TORAH STUDIES: Parshat Korach
Sivan 20, 5774 · June 18, 2014
The Sidra of Korach concerns the revolt of Korach and his followers against the Priesthood of Aaron and his sons. But what exactly was Korach’s aim? On the one hand, he voiced protest against the whole institution of priesthood or at least against its carrying any special status. On the other, it is clear from the narrative that he was seeking the High Priesthood for himself. Can we make sense of his apparently contradictory aims? This is the central point of the Sicha’s inquiry. And as a result of its analysis we can understand two further difficulties: Why “Korach,” the name of an inciter to dissent, is eternalized by making it the name of one of the sections of the Torah, and why this one Sidra contains two such seemingly opposite themes: Korach’s revolt, and the conferring of the “twenty-four Gifts of Priesthood” on Aaron.
1. Themes and Oppositions
Each of the 53 Sidrot of the Five Books of Moses has a central theme: One that is carried through each of its verses, from first to last, and which is suggested in the name it bears.1 This connecting motif is so strong, that the thematic link between the first and last verses of a Sidra is stronger than that between the ending of one Sidra and the beginning of the next, even though it may continue what appears to be the same narrative. In fact, the very existence of a break between two Sidrot indicates that there is some discontinuity between them sometimes going so far as to point out an opposition: As we see in the ending of Behaalotecha, where Miriam was punished for her evil report against Moses; and the beginning of Shelach, where the spies about to be sent to Israel saw the punishment and did not take heed of it, ultimately to repeat the sin.2
On the face of it, this general rule seems hard to apply to the Sidra of Korach, which begins with the accusation of Korach and his followers against Aaron and the priesthood: And ends with G-d giving the “twenty-four Gifts of Priesthood.” The initial accusation and the ultimate validation seem to stand as opposites to one another; and yet it is not merely that the latter is the outcome of the former. Rather, we must search for a way in which the “Gifts of Priesthood” are an integral part of the story of Korach. For the Sidra is called by his name—and this is where the core of the Sidra lies.
But the search is beset by this problem: The insurrection of Korach was an opposition to the priesthood, as it stood in the hands of Aaron; while the “twenty-four Gifts” were, as Rashi says, a way of “writing and sealing and recording in the court” the gift of priesthood to him.
2. The Name of Korach
There is an additional difficulty. How came the Sidra to be called Korach in the first place? For, on the verse3 “The name of the wicked shall rot” the Talmud4 comments, “Their names shall decay for we do not mention (the wicked) by name.” If we should not mention the wicked by name in ordinary conversation, still less should a Sidra of the Torah benamed after one of them, for this is a way of perpetuating a name.
And there is no saving grace in Korach, for though, as Rashi tells us, his sons repented, he himself did not. In the name itself there is no hint of righteousness: It means a bald spot,5 and as the Midrash6 explains, it has the connotation of making divisions—creating a bald spot between two factions where previously there had been unity.
Rambam writes7 that the Torah “was given to make peace in the world.” How then should a portion of it be called by a name that suggests divisiveness?
3. Korach’s Claim
And finally, there is an apparent inconsistency in the very claim that Korach made. On the one hand it appears that he was set against the very institution of the priesthood, or at least its special status, for he said:8 “For all the congregation is holy, and the L-rd dwells in their midst; and why therefore do you elevate yourselves above the congregation of the L-rd?” On the other hand, it was apparent that Korach and his followers sought the priesthood for themselves, as Moses explicitly says to them.9
One explanation is that they did not want the status of the priesthood to be abolished, merely that they did not want it confined to Aaron. They wanted many High Priests; they sought to be included in that rank. And yet it is clear from Rashi’s commentary10 that Korach sought the High Priesthood for himself alone: He thought that he alone would be vindicated in the trial that the accusers were to undergo. If he had this ambition, why then did he say, “Why do you elevate yourselves?”—for he had reason to wish to see the priesthood elevated.
4. The Firmament Which Divides the Waters
The opening words of our Sidra, “And Korach took,” are translated in the Targum as “And Korach divided,” and in the book Noam Elimelech, Rabbi Elimelech of Liszensk compares Korach’s dissension to the firmament which G-d created on the second day to divide between the higher and lower waters.
What is the analogy? One difference between the priests and the rest of the children of Israel was that the priests were withdrawn from the affairs of the world and entirely taken up with their holy office. Especially the High Priest (against whom Korach’s accusation was primarily intended), of whom it is written11 that “he shall not depart from the Sanctuary.”
But despite this, he was not uninvolved with the rest of the people: On the contrary, he exercised his influence over them all, drawing them up to his own level of holiness. This was symbolized by the kindling of the seven branches of the Menorah.12 Aaron’s special attribute was “Great, or everlasting Love”—and he drew the people near to this service.
But Korach did not see this. He saw only the separation between priest and people. And viewed in this light, he saw that just as the priests had their special role, so too did the people, in enacting G-d’s will in the practical world, which was, indeed, the whole purpose of the Torah. Seen as separate entities, the people had at least as much right to honor and elevation as the priests.
And this removes the inconsistency from his claim. He sought the priesthood, but as an office entirely remote from the people. Hence his accusation, “Why do you elevate yourselves?” In his eyes, the two groups, utterly distinct, each had their special status.
In this way Korach was like the firmament: His aim was to divide the people, like the waters, and sever the connection between the Sanctuary and the ordinary world.
5. Division and Peace
On the second day of creation we find that G-d did not say: “And it was Good.” The Rabbis explain13 that this was because division (the firmament) was created on that day. It was not until the third day that this judgment was pronounced and repeated, once for the creation of that day, and once for the firmament,14 which was purified and its division healed.15 Thus we learn that in the Divine scheme, there has to be a division between the things of heaven and those of earth, but that its consummation is in their re-uniting. And just as on the third day, so too in the third millennium Torah was given to bring together heaven and earth, G-d descending and Israel ascending to union.16
The same applies to the children of Israel. Although there are those who are totally involved in holy service and “do not depart from the Sanctuary,” and those whose service is in the practical world (“In all your ways, know Him”17); the one must not be separate from the other, but the former must lead the latter, in the manner of Aaron, ever closer to G-d. This the man of the world, the businessman etc., reaches through setting regular times for study of Torah. And this study should be of such intense concentration, that he is, at that time, as one who never departs from the Sanctuary!
And just as the work of the second day was consummated on the third, so did G-d allow the division caused by Korach, so that it would reach its fulfillment in the “twenty-four Gifts of Priesthood.” For the priesthood was established as an everlasting covenant in a way that could not have happened had Korach not raised dissent about it previously. This is the connection between the beginning and the end of our Sidra. The dissension, although it seems on the face of it to be opposed to the covenant of priesthood, was in fact a precondition of it.
And this is why the name of Korach is perpetuated by standing as the name of the Sidra. Even though Korach represents division and Torah represents peace, the peace and union which Torah brings comes not merely in spite of, but through, the medium of division: That though there is a heaven and an earth, worship and service bring them together until G-d Himself dwells in our midst.
(Source: Likkutei Sichot, Vol. VIII pp. 114-9)
FOR FRIDAY NIGHT: Double Perception (Korach)
Sivan 21, 5774 · June 19, 2014
How do we perceive people? As a part of a structure–e.g., a family member, the staff of our college or work-place, the Jewish community, the police-force, parking meter attendants? Or do we see people as individuals?
Of course, everyone would like to say both. That would be wonderful, but it does not always work that way. We tend either to categorize a person by their role in a structure, or to look at them as a real individual. At that point the lines of the general structure dissolve, and we suddenly see the parking-meter attendant as a unique and very specific human being.
Some people are able to perceive both perspectives at the same time, in a remarkable way. Moses, leader of the Jewish people, had this quality. We see this in the layers of discussion which surround our Torah reading, the Parshah of Korach (Numbers 16-18).
Korach, an infamous Levite, was attempting to harm the Jewish people by attacking Moses and Aaron, so that he could have power for himself. The attempt was foiled, and Korach’s children became loyal supporters of Moses and their descendants served in the Temple in Jerusalem. Moses could see the danger posed by Korach and he called to G-d to help him. The large, visible events in the Torah depict the sudden physical destruction of Korach and his followers: the ground opened up and swallowed them. Rashi describes more subtle elements as well.
Earlier in the Torah, each Jewish male had given a half-shekel. The total sum of money provided for the daily offerings which were brought in the Sanctuary, in expression of a bond between the Jewish people and G-d. Korach, too, had given a half shekel. He, too, was therefore part of the general structure of the Jewish people, bringing a daily offering to G-d, in a way which empowered him. Yet now he was trying to misuse this power.
Moses could see Korach’s role in the daily offerings in two ways: as an anonymous member of the entire Jewish nation, and also as a particular (and in this case dangerous) individual. Moses asked G-d to disenfranchise Korach’s particular, individual source of power from the daily offerings.1 This was in order to weaken Korach and was part of the process of saving the Jewish people from Korach’s attack. It was as if Moses could see the lines of energy which Korach and each other individual person drew from the daily offerings.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out the importance of this ability of Moses to perceive the individual within his or her wider framework. Korach was a dangerous person, as are some others in our own time. However, most people are not: they are fundamentally good, although sometimes “difficult.” One’s parent is a person, an individual, as well as a parent; so too is the college lecturer, the boss and the parking meter attendant. At the same time they also have their wider role, and one needs to treat them accordingly. (Tip: don’t be too casual with the parking meter attendant)
This double perception, says the Rebbe, is the mark of Moses, and of all true leadership. It is also bequeathed to everyone who has a sense of responsibility in life. It enables us to see the role of the person in their general context, and at the same time to perceive that person as he or she really is, as a unique individual. Through this kind of double perception, and then acting carefully and responsibly, each one of us can help to make a better world.2
ONCE UPON A CHASID: The Exchange (Korach)
Sivan 21, 5774 · June 19, 2014
Thus, you too shall lift up the offering from the grain (‘terumah’) to G-d (18:28)
From the words “you too” we derive that a person’s agent can act in his stead; that “the agent of a person is as he himself.”
– The Talmud, Kedushin 41b
When his eldest son, DovBer, reached cheder age, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi approached one of his colleagues, a fellow disciple of their late Master, the Maggid of Mezeritch. In his characteristic singsong manner, Rabbi Schneur Zalman said:
“I have a mitzvahto fulfill – the commandment “you shall teach them (the words of Torah) to your children”.1You, too, have a mitzvah incumbent upon you – the duty to support your family. Let us make an exchange: I will provide you with the means to fulfill your mitzvah, and you will teach my son Torah.”
Rabbi Schneur Zalman then gave the young man a crash course in his approach to early childhood education: “One obviously starts with the Aleph-Bet. What is an Aleph? A dot above, a dot below, and a line in between – this is an Alef. And this is the very Alef of Torah: that the Yud above (G-d) and the Yud2below (the Jew) are bound by a line of faith.”
GARDEN OF TORAH: Korach’s Positive Import (Korach)
Korach’s Positive Import
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VIII, p. 114ff;
Vol. XVIII, p. 187ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5748, p. 499ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5750, p. 526ff
What Korach Really Wanted
The name of this week’s Torah reading, Korach, provokes an obvious question: It is written:1 “The name of the wicked shall rot,” and on this basis, our Sages state2 that a person should not be named after a wicked man. Why then is an entire Torah reading named Korach? For with this title, Korach’s identity is perpetuated forever, since the Torah is eternal.
Among the explanations given is that Korach’s desire was, in essence, positive. Korach wanted to be a High Priest, to experience the absolute closeness with G-d that results from entry into the Holy of Holies. Indeed, when Moshe responded to Korach, he did not tell him this objective was unworthy. On the contrary, as Rashi relates,3Moshe said he shared the same desire; he also wanted to be a High Priest.
Moreover, at Mount Sinai, G-d told the Jewish people that they are “a kingdom of priests,”4 and our Rabbis interpret5 this to refer to the level attained by a High Priest. Every Jew has this potential within him.6
As such, Korach’s complaint was based on an essential truth:7 “The entire congregation is holy; G-d is in their midst.” Every member of the Jewish people has a spark of holiness. Korach and his followers wanted this spark to flourish. Indeed, they were willing to risk everything, even their lives, for such a heightened spiritual experience. Therefore, even after Moshe told them that bringing the incense offering would mean their deaths, they did not hesitate.8
Naming the Torah reading Korach highlights the potential for spiritual growth which each of us possesses, and the desire we should show to make this potential manifest.
Intent vs. Action
This explanation is, however, insufficient, for good intentions are not enough. It is primarily our actions and not our intent which G-d judges. Whatever Korach’s intentions may have been, he created a controversy which resulted in the death of thousands of people. It does not seem proper to immortalize this message as the name of one of our Torah readings.9
Moreover, the very name Korach is associated with division. The Hebrew root קרחmeans “division” or “split,” and our Sages10 associate Korach, not only in fact, but also in source, with these tendencies. Division runs in direct opposition to the purpose of the Torah, which “was given solely to bring peace to the world.”11 Why does a name synonymous with division serve as one of the names of the weekly Torah readings?
A More Comprehensive Oneness
The resolution of this question depends on the definition of unity. Absolute, elementary oneness is impossible in our material world. As Rashi comments:12 “The Holy One, blessed be He, has defined limits in His world. Can you turn morning into evening?” Every entity has its own distinct nature.
The concept of division need not, however, run contrary to our endeavors toward unity. On the contrary, unity is more complete when it encompasses divergent entities, each with a nature of its own.
This is the intent of the peace which the Torah was given to establish. Not that differences should not exist, but that they should merge in synergistic harmony. There is thus a place for Korach in the Torah for the Torah teaches that division can serve a positive purpose, and that diversity need not lead to strife.
Making Our Own Decisions
Nevertheless, G-d desires man to achieve this multi-faceted unity on his own initiative. He gives man the power and the responsibility to accomplish this goal, and the free choice to determine the direction of his efforts. This is also reflected in Korach’s conduct. He saw that after the sins of the Golden Calf and the spies, Moshe had prayed to G-d and had averted Heavenly decrees. Similarly, Korach felt that although G-d had granted Moshe and Aharon their positions, it might be possible through sincere prayer to effect a change and achieve his own spiritual ambitions.
He simply made the wrong choice. Rather than further unity by heightening the people’s connection with Moshe and Aharon, he took a different course. Instead, of seeing their potential harmony, he caused differences to clash.
Korach never realized his mistake. His children did, however, proclaiming:13 “Moshe is true, and his Torah is true.” They realized that the truth which Moshe taught is the means to bring about unity among our people, and enable every individual to fulfill his potential.
A Matter of Time
From a mystic perspective,14 it is explained that Korach’s desires reflected the spiritual heights to be reached in the Era of the Redemption. Then the Levites (Korach’s tribe) will be elevated to the station of priests,15 and the entire Jewish people will reach pinnacles of spiritual experience, for “I will pour out My spirit upon all flesh.”16
The rewards of that age cannot, however, be attained prematurely, but only as a result of our Divine service. It is only through our selfless devotion to the Torah of Moshe and the directives of “the extension of Moshe in every generation”17 the Torah leaders of our people that we can elevate ourselves and the world to the point that “the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d.”18
THE FREEMAN FILES: Tikun: Fixing Up
Tikun: Fixing Up
Sivan 21, 5774 · June 19, 2014
from the soon-to-be-released book, “Wisdom To Fix the Earth”
First, a story:
A Greco-Roman philosopher met up with a Jewish sage named Rabbi Hoshaya. “If circumcision is so special,” he asked the rabbi, “then why wasn’t the first human being created circumcised?”
As is common among rabbis accosted by philosophers with questions, Rabbi Hoshaya replied with another question.
“What about hair?” he asked.
That threw off the philosopher somewhat. “What does hair have to do with anything?” he asked.
“Well,” explained the rabbi, “I notice you cut your hair, so that must mean hair is bad. But then, you don’t cut your beard, so maybe that means hair is a good thing after all. I’m confused.”
“For that,” the philosopher raised his finger in reply, “I have an answer. The hair on my head grew in my youthful years of folly, so it must be trimmed. The hair of my beard grew in my older years of wisdom, so it stays.”
“Uh-huh, I see,” responded the rabbi. “So what about your eyes?”
|All that G‑d created in this world, He created to be fixed up.
“Yes. When did you get them?”
“Well, I was born with them…”
“Along with your hands and feet in your “youthful years of folly,” right? So they must also be bad—even though you were created with them. But I don’t notice you cutting them off.”
“I can’t cut those off!” the philosopher protested. “I need them!”
“Oh, so really they’re all bad, just that you can’t get rid of them. Which means that the way human beings are created is not so good after all. Nothing is good—until it gains wisdom.”
“Okay, just where are we going with this?” asked the philosopher, obviously not used to debating Jewish-style.
“Listen,” said the rabbi. “Your answer to my question doesn’t work at all, for many reasons. But I can give you at least a partial answer to your question: Everything that was created in the six days of creation can use some fixing. Take mustard seed—you need to fix it up with a little vinegar, right? Lupine [a bitter Mediterranean legume] needs to fixed up with some sweetening. Or wheat—lots of fixing up needed there.”
“And even the human being,” concluded the rabbi, “could use some fixing up.”
As the creation narrative of Genesis signs off, “that G‑d created to do.” When He created the world, He left us some work to do, to fix it up.
—Midrash Rabba, Genesis 11:6
Tikun, people tell me, means repair. Academics, for their very important reasons, prefer rectification.
But that’s all nonsense. Simple language is always best. Tikun means fixing up.
|Despite what they tell you, even if it’s not broken, it can still be fixed up.
What’s the difference? Ask a woman who just fixed up her hair just how broken it was when she started. No, the hair was not in need of repair. But it could still be fixed up. The same with Rabbi Hoshaya’s mustard seed example, or lupine, or wheat—or the human being. Despite what they tell you, even if it’s not broken, it can still be fixed up, higher and better.
That’s a very human activity, one that describes us well. We are the creature that finds materials in their raw, natural state, and with vision, ingenuity, creativity and wisdom fixes them up—up to a whole new level. We take sounds and make music, colors and create art, fields and create farms and gardens. Yes, often—far too often—we fix down instead of up. But our purpose in this universe—why we are here—is to fix it up. Very up.
Tikun and Purpose
Yes, we must admit, much of our world is fractured, fragmented and very messy. But it’s not broken. It’s been disassembled—purposely. The Creator made a world that was designed to fall apart—so that we could put all the scattered pieces together and create a better, more harmonious, self-sustaining world. Which is the most magnanimous gift He could provide us, the ultimate act of love. Effectively, He made us His partners in the creation of heaven and earth.
Now that changes everything.
It means that whatever business you’ve gotten yourself into, whatever chunk of this world has fallen into your lap, whatever sort of a person you are—it’s all with purpose. You are being led to the places that await your soul for their fix up.
It means we are not passive victims of a cruel, cold universe, but partners of its Creator, who breathes His power into us so that we may comb through the very fabric of which this cosmos is composed, coaxing out its warm, inner life.
|We believe in the Creator, so we believe in His creation.
It means that this world is not some dark, ugly place from which to escape. It is a good world; so good that as great a mess as it’s become, it’s still worth investing everything we’ve got to fix it. We believe in the Creator, so we believe in His creation. As the Book of Genesis says, “G‑d saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good.”
And finally, tikun provides purpose to every struggle we endure, hope for every battle we fight, destiny for every uphill journey. The pain is worth it. We are going somewhere. We are fixing up G‑d’s creation. We are preparing it to become the ultimate world, beyond anything that could be imagined.
A Brief History of Tikun
This idea of tikun is innate to the Genesis narrative, and is hinted to in many ancient midrashim. The Kabbalists, unlike philosophers, always saw the human being as an active party in the improvement of the cosmos. But it wasn’t until Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, known as “the Ari,” the greatest of the kabbalists, that the idea of tikun came to the foreground.
The Ari came to Tzfat, Israel, then a major center of Jewish culture and learning, around 1569. He was there for less than three years, but in that time he revolutionized the way we think about everything.
For one thing, he spoke about the divine sparks invested in each thing and every event. Nothing in this world, he taught, is without a spark of the divine, and that spark is its very core essence of being. They fell, he said, from the World of Tohu, a world that was created to have such intense light that it exploded. The sparks of that explosion generated all the artifacts of this world.
|Our mission is to peel away the outer shell and reveal the beauty it conceals.
The Ari compared these sparks to a fruit or nut captured within its shell. Our mission is to peel away the outer shell and reveal the beauty it conceals. That is how he explained not only all the mitzvahs of the Torah, but also all the needs and functions of the human being. The purpose of all we do lies in the redemption of those sparks.
Why did he call them “sparks?” He was not suggesting that we could open a thing and examine it under a microscope to discover there a fiery spark. Rather, just as sparks fly out from a furnace and continue to glow from the heat of the original fire, so each object and event contains some hint of its original purpose glowing within.
But there is a distinction: The sparks that fly out from a fire are only sparks as long as they continue to glow. With these divine sparks, the glow may have already extinguished, yet there is still hope that they can be reconnected and shine again. That is the case of those things that have no apparent divine purpose.
Tikun In Action
Let’s say, for example, it’s lunch time and you are hungry. You’re craving a chicken salad with a freshly-squeezed grapefruit-pineapple drink.
|You are hungry for the food, but the feelings are not mutual.
Strange thing is, the feelings are not mutual. The lunch shows no signs of interest in you consuming it—not the grapefruit, not the pineapple, not the salad and certainly not the chicken.
But how could this be? You are a human being, and they are fruits, vegetables and poultry. If you are superior to them, they should be the ones chasing after you to consume them and lift them up to your superior level.
So the Ari explained that, yes, the human being is superior because he is capable of redeeming and reconnecting these divine sparks back to their origin. But the sparks themselves originate in a place far beyond the human soul. We get from them far more than they get from us—once we liberate them.
So now that you are in the cafeteria with your chicken salad and glass of juice, just how are you going to liberate those sparks?
Basically, by eating them as a human being. Which means eating just what you need, and eating with the purpose for which your Creator made you. As the Ari described, you focus your mind not on the food itself, but on the nourishing, divine spark it contains. You visualize how the goodness of the food is absorbed by your body and gives you life—life with which you will learn wisdom and do yet more good deeds. The coarse, extraneous elements—the shell—will be rejected and expelled.
Now that cafeteria table becomes an altar, your food a sacred offering.
The same with any activity, whether in thought, speech or action, in everyday needs, in business and in relations with your spouse—in every human activity, in every situation that comes your way, there is an inner divine spark held tightly within an outer, mundane shell. Our mission is to redeem one while rejecting the other. In the language of the Talmud, “The left hand pushes away, while the right hand draws close.”
In this liberation of these divine sparks, the soul itself is elevated, receiving and synthesizing the intense, unbounded fire from which those sparks originate. And from the challenge to redeem those sparks, to pull them out from their thick husk and reawaken them to their true purpose, from this the soul reaches yet higher, to discover its own deep roots, roots that reach to an essence-core beyond even the origin of those sparks.
As occurs with many a maverick luminary, the Ari’s teachings were poorly understood in his time. They were rapidly popularized—but their meaning was often twisted and distorted into the opposite of their intent.
|Tikun, to the Baal Shem Tov, was the means by which the common man and woman could find life.
Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer—popularly known as the Baal Shem Tov (“Master of a Good Name”)—was a man with a vision of what the Ari had truly meant, and how it was to be implemented. Tikun, to the Baal Shem Tov, was much more than an esoteric teaching. It was the means by which the common man and woman could find life, happiness and meaning.
The Baal Shem Tov taught from the town of Medzhybizh, Podolia, in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of the 18th century. He taught the seeker, the scholar, the simple farmer and the small child to serve their Creator with love and joy.
By his time, many scholars and rabbinic leaders were deeply immersed in the teachings of the Ari. But in their understanding, the way to fix the human body was by breaking it—by fasting and punishing it—and the way to teach the common people was by breaking their spirit, instilling in them a fear of hell.
To the Baal Shem Tov, tikun meant finding the good wherever it could be found and celebrating it. His disciples would wander from town to town, observing the good deeds of the simple folk, and telling them how much G‑d cherished them. Fixing could be done without breaking and throwing down the shell, but rather, by embracing and lifting up the fruit.
Wherever a soul travels in this world, the Baal Shem Tov taught, it is led there to find the sparks related to this soul, sparks that have been waiting since the time of Creation for this soul to arrive. Without realizing, this precious soul is purifying the world, with deeds, with words, and with thoughts.
Bringing Tikun Down To Earth
After the passing of the Baal Shem Tov, his heir, Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezritch, led a generation of teachers and leaders who spread these teachings throughout the Eastern European Jewish world. One of those teachers, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, developed a practical method for implementing the Baal Shem Tov’s call to serve G‑d with love and joy. He called it Chabad, which is an acronym for the Hebrew words Chochmah, Bina, Daat—meaning, Wisdom, Understanding and Knowing. These, he taught, were the key to the heart. It was through deep contemplation that a Jew could awaken love of G‑d in his or her heart.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman also provided the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings a strong basis in traditional Jewish law, known as halachah.
|Rabbi Schneur Zalman brought tikun back into the context of our material world.
He pointed out, for example, that the Hebrew words for forbidden and permissible actually mean boundand unbound. When the halachah determines that an object or action is permissible, that tells us that the divine spark within it is unbound and ready to be redeemed through our actions. When it is forbidden, we know it is so bound up that no positive action can release it. It can only be redeemed by withstanding the challenge it presents, or through the sincere regret and return of someone who succumbed to its temptation.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman also brought tikun back into the context of our material world. When the kabbalists spoke of tikun, they were speaking of us creatures bringing greater light into a divine world far beyond our own. Rabbi Schneur Zalman, of course, did not reject that, but he connected it back to our world as well. What goes up, only goes up in order to come back down. He returned to the statements of the Talmudic sages that place our material world at the center of all things:
From the beginning of creation, G‑d’s presence was most felt in the lowest world.
—Midrash Rabbah, Shir HaShirim 5:1
Before G‑d created this world, He created worlds and destroyed them, created worlds and destroyed them. He said, “These I don’t like. These I don’t like.” Then He created this world. He said, “This one I like.”
—Midrash Rabbah, Kohelet 3:14
Since the time the world was created, G‑d desired that He should have a home among the lower beings.
—Midrash Tanchuma, Nasso 7:1
Rabbi Schneur Zalman took that further: The entire creation is only to fulfill G‑d’s desire to have a home—meaning, a place where His very essence of being can be expressed—in the lowest of all possible worlds.
Yes, it is a lowly world, far beneath the worlds of the angels, of souls and of infinite light. It is a coarse material world, where darkness thoroughly eclipses light and evil swallows alive all good so that the wicked rule and the righteous suffer. It is so lowly that it receives only enough divine energy so as to exist, but no more. It is the lowest of all possible worlds. And for that very reason, it is here that the Creator most desires to be found. Here lies the purpose of tikun.
How does it unfold? Rabbi Schneur Zalman explained: Each soul is sent to this world with its mission assigned. It is given a body, along with an interface with that body which will be its personality and character. And it is given a share of this world. Within all these lie the divine sparks to which this soul’s destiny is tied. The soul enters this world, does its job, leaves and returns until all its sparks are redeemed and reconnected with their origin.
Once all the souls have completed all their work, Rabbi Schneur Zalman concludes, then the world is complete. Now, the Infinite Light from above can come to rest within it. No longer will it appear as just a material world. Rather, it will become the most perfect lens through which we can perceive the beauty of the divine, far beyond anything that can be perceived in any higher world. Because the highest can only be expressed in the lowest.
In the Russian shtetl, what did “creating a home for G‑d in this lowly world” mean? For one thing, it meant that the common, simple man or woman was not be disdained or ignored. They were to be embraced for their simplicity, which reflected the simplicity of G‑d’s true oneness. But the spiritual activities of Chabad were inner-directed, both within the chasid and within the shtetl. It was about reviewing and struggling to absorb the esoteric works of the Chabad rebbes followed by many hours each day in deep contemplation and prayer, in a labor of love to bring the divine knowledge from the mind into the heart, so that the ecstasy of the heart would overflow and transform the animal soul that pulsates within it. That was the lower world: that beast within the human heart. It had to be transformed, to become a divine beast.
|For the Rebbe, fixing up the material world meant the whole big world.
But by the time the Rebbe took the steering wheel in his hands, the walls separating the Jew from the world had all come tumbling down. There was no more shtetl, no more ghetto. The whole world was open before us.
And so, for the Rebbe, fixing up the material world meant that entire, big and scary world out there, every last country of it. Only that for him, none of it was scary. It was all G‑d’s creation, His garden.
You could almost say that everything until now had been only a rehearsal, battle practice for the final victory. And now, the paratroopers were landing on foreign soil. Everywhere.
Now, redeeming the sparks lost in the darkest, most materialistic realms meant approaching a Jew in Times Square who barely knew he was Jewish, wrapping tefillin on his arm and head, followed by, “Say after me, ‘Hear O Israel, G‑d our G‑d, G‑d is One.’”
It meant teaching a little Jewish girl who attended public school far from any Jewish community to light a candle on Shabbat eve, a light that would eventually illuminate an entire household.
It meant searching out a Jew who had escaped the suburbs to meditate on an ashram and serving him a Passover meal somewhere up in the Himalayas.
Making a dwelling for G‑d in the furthest places entailed major risks and sacrifices. It meant sending innocent young couples out to every place a Jew may roam—whether that be Nigeria or Thailand, Katmandu or Las Vegas. What Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the Baal Shem Tov and the Ari had taught suddenly meant here, now, down on this earth. Tikun had hit the hard, concrete pavement.
What were these young couples to do in these places, where, until now, no observant Jew had dared to tread?
They were to become part of the community—no one went on a round-trip ticket, everyone went to stay put until Moshiach comes. That’s the way tikun is done: Not from afar, but from within.
|It was all about down-to-earth action.
They were to raise a chassidic family there, without any compromise, as pure as the shtetl. And they were to seek out their fellow Jews, wherever they may be, and invite them into their homes, embracing them with love and treating them with dignity regardless of their lifestyles, answering their questions and encouraging them to learn more.
It was all about down-to-earth action. There was a ten-point mitzvah campaign—to “just do it.”
“Don’t argue with a Jew,” the Rebbe told us. “It’s not about philosophy or theology. Find the mitzvah for which this Jew’s soul longs. One mitzvah will pull along another in its wake, and eventually the Jew will want to learn, ‘Why am I doing all this?’ Lives will be transformed.”
It wasn’t just those chassidic families. The Rebbe asked this of every Jew and every human being with whom he came in contact. The message, always: You have a job to do. The circumstances in which you find yourself, the community in which you live, your place of work and the skills and talents G‑d has given you—they are all screaming out to you to do your job. And what is that job? To turn this world on its head.
The transformation left many older chassidim gasping in the dust. For over a century and a half, Chabad had been about theological contemplation and “labor of the heart.” Now, beginning in the 1940s, the Rebbe introduced something the likes of which had never been seen before: A worldwide organization dedicated to reaching out to every Jew and pulling them back in. Not that any of that contemplative, inner labor was ever left behind. It remains the curriculum of every Chabad student. It was simply extended outward, downward and into the world.
An outside observer would explain simply: These were urgent times. Six million had been lost, yet more in Russia, the rate of assimilation in the West was accelerating, and if you wouldn’t do something drastic fast to save world Jewry, there wouldn’t be any Jews left to save.
But if you stood at the Rebbe’s farbrengens—the gatherings at 770 Eastern Parkway, where students and chassidim would sit or stand for hours and listen to his talks, sing chassidic melodies, say l’chaim and listen some more—there you would pick up an entirely different story. The inside story.
|“We are gathering the very last sparks, the most concealed and tightly held.”
“We are the last generation of this exile, the generation to greet Moshiach,” the Rebbe would say. “We are gathering the very last sparks, the most concealed and tightly held. We are making the final touches, polishing the buttons. These are the last preparations for a world as it was meant to be. And to do that, you cannot stay within the four walls of your yeshiva or your synagogue. To do that, you must go out into the world, with all your essence and being, and there be a beacon of light, a gatherer of sparks.”
Chabad is not two worlds. It is all one, and the only way it can be understood is as a single whole—albeit, working in two opposite directions: from the top-down and from the ground-up. Chabad is about bringing the highest light of the divine to every corner of G‑d’s world, and it is about discovering and redeeming the divine spark hidden within all that exists. At one time, that was achieved only spiritually. In our times, it became as literal as imaginable.
The Last Tikun
It’s strange, but what I am about to say was never stated explicitly, yet all who have been steeped in the Rebbe’s world have tacitly understood the same thing. It was implied, again and again, from so many different angles. At some point, it has to be stated loud and clear.
Certainly, every human being on this planet has his or her role to fulfill in its tikun. But the Maker of All Souls had deemed that a Jewish soul was meant to heal the world with the light of Torah. Yet, if so, why would He toss such a soul into a world where it would have no idea that there could be anything spiritual or meaningful to discover in the whole of Judaism?
|It could only be that this is the exclusive means to recover those final, lost sparks.
It could only be that this is the exclusive means to recover those final, lost sparks. Like a homing pigeon sent on a journey to return with precious jewels, so the souls of Israel are scattered among the nations of the world, among every sort of ideology and idealism, lifestyle and compulsion, ashram and cult, rat-race and escapism. So deep must they plunge that it takes the army of a tzadik, a battalion fighting with all their guts, to pull them out of there, so they can bring those jewels back home.
Some sparks can be returned home with a simple mitzvah. Some can only be extracted by cracking a hard nut and tossing out a pile of trash. And some—those “tied down,” as Rabbi Schneur Zalman described them—only by putting every ounce of your strength into getting out of where they’ve pinned you down.
There is a teaching that says this—almost:
The only reason G‑d spread the Jewish People among the nations was so that they could gain converts. As the verse says (Judges 5:11), “I have planted you among the nations.” If a man plants seed, does he not expect to reap a hundred bushels of seed for every bushel planted?”
—Talmud Pesachim 87b
Asked Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, “Can we take this literally? How many converts have there been in history? Could we possibly be in exile from our land for 1800 years for this reason alone? If this were meant literally, the world should be filled with Jews by now!”
“Rather,” he answered, “the converts to which the Talmud refers are none other than the lost sparks. By spreading us out among the nations, we wrestle out those sparks from their place, on their own territory, so that their redemption is a real and lasting one.”1
Rabbi Schneur Zalman may have seen it, but how many others could have understood how far this would go, to what places we would have to go to rescue those sparks, how deep those souls would have to plunge to find them, and what extreme means would to be needed convince the homing pigeons to return home.
In 1967, the Rebbe spoke about how the souls had begun to return home. In the 1980s, he talked about the walls of the exile crumbling before us. In 1991, he said that all the sparks necessary had already been gathered, and there was no reason Moshiach had not yet come. He continued saying that in 1992, all the time continuing to teach us how more sparks were to be redeemed.
In our private lives, much work remains to be done. But the world is ready. It is we who must awaken a longing to come home.
If we would recognize what this world really is and who we really are, how high we could be and what a world we could be living in, how we are but silkworms trapped in the darkness of our cocoons, miners trapped in a cave so long that we have forgotten the light of day, a bright, glorious day that awaits us—we would be pounding our fists on heaven’s door, demanding to see the fruits of our labor, demanding it now and no later.
In the meantime, keep working. Work hard. For we are G‑d’s partners in the creation of heaven and earth.
||Torah Ohr, Breishit 6:1. This idea is elaborated at much greater length by his son, Rabbi Dov Ber of Lubavitch, in Torat Chaim, Chayei Sarah 121b.
ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS: (Chapter 3)
Sivan 20, 5774 * June 18, 2014
E T H I C S O F O U R F A T H E R S
Knowledge and Choice
All is foreseen, and freedom of choice is granted.
– Ethics of the Fathers, 3:15
* * *
Throughout the generations, many of our sages have expounded on these two cornerstones of Jewish faith: G-d’s all-encompassing and all-pervading knowledge, and the freedom of choice He granted to man. Much has also been written on the apparent contradiction between the two: if there are no limits to G-d’s knowledge, how can man have real choice in his life? If G-d “already” knows what I will do tomorrow, is not my freedom to choose anything more than an illusion?
“Freedom of choice has been granted to every man…. This concept is a fundamental principle and a pillar of the Torah and its commandments. As it is written: `See, I have set before you life [and good, and death and evil]’ … to say: the choice is in your hands…. For were G-d to decree that a person be righteous or wicked, of if there were to exist something in the very essence of a person’s nature which would compel him toward a specific path, a specific conviction, a specific character trait or a specific deed…how could G-d command us through the prophets `do this’ and `do not do this,’ `improve your ways’ and `do not follow your wickedness’…? What place would the entire Torah have? And by what measure of justice would G-d punish the wicked and reward the righteous…?
“One may ask: `G-d, of course, knows all that will transpire. Now, before a particular deed was done, did G-d know whether the person will be righteous or wicked, or did He not know? If He knew that the person would be righteous, then it was not possible for that person not to be so. And if you say that He knew that the person would be righteous, but it was also possible that he might be wicked, than G-d’s knowledge was not complete!’ Know that the answer to this question `longer than the land is its measure and broader than the sea,’ and that many great foundations and lofty mountains hang upon it. But understand well what I am going to say. We have already explained in the second chapter of `The Laws of the Torah’s Foundations’ that G-d does not know with a `mind’ that is distinct from His being, as is the case with man whose being and mind are two distinct entities. Rather, He and His `mind’ are one and the same – a concept that is impossible for the human mind to fully comprehend. Thus, just as man cannot discover and grasp the truth of the Creator, as it is written `no man can perceive Me and live,’ so, too, man cannot discover and grasp the `mind’ of the Creator. In the words of the prophet, `My thoughts are not as your thoughts, nor are your ways as my My ways.’ Therefore, we lack the capacity to know the nature of G-d’s knowledge of all creations and all events. But this we know without doubt: that the deeds of man are in his hands, and G-d does not compel him to do anything….”
Rabbi Abraham ben Dovid (the “Raavad”), who wrote many glosses on Maimonides’ work, takes issue with the latter’s approach:
“The author did not act in the manner of the wise: one ought not begin something that one is incapable of concluding. He begins by posing a difficult question, then remains with the difficulty and reverts to faith. It would have been better for him to have left it as a matter of faith for the innocent, instead of making them aware [of the contradiction] and leaving their minds in doubt….”
Rabbi Abraham concludes by saying that “although there is no definitive answer to this,” he had best offer at least “something of an answer” to the issue raised by Maimonides. The gist of his answer is that G-d knows what man will choose, but that this knowledge has no effect on the nature of man’s choice. Rather, it is “like the predictions of the stargazers, who know, by some other means, what the behavior of an individual will be” but in no way determine it.
In his Tosfos Yom Tov commentary on our mishnah, Rabbi Yom Tov Lippman Heller elaborates on this theme, citing the answer offered by the Rabbi Shmuel Uceda in his work Midrash Shmuel:
“There is no contradiction in the first place. G-d’s knowledge of the future is the result of His observing the deed that the person is doing. Just as a person’s observation of the deeds of his fellow in no way compels his fellow’s actions, so, too, is it with G-d’s observation of one’s deeds. One cannot argue that because G-d knows the future actions of man He therefore compels them, since before Him there is no precedence and subsequence, as He is not governed by the laws of time…. There is no `future’ in G-d’s reality – the whole of time is `present’ to Him. So just as our knowledge of the present has no compelling effect, so, too, His knowledge is always in [His] `present’ and non-compelling….”
The Tosfos Yom Tov adds that “indeed, this is consistent with the conclusion of the Raavad, who compares G-d’s knowledge to that of a stargazer.”
In light of all the above, several things need to be clarified:
How would Maimonides respond to the Raavad’s argument? Indeed, why begin a philosophical discussion of an issue to which there is no philosophical answer?
On the other hand, the Midrash Shmuel’s contention that “there is no contradiction in the first place” appears to be well substantiated. G-d, as the Creator of time and space, obviously transcends them. From His vantage point, the whole of time is an open book. To say that He “already” knows the future “before” we mortals have reached that juncture in our journey through time, is to speak of His reality in terms that are appropriate only to ours. In His terms, His knowledge does not precede our deeds – on the contrary, it results of His seeing them transpire in our future (much like the Raavad’s hypothetical stargazer who can read the future).
So why does Maimonides not offer this answer? Is there a reason why he would consider it insufficient? Also, why does the Raavad, who does seem to offer this answer, refer to it as only “something of an answer” and concede “that there is no definitive answer” to Maimonides’ question? And if there is a flaw in this answer (as both Maimonides and the Raavad apparently felt), was the Midrash Shmuel, and the commentaries who quote him, unaware of it?
Another Kind of Knowledge
The key to all this lies in the lengthy “non-answer” expounded by Maimonides. Instead of merely saying that we cannot grasp the nature of G-d’s “mind,” Maimonides refers to what he wrote earlier in his work that G-d and “His mind” are one. Let us examine his detailed formulation of this point in chapter two of The Laws of the Torah’s Foundations:
“All existences aside of the Creator, from the highest [spiritual] form to a tiny gnat in the belly of the earth, all exist by virtue of His reality. So in knowing His own… reality, He knows everything….
“G-d is aware of His own reality and knows it as it is. He does not `know’ with a mind that is distinct from him, as we know. We and our minds are not one; but the Creator – He, His mind, and His life are one from every side and from every angle and in every manner of unity. For were He to…know with a `mind’ that is distinct of His being, there would exist several `gods’ – He, His mind, etc…. One must therefore conclude that He is the knower, the knowledge, and the mind all in one. This concept is beyond the capacity of the mouth to articulate, the ear to comprehend and the heart of man to truly know….
“Thus, He does not know the creations by perceiving them, as we know them, but rather, He knows then through His perception of Himself…. By knowing Himself He knows everything, since everything relates to Him for its very being.”
In other words, the very attribution of “knowledge”‘ to G-d is problematic. The possession of a “mind” and “knowledge,” in our sense of these terms, implies both imperfection and diversity. Imperfection, because something other than myself (i.e., the knowledge) gives me something that I lack on my own. Diversity, because the state of “knowing” presupposes a minimum of three components to my being as a knower: the “I” that is the possessor of the knowledge, the information I possess, and the tool by which I possess it – my mind. And if I know many things, the “parts” to compose my knowing self are multiplied accordingly. True, these components have fused into a single entity (the knowing I), but G-d is a pure singularity, not a composite entity.
Maimonides, therefore, states that if we are to ascribe to G-d the knowledge of all beings and all events, we must conclude that: (a) His knowledge of the countless facts that comprise our existence are, in truth, but a single knowing – His knowledge of self (since what we call “existence” is merely the expression of His infinite potential to create); and (b) He does not know Himself via a “mind” that is a distinct from Him, but that He, His knowledge and His “mind” are an utterly singular unit.
Chassidic teaching takes this a step further. The act of creation is, in essence, an act of Divine knowing. In choosing to “know” Himself as the source of the created existence, the Almighty grants it validity and being. So ultimately, every created entity is but the embodiment of G-d’s knowledge of it.
In the words of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi: “G-d’s…thought and knowledge of all created beings embrace, in actuality, each and every creation; for [this knowledge] itself is its very life and being and that which brings it into existence from nothingness into actuality.”
According to this, one obviously cannot describe G-d’s knowledge of the future – nor, for that matter, His knowledge of the past – as resulting from the facts and events of our existence. In fact, the very opposite is true: the facts and events of our existence result from G-d’s knowledge of them.
But in addition to this singular, all-embracing, creating knowledge, there also exists another level of Divine knowledge.
In essence, G-d is wholly untouched by the deeds of man (“If you fail, how do you affect Him? If your sins are many, what do you do to Him? If you are righteous, what do you give Him? What can He possibly receive from you?” -Job 35:6-7). And yet, G-d chose to be “affected” by what we do: to take “pleasure” in our accomplishments and to be “angered” by our transgressions. He chose to give himself these “traits” in order to enable us to relate to Him in a way that is meaningful to us.
This phenomenon is known as the tzimtzum (“contraction”) – G-d is projecting Himself in ways that are “confining” to His infinite and feature-free essence, assuming definitive attributes by which to relate to us on our terms.
On this “post-tzimtzum” level, G-d knows us in a way that is comparable to the workings of the human mind – with a knowledge that results from what we do. At the same time, He also knows us with a higher “pre-tzimtzum” knowledge: a knowledge that is an inseparable part of His “seamless” self-knowledge, a knowledge that is not caused by but is the cause of its contents. Chassidic teaching refers to these two levels as G-d’s “higher knowledge” and His “lower knowledge.”
Knowing the Unknowable
We hear the poet exclaim the “sky for height, the breadth of the earth, and the deep–who can trace them out?” But In light of all the above, we can begin to understand various approaches of Maimonides, the Raavad and others to the issue of Divine knowledge and human choice.
G-d’s manifest effect upon our existence (as well as His “reaction” to our deeds) is confined to the interaction created by the tzimtzum-constriction and the “attributes” he assumes in His relationship to us. So on the most basic level, “there is no contradiction in the first place.” G-d’s “lower knowledge,” although unbounded by time, space or any other limits, otherwise resembles knowledge as we know it. It is the product of His observation of our existence (whether past, present or future), so there no reason why it should affect our freedom of choice.
Ultimately, however, G-d does not know things because they occur; He knows them by knowing Himself, and His knowledge of them is the source of their very existence.
However, this “higher knowledge” is part of the pre-tzimtzum reality and, as such, has no perceptible affect on our experience. (Indeed, any logical examination of G-d’s relationship to our existence must, by definition, be confined to the post-tzimtzum reality, since all created phenomena, including logic and its laws, are a product of the tzimtzum. Obviously, one cannot talk about “definitions” and “contradictions” when discussing the Creator of logic beyond the point at which He chooses to relate to His creation on its terms.) This is why the Midrash Shmuel and others feel that it is sufficient to deal with the issue of “Divine knowledge and human choice” on the level of “lower knowledge.”
Nevertheless, the Raavad considers the “stargazer” explanation as only “something of an answer” for it fails to resolve the “contradiction” as it pertains to the essence of G-d’s knowledge. The Raavad, therefore, feels that Maimonides ought not to have begun discussion of an issue that ultimately extends beyond the parameters of logic.
But Maimonides chooses specifically to address the higher level of Divine knowledge, the level at which “He and His mind are one” and the workings of “My thoughts” are in no way comparable to those of “your thoughts.” For man must believe and understand that the Almighty’s reality extends beyond what is rationally accessible to the human mind. Indeed, if the question of how G-d’s knowledge is to be reconciled with the freedom granted to man does not arise, this means that one’s perception of G-d’s knowledge is limited to its “lower” aspect, regarding which there is indeed no logical inconsistency. To grasp the truly super-logical nature of G-d’s “mind” is to understand that it, as His essence, is affected by nothing and is the ultimate effector of all.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Introductory reading to Ethics of the Fathers:
All Israel has a share in the World to Come, as is stated: “And your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever. They are the shoot of My planting, the work of My hands, in which I take pride.” (Sanhedrin, 11:1)
1. Rabbi Akavia the son of Mahalalel would say: Reflect upon three things and you will not come to the hands of transgression. Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting. From where you came–from a putrid drop; where you are going–to a place of dust, maggots and worms; and before whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting–before the supreme king of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.
2. Rabbi Chanina, deputy to the kohanim, would say: Pray for the integrity of the sovereignty; for were it not for the fear of its authority, a man would swallow his neighbor alive. Rabbi Chanina son of Tradyon would say: Two who sit and no words of Torah pass between them, this is a session of scorners, as is stated, “And in a session of scorners he did not sit.” But two who sit and exchange words of Torah, the Divine Presence rests amongst them, as is stated, “Then the G-d-fearing conversed with one another, and G-d listened and heard; and it was inscribed before Him in a book of remembrance for those who fear G-d and give thought to His name.” From this, I know only concerning two individuals; how do I know that even a single individual who sits and occupies himself with the Torah, G-d designates reward for him? From the verse, “He sits alone in meditative stillness; indeed, he receives [reward] for it.”
3. Rabbi Shimon would say: Three who eat at one table and do not speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten from the slaughter of the dead, as is stated, “Indeed, all tables are filled with vomit and filth, devoid of the Omnipresent.” But three who eat at one table and speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten at G-d’s table, as is stated, “And he said to me: `This is the table that is before G-d.’ ”
4. Rabbi Chanina the son of Chachina’i would say: One who stays awake at night, or travels alone on the road, and turns his heart to idleness, has forfeited his life.
5. Rabbi Nechunia the son of Hakanah would say: One who accepts upon himself the yoke of Torah is exempted from the yoke of government duties and the yoke of worldly cares ; but one who casts off the yoke of Torah is saddled with the yoke of government duties and the yoke of worldly cares.
6. Rabbi Chalafta the son of Dosa of the village of Chanania would say: Ten who sit together and occupy themselves with Torah, the Divine Presence rests amongst them, as is stated: “The Almighty stands in the community of G-d.” And from where do we know that such is also the case with five? From the verse, “He established his band on earth.” And three? From the verse, “He renders judgment in the midst of judges.” And two? From the verse, “Then the G-d-fearing conversed with one another, and G-d listened and heard.” And from where do we know that such is the case even with a single individual? From the verse, “Every place where I have My name mentioned, I shall come to you and bless you.”
7. Rabbi Elazar of Bartosa would say: Give Him what is His, for you, and whatever is yours, are His. As David says: “For everything comes from You, and from Your own hand we have given to You.” Rabbi Yaakov would say: One who walks along a road and studies, and interrupts his studying to say, “How beautiful is this tree!,” “How beautiful is this ploughed field!”—the Torah considers it as if he had forfeited his life.
8. Rabbi Dusta’i the son of Rabbi Yannai would say in the name of Rabbi Meir: Anyone who forgets even a single word of this learning, the Torah considers it as if he had forfeited his life. As is stated, “Just be careful, and verily guard your soul, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen.” One might think that this applies also to one who [has forgotten because] his studies proved too difficult for him; but the verse goes on to tell us “and lest they be removed from your heart, throughout the days of your life.” Hence, one does not forfeit his life unless he deliberately removes them from his heart.
9. Rabbi Chanina the son of Dosa would say: One whose fear of sin takes precedence to his wisdom, his wisdom endures. But one whose wisdom takes precedence to his fear of sin, his wisdom does not endure.
10. He would also say: One whose deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom endures. But one whose wisdom exceeds his deeds, his wisdom does not endure. He would also say: One who is pleasing to his fellow men, is pleasing to G-d. But one who is not pleasing to his fellow men, is not pleasing to G-d. Rabbi Dosa the son of Hurkinas would say: Morning sleep, noontime wine, children’s talk and sitting at the meeting places of the ignoramus, drive a person from the world.
11. Rabbi Elazar of Modi’in would say: One who profanes the kodoshim, degrades the Festivals, humiliates his friend in public, abrogates the covenant of our father Abraham, or who interprets the Torah contrary to its true intent—although he may possess Torah knowledge and good deeds, he has no share in the World to Come.
12. Rabbi Ishmael would say: Be yielding to a leader, affable to the black-haired, and receive every man with joy.
13. Rabbi Akivah would say: Jesting and frivolity accustom a person to promiscuity. Tradition is a safety fence to Torah, tithing a safety fence to wealth, vows a safety fence for abstinence; a safety fence for wisdom is silence.
14. He would also say: Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of G-d]; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to him that he was created in the image, as it is says, “For in the image of G-d, He made man.” Beloved are Israel, for they are called children of G-d; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to them that they are called children of G-d, as it is stated: “You are children of the L-rd your G-d.” Beloved are Israel, for they were given a precious article; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to them that they were given a precious article, as it is stated: “I have given you a good purchase; My Torah, do not forsake it.”
15. All is foreseen, and freedom of choice is granted. The world is judged with goodness, but in accordance with the amount of man’s positive deeds.
16. He would also say: Everything is placed in pledge, and a net is spread over all the living. The store is open, the storekeeper extends credit, the account-book lies open, the hand writes, and all who wish to borrow may come and borrow. The collection-officers make their rounds every day and exact payment from man, with his knowledge and without his knowledge. Their case is well founded, the judgment is a judgment of truth, and ultimately, all is prepared for the feast.
17. Rabbi Eliezer the son of Azariah would say: If there is no Torah, there is no common decency; if there is no common decency, there is no Torah. If there is no wisdom, there is no fear of G-d; if there is no fear of G-d, there is no wisdom. If there is no applied knowledge, there is no analytical knowledge; if there is no analytical knowledge, there is no applied knowledge. If there is no flour, there is no Torah; if there is no Torah, there is no flour.
He would also say: One whose wisdom is greater than his deeds, what is he comparable to? To a tree with many branches and few roots; comes a storm and uproots it, and turns it on its face. As is stated, “He shall be as a lone tree in a wasteland, and shall not see when good comes; he shall dwell parched in the desert, a salt land, uninhabited.” But one whose deeds are greater than his wisdom, to what is he compared? To a tree with many roots and few branches, whom all the storms in the world cannot budge from its place. As is stated: “He shall be as a tree planted upon water, who spreads his roots by the river; who fears not when comes heat, whose leaf is ever lush; who worries not in a year of drought, and ceases not to yield fruit.”
18. Rabbi Eliezer [the son of] Chisma would say: the laws of kinin and the laws of menstrual periods—these, these are the meat of Halacha. The calculations of solar seasons and gematria are the condiments of wisdom.
Studied at the conclusion of each lesson of the Ethics:
Rabbi Chananiah the son of Akashiah would say: G-d desired to merit the people of Israel; therefore, He gave them Torah and Mitzvot in abundance. As is stated, “G-d desired, for sake of his righteousness, that Torah be magnified and made glorious.” (Makot, 3:16)
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