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Tuesday
Mar172015

THE POWER TO TESTIFY

A LOVE AFFAIR

Many of the commandments recorded in the book of VaYikra, and more specifically, in this week’s parsha, revolve around the offerings the Jews were required to bring to the Bais HaMikdash.

The name of the book, as well as its opening parsha, is VaYikra, which simply means “And He called.” It is somewhat puzzling that a book should be given such a non-descript and unexciting name such as, “And He called!”

Without explicitly asking the question, Rashi, the principal Torah commentator, explains that this is a term of endearment. Indeed, the entire book of VaYikra, particularly the section that deals with the korbanos-sacrifices, is about our love affair with G-d. The word korban actually connotes the idea of closeness and intimacy. When one offered a korban and it was accepted by G-d, it demonstrated the mutually close and intimate relationship between G-d and us.

With this premise in mind, we must try to understand how it applies to a commandment that appears at the end of the parsha:

“If a person sins… and he does not testify… he will bear (the consequences of) his sin.”

This verse, as it is understood by our Oral Tradition (later transcribed in the Talmud), refers to a case where there is a monetary dispute. The Torah commands witnesses that they must testify on behalf of a litigant.

Indeed, according to the Midrashic-legal work, Toras Kohanim (Parshas K’doshim), cited by Rambam in his Seifer HaMitzvos (Negative commandment # 297), one who refuses to testify on behalf of another, even in monetary matters, also violates another commandant: “Do not stand idly by the blood of your fellow.”

How does this commandment to testify relate to G-d’s love affair with the Jewish people? At best, it states an obligation to assist our fellow, and is one of many ways through which we fulfill the command to “Love your fellow as yourself.” But how does it relate to our intimate relationship with G-d, which the name VaYikra implies?

“YOU ARE MY WITNESSES”

The concept of testifying for another is rooted in a spiritual concept of testimony. The prophet Isaiah (43:12) describes G-d’s declaration to the Jewish people: “You are My witnesses.”

From their genesis through all of their long, arduous, twisting and glorious history, the Jewish people themselves were the greatest testimony to G-d’s presence; His greatness, might and awesomeness. The Jewish people were delivered from Egyptian slavery by the Ten Plagues and the Splitting of the Red Sea, which testified to G-d’s absolute control over His world. The subsequent miracles in the desert, the conquest of the Land of Israel and the presence of the Bais HaMikdash in Jerusalem implanted G-d in the consciousness of humanity.

When the Jews exhibited the highest moral behavior, it impressed upon the nations of the world that the Jewish people were guided by a just and righteous G-d.

And then there were the miracles the Jewish people experienced in the Diaspora, such as Purim, where G-d’s hand was evident in saving the Jewish people from certain annihilation.

FINDING G-D IN HIDING

On the other side of the coin, there were times in our history where G-d hid His face. However, even in such situations, G-d’s light still shined through the cracks. When the Torah predicts the terrible events to befall the Jews in the future, it introduces it with the words, “I will indeed hide My face.” Even when G-d hid His face, His presence was revealed by the Jews, who stubbornly refused to give up their faith in Him.

While we have no right to judge the reactions of those Holocaust survivors whose faith was challenged so severely, we must marvel and deeply admire the many other Holocaust survivors who did not lose their faith. Even as they went to certain death, many declared “Shma Yisroel,” affirming their belief in one G-d, and Ani Maamin-I believe with perfect faith in the coming of Moshiach!

Throughout our history, we have seen the Light in the darkness. Whether it was in the terrible darkness of the Holocaust or the Soviet Gulag, countless Jews remained faithful to Judaism and testified to the world that there is one G-d!

REVEALING THE HIDDEN

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the Alter Rebbe, probes more deeply into the Jewish people’s role as witnesses to G-d.

A witness is not needed for something that is public knowledge. Even something that is not presently known to the public, but will in due course become known, does not require formal testimony to establish its veracity. The idea and purpose of a witness is to reveal something that is hidden from us and without whom it will never become known.

Similarly, the role of the Jewish people as G-d’s witnesses is to reveal G-d’s existence even within worldly matters where He is hidden. The very word “world” in Hebrew is olam and is cognate to helem-concealment, because nature, by definition, is a smokescreen for G-d. It was the Divine design to keep G-d hidden, to challenge us to discover that there is nothing outside of G-d’s dominion and, indeed, that there is nothing – period - outside of G-d.

THREE DIMENSIONS OF G-DLY KNOWLEDGE

The Rebbe, in one of his discourses, gives us an even deeper understanding of what it means for us to be G-d’s witnesses, based on the premise that a witness is there to reveal something that is utterly concealed.

Even when we speak about revealing G-d’s presence, there are several levels of meaning. There is an aspect of G-d embedded within Creation that we do not see. However, simple logic dictates that there must be a life-force that creates and gives life to everything.

Upon deeper reflection, we come to the realization that the power G-d uses to create cannot be simply the power that is vested within and therefore related to the Creation. There must be a transcendent G-dly force that is beyond the Creation. This power cannot be fathomed the way the first level can, but can be arrived at by deductive reasoning. These two levels are analogous to a witness who testifies about something that is already public knowledge or which will inevitably become public knowledge, respectively.

For these manifestations of G-d to be accessible we do not need our power of testimony. That power is reserved for the very Essence of G-d, which is utterly and entirely inscrutable and totally out of the realm of the world’s consciousness and cannot, with conventional intellectual resources, ever be revealed.

Only the Jewish nation was blessed and endowed with the power to reveal G-d’s Essence through the observance of the Mitzvos-commandments known as Edos-testimonies. These are the Mitzvos such as Shabbos, Holidays, T’fillin, etc., that are G-d’s testimonies.

THREE STAGES OF HISTORY

In a more general sense, our history can perhaps be divided into three stages, which correspond to the three levels of testimony:

In the first stage, when G-d was palpable through miracles, prophecy and the Bais HaMikdash, we were witnesses in a relative sense. We pointed our fingers and declared: “This is My G-d and I will glorify Him.” Our actions were not so necessary to see G-d’s Hand; G-d made His presence clear through His actions. We did our part, but that is not the true meaning of testimony.

Then G-d hid His face in our current period of exile, which has lasted for almost two millennia. That is when it was crucial for us to testify to G-d’s presence, even when it appeared that He was absent. We responded admirably to this challenge.

However, the main challenge is to discover and testify about G-d’s very Essence. That challenge was entrusted to our generation. As the Rebbe often stated, we are the “bridge” generation between Galus and Geula. Moshiach, who ushers in the Redemption, and every Jew who possesses a spark of Moshiach, is given the task, specifically in this transitional period, to reveal G-d’s very Essence from its elusive state of concealment.

No other generation has been given that power. It was entrusted to us exclusively because, as it appears from the Rebbe’s words, our souls were chosen to be the ones to usher in the Messianic Age.

We can now understand how the affirmative commandant to give testimony is connected to the endearing expression of VaYikra.

PARALLEL TESTIMONIES

When we testify for another, we are, metaphorically speaking, invoking our power to testify about G-d. Moreover, the very power our testimony possesses to uncover the truth about a financial matter, for example, derives from the Divine power we were endowed with to reveal the most hidden aspects of the Divine and usher in the Age of Redemption when all of the hidden G-dly matters will be fully revealed. In the words of Maimonides’ concluding words of his Mishneh Torah:

“In that era, there will be neither famine, nor war… for good will flow in abundance… The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d. Therefore, the Jews will be great sages and know hidden matters, attaining the knowledge of their Creator to the [full extent of] human potential as it is written, ‘For the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover up the ocean bed.’”

It seems that Rambam is alluding to and enumerating all three levels:

“The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d,” presumably refers to the Divine inherent within and accessible to the world and will therefore be known and understood by all peoples.

“Therefore, the Jews will be great sages” appears to be a reference to knowing the trans-worldly energies of G-d that are not easily accessible to all.

“…and know hidden matters, attaining the knowledge of their Creator to the [full extent of] human potential” seems to refer to those matters that are presently hidden. They too will be revealed within the confines of the human mind. We will then realize the full meaning of being G-d’s witnesses.

 

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