Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Last Note on Providence

What comes out of our previous discussions of divine providence is that (according to Rambam and Ramban) God does not always actively make a good or bad thing happen to us. Sometimes, it is a product of the natural general providence. However, this does not take away from the fact that God did allow this to occur. If an event could not fit in with the divine plan for the world, it would be stopped before it occurred.

Therefore, when evil befalls us, we can use it as an impetus from God to mend our ways and repent. By allowing this event, God has given us a doorway through which to move towards greater spiritual growth. We may find a specific action on our part that this event corresponds to, and treat it as individual providence, or we may not, and simply treat is as falling under the rubric of general providence. The same can be said for good events that befall us.

We can find comfort and solace in the fact that no evil could befall us, even through general providence, if it could not be reconciled with the ultimate designs of God for the course of world events. God may allow evil to occur, even when it goes against His will, but he would not allow it to occur if it would derail the ultimate plan.

And so, the destruction of the Temples, the crusades, the Holocaust, and on an individual level, even the loss of a cherished infant, are certainly not the way God may have wanted the world to act. However, his very allowance of these events testifies to their being compatible with ultimate redemption and meaning in life.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


As we move further and further into the nightmare of Oslo and land for peace, Rabbi Kahane's Yahrtzeit today reminds us of where we should be: a proud nation, steadfastly faithful to God, demonstrating power and security before its enemies.

May we soon merit his dream.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Pride of the IDF

Loosely translated from the Maariv article:

"In unit 202 of the paratroop brigade, the religious soldiers choose to vacation in a yeshiva.

Ever fighter in the IDF waits for this moment. After endless guard duties and ambushes, after training and pressure, the unit earns a week of vacation. It happens about once a month, and when it comes, the soldiers celebrate. When this celebration came to unit 202, many of the soldiers chose to spend their vacation in Torah lectures, spiritually uplifting talks, and meetings with rabbis.

The soldiers approached the rabbi of their unit, and explained that they felt a need to strengthen their resolve with Torah study. He turned to the Hesder yeshivas, and they organized a Torah-oriented vacation for the soldiers in Karnei Shomron.

The soldiers enjoyed Torah study as well as separate swimming. One of the soldiers explained: "Our life choices lead us to combine Torah and army service. For us to learn for two days in between our operational responsibilities and training is a spiritual necessity."

Tomorrow these soldiers will join their comrades in Givat Olga for a day of sports. Lior Lifshitz, dean of the Hesder yeshiva in Karnei Shomron, said that, "These guys are used to learning. Two days of return to the study halls is a tonic for them, and it is what does them good." He pointed out that when these soldiers have weekends off the base, they spend them in yeshivas.

Hesder soldiers serve the army for sixteen months, and for three and a half years, study in yeshivas. Most of the students serve in fighting units. In the officer's course that ended last week, ten of the graduates were yeshiva students."

While every Jew, religious or secular, can connect to Israel and Am Yisrael, serving and defending, it is these religious soldiers, who carry in one hand the sword of Gideon, and in the other hand, the Book of God, who embody our national spirit completely. May God guide them to victory in war and success in Torah.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Binding of Yitzchak

At the end of this week's reading appears the narrative of the binding of Yitzchak, עקדת יצחק. This is how the prayer service of Rosh Hashanah refers to it, "ועקדת יצחק לזרעו ברחמים תזכור." And indeed, Rabbi Hirsch explains that this was a great test of Yitzchak's faith. Yitzchak only found out about this command of Hashem through his oral law-giver, his father. As the Talmud (Sanhedrin 89b) explains, this הוראת שעה, temporary commandment was only relied upon because Avraham had proven himself a true conduit of God's word.

However, the Torah narrates the event as the climactic test of Avraham's faith. His son is passive, inactive, throughout the story. It is Avraham who is commanded by God to bring his son up on an altar, and demonstrate his willingness to sacrifice everything he worked for, and all his hopes for the future, at God's command. Why does the Torah put the emphasis on Avraham?

(It is worth noting, when mentioning this theologically difficult episode, that the pshat is clear that God never intended Avraham to actually carry through with the sacrifice. The Torah decries human sacrifice such as מולך, and the words והעלהו שם לעולה imply that he is only to be brought up, but not slaughtered. The lesson was to be one of devotion to God's will to the extent that, when commanded, we are willing to follow blindly God's word, even when it seems to contradict everything we know about the world and His ways. It is a lesson in humility and יראת שמים, and, according to Rav Kook, a demonstration that passion and active service do not take a back seat to abstract philosophy in Avraham's (and Judaism's) philosophy.)

Rav Yosef Dov, author of the Beis HaLevi, has an interesting take on this. He writes that the harder test was not Yitzchak's. Yitzchak was charged with a martyr's death. Although this is certainly a high level, and a tremendous test, it is absolutely terminative. His martyrdom would not create any emotional, theological or psychological crises in the future because, quite simply, passing his test he would cease to exist.

Not so for Avraham's test. When Yitzchak is gone, Avraham would be left with a void in his life. His most prized acquisition in this world, his whole hope for the future, Yitzchak, would be gone, and Avraham would be left with a sterile existence that would leave no possibility of God's lessons and Avraham's worldview being propagated in this world. Avraham would be left emotionally and psychologically scarred as well. The test for Avraham is less the commandment to sacrifice his son, and more the order to actively destroy all hope for the good future of mankind.

The Beis Halevi points out that while many people would be willing to make the catastrophic show of faith of dying על קידוש השם, it is harder to find people who are willing to forego personal comforts, and live without something they truly desire, for God. Living for God is harder than dying for him. This is why the Torah calls it a test of Avraham. He is the one who we must model, with a willingness to be stripped of all material, emotional and psychological goods in God's service.

In our times, it may seem that the aspects of קידוש השם, martyrdom for God, is not something we need worry about. We do not experience existential fear while serving God. However, we do experience the test of Avraham in our own ways. We give up on prestige, comfort and ease for shabbat, yamim tovim, and kashruth. וחי בהם, living for God through the tests of everyday life, is the more intense and protracted test. It is the one we can find glory through in our lives.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Dialectic of Individual and Community

Last week, we discussed the emergence of the creative individual, and the accompanying elevation from mediocrity engendered by an individual's spiritual activity. Rabbi Carmy, in the same essay, presents the other side of the coin.

In the Guide, Rambam states that those who interpret every trouble and annoyance in life as expressions of hashgacha pratit are guilty of the tragic flaw, hubris. The assumption is all too common that we are in tune with God to a greater extent than our peers, and there is more meaning in everyday troubles for us than others. Rambam calls a person who feels this way foolish, and writes against expecting too much hashgacha pratit. There is great divine wisdom in the shepherding of the flock, and there is great human self-knowledge in the concession that perhaps, in the words of Rabbi Carmy, "vanity, spiritual self-indulgence, and sullen self-justification" lead us to expect too much individual attention.

Rav Kook echoes this when he states that the cringing in the face of personal suffering and troubles prevents the natural love and reverence towards the divine. Individuals and the collective nation can thus become spiritually and physically sick. A pre-occupation with hashgacha pratit can paralyze our abilities to perform our tasks in this life, causing us to constantly evaluate and re-evaluate ourselves vis-à-vis God and what he has allowed to befall us. This is what Rabbi Carmy refers to as "hothouse hashgacha theology".

It is also clear that, however great a human being's personal achievements, they are only possible in the cultural and social milieu into which he is born and raised. Science, theology, logic, music, art and language are all fields which clearly demonstrate that great progress is made on the shoulders of those who came before. And so, as much as a man may like to view himself, and have God view him, as an individual, he cannot and should not completely shake off the shackles of his species.

I would posit therefore that there is great benefit in being viewed, both by God and by ourselves, as members of a Nation, and not simply as individuals worthy of individual attention. Our achievements are only attainable because of our origins, and our nation is the repository of a wealth of cultural and intellectual treasures that fuel our creativity.

Even more than this, the hashgacha klalit that the nation provides us is not simply a lower level of providence, one that should be replaced with hashgacha pratit at all costs. The national providence in play in hashgacha klalit is a powerful mechanism of protection for the individual. As Rav Kook points out in his essay, "Process of Ideas in Israel," the national identity provides immortality to our actions in this world. We are supposed to see ourselves as gaining fulfillment through our national identity. Further, the national destiny of Israel collects even sinners, and allows them to be gathered up in the salvation of the nation. (See Vayikra Rabba 3, where the midrash compares the different parts of the nation to the elements of the mitzvah of lulav. The midrash ends, יבאו אלו ויכפרו על אלו, teaching that even sinners are forgiven and provided for in the redemption.) Indeed, there is unique value and protection that national providence is capable of, that individual providence simply cannot reach.

This point is elaborated upon by the כלי יקר (Sh'mot 30:11-12) in Ki Tisa. He asks a number of questions regarding the nature of protection that donating money provides from the dangers of being singled out by counting. Perhaps, he says, each individual will be remembered and inspected and found wanting. However, as the shunamite woman said of herself, "sitting amongst my nation" can defend against just such analysis.

The national aspect of a Jew provides him with providence vital to survival. And so it is that an individual constantly experiences this paradox, the dialectic between his individual identity, and that of his nation. To abdicate either is to sign one's own spiritual, intellectual and emotional death warrant. Forever vacillating between these two extremes, we nurture ourselves from both springs, never fully our own personality, and never simply part of a group.

Thus judged, we become deserving of the protective qualities of both hashgachot, protected from anonymity on the one side, and from the lonely starkness of isolated individuality on the other.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Individual Providence and Avraham

In Rabbi Carmy's Essay, "Tell Them I've Had a Good Enough Life", he points out a contradiction in Rambam's Guide, and shows how Rabbi Soloveitchik resolves it. In chapter 17, Rambam differentiates between the animal world, which is run on hashgacha klalit, general providence, and the human world, which runs, additionally, on hashgacha pratit, individualized attention from God. However, in chapter 18, Miamonides states that individual attention is bestowed upon one who actively seeks and engages the Divine.

This apparent contradiction is resolved in Halachik Man. Rabbi Soloveitchik divides humanity's existence into two modes. The first is representative of nothing more than an incarnation of the platonic form 'Man'. He is simply an example, an instance of mankind. He lives with no special understanding of any higher purpose, and his existence as a human is analogous to the existence of a cow as a bovine; he naturally participates in the life-cycle and perpetuation of his species. To quote the Rav, he "has never done anything that could...legitimate his existence as an individual." He is not an individual. His reality is mired in the mediocrity of humanity.

On the other hand, a human being can transcend this earthly, animalistic persona. By engaging the universe as a creative, active participant, he elevates himself out of the hum-drum of the species. He thinks, designs, and strives for further understanding of the world around him, his purpose in it, and his relationship to his Creator. Such a person has raised himself out of the mediocrity of his species, and "lives not on account of being born but for the sake of life itself, and so that he may merit thereby the life in the world to come."

And so, one who, through his actions, acts as a creature of the species Man (quantitatively, but not quantitatively, above other animals), is treated with hashgacha klalit. It is a person who sees the glory and grandeur of the calling of Man, qualitatively different from other creatures, who is provided with hashgacha pratit.

Ultimately, the design of Man is to obligate him to strengthen that relationship to God. He is commanded to create, improve and elevate his existence, and, in doing so, to increase the level of providence he is showered with from Above. "When a person creates himself, ceases to be a mere species man, and becomes a man of God, then he has fulfilled that commandment which is implicit in the principle of providence." Indeed, Rabbi Carmy points out, the very act of turning to God at a time of distress, and not discounting the troubles experienced as random occurrences, turns a person into an individual, and allows them to be judged so by Him.

This distinction may highlight the difference between Avraham and his nephew, Lot. Lot's choice to live with the wicked of Sodom for the economic benefits showed himself an excellent example of a human being allowing himself to be led by his animalistic tendencies. He goes where it is most economically prudent, and when there, he does not influence the people to be better, but hides the lessons he learned in his uncle's household from the Sodomites. He is therefore caught in the dragnet of the hashgacha klalit of the war between empires, and is only saved by Avraham. Even from the destruction of the city, he is only saved by the relationship he shares with Avraham.

On the other hand, Avraham, the quintessential Man in search of his Lord, finds hashgacha pratit in his fiery furnace, his battles, and ultimately, his quest for continuity through Isaac.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Forty Years of Jerusalem

It is forty years since God gave us the blessing of a unified Jerusalem. And it seems that, in forty years, we have squandered the miracles and blessings showered upon us before the eyes of the world in the Six Day War. Ehud Olmert, Prime Minister of Israel, is ready to hand over parts of Jerusalem to the arabs who have never ceased to call for our destruction.

We have tried everything that has been suggested. Land for Peace is a proven farce, and unilateral withdrawl brings our enemies closer than ever with more sophisticated weapons that they bring across their open border with Egypt. Israel suffers from a lack of enthusiasm because its citizens know that what they fight for heroically today will be seen as oppression and conquest tomorrow. Without Torah, zionism cannot survive, and we witness the pathetic crumbling of secular zionism with politicians who are willing to trade Israel's very security for a smile and handshake from US presidents and Arab terrorists.

And now, we come to the lowest point: The most obvious miracle performed in 2000 years, the return of the Jews to Jerusalem and to the Temple Mount, is turned into a trading card. The splendor and spiritual meaning of our redemption of our holiest place is lost in Olmert's desire for international approval. And the nation sits desolate, in apathy and shame.

In his book, Forty Years, Rabbi Kahane writes:

"The idea first entered my head as I sat, one day, in Ramle Prison. It was the eve of Tisha B'Av, the tragic commemoration of the destruction of both Temples, the beginning of both terrible exiles. I sat, reviewing the book of Jonah, with its message of repentance, on the day of national tragedy. Jonah enters the city of Nineveh, to which he has been sent by the Al-Mighty, to warn them of impending destruction unless they repent. And as I read, the words of Jonah to the people suddenly leaped out at me: "In forty days, Nineveh shall be overturned!"

Forty. The thought suddenly struck me: How many times, again and again, does that number arise in connection with sin and punishment? "And the rain was on the earch forty days and forty nights." (Genesis 7:12), the punishment of a world flooded for its sin. Forty. And centuries later, as the Jews of the desert "despised the pleasant land" and wept over their "home" in Egypt, the Al-Mighty angrily decreed that the generation of the desert would not enter the Holy Land, saying: "And your children will wander in the wilderness forty years and bear your faithlessness." (Numbers 14:33) Again, forty. And the punishment of stripes, whipping, is one of "Forty shall he strike him, he shall not increase," and the atonement for sin and the purification process begins with a study of Torah given forty days at Sinai continuing in a mikva, ritualarium, whose waters must be a minimum of forty S'ah.

...And iddn that tiny cell in prison the thought expanded. Not only was the concept "forty" tied to sin and punisment, it was specifically connected to the warning of G-d to the sinner, a warning designed to avert that punishment. Jonah warns Nineveh of impending punishment and this gives them a grace period of forty days during which they might search their souls and change their ways.

In the case of both Holy Temples, the Al-Mighty gave the Jewish people a period of forty years of grace; time to think and rethink their ways. Time to return to Him and save themselves from that punishment. In the awful final days of the first Jewish state, the L-rd tells the prophet Ezekiel: "And thou shalt lie again on your right side and bear the iniquity of the house of Judah, forty days; each day for a year, each day for a year." (Ezekiel 4:6)

...Once again, the period of grace. Forty years. The final hope of the Al-Mighty that, perhaps, His final warning would be heeded. The countdown of forty years, the last chance.

...For make no mistake. The magnificent miracle of return and rise of a Jewish State is surely the beginning of the Final Redemption, but hardly the end. THe true finality, the magnificent era of Messiah, comes to fruition gloriously and majestically and breathtakingly only if we cleave to the great axiom: "If you walk in my statues...I will give peace in the land." (Leviticus 26)

...This is the choice; the only choice. All the rest is nonsense. And time ticks away and the decision is in our hands.

...And it become clearer and clearer to me that, once again, it is forty years; forty years of warning, admonition, opportunity. The final chance."

It is up to us. The nation must decide. We must struggle as we have never struggled before, to stop the politicians who, whether or not they realize it, bring us to the brink of disaster. As long as it has not happened, we can still avert it.

Rav Kook on the Documentary Hypothesis

Someone (X.) brought up Rav Kook's comments in קבצים מכתב יד קדשו that purportedly say that believing in the "DH is not a problem". I think this is a serious stretch for the words of Rav Kook. Firstly, the DH purports that none of the Torah was written by God. It was all weaved together from different authors. Rav Kook speaks of the belief that some parts of the Torah were written in post Mosaic times. Also, Rav Kook ends up with a far more mystical approach to Torah מן השמים, from Heaven, than X. would accept. It seems that Rav Kook is being taken out of context and used against his true meaning. Therefore, I will post a translation, and readers can decide.

What follows is the fourth problem that leads people to leave orthodoxy, as posed by Rav Kook, and his response to it (The Hebrew text can be found at XGH. First the question, then the first page of the answer, and then then the second page of the answer):

"[Problem:] Biblical criticism weakens the foundation of Torah from Heaven, chas veshalom.

[Response:] The truth is as our received tradition states, that nothing has changed the Torah, which has been preserved always with utmost care. However, even according to the incorrect idea that some portions were written later or that certain scribal errors found their way into it, this does not affect in any way the Torah or its authenticity. The authenticity of the Torah is dependent on the acceptance of the Nation, and the Nation accepted and continues to accept it with love. The Nation used [and uses] the Torah in its present form as a symbol of our covenant of faith in God. Therefore, it is impossible for an individual to remove himself from the plural [the Nation], for by the nature of any bond of covenant that is made by general [national] consensus, and by the nature of actions that are accepted [by all as powerful and binding] as national language, and [like] ethics [social norms -ed.] that are accepted by all, no individual is able to change [the covenant ] in opposition to the plural consensus. When one does try to change [his participation in this covenant ], he oppresses his own soul.

Now we can understand well the Godly bond that is present in the Torah, no matter how it reached us, and there is no difference whatsoever what circumstances brought it to us in this [its present] form. Since the pieces are all woven into the Torah, they are included in the Divine holiness. In this Israel is unique [מצויין can also mean noted. -ed.] from all nations, in that the existence of the Nation is bound in being known by the name of the Lord of the world, by which [Whose name] it [the Nation of Israel] is called.

Therefore, the commandments in their entirety, which are bound in the Divine bond, since they are tied to the Torah and written in it, are all in the grasp of the covenant of God. He who keeps them keeps the covenant, and he who breaks them, acts against the covenant . And if there are things which need to be strengthened or weakened [דברים שימצא צורך להחמיר או להקל באופן אחר קצת], the issue is given to the power of the Beit Din [when there are reasons, they have the power even] to uproot actively a part of the Torah. Meanwhile, without a central Beit Din accepted by the Nation, and with, additionally, a national stronghold, we are unable to the spiritual center of the nation for nothing...

When the Torah is upheld by Israel, the feeling is so pure and refined, and the bond to the Torah is so great, that those who have true intellect come to an inner knowledge that there is no place at all for those questions [questions from biblical criticism], for they recognize the hand of God that is spread out over us, who did wonders for us from then until now, so that we cleave to him with love. From a recognition of the greatness of Torah, we recognize its Divinity, so that all the stutterings are done away with from their root, and Israel does well, and the Torah of God is its stronghold."

The Torah is unassailable. It is definitely written by God and given at Sinai. However, even according to those who question each word's origin at Sinai, Rav Kook develops a world-view that maintains the divinity of the Torah as we possess it. The soul of Israel accepted the Torah. God endowed our National soul with a prophetic uniqueness. Its acceptance of things is a type of prophecy. And so, the fact that our nation accepted the Torah makes it God-given through this secondary prophecy, even if you believe that parts were not written originally by Hashem. Even if all of it were not revealed at Sinai, the Torah as we have it in our hands has been turned into prophecy by the soul of the nation of Israel throughout the generations. Even without all its parts being given at Sinai, those later parts would still become part of Torah through Am Yisrael ratification with the national nevuah-spirit.

Furthermore, now that the Torah its entirety has been ratified, no individual can deny its divinity. By doing so, they would be contradicting their own soul's testimony.

Rav Kook ends by reaffirming his stance, true to the nation, that the Torah was in fact given in its entirety to the Nation of Israel on Mt. Sinai.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Fear Protects Wisdom

כל שיראת חטאו קודמת לחכמתו חכמתו מתקיימת. אם אין יראה אין חכמה, אם אין חכמה אין יראה. --אבות ג:יב,טו
One whose fear of sin precedes his wisdom will retain his wisdom. If there is no fear, there can be no wisdom, and lack of wisdom implies lack of fear.

Of God's creations, humanity is the only one that is compared to Him by being made in His image. Rav Soloveitchick writes that the quality that represents this is our creative mind. Man can freely create and invent, using his intellect to participate in the creation process that God began.

However, this intellect also has the free-willed ability to rebel against He who endowed it. History is full of rebellion against God, and seldom does rebellion come without innovative philosophical support for it. Man doubts God or His word with the very intellect whose existence testifies to Him. Some believe in God, yet doubt the veracity of the Torah. I have heard people confindent in the impossibility of a flood or an exodus or a forty year sojourn in the desert, based on flimsy archeological excavation that is far from complete, and far from convincing. And when these methods (which are far from science) fail, they miss the lesson of the inherent problem with the way they study archeology, that לא מצינו אינו רעיא, lack of evidence is proof of nothing.

And yet, skeptics say, what are we to do? We cannot be intellectually dishonest. We must rely on the minds that we are blessed with, and accept whatever seems to us to be true, no matter where it leads. To this, masechet Avot responds.

Proper fear of sin holds our imaginative intellect in check. A world-view which admits that there is a source of wisdom above us provides us with a sine qua non of intellectual study -- humility. The understanding that there are things we may not know, that the best of our methodologies do not always lead us to certainty, this forces us to be less confident in what we think we know. When we have proper humility and a deep-seated fear of sin, of mistake, we can begin to search for truth. With the lesson of Avot we can be confident that our search for truth will not end in falsehood rooted in haughty assumptions. The world's intellectual history is full of those, and fear of Heaven is the gift, the rabbis teach, that can defend us from them, even as we plumb the depths of the unknown.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Shmini Atzeres and Water

During all days of Sukos (aside from the first) and Shmini Atzeret (the eighth day of Sukos), there was a beautiful ceremony performed in the Temple. Recorded in the fourth chapter of tractate Sukah, ניסוך המים consisted of water being drawn from the שילוח stream and brought to the altar. The water was then poured through a spout on the copper altar. ספר התודעה points out that the celebration is called שמחת בית השואבה, placing the emphasis on the drawing of water. This teaches us that the main point of this celebration was the drawing of spiritual sustenance, רוח הקודש, from the sources of Godliness.

On the last day of Sukos, water makes a second appearance. It is this day that we begin to hint at our need for rain in תפילת גשם. (There are two places in our daily prayers where we mention rain. The first is in the blessing of אבות, in which we do not request rain, but praise God as the 'One who makes the wind blow, and causes the rain to fall'. Afterwards, in the section of our t'fillah where we petition God, we insert an actual request for rain, 'send dew and rain as a blessing upon the earth'.) We do not actually begin to pray for rain in the daily prayer ברכת השנים until the second month of the year, so as to give Jews who made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem time to reach their homes in dry weather. However, since the season in which precipitation is needed starts with Sukos, we do begin to praise God as Giver of rain on Shmini Atzeres, in the blessing of אבות.

Why does water play such a central role on Shmini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, a day of rejoicing in the spiritual gifts God has given us?

In Jewish symbolism, water is a metaphor for Torah. Yeshaya (55:1) states, 'Let all those who are thirsty, go to water', and the Talmud (Bava Kama 82a) explains that this means that anyone who thirsts for meaning in life can find it in the teachings of the Torah. After leaving Egypt, the people cried out for water at Marah. The rabbis teach that for the Jewish people, going three days without Torah was insufferable; it was then that Moshe decreed that the Torah be read on Mondays and Thursdays, so that there should never again be three consecutive days without Torah-water being studied.

Indeed, the Rambam at the end of his synopsis of הלכות מקוואות, echoes the midrash, שיר השירים רבה. It states that, just as water cleans us of physical filth and ritual impurity, diligence in Torah purifies our mind and soul from intellectual and spiritual impropriety. The study of the word of God and the desire to become close to Him through His teaching is the most ethereal of our pursuits. Water, a liquid which arrives from heaven and, with a bit of heat, becomes a vapor to rise to the heights, is the perfect analogy for this.

Physical life could not exist without water. Rabbi Schorsch points out that the search for life on distant planets begins with a search for water. In the same way, spiritual existence is impossible without Torah. And so, Rabbi Chaim from Volhozin writes in נפש החיים, that, were it not for the study of the Torah, the wold would not be able to exist. He quotes Jer. 33:24, 'if not for my continued covenant day and night, the laws of nature would not have been established'. Nothing illustrates this point better than the martyrdom of Rabbi Akiva. The Talmud (Brachos 61b) tells us:

פעם אחת גזרה מלכות הרשעה שלא יעסקו ישראל בתורה בא פפוס בן יהודה ומצאו לרבי עקיבא שהיה מקהיל קהלות ברבים ועוסק בתורה אמר ליה עקיבא אי אתה מתירא מפני מלכות הרשעה אמר לו אמשול לך משל למה הדבר דומה לשועל שהיה מהלך על גב הנהר וראה דגים שהיו מתקבצים ממקום למקום אמר להם מפני מה אתם בורחים אמרו לו מפני רשתות שמביאין עלינו בני אדם אמר להם רצונכם שתעלו ליבשה ונדור אני ואתם כשם שדרו אבותי עם אבותיכם אמרו לו אתה הוא שאומרים עליך פקח שבחיות לא פקח אתה אלא טפש אתה ומה במקום חיותנו אנו מתיראין במקום מיתתנו על אחת כמה וכמה אף אנחנו עכשיו שאנו יושבים ועוסקים בתורה שכתוב בה (דברים ל) כי הוא חייך ואורך ימיך כך אם אנו הולכים ומבטלים ממנה עאכ"ו

When the Romans forbade the study of Torah on the pain of death, Rabbi Akiva continued to teach. A man asked if he was not concerned for his life! Rabbi Akiva answered with a parable: Some fish were swimming away from fishermen's nets. A fox saw them and said, why are you swimming? Come out on land and live with me in peace! The fish said, fool! If we are in danger in water, the element of world that allows us to live, how much more so will we die if we leave our life-giving medium! Fish cannot physically exist without water, and Rabbi Akiva declares that Jews cannot live spiritually without Torah.

The study of the Torah, must be done with the intent of enhancing this world and contributing to the revelation of God in it. In fact, the Talmud (Nedarim 81a) states that even though the Jews of the second Temple studied Torah, they were punished because they did not recite the blessing on it. The sin was that they saw Torah as a scholarly pursuit, but one devoid of spiritual and practical application. We must study and fulfill the Torah not as academia, but as a way to interface with God and serve Him, molding the world into one that better matches His plans.

In describing many קרבנות, the Torah calls them לחם אשה, food-fuel for the fires of God. Rabbi Hirsch explains that the קרבנות remind us to use our existence in this world as an opportunity to provide fuel for the service of God. We are on earth to do God's will, and bring the world to a better place, by following the Torah. And so, when we pour water on the altar in the ceremony of ניסוך המים, the symbol is clear. We are to use even our most ethereal and spiritual of pursuits, symbolized by water, for the service of God.

Perhaps this was the mistake of the Samaritan high priest, who, in the fourth chapter of Sukah poured the water on his own feet, instead of on the altar. He did not realize that spiritual pursuits are not for us, but ultimately must also be brought as a קרבן on the מזבח.

And so, for seven days, we draw water and pour it on the altar, showing ourselves and God that we plan to serve Him through the very life force, the Torah. And after this, we ask Him, on Shmini Atzeres, to provide us with rain. The Vilna Gaon quotes the kabalistic concept that in any venture, first we are required to put in our best try (איתערותא דלתתא), and after showing God the path we want to take, he inspires us from above (איתערותא דילעילא). Through ניסוך המים, we demonstrate our desire to, as ספר התודעה taught above, draw divine inspiration from our resources. Only after this attempt can we be bold enough to ask Hashem to shower us with rain and inspiration from above.

Demonstrating the interdependence of the physical and spiritual realms of our existence, the water celebrations trade places. On the Sukos holiday, which represents God's physical preservation of our nation, we demonstrate our willingness to use our abilities to plumb the depths of Torah in the ceremony of ניסוך המים. On Shmini Atzeres/Simchas Torah, we celebrate God's spiritual preservation of Israel, and ask him to continue to rain life-giving precipitation upon our crops and aqueducts. אם אין תורה, אין דרך ארץ, אם אין דרך ארץ, אין תורה.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Sukkah of Faith

The mishnah teaches (Sukah 1:1) that a sukah that is built with its schach higher than twenty amos is invalid. The reason given in the gemara is that this extreme height implies permanence. However, the sukah must be diras aray, the opposite of permanent. Indeed, the roofing of the sukah is made of transitive materials, and its manner of placement must be ad hoc. It is not to be held down by metal or other man-made materials. However, the Davidic dynasty, the most resplendent demonstration of Israel's power and prestige, is referred to as a sukah: we say in the birkas hamazon, may God re-establish the sukah of David. What is the connection?

Rabbi Hirsch describes the symbolism of the schach. Sitting in the sukah, we leave the comfort and safety of our man-made dwellings. In our houses, it is easy to develop the feeling that we need our physical protection. We move into the temporary dwelling and remind ourselves that it is not the roof over our heads that protects us. We gladly trade the illusion of safety in kochi v'otzem yadi, the strength of our hands, for the protective care of God. In the sukah, exposed to the elements and sitting under a non-roof, we demonstrate that it is really Hashem who we rely on. He protects us in recompense for our actions, and our spiritual relationship to Him is what truly defends us against danger.

In a few weeks, we will read about Ya'akov wrestling the angel of Esav. The text describes the attack of the angel as, 'vaye'avek', he raised dust against Ya'akov. Rabbi Hirsch comments that it is more than just raising dust due to the actual struggle, but that the angel of Esav tried with all his might to bring Ya'akov down to the dust, to completely take him off his feet, to the ground. Realizing that this was impossible, the angel settled for bruising Ya'akov's sciatic nerve, his gid hanasheh.The angel leaves our forefather, and he continues on his way back to his family, limping into the sunrise, 'v'hu tzole'a' al y'recho'.

A person's legs symbolize the ability to take care of oneself and be stable. The nation of Israel limps through history, not quite able to walk upright. We are visibly weakened in the eyes of the nations around us. It is clear, as we make our painful way from exile to exile, that the children of Ya'akov are barely able to stay alive.The angel of Esav periodically throws all his resources at finally putting us down for the count. And yet, although we limp, we can never be stopped. We can be slowed, but we constantly plod resolutely toward the finish line of history.

It is not physical strength or fortitude that sustains Man. Not by our own power do Ya'akov's People limp on by. It is rather by our adherence to the Torah that we continue to exist. When we succeed, it is not thanks to our own physical prowess, for we are cripple. Rather, it is testament to God's power and our fulfillment of His will. In weakness, we learn that it is our faith in God that sustains us.

This holiday is a commemoration of God's physical preservation and continued sustenance of the nation of Israel in the desert, and throughout history. We celebrate the fact that, (Deut. 8:15) "[God] led you through the terrible wilderness where were serpents and scorpions, and thirst for water; He brought forth water out of stone." Shmini Atzeres and Simchas Torah celebrate God's spiritual preservation of Israel throughout history.

Whereas Ya'akov teaches us the lesson of our reliance on God in times of weakness and poverty, Sukos and Shmini Atzeres teach this lesson in the opulence of holiday cheer and comfort. The kingdom of Israel under David and Solomon represented the height and peak of our nation's wealth and honor. Precisely this royalty is stamped with the qualifier, sukah. Even in our power, we recognize that it is not from this power that our sustenance stems, but from our relationship with God. When we internalize this lesson, our power and honor can be sustained for the future.

Precisely our ever-developing relationship with God provides us with protection and solace in times of weakness, and power and prestige in times of good fortune. This relationship remains healthy as long as we cultivate it, much as a horticulturist would tend to a treasured specimen of flower. The word for growth, tzome'ach, is related, in Rabbi Hirsch's grammatical system, to the word for happiness, same'ach. True happiness is participating in this ever-growing relationship with Hashem.

If we internalize this lesson of the holiday of sukos, the lesson of the sukah and of the Davidic dynasty, we will merit to celebrate sukos as a true holiday of gladness through spiritual growth, yom simchatenu.