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Thursday
Oct022014

BRACHA – B’REISHIS

On Simchas Torah we read the concluding parsha of the Torah, which describes the passing of Moses and the eulogy G-d delivered for him. In the last three verses, the Torah extols Moses’ greatness… 

BEFORE THE EYES OF ALL ISRAEL

“Never again has there arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom G-d had known face to face, as evidenced by all the signs and wonders G-d sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his courtiers and all his land, and by all the strong hand and awesome power that Moses performed before the eyes of all Israel.”

On Simchas Torah we also begin the annual cycle by reading the Torah anew, which starts with the familiar words:

“In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth.”

The fact that we follow the reading of the Torah’s ending immediately with the reading of its beginning has prompted thousands of explanations that link the end to the beginning. The connection between the text at the end of the Torah and the text at its beginning is well established, being rooted in a principle stated in the ancient Kabbalistic work Seifer Yetzira: “The end is wedged in the beginning and the beginning is wedged in the end.”

What connection is there between the wonders that Moses displayed to all of Israel and the opening words of the Torah which describe the Genesis of Creation?

Furthermore, if we examine the deeper meaning of what Moses actually did in the presence of all Israel it would appear to contradict the very idea of creation.

SHATTERING THE TABLETS

Rashi explains that the thing Moses did “before the eyes of all Israel” which garnered him such effusive praise from G-d was his shattering of the Tablets. According to our Sages, this act of destruction was not, G-d forbid, a product of reckless anger. Instead, it was an action calculated to save the Jewish people from destruction for their idolatrous sin of constructing and worshipping the Golden Calf. Moses reasoned that by destroying the “marriage contract” before its delivery, they could not be punished for their infidelity.

Be that as it may, it is clear that Moses committed an act of destruction. How can we suggest that Moses’ shattering of the Tablets is thematically connected to the ultimate act of Creation?

COUNSEL OF YOUTH VERSUS OLD AGE

The answer can be found in a statement of the Talmud (Megilla 31b and Nedarim 40a) concerning the difference between the elders’ sage advice and the advice of the young.

“Rabbi Shimon ben Elozor stated: If the young tell you, ‘build’ and elders tell you ‘demolish,’ listen to the elders and do not listen to the young, because the building of the young is demolition and the destruction of the elders is building.”

Another Talmudic source makes this case even more dramatically:

“If the young tell you to build the Beis HaMikdash and elders tell you to destroy it, you should destroy it and not build it.” (Tosefta, Avoda Zara 1:19)

This tradition is based on the Biblical narrative of a tax revolt in the days of Rechavam, the last King of all the 12 Tribes, son of and successor to King Solomon.

The people complained about their heavy tax burden and the king consulted both his senior and junior advisors. The senior advisors counseled him to lower the taxes, but the junior advisors counseled him to raise them even higher. He chose to follow the junior advisors advice. As a result, 10 of the 12 tribes broke away and formed their own kingdom. The youthful counsel triggered a cascade of terrible consequences: the division of Israel, constant wars between the two kingdoms, the eventual exile of the Ten Tribes, the destruction of the First Temple and the subsequent exile of the entire Jewish people.

Obviously, the Talmud does not mean to suggest that one should reject anything a young person suggests and to unconditionally embrace every scintilla of advice from a senior citizen. It merely points to the way emotional and impulsive counsel coming from the young may prove disastrous while the more considered and deliberate counsel of a more experienced individual will, in the long run, prove to be beneficial.

TZIMTZUM

The notion that demolition can be constructive is rooted in the Kabbala with regard to the very act of Creation.

When G-d created the world, He had to engage in an act of utter demolition. The great Kabbalist, the Arizal, explains that until Creation, “G-d filled all of space” and there was no room for any other form of existence. G-d contracted Himself and created a vacuum, into which He introduced a “line” of light, the channel through which all of the spiritual and physical realms were created.

This process, referred to as tzimtzum-contraction, is the Divine form of demolition, without which there could have been no world or reality as we know it. G-d had to totally withdraw and obscure His light to enable the process of creation. This process of withdrawal and creation enables us to acquire identities that appear independent of G-d. In turn, that empowers us to choose, of our own volition, to reintroduce the Divine light through our observance of Torah and its Mitzvos. Had there not been a tzimtzum, our identities would be totally subsumed within G-d’s and we would not really exist.

This is actually the underlying import of the Torah’s opening words: “In the beginning G-d (Elokim) created the heavens and the earth.” The name for G-d used here, Elokim, represents that G-dly power of tzimtzum, which is instrumental in creation.

Hence the entire process of creation is “demolition” with the intent to build. If G-d had not allowed for the concealing effects of tzimtzum there would be no Universe, let alone a world to inhabit.

We can now understand the reason why the Torah concludes with an allusion to Moses’ shattering of the Tablets. Our Sages tell us that in so doing, he prevented the utter destruction of the Jewish people. The destroyed Tablets were replaced by a second set that was ostensibly inferior to the first set. The fundamental difference between the two sets of Tablets is clearly recorded in the Torah. The first set of Tablets were entirely G-d’s handiwork; both the creation of the tablets and the engraving of the Commandments on them. Moses was told to hew the second set of Tablets upon which G-d etched the Ten Commandments.

However, lest one think that the purpose of this demolition-tzimtzum is the desired end, the Torah, in its opening words, alludes to the ultimate purpose of G-d’s self-concealment.

Chassidic thought reinterprets the words: “In the beginning G-d created…” The word for “created,” bara, is given an alternate translation: “revealed” thus rendering the verse as: “The first thing is to reveal (bara) that which is hidden (Elokim).” The ultimate purpose of the tzimtzum is for the subsequent revelation of G-dly light in the resulting vacuum.

MOSES CONCEALS AND REVEALS

The second set of Tablets, while they did not radiate the same Divine luminescence as the first set, was actually intended as a means by which the Jewish people could ultimately absorb a higher form of Divine light. Our Sages, in fact, assert that Moses was given and transmitted far more Torah knowledge than he would have received and transmitted had he not shattered the first set of Tablets. From G-dly concealment ultimately comes greater revelation; one that is both superior and easily internalized.

Perhaps, this notion of demolition serving as a prelude to ultimate revelation is hinted in the words “before the eyes of all Israel.” This phrase captures the essence of what revelation is: something that was hidden but that all of our eyes can now behold. This is the Torah’s way of telling us that Moses’ act of destruction and concealment was an act which contained the seed of our ultimate revelatory experience.

The fact that this message of “demolition for the purpose of building” is alluded to at both the end and beginning of the Torah points to the centrality of the message of concealment in our lives.

THE PURPOSE OF EXILE

Our exile has been a period of profound concealment. Destruction of the Holy Temple and dispersion of Jews throughout the world caused a drastic reduction of G-dly light, in addition to the difficult physical constraints of exile. However, for a better understanding of the purpose of our exile we must apply the lesson of the last and first words of the Torah. G-d never intended this period of concealment of His presence as a punishment or as an end unto itself. The exile serves as the concealment that precedes an even greater mode of G-dly revelation transcending that which prevailed in the days of the First Temple.

Moreover, the Midrash states that Moshiach will be revealed and then concealed before he is revealed again. In light of the foregoing analysis of concealment we must come to the conclusion that this interim period of concealment of Moshiach is intended as a means to bring about an even more magnificent revelation of G-dly light that will be ushered in by Moshiach. The world will become the ultimate G-dly world. May we see the end of all forms of concealment now!

 

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