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Tuesday
May122015

IRON: A MESSIANIC METAL

CURSES OR BLESSINGS?

One of the important teachings of Chassidus is that the curses contained in the Torah, particularly the curses mentioned in this week’s parsha, known as the tochecha (as well as in the expanded version of the tochecha in the book ofmD’varim), are really blessings in disguise. Many a Torah commentator has demonstrated that the curses that sound most painful and harsh are actually positive and sublime blessings.

In one of the apparent “curses,” the Torah states:

“I will destroy the pride of your strength and I will make your skies like iron and your land like copper.”

The simple meaning of this curse, according to Rashi, is that G-d will destroy our pride (the Beis HaMikdash) and the skies will become dry like iron, causing a drought, and the earth will exude moisture like copper that will cause the fruits to rot.

How can we possibly reinterpret this verse as a blessing?

NOURISHMENT AND HOPE

The Hebrew word for breaking-shever is closely related to the word for nourishment and hope. This can be seen in the story of Jacob and Joseph. A famine had struck the land and food was scarce. The Torah says that Jacob “saw” that grain was being sold in Egypt. Jacob then said to his sons “Look, I have heard that there is shever-grain in Egypt.” Rashi asks, why does the Torah first say that he “saw?” He could not possibly have seen the grain; he just heard about it!

Rashi, citing a Midrashic commentary, answers that Jacob’s “seeing” here refers to prophetic vision. Jacob presciently saw that there was hope in Egypt. The Hebrew word sever (which contains the exactly same letters as shever, except that the dot is placed on the left of the first letter, making it a sin rather than on the right, which would make it a shin) means hope. Jacob saw not only the food that would feed his household in this period of drought and famine, but that contained within the physical nourishment was also a seed of hope that he would be reunited with his son Joseph.

Using homiletic license, one may suggest that the word in our verse “V’shavarti-and I will break,” can now be retranslated in a positive vein as “and I will sustain you with hope.”

Now let us read the entire phrase with this retranslation: “I will sustain you with hope for the pride of your strength.” This means that G-d will sustain your hope for the rebuilding of the BaishHaMikdash “the pride of your strength.” The BaishHaMikdash was not just a place for people to assemble and worship the one G-d; it was also the source of our people’s pride and strength. By introducing G-d’s presence into the world, the Holy Temple engendered admiration for us from the other nations and fortified the Jewish people with spiritual and physical strength.

COPPER IS A COVER

The verse continues: “and I will make your skies like iron and your land like copper.”

To understand the positive relationship of iron and copper with the BaishHaMikdash, we must refer to a discourse of the Rebbe rSeifersHaSichos, Tenth of Teves, 5752) on the topic of the metals used in the past and that will be used in the future BaishHaMikdash.

The three major metals used for the construction of the Mishkan (the portable Sanctuary in the desert) and the BaishHaMikdash, were gold, silver and copper. It is also known by our Sages that the three Temples correspond to the three patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Hence, the Rebbe concludes, the three Temples can also be said to correspond to gold, silver and copper.

What is the connection between Jacob and copper?

The Rebbe demonstrates that the Hebrew word for copper-nechoshes, contains the word nachash-serpent, which symbolizes the idea ofhKlipa-the husk or power that covers and conceals holiness. And it is through Jacob, who personified the spiritual counterpart of nechoshes, that we can refine this form of impurity. Jacob represents the spiritual power we require to refine the impurity of the exile in which we are presently situated and is what will become manifest in the Third Temple.

IRON IN THE THIRD TEMPLE?

Nevertheless, the Rebbe states that the term nechoshes also can be used to describe the period of exile which precedes the building of the Temple. Iron is the metal that, more compellingly, alludes to the Third Temple. Iron was not permitted to be used in the construction of the first two Temples, since it symbolizes destruction. Indeed, the destruction of the First Temple is associated with iron, as the prophetlYechezkel (4:3) was ordered to take an iron pan and place it on an iron wall which was to separate him from the city as an omen that the city would be besieged. Iron was not allowed to be used in the building of the Altar because iron swords are symbols of destruction and the Altar is a source of life.

The Rebbe then demonstrates that iron will be an integral part of the Third Temple. It possesses a positive symbolism of steadfastness and permanence. And it is the Third Temple that will enjoy this quality of permanence. Furthermore, in the Messianic Age there will no longer be bloodshed caused by iron. Life itself will become permanent, as the prophet states: “Death will be swallowed up forever, and G-d will erase tears from all faces.” Hence, iron weapons and tools of destruction will not only become obsolete or “kosher,” the metal itself will become, both figuratively and physically, an integral part of the Third Temple.

In summary: the Third Temple is associated with both copper and iron. The copper aspect, which is suggestive of the obstructive nature of evil and exile, also alludes to the refinement of these negative forces. The iron aspect suggests the introduction of a totally new dynamic; one that is solid and can never be reversed.

Based on the Rebbe’s analysis of the positive and totally novel character of iron and its role in the future Temple we have to ask ourselves about the source of the unprecedented status of the future BaishHaMikdash? Obviously, it derives from G-d, but the question is how will we finally access that G-dly power which was absent from the preceding two Temples.

TWO SCENARIOS FOR THE THIRD BAIS HAMIKDASH

To understand how we will be able to take advantage of that power, we must first discuss the two scenarios for rebuilding the Third BaishHaMikdash found in the writings of our Sages:

One scenario (cited by Rashi in his commentary to the Talmud) is that the Temple will come to us from heaven “pre-fabricated.” This suggests that it will be an exclusively Divine creation (much like the first Tablets which were hewn and engraved by G-d, in contradistinction with the second Tablets which were hewn by Moses). The other scenario (codified by Maimonides) is that it will be built by the Jewish people under the leadership and direction of Moshiach.

The Rebbe reconciles both views by stating that while we will build the Temple to fulfill the Biblical commandment directed to every Jew, “make for Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell in them,” G-d’s Temple will “descend” and “clothe” and manifest itself within our man-made structure. We will thus enjoy the best of both worlds. On the one hand, we will be involved directly in the Temple’s construction, albeit within the spiritual limits of mortal humans; it will be our handiwork. On the other hand, we will also enjoy the transcendent quality of it being G-d’s Temple, which will endow our building project with otherworldly G-dly stability and permanence.

We may therefore suggest that the inferior “copper” aspect of the BaishHaMikdash will be achieved primarily through our human efforts. Our efforts include our present endeavors and our efforts after the Redemption commences. They will endow the BaishHaMikdash with a capacity to change the world for the good. No longer will we be plagued by the stifling influences of the nachash-serpent that conceal our G-dliness.

However, the more advanced and powerful “iron” aspect of the BaishHaMikdash will be introduced by G-d’s Sanctuary descending from on High and integrating itself within ours. This will endow the Temple with an eternal character.

RETRANSLATION

Let us now return to our translating exercise of “curses-converted-into blessings” for the statement: “I will destroy the pride of your strength and I will make your skies like iron and your land like copper.” After all of the foregoing lengthy introduction we can now render this chilling vision in a totally novel and positive way:

“I will sustain you with hope for the pride of your strength, [the Third BaishHaMikdash] and I will give you [My] Temple [which descends from heaven, which is] like iron, and this will accompany [your efforts of building the BaishHaMikdash through earthly and physical means; symbolized by the words] your land [which, is] likened to copper.”

TWIN PREPARATIONS: EMPLOYING OUR COPPER AND IRON

The lesson of this retranslation transformation is that our preparation for Moshiach should be based on bothselements, copper and iron.

The Rebbe, in his discourse, explains that the Patriarch Jacob is associated with Torah study. The linkage between Jacob and copper suggests, therefore, that it is Torah study that will provide us with the strength to refine the negative “copper” forces of the world in exile.

We must hasten to devote more time and energy for Torah study, and couple it with more “iron” assertiveness and unbending dedication to all that is holy. This will prepare us for the two aspects of the Third Temple, copper and iron, and finally transform the heavy curses of exile into the most sublime blessings. May we see this transformation with our eyes of flesh in the most visible and revealed fashion, now!

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