Theft and Eliyahu

What does theft have to do with the coming of Moshiach?

According to Ba’al HaTurim, “Eliyahu-Elijah,” the Biblical prophet, whose spirit attends every Bris and Seder and who will also herald the coming of Moshiach, is hinted in this week’s parsha where the Torah discusses the laws concerning theft. One such law concerns a person entrusted with money or an article of value who later claims it was stolen: “If the thief was not found, the homeowner (i.e., the guardian) must approach the judges that he has not laid his hand upon his friend’s property.”

Ba’al HaTurim discovers an interesting hint in the foregoing verse. The initials of its first five words spell the word “Eliyahu-Elijah,” as if to suggest a connection between this particular law and Eliyahu!

Ba’al HaTurim explains that this is an allusion to a passage in the Talmud that discusses the case of two people who entrusted their money to a third person.  One gave 200 zuz, the other gave 100, however both now claim to have deposited 200. Absent any evidence as to who is telling the truth, the disputed 100 zuz must be left in escrow until Eliyahu arrives to usher in the final Redemption and clear up all unresolved legal matters.

The fact that Eliyahu’s role as the ultimate clarifier is associated with the law that involves a dispute concerning who is entitled to the 100 zuz held in escrow must have some deeper significance.

How Tall?!

Chassidic thought cites a dispute in the Talmud about human growth in the future: Rabbi Yehudah maintains that we will grow to the height of a hundred cubits. Rabbi Meir asserts that we will reach the height of two hundred cubits!

The Rebbe explains that their dispute reflects two approaches to the unification of our personality traits in the future Messianic Age.

A human being is endowed with ten faculties, three are intellectual and seven are emotions. Kabbalah and Chassidus teach us that each one of these ten comprises all of the others. Thus the total number of faculties we possess is 100. If one were to describe a person who has realized his or her full potential using numbers, it would be the number 100.

This then is what the Talmud meant when it says that we will grow to the height of 100 cubits: In the Messianic Age we will have achieved perfection.

A Tale of Two Journeys

However, the number 100 can be divided into two parts. If life is a journey and the number we attain is expressive of how far we have come, a Jew can express his or her spiritual faculties in two modalities. The Tzadik, a righteous individual, is one who expresses a spiritual bent. TheTzadik stands head and shoulders above the rest of society. From his exalted perch the Tzadik “showers” the rest of us with his inspired mindset. His journey requires him to channel his spirituality to the rest of the world in a downward direction and that is how he attains perfection and becomes a “100er.”

The Ba’al Teshuvah (penitent, returnee to Judaism), by contrast, travels in the opposite direction. He starts his journey at the bottom. He is very much a product of the world we inhabit and its outlook on life. He has to grapple with all of the conflicting perspectives on life that stem from its secular and materialistic world view. He begins the climb as a slave to the negative forces of society.  The Ba’al Teshuvah must extricate himself from this morass and journey upwards. Along the way he discovers his spiritual energy and faculties, one by one, until he can climb the proverbial “Mountain of G‑d” and reach its zenith, thereby scoring a 100.

In other words, there are two ways one can reach the state of perfection; from the top down or the bottom up.

This is the tale of the two journeys undertaken by two very distinct classes of Jews.

Who is Superior?

The Tzadik has an advantage on the journey because he is always inspired and enjoys a more or less consistent life of spirituality. TheTzadik also has a clear vision of the world because he sees it from a higher vantage point, thus affording him a perspective that those who are situated on a lower level are denied.

The Ba’al Teshuvah has certain advantages as well. The Ba’al Teshuvah has to struggle and that struggle generates a powerful divine energy that the even the Tzadik cannot access. And not only is the energy that he unleashes greater, but, moreover, the energy generated by theBa’al Teshuvah penetrates the physical dimension of the person and the world around and is unparalleled. The Tzadik, who is not really a product of this world, cannot really make inroads into it. When the tzadik generates spirituality it cannot be fully absorbed within the parameters of the material world because he is the antithesis of the material world. Rather the Tzadik overwhelms the world with his holiness and neutralizes its power to obstruct. He cannot, without the assistance of the Ba’al Teshuvah fundamentally change the world.

The Ba’al Teshuvah, by contrast, works with the material world. He is within it, molds it and refines it until it too begins to be receptive to the G‑dly energies that the Ba’al Teshuvah generates through his actions.

For this and other reasons the Talmud states—and the Rambam cites this statement in his Mishneh Torah: “the place where a Ba’al Teshuvah stands, even a perfectly righteous person lacks the ability to stand.”

Skiing and Mountain Climbing: The Best of Both Worlds

In the Messianic Age, however, we will all enjoy both qualities. Each one of us will reach the peak of spiritual perfection in both modalities. We will enjoy the spiritual sophistication of the tzadik even as we simultaneously access and internalize the penetrating force generated by the Ba’al Teshuvah. The two journeys will be united.

However, even in the future era of unity there can be two scenarios. We can either alternate between the two models of the tzadik and theBa’al Teshuvah or we can synthesize them into one dynamic, but paradoxical force.

In the first scenario we have moments of intense inspiration which enable us to look down at and dismiss the enticing powers of the material world.  We realize how small, petty and insignificant they are in comparison with our spiritual experiences.  We will view them the way we view the tiny houses and cars from a plane high in the sky. We can then change over to the Ba’al Teshuvah approach and painstakingly work our way, upward, step by step. We can journey to our goal by alternating between spiritual skiing and mountain climbing.

By the time we achieve this balance we will have grown 200 cubits because we have achieved perfection in both directions.

The second scenario for the future is where the two journeys merge into one seamless, paradoxical, journey. The Tzadik will be permeated with the spirit of Teshuvah and the Ba’al Teshuvah will be uplifted to the level of tzadik. In this scenario the person remains a “100.” Even when he is on the highest level this person does not lose sight of the world below. As the Tzadik peers down from the highest peak he is very much capable of relating to and affecting the world below. 

Preparing for the Future

With this introduction to the spiritual connotations of the numbers 100 and 200, we can now revisit the case of the two people who entrusted their money to the guardian. This may be interpreted as a reference to our pre-Messianic efforts.

Prior to the Redemption, our options are limited. We can either be in a constant state of struggle or transcend it. We can either rise to the top to feel spiritually divorced from reality, or meet the challenge of engaging the lowly world which we inhabit. This is the one who deposits only 100 zuz because he feels constrained and can only operate in one direction.

Some may even attempt to alternate between the two approaches and deposit 200 zuz, making an attempt to travel in both directions as a preparation for the perfection of the Messianic Age. There are times that he is inspired and holy, such as on the Shabbat or during other inspirational simchas, such as a wedding. During these spiritually rich times this person strives to reach for the top, rising above the constraints and struggles that punctuate our quotidian lives. For the 24 hours of a Shabbos or the few minutes that we participate in and delve into Torah study where spiritual concepts are highlighted, we are like the tzadik. And then our traveler returns to take on the “real” world with all its conflicts wearing the hat and playing the role of the Ba’al Teshuvah.

These efforts are not for naught, G‑d forbid. Every movement on our part in the right direction—whether from the top down or from the bottom up—is deposited with G‑d, who zealously guards our good deeds and preserves them for such time when they will be expressed to their fullest capacity.

It is not clear yet which opinion will prevail in the future Messianic Age.  Will we follow the opinion of Rabbi Meir and travel on two tracks (200), or will we follow the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah and travel on one unified track (100)?   Eliyahu and Moshiach will determine our path. However, whatever efforts we do now to prepare for that time, particularly by working in both directions, is the best way to bring about the Redemption at which time that question will be resolved.