Sunday, January 15, 2017

The View From Above

By HaRav Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Beit El

1. Tzadikim and Yesharim
2. The Paradox
3. Comparable to the Stars
4. What's in a Name?
5. Everywhere, in Every Situation

"And these are the names." Rabbi Abahu said: "Any time the Torah uses the term, 'these are' - it intends, in the passage that follows, to draw a line of separation between it and that which preceded it. However, when the Torah uses the phrase, 'And these are,' the personalities or subject matter next mentioned represents a continuation of, and actually an improvement on, the subject mentioned before".

In line with this principle, the verse in the Torah’s account of creation - "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth" - represents a break from the state of chaos that preceded that verse. But when it says in the Torah, "And these are the names," (at the start of the book of Shmot) the Torah is offering additional praise of the seventy souls of Ya'akov's family mentioned earlier, noting that all of them were "Tzadikim" - righteous people.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook notes that our forefathers are referred to in several places as "yesharim" - literally: "straight" or "upright" - people, and notes that the status of the "yesharim" is higher that the status of "tzadikim." This superiority is evident in the verse (elsewhere) that says: "A light is sewn for the Tzadik - and those of an upright heart are joyous." Rav Kook explains that Tzadikim regularly find themselves engaged in internal moral battles in which they struggle with, and eventually overcome, the pull, or inclination, to do the wrong thing. Through this process, Tzadikim succeed in ultimately performing God's will. For the Tzadik, the light is "sewn." This means that, just as a seed planted in the ground, through a path of slow growth, successive victories over tugs in the opposite direction permit the Tzadik to continually improve himself...

The lives of "Tzadikim" are thus fundamentally different than that of the "yesharim"; the latter are blessed with the ability to serve God in response to their strong natural internal desire to do good; they are people who have succeeded in turning their evil inclinations into good ones, who serve the Creator with their good and evil inclinations simultaneously. They have "arrived" in a sense, having already achieved their goal of reaching the state of joy referred to in the verse above. If, then, our forefathers were in fact "yesharim," what more can be said of them? Why must the Torah say, "And these are the names..." and thereby indicate that they were also Tzadikim?

Rav Kook explains: Although it is true that the yesharim serve the Creator out of complete, absolute cleaving and devotion, and that this is a wondrous and complete type of service of God - such people paradoxically perhaps, suffer from a lacking; that is, they lack the experience of undergoing spiritual struggles. Put another way, they have little contact with the privilege of serving God through overcoming obstacles. Thus, the Tzadik's service of God has its own special, revered, status: "And these are the names..."

Rav Kook adds that Moshe and Aharon possessed a synthesis of these two qualities - knowledge of God, which is characteristic of the yesharim, and the proper exercise of free choice, which characterizes the Tzadikim. Aharon, for instance, was a Tzadik. The symbol of this quality came in the form of his wearing the "Choshen Mishpat" on his chest; this garment represents the "dayan," the judge, who must possess the ability to properly apply his personal judgement to rule on a particular case. Moshe and Aharon were fit to be the leaders that would help redeem the Jewish people, who would serve as a bridge between the forefathers who were on the level of "knowing" God - as yesharim - and the children, who regularly, as Tzadikim, had to resolve matters through the appropriate use of their free will.

The midrash also notes: "'And these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt, with Ya'akov, everyone came with his household...' Israel is comparable to the heavenly hosts: The verse at the opening of Shmot refers to 'names'; 'names' is a term used in reference to the stars, as well, as it says: 'He counts the stars by number, and gives them each a name.' So too, when the Jews descended to Egypt, the Holy One Blessed Be He counted them by number, and like the stars,called them each by name..."

Stars constitute a world unto themselves; each star is a massive entity. To us, from such a great distance, the star looks rather tiny, but in reality, each star is a giant world. The Jewish people are comparable to the stars. In our eyes, we sometimes look at a Jew and, because we are not particularly impressed by his behavior, ask: "Is he really a Jew?" But the soul of each Jew is so lofty, so profound, that when we look at him, we are really looking at him from a "great distance." As such, each Jew may look rather small, though he is really greater than an entire world. Because of the distance between our ability to perceive and the actual essence of his soul, the soul merely appears less significant...

When our sages compared the Children of Israel to the stars, they were understating their case, by making use of a comparison that is within human perception - the vastness and greatness of the stars; in truth, however, the sages mean to say that the Jewish people are at least as great as the stars. The greatness of Israel, must be measured on a completely different scale, however: We, unlike the stars, possess great spiritual powers.

Just as the stars have names, "He counts the stars by number, each one he gives a name," so too, each Jew has a name: "And these are the names of the Children of Israel..."

Rav Kook points out that in one point in the Torah, the verse states: "He accounts for the hosts by number, and calls them all by a name." The stars have one name that unites them all. Elsewhere, the Torah says: "He calls them all by names." This means that they have many names - each star boasts its own name. Rav Kook explains that the same is true for the Children of Israel: from one angle, the Jews are all part of one nation; it is for this reason that there is one name for all of the Jewish people. From another perspective, though, each tribe, and each individual, has its own independent identity...

Our portion's opening verse literally reads: "And these are the names of the Children of Israel who came to Egypt, with Ya'akov, each came with his household." Regarding this (underlined) phrase, the Zohar asks: "Since it says that the Jews arrived, it did not have to add that they came with Ya'akov, since he is part and parcel - and the leader of - the Children of Israel." The Zohar answers that the Torah is not talking about the Jewish people in the physical sense of the word, but is rather relating to the spiritual aspect of the tribes. The names of the tribes express their common roots, that the souls of their members are connected to the heavenly hosts, to the lofty Divine chariot. When the Jewish people begins its period of enslavement in Egypt, the Shechina (Divine Presence) descends there with them. God's dedication to the Children of Israel parallels his promise to their father, Ya'akov: "I will descend with you to Egypt, and I will ascend from there with you..."

The Shechina accompanies the Jewish people everywhere, in every situation. Even in the most difficult of times, when it seems that God is not with them, He is. Even when the Egyptians are busy drowning Jewish babies, and sealing them into the walls of buildings; when terrible national traumas, even holocausts. befall us - still, and perhaps most intensely then - the Shechina is with us.

The Zohar asks: Why did the prophet Yechezkel reveal everything that he saw in his grand prophecy of the Divine Chariot? The secrets of the Divine chariot are not something that should be made available to everyone!

The Zohar responds by noting that the exile of the Jews to Babylonia was more difficult than their descent to Egypt. Life was difficult before the Egyptian exile - in fact, life in Ya'akov's home was by no means simple: He first had to deal with Lavan, then Shechem, etc. Ya'akov seems to continuously be embroiled in conflicts and struggles!

As a result, the Jews began the Egyptian exile with a wealth of experience in what it means to face challenge and conflict. In contrast, the Babylonian exile began after an extended uplifting Jewish stay in the Land of Israel, a life that surrounded the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) - where the reality of an ongoing set of ten miracles was accepted as a matter of routine! Divine Providence clearly manifested itself through the fire on the altar never waned, the continuous burning of the Ner Tamid, the eternal light. Consequently, the descent into the subsequent Babylonian exile was especially shocking and unsettling for our people.

God thus appears to Yechezkel, making him aware that He is with him in his exile - even though He seemed "hidden." Had the prophet stated that he saw a chariot, without giving details as to what he exactly saw, his words would not have been compelling, and the Jewish people would not have been sufficiently strengthened and encouraged by the prophecy. Thus, says the Zohar, it was imperative that the prophet become privy to - and report on - all the grand images that he witnessed. In a similar way that He relates to the stars - on both the "macro" and "micro" levels - God has tied His destiny to the Jewish people as a whole and to each and every Jew in particular, accompanying us through all the crises and difficulties that each individual must face.

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