Friday, April 30, 2010

Blasphemous Bread of Permanence

As I was continuing to review this week's parsha, Emor, I had a theory to explain something that has bothered me for awhile. At the end of the parsha we are taught of the convert whose mother was from Dan and father from Egypt. (see Mizrachi and Gur Aryeh as to why he is considered a convert) This individual was blasphemous and put to death for his actions.

Rashi teaches that he initially went out with one of two complaints. He found it preposterous that the Showbread in the Mishkan was placed on the Shulchan for nine days prior to being eaten. He also felt that his tent should be able to be placed in the camp of Dan since his mother was from Dan. When he was informed that he was wrong he blasphemed.

When Korach argued that a talis that is completely sky blue should not need tzitzis, we find that the commentaries give a metaphoric explanation for his choice of argument. What could the convert in our parsha have been insinuating with his remarks about the Showbread?

In the Mishkan there were two vessels that were placed across from each other, the Menorah and the Shulchan (both mentioned in the portion prior to the blasphemer). The Rema, in his Toras HaOlah, cites earlier sources that contend that the Menorah symbolized the concept of the seven planetary influences. There are seven "planets" that are visible to the naked eye: the sun, moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Depending on which constellation they are residing in, these planets exert influence on earth. The Menorah had seven branches, each lit for the purposes of shining light. The seven influences are thus shown to shine forth their power. The Shulchan, however, had twelve pieces of Showbread placed on it. There is another system of astrology in which the twelve constellations of the zodiac are seen to exert their influence. Unlike the planets, though the constellations are still relative to another. The planets, on the other hand, wander from one constellation to the next; each going at its own pace.

As we have mentioned in the past, Rav Yeshonasan Eibshitz contends that the system of twelve constellations is more pertinent to the Jews and the system of seven to the other nations of the world. This seems to be echoed by the fact that numerous sources compare the twelve tribes of Yisrael to the twelve constellations.

Perhaps, what this blasphemer intended was of a philosophical nature. He was wondering why Klal Yisrael can camp so proudly with their banners, yet, the newcomers who chose this way of life are not allowed into the camp permanently. They may trade and walk through, but they may not pitch their tent. These holy individuals have have wandered around and had chose to join Hashem's nation should be allowed equal expression. He was asking why the Showbread should contain "stale" bread, the bread that has been there for days and not a fresh piece, one that was just made.

The Showbread shows the twelve stagnant elements and also the twelve tribes. These are the ones that have not wandered and their permanence is expressed as an encampment. (the twelve constellations are considered to camp in exactly the same formation as the camping of the tribes see Midrash HaGAdol Bamidbar 2) While those that have wandered into these "constellations", the planets (or converts) have influence and are very holy, they are not the same as the originals. Their influence can shine as they wander into and fuse with the constellations, but they are not part of the "kahal" itself. They are not able to pitch a tent of permanence. Those who come and join exert influence and are placed in the Mishkan, but the Showbread is not its place. The Showbread keeps its bread for a duration of time, it does not continuously change and show wandering.

With this concept, one can appreciate the mesiras nefesh that a convert takes. He knowingly joins a nation in order to serve Hashem even though he recognizes he will feel like an outsider. He cannot have permanence (he is also not given land in Eretz Yisrael), yet, he sacrifices it all for his determination to esrve Hashem. Perhaps, this is why his vessel produces light. We can see and recognize and learn from this individual what fiery passion is truly necessary!

(I apologize if this was somewhat unclear, it was typed in a hurry).

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

No Martians in the Mikdash

I happened to see an interesting explanation from Rav Yehonasan Eibshitz that was so similar to last week's post that I could not help but post it for this week. The Haftarah for this week's parsha, Parshas Emor, comes from Yechezkel (44). In it the Navi describes what the service in the Beis HaMikdash will be like in the future. There are many discrepencies between this description and the service as described in Chumash and the Gemara tells us that for this Sefer Yechezkel was almost left out of Tanach. (Shabbos 13b) Finally Chananya ben Chizkiyah reconciled the discrepencies and it was allowed.

Interestingly, many commentaries still discuss the literal translations of the words and do not address the above mentioned issue. Rav Eibshitz seems to take this path and, therefore, provides insight into one of these perplexing verses. Yechezkel tells us that the Kohanim will wear linen garments when serving in the inner sanctum and will not have any wool on them. (Yechezkel 44:17) This is in stark contrast with the description of their clothing as described in the Chumash. There we are taught that their clothing contained both linen and wool, a combination prohibited for others to wear and referred to as Shaatnez.

Rav Eibshitz explains that linen is often times referred to as שש which is also the word for "six". In addition it is referred to as בד, a word whose numerical value is six. (see chapter 13 of my Tiferes Aryeh for more on this numerical value and how it seems to be a "hava ameinah" of the Gemara) Mystically it is a garment that brings together (in a cleansing way) the natural forces of six of the seven planets (the ancients recognized all items that moved independent of the regular stars to be planets. As such they talked of seven planets; the sun, moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The others are not visible to the naked eye and are, therefore, not discussed). The only planet it does not contain is that of Mars.

Mars connotes judgement and harshness (see last week's post) and has no place in the future worship of Hashem. (Rav Eibshitz points out that shrouds are of linen since Hashem will save the dead from judgement). In the past the Kohanim wore wool in their clothing because we had to contend with the evil forces and even "bribe" them to do the proper service of Hashem (see last week's post). In the future, however, things will be more perfect and we will no longer have wool in the clothing of the Kohanim.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Satan: Our Martian King of Earth

The Ramban and Rabbeinu Bachye reveal to the public what the Ibn Ezra considered to be a mystical secret. They state that the goat taken to Azazel as part of the Yom Kippur service is actually a symbolic show of bribing the Satan. The Satan is the evil inclination that resides in all of us and on Yom Kippur we rise above it and act like angels. As such, Hashem prescribed an offering that, on the surface level, appears to be a pacification of the Satan. This, then, enables us to completely serve Hashem without his interference. Obviously, we are not really worshipping Satan, as that would be idolatrous, this is a commandment from Hashem and is serving Hashem, but its symbolism is something to be taken to heart.

The planets and stars are considered to be the place where the spiritual realm of heaven and the physical realm of earth meet. As such, all events determined by heaven are considered to flow down upon us through the stars and planets. The Ramban and Rabbeinu Bachye contend that Mars, מאדים, is considered to be the force of the Satan (and demons) and connotes evil, death and destruction. The desolate wilderness is considered to be under his rule and it is there that this goat is taken. All animal life is considered to be influenced by the celestial objects and goats are considered to be under the rule of Mars, as well. (see Ibn Ezra Reishis Chachma for more detail of this concept) It happens to be fascinating that the other ancient civilizations also perceived Mars as a cruel and deadly influence. Usually it has been associated with death and war. (See Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos) The Parah Adumah, red heifer, is also a display of this, says the Ramban, but that is not the discussion of this post.

Rabbeinu Bachye furthers that the numerical value of מאדים is identical to that of המלך, "the king". It is our evil physical inclinations, ruled by the Satan, that, unfortunately, seem to govern and run our lives. The Satan, therefore, appears to be the king of this world. I find it fascinating that our prayers from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur (the time being discussed) focus on calling Hashem "our King". We change a blessing in our Shemonah Esrei from calling Hashem a holy God to calling Him a holy King. The chazzan starts the Yom Tov prayer with the word המלך, that same word that normally equals Mars, but in this context we make clear that it is Hashem who is the real king. In another piyut we contrast the Heavenly King with the destitude king, usually considered to be man, but, perhaps, truly referring to the Satan.

It would seem that these days, at the beginning of our year, are supposed to state emphatically, that although it normally seems that the king is Mars, we are proclaiming that Hashem is truly the king!!!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ancient Influences of Outside Cultures

The names of the Hebrew months that we currently use are not biblical or even Hebrew! In fact, the Yerushalmi (Rosh Hashana 1:2) states that these were the secular names used by the Babylonians and we took them with us when we returned to Eretz Yisrael after this first exile. Many years ago archaeologists uncovered an ancient stone in the ancient city of Nineveh that confirmed this fact.

The question that arises is that if these are secular names, why is it that we find sources that "darshan" them. For example, a Midrash teaches that the month beginning this evening, Iyar, is called אייר from the root אור meaning light. It was in this month, contends the Midrash, that Bnai Yisrael received the manna with "shining countenance" and it was also then that Hashem shined his glory for them with the clouds of glory that escorted them in the Wilderness. (see Torah Sheleimah Miluim Parshas Bo pp. 177-178) It seems odd that the ancient Babylonians would care to call their months by names that exalt the Jewish nation.

Some, like the Bnai Yisaschar (Nisan Maamar 1), contend that Aramaic is a holy tongue and we know that the Torah was given in "Targum" in addition to its Hebrew version. Ancient Targum, literally translation, is in Aramaic. As such, these names are inherently part of the language and reflect the true nature of the word (in this case month). Interestingly, the people who use it, presumably, do not know the true origin of their native tongue. While not an outright question on this approach, it seems odd that some of these names are also names of Babylonian gods. In fact, the Midrash mentions that Tammuz is referred to as Tammuz because that is the name of a pagan god (this has been confirmed historically with a Babylonian god) and the Jews practiced idolatry in this month when they made the Golden Calf. It seems peculiar that the name of a pagan god should have been the inherent nature and name of a month.

Others have suggested that when the rabbinic authorities allowed this element of secular culture to permeate into Jewish culture (see Ramban Shemos 12:2 who contends that not only did they allow it, but they advocated its practice), they gave it a Jewish spin to make it distinctly Jewish. (see Torah Sheleimah cited above)

Regardless of what the origins of these names of the months are, it is clear that all agree that they did not start off being Jewish. How fascinating it is to note that here we have our culture that took a part of another culture and thousands of years later the originators are gone and the only ones preserving the Babylonian tradition are the Jews!!! Hashem's countenance shone upon us in Iyar that protected and sustained us throughout the harshness of our exile in the Wilderness and, apparently has never ceased. It has protected us throughout the rest of our exiles. Those who have persecuted us have fallen to the wayside and ironically the only remnant left is through their oppressed nation that has far outlasted them!!!