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In The Garden Of The Torah
Insights of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Shlita
on the weekly Torah Readings


Shmini - 5754

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Publisher's Foreword

The essay to follow contrasts the numbers seven and eight, explaining that seven represents the natural order, while eight points to transcendence.

As reflected in that essay, both elements - nature and transcendence - are factors in our lives.

Today, this message is of particular relevance to Lubavitcher chassidim - and indeed to all those whose lives have been touched by the Rebbe Shlita.

We are obviously in the midst of a transition.

Nevertheless, with bitachon, confident trust in G-d, we can persevere and continue productive activities without being inhibited by worry or fear. [1]

Bitachon is the very opposite of escapism.

For the trust which it generates gives one the confidence to face trials and challenges.

It requires a person to act maturely, without shirking his responsibilities. Simultaneously, when confronting those responsibilities - and indeed, with regard to all circumstances which he faces - he relies on G-d, fully confident that He will bring him open and revealed good.

Perhaps the most fundamental element of bitachon is direction: a clear understanding of where one is going.

When a person's objectives are defined, his questions are focused. That does not mean he will not face difficulties, but the confrontation will be action-oriented. Challenges will not lead to doubt, only to the conscientious endeavor to overcome them.

And the Rebbe Shlita has given us clear direction for more than 44 years. We are proceeding to Mashiach; this is the goal to which every element of our lives should be directed. Even in this time of challenge, the awareness of that goal makes it possible to continue with bitachon.

This bitachon is sufficient in itself to evoke positive Divine influence. As the Tzemach Tzedek once advised one of his followers in a time of personal crisis, Tracht gut, un 'svet zein gut - "Think positively, and the outcome will be good." And this is particularly true, since, as emphasized by the essay to follow, transcendent G-dly light is as real a factor in our existence as the laws of nature.

This year, Parshas Shemini is read on the Shabbos on which the forthcoming month of Iyar is blessed.

Our Rabbis interpret the name Iyar as an acronym for the phrase: [2] Ani Hashem Rof'echa - "I am G-d your Healer."

May this month generate blessings of healing and renewal for all Jews, and in particular for the Rebbe Shlita, Melech HaMashiach. And may he lead us to our Redemption in the immediate future.

25 Nissan, 5754

   

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) With regard to the concepts that follow, see Likkutei Sichos, Shabbos Parshas Shmos, 5751.

  2. (Back to text) Exodus 15:26.


Transcendence and Immanence

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, p. 973ff;
Vol. XVII, p. 92ff; Sefer HaSichos 5749, p. 475ff

Learning What It Means To Count

In Jewish thought, numbers are significant.

They are representative not only of factors in our material world, but of the spiritual forces which mold our reality.

Every number has a different spiritual import which influences the makeup of our existence. [1]

Seven is a fundamental number, representative of the seven Divine middos, the attributes which are the source for - and which parallel - our emotive qualities.

These middos are the immediate active force which brings our material world into being. [2]

For this reason, time is structured in cycles of seven.

There are seven days in the week, seven weeks in the Shemittah cycle, [3] and our Sages speak [4] of seven millennia as the span of the world's existence.

Shabbos, the seventh day, reflects perfection within the natural order.

Just as the original Shabbos brought the entire cosmos to consummate fulfillment, so too, each week, on Shabbos a person should feel that "all his work is completed." [5]

Moreover, Shabbos does not only symbolize material perfection, it is referred to as Shabbos Kodesh, "the holy Sabbath," indicating that the G-dly light which is enclothed within the world is manifest.

The number eight, however, refers to an even higher level of holiness, the G-dly light which transcends the limits of our world.

Indeed, it reflects such a high peak that it eclipses the advantage of the number seven, to the extent that our Rabbis state [6] that "the number seven is always mundane, while the number eight is holy."

"The Eighth Day"

These concepts are reflected in this week's Torah reading, Parshas Shemini.

Shemini means "the eighth."

It refers to the first of Nissan, the day on which the Sanctuary was erected as a permanent structure.

It is called "the eighth day," [7] because it was preceded by the seven days of dedication, during which each day Moshe erected and took down the Sanctuary, and taught Aharon and his sons the order of the sacrificial worship.

The Kli Yakar questions why the Torah employs the term, "the eighth day." For this day is not one of the seven days of dedication, and indeed represents a higher level, indeed a totally different plane, than the preceding seven days. For it was on this day that G-d's presence manifested itself in the Sanctuary: "G-d's glory was revealed to the people and a fire came forth from before G-d." [8]

In resolution, he explains that the day is associated with this number to highlight its uniqueness. For the number eight is "set aside for G-d," representing a distinctive quality of transcendence above the world's natural limits.

This resolution is, however, itself problematic.

Since the number eight reflects such a high level, how can it be associated with the seven days that precede it?

Calling it "the eighth day" implies a continuing sequence. And thus the very term used t o accentuate the day's uniqueness points to a connection with the previous days.

Earning More Than We Can Earn

The above difficulty can be resolved on the basis of a ruling of our Sages with regard to monetary law: [9] Giving a present is equated with a sale, because if the recipient of the present had not generated satisfaction for the giver, he would not have granted him this gift.

Similarly, with regard to the concepts mentioned previously:

the revelation of G-d's presence cannot be drawn down by man's service, for it is a transcendent light beyond our limited scope.

Instead, it must be granted as a gift from above. Nevertheless, when does G-d endow us with such a revelation? When we have created a fit setting for it - when we have refined and developed our environment and ourselves to the fullest extent of our capacities.

Thus the seven days of dedication represented man's efforts in refining our environment which is cast in a structure of seven.

This is a objective within man's capacity. And by carrying out this objective, a setting is created for the revelations of the eighth day, the transcendent light that surpasses our mortal limits. [10]

Focus on This World, Not on the Next

Moreover, when this transcendent revelation is brought about by man's Divine service, it does not remain an isolated, sublime influence, but permeates our material environment, showing the immanence of infinite spirituality within our existence. For within the limits of our worldly environment can be revealed G-dly light which transcends nature's limits.

This concept is underscored by the continuation of the Torah reading [11] which speaks about the death of Aharon's sons, Nadav and Avihu.

The Torah relates [12] that they brought an unauthorized incense offering and as a result, "Fire came forth from G-d and consumed them."

Many reasons are offered to explain why they were punished by death. [13]

From a mystical perspective, it is explained [14] that they died as a natural consequence of their souls having soared to such spiritual heights that they could no longer remain in their bodies.

Nevertheless, despite the heights they attained, their conduct is judged unfavorably, because their spiritual quest ran contrary to G-d's intent in creation: the establishment of a dwelling for Him amidst the day-to-day realities of our existence. [15]

Their death shows that our spiritual experience should not be pointed to lofty rapture, but instead, should be firmly grounded in our actual lives.

This theme is also reflected in the conclusion of the Torah reading which focuses on the subject of kosher food. For the establishment of a dietary code indicates that Judaism's conception of Divine service is not directed above the world, but rather towards living within it.

A Fusion of Opposites

This fusion of transcendence and immanence is also alluded to by the name Shemini.

Shemini shares a common root with the Hebrew word shemen, meaning "oil."

Oil has two tendencies. [16]

On one hand, it floats above other liquids, to the extent that with regard to the laws of ritual purity, if an impure person touches oil floating on another liquid, the lower liquid is not rendered impure, for the two are not considered to be joined to each other. [17]

On the other hand, oil permeates through all entities. Therefore, if a non-kosher substance which is fat or oily is roasted together with other food, it makes the entire quantity of the other food non-kosher, although ordinarily only the status of that food which is in immediate proximity to the non-kosher substance would be impaired. [18]

Similarly, with regard to the subject at hand, the essential light which is associated with the eighth day transcends the limits of our material realm.

Nevertheless, G-d's intent is not that this light remain in a sublime state, but that it be infused within the makeup of the material realm itself, endowing it with holiness.

Heralding a New Manner of Perception

The number eight shares a connection to the Era of the Redemption as our Sages state: [19] "The harp of the Era of the Redemption will be of eight strands" (while the harp that was used in the Beis HaMikdash had seven strands).

The revelations of the Era of the Redemption will also follow the motif described above.

Thus in description of those revelations, our prophets say, [20] "And the glory of G-d will be revealed and all flesh will see." "The glory of G-d" refers to a transcendent spiritual peak [21] above the present natural order. This level will be "seen," perceived openly by "all flesh"; mortals as they exist within our material world will realize this spiritual truth.

Moreover, these revelations will be an intrinsic dimension of the makeup of that era. Just as today, it is natural for our eyes to see material entities, in that era, "all flesh" will perceive "the glory of G-d." These spiritual peaks will be internalized, becoming part of our reality.

This involves a remaking of our natural setting, but that innovation will be the result of our Divine service in the present age. For as stated in Tanya, [22] the revelations of the Era of the Redemption are dependent on our service in the time of exile.

To refer to the concepts mentioned previously: seven prepares for eight. By refining and elevating ourselves and our environment in the present age, we precipitate the transcendent revelations of the Era of the Redemption.

Our Divine service creates a setting for the fusion of the spiritual and the material, pioneering the possibility for these revelations to permeate and remake our worldly existence.

May this become manifest in the immediate future.

   

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) There are two explanations for this concept:

    1. In Hebrew, letters correspond to numbers.

      Since G-d created the world through speech, the numerical patterns created by the letters of the Ten Utterances of Creation reflect the interplay of G-d's creative forces.

    2. The Hebrew word for number is mispar.

      Accordingly, the statement of the Sefer Yetzirah that the world was created bisofar, bisefer, ubisippur is interpreted as referring to the merging of numerical patterns.

  2. (Back to text) See the commentary of the Ramban to Genesis 2:3. Note as well the maamar Issa BiMidrash Tehillim (Sefer HaMaamarim 5708, p. 271ff.)

  3. (Back to text) The cycle upon which the agricultural laws which must be observed in Eretz Yisrael are based.

  4. (Back to text) Rosh HaShanah 31a.

  5. (Back to text) Mechilta, quoted in Rashi, Shmos 20:9.

  6. (Back to text) Kli Yakar, commenting on Leviticus 9:1, the opening verse of our Torah reading. See also the Responsa of the Rashba (Vol. I, Responsum 9) which explains that eight refers to a rung of holiness that transcends the limits of the natural order.

  7. (Back to text) Leviticus 9:1.

  8. (Back to text) Ibid.:23-24.

  9. (Back to text) Megillah 26b, et al.

  10. (Back to text) We find a similar motif with regard to Sefiras HaOmer - the Counting of the Omer, a mitzvah which in many years is associated with the time when Parshas Shemini is read.

    We are obligated to count 49 (7x7) days to observe this mitzvah. Each day involves an effort to refine a specific dimension of our characters. After this endeavor is completed, the fiftieth day marks the celebration of the holiday of Shavuos which is associated with a Divine light which transcends the limits of mortal endeavors. See the essay "Counting More than Days" (Timeless Patterns in Time, Vol. II, p. 63ff).

  11. (Back to text) This reflects that the name Shemini is associated with the entire Torah portion, and not merely the opening verse.

  12. (Back to text) Leviticus 10:1-2.

  13. (Back to text) See the commentary of Rashi to the above verse, Eruvin 63a, Toras Kohanim, commenting on Leviticus 16:1, Vayikra Rabbah 20:8-9.

  14. (Back to text) Or HaChayim, commenting on Leviticus 16:1; Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, p. 987ff; Timeless Patterns in Time, Vol. I, p. 52ff.

  15. (Back to text) See Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, sec. 3, Tanya, ch. 36.

  16. (Back to text) See Inyano Shel Torah HaChassidus (English translation, "The Essence of the Teachings of Chassidus"), sec. 7.

  17. (Back to text) Tivul Yom 2:5. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Ochalin 8:10.

  18. (Back to text) See Chulin 97a, Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 105:5.

  19. (Back to text) Archin 13b. See Likkutei Torah, Vayikra 21d. Note also the connection to this concept in the commentary of the Kli Yakar cited previously.

  20. (Back to text) Isaiah 40:5.

  21. (Back to text) In the series of maamarim entitled BeShaah Shehikdimu, Vol. II, p. 930, it is explained that this level refers to the dimension of Malchus within the Ein Sof as it exists before the tzimtzum.

  22. (Back to text) Ch. 37.


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