Torah Fax

Friday, January 28, 2005 - 18 Shevat, 5765

Torah Reading: Yitro (Exodus 18:1 - 20:23)
Candle Lighting time: 4:50 PM
Shabbat ends: 5:53 PM
Highs and Lows
At the end of this week's parsha, the Torah discusses the manner in which the Altar in the Temple should be constructed. The Torah states: "[When you build a ramp] to My Altar do not [make it] ascend with steps, so that it will not [look as if] your nakedness is exposed upon it."
Simply put, the Torah was concerned with the modesty of the Kohain. Rather than climb stairs, the Kohain would alight onto the Altar by way of a ramp. This would make it possible for him to take small steps instead of wide strides.
When we survey this parsha it becomes obvious that it stands out as the parsha that describes Jewish history's most momentous and defining event-the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The question arises, why would the Torah include such an apparently minor detail concerning the construction of the Altar in the Temple in a section that touches on the most important event ever?
Indeed, there is an entire section of the Torah that is devoted to the construction of the Mishkan (Parshat Terumah). The Torah could have mentioned the detail about the ramp of the Altar there. Why did the Torah have to discuss this detail of the Altar ramp in our parshah?
To appreciate the importance of this law concerning the Altar and its ramp, we ought to refer to a commentary of the great Chassidic Master, Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk, in his classic work Noam Elimelech. The word for steps in Hebrew, ma'alot, can also be translated as virtues or qualities. When a Jew focuses inordinately on his or her own qualities in one's service of G‑d, it can lead to the exposure of their faults as well. Even, when we ascend to the greatest heights and realize how high we've climbed as we alight onto the Altar of G‑d, we must maintain a spirit of humility. Otherwise, our "nakedness" will be exposed; our negative traits will be exposed.
We can now appreciate why this admonition is placed at the end of the parsha that deals with the most significant event of the giving of the Torah. When the Jews experienced this event, they had climbed to the highest plane of spiritual experience. To forestall the danger that this event might lead to feelings of arrogance upon realizing how high they've climbed, the Torah therefore admonishes them (and anyone who likewise soars to spiritual stratosphere): Do not let this accomplishment get to their/our heads, lest it will expose their/our glaring faults. For when the spotlight of G‑dly light shines on an individual, one can see through them and discover their faults as well.
One can also take this a step further. Each of us possesses revealed as well as hidden qualities and faults. Most of the time we function at a level where our hidden talents remain dormant. However in times of crises or when we are filled with inspiration because of an unusual event that we've lived through, we discover that we possess far more power than we had ever imagined. The hidden qualities that we have begin to surface in a way that surprises not only other people but also ourselves. Interestingly, the book of Daniel predicts that prior to the coming of Moshiach all the hidden matters will become revealed. This refers also to the actualization of our hidden qualities that will become manifest in the pre-Messianic Age.
But, at precisely these times when our hidden talents and virtues are revealed, we may discover that we also possess certain negative qualities that we were never aware of and that we never knew existed. Realizing these heretofore hidden faults enables us to deal with them and transform them into forces for good.
We can now understand how it was possible for the Jewish people, weeks after they had received the Torah at Sinai directly from G‑d, to have constructed and worshipped a Golden Calf. How could people who were so high fall so low?
In truth, it was not that they fell so low in spite of their meteoric rise, but rather because of it. When a person is in a heightened state of consciousness there is always the possibility that the most dangerously negative energies that were deeply embedded in our psyche may be actualized together with the most powerful positive energies. This knowledge itself will assist us in dealing with these negative energies.
In recent times we've witnessed a tremendous surge of both positive as well as negative energy in the world at large. They are not contradictory phenomena. As stated, when the deepest spiritual energies are released there is a concomitant release of negative energy as well. This suggests that we are standing on the very threshold of the Messianic Age and every Mitzvah we do will "bring us over the top" to prepare us for the time when the negative will be transformed into positive.  
Moshiach Matters
Our Sages related (Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 2:4) that Moshiach was born on Tisha B'Av. This is not merely a description of past history. On the contrary, the intent is that every year, Tisha B'Av generates a new impetus for the coming of the Redemption. (The Rebbe, Tisha B'Av, 5751-1991) 
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