Guilding The Lily
“Its knobs and its blossoms will be (hammered) from it... ” (25:31)
In English, when we speak of “gilding the lily”, we mean that something has been unnecessarily adorned. How can the lily be made more beautiful? If you paint it gold will it be more radiant? When you paint a lily it detracts from its true beauty. It’s “overdone”.
There’s a common misconception that the Torah is like a lily and the Rabbis were a bunch of lily painters.
There is not a single Rabbinical dictum or law, not a extrapolation nor an embellishment that is not hinted to in the Torah itself. Everything stems ultimately from the Torah.
We can see this idea in this week’s Torah portion: “You shall make a Menorah of pure gold, hammered out shall the Menorah be made, its base, its shaft, its cups, its knobs and its blossoms will be (hammered) from it.”
The Menorah was extruded from one solid block of gold. Nothing was grafted on to it. Just as its base and its shaft and its cups were integral, drawn from the same block of gold, so too were its knobs and its blossoms integral and drawn from the same block of gold.
The same is true with every law that the Rabbis promulgated. Nothing is grafted on. Nothing is unrelated embellishment. Just as the Torah laws — the “shaft” and the “cups” of the Torah — stem from an indivisible unity, so does every last Rabbinical dictum and decree. It’s “knobs” and its “blossoms” derive from that same ‘block of gold’.
The lily is ungilded.
- Source: Chafetz Chaim
A Package Deal
“The Keruvim shall be with wings spread upward, sheltering the Cover with their wings with their faces toward each other...” (25:16)
Rabbi, who is better?
A) Someone who is scrupulous in observance of Jewish ritual, has Grade-A tefillin, is super-careful about what he puts in his mouth, but when it comes to what comes out of his mouth he’s not so vigilant. He can be hurtful and angry, and sometimes he speaks malicious gossip.
B) Someone who drives to golf on Shabbat but just endowed an entire wing in the hospital and is universally loved by everyone he meets?
Many people think that you can be a good person without keeping the mitzvot. But what does it mean to be a “good person”. Judaism defines being a good person as someone who does what G-d wants. And what does G-d want? He told us in the Torah. G-d wants us to be good to each other, to care for the sick and the orphaned, to love converts and to protect widows. The human values that society cherishes are long-time Torah gifts to mankind-at-large.
However, for a Jewish person, G-d also wants us to keep Shabbat and to refrain from eating cheeseburgers. These are His desires no less than clothing the needy and visiting the sick. Torah observance is only complete when we commit to both a correct relationship with our Creator as well as our fellow man.
One without the other is only half the picture.
Look above the Holy Ark in any synagogue and you’ll notice a representation of the two tablets on which the Torah was engraved. Why weren’t the Ten Commandments written on one tablet of stone? Why did G-d hew two pieces of rock for His contract with the Jewish People?
Obviously you can’t say that G-d couldn’t find a piece of stone big enough for all ten. A little bit of quarrying is infinitely less than a blink of the eye for He Who carved the Milky Way out of nothingness.
And you also can’t say that He made two just in case one got lost – a sort of Cosmic Data Backup – because what was written on the first tablet was different from what was written on the second.
In fact, if you examine what is written on the first tablet, you’ll notice that the commandments that they contain pertain to the relationship between G-d and man: “I am G-d… You shall not recognize other gods in My presence… Don’t make a carved image… Don’t take the Name of the L-rd your G-d in vain… Remember the day of Shabbat to sanctify it…”
The second tablet speaks of commandments between man and his fellow: Don’t murder… Don’t commit adultery… Don’t covet…
“The Keruvim shall be … with their faces toward each other…”
The Keruvim on the cover of the Arkthat contained Ten Commandments symbolize the Torah itself. The fact that they faced each other teaches us that it’s impossible to observe the Torah unless our relationship with our fellow man mirrors our relationship with G-d, and vice versa. One without the other is only half the picture.
For the Torah is a package deal.
- Source: Based on the Malbim