The Rose

"Like a rose amongst the thorns ..." (Shir haShirim 2)

Avraham Tzvi Schwartz

"Who is the rose?" Rebbi Chizkiya asked.[1] "This is Knesses Yisrael,"[2] he answered. "For there are two roses -- one is the rose amongst the thorns, the other is a rose without any thorns.

The people of Yisrael exist at a number of levels. The physical Jewish people as we see them, as we know them, are the rose amongst the thorns.[3] Then there is Knesses Yisrael, a spiritual entity that represents the Jewish people in their ideal form -- the model we strive to reach. This we liken to the rose without any thorns.

"As the rose has red petals and white petals," R' Chizkiya continued, "so Knesses Yisrael has the attributes of Justice and Love."

The red of the red petals symbolizes our connection with physical life -- similar to red wine, red eyes, red flesh, red blood. However, when we enjoy ourselves in this world -- when we eat, drink, indulge in the pleasures of this world -- we draw on ourselves the attention of the heavenly courts. "Are they taking what they're allowed to take? Are they using all they take in a proper way?" If the answer is yes, all is well. When however, we overstep our limits, we bring on ourselves various types of troubles, punishment and curses.

The white of the white petals represents our love, our appreciation for the beauty and goodness with which Hashem perfumes our world.

"As the rose has thirteen petals surrounding it," he added, "so Knesses Yisrael has thirteen attributes of love surrounding it on all sides." Even the red petals are a gift of love -- for without living up to a high standard, we cannot hope to enter Hashem's company and enjoy that eternity which is Hashem Himself.

"And similarly, Hashem uttered thirteen words before mentioning His name again,[4] to surround and protect Knesses Yisrael." From the first time Hashem's name appears in the Torah to the second time it is mentioned, there are thirteen words. These words -- as with any words that are not heavenly names -- serve as shields. They hide us from the full power of Hashem's holiness, thus allowing us to live on.[5]

Five Hard Petals

Thereafter, Hashem's name appears a third time.[6] Why mention it a third time? This is that five hard petals may develop around the rose. The green petals at the bottom of the rose, while not as attractive as the soft, upper petals, form a solid base on which the rose sits. These five petals are "five salvations".

Imagine a baby, weak, helpless -- unable to feed or clean himself -- likely to hurt himself, putting dirt and pebbles into his mouth or falling into buckets of water. Still, the baby is secure -- for his mother in nearby ready to care for him in whatever way he needs. And likewise for us -- while Hashem keeps to the background of our lives -- He is available to rescue us from whatever dilemma we encounter. He is our secure base and our strength.

Moreover, the "five salvations" are five gates. Hashem's help comes through gates. Still, it is for us to open these gates. How do we open these gates? Through the choices we make, and the actions we take. We aspire towards our ideal goals, and Hashem guides us there. So, while the thirteen soft petals are the attributes we strive to reach -- the ideal qualities that lead us to eternal serenity and happiness -- it is through the five hard petals -- through our own efforts -- that we advance and improve ourselves, and eventually achieve our every wish.

Concerning this concept, the verse says, "The cup of salvations I raise..." (Tehillim 116) This is the cup of blessing. A cup of wine is nothing special, but when we take it in our hands and raise it, we merit Hashem blessings -- and the wine becomes a beautiful, holy object.

The rose sits on five hard petals positioned around it like fingers. Similarly, the cup of blessing needs to rest on five fingers, and no more.

We do with our hands. Our fingers are our hands' tools. However, we have five fingers and no more. We need to limit our efforts -- not do too much. For otherwise -- if we are too busy, too involved -- we leave no space for Hashem to enter our lives. We need to do what we can do, and then stop, look, and wait for Hashem's blessing. We need Hashem to transform us into His beautiful rose. The rose is the cup of blessing.

From the second appearance of Hashem's name to its third appearance, there are five words.[7] From then on, we read of the light Hashem created, then concealed.[8] This is the light of the first day of Creation. The Divine Presence first produced a magical light -- a light with which a person can see from one end of the world to another -- a light with which he too can create worlds, and worlds within worlds. But then, Hashem hid that light.

You wouldn't release a five-year-old child in a shopping mall with $5000 grasped in his little fist, telling him to have fun. Similarly, Hashem does not trust us in our "lower, smaller selves" with this first light. However, when we work on ourselves, when we advance, we may gain access to it to a greater degree. The light becomes more available as we grow towards it.

Where is this light? Hashem included it within the covenant He made at Sinai. The covenant, so to speak, entered the rose, and from within it, produced its seed. Thus, the rose is the "fruit-bearing tree carrying within it a seed." (Breishis 1) The seed lives on within the circumcision, the sign of the covenant.[9]

The Seed

Different letters of the aleph-beis make up different names of Hashem. Similarly, different elements combine to make the seed that lies within the rose. Forty-two of the basic ways in which elements of the seed combine, are embedded into the covenant. They give it its structure and beauty. These 42 ways parallel the holy 42-lettered name of Hashem. [10]

Hashem is all. Besides Him, there is nothing. What then did He create? What was there for Him to create? He created darkness[11] -- a "space" where His presence is hidden. This then is the basis of reality. Like digital technology uses the binary system to combine digits 0 and 1, and represent with them all words, colors, sounds, etc. (e.g. The word "hello" = 0110100001100101011011000110110001101111), so Creation is the made up of the ONEs of Hashem, and the ZEROs where His presence is absent. Advanced combinations of these basic elements form first "letters" and then, in turn, "names" which then go on to create more complex creations.

Within Hashem's holy names, His presence is "more" found. We need to access the power that lies behind these names that we may live. Thus, hidden in the rose -- Knesses Yisrael -- and in its seed, our ability to create -- lays a set of combinations parallel to the creative powers of Hashem's names.


[1] Based on the Zohar and Peirush HaSulam, Hakdama 1.1

[2] Literally, the assembly of Yisrael -- it is so called because all the light the Jewish people produce through beautiful living is assembled within it.

[3] The thorns represent the waste product -- the deadwood of this world which eventually dies, as do all physical items.

[4] Breishis 1.1,2. Between the first two times Hashem's name appears in the Torah, there are thirteen words:

"בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹקִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ: וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבהוּ וְחשֶׁךְ עַל פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹקִים ..."

[5] "No person can see Me and live," says Hashem. (Shmos 33.20) Since the essence of Hashem is all One, to come before Hashem's awesome presence is to be nullified by His oneness.

In other words, think of Hashem as an all-consuming furnace. Now imagine a small candle within that furnace. The question is, is there a flame at the end of its wick? We understand that you cannot see it -- but does it exist?

And the answer is it really doesn't matter. Since the furnace is so great, so powerful, so all-encompassing, this small flame inside it -- which is all the same matter -- doesn't make any difference. And so it is with the individual within Hashem's greater reality -- were it not for the "darkness" Hashem creates all around him -- he could not exist independently.

[6] מְרַחֶפֶת עַל פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם וַיּאמֶר אֱלֹקִים..." …"

[7] As we count in the verse quoted above.

[8] Breishis 1, Rashi there.

[9] The circumcision we perform on an 8-day old baby is a first step towards fulfilling our side of the agreement we have with Hashem. It signifies that we dedicate our lives to a higher, more spiritual lifestyle. Then within this lifestyle, we may discover the hidden light, and use it to become the beautiful, perfect people we want to become.

[10] A hidden name which we do not use, but whose letters have been cleverly worked into the special prayer we say, "Ana b'ko'ach".

[11] As the verse says, "He forms the light, and creates the dark ..." (Yeshayahu 45.7)

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