Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Maharal On The Four Kingdoms Part 3 (Why There Are Specifically 4 Kingdoms and not 3 or 5)

This is a continuation of the post found here where I discussed the Maharal's take on why any amount of Kingdoms that take away from the Glory of G-D belong in the fabric of the world. Now we will discuss why there are specifically four kingdoms that take on this role.

Therefore, it is appropriate that there are [specifically] four kingdoms, because they take away from the honor of G-D and He is ONE (Devarim 6:4).

The Maharal is going to explain why the number four is appropriate to be in opposition to the number one. He is trying to explain why the four kingdoms, the entities that take away or diminish the glory of G-D in this world, are specifically enumerated as four. Also, the Maharal is pointing out why the number four is the antithesis to the number one.

The middle (or center) is connected to the number one because there is only one exact center.

Rav Hartman brings down another statement from the Maharal in Netzach Yisroel in the first chapter that helps clarify this idea. "All unity is in the middle (center) because the edges are separate (many), but there is only one center."

Therefore, there is only one Temple and only one Jerusalem and they are in the center of the world because the center was given as a keepsake for them.  So too, the Jewish people, that they are a singular (unique) nation, the land was given to them as a keepsake since it is singular (unique) because it is at the center of the world.

The Maharal is saying that all these things are unique: The land of Israel, Jerusalem, the Temple and the Jewish people. They are all unique based on different ideas. The land of Israel is considered the center of the world (there are a million ways to explain this), Jerusalem is considered the center of Israel, and the Temple is considered the center of Jerusalem. The Jewish people are unique in a lot of ways, but suffice it to say that they are the only nation to have spoken with G-D.

The general idea is that anything that is singular (unique) is given, as a keepsake, the (character traits of the) center. Something that is removed from singularity (like complexity) is connected to four, this represents the four directions that travel away from the center. Therefore, there are four kingdoms (that rule in this world and diminish the glory of G-D in this world) that represent the four directions that travel away from the center.

The Maharal is trying to explain that something that is unique in the world is connected to the number one. The number one relates to anything in the center. There is only one center of anything and that is the character trait of the number one. However, anything that is diverse (or complex), is connected to the number four, because it represents the four directions that lead away from the center. Therefore, anything that is many or diverse is connected to the number four. I know, it is confusing.

Therefore, we learn out from the words of תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ (unformed and void) about the four kingdoms because this language comes to teach us about the imperfection that exists in the creation [of the world]. It is from the deficit of the creation that these four kingdoms arose. [These four kingdoms] were designated for this, that their rule would take away from [the glory of] G-D to the extent that they would nullify His singularity (uniqueness) in the world.

Rav Hartman explains this idea so that it is more readily understandable. The imperfection in the world is that the presence of G-D is not felt and it appears to be that the world was established and exists without G-D. Meaning, the four kingdoms serve to mask the presence of G-D. They allow for man to think there is no G-D and that the world runs on its own. Or, at the very least, the four kingdoms cause people to think that G-D is not the only powerful being.

With the destruction of the four kingdoms the verse says (Zechariah 14:9):

ט  וְהָיָה יְהוָה לְמֶלֶךְ, עַל-כָּל-הָאָרֶץ; בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, יִהְיֶה יְהוָה אֶחָד--וּשְׁמוֹ אֶחָד.9 And the LORD shall be King over all the earth; in that day shall the LORD be One, and His name one.

But, as long as these four kingdoms rule the world the glory of G-D will not be revealed in His world.

The point here is that the four kingdoms take away from the oneness of G-D. This means that G-D can not be revealed or understood while the four kingdoms are in control of the world. They mask G-D's presence because the glory of G-D is only realized when people see that G-D is the only all powerful one. However, with the existence of the four kingdoms, it appears that either G-D does not exist, or that He is not the only all powerful one.

Therefore, these four kingdoms come from the imperfection that exists in creation, for it is impossible that the world should be created complete (without imperfection), rather there must be a deficit. However, this imperfection does not stem from G-D, the creator of everything, rather it comes from the fact that the world is a creation. This is alluded to in the verse (Genesis 1:1-2):

א  בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ.1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
ב  וְהָאָרֶץ, הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, וְחֹשֶׁךְ, עַל-פְּנֵי תְהוֹם; וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, מְרַחֶפֶת עַל-פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם.2 Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.
The land is in the lower realm (the realm of physicality and therefore it is far from G-D), therefore it is הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, וְחֹשֶׁךְ, עַל-פְּנֵי תְהוֹם.  All of this refers to the imperfection that is connected to one thing (the creation). All of these names תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ [tell us] that the creation is not complete and they teach us about the imperfection that is inherent in the creation.

Here the Maharal is just summing up. The point is that there is an imperfection in the world and it is hinted to in Breishis (Genesis). This imperfection does not stem from G-D, rather it comes from the mere fact that the creation is something that is created. The idea of being created means that there is an inherent imperfection in this creation. The Maharal also hints at a much deeper idea here. The idea that since something is physical it is therefore distant from G-D. The world is a physical place and therefore it is far away from G-D. This adds to the barrier between the world and G-D which leads to the ability of the four kingdoms to mask G-D's presence.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Maharal On The Four Kingdoms Part 2 (The Answer of Why There Are Four Kingdoms That Take Away From The Glory Of G-D)

In this last post ( I discussed the opening question of the Maharal. Namely, "Why was the world created with the need to have the four kingdoms." In this post we will (begin to) discuss the reasons that the Maharal gives for the four kingdoms.

There [is a good]  explanation of this idea, that it is proper for the four kingdoms to be alluded to in the beginning of creation. These four kingdoms, that rule in this world, [exist] because it is impossible that the world, G-D's creation, be a creation without imperfection, rather we find with it a deficiency. This deficit is the four kingdoms because these four kingdoms reduce the honor of G-D in His world.

I feel it is necessary to stop in the middle of this idea of the Maharal in order to explain an idea found all over the Maharal. In Rav Hartman's notes on the Maharal, he points out that this idea, anything created must have a deficiency, is explained in other books of the Maharal. (Netzach Yisroel and Chiddushei Aggados to Sanhedrin) There are two reasons why a created being must contain a deficiency when compared to G-D: 1) Since the creation is created by the hand of G-D, it is impossible that the creation be equal and similar to the creator. It must be that there is a lower level connection [of the created] to the creator. 2) Since the creation is created, before it was materialized  into existence there was a lack in its existence. Therefore, even after it is created, this deficit stays with it. (Basically, something that is created is inherently imperfect due to the fact that it needed to be created in the first place.)

From the fact that the world was created by G-D, it is proper that everything be under His command, since G-D created everything. Therefore, it is proper that everything was created to honor Him (lit. for his honor). However, once we see (understand) that the creation is from Him, it is impossible that [the creation] exist without imperfection.

The Maharal can seem a little repetitive at times, but I think it is still important. He is explaining every aspect of this idea. One might think that any creation of G-D should reflect honor for G-D. However, since there is this imperfection in the creation, this idea is not immediately possible. If the world reflected honor for G-D immediately, there would be no lack and if there was no lack in the creation, it would be equal to G-D, which is impossible.

This deficit is not from G-D, because lacking and imperfection does not come from the action of the actor at all.

Rav Hartman comes to explain this idea in a very clear way. The action (of creation) comes from G-D, but the imperfection of the creation does not come from G-D. For example, when a garment is missing a button one can ask, "Who made this garment?" However, one can't ask "Who made this lacking button." For those who love the Rambam, this idea is found there as well (The Guide for the Perplexed 3:10): "Therefore they say, without any qualification, nonexistence does not require any agent, an agent is required when something is produced."  

However, the imperfection is from the deficit of the world, since it is the created. From this (the created) stems forth the imperfection, which is the four kingdoms ruling in the world and taking away from the honor of G-D.

Again, Rav Hartman points out that one imperfection leads to a second imperfection. This means that the idea of the world containing the imperfection of the four kingdoms leads to the further imperfection of the diminishment of G-D's honor in this world.

It is proper that this idea (that the imperfection in the world does not come from G-D) is alluded to in the beginning of the creation [of the world]. The idea behind creation is that it is proper that everything should be under the domain of G-D, like it says (in Tractate Yoma 38a), "Everything that G-D created, He created for His honor as it says in Yishaya (Isaiah 43: 7):

ז  כֹּל הַנִּקְרָא בִשְׁמִי, וְלִכְבוֹדִי בְּרָאתִיו:  יְצַרְתִּיו, אַף-עֲשִׂיתִיו.7 Every one that is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, I have formed him, yea, I have made him.'
[This verse] means to say that since G-D created everything, it is certain that [He] created everything for His glory (honor). For, it is impossible that something comes from one thing and (that which comes from the one thing) is opposed to it (the original one thing) because, if this were so, then we would see this thing (the created being) opposed to itself. This idea (that something would be opposed to itself) is not feasible, rather everything is created for His honor. If this is true, how do we find the four kingdoms nullifying G-D's honor? It must be that there is an imperfection in the creation (the world) itself, that this deficit does not come from the actions of G-D, rather it is an inherent cause [in the creation].

The Maharal is explaining to us why the four kingdoms must exist and why it must have been part of the plan of creation. However, the Maharal tells us something very interesting about the four kingdoms. Yes, the four kingdoms were part of the original plan of creation, but the deficit in creation they represent does not come from G-D. He proves this in a very clever way. If G-D creates something, it must be created for His honor. However, we see the four kingdoms take away from the honor of G-D. How could G-D have created the four kingdoms if everything He created was for His honor? It must be that G-D did not directly create the four kingdoms, rather since the world is a creation, it must contain inherent deficits. Why? The mere fact that the creation is a creation means it can not be perfect for the reasons we stated above.

The Maharal is able to explain why the four kings are part of the original plan of creation while also denying G-D's association with this imperfection laced into the fabric of creation. Personally, I think this maneuvering is pure genius if one can understand it. In essence, the Maharal associates the deficit in the world, manifested by the existence of the four kingdoms, with darkness (or the general lack of something). Just like the absence of light is not a creation or the missing button is not a creation, so too the existence of the four kingdoms is not a creation. Once this is understood it is impossible to say G-D created the four kingdoms, rather He created the world which automatically has to be imperfect. That imperfection was manifested as the four kingdoms. This, then, leads to the further imperfection of G-D's honor being nullified by these four kingdoms.

I hope that was clear enough. There are many more explanations that Rav Hartman brings down, either by himself or from other books written by the Maharal, but I can not provide an exhaustive list. Any questions that you might have, feel free to ask and I will try my best to answer.

Next time we discuss this, the Maharal talks about why there are specifically four kingdoms and not three or five.

Read the next part here.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Maharal On The Four Kingdoms Part 1 (The Question of Why Are There Four Kingdoms)

In the beginning of Ner Mitzva, the Maharal discusses the four kingdoms that are supposed to rule from the time of Israel's downfall (Approximately 586 BCE) and the coming of the Moshiach (Approximately ....... JUST KIDDING). I would like to go through the Maharal, slowly, and explain the different ideas discussed. (Here is a link if you would like to see the Maharal in Hebrew

I am just going to use a translation from Mechon-Mamre for the verses from The book of Daniel (7:2-7):
ב  עָנֵה דָנִיֵּאל וְאָמַר, חָזֵה הֲוֵית בְּחֶזְוִי עִם-לֵילְיָא; וַאֲרוּ, אַרְבַּע רוּחֵי שְׁמַיָּא, מְגִיחָן, לְיַמָּא רַבָּא.2 Daniel spoke and said: I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven broke forth upon the great sea.
ג  וְאַרְבַּע חֵיוָן רַבְרְבָן, סָלְקָן מִן-יַמָּא, שָׁנְיָן, דָּא מִן-דָּא.3 And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another.
ד  קַדְמָיְתָא כְאַרְיֵה, וְגַפִּין דִּי-נְשַׁר לַהּ; חָזֵה הֲוֵית עַד דִּי-מְּרִיטוּ גפיה (גַפַּהּ) וּנְטִילַת מִן-אַרְעָא, וְעַל-רַגְלַיִן כֶּאֱנָשׁ הֳקִימַת, וּלְבַב אֱנָשׁ, יְהִיב לַהּ.4 The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings; I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon two feet as a man, and a man's heart was given to it.
ה  וַאֲרוּ חֵיוָה אָחֳרִי תִנְיָנָה דָּמְיָה לְדֹב, וְלִשְׂטַר-חַד הֳקִמַת, וּתְלָת עִלְעִין בְּפֻמַּהּ, בֵּין שניה (שִׁנַּהּ); וְכֵן אָמְרִין לַהּ, קוּמִי אֲכֻלִי בְּשַׂר שַׂגִּיא.5 And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and it was said thus unto it: 'Arise, devour much flesh.'
ו  בָּאתַר דְּנָה חָזֵה הֲוֵית, וַאֲרוּ אָחֳרִי כִּנְמַר, וְלַהּ גַּפִּין אַרְבַּע דִּי-עוֹף, עַל-גביה (גַּבַּהּ); וְאַרְבְּעָה רֵאשִׁין לְחֵיוְתָא, וְשָׁלְטָן יְהִיב לַהּ.6 After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the sides of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it.
ז  בָּאתַר דְּנָה חָזֵה הֲוֵית בְּחֶזְוֵי לֵילְיָא, וַאֲרוּ חֵיוָה רביעיה (רְבִיעָאָה) דְּחִילָה וְאֵימְתָנִי וְתַקִּיפָא יַתִּירָה וְשִׁנַּיִן דִּי-פַרְזֶל לַהּ רַבְרְבָן, אָכְלָה וּמַדֱּקָה, וּשְׁאָרָא ברגליה (בְּרַגְלַהּ) רָפְסָה; וְהִיא מְשַׁנְּיָה, מִן-כָּל-חֵיוָתָא דִּי קדמיה (קָדָמַהּ), וְקַרְנַיִן עֲשַׂר, לַהּ.7 After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped the residue with its feet; and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns.

These verses in sefer Daniel seem wild. What are they talking about? Many people explain that these are the verses that tell us about the four kingdoms that will rule between the time of the destruction of the first Temple and the coming of the Moshiach (Messiah). The Maharal uses these verses as a springboard into this discussion.

The question here is that, there is no doubt that these four kingdoms [referenced in the Book of Daniel] that G-D established in His world are not by chance, rather they are interwoven into the order of G-D's [plan] for His world. If so, why are there specifically four kingdoms? 

The Maharal's question is twofold, as we will see shortly. He is stating the belief that everything that occurs in this world, at least on a large scale, is guided by G-D and is part of His plan for where the world is supposed to end up. However, the Maharal is asking, why did the world need to have the four kingdoms. In other words, why did G-d need there to be kingdoms that rule the world and, basically, guide the world that were not the Jewish people. Also, the Maharal wonders, why does there need to be specifically four kingdoms, why not 2 or 3?

Behold, you will find that at the time G-D created His world there was an allusion in the verses to these four kingdoms (Genesis 1:2):
ב  וְהָאָרֶץ, הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, וְחֹשֶׁךְ, עַל-פְּנֵי תְהוֹם; וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, מְרַחֶפֶת עַל-פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם.2 Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.
In Breishis Rabbah (2:4) we find:
Reish Lakish applied the verse to the kingdoms.  וְהָאָרֶץ, הָיְתָה תֹהוּ this refers to the kingdom of Babylon for it says in Jeremiah (4:23):
כג  רָאִיתִי, אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, וְהִנֵּה-תֹהוּ, וָבֹהוּ; וְאֶל-הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵין אוֹרָם.23 I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was waste and void; and the heavens, and they had no light.
 וָבֹהוּ this refers to the kingdom of Mede for it says in Megilas Esther (6:14):
יד  עוֹדָם מְדַבְּרִים עִמּוֹ, וְסָרִיסֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ הִגִּיעוּ; וַיַּבְהִלוּ לְהָבִיא אֶת-הָמָן, אֶל-הַמִּשְׁתֶּה אֲשֶׁר-עָשְׂתָה אֶסְתֵּר.14 While they were yet talking with him, came the king's chamberlains, and hastened to bring Haman unto the banquet that Esther had prepared.
(supposedly the Medrash is referring to  וַיַּבְהִלוּ)
וְחֹשֶׁךְ  this refers to the Greek kingdoms since they would darken (חֹשֶׁךְ)  the eyes of the Jews with their decrees. They (the Greeks) would say to them (the Jews), "Write on the horn of an ox that you (plural) do not have a portion in the G-D of Israel." עַל-פְּנֵי תְהוֹם this refers to the wicked kingdom for it can not be measured like the deep. Just like the deep can not be measured, neither can the wicked ones. וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, מְרַחֶפֶת עַל-פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם. this refers to the spirit of the King Moshiach (Messiah). How (do we derive this)? (Based on) what is said in Yishaya (Isaiah) (11:2):
ב  וְנָחָה עָלָיו, רוּחַ יְהוָה--רוּחַ חָכְמָה וּבִינָה, רוּחַ עֵצָה וּגְבוּרָה, רוּחַ דַּעַת, וְיִרְאַת יְהוָה.2 And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.
In the merit of what will this spirit come? "מְרַחֶפֶת עַל-פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם." In the merit of repentance that is compared to water, like it says in Eichah (Lamentations) ( 2:19):
יט  קוּמִי רֹנִּי בליל (בַלַּיְלָה), לְרֹאשׁ אַשְׁמֻרוֹת--שִׁפְכִי כַמַּיִם לִבֵּךְ, נֹכַח פְּנֵי אֲדֹנָי; שְׂאִי אֵלָיו כַּפַּיִךְ, עַל-נֶפֶשׁ עוֹלָלַיִךְ--הָעֲטוּפִים בְּרָעָב, בְּרֹאשׁ כָּל-חוּצוֹת.  {ס}19 Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches; pour out thy heart like water before the face of the Lord; lift up thy hands toward Him for the life of thy young children, that faint for hunger at the head of every street.'{S}
(End of Medrash Rabbah and the Maharal continues) Behold, you will find that when G-D created His world He [included in his plan] the order of the four kingdoms. If so, this leads us to ask, "Why [did He include the four kingdoms in his plan] and why is there this order that there should be four kingdoms."

The Maharal makes sure to point out that the four kingdoms idea is not just his own thought, rather it comes straight down from previous generations. It is an idea that is found throughout Jewish thought and believed to be true. I think the Maharal does this to strengthen the need for an explanation. If this was just something he made up then others could say, "Who says there are four kingdoms?" It could be called false just like people are weary of Gematria (using numbers to equate things). However, now that we have a Medrash from Reish Lakish (one of the foremost scholars in the Talmud) such claims would be deemed unworthy challenges.

Next time I discuss this Maharal, we will be going into the idea of why the four kingdoms are necessary and why there needs to be four of them.

For the next part see here.

Friday, March 25, 2011

What Does On the Eighth Day Really Mean?

Unfortunately, the hour is late, I have studied much and now I am about to write about a topic that deserves much more time. However, I want to share this idea with you that I came up with, so what can I do. Maybe next year I will go more in depth.

This week's parsha, Shemini, starts off with a very ambiguous phrase (Vayikra 9:1):

א  וַיְהִי, בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי, קָרָא מֹשֶׁה, לְאַהֲרֹן וּלְבָנָיו--וּלְזִקְנֵי, יִשְׂרָאֵל.1 And it came to pass on the eighth day, that Moses called Aaron and his sons, and the elders of Israel;

All of the commentators scramble to try and figure out what eighth day the Torah is talking about. Rashi says (ibid):

ויהי ביום השמיני: שמיני למלואים, הוא ראש חודש ניסן, שהוקם המשכן בו ביום ונטל עשר עטרות השנויות בסדר עולם (פרק ז)
It was on the Eighth Day: The eighth day of the inauguration (of Aharon and his sons into the priesthood), this was the beginning of the month of Nissan, for the Mishkan (tabernacle) was built on that day and (that day) took ten crowns that are listed in Seder Olam.

Ibn Ezra says (ibid):
ויהי ביום השמיני -היה נראה לנו כי ביום השמיני שמיני לניסן, כי המשכן הוקם באחד לחדש,
And it was on the eighth day: It appears to us that the eighth day is the eighth day of Nissan, because the Mishkan (tabernacle) was built on the first of the month.

In the The Sifra (ibid) it says:
ויהי ביום. השמיני קרא . זה אחד מן הכתובים שצריך
לדרוש . נאמר כאן ויהי ביום ה שמיני ונאמר להלן ויהי
ביומ הש ל י ש י . אין אנו יודעים אם שלישי לשבת אם שלישי למנין
כשהוא אומר כי ביום השלישי ירד ה׳ לעיני כל העם על הר סיני ויה•
ביום השלישי בהיות הב קר הוה אומר שלישי למ נ י ן . וכאן נאמרו
ויהי.ביום השמיני אין אנו יודעים אם שמיני למנין אם שמיני לחדש
כשהוא אומר כי שבעת ימים ימלא את ידכם הוה אומר שמיני
למנין ולא שמיני לחדש :
And it was on the eighth day: This is one of the verses that needs to be expounded upon. It says here "And it was on the eighth day" and it says later on "And it was on the third day." We don't know if this refers to the third day of the week, or the third from counting [from an event]. For when [the Torah] says "On the third day G-D went down, [seen by] the eyes of the entire nation, on Mount Sinai or "And it was on the third day in the morning" it is referring to the third day counting [from some event]. And here it says "And it was on the eighth day" and we don't know if it is the eighth day counting [from the building of the Mishkan] or if it is the eighth day of the month. For when it says "For seven days you will fill your hands" it is talking about Eight days counting [from some event] and not the eighth of the month.

Also, it must be pointed out, as stated by the Torah viMitzva commenting on this Midrash, Chazal were of the opinion that the Mishkan (tabernacle) was erected on the 23 of Adar. For, if they held the Mishkan was erected on the first of Nissan, there is no difference between the eigth of the month of Nissan and the eighth day from the building of the Mishkan, they are the same day.

My point here is to show that this verse is very ambiguous and the true meaning seems to be hidden. However, I think that the meaning of this verse is very deep and in order to fully understand it we must first look at a Maharal and the Gemara in Tractate Megila (10b), first the Gemara:

And it came to pass on the eighth day, and it has been taught, ‘On that day there was joy before the Holy One, blessed be He, as on the day when heaven and earth were created. For it is written, And it came to pass [wa-yehi] on the eighth day, and it is written in the other place, And there was [wa-yehi] one day’?

What is the reason this day is connected to the creation of the world? It is simply because G-D did not complete the creation of the world until this point. What do I mean by that? Adam sinned and was banished from the Garden of Eden at twilight of the sixth day. The seventh day came and G-D's connection to Adam was diminished, which led to G-D's connection to the world becoming diminished. It was not until the erection of the Mishkan and the appointment of Aharon and his son's that G-D now had this close connection to the world.

The Maharal tells us about the unique connection that the tribe of Levi, specifically the Kohanim, have with G-D and how it is only through this connection that G-D really connects to the world. In Ner Mitzva, while talking about the 4 kingdoms that rule in this world before the Moshiach (Messiah) comes, the Maharal explains this idea in depth, I will summarize.

Basically, the world is made up of many different entities and is, therefore, unable to communicate with G-D because G-D is singular. (I am not going to go into this concept right now) However, there is one nation that is able to communicate with G-D and that is because they encompass and embody the idea of singularity. However, even this nation (The Jewish people) are unable to communicate and connect with G-D. It is only through the tribe of Levi that the Jewish people are able to connect to G-D, that is why they work in the Temple. The multiplicity of the world is able to be unified through the Jewish people, who are able to be unified even further into the tribe of Levi, who are able to be unified even further by the Kohanim. Through the Kohanim, the world is able to, once again, communicate with G-D in the Temple. (The whole idea of singularity is a long discussion, just think of it as purity. The world is, essentially, purified through the Kohanim.)

Once we realize this idea, the meaning of "The Eighth day" is clear. It is the "Eighth Day" of creation. The day had arrived, finally, where G-D enabled man to reach the level of communication with Him that was intended for Adam before the sin. That is why this Parsha starts off with Aharon being inaugurated into the Priesthood. This is why the Gemara in Megilah connects this verse to the creation of the world, because this was the final chapter in creation, the creation of a people that can connect to G-D and, through this people (the Jewish people), connect the rest of the world to G-D. For, this is what the Maharal tells us, the Jewish people are the prism that connects G-D to the rest of the world. (Granted, the Kohanim are the prism that connect the Jewish people to G-D, but the Kohanim are part of the Jewish people.)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Purim Is Chazal Telling Us The Future Of Judaism

If one looks at Megilas Esther they would see that there is no mention of G-D. Also, there are no recognizable miracles talked about in this story. In fact, the only point to this story is to show a series of events that lead to the Jewish people being saved by themselves. The story of Esther is one where, because of human actions, the Jews were saved. Esther intervened and because of her intervention that gave the Jews the strength to defend themselves from their enemies. However, had it not been for Achashveirosh throwing a party in his third year of kingship, had it not been for his getting drunk at that party and had it not been for his wife, Vashti, refusing to dance naked, Esther would have never been in a position to intervene.

It is amazing that the Megillah does not mention G-D at all. Even in the one verse where you would think Mordecahi is about to say how even if Esther does not intervene G-D will find a way to save the Jews, he avoids mentioning G-D (Megillas Esther 4:14):
יד  כִּי אִם-הַחֲרֵשׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי, בָּעֵת הַזֹּאת--רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר, וְאַתְּ וּבֵית-אָבִיךְ תֹּאבֵדוּ; וּמִי יוֹדֵעַ--אִם-לְעֵת כָּזֹאת, הִגַּעַתְּ לַמַּלְכוּת.14 For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then will relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but thou and thy father's house will perish; and who knoweth whether thou art not come to royal estate for such a time as this?'
In a way this reminds me of the debate between evolution with G-D and evolution without G-D. There are two ways to look at evolution, either there is a G-D deciding the course of evolution or there is just randomness. No one can prove one way or the other, it is a matter of faith and belief, not evidence. The same holds true for the story of Purim, there could be a G-D guiding the Jewish people's future, or it could just be randomness.

It could have been completely random that Vashti was replaced with Esther and that put her in a position to save the Jews when she did or it could have been the hand of G-D. There were no open miracles to bring as evidence to prove G-D was involved.

It seems to me that the Purim story was incorporated into the Tanach so that we could have a guiding light for our future as a people. It used to be that Jews saw miracles, talked to prophets and did not have issues with faith or belief in G-D. However, once miracles and prophets disappeared, what would allow us to still connect to and believe in G-D? Only through the belief and understanding that G-D is present in natural events as well as the supernatural events could the Jewish religion survive. In the time of the temple people thought G-D was in the temple. That attitude is what led to the temple's ultimate destruction. "G-D is in the temple, but my idols are right here!"

It is for these reasons that I believe this idea of getting drunk on Purim comes about. As the Gemara in Megillah (7b) says:
 אמ ר  רב א
 מ יחי י ב  איניש לבםומי בפוריא עד  דלא ידע
 בין אר ו ר  המן לב ר ו ך  מר ד כ י  

Rava says, Men are obligated to drink (alcohol) to the point that they don't know the difference between cursing Haman and blessing Mordechai. 

We need to realize that G-D is behind the scenes protecting us, even when we do not take care of ourselves. That is the significance of getting drunk, it takes away our own will to protect ourselves and make sure our lives work out as planned. Therefore, Rava says that we should get drunk, in order to realize that G-D works behind the scenes, within nature, to make sure everything works out for us. (to see how G-D might work behind the scenes in this world see this post)

However, this idea of getting drunk to the point that one does not know what they are doing is proven to be bad in the Gemara (ibid):
 רבה ורבי זירא
 עב ד ו  סע ו ד ת  פורים בהדי הד ד י  איבםום
 קם רבה שחטיה לרבי זירא למחר בעי
 רחמי  ואחייה לשנה אמ ר  ליה ניתי מר  ונעביד
 סע ו ד ת  פורים בהדי  הד ד י  אמ ר  ליה לא בכ ל
 שע ת א  וש ע ת א  מתרחיש ניסא
Rabbah and R. Zera joined together in a Purim feast. They became mellow, and Rabbah arose and

cut R. Zera's throat. On the next day he prayed on his behalf and revived him. Next year he said,
Will your honour come and we will have the Purim feast together. He replied: A miracle does not
take place on every occasion. (Soncino translation)

This apparently shows that one should not get drunk to the point that one can not control themselves. The point is valid, that G-D is working behind the scenes, but the practical application is not safe and leaves out the second message found in the Megillah.

The second important point, which I think most people miss, is the importance of our own actions. True, G-D is watching over us, but the Megillah is a story that shows how Esther needed to act, if she didn't then what would have happened? The Jewish people still needed to fight off their enemies, if they didn't then what would have happened? Yes, G-D is working behind the scenes, but if we do not play our role in the grand scheme of things then we will be lost and someone else will take over our part.

The story of Purim and the holiday of Purim are Chazal's way of telling us that even though open miracles do not occur anymore that does not mean G-D is not watching. Every year we must be reminded that G-D's actions are hidden, but that doesn't mean they are not there. This is why, I think, the Megillah intentionally avoids mentioning G-D at all.

The future of Judaism, as we have seen, is G-D working behind the scenes. The Jewish people have survived for so long simply because G-D is working behind the scenes to protect us. How many times have "Purim" stories happened that we are not even aware of? How many times have people tried to destroy us, as a people, but their plans were foiled in, seemingly, natural ways?

We must celebrate Purim, but don't let these messages be left out of our Purim celebrations.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Converts In Jewish Thought

If we look in the Gemara, Midrashim, Rishonim (Medieval commentators), Achronim (Commentators from the 16th century forward) and the Torah itself we see several different attitudes towards converts. First, let's bring down the positive attitudes because the other attitudes are just depressing.

In this week's Parsha (Vayikra 1:1-2) it says:

א  וַיִּקְרָא, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֵלָיו, מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר.1 And the LORD called unto Moses, and spoke unto him out of the tent of meeting, saying:
ב  דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם, אָדָם כִּי-יַקְרִיב מִכֶּם קָרְבָּן, לַיהוָה--מִן-הַבְּהֵמָה, מִן-הַבָּקָר וּמִן-הַצֹּאן, תַּקְרִיבוּ, אֶת-קָרְבַּנְכֶם.
2 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When any man of you bringeth an offering unto the LORD, ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd or of the flock.

The Torah Temima brings down a quote from the Jerusalem Talmud (Shekalim 1:4):

[א ד ם .  לר ב ו ת  א ת  הג ר ים   [י ר ו ש ל מ י  שק ל ים ש״א ה ״ ד

Man: To include converts

The Gemara is coming to teach us that converts are considered part of the Jewish people and are included in this verse. That is very important because this verse seems to be saying that only people who are considered to be "From You (plural)" (from the Jewish people) are allowed to bring Korbanos (sacrifices).

Furthermore, the Midrash Tanchuma (2) on this week's parsha comes to teach us how positive some viewed converts. It says:

אמר רבי יהודה בר שלום: 
אתה מוצא ארבעים ושמונה פעמים הזהיר הקדוש ברוך הוא בתורה על הגרים, וכנגדן הזהיר על עבודה זרה. 
אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: דיו שהניח עבודה זרה ובא אצלכם, אני מזהירך שתאהבהו, שאני אוהבו, שנאמר: ואוהב גר לתת לו לחם ושמלה וגו' (דב' י יח: 

Rabbi Yehuda the son of Shalom (Shalom means peace, perhaps this is hinting at something) said, you will find 48 times that G-D warns the Jewish people [to be kind to converts] and congruent to this G-D also warns [the Jewish people] about not worshiping Idols 48 times. G-D is saying, "It is enough [that the convert] abandoned his or her idol worship and came to be with you. I am warning you that you should love him or her, for I love him or her." As it says (Devarim 10:18), "G-D loves the convert and gives him (or her) food and clothing." 

The last source that is favorable to converts that I will quote (there are many) is found in a Tosfos in Kiddushin (71a). It is humorous, because the name of the Baalei Tosfos (Opinion in the commentary) makes known that this commentator is, in fact, himself a convert.

וה ״ ר
 אב ר ה ם  גר  פי רש לפ י  שה ג ר י ן  בק י א י ן
 במ צ ו ת   ומ ד ק ד ק י ן  בהם  קש י ם  הם
 לישראל כס פ ח ת  דמ ת ו ך  כן הק ב ״ ה
 מז כ י ר  עו נ ו ת י ה ם  של ישראל כשאין
 עושי ן  רצונו וכ ה ״ ג  מצינו גבי הצ ר פ י ת
מ ״ א  יז)  שא מ ר ה  מ ה  לי ולך איש)
 הא ל ה י ם  (כי) בא ת  אלי לה ז כ י ר  א ת
 עו נ י  שמ ת ו ך  שה ו א  צד י ק  גמ ו ר  הי ה
 נר א ה  לה שמ ז כ י ר  הש ם  עו נ ה

Rav Avraham the convert explains [the reason converts are difficult to the Jewish people like a boil] is because they are experts in the commandments and they are extremely careful [in performing them]. Therefore, they are difficult to the Jewish people like a boil, for it is because of the converts that G-D recognizes the Jewish people's sins when they are not performing His will. This is seen in the case of the Zarephath woman (Kings 1 17:18) where she says, "And she said unto Elijah: 'What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? art thou come unto me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?'" [She was worried about Elijah bringing her sin to remembrance] because he was a very righteous man and that is why G-D would remember her sins. (Thus, the righteous converts would bring G-D to remember the Jewish people's sins.)

These sources all show a very positive attitude by some of Chazal (sages) towards converts. They view converts as a welcomed addition to the ranks of the Jewish nation. These sources create love and affection for converts because they are seen as people that can only make the Jewish people better. (The Torah itself in many places, one place is quoted by the Midrash Tanchuma (Devarim 10:18), talks about how we are to love converts. I am unsure as to why so many commentators and opinions in the Gemara show what can only be described as disdain for converts. There are opinions in favor of converts in the Gemara and later sources, but there are also opinions that seem to be disgusted by converts.)

However, there is the other side of the coin as well. This, too, is a very long list of sources that do not seem to have the admiration and love for converts. Within this group there are two mini-groups. The first group explains why converts to Judaism are troublesome to the Jewish people, but it is not the converts fault inherently, there is just some other factor that causes their conversion to be difficult for the Jewish people. The second mini-group's opinion is a little more severe. They say that a convert inherently causes many problems for the Jewish people whether he or she is righteous or not. The first mini-group will be discussed first.

Rashi on Kiddushin (70b):
 קשין גר י ם .  שא י נם זה י ר י ם  במ צ ו ת  וה ר ג י ל י ם  אצלם נמ ש כ י ם  אצלם ול ו מ ד י ם  מן  מע ש י ה ם : 
Converts are difficult for the Jewish people: For they are not careful with the commandments and those that are commonly around them learn from their ways (and therefore Jews learn from the converts to be lax in the commandments).

This Rashi seems to be stating an observation. In Rashi's experience, he saw that converts were causing regular Jews to become more lax in the commandments. That is very possible. It shows no disdain or dislike for converts, Rashi was just stating an observation. It is worth noting that, according to Rashi, there is nothing INHERENTLY bad about converts, but many of them cause other Jews to be more lax in commandments.

There is another opinion in Tosfos (70b) that says, "The reason converts are difficult for the Jewish people like a boil is because G-D commanded the Jewish people MANY times to not cause any harm or stress to converts and it is impossible for the Jewish people not to (because of all the requirements that a convert must go through before they become Jewish, I suppose). Therefore, by the mere fact that they want to convert they cause the Jewish people to sin, but that is not their fault.

This explanation by Tosfos is also reasonable. It just states a fact of life. G-D said don't cause stress or discomfort to the convert and that is, seemingly, impossible. No one is really at fault, but it is a fact of life.

The final opinion in this mini-group is the Rambam (Hilchos of forbidden relationships 13:18):
ומפני זה אמרו חכמים קשים להם גרים לישראל כנגע צרעת שרובן חוזרין בשביל דבר ומטעין את ישראל. וקשה הדבר לפרוש מהם אחר שנתגיירו. צא ולמד מה אירע במדבר במעשה העגל ובקברות התאוה וכן רוב הנסיונות האספסוף היו בהן תחלה:

Because of this the Rabbis said that converts are difficult for the Jewish people like a patch of tzraas (mistranslated to mean leprosy) because the majority convert for some reason (like money or love of a Jew) and they cause the Jewish people to err. It is very difficult to separate these desires from the converts after they convert. Go out and learn about what happened in the desert (when the Jews left Egypt the Eirav Rav, People who lived in Egypt that were not descendants of Yaakov that left with the Jews, caused the Jews to sin) with the happening of the Golden Calf etc...

The Rambam is holding like Rashi, it seems. It is hard for anyone to leave their old life behind, even a convert. They are usually going to hold onto something from their previous life and this is very dangerous. It is just the way of human nature. But again, there is nothing INHERENTLY wrong with the convert according to this opinion.

Now we move on to the final group that tells us there is something inherently wrong with a convert. The previous two groups think converts can be righteous. In fact, if you have a righteous convert, there is nothing to worry about. This would be according to both previous groups, but not this third group. Let us start with the Maharal:

The most concise place where the Maharal makes his opinion clear is in his Drashos on the Torah (6a):

All the good that the Jewish people merit is because they are the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, or because they are chosen by G-D, but converts nullify this. Therefore, converts are called a boil, because a boil is an extra entity to a man and it nullifies the complete and pure form of a man. This leads to a lack in the man.

The Maharal discusses this idea in several places, but I think his idea is clear: Converts blemish the Jewish people because they were not born Jewish. They are inherently not good for the Jewish people. If anyone can find a different explanation for the Maharal, please let me know. The only thing I can really say for the Maharal is that he was dealing in a time when there were many Jewish people that were working very hard to kill their fellow Jews. There were many heretics and converts to Christianity that tried to destroy the Jewish way of life. Maybe this is why the Maharal says this, because he saw so many Jews that were inherently evil.

The last opinion I will bring down is Tosfos on Kiddushin (71a):

ו ר ״ י
 פי ר ש  דל פ י כ ך  קש י ם  שנ ט מ ע ו  בישראל
 וא י ן  ה ש כ נ ה  שו ר ה  אל א  על  מש פ ח ה
 מי ו ח ס ת
RI explains that therefore, converts are difficult for the Jewish people because they are mixed in with the Jewish people and the presence of G-D does not rest on people unless they are from a family with a good lineage.

This idea of pure lineage makes no sense to me, but I am sure it is based on the idea that it used to be that if you were not of pure lineage that meant you didn't really keep the commandments. Nowadays, that is certainly not the case and no one really knows who is of "pure lineage" and who is not. Either way, these ideas should be better addressed.

The most favorable Gemara I could find for converts is found in Pesachim (87b):

R. Eleazar also said: The Holy One, blessed be He, did not exile Israel among the nations save in order that proselytes might join them, for it is said: And I will sow her unto Me in the land; surely a man sows a se'ah in order to harvest many kor!

Apparently, G-D really loves converts because He exiled the Jewish people just to recruit them. That is a pretty powerful statement.

I think it is interesting to see the various attitudes that exist among the sages of the past. However, I will say this, Korbanos (sacrifices) are considered to be one of the most holiest of things a Jew could do. The mere fact that converts are included among the Jewish nation for this commandment just shows that converts are truly Jews on every level and in every sense of the word. There might be some debate about the nitty gritty parts, but G-D commanded the Jewish people to accept converts as one of their own, who are we to deny that COMMANDMENT?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Rambam Yisodei Hatorah Perek 6 Halacha 3: Erasing a Prefix or Suffix to G-D's Name

כל הנטפל לשם מלפניו מותר למוחקו כגון למ"ד מליהוה ובי"ת מבאלהים וכיוצא בהן אינן כקדושת השם. וכל הנטפל לשם מאחריו כגון ך' של אלהיך וכ"ם של אלהיכם וכיוצא בהן אינם נמחקים והרי הם כשאר אותיות של שם מפני שהשם מקדשם. ואע"פ שנתקדשו ואסור למוחקם המוחק אלו האותיות הנטפלות אינו לוקה אבל מכין אותו מכת מרדות:

Anything added infront of the name [of G-D] is allowed to be erased. For example, the letter Lamed in the word "to G-D" (Lamed means to) or a Beis from the word "with G-D" (Beis means with) and similar [additions] are not holy like the name [of G-D itself]. [However,] Anything added on to [G-D's] name at the end, like the kaf at the end of "your G-D (singular)" (kaf means your, singular) and the kaf mem at the end of "your G-D (plural)" (kaf mem means your, plural) and everything like it, are not allowed to be erased and they are like every other letter in [G-D's] name because [G-D's] name makes them holy. Even though they are considered holy and it is forbidden to erase them (the letters at the end, the suffix), a person who does erase them does not receive lashes [from the Torah], but he/she does receive Rabbinic lashes.

The name of G-D is given a special status, a holy status, as we have discussed in the previous halachas of the Rambam. However, what about different letters that come to be added onto the holy names of G-D? The Rambam tells us that if we erase a prefix to the name of G-D, that is allowed, but a suffix is forbidden. Why the distinction?

I think the answer can be derived from the same idea as to why the name of G-D is holy and why it is, therefore, not allowed to be erased. The name of G-D is not allowed to be erased because the one who erases it shows disdain for G-D and a rebelliousness towards G-D. A person who erases a prefix does not show this same disdain. The prefix of a lamed or a beis means to and with, respectively, they are both prepositions. A preposition is a word that shows the spatial (space), temporal (time), or logical relationship of its object to the rest of the sentence. Thus, a preposition does not define G-D in any way, it just allows a sentence to flow. There is no inherent value or meaning to a preposition. However, the suffix of a kaf or kaf mem means your (singular) and your (plural). This suffix defines the word G-D. The word no longer means G-D, but your G-D. It now identifies the idea that you believe G-D is YOUR G-D. A person who erases this suffix is still being rebellious and showing disdain for G-D. The person who erases this suffix is implying that he or she does not want G-D to be his or her G-D. Therefore, it is forbidden to erase the suffix, but not the prefix.

If this is true, why then does a person not get lashes from the Torah? This is because the act that is forbidden by the Torah is to erase the name of G-D. Here, although you are showing disdain, you still are not erasing the actual name of G-D, nor even erasing one letter that, effectively, erases the name of G-D (changes the meaning of the word to not be referring to G-D anymore). The only reason this extra letter is off limits is solely because it is attached to G-D's name. Therefore, there are no lashes from the Torah when erasing this letter. However, the Rabbis recognized the disdain a person was showing and, therefore, proclaimed that such a person would still get Rabbinic lashes.