Friday, March 13, 2009

Ki Tissa - Who Are You?

"They exchanged their honor for that of a cow eating grass" This is how Dovid HaMelech describes the Cheit HaEigel (Tehillim 106:20). It would seem more appropriate to say that they exchanged his honor. Why does Dovid write, ”Vayamiru et kevodam"? ########j#########################################################
The Ralbag suggests that G-d's honor is being referred to, but out of respect it is referenced euphemistically. Rav Nissan Alpert suggests a different approach which expands upon this reference to “THEIR HONOR EXCHANGED.” ####j##########################################################
The Jewish People at the time of the Cheit HaEigel were the Dor Deah. They were highly knowledgeable, profoundly intelligent people. The construction of the eiegel was the subject of intense debate. The ones in favor of making the eigel wanted it as a metaphor of the true nature of man, representing the fact that man is essentially an animal. They said that Moshe had lifted them up from their physical nature, but in his absence it was time to return to being what they really were - no different than a cow, eating to live and living to eat. (This approach can be inferred from a nuanced reading of Shmot 32:1, which the people despair over the loss of Moshe, whom they describe as having raised them - he’elinu - up from Egypt. They felt that he raised them to an unnaturally high state and now it was time to return to “real life.”) $$j$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
Those who opposed the constructing the eigel felt passionately that they were primarily spiritual in nature. Thus, it was wrong to suggest the cow as an appropriate symbol of the essence of man. (This was the reality, as supported by the seemingly unnecessary mention by G-d in 32:7 that the people whom Moshe had raised up – he’elita – had strayed and corrupted their essence). %%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%% j
There are various levels of tumah/impurity; the lowest is a dead human being. The reason why the human corpse ranks even lower than the carcass of an animal is that a man's real value rests in his soul. A dead cow can be utilized in many ways, but a dead man's work is done. The Para Aduma comes to purify the lowest form of impurity, acquired through contact with a dead human being. Acceptance of these laws is reflective of an understanding that man's essence is his soul. This is why Chazal tell us that the Para Aduma is kapara (provides atonement) for the cheit ha’eigel, the biggest mistake the Jewish People ever made. &&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&j&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&
Entry level spirituality is to accept that humans are distinctive in all of creation, because we are created in the image of G-d. In Avot 3:18, Rabi Akiva implores us to remember that we are special first and foremost for this reason. He reminds us that we were then blessed with being considered G-d’s children, and finally with being gifted with the Torah. Rabi Akiva says that there is a particular power to the fact that we were granted an awareness of our true nature (“chibah yetaira noda’at lahem”). May we be blessed to always remember that we are uniquely spiritual, certainly more than animals, and even greater than angels. **************************

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Purim - Guest Post

Rabbi Josh Hoffman sends out a weekly email on the parsha called Netvort. I am amazed by the quality of what he presents. Today he sent out a special thought for Purim. I find this piece to be outstanding and inspiring.
If you are interested in receiving an email of his weekly thought, let me know.
A Lot of Events
By Rabbi Joshua Hoffman

There is a well-known saying of the famed kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Ashekenazi, known as the Ari, which, I have heard, originates in the Tikunei Zohar, that there is a connection between Purim and Yom Ha Kippurim. In fact, according to the Ari, Yom HaKippurim, as the name implies, is only like Yom Kippur, not equivalent to it. In other words, Purim is on a higher level that Yom Kippur. many explanations of this comment have been given, the most common of which is that on Purim we reach the level of closeness to God that we reach on Yom Kippur, but through use of the physical aspects of the world, rather than through abstention from them, as we do on Yom Kippur. since our task in this world is to use its physical aspects to attain holiness, our abstention from physical pleasures on Yom Kippur is a kind of preparation for our service of God during the rest of the year. I would like to suggest a somewhat different explanation, based on a different linguistic connection between the two holidays.
The name of the holiday of Purim comes from the Persian world for lot, pur, and refers to the lots which Haman made to determine the day and month which he would have the king issue a decree to wipe out al of the Jews in his kingdom. On Yom Kippur, as well, lots are chosen, to determine which of two goats, which are otherwise completely identical to each other, will be used as a sacrifice on the altar, and which of them will be sent to the wilderness, to Azazael, and there thrown off of a mountain to bring about atonement for the people. What is the idea behind choosing lots to determine the status of these two goats on Yom Kippur.? My teacher, Rav Ahron Soloveitchik, explained that often in life, one chance decision can determine the road that a person takes in life, and, in repenting, he must understand what choice he made that led him to this path. This concept is in accord with the teaching of Rabbi Bachya Ibn Pekudah in his classic work, Chovos Halvavos, in which he says that often in life, a person does not have free will in regard to each action he takes. Rather, his free choice manifests itself in the path he chooses to take in life. Once he has taken that path, however, his actions as a consequence, and, in order to reverse them, he has to get off the path. To do that, he must understand how he got on that path in the first place. The lesson of the two goats is to sharpen our awareness of how important a particular decision can be, and to spur us on to understand how we got onto a path that has been detrimental to our spiritual health. I have heard that Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l. explained the lesson of the lots drawn on Yom Kippur differently, saying that they are a mitigating factor in our judgment, in the sense that often the path we take in life is based on a chance decision, and therefore we are not totally to blame for what happens. In either case, the point of the drawing of lots on Yom Kippur is to focus on that one decision in life that has unanticipated repercussions. 0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
The idea of lots on Purim is different from that on Yom Kippur. On Purim, the lots are symbolic of everything that happened in the course of the events presented in Megillas Esther. Each of the events , when seen n its own, seems too have been a natural occurrence, and it is only when taken together as a whole that we see the divine providence that was involved throughout. That is why we do not see God's name written in an explicit way in the megillah, although, as Chazal have taught us, it does appear 'in disguise,' for example, as the word "melech" - king- when it is written by itself, not followed by "Achashveiros." Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi, in his commentary to Megillas Esther , Yoseif Lekach, writes that it is for this reason that we must hear every word of the megillah in order to fulfill our obligation of mikra megillah, becuse it is the combination of all the events that led to our salvation, and we need to understand that divine providence was there behind the scenes throughout the entire scenario. uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu
Perhaps, then, the connection between Yom Kippur, the day which is 'like a pur, a lot,' and Purim is that Yom Kippur focuses our attention on that one choice in our lives that determined which path we would take, and prepares us for understanding how it is that what followed came as a result. Purim, on the other hand, focuses our attention on the details of the path we have taken, and calls on us to understand how divine providence takes that decision and guides all the details of our lives, whether individually or on a collective basis, and, with that understanding, determine how we should order our lives and our actions on a daily basis. May we all, in the spirit of Purim, reach an understanding of God's role in our daily lives, and as a result, deepen our connection with Him on a constant basis.