people in the market were Bnei Olam haBa – Children of the Coming World (that is to say, those who have merited life in the world that is coming, having safely navigated their path through the chaos of the world we currently inhabit).

At first, Eliyahu answered that no such persons were in sight. Later on, he suddenly pointed to two rather ordinary-looking men, going about their business in the market. Those two, said Eliyahu, are Children of the World to Come.

So Rabi Beroka ran over to them and asked them, What is your occupation?

They replied, We are happy men, and we make others happy. When we see people who are depressed, we cheer them up by joking with each other.

The bitter and mocking laughter of Clowns, on the other hand, is something very different. But in what way different?

Here is what we are told of the Clowns, in Rashi’s commentary mentioned above:

Rashi is commenting on the verse in which the Tora states: These are the generations of Yitzhak [Isaac] the son of Avraham; Avraham begat Yitzhak.

Rashi asks: Why the seeming redundancy in the statement? If we are told that Yitzhak is Avraham’s son – then why tell us the obvious: that Yitzhak’s father was Avraham?

Rashi answers: Sarah was married to Avraham many years before Yitzhak was born. The Clowns of the Generation therefore reported that Avraham was not the real father of Yitzhak: Avimelech was the real father.

Disappointingly for the Clowns, however, it became apparent over time that Yitzhak’s face was a replica of Avraham’s; and this is why the Tora stresses that Avraham was the father of Yitzhak. The Clowns of the Generation were in this matter thus thwarted, and had to turn their attentions to something else.

So what can we learn from Rashi’s commentary about the Clowns – in that generation and in this?

First of all, the Clowns of the Generation are primarily concerned with precisely that – their own particular Generation: the arbitrary span of years in which they find themselves. They have no true sense of where they came from – or where they are going to, either.

In our present day, the Clowns are the Communists. Tradition offends them. “History is bunk,” said Henry Ford. Shimon Peres, too, is at pains to downplay the relevance of history and destiny in human affairs.

The second thing we can learn about Clowns (closely connected to the first) is that they are impressed by the superficial. Only the gaudy externalities are important to them. No inner meaning exists. The Clown is primarily concerned with appearances; his business is to mask the true nature of things.

In our present day, the Clowns are the media. They breathlessly report momentous events; urgently presenting the external face of things, while grinning and grimacing every way they can in order to distort their true significance.

What is the antithesis to the Clowns of the Generation?

In the Book of Tehilim is written: These are the generations of those that seek you, Yaakov [Jacob], who seek your face.

So here is the antithesis to the clowns of this generation: the continuous and noble fellowship of all Generations; those not interested in masks, but in seeking the true Face of God.

In Conclusion

I have offered my take on Clowns of the Generation. If you have further, or different, musings on this concept, please leave your comment!

Notes

Rabi Beroka

The conversation of Rabi Beroka with Eliyahu haNavi is in the Talmud, Taanit 22a.

Avimelech

Avimelech is mentioned in the Tora on three separate occasions, in connection with both Avraham and Yitzhak. He is a kind of irritant, or catalyst, whose precise role is not well understood.

Those that seek you…

These are the generations of those that seek you, Yaakov [Jacob], who seek your face. Tehilim [Psalms] 24;6.

This verse is very artfully constructed. Read superficially, it could be construed as referring to one particular generation. But the verse contains hints and ambiguities that point to a trans-generational interpretation.

Dor Doreshav [generation of those that seek him] is a play on words, that implies multiple generations.

The word Sela at the end of the verse denotes forever.

Does the verse mean that we are seeking the face of Yaakov? If so, Yaakov is quintessentially the man who spans generations, who never dies. Or does the verse mean that we are seeking the face of God? If it does, the God we are here seeking is the God of History.

 

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Face of God

Precis: How can we see the Face of God?

 

The Bircat Cohanim [Blessing of the Priests] consists of three parts.

The second part states: May God shine his face towards you.

What does this verse mean? Is it to be understood in the metaphorical sense only? After all, we know that no man can see the face of God and live.

According to Rashi, there is a literal meaning to the verse: God will show you a joyous face, a yellow face. Meaning, that when you see the joyous and smiling face of your fellow man – you will be seeing the face of God.

But what is the Panim TseHuBot, the yellow face, immediately mentioned by Rashi as well?

In Ivrit [Hebrew, the language of the Tora] Tsahov, the word for Yellow, is closely related to Zahav, the word for Gold. In fact, they are almost the same word.

In the Talmud: Rabi Akiva gave his wife Rahel a Yerushalayim Shel Zahav [Jerusalem of Gold]. This is usually explained to mean a golden ornament, which the woman wore upon her forehead. Also in the Talmud: The wife of Raban Gamliel complained to her husband that she had not been given a Yerushalayim Shel Zahav. Raban Gamliel answered her: Have you done for me what Rahel did for Rabi Akiva?

Of course, the issue here is not petty jealousy concerning the gift of a gold ornament. The yellow gold we are discussing here is not matter, but light.

The gold here is the Panim Tsehubot, the yellow face, as promised in the Bircat Cohanim. The joyous face, taken to its next degree. The light of love mirrored back and forth between the face of husband and wife.

This is the closest we can ever get to experiencing the true Face of God.

Notes

Bircat Cohanim

Bircat Cohanim is Hebrew for Blessing of the Priests, in the Book of Bamidbar [Numbers] 6;24-26:

God will bless you and keep you.

God will shine his face towards you and be gracious to you.

God will lift his face towards you and give you peace.

Rabi Akiva and Rahel

The story of the special relationship between Rabi Akiva and his wife Rahel is in the Talmud, Nedarim 50a.

Rabi Akiva is in many ways connected to Yakov Avinu [our Father Jacob]. Their Hebrew names are very similar. And they both had a wife named Rahel, whom they loved in an unusually intense fashion.

Raban Gamliel and his wife

The exchange between Raban Gamliel and his wife is in Talmud Yerushalmi, Shabat 6;7. The term used there for the ornament is City of Gold (in some ways equivalent to Jerusalem of Gold, and in some ways, perhaps, carrying a subtly different meaning).

 

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“What is Hanuka?” – A New Way of Looking at the Lights



Where does the name Hanuka come from? In fact, it is derived from a passage describing the Navi Zecharya’s vision of the Menora. This passage serves as the Haftara of Shabbat Hanuka, and ends with the phrase Hen Hen La, thus providing the first part of the word Hanuka. (See the end of the First Vision, below.)

The Second Vision of Zecharya belongs to the Haftara of Sucot. God goes out to fight the nations, who have laid siege to Yerushalayim. God places his feet on Har haZaytim. The mountain splits and moves north and south; thus opening a passage from east to west. As part of this huge change to the topography, living water issues from Yerushalayim. And it is this healing and purifying water that bathes the dead and brings them to life.

Zecharya himself is buried at the foot of Har haZaytim. This is a good place to be buried because it is the primary location of Tehiyat haMaytim. But we learn something more from Zecharya – that the essence of Hanuka is Tehiyat haMaytim!

In the first vision, concerning the Menora, Zecharya as usual is on Har haZaytim. He sees a massive Head Stone, which is locking the entire mountain in place.

This Head Stone has seven eyes. Seven, like the Ushpizin – the great men who are alive, and with us, and visit us on Sucot.

Upon the Head Stone there is a Menora of pure gold, whose bowl rests upon the stone. There are seven candles upon this bowl, burning with a never-ending light.

On the stone, on each side of the bowl, there are two olive trees.

But what Zecharya finds puzzling, is that the olive trees do not seem to be the source of the oil for the candles. Then he realizes that the candles are burning with a purely spiritual energy. Zecharya sees that the ‘eyes’ in the stone are apertures, through which flow the spirit of Tehiyat haMaytim – the revival of the dead. And it is precisely this spirit that provides the fuel for the lights.

When we reproduce this vision on Hanuka in the physical world, we generally use oil. However, oil will work quite well: שמן (oil) and נשמה (soul), in fact, are composed of the same letters.

Now, these lights may be tiny, but they burn forever. And the great store of spiritual energy is never exhausted, but building up over time with an irresistible force.

On the appointed day, God will remove this Head Stone, which until now has locked the structure of the physical world in place. Suddenly, everything moves. The mountain splits north and south, and the massive immovable Head Stone which has been מונח (set in place) suddenly becomes
חן חן – a living fluid motion of dual grace.

Stone is now spirit. Where there was once a mountain is now a wide plain of flowing water. And the buried dead, till recently locked underground, now come to life.

Quite naturally, a lot of social networking now ensues, as we invite old and new acquaintances (recently revived) to drink wine and eat fruit beneath the trees in our garden…

 

 


Below is my (slightly unorthodox) translation of the text from the book of Zechariah. The phrases and passages that seem key to my interpretation, are highlighted in red.

 

 

The First Vision 

Verse

Text

Translation

3;9

כי הנה
האבן אשר נתתי לפני יהושע
 
על אבן אחת שבעה עינים
הנני מפתח פתחה
נאם יקוק צבאות
ומשתי את עון הארץ ההיא ביום אחד

For behold
This stone which I have put before Yehoshua
– a single stone with seven apertures –
I will develop the opening of this stone
Says the God of Hosts
and I will remove everything that has ever gone wrong in that Land, on one day.

3;10

ביום ההוא
נאם יקוק צבאות
תקראו איש לרעהו
 
אל תחת גפן ואל תחת תאנה

On that day
Says the God of Hosts
You will call, each man to his neighbour,
To come beneath the vine and beneath the fig.

4;1

וישב המלאך הדבר בי
 
ויעירני כאיש אשר יעור משנתו

And the angel that was speaking to me returned
and woke me like a man that is woken from his sleep.

4;2

ויאמר אלי
מה אתה ראה
ואמר ראיתי
והנה מנורת זהב כלה
וגלה על ראשה
 

ושבעה נרתיה עליה שבעה ושבעה מוצקות לנרות אשר על ראשה

And he said to me
What do you see?
And I said, I saw:
And behold a Menora all of gold
And the bowl of the Menora was on the head of the stone
And it’s seven candles were upon it – seven [candles] with Seven [apertures] fueling the candles – upon its head.

4;3

ושנים זיתים עליה
אחד מימין הגלה
ואחד על שמאלה

And two olive trees were upon it
One to the right of the bowl
And the other upon its left.

4;4

ואען ואמר אל המלאך הדבר בי לאמר
מה אלה אדני

And then I spoke more and said to the angel that was speaking to me:
– What are these, my lord?

4;5

ויען המלאך הדבר בי ויאמר אלי
הלוא ידעת מה המה אלה
 
  ואמר לא אדני

And the angel who was speaking to me answered and said:
But you know what these are!
And I said – No, my lord.

4;6

ויען ויאמר אלי לאמר
זה דבר יקוק אל זרבבל לאמר
 
לא בחיל ולא בכח
כי אם ברוחי
 
אמר יקוק צבאות

And he answered and he said to me:
This is the word of God to Zerubavel, saying:
Not by might, nor by power
But by my spirit
Says the Lord of Hosts.

4;7

מי אתה הר הגדול
לפני זרבבל למישר
והוציא את האבן הראשה
תשאות
חן חן לה

Who are you, great mountain?
Become a plain before Zerubavel!
And then He took out the Head Stone
…Upward movement…
Grace – Grace – is hers!

 

 

 

The Second Vision 

Verse

Text

Translation

14;3

ויצא יקוק
ונלחם בגוים ההם
כיום הלחמו ביום קרב

Then shall the Lord go out
And fight against those nations
As he fought in the day of battle.

14;4

ועמדו רגליו ביום ההוא
על הר הזתים אשר על פני ירושלם מקדם
ונבקע הר הזיתים מחציו מזרחה וימה גיא גדולה מאד
 
ומש חצי ההר צפונה וחציו נגבה

And his feet will stand on that day
On the Mount of Olives, which is before Yerushalayim to the East
And the Mount of Olives will be split from its middle to east and to west, a very great valley
And half the mountain will be removed towards the north, and the other half to the south.

14;8

והיה ביום ההוא
יצאו מים חיים מירושלם
 
חצים אל הים הקדמוני
וחצים אל הים האחרון
בקיץ ובחרף יהיה

And on that day
Living water will go forth from Yerushalayim
Half to the First Sea
And half to the Last Sea
In summer and winter it shall be.

14;9

והיה יקוק למלך על כל הארץ
ביום ההוא יהיה יקוק אחד
ושמו אחד

And God will be King of the whole earth
On that day God will be One
And his name will be One.

 

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The Blessings of Avraham – Exactly!

Precis: A comparative reading of two versions of a well-known Rashi text, bringing out meaning that is sometimes lost.

Breshit [Genesis] 12;1-3

Text

Translation
1

ויאמר יקוק אל אברם
לך לך
מארצך
וממולדתך
ומבית אביך
אל הארץ אשר אראך

And God said to Avram
Go
From your land
And from your birthplace
And from the house of your father
To the land that I will show you.
2

ואעשך לגוי גדול
ואברכך
ואגדלה שמך
והיה ברכה

And I will make you a great nation
And I will bless you
And I will make your name great
And you will be a blessing.
3

ואברכה מברכיך
ומקללך אאר
ונברכו בך כל משפחת האדמה

And I will bless those that bless you
And those that curse you, I will curse
And through you, all the families of the earth will be blessed.

It is instructive to study closely Rashi’s commentary on the above verses.
The following table shows two versions of Rashi’s text. The two versions are arranged side by side, with the differences stressed in red.

These differences at first glance seem slight… But look closely.

It’s easy to see that the text on the right (Mikraot Gedolot haCeter) is exact:
it conveys meaning that is lost in the less exact version on the left.

רש”י – תורת חיים

רש”י – מקראות גדולות הכתר

4

לך לך

להנאתך ולטובתך
שם אעשך לגוי גדול, כאן אי אתה זוכה לבנים
ועוד, שאודיע טבעך בעולם

לך לך

להנאתך ולטובתך
שם אעשך לגוי גדול, וכאן אי אתה זוכה לבנים
ועוד, שתודיע טבעך בעולם

 

Summary of the above:
The responsibility for the nature of Avraham to become known in the world – rests with God.

Summary of the above:
The responsibility for the nature of Avraham to become known in the world – rests with Avraham himself.

5

ואעשך לגוי גדול

לפי שהדרך גורמת לשלשה דברים
ממעטת פריה ורביה
וממעטת את הממון
וממעטת את השם
לכך הוזקק לשלש ברכות הללו
שהבטיחו על הבנים
על הממון
ועל השם

ואעשך לגוי גדול

לפי שהדרך גורמת לשלשה דברים
ממעטת פריה ורביה
וממעטת את הממון
וממעטת את השם

והוזקק לשלש ברכות הללו
שהבטיחו על הבנים
ועל הממון
ועל השם

Summary of the above:
Here is one
fact:
Avraham is setting out on a journey – a problematic exercise – and so he requires blessing
.

6

והיה ברכה

הברכות נתונות בידך
עד עכשיו היו בידי
ברכתי את אדם ואת נח ואותך
מעתה אתה תברך את אשר תחפוץ

והיה ברכה

הברכות נתונות בידך
עד עכשיו היו בידי
אני ברכתי את אדם ואת נח ואותך
ומעתה אתה תברך את אשר תחפוץ

Summary of the above:
And here is another
fact:
Until now, God has given blessings.
From now, Avraham will be able to give blessings as well
.

Summary of the above:
The exact version forces us to read the commentary on the two separate verses together, as one complex statement, expressing a powerful
truth about life:
You can bless someone else – precisely because you once stood in need of blessing
yourself!

 

Amongst other things, all of this shows how important it is to study from exact texts…

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Ice and Light: The Wrong and the Right Way to Think about God

Precis: Translation and summary of a short piece by Rav Kook that points out the dangers of thinking in a wooden or stoney fashion. Idol worship in the modern age… 

 

Rav Kook, Kovetz 1;179

 

Text

Translation

Summary

1

מה שהמחשבה האלהית היא קבועה בצורה מיוחדת וידועה אצל בני אדם, מפני ההרגל והדמיון הילדותי, מביא המעצור היותר גדול ברוח האדם בבאו לכלל דעת

The fact that man’s thinking about God is set in a fixed mold

because of habit, and a child-like imagination

brings the greatest impediment before the spirit of man

as he moves towards Knowing.

Inert and childish ways of thinking about God are a huge impediment on the road towards knowledge.

2

זהו ניצוץ מהפגם של עשיית פסל ותמונה, שהרבה הרבה מאד אנו צריכים להזהר בה, וביותר חובת הזהירות מתגדלת, בתקופת הדעת היותר בהירה

This is a crackling spark from the blemish of constructing an image and a picture

which we have to be very, very careful about

and the obligation to be careful about this only grows, in an age of increasingly clear Knowing.

Thinking in a fixed way about God goes against the Second of the Ten Commandments, and we should be very careful not to fall into this trap.

3

הכפירה, כל תעודתה במציאות היא רק להסיר את הצורות המיוחדות מהמחשבה המהותית של כל החיים, ושרש כל המחשבות כולן

Denial of God –

its whole purpose in being is only to remove fixed forms of thought about life

at the source of all our thoughts.

The inner purpose of denial of God [as He was previously conceived to be] – is to break mankind away from the imprisonment of conventional and set ways of thinking.

4

ומי שמכיר את התוך שבכפירה מצד זה, מוצץ הוא את דבשה ומחזירה לשורש קדושתה, ומסתכל בהוד הקרח הנורא, כפור שמים

And the person who recognizes this essence of Denial

sucks the sweetness of Denial, and restores it to the root of its holiness

and sees the glorious aspect of that terrible ice, the frost of the denial of Heaven.

Constantly re-thinking our understanding of God, is the way that we break the ice of our mental imprisonment: and begin to understand God, and the whole world [including what seems to us to be the terrible aspects of the world], in a new light.

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Sad, Mad, Bad, and Glad

Just how far can we unfold the mystery of the four great men who entered the Pardes?

Talmud Bavli, Hagiga 14b:

1

תנו רבנן:
ארבעה נכנסו בפרדס, ואלו הן:
בן עזאי ובן זומא
אחר ורבי עקיבא

Our Rabbis taught:
Four entered the Pardes, namely:
Ben Azai and Ben Zoma,
Aher and Rabi Akiva
2

אמר להם רבי עקיבא:
כשאתם מגיעין אצל אבני שיש טהור
אל תאמרו
מים מים

Rabi Akiva said to them:
When you come against stones of pure marble
do not say
“Water, water”
3

משום שנאמר (תהלים ק”א)
דובר שקרים לא יכון לנגד עיני.

for it is stated (Psalms 101; 7)
“The speaker of lies will not be able to stand firm before my eyes”.
4

בן עזאי
הציץ ומת

Ben Azai:
Gazed and died
5

עליו הכתוב אומר (תהלים קט”ז)
יקר בעיני ה’ המותה לחסידיו.

it is of him that scripture says (Psalms 115;16)
“Precious is God’s eyes is the death of his saints”.
6

בן זומא
הציץ ונפגע

Ben Zoma:
Gazed and was stricken
7

ועליו הכתוב אומר (משלי כ”ה)
דבש מצאת אכל דיך פן תשבענו והקאתו

and it is of him that scripture says (Proverbs 25;16)
“Have you found honey? Eat a sufficiency, lest you become surfeited with it and vomit it”.
8

אחר
קיצץ בנטיעות

Aher:
Slashed about and grew thorns in what was planted.
9

רבי עקיבא
יצא בשלום

Rabi Akiva:
Went out in peace.

Some questions, some opinions, and some facts…

10 What is Pardes? As you can see on the internet, many people think it (Pardes, not the internet) is connected to the Persian word for ‘Paradise’.
11 What is the connection between marble and water?

שיש
מים

Marble and water are two Hebrew words, each constructed of identical letters around the letter Yud.

Applying set theory, we can determine that the union of these two words is the letter Yud, while the letters left out (Shin and Mem) amount to the Hebrew word Shem.

שם 

Shem means ‘name’.

12 Of the four great men, only one has a name. Ben Azai and Ben Zoma are merely the descendants of someone (or something) else.Aher is given a nickname, but it is not a very complimentary one (Aher means ‘the other’, or ‘the one on the outside’).

Rabi Akiva is really the only one with a name. He entered the Pardes as the spiritual descendant (ascendant?) of Moshe

משה

and he went out in peace

שלום

13 How did they get to the Pardes? According to Rashi, they got there by means of a name:

נכנסו לפרדס – עלו לרקיע על ידי שם

But whose name, what name, was that?

14 What did they find there? According to Rabeinu Hananel, souls.

נשמות

15 What did Rabi Akiva do there? We are not told.
16 What did Aher do there? We are not told.
17 Ben Azai and Ben Zoma ‘gazed’
(הציץ)

ציץ

is a Hebrew word, constructed of identical letters around the letter Yud.

It refers to the gold plate of the High Priest, worn on the forehead and between the eyes.

This is also (more or less) the place of the Tfilin.

You see that we don’t really see with our eyes;
we see with a third eye
that is above and between them.

18 Ben Azai gazed and died. Maybe he was enticed by the ease of passage – of souls from this world going back to the Pardes.Even though the distance between them is so vast.
19 Ben Zoma gazed and was stricken. Maybe he was struck by complexity of passage – of souls from the Pardes entering this world.Even though the distance between them is only three fingers wide.
20 So what is the connection between the marble and the water? I have been working quite hard at this, but I still have no idea.

[Work in progress…]

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False and True Humility and Pride

 – proudly and humbly abstracted from the writings of Rav Kuk.

Both Humility [anava] and Pride [gaava], in both their hues, come from the same place. Holiness [kdusha] heightens the awareness of the Soul [neshama] of the reality external to it, the Infinite Light – which engenders, simultaneously, inner smallness and greatness in the Soul.

Because the descent into materialism dulls the Faculty for Holiness [kodesh], thought cannot approach the heights where the light can be seen: the light which is the source of all that is good, including a profound and established sense of self.

Because through Pride, the source of greatness becomes hidden – everything shrinks, and degradation sets it. A shrunken sense of the universe leads to an exaggerated sense of self, which leads to a false sense of the moral worth of some of your actions. You delude yourself that all your actions are worthy, whereas really they are not. And even though some good actions may result – their benefit is lost in the substantive damage of the rotted spiritual complex that comes from the terrible darkness of Forgetting God.

Polluted pride comes from the source of the double lie: basic unawareness of Infinite Greatness; and consequent unawareness of the true worth of the individual.

If pride presages the fall, so does lowliness presage elevation of the spirit.

The essence of Pride is foreign and hateful to my soul. But sometimes, I have to take on the borrowed characteristic of Pride, for purposes of social interaction.

True Humility [anava] is comprised of two things: Pride in Standing Proudly for the Truth [gaavat emet], and Humility in Vindication [anvat zedek].

Lust and Anger are rooted in Pride [gaava]. Because a sense of the true value and pleasure of life is lost through Pride – there is no room for ideal aspiration. Which, through desperation, leads to lust. Humility [anava], on the other hand, implies harmony with the universe, and a consequent benign and beneficial take on everything.

The inner connection to God, revealed at the core of everything that is separate from God, is the two-way highway to greatness. Man is great, and God is great, through this connection.

A great man must go to extraordinary lengths in order to fulfill his destiny. He should not be frightened of the sin of pride – but rather of the sin of false modesty, which is much worse. And by fulfilling himself, he causes great good in the world.

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Does God want it darker?

God and Avraham have entered into a covenant, and now they are a team. Because they are a team, Avraham does things for God that God (because He has limited himself in order to create the Universe…) can no longer do for himself.

Pay no attention to the globalist ideologues that run the Scandinavian Nobel Prize committees: the Jewish poet of our age is not the other guy, but Leonard Cohen.

Leonard Cohen has departed, but at the same time firmly established his presence with his final song – whose central motif is Hineni/Here I am.

וַיְהִי
אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה
וְהָאֱלֹהִים נִסָּה אֶת אַבְרָהָם
וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו
אַבְרָהָם
וַיֹּאמֶר
הִנֵּנִי

[Bereshit/Genesis 22;1]
After
these even
ts
God tested Avraham
He said to him
Avraham
and he answered
Here I am

Avraham was the first to say Hineni, and he said it more than once. There were others that said it too (Yakov, Yosef, Paro. God).

Interestingly, Esav, the archetypical spiller of blood, said it as well:

וַיְהִי
כִּי זָקֵן יִצְחָק
וַתִּכְהֶיןָ עֵינָיו מֵרְאֹת
וַיִּקְרָא אֶת עֵשָׂו בְּנוֹ הַגָּדֹל
וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו
בְּנִי
וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו
הִנֵּנִי

[Bereshit/Genesis 27;1]
And it happened
when Yitzhak was old
and his eyes were too dim to see
that he called his older son Esav
and
said to him
My Son
and he
said to him
Here I am

The first time Avraham said Hineni, he indeed answered the call from the Sky. But Avraham had no inkling yet of what God required of him.

The second time Avraham says Hineni to God is a few days after that. Now Avraham is already on the mountain. He has already bound Yitzhak (Isaac) and placed him on the pyre. Avraham has stretched his hand towards the knife and is about to slaughter his son.

At this point, Avraham is again addressed from the Sky:

וַיִּקְרָא אֵלָיו מַלְאַךְ יְהֹוָה מִן הַשָּׁמַיִם
וַיֹּאמֶר
אַבְרָהָם אַבְרָהָ
ם
וַיֹּאמֶר
הִנֵּנִי

[Bereshit/Genesis 22;11]
Then the angel of God called to him from the Sky
and said
Avraham, Avraham
and he
said
Here I am

Again, Avraham says Hineni. But this time the Hineni (God forbid) is the Hineni of Esav.

It is true that God is testing Avraham. But it is also true that Avraham is testing God.

I am here, says Avraham, unconditionally willing to do your bidding. But where are YOU, God? And WHO are You? Are you the God of Esav who rejoices in the spilling of blood?

At the height of this famous and dramatic scene, God emphatically denies that he has any desire for bloodshed or takes any pleasure in the spilling of human blood.

Now Avraham knows it, and now the whole world knows it too.

The world is certainly full of bloodshed and suffering, but God is not implicated in this. He takes no pleasure in it.

If we see bloodshed and suffering all about us – it is not the will of God. If there is darkness, we have to look for the reason somewhere else.

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Focusing the affairs of the universe

 

This week’s Parsha (Torah portion), Lech Lecha, brings a new and sharp focus to God’s Creation. In the opening words of the Parsha, God specifically instructs a particular individual, Avraham, to leave his home and move to the Land.

In fact, we were already introduced to Avraham and his family in the closing verses of the previous Parsha. There are a number of people mentioned there, and a number of places too. The impression is one of confusion. The Torah account is sparse, but we can sense that much significant human drama is taking place, over a wide and diffuse arena.

We meet Terah (ninth generation from Noah), who leads a complicated life. Terah has vague intentions of moving to the Land of Canaan. In practice, he moves in the opposite direction – from his birth place Charan to Ur Casdim.

Terah leaves a son named Nahor in Haran, but is accompanied in his journey to Ur Casdim by another son, Avraham.

In Ur Casdim a third son is born to Terah. His name is Haran. Haran has two daughters (Milcah and Yisca) and a son (Lot) . Thereafter Haran dies – probably he is killed – in Ur Casdim.

We are not told the circumstances surrounding the death of Haran.

The Midrash speaks of tension between Terah and Avraham, concerning the worship of idols. Terah calls the attention of Nimrod (the king of Ur Casdim) to the iconoclastic behaviour of Avraham. In the ensuing complications, Haran meets his death.

Idol worship was certainly a problem in Ur Casdim. But it seems equally probable that the predatory sexual behaviour of the local potentate was a huge problem as well. It is possible to speculate that Haran was somehow killed because his two daughters (known to be beautiful) were coveted by the king.

After this catastrophe, Terah and Avraham leave Ur Casdim and return to their birthplace, Charan. They take with them the children of the dead Haran: Milca, Yisca, and Lot. Avraham marries Yisca (otherwise known as Sarah). Similarly, Nahor marries Milcah. Their descendants later include Rivka (Rebecca), Rahel, and Leah. These women, in the course of time, are married to the descendants of Avraham.

But a lot has to happen before the complex unification of the extended family of Terah can take place.

In our Parsha – as a response to all the complications previously mentioned – God says to Avraham Lech Lecha: move to the Land. This demands a leap of faith on the part of Avraham. But Avraham accepts the challenge.

Not that the move to the Promised Land solves all difficulties. On the contrary, many of the complications seem only to get worse. Yet the focus on this particular man – Avraham – and this particular place – the Land – is in the long term what is needed to move God’s creation away from generalized chaos and towards a world that is ordered and formed about a recognition and knowledge of the Creator.

The Land itself is in a highly parlous state. It has been invaded by the Canaanites, and is at this time even called after them – the Land of Canaan – even though the Canaanites are interlopers and do not belong there.

Sexual predation continues, and is a constant concern of Avraham and his descendants. Avimelech tries twice to abduct the wife of Avraham and Yitzhak (Isaac). Pharoah in Egypt tries to abduct the wife of Avraham. Later, there is the abduction of Dinah by Shechem. Avraham seems constantly aware of this threat. In fact, the very first thing he does when entering the Land is to pray for the sons of Yacov in their future battle with Shechem.

Lot, too, seems traumatized by what happened to his father. He offers his own daughters to the mob, in an effort to protect his own life; later in a drunken state he mates with these same daughters.

The relocation to the Promised Land is certainly difficult – but at the same time it is real! Circumstances are not easy, but it is in the Land of Israel that the moral dimension of God’s creation comes into play.

The Torah shows us that God himself is challenged by Avraham’s relocation to the promised land.

God challenges Avraham in personal terms:

ויאמר יהוה אל אברם
לך לך
מארצך
וממולדתך
ומבית אביך
אל הארץ אשר אראך

God said to Avraham
Transport yourself,
from your land
and your birthplace
and the house of your father
to The Land which I will reveal

It is striking that when God announces his intention to destroy Sodom, Avraham confronts God in similarly personal terms, saying to Him:

חללה לך
מעשת כדבר הזה
להמית צדיק עם רשע
והיה כצדיק כרשע
חללה לך
השפט כל הארץ
לא יעשה משפט

It is a negation of Yourself
to do anything such as this
– to kill a righteous man with an evil one
thus equating the righteous with the evil –
This is a negation of Yourself!
Will the judge of all the Land
not do justice?!

The intimate and forceful dialog between God and Man necessary to bring about resolution of all such moral issues surrounding the life of Avraham and his descendants in Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel) is crucial to the destiny and moral perfection of God’s Creation.

Eretz Yisrael is where God manifests. And good people everywhere know this to be true.

Thank God that Mike Pence is the new Vice President of the United States and not the other guy Cain (however he chooses to spell his name):
Mike Pence stands with Israel

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What kind of people does God like?

 

Question:    What kind of people does God like?

Most people would unthinkingly suppose that the people that God likes best, would be those who are subservient to His stated will. But is this really so?

Reading Torah closely, you can often discover a point of view that is different to what is commonly supposed.

Take the case of נח (Noah).

Noah was the first human being to earn the appreciation of God. This is stated clearly in the Torah:

Verse

Text

Translation
Bereshit 6;8

ונח מצא חן בעיני יהוה

And Noah found favour in the eyes of God.

The relationship between God and Noah is expressed by these two words in the above verse: נח and חן. The mutual and circular nature of this – and any – relationship is expressed in the transposition of the two letters Het and Nun to compose two different but related words.

Looking more closely at the nature of the relationship between God and Noah, we discover that Noah found favour in the eyes of God precisely by subverting (in a positive and constructive sense) the stated will of God.

God cursed the land because of Adam. The land would not easily yield its fruit. Bread could only be produced by the sweat of Adam’s brow.

And then Noah came along and invented the plough.

The plough not only turned over the clods of the stubborn earth – it also began the process of overturning the curse of God.

God did not like having to curse Adam and the Land. God is always looking for the man who can enable him to lift the curse and change his decree. And this is exactly what Noah began to do.

God likes people like Noah.

It is people, like Noah, who challenge God in positive ways that find favour in God’s eyes.

 

Notes

The Midrashic statment that Noah invented the plough is mentioned by Rashi in his comment on Breshit (Genesis) 5;29.

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Will He Deal with our Sister as with a Harlot?

 

Precis: Although Purim has festive trappings, it also has a tragic dimension, because it spelled personal tragedy for Mordecai and Ester. And the relevance of personal outrage and suffering to the national condition must be understood as well

 

 

אִישׁ יְהוּדִי
הָיָה בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה
וּשְׁמוֹ
מָרְדֳּכַי בֶּן יָאִיר בֶּן שִׁמְעִי בֶּן קִישׁ
אִישׁ יְמִינִי

 

The Megila has to resolve the tension between the opening and closing phrases of the Pasuk, which label Mordecai in Shushan as both: Ish Yehudi and Ish Yemini.

The contradiction is addressed by Rashi:

איש יהודי
על שגלה עם גלות יהודה
כל אותן שגלו עם מלכות יהודה היו קרויין יהודים בין הגוים ואפילו הן משבט אחר
והוא איש ימיני היה
כך פשוטו
ורבותינו דרשו מה שדרשו

Rashi defines Ish Yehudi – a Jew – to be a man who is powerless, because he is in exile, in Galut.

The Ish Yemini (on the other hand) has a powerful right hand, which he can use to alter the circumstances in which he finds himself.

The usual understanding of the term Ish Yemini is that it denotes Mordecai as being from Shevet Binyamin, the Tribe of Benjamin.

But Rashi avoids saying this. Rather, he implies that Ish Yemini is not a matter of pedigree, but a matter of choice. It is not who you are or how you were born: rather, it is a question of how you choose to act.

What exactly does Ish Yemini mean? The word Yemini appears in the Tora only once [baMidbar 26;12]. And it has no reference to Binyamin. Rather, it refers to Yamin, a son of Shimon:

בנֵי שִׁמְעוֹן לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם
לִנְמוּאֵל מִשְׁפַּחַת הַנְּמוּאֵלִי
לְיָמִין מִשְׁפַּחַת הַיָּמִינִי
לְיָכִין מִשְׁפַּחַת הַיָּכִינִי

Does Purim – the battle against Amalek – in fact have more to do with Shimon than it has to do with Binyamin?

It seems that it does. Divrei haYamin (Chronicles) 1 4;26 has this to say about the sons of Shimon: And they smote the remnant of Amalek who had escaped; and dwelt there to this day.

וַיַּכּוּ אֶת שְׁאֵרִית הַפְּלֵטָה לַעֲמָלֵק
וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׁם
עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה

In fact, the connection of Binyamin to Purim is only relevant in terms of failure to destroy Amalek. As in the case of Shaul (King Saul) – who was from the tribe of Binyamin.

Rahel, however – the mother of Binyamin – is instrumental to the story of Purim.

Rahel and Yakov had a stormy relationship and disagreed with each other, more often than not. When Rahel died, she named her son Ben Oni. Yakov contradicted her, and called the child Bin Yamin. In the Purim story, Rahel lives again as Ester. Ester and Rahel are described in similar terms, as being both beautiful and fair.

As Yacov loved Rahel for her beauty, so did Mordecai love Ester. This means that the Purim story has a tragic personal dimension. The Talmud states that Mordecai and Ester were man and wife.

Yakov virtually disowned Shimon, because he felt that Shimon lacked finesse. But the world of Amalek is a savage, violent, and cruel one; and the Purim story, in part, is the story of how Rahel as Ester vindicates Shimon.

Shimon asked [Breshit 34;31]: Will he deal with our sister as with a harlot?

ויאמרו הכזונה יעשה את אחותנו

Which is a question we may fairly ask about our sister Ester in regard to the depraved king of Shusan.

Purim is like Yom Cipur (the Day of Atonement), but with special reference to the age-old problem of the attitude that we, as a nation, need to adopt towards those who wish to annihilate us. The reason we read the Megila again and again, every year, is in order to enable us to revisit this issue and try discover a renewed perspective that may be more relevant to the age in which we live.

Purim, for us, need not be the story of the second son of Rahel, Binyamin, and the partial failure of Shaul. Rather, it might be the story of how Rahel vindicates and redeems the character of the second son of her sister Leah: Shimon.

We have already quoted Shimon:

Will he deal with our sister as with a harlot?

But who is the subject of this statement?

At first glance, the subject is Hamor ben Shechem the Hivvite. Who violated Dina; who happened to be the daughter of Yakov and the sister of Shimon.

But the issue is not merely of personal relevance to Yakov and his family. Due to the vexed relations of the Children of Israel with all the nations of the world, from that time on till our present day, the issue has national and historical significance as well.

Yakov fears the fallout of his sons’ actions in defending the honor of Dina.

But Shimon elevates the issue to its true level: Will He – God! – deal with our sister as with a harlot? Is she a princess in God’s eyes or is she a slut? Is it God’s will that our national history be forever a tale of threatened mass-murder laced with intermittent sporadic murder, sordid criminality, rapine, and strife? Is our natural place in the gutter? Is this forever the way it is going to be?

Year by year, we should have a better answer to that question. But a great deal of the answer depends upon us.

We first have to ask ourselves: How is God involved in this battle? Are we are fighting merely for our own physical survival?

Or is the Honor of the God of Israel at stake here as well?

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Kedusha. What is the Best English Translation of the Word?

 

Precis: Holiness is the traditional translation of the Hebrew word Kedusha, but that does not convey much. Celebration says a whole lot more.

 

It is true that Rashi says that Kedusha has got to do with separation. But separation is not an ideal; Unification is an ideal, in fact our greatest ideal.

In his statement, Rashi is merely pointing us to the first stage of the process of Kedusha. He is by no means defining Kedusha. What he is saying is, if you want to achieve Kedusha, here is the way you have to go about it: First of all you need separation, because separation from everything unworthy is a necessary early stage in the process of unification. Unification with God.

The word Kedusha appears in the Tora hundreds of times, in one form or another. Instead of Holiness, try understanding it as Celebration – anything that tends to enhance the intensity of life. The Tora is telling us again and again: By separating ourselves from the extraneous dross, we are able to achieve a golden intensity of existence.

For example, the concept of Kedusha is applied to the process of Marriage. The woman becomes Mekudeshet. But the point is not to ‘separate’ the woman from all other women and all other men – though of course that separation is an essential stage of the process. The point is to celebrate that one particular and special woman. When you (the man, in this case) do this, you intensify the meaning of both your lives, thus bringing joy and pleasure to the wife, the husband, and God. All of that is called Kedusha.

In a similar way the concept of Kedusha is applied to Time. When we separate Shabbat and Hagim [festivals] from routine time, we celebrate time and celebrate life. That is called Kedusha.

To be Kadosh is to experience your life in its most intense form.

It seems that for Rav Kook, the essence of life, the governing principle, is defined to be Oneg [pleasure]; the exquisite and intense pleasure of being close to God. Kedusha then, for Rav Kook, is defined as: “Doing all you can to separate yourself from anything that interferes with the pleasure that you experience in being close to God”.

 

Notes

Rashi

Rashi is one of the most important Jewish sages. He lived about nine hundred years ago. He wrote monumental commentaries on the Bible and the Talmud, as well as many other works.

The thing about Rashi is that he usually sticks to a minimum of words, but is enormously subtle in everything that he writes. In short, you need to be very careful before taking what he says at merely surface value. He is usually packing whole worlds of meaning into the few words that he offers you.

The result of this is that, if you pay attention closely enough, the living personality of Rashi looms ever greater as you consider his words. You get the strange feeling that he is actually with you in the room. You often have to grin or smile when it suddenly hits you that his words mean much more than you originally thought. You marvel at his self-restraint at not elaborating at length everything that he knows. But you are very grateful for that – because it leaves you space in which to grow. And allows Rashi himself to grow more and more as a close friend and important figure in your life.

Of course, the reputation of Rashi could not be higher. But Rashi has suffered at the hand of careless or slightly arrogant scribes who copied his manuscripts, and thought it might be helpful to add a few words or phrases in order to help ‘explain’ to the reader what Rashi meant. Every time they did that, they wrecked his meaning.

Luckily, these days there are scientific editions of Rashi’s commentaries, which have made comprehensive efforts, working with early manuscripts, to get back as far as humanly possible to the original text. If you want to study Rashi, you should make a point of doing so exclusively from these editions of his commentaries.

The comment by Rashi about Kedusha, alluded to at the beginning of my post, is Rashi on vaYikra [the book of Leviticus] Chapter 19, Verse 2.

 

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