The Wings of Morning - A Torah Review

Yaacov Dovid Shulman

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Parshas Vayakhel-Pekudei


* Praise - Simcha Raz
* The Essential Service of G-d: A Talmudic Dispute - Yaacov Dovid Shulman
* Two Vignettes of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
* The Invisible - Yaacov Dovid Shulman

by Simcha Raz

Rav Kook used to carefully and repeatedly read the honorific titles given him in the letters he received.

Once, a Jerusalem scholar asked him about this.

Rav Kook explained: "I have a special reason: it is so that I will learn what I have and what I lack. And it is also so that I will know how to strive and improve myself, until I truly possess those traits for which I am being praised." Malachim Kivnei Adam, p. 292

The Essential Service of G-d: A Talmudic Dispute
by Yaacov Dovid Shulman

When the Temple--the Beis Hamikdash--stood, on each of the three pilgrimage holidays (Pesach, Shavuos and Succos), every adult male Jew had to bring two sacrifices. One was a "r'iyah," or "appearance" sacrifice, which he brought for appearing at the Temple. The other was a "chagigah," or "holiday" sacrifice.

The r'iyah fit into the category of an "olah"--a burnt- offering. It was completely burnt on the altar.

The chagigah fit into the category of a "shelamim"--a peace- offering. Part of it was burnt on the altar, and the other part was eaten by the person who had offered it.

The school of Hillel and the school of Shammai disagree as to what the minimum worth of each of these two sacrifices had to be.

Beis Shammai (the school of Shammai) claims that the chagigah had to be worth at least one measure of silver, and the r'iyah had to be at least two measures of silver (Chagigah 2a).

Beis Hillel (the school of Hillel) has the opposite opinion. The r'iyah had to be at least one measure of silver, and the chagigah had to be at least two measures of silver.

The Talmud presents two arguments that Beis Shammai brings to support its contention, and the two refutations of Beis Hillel to those arguments. And then the Talmud presents two arguments that Beis Hillel brings to support its contention, and the two refutations of Beis Shammai to those arguments (Chagigah 6a).

Although this is in the main a technical dispute, one can interpret it conceptually. One can explain these arguments as expressing a broader disagreement between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel regarding a Jewish attitude toward life. Beis Shammai is fiercely ideal, negating the value of this world and appreciating only that of the world-to-come. Beis Hillel, on the other hand, sees this world as a primary arena in which to relate to G-d completely.

Before proceeding, one more distinction in the sacrifices should be pointed out. The burnt-offering sacrifice can be divided into two categories: a periodically-offered public burnt- offering, brought on behalf of all Jews, and a private burnt- offering, brought by an individual on his own behalf.

Beis Shammai musters two proofs to buttress its claim that the r'iyah (a burnt-offering) is more valuable than the chagigah (a peace-offering.). One proof is conceptual and the other related to the holiday of Shavuos.

Beis Hillel, on the other hand, brings two proofs of its own to demonstrate the opposite: that a chagigah is more valuable than a r'iyah. Beis Hillel's two proofs are historical.

Already, we see a difference in emphasis between these two schools. Beis Shammai's proofs are more ideal and rarefied. Beis Hillel's proofs are more within this world.

Let us begin ith Beis Shammai's two proofs.

First of all, Beis Shammai's brings a conceptual proof: "a burnt-offering (the r'iyah) is completely given over to the Supernal One, unlike the chagigah."

Beis Hillel refutes this by stating: "To the contrary! The chagigah is preferable, because it is consumed by two": part of it is offered to G-d, and part of it is eaten by the individual.

Beis Shammai is perhaps claiming that the ideal attitude toward life is one in which there is absolutely no thought for the self. Everything is completely given to G-d. Anything less than that is less valuable.

But Beis Hillel disagrees. We have been placed in this world and given a self with needs that must be fulfilled. Only when those needs are fulfilled does the world finds its meaning. It is not a dilution of our piety that we ourselves take benefit from this world. It is rather the essential ingredient of our nature that we serve G-d precisely when (so to speak) we share with G-d the benefits of that service. Our love for G-d not only demonstrates our dedication to Him, but also sustains our own being: physical as well as spiritual.

Beis Shammai's second argument that the r'iyah is more valuable than the chagigah is drawn by analogy from Shavuos: the one pilgrimage holiday on which both burnt-offerings (r'iyah) and peace-offerings (chagigah) are offered. On Shavuos, more burnt- offerings than peace-offerings are brought. Therefore, concludes Beis Shammai, a burnt-offering is more valuable than a peace- offering. And since a r'iyah is a burnt-offering and a chagigah is a peace-offering, the r'iyah is more valuable than the chagigah.

Beis Hillel refutes this by pointing out a difference between the burnt-offering brought on Shavuos and the burnt- offering brought as a r'iyah. The burnt-offering brought on Shavuos is a communal sacrifice--brought on behalf of the entire nation of Israel. The burnt-offering brought as a r'iyah is a private sacrifice--brought by an individual for himself.

Beis Hillel's refutation might be seen as offering the following argument. As a people, the nation of Israel is totally dedicated to G-d. The totality of the nation of Israel--our identity as a corporate spiritual entity--is even identified with the presence of G-d. Thus, the communal burnt-offering of Shavuos is more valuable than the peace-offering.

Nevertheless, each individual within that corporate entity-- each Jew--has been split from that total being and placed in this world in a separate life with its own needs. Each Jew must serve G-d with a balance of his own needs and his dedication to the Supreme. That is worth more than an individual's casting aside his personal path in life and giving everything to G-d. Thus, for an individual, the burnt-offering (which is completely burnt for G-d) is not as valuable as the peace-offering (which is in part eaten by the individual).

So much for the two arguments of Beis Shammai and their refutation by Beis Hillel. Now let us look at the two arguments of Beis Hillel and their refutation by Beis Shammai.

Beis Hillel's first argument is that before the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai, the Jews offered peace-offerings, but they did not offer burnt-offerings.

This world, Beis Hillel might be saying, has independent reality and validity, even though it is merely a construct of G- d. Even though time is merely a created entity, it has meaning. Thus, chronology is spiritually significant.

Beis Shammai refutes this by pointing out that the same verse that informs us that--before the giving of the Torah--the Jews offered peace-offerings also states: "and they offered burnt-offerings"!

Beis Hillel counters that the burnt-offerings sacrificed before the giving of the Torah were communal burnt-offerings. Thus, Beis Hillel claims that only after the Torah was given did the individual burnt-offering come about.

Perhaps Beis Hillel is arguing that with the giving of the Torah, every individual can more strongly dedicate his life to G- d, imitating the nature of the communal burnt-offering, which was offered even prior to the giving of the Torah. But this is built upon the basis of that which came before. And what came before the giving of the Torah was the communal burnt-offering and the peace-offering. Therefore, those still retain primal importance.

But Beis Shammai disagrees and claims that the burnt- offerings brought before the giving of the Torah were individual burnt-offerings.

Beis Shammai perhaps claims that even before the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, every individual was expected to totally dedicate his life to G-d. The giving of the Torah did not make any change in this demand.

Beis Hillel's second argument draws on the ceremony of the inauguration of the Tabernacle (the mishkan). For twelve consecutive days, a prince of one of the tribes of Israel brought an offering to the Tabernacle. The number of peace-offerings was much greater than that of burnt-offerings. (These were individual burnt-offerings.)

This, Beis Hillel might be claiming, serves as a paradigm for us. Not only time but multiplicity too is meaningful. Both time and multiplicity could be viewed as taking us away from the ideal, from the ultimately simple being of G-d. Nevertheless, in the reality that G-d has constructed for us, they are meaningful. Whatever construct G-d has made is intrinsically meaningful.

Beis Shammai refutes this by pointing out a difference between the burnt-offerings brought by the princes and the r'iyah burnt-offering brought by an individual. The princes' burnt- offerings were brought on a temporary basis. The r'iyah burnt- offering is meant to be a permanent part of the Temple offerings.

Beis Shammai might be seen as saying that even within this- worldly reality, we can make a distinction in determining what is more valuable to G-d by seeing that which is temporary and that which is lasting. When something is temporary, that indicates that it is removed from G-d, Who is eternal. Thus, even those who claim that such this-worldly constructs as multiplicity have intrinsic meaning must still make distinctions between levels of meaning. And when one does so, one must conclude that the ideal state of being is reached when one totally dedicates all of one's being and resources to G-d.

It is apropos that this halachic debate exists only on the level of rabbinical law. By Torah law, neither of these two sacrifices has to have a minimal value. But it is the soferim-- the "scribes," the teachers--who interpret and mold the Torah so that its meaning become apparent and vibrant. It is therefore in that field that this argument takes place.

The Talmud does not state the conclusion of this dispute. "These and those are the words of the living G-d." But (as is usual in disputes between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai) the halachah is in concurrence with Beis Hillel. As the Rambam states: "The r'iyah and chagigah do not have any minimal requirement in the Torah. As the verse states: 'Each man according to his generosity' (Devorim 16:17). But it is the teaching of the scribes that the r'iyah burnt-offering should have a minimal value of one measure of silver, and the chagigah peace-offering should have a minimal value of two measures of silver" (Mishnah Torah, Hilchos Chagigah 1:2).

Two Vignettes of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

Rabbi Nosson of Nemirov told:

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov forbade us to fast and engage in ascetic practices. But on the occasion of a fast prescribed by the Code of Jewish Law, we have to grab it like a tasty cookie. As s'macht zich a taanis vos der Shulchan Oruch heist fasten, darf men dos chappen vi a gut leklich.

Once during Neilah--the close of Yom Kippur--Rabbi Nosson of Nemirov cried out as he recited the words, "that we may restrain from the injustice of our hands."

Afterwards, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov commented to him, "It's not so hard."

Rabbi Nosson had cried out so bitterly that it appeared that he saw no hope in improving himself. And thus, Rabbi Nachman consoled him. Siach Sarfei Kodesh II, pp. 139 and 142

The Invisible by Yaacov Dovid Shulman

Are you a mirror on my right?
Or a sheet of glass on my left?

How can one not see
The invisible?

All translations and original material. Copyright 1998

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