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Wednesday
Mar122014

EMPTY YOUR PERICARDIUM

This week’s parsha begins with G-d telling Moses to “command Aaron and his sons, saying: This is the Torah-law of the burnt offering…”

LACK OF A WALLET

Rashi comments on the Torah’s use of the strong term “command” rather than the more ubiquitous expression “speak.” Rashi, in his second explanation, cites Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai:

“Scripture needs especially to urge (a person to observe a commandment) when the Mitzvah causes him a financial loss [literally: lack of a wallet].”

The conventional wisdom expressed by Rabbi Shimon’s answer is that when we are forced to dig deep into our pockets we might find all sorts of rationalizations as to why we should not incur the cost. G-d therefore chose to underscore the importance of the burnt offering by using the more austere expression “command” rather than “speak” or “say.” No matter what the cost, you should not hesitate to offer this sacrifice.

Every expression employed by our Sages is careful and precise. They did not allow poetic license to dictate the expressions they used. When Rabbi Shimon spoke about incurring a loss he did not use the term “loss of money” but instead a “lack of a kis-wallet.” We must understand why Rabbi Shimon chose that particular expression.

The Rebbe (cited in the Gutnick edition of the Chumash) provides a simple explanation: It was to indicate a more serious financial loss; one is not merely lacking funds, but they are totally depleted, to the extent that one’s wallet has been totally exhausted.

Upon deeper refection one can find a more spiritual explanation for the use of the term “lack of a kis-wallet.”

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 97a) relates that Moshiach’s coming will be prefaced by a dire economic downturn. The way the Talmud articulates this point is: “The son of David [i.e., Moshiach] will not come until the pruta (a small copper coin) will cease from the wallet.”

HOW’S YOUR PERICARDIUM?

The Chassidic work Divrei Yechezkel cites an earlier Chassidic work, Yismach Moshe, who not only gives a novel interpretation to this statement but cites Elijah the Prophet as his source!

The Hebrew word for wallet is kis, which can also mean a pouch or a sac and is also used in Talmudic texts on anatomy as a reference to the “sac of the heart”—the pericardium (from the Greek “around” and “heart”; a double-walled sac containing the heart and the roots of the great vessels).

The Hebrew word pruta is cognate to the word perat, which means detail or individual. The Yismach Moshe then proceeds to retranslate the above quote as follows: The son of David will not come until our hearts cease to focus on our individual needs and instead are directed to the will of G-d and the needs of the entire Jewish nation. Only this can extricate them from exile and its attendant suffering. Not only do we humans suffer in exile, the Sh’china also suffers with us because its presence is obstructed.

With this novel interpretation of the word kis, that it refers not to a wallet but to the heart, we can retranslate Rabbi Shimon’s words thus:

“Scripture needs especially to urge (a person to observe a commandment) when the Mitzvah causes him to lack the proper heartfelt feelings for the Redemption.”

WHAT’S THE CONNECTION?

At this point, we may wish to understand the connection between the olah (burnt offering) and the lack of heartfelt feelings for the Redemption.

Another question: If, as the Yismach Moshe suggests, the word kis refers to the heart, why didn’t our Sages allude to this by using the word for the heart itself—which is lev. Instead they chose a word that refers to the sac that surrounds the heart, but not the heart itself. Moreover, kis also connotes one’s wallet. How do we connect the empty wallet with the heart’s emptiness?

To answer these questions, we must examine the spiritual nature of the burnt offering. The burnt offering was entirely consumed by fire on the Altar. No part of it was consumed by any person. This offering therefore expresses an uncompromising devotion to, and passion for, G-d. With this offering, one must put aside his or her own personal interests, even if they are spiritual. For the individual’s spiritual and physical needs, we have the Shlamim (peace offering) discussed in last week’s parsha.

In truth, Moshiach will serve our individual needs as well as our spiritual needs, since exile is an imposition on both. Moshiach’s coming will be enabled by our proceeding along parallel pathways: the Shlamim (peace offering) model, which underscores the needs and wants of each individual and the olah (burnt offering) paradigm, which speaks to the complete subordination of our own interests and passions to those of the entire Jewish people and G-d.

TWO MODELS: MOSHIACH SON OF DAVID AND SON OF SOLOMON

We can see both models in the two royal progenitors of Moshiach: Kings David and Solomon.

When Maimonides wishes to identify Moshiach’s principal traits he writes that Moshiach must “meditate on the Torah and engage in the observance of the Mitzvos as his ancestor David.” David is seen as the model for single minded devotion to G-d. Anyone who reads the Psalms, particularly, Psalms 27 and 119, is struck by King David’s unbridled passion to serve G-d in the most ardent and exclusive manner. In Psalm 27 he declares: “One thing I ask of G-d, it is this I seek: to sit in the house of G-d all of my days to behold the pleasantness of G-d, and to visit His sanctuary.”

Moshiach will usher in the Olah (burnt offering) world: one filled with G-dly passion.

King Solomon, whose very name means “peace,” represents the second model for Moshiach and the Messianic Age—the Shlamim (peace offering). Moshiach will bring a period of peace, harmony and an abundance of all physical delights. All of our needs and desires will be satisfied. In this model the need of each individual is paramount.

This may explain why, in the Talmudic statement that Moshiach will come when the individual needs will cease from the heart, as explained above, the Talmud uses the phrase “ben Dovid-the son of David,” and not Moshiach. Here the emphasis is on Moshiach’s role in emulating his ancestor David in his focus on living an olah model of life.

We can now understand why the Talmud used the word kis to signify the heart rather than the word lev, which means the heart itself.

When we ask for Moshiach we are actually asking from the two layers of our heart: the heart itself and the sac that surrounds the heart. The desire for the satisfaction of our individual needs that Moshiach will bring derives from the external part of our emotions. This external source is metaphorically likened to the kis, the external sac that encases the heart. The desire to be as one with G-d and connect to the entirety of the Jewish people, foregoing all personal interests, arises from the depths of the heart of every Jew.

Thus, our Sages are careful to stress that “the son of David” does not come unless we distract ourselves from our own pruta, individual needs and wants.

This does not mean that Moshiach cannot come otherwise, G-d forbid. It merely suggests the need to cultivate within ourselves the desire for the higher dimension of Moshiach to manifest itself. Toward this end we have to empty the kis, the cover of our hearts, and allow our inner heart to manifest its true desire.

We can now understand the interplay between the simple meaning of “the lack of a wallet” and the allegorical meaning that refers to the sac encasing the heart. The desire for money and material possession is indeed a manifestation of the kis, the pericardium. In order for us to focus on the olah model we must divest ourselves of our hearts’ preoccupation with material goods.

A PUZZLING MIDRASH

We can turn now to a puzzling and elusive Midrashic comment:

The students of Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma asked him: “When will the son of David come?”

He replied, “This is the Torah of the burnt offering…”

On the surface, his answer has no relationship to their question.

In light of the above analysis, however, the connection is apparent. Their question was not about the practical steps required to bring Moshiach. They knew that our Torah study, Mitzvos and prayers have the capacity to do just that. They also knew that Moshiach will come when they bring a symbolic Shlamim offering, whereby they dedicate themselves to living a wholesome life, one in which everyone benefits. They, however, had their hearts set on possessing the key to the much higher model of Redemption that is associated with “the son of David.”

In the words of Maimonides:

“The prophets and the Sages longed for the Messianic days not in order to dominate the nations of the world, not to rule over them, nor to be exalted by them, nor to eat and drink and rejoice, but to be free to study Torah, with no one to oppress or disturb them, so as to deserve life in the world to come.”

Maimonides then refers the reader to an earlier discussion of this matter in which he attributes this single-minded yearning to King David.

Rabbi Yossi’s response to his students was for them to study Torah—and, by extension, observe the Mitzvos—permeated with the olah paradigm; by this study they will merit to experience the higher dimension associated with Moshiach, the Son of David. 

 

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