Torah for the Times    

Friday, May 18, 2012 - 26 Iyar, 5772
Torah Reading:  Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25:1 - 27:34) 
Candle Lighting Time: 7:51 PM
Shabbat Ends: 8:59 PM
Shabbat Chazzak

The Book and Its Cover

 The Unthinkable!

There are two sections of the Torah where G‑d admonishes the Jewish people in very harsh terms. Actually the world “harsh” is an understatement. Some of the most unthinkable curses are mentioned as possible punishments should the Jewish people stray from the ways of the Torah. The first such account of an admonition occurs in the second of the two sections of the Torah, Bechukosai, we read this week.

The question has been raised: How can a compassionate father subject His children to such horrific suffering? The punishments do not seem to fit the crime no matter how far the Jewish people may have strayed.

This question most likely prompted our Sages, particularly the Chassidic Masters, to conclude that these curses are actually hidden blessings. They are hidden ways of stating the incredible rewards G‑d has in store for us. And these hidden blessings will fully materialize at the time of the final Redemption.

Chassidic literature abounds with examples of how G‑d cloaks some of the most powerful spiritual forces in unsuspecting places. Some things are just too powerful to be expressed in conventional situations or terms. And while we may not ultimately fully comprehend why G‑d chooses to do this, it remains a fact of life that we cannot judge the appearances of negativity in the Torah by their external cover. It is imperative that we search beneath the surface of these anomalous Biblical texts to find their deeper, more positive and optimistic meaning.

Creative Interpretations

We can now appreciate why many Chassidic Masters have attempted to interpret the “curses” as blessings. These ingenious and “creative” interpretations were not just exercises in mental gymnastics, but, rather, a sincere attempt to reveal the existence of powerful positive energy that we know lies beneath the surface. And when we discover that hidden dimension and reveal it, it helps to actualize the positive energy itself.

With this introduction we will attempt to discover, in this week’s parsha, the hidden and positive meaning behind what is, arguably, the most horrific curse. “You will eat the flesh of your sons, and you will eat the flesh of your daughters” (VaYikra 26:29). This verse poses a real challenge. How can we interpret eating our children in a positive fashion?

When we delve into Chassidic literature we discover that when the Torah speaks of fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters, it also carries an allegorical meaning. Indeed the most essential meaning of these terms is intended to be descriptions of their spiritual sources. Only secondarily are the spiritual fathers and mothers, sons, and daughters employed as descriptions of concrete human parents and children. Indeed the physical parents and children, as everything else that is physical, derive from their spiritual counterparts.

Split Personality

In Kabbalah we are taught that our personalities are divided into two general categories: intellect and emotions. This is so because our soul—which is a part of G‑d—descends from G‑d’s intellectual and emotional attributes and “inherits” these G‑dly features.

When G‑d created the universe, He did so with wisdom, as it says, “The L-rd by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens. By His knowledge the depths were broken up, and the skies drop down the dew.” (Mishlei 3:19-20)

Likewise we find that G‑d employed His emotional attributes to create and sustain the universe: “For I said, the world was created with kindness.” (Tehillim 83:3). We find other emotional attributes of G‑d, such as judgment and compassion, referenced in many Biblical verses as expressions of the Divine in our world. 

The Zohar takes the Biblical statement that G‑d created the world in six days as a reference to the six emotional attributes of G‑d which were most instrumental in creation. Thus the Torah does not say, “In six days G‑d created the heaven and earth,” but rather “Six days created heaven and earth.” The word “days” here refers to the emotional attributes of G‑d which are the source of creation.

And because our soul, a part of G‑d, was placed in our body and connects to our natural human faculties, it too incorporates intellectual and emotional faculties that parallel the Divine attributes.  Yet, although we are a composite of intellectual and emotional faculties, the objective is for the intellectual faculties to exercise control over the emotional ones. A child will express anger for the most insignificant infringement of his territory and just as quickly, he will put it behind him as he changes moods on a whim. The child does not have the intellectual capacity to control and temper his or her emotions.

It appears, when we reflect on the different personality types we meet, there are basically three different interactions between the intellectual and emotional soul powers.

Generation Gap

The lowest form is where the emotions are in total control of the intellect. When a person’s desire for something is so strong, notwithstanding its harmful nature, he or she does not have the capacity to think straight. The emotions will not allow him or her to make the right decision and to desist from harmful behaviors. This is an example of where the emotions “eat” and “consume” the intellect.

Now in Kabbalah we are taught that the intellectual faculties are referred to metaphorically as fathers and mothers while the emotional faculties are referred to as children, sons and daughters. The reason for this imagery is that ideally the intellect can generate emotion. When a person meditates on G‑d’s greatness, for example, it gives birth to a sense of awe, reverence and love for G‑d.

Thus when a person’s emotions totally control the individual and his or her mind, it can be said that his or her children have “eaten” and “consumed” his or her parents.This state of affairs describes the level of degradation to which our ancestors degenerated when they were slaves in the land of Egypt.  

Thus the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe explains the opening statement of the Passover Haggadah, “This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt” in the following original way, which alludes to the loss of their intellects' control over their emotions: The matzah, the bread of affliction or poverty, manifested itself in the impoverished manner that our slave-ancestors “ate” their fathers (read: their intellectual faculties) in the Land of Egypt. Their impoverishment was one of loss of the ability to control their emotions. Slavery in Egypt denied them the ability to think clearly and objectively about G‑d and their spiritual role.

The objective of Passover, and the subsequent period of Sefirah when we count the days (read: attempt to bring illumination to our emotional traits that are symbolically referred to as days) is to activate our awareness and knowledge of G‑d. In this way we regain the control of our emotional faculties and we find outrselves on the road to receiving the Torah at Sinai  


The next level of spiritual achievement, insofar as our intellect and emotions are concerned, is where our intellect and emotions stand separate. When we compartmentalize our faculties, the intellect does not shape and mold our emotions and our emotions do not totally control our thought processes.

In this scenario, the emotions have a life of their own and will occasionally assert themselves, dulling the authority of the mind. But the good news is that by the same token, these emotions will not completely dominate and destroy our ability to think clearly and objectively about a certain course of action. Our minds are still capable of controlling our behavior even if they cannot control our feelings and inclinations. 

This approach is obviously superior to the person who, like an animal, is totally controlled by emotion and for whom intellect is only a means to rationalize his or her errant behavior. However, as good as it may be to have achieved this level, it is still not the ultimate goal. 

Intellectual Children

The ultimate goal is the third level, where the emotions are totally consumed by the intellect. This means that the emotions are in complete harmony with what is objectively proper. In theological terms this implies that the emotions of a person are in sync with his or her understanding of G‑d and with G‑d’s interests. There remains not even the slightest expression of selfish and egotistical energy that is associated with unbridled emotion.

It is not that one’s emotions, such as love and reverence, cease to exist. On the contrary, in this scenario, one does not cease to have love for G‑d, for example. What changes is that the love is unadulterated, solely focused and directed at the right things. We love G‑d, Torah, our fellow, and all that is objectively good. There is unity in our lives that renders our emotions pure.

This will be the ideal state of affairs we will experience in the Messianic Age. In that era, the world will be inundated with the knowledge of G‑d, as the prophet Isaiah declares (cited by Maimonides at the very end of his monumental work Mishneh Torah): “And the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the sea.”  

But this heightened level of knowledge will also change the way we behave and even the way we feel. Thus, Maimonides states, in conjunction with that prophecy of heightened knowledge, that there will be no more jealousy and division amongst people.  With our knowledge (read: our spiritual fathers and mothers, the soul’s intellectual faculties) in tune with the reality of G‑d’s existence, our emotional faculties (read: our spiritual children) will be said to have been “eaten” and "consumed” by our “fathers.” It will be a perfect and harmonious world—where all the curses associated with exile will be transformed into ultimate blessings.

Moshiach Matters

Jews everywhere should know that the time for the coming of Moshiach has certainly arrived. All that is needed is to fulfill the directive of the Previous Rebbe: "Stand ready, every one of you, to greet our Righteous Moshiach!" These preparations, motivated by a yearning and desire for Moshiach, will of themselves surely bring Moshiach. As to the question, "Why has he not come until now?"--Moshiach will no doubt provide an answer for this in person. In the meantime, the query must not (G‑d forbid) weaken a person's spiritual endeavors. On the contrary, it should spur him ahead with ever more energy. (The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
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