With an Eye on Eternity
Table of Contents
- Torah and the Mitzvohs
This Book Divided into Seperate Documents
The Torah Universe - Its Purpose, Design, and Fabulous OpportunitiesThis short, self-contained treatise is significant because it presents a panoramic view of the composition and meaning of the universe. It gives us the answers to the elusive riddle of life itself. The important things in a man's life are defined and spelled out clearly. The most crucial questions are addressed and answered. Among them are the following:
What is man's purpose here in the world - and who has put him here? What is expected of him and what may he expect to find here in life? What awaits him after death - all the way to eternity?
In short, this slim volume raises and deals with questions which should gnaw at the mind of every thinking man and allow him no peace of mind until he finds the answers.
Unfortunately, the lives of most people are bogged down by the details and minutiae of their day-to-day existence. Therefore, their compulsive busyness causes them to miss out on the overall picture of the universe's design and purpose. However, were they just once to glimpse our universe as a whole unit through the Torah perspective, many people would be forever affected by its towering structure of unifying ideas and concepts. From that time onward they would come to realize the wondrous planning and organization upon which our world rests and how it has been prepared for man. Although people on their own might never have recognized such meaningful purpose, the Torah perspective equips them with a wide-lens view of the universe which reveals to them their true place in it.
The universe's design and purpose was outlined in short form for our use by Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto, (the RamChal), in his brief "Essay on Fundamentals," of which the following is a new translation. Here, then, is a description of the Jewish conceptual scheme of our world as it emerges from the Torah which was given to the Jewish people through Divine revelation. The only one who can sketch such a blueprint is the Creator Himself. And only by utilizing this blueprint can one find his rightful place in the world.
Y. Lebovits and M. Rosen
This Book Divided into Seperate Documents
This Being is a perfect Being, one which contains every variety of perfection and is absolutely devoid of any imperfection whatsoever. He is neither dependent on anything else nor affected in any respect by any other entity. His existence is without beginning or end. Thus, He did not come into being following a state of non-existence, nor will He ever cease to exist; He always was and always will be. It is impossible that He should have been or will ever be non-existent. He is the cause of all things which exist and there is no antecedent cause beyond Him. His existence is an inescapable rational reality which could never be otherwise.
[What we must conclude above all else, regarding Divine authority, is that man has no other entity or power to turn to when seeking help and guidance about how to make his way and find his rightful place in life. No private territory can be acquired and no personal castle can be built which will be situated out of the bounds of the Creator and from which He can be shut out. No matter where a person goes or what a person does he is under the jurisdiction of this same Creator who created every endowment he possesses and every item within his whole world. The Master did not walk away from the finished masterpiece and leave it to function on automatic-pilot; He monitors His world and sustains it every second of every day. Without this constant Divine direction, recharging and renewal, all life would perish and all things would disintegrate. This is what is meant in our tefiloh (our morning prayers):
"In His goodness each and every day He renews the works of creation..."
To protect His "investment" the Master continually stands by His universe. He watches constantly over it, controls it, and runs it using perfect Wisdom. He moves around the people and the props of His creation in a way which conceals the Hand which moves them.1 This He does through His host of forces and agents who work behind the scenes. The man who thinks that he can, by himself, chart his destiny in life and prevent his Creator from influencing his plans is not in tune with reality.]
One must also realize that this Supreme Being possesses no component structure of multiplicity whatsoever; He is ultimately indivisible. [The term "indivisible," when used in relation to G-d, means that He is not made up of parts, individual powers, or diverse faculties as is man. Only the life processes of man consist of separate components and subunits which interact, mesh, and form synthetic wholes.]
We cannot associate Him with any of the properties of physical bodies and their occurrences. He is devoid of any limitation, [is not subject to] natural law, and cannot be defined by using any relative comparisons.
Above all, one must know that His true essence and being cannot be comprehended to any degree. There is no way to draw any analogy between Him and (a) any of the aspects of the world He created, (b) any of the conceptions produced by human imagination, or (c) any conceptions which the intellectual faculties of man may formulate. There are no words or descriptions which are truly fitting and proper and which can be used accurately in relation to Him. Whenever we describe Him in word form, we do so by using borrowed terms and with the help of metaphors. These provide a medium which enables us to grasp what is necessary for us to understand regarding Him. Because we have nothing available for this purpose other than words which define natural phenomenon and reflect the laws of the created universe, [clearly] it is impossible to work with anything else but such words and terminology. [It follows that] there is a most important point we need to underscore in regard to all we
examine and mention regarding Him: those descriptions and words which are used in reference to Him do not serve in the capacity of an accurate and true description (but only describe in purely borrowed terms). In this respect one must be extremely cautious.
[The Rambam sums up the barrier to our understanding and faithful conceptualization of the make-up of G-d in a few brief words: "If I fully knew Him - I would be Him." ]
This Book Divided into Seperate Documents
Just as the Master of the Universe with His infinite ability created physical entities which our eyes see, He also desired and created other creations superior to all these which our physical senses neither feel nor perceive. Just as He allotted those physical entities [which our senses are able to discern] a set of specific laws and limitations, so too He allotted to these superior beings a different set of properties which are most suited to their particular status and purpose. All this He has done according to the dictates of His wisdom. Those entities which are bound by a specific set of known limitations which comprise natural law and which possess characteristics which our senses are able to grasp are called physical [creations]. Those which are free of such constraints are called spiritual. The boundaries and laws of these spiritual creations were designed to fit and reflect their particular purpose, as we shall explain.
It should be noted that it is not just in the realm of the physical that there are various species, and depending upon the characteristics of any particular species, a discrete set of laws govern. The same is true of the spiritual entities. That is, [first] there are different kinds, although all of them belong to the category of the spiritual. [Second] in accordance with the various kinds which were created, there are diverse laws which apply to each kind. Nonetheless, a general rule runs through this whole category: their true reality and their properties are not comprehensible to us. [This is because of their intangible, metaphysical makeup. One must realize that the spiritual world is actually an invisible world.] We only know of their existence and something about them from the Torah. This knowledge has been passed down to us through our prophets and Sages of blessed memory through the Oral Law.
The varieties in this category are divided into three group:
One) Transcendental Forces,One) The Transcendental Forces are spiritual entities devoid of physical bodies, pure [referring to their essential substance which is far removed from those substances which make up our lower earthly world], and extremely superior to anything we know; they are truly closest to the Divine Presence of Hashem.2 Upon them He rests His spirit at all times, and they are called by specific names according to their level. Some examples are "The Wheels of the Throne" or ophanim and similar names.
Two) Angels, and
Two) The Angels are spiritual beings which were created to serve as the agents of the Creator in all that He wishes. Each one is appointed and assigned to a specific area by Divine Will. The angels fall into various hierarchical levels. Each level has its particular set of laws and limitations. These are based upon what best fits that level as programmed by Divine Wisdom.
The angels are all servants of Hashem and serve as the executors of His Will. All the things which happen in the world are discharged through them, both the good and the bad. From this perspective, they are divided into two groups: the group of good and the group of evil angels. Good angels are those appointed to produce positive benefits for the world; they bring about both physical and spiritual good. Evil angels are those charged with executing evil; they do so in both the physical and spiritual realm. Those appointed to "channel down" evil are also called "Angels of Harm" and mazikim [literally "damaging agents"].
Three) Souls are spiritual entities which are destined to enter into physical bodies and to be attached and fused with them in a major fusion. These souls are governed by individual laws which differ as a function of their status and the particular state in which they are found. By state we mean that souls pass through various states, for they have an existence outside of the human body and an existence within it.
Souls exist outside of the body in one of two kinds [of states]:
one) existence before they enter the body. [What we have been taught by the Oral Law of Torah which was passed down through the chain of our prophets and great sages is this: All souls were created during the six days of creation. This includes both the souls which have already entered the bodies of human beings and those too which await such entry throughout the period that the world will exist. The to-be-implanted souls are stored in a repository in the upper world where they reside in a particular sphere and state and await the time when they will be sent down to the lower world to be fused with a particular human body. There are various levels among all of these souls - some are greater than are others. Moreover, varying abilities and characteristics are assigned to the souls. This accounts for the broad range of difference found among men in the areas of their chosen endeavors, their intrinsic talents, and their varying degrees of intellect. Which soul is assigned to which body is dependent on many factors. Some of the factors involved are known to us and some are known only to Divine wisdom.]
two) existence after exiting the human body. [This refers to the state of the soul after death.]
In any given state, souls are bound by specific limitations and prone to varied and diverse occurrences which are most suitable for their immediate particular state.
Still another category of created beings exists which lies in between the physical and spiritual. It possesses only some of the limitations of the physical world and its matter. The name of this variety is demons (sheidim).
They possess some of the properties of corporeal bodies but are not exactly like our corporeality. They also possess some characteristics of the spiritual world but also are not identical to those belonging to the world of spiritual beings. This category, too, includes various levels and varieties; the laws and limitation which govern them are based on their particular status.
[Some readers who lack a rich Torah background may find it difficult to accept the notion that such spiritual beings share our world, and they may be tempted to classify it as "old wives-tales" or fairyland stuff. But, hear this: There is an abundance of incontrovertible proof affirmed by men of scientific statue and others belonging to other intellectual disciplines that spiritual beings do exist in our world. The annals of the Royal British Psychic Society, for one, (among thousands of other prestigious and reliable published findings) bulge with documented cases which substantiate the existence of such destructive beings as poltergeists and all sorts of other spiritual entities. People whose knowledge of the origin and nature of the real world stems from Torah do now require such proofs. For them, the Torah, which describes the existence of such creatures, is sufficient; the Torah constitutes the Creator's own signed blueprint of the world and requires no additional backup. Only those who as yet are distant from the broad expanse and depths of Torah require the crutch of scientific opinion to delimit their beliefs. While our Torah fully respects the wisdom of pure, unbiased, scientific knowledge, that acceptance holds true only when we are dealing with tangible areas of the physical world. Opinions in these areas carry considerable weight in halacha (Jewish law). However, when it concerns such issues as the meaning of life, knowledge which relates to the intangible spiritual realms of the universe, the essence of man and his soul, or a philosophy of life and a system of ethics or morality, here scientific opinion carries little "clout." In these areas a scientist may speak more foolishly and illogically than do simple laymen, provided the laymen's thinking is based on healthy common sense. The reason for the paradoxical gap between the scientific community's thinking and the lay community's thinking - at least that portion of it which seeks some overall meaning in life and seeks the true purpose of life - stems from a most common human frailty, the tendency of the heart to manipulate and twist the mind to suit the drives and desires of the flesh. Why the scientist who is endowed with a fine mind suffers from this weakness more than does the layman requires a lengthy explanation. We will deal with that question in a future volume of Torah concepts, (b'ezras Hashem).]
There is nothing here in our lower world - whether a fixed entity or passing phenomenon - which does not have some type of corresponding factor in the upper world among the Transcendental Forces. Similarly, there is nothing here in our lower world over which there are not appointed agents who belong to the category of the angels. These angels administrate and modify matters and events according to the Decree of the Master of the Universe. What these Higher Entities accomplish in the lower physical world is called Influence. All Influences which originate in the Higher Entities and focus upon the needs of the lower world pass through the stars. Consequently, the stars are the closest source of influence on the lower world. However, all influences passing through the stars are limited to that which was transmitted to them from above.
The Master of the Universe gave to all of these spiritual entities the license to act and affect various segments of our lower physical world. Their influence is not constrained by natural law and is activated by specific and known means in our lower world. These specific means were provided and designated by the Creator to serve as causes for such effects. (This will be explained in the coming paragraphs.)
Not one of these spiritual forces has the power to do all that it might wish to do. Each one is subject to limitation and boundaries. It is only within the framework of the constraints and limitations and solely through those particular, assigned means that the spiritual forces can carry out the tasks which are delegated to them.
In the realm of upper world influences [of utilizing or tapping the functions of these spiritual forces] some means are open to us and some are forbidden to us. These options are defined within the Sefer Yetzirah ["The Book of Formation," which is a permissible area] and the use of sorcery [which belongs to the forbidden, (maaseh keshafim)].
[The RamChal focuses here on the unconventional option of "utilizing or tapping the spiritual forces of the upper world" and notes that these can be used to serve us either by permitted or forbidden means. What the RamChal intends by this is that these spiritual forces can also be used in an extraordinary and irregular fashion. That is, the normal and conventional way to invoke the spiritual forces is through the performance of the Torah and mitzvohs or the violation of the Torah and mitzvohs. Such a positive or negative approach is part of a structure, ongoing, lifelong process which produces a continuous flow of good or bad consequences. However, the spiritual forces can also be invoked in extraordinary and irregular ways.
The irregular way to influence these forces of the upper world in a "blitz" fashion and to produce an immediate and radical result would be by utilizing the Sefer Yetzirah or sorcery. This, of course, is not the conventional and desired course which the Creator has chosen for the average man to use. The recourse to the Sefer Yetzirah is a prerogative reserved for the great and holy men of stature to use in unusual and extenuating circumstances. Great and holy men may resort to these extraordinary means in emergencies to help an individual or group. On the prohibited side, too, is the option of the roshoh, the base man, to utilize sorcery for personal benefit or to unleash evil consequences upon others. Man is equally free to attain potent results in the world by either enlisting the entity of holiness and purity or by enlisting the forces of evil and pollution. The "equal opportunity" follows from the creator's open-ended design of His world. Man can choose to affect his own life and that of the world as a whole through the use of the forces of evil or holiness.
No one can successfully enter the inner chambers of Torah knowledge without first reaching a level of special greatness. That special greatness is shown by the mastery of the conventional, revealed realm of Torah (niglah) which makes one worthy of acquiring the wisdom of kabbalah. Then he must personally be taught this knowledge by a great Torah scholar, one to whom the knowledge was passed down by another living link in the chain of gedolim of previous generations. The chain can be traced back, link by link, to Moshe Rabeinu. It is both ludicrous and dangerous to study kabbalah without first (a) becoming a statured talmid chochom in every area of revealed Torah knowledge and (b) acquiring the qualities which identify the refined and those of perfected character of the highest order. Ludicrous because it is comparable to a man who is prepared to spend years calculating the number of stars in the heavens - to enrich his knowledge of the universe - but (in his own perimeter) he is so ignorant that he has no idea how many teeth make up a set in an adult's mouth. Dangerous because studying kabbalah is like studying a coded book. By mistakenly thinking he has "broken the code," one draws from this study both false assumptions and conclusions. He will attribute to our Torah, concepts, ideas, and theories which are totally foreign to the Torah and which contradict true Torah teachings.
The unprepared man also steps with the muddy boots of unrefined character and minimal Torah knowledge into the holy of holies. People such as this are ejected very quickly. The swift boot down from the heights of the Holy Mountain to the valley below can shatter the frail skeletal structure of whatever Torah accomplishment has been achieved - and leave a spiritual cripple lying at the foot of the Mountain. Such outcomes we see quite frequently in the case of impatient baalei teshuvah who have barely licked the spoon of basic Torah study and go on immediately to kabbalah to do "their own thing" because they either lack or simply reject the proper guidance in their studies.
Those so-called "scholars" who go ahead and teach kabbalah to a baal teshuvah, not withstanding his raw state, are about as reliable and authoritative in regard to their mastery of kabbalah as the average Chinese laundryman is in regard to his qualifications for teaching the Sefer Yetzirah.]
This Book Divided into Seperate Documents
The universe was brought into existence primarily because the Creator desired to create man so that he might have the opportunity to become close to Him and thereby enjoy true goodness. This purpose was incorporated into the world by providing man with the option of choosing to follow one of two courses: the road of good or the road of evil. Man was endowed with the ability to choose whichever of the two roads he desires. When he chooses the good through his understanding and desire and rejects the wrong, then this true and everlasting good will be given him.
All other creations in our universe were created only because Highest Divine Wisdom saw a need for them to exist in order to fashion a complete universe. In such a universe, man would find himself in the aforementioned circumstances, making it possible for him to serve G-d and thereby achieve genuine good. What specific need there is for the world to contain the multitude of various creations is not known to us. However, what has been handed down to us from our Sages z"l is that the main element of the universe is man. It is specifically for him that all of these creations were brought forth into the world, and the essential purpose of man's creation was solely that he might attain genuine, everlasting good.
The true essence of good and evil is as follows. The Creator established in the world Holiness and Spiritual Pollution. The definition of kedushah (holiness) is the state of being close to the Creator. Tumah (spiritual pollution) is the state of being distant from Him. Kedushah is an emanation, an influence which the Creator channels down to one who is worthy of it and which rests upon him in the form of holiness. Tumah is a state of distancing: the Creator distances Himself from a man or an object, and by withdrawing, He conceals Himself from him.
For this particular purpose the Creator created certain spiritual forces, forces from which darkness and spiritual pollution emanate [and are channeled down to our world.] Wherever this spiritual uncleanness enters, the kedushah retreats, and at the same time the light of the Creator becomes concealed. These are called "the forces of tumah."
The Creator invested man's actions with the power to draw from the sources of the upper world and to bring down (a) the light of the Creator's emanation of holiness (kedushah) and the light of His goodness, or (b) pollution and uncleanness. The Creator designated a set of actions through which kedushah is transmitted and commanded man to engage in them continually; these are the general body of mitzvohs. He also earmarked a set of actions through which pollution is drawn down, and He commanded man to abstain from them; these comprise the general body of Torah prohibitions.
The essence of genuine good lies solely in the attachment of manto Hashem. We have explained that it is the mitzvohs which bring down the emanation of Hashem's holiness and the light of His goodness; therefore, this is the medium through which His genuine good can be attained. He who exerts much effort to sanctify himself through the emanations of Hashem's holiness is the one worthy to be attached to Him and to enjoy true good. He who is heavily involved in those actions and deeds which are associated with the spiritual pollution, which was mentioned previously, is unworthy of attaching himself to Hashem and will be thrust aside from Him.
The emanations of kedushah or tumah are made up of numerous levels. Paralleling these levels are also many respective levels of good which are acquired through involvement in good deeds or in being thrust aside because of bad deeds. These comprise the essential differences in status that one finds between one man and another, as will be explained later.
One must realize that just as the option was given man to bring down for himself [from the fountain-head of the upper world] holiness or pollution, so were his actions empowered with the ability to bring down to the universe as a whole, holiness or pollution. It follows then that the universe as a whole becomes perfected or spoiled through man. The tzaddikim are deemed meritorious because they benefit the whole world. And on the other hand, there falls grave liability upon the reshoim (the wicked) because they ruin the whole world.
Each time one of the creations of the lower world acts, its movements affect corresponding forces in the upper world. Through this particular upper world forces there is effected a channeling down of specific emanations. If an action executed here below falls into the category of those obligations which we are commanded to fulfill (the mitzvohs), then the force to which it is linked above will be stirred and reinforced, and through it an emanation of Holiness will be channeled down from the Creator. The quality and quantity of the emanation will be commensurate with the degree of ardor manifested [in the fulfillment of the mitzvoh]. If the action belongs to the category of Torah prohibitions (issurim) it will then produce a blemish in a parallel, upper-world force which is a function of the make-up of the negative deed. Consequently, the light of Hashem becomes distanced and concealed. In its place one of the opposing forces of tumah will be stirred, and the influence of holiness will become concealed. At this point a flow of spiritual "slime" will be drawn down; its quantity and potency is based upon the extent to which it was stirred.
In a similar vein, through teshuva (repentance), the blemish is removed, and the forces of tumah lose their power to channel down influence. The emanation of kedushah then returns and is transmitted appropriately.
This Book Divided into Seperate Documents
It has been stated that the species of man is unique among all other species in that man was allotted free-choice, and he was empowered to channel and bring down through his actions the influences of the upper world. Consequently man possesses an additional facet which cannot be found in any other species: man's actions are recompensed measure for measure. This recompense is divided into two parts:
one) In this world (olam hazeh).
two) In the world to come (olam haba).
The recompense in the world to come works in this manner: the level of true goodness which is assigned to a person is dependent upon the deeds which one has accomplished in this world. "Goodness" refers to a state of closeness to the Creator, and man will forever delight in this state. Such recompense in the world to come is also divided into two parts:
one) that which is awarded in the world of souls (olam haneshamos) [after death] and
two) that which is awarded in the world of the future after the resurrection (olam hatechiyah), a subject which we have yet to address.
Recompense in this world (olam hazeh) is based upon one's deeds, and it is by way of them that success or various types of suffering are decreed upon man. However, one must realize that the principal recompense is that ultimate good which the righteous will be privileged to receive in the future world (l'atid l'vo) [for this lasts forever]. By the same token the most awesome punishment is to lose out completely on this true goodness.
There are mitzvos which, according to the Creator's just judgment, are worthy of being recompensed both in the world to come and in this world in the form of successes and benefits during life. So too, there are misdeeds for which, in accordance with just Divine Judgment, it is fitting that one be punished both in this world and the world to come.
On the other hand, there are mitzvohs which Judgment warrants should be recompensed in the world to come and not in this world. Likewise there are misdeeds which Judgment demands should be punished only in the world to come and not in this world. There are also mitzvohs which Divine Judgment requires to be recompensed entirely in this world, after which there then remains nothing for their owners in the world to come. Similarly, in the realm of transgressions there are those which Judgment warrants must be completely paid for in this world and their perpetrators not be punished whatsoever in the world to come. And Hashem, the righteous Judge, judges all in Divine perfection and in a perfectly just manner devoid of any unfairness whatsoever.
Just as both the body and the soul execute all actions through a joint effort - both the good ones and the bad ones - so too fair recompense warrants that they be paid together. However, because of the transgression of Adam, the first man, death was decreed upon the whole species of man in a manner which disallows reaching higher attachment to the Divine without first dying. The reason for this is that the spiritual contamination of wrongdoing has been internalized in man. As long as this spiritual pollution is contained within him, it is impossible for him to become attached to the most High. The impurity does not depart from man until death occurs and he returns to dust; only then does he become cleansed.
At that time [upon the resurrection of the dead] he will return and be reconstructed in a perfectly pure form. After the reconstruction, his soul will be returned to him and his life renewed. Together [the body and soul] will shine eternally with the light of life. The extent to which body and soul enjoy genuine goodness is determined by the deeds they performed in their earthly life. This is the concept of the Resurrection of the Dead (techiyas hamaisim) which is known to every Jew. During that period in which the body lies interred in the earth, it disintegrates and loses its original form. The soul, in contrast, remains in a place of repose if it merits this. The place of repose is the world of souls (olam haneshamos). In that world, the soul attains a portion of what it will attain in the time to come (l'atid lavo) after the resurrection of the dead. What it attains is commensurate with the deeds it accomplished during life.
[There are four points which are relevant to "Reward and Punishment" and "Free-Choice" (bechirah) which need to be clarified here.
(1) Is there any rational basis for thinking, as most people do, that the purpose of life is primarily to enjoy and delight in the earthly pleasures of flesh, fortune, and fame?
(2) If all there is to life is the goal of "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die," why should there be such inequality between men in the distribution of these desired commodities? If these are the commodities which represent genuine success and happiness in life why shouldn't everyone get a liberal helping of them?
(3) How can mortal man, whose narrow-lens perspective of time is generally focused on short segments of the past, present, and future, conceive and appreciate the idea of such a never-ending delight as that of eternity? How can he appreciate the quantitative aspects of it? His perspective, even when combined and extended to the whole panorama of world history, encompasses but several thousand years. Can such a man grasp even a fleeting vision of the timeless concept of eternity?
(4) How can a man whose interests in life are limited to gourmet foods, "a great time," and all the components of the "good life" which allegedly lie at the end of the rat-race, possibly comprehend anything about the qualities of an eternity? Eternity of the soul signifies a state where enjoyments are neither swallowed, grasped, nor deposited or withdrawn from the bank. What does it mean to enjoy and delight in the ecstasies of the spirit in the absence of a mouth, hands, and a wallet? How can one utilize some earthly medium to get a semblance of the feel of this foreign and intangible state?
The Steipler Rav z"l sums up point one in this fashion:
Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzato (the RamChal) writes in his Mesilas Yeshorim:
It is most obvious to anyone who thinks rationally that it is illogical to believe that the ultimate purpose of man's creation was for his state in this world. After all, what does man's life consist of in this world. Where is that man who enjoys (undiluted) happiness and finds a full measure of peace in this world? 'The days of our years are but 70 and if by special strength, 80 years, and even then their high points are mixed with hardship and suffering' (Psalms 90:10).
All sorts of pain, sickness, and suffering plague him and, after all of this, comes death. You will not find one person in a thousand upon whom the world has lavished solely pleasure and peace. And moreover, even that rare individual who does achieve it, assuming that he were to live to the age of 1000 years, still passes on and takes leave of the world.
Families with a large number of children often include one who is chronically ill and others who go through the gamut of children's diseases. One has a stomach ache, one has a cold, still others have the flu, and so on and so forth. Illnesses frequently are contagious and usually make the rounds among all. The evidence is there to see - the epidemiologists and public health experts have the date to prove this conclusion.
The Chovohs HaLivovohs in his classic work of a thousand years ago deals with the need or place for childhood diseases in the design of the kind and wise Creator's world. What reason can there be to burden innocent infants and tender-aged children with the pain and suffering of a roster of diseases which strike particularly at them? He explains that the purpose is so that the child will learn early in life that this world is not a "ball" or amusement park. Man has no security or guarantee that he will not be touched by hardship and pain in life - this message the child receives early in life in the only way he can absorb the lesson and remember it for life - through his body. This lesson is invaluable enough to warrant all the suffering involved to teach it.
Most people are troubled and suffer from a lack of sufficient income to meet their needs and often are burdened with debt. Therich, who lack nothing financially, have their troubles too. "He who amasses possessions amasses worries" (Pirkei Avos).
Envy and self-reproach must be added to the long list of life's troubles which most of us suffer. Envy eats away at man, and self-reproach cuts him down. How often, too, do people inflict pain by subjecting themselves to post mortems? ("Why didn't I think of answering this way or making that move at the right time?") Sometimes we face the emptiness of boredom; at other times we struggle with the burning desire for something which is not within our power to attain. We fear and worry about the future and with trepidation take stock of our own personal situation and that of our family. We also worry about the state of the particular country in which we live: Its economy, crime statistics, military preparedness, etc. Above all, the drive for honor and recognition - something from which the average man is not spared and which he experiences almost daily. This desire is experienced in relation both to one's family and his acquaintances.
The trials and tribulations of child-rearing then follow. In the childhood years there are the diapers and sleepless nights, rashes and teething pains, bruises and falls, the childhood diseases, and the disciplinary and educational problems suffered at home and at school. When our children are grown up, the intensity of our love for them is paralleled by the worry and aggravation we experience when we find we are unable to guide them and help them as we would like.
Although it may be depressing, for the sake of truth we should examine the somber side of the coin first. When old age approaches, we sense that we are being pushed out of our established lifetime positions and feel that we are becoming redundant. Yet, we still try to hang on to our status. However, little by little we get pushed into a corner, and with our own eyes we see others inheriting our place. Then comes the period when we become a burden to our family and to all of those over whom we previously reigned. Following this, typically we develop a serious need for medical treatment for an extended period of time until the day arrives when we are carried off to a final dwelling place in this world (l'bais olamo). When approaching this juncture we are seized by fear and inner trembling; it is hard to face the imminent departure one must soon make. A feeling of hopelessness overtakes us and is often compounded by the ensuing senility which leaves us physically and mentally a broken reed. When all this is over, life then ends, and we are ushered out by the throes of death (r"l).
Now, one may well ask, "Why was man created to live a life intermixed with anguish and joy, pain and pleasure, ups and down, and a myriad of changes most of which are made up of negative happenings - troubles and heartaches? What is the point of all of this?
When we look at life from an entirely different perspective, we can begin to understand why man was handed such a difficult lot in life. The Torah reveals the secret of life and makes it commons knowledge available to everyone: Man's life on earth serves only as the gateway or corridor to a higher and better life, one which lasts forever and which has no parallel in earthly life. The whole of man's life upon this earth was designed by the Creator as the most suitable preparation for a world of eternity. The entrance requirements for that world are based solely on one's very own merits and deeds.
It is extremely important for man to find ways which can help him to feel more tangibly the Universally accepted concept of the eternity of the soul (hashores hanefesh), which simply means that only the body disintegrates, but the soul continues to exist after death. From what happens to man after death, we can understand better the priceless value of earthly life and its purpose.
This fundamental principle is demonstrated in the Torah, the Prophets and Kesuvim, and the Kabbalah. Kabbalah represents the total body of Divine knowledge which has been passed on in an unbroken chain from generation to generation, staring with Moshe Rabeinu who received it directly from G-d. Man innately senses that such a destiny awaits the soul, and man's reasoning faculties also provide proofs for this basic Jewish belief. Many books are dedicated to this end; they systematically structure the concept of eternal life logically, philosophically, and by utilizing a wealth of data on metaphysical occurrences. Cases now number in the thousands, and they rule out any doubts on the matter. One of the most useful and the classic on the subject is a book written over 300 years ago: Nishmas Chaim written by Rabbi Menashe ben Yisroel, zt"l.
After one understands and fully realizes that his soul remains alive infinitely after he takes leave of this world, he should find it impossible even to imagine that his purpose in the world is merely to enjoy the material pleasures of this world. After all, a full lifespan upon earth which has been crammed with those pleasures is no more than a fleeting 70-80 years, while after death his soul maintains a life of the spirit for billions of years, with no end in sight. Of what significance is 70 years when compared with eternity? From this vintage point, one should be able to see clearly that the purpose of earthly life must tie in and have some common ground with that everlasting life of the soul in its timeless world. He can then understand that this world serves only as the bridge over which one must pass in order to reach eternal life on the other side. His toll fees take the form of observances of the Creator's directives which can only be performed over the course of an earthly lifetime.
Point two): The Torah concept of free-choice makes up one of the main pillars of Torah. It is directly linked to the fundamental principle of reward and punishment. Without free-choice, the whole of Torah falls away. If man lacks the ability to choose his road in life, then he is but a puppet manipulated by others and should not be subject to reward and punishment for his good or bad behavior, for it would not be of his own doing. A large number of religious and secular fatalistic philosophies still remain entrenched in the world. Some are old and date back thousands of years; some appear to be new, but in reality are merely recycled with more sophisticated packaging to fit the times. People who think in terms of such a system believe that man is nothing more than a piece of flotsam tossed about on the seas of life, with no choice in the matter. The advocates of this philosophy use it as an excuse to shed responsibility for any wrongdoing, and it makes it possible for them to legitimize a life whose goal is to "do your own thing."
However, the Torah teaches that since man was given the power of free choice, he is liable for all his actions, and he is rewarded and punished for his actions. The ultimate goal for man is in the world of eternity - to enjoy and delight in it. The concept that this is the real purpose of man's creation serves as a reflection of the justice and fairness which we find throughout the Creator's world. In short, man's ability to acquire the things which really count in life rests in his own hands. Every man then has the very same opportunity to attain the highest spiritual levels both in this world and in the eternal world. In this sense, where the stakes are big and where it really counts, we many say "All men are created equal."
However, if the purpose of man's life upon earth were to revel in all of the enjoyments of the material world which he possibly could - along with its successes and glories - then the whole world would make absolutely no sense. For example, are the endowments of men equal and fairly distributed? What can you say to justify the creation of weak men, those who are sickly and delicate, those with mediocre or low I.Q., or the ugly ones and wretchedly poor ones? How much chance do people in any one of these categories have? Can they achieve the abundance of material possessions and desirables of this world: fame, fortune, popularity, and the opportunities to experience and savor all varieties of pleasures and enjoyments?
Why should one man be born crippled while another is healthy and strong, one blind or deaf while another possesses 20/20 vision and perfect hearing? Why should one woman come into the world and be assigned the role in life of a poorly endowed specimen of womanhood while another enters life as a classical beauty? Why is one born into fabulous wealth while another is cast in the role of abject poverty or locked into miserable circumstances from which he can never free himself? Why is one born a genius or exceptionally bright while another is born slow or dull-witted? Can any of these ill-fated and deprived individuals obtain a share of those earthly pleasures which the world has to offer which is equal to those of their more fortunate opposites? Of course they cannot, except in rare cases!
If the benefits of human life were limited to what man can enjoy in this world, then the universe would be nothing more than a diabolical instrument, cruelly doling out a windfall of desirables to some and only a pack of troubles to others.
However, because the role each man is assigned in life is only a temporary one and only lasts a short period of time, what difference does it make if during the course of the first 70 years of life one is poor or ugly, weak or of mediocre intelligence? After all, for the billions and trillions of years which only serve to introduce eternity, he will enjoy spiritual delights which the wildest flights of imagination cannot fathom!
In that everlasting world there will be no more ugliness, poverty, sickness, and pain; in that eternal world one finds only beauty, strength, wisdom, and the riches treasures of the spirit. All that is asked of man in his earthly life is that he accept with humility the particular role chosen for him to play. He must consider all of his intrinsic endowments as his Divinely assigned tools and exert maximum effort to use them to achieve what is within his potential. What he has to do is blue-printed for him in clear directives from his own Creator in the divine, life-instruction book, the Torah. To help him understand the Torah and enable him to make his way with it successfully, man can call upon innumerable experts who will freely advise him every step of the way.
After he has of his own volition chosen his course of action, using his creator's guide book, he will have achieved the same end as do the strong, wealthy, and brilliant. In fact, those who are poorly endowed can actualize their full potential more easily and with less effort than can the more abundantly endowed. From the latter, the Creator expects to see greater accomplishments by the time they arrive at their individual end goals, for they have been handed at birth a finer set of tools with which to work.
Every man is given an equal opportunity to achieve his maximum potential in life. This places the mini-endowed on par with the most gifted. That is exactly what the Rambam means when he states, "....Every man has the ability to be a tzaddik like Moshe Rabeinu or a roshoh4 like Yerovom. Each person can be a wise man or a fool, merciful or cruel, stingy of charitable, and the same applies to all human traits...."
When the Rambam tells us that each of us has the opportunity to be like Moshe Rabeinu, he does not have in mind attaining Moshe Rabeinu's one-of-a-kind statue. In regard to his unique state as a prophet, the Torah itself states that there will never rise among the Jewish people a prophet of the caliber of Moshe. His wisdom and closeness to Hashem opened for him all the gates of upper world which are possible for a mortal to enter. Such carte blanche entry is not within the reach of any other man, and the Rambam does not have this kind of equality in mind.
The Rambam's intent is only to say that Moshe Rabeinu's self-earned greatness, as is the essential greatness of every tzaddik and gaon, was not made up of the rich allotment of endowments with which he came into the world. True, he was born with a wondrous intellect and a phenomenal package of various spiritual gifts stored up in his soul. This set of endowments was also accompanied by the unique physical strength needed to apply them. However, all of these qualities were not the product of Moshe's own labors and efforts. These were all gifts of Hashem and were given to him to use for the benefit of the whole nation. They constitute the superior endowments needed to produce the giants of each generation who serve as leaders of their people.
Moshe Rabeinu's real greatness can be evaluated only as a function of his own labors and acquisitions in life. It is these self-earned efforts which have brought for him his singular share of eternity, and the same is true of the self-earned efforts of all other great men. Their accomplishments in life derive from maximum use of their potential during life. Great men maximize their full potential by combining their effort, drive, interest, and strength. They utilize fully their dazzling array of G-d given endowments for the right purposes. This is what is credited to their personal file of accomplishment and represents the true purpose of man's creation in the world: to earn his eternity because of his own output. What comes forth from man without effort and which is wholly the product of his natural, gifted abilities has little value in the eyes of Hashem.
The same applies to the modestly endowed individual. The job in life his Creator expects him to fulfill is the full utilization of all the human assets he was given. By dedicating his heart, strength and interest to the harnessing of his particular human resources for higher purposes, and after succeeding to do so, he, too, then becomes a Moshe Rabeinu. The common denominator which links him and Moshe Rabeinu is that he, no less than Moshe Rabeinu, has achieved his full potential by maximizing those resources and abilities with which he was born. Whatever is out of the range of his abilities is not expected of him.
If his intellectual endowments are of the kind which make him suited to be nothing more than an unskilled laborer (for example, a woodcutter) or to master some simple craft (for example, tailoring or shoemaking), then it is still within the scope of his potential to become the most honest and holy woodcutter, tailor, or shoemaker who lives. He has the opportunity to reach up and carve out or stitch together for himself, the finest character and the purest heart and round himself out by developing a wholesome belief and trust in Hashem. With his modest set of tools he can become a man of warm chesed who aids his fellow man and attains great heights in his communion with Hashem.
After utilizing in the highest manner he can, all of the meager gifts which were allotted him, he is then no less beloved to Hashem and no less successful in life than Moshe Rabeinu. In this world, of course, the respect paid Moshe Rabeinu and accorded him by his people is entirely of another coin. His fabulous gifts of personal resources with which he has been endowed at birth have lifted him to towering heights. Such stature warrants reverence, awe, and formal respect, for it represents the majesty of Torah greatness. However, in the World to Come, where the temporary roles one plays in life are stripped away and the earthly need for honor and formality to bolster Torah authority is no longer necessary, the shoemaking tzaddik or the wood-cutting tzaddik will have a special place in Gan Eden which is equivalent to that of Moshe Rabeinu.
Take the following simple illustration: When one presses a light switch which controls a 15-watt bulb, the bulb can only provide 15 watts of light. This bulb is then functioning at its maximum level. When used as a night light or a closet-light, the wattage is just right. On the other hand, if for any reason it produces only 10 watts of light, it would not be functioning optimally. Should one have a 1,000 watt spotlight and use it either for the outdoors or for some other special purpose, it must produce a full 1,000 watts of light to function optimally, otherwise it is considered deficient. When the spotlight does illuminate at its 1,000 watt level, it is no more valuable and useful than is a 15-watt bulb which is placed in a location which requires only 15 watts of light. Thus, each bulb serves its particular purpose when it works at its full capacity. Similarly, in our world, we have a need both for brilliant, "1,000-watt" people who can light up larger or darker areas and for dim, "15-watt" people who can serve only in more modest ways. The Creator treasures both to the same degree, as long as each serves to his maximum ability and fulfills His respective intended purpose.
The Gemorah Taanis (21b) discusses this equality in the eyes of Hashem - of the little people and the towering giants - and the bottom line is that in their respective places in the world to come, they are equal.
"Abba the surgeon received daily greetings from the Heavenly Academy (mesivta derakiya)." [This academy is made up of spiritual entities of the upper world. A segment of these spiritual entities consists of people of a higher stature who have passed on and who are involved in the study of Torah on the highest and deepest level. They are not subject to any interference and distractions from physical bodies and material substances. Some 1,600 years ago, when the great and saintly giants of Torah still walked the earth, it was a symbol of stature and greatness to receive such greetings from the upper world. Communicating such greetings was a way of informing the recipient that his superior knowledge of Torah or exceptional deeds were cherished by the greatest of all connoisseurs - those residing in the purity and inner sanctum of the upper world. Such recognition indicated that one was traveling on the roads of truth without making detours or deviations].
"Abbaye used to receive greetings every Shabbos, and Rava [only] on the eve of every Yom Kippur. Abbaye felt dejected because of Abba the surgeon. [Abba the surgeon received such greetings daily, although only a layman. In contrast, Abbaye, who was considered one of the greats of his time, received them but once a week. Consequently, Abbaye felt that his Torah accomplishments were considered so mediocre that even Abba the layman was far ahead of him in spiritual attainment.]
People said to Abbaye: 'This honor is accorded to Abba [on a plane higher than your own] because you cannot equal his achievements.' [The Gemorah then asks:] What were the special deeds of Abba the surgeon? When he performed bloodletting [the common surgical treatment of the times for many types of ailments] he would separate the men from the women. In addition, he had a special cloak which had a slit at the shoulder and an attached cup [for catching the blood which was being extracted]. Whenever a woman patient came to him, he would place the cloak on her shoulder in order not to expose her body [because of a most sensitive and lofty level of modesty]. He also had a special place [outside of his office] where patients deposited their fees in privacy for his services. Those who could afford to pay put their fees there, and those who could not were thereby spared embarrassment. Whenever a Torah scholar came to him for treatment, not only would Abba the surgeon not accept a fee but also when the scholar left, Abba the surgeon would hand him money and declare: 'Go and regain your strength with this.' [For after a bloodletting treatment it is necessary not only to eat more but also to eat more nourishing foods.]
One day Abbaye sent two scholars to visit Abba and test him. [He was interested in finding out first hand the extent of Abba's greatness]. Abba received the scholars, served them food and drink, and in the evening he prepared mattresses for them to sleep. [The mattresses he offered them were made up of expensive woolen craftwork piled together so as to serve as makeshift mattresses. Apparently he had no extra mattresses available at the time and did not hesitate to turn such valuable items into the best possible bedding substitutes for use by his honored guests.]
In the morning the scholars rolled up the mattresses and took them to the market place. There they ran into Abba their host and said to him: 'Sir, kindly appraise these for us. What would you say they are worth?' [offering them to him for personal purchase]. He replied, giving them a figure. They said to him: 'Perhaps they are worth more?' He replies: 'This is what I originally paid for them.' [They tested him with these questions in order to see whether or not he would suspect them of having stolen the mattresses (which appeared to be the case on the surface). Their intent was also to observe when offered to him for sale, whether or not he would lie about their true value in order to recover them more easily.]
[Finished with the test] the two scholars then said to him: 'They are yours. We removed them from your house. Please tell us of what did you suspect us?' He replied: 'I said to myself: Perhaps the Rabbis needed money to redeem captives (pidyon shevuim) [which is a matter of saving human lives] and you were ashamed to ask me outright for them.' [Because they were expensive household belongings, most people would find it difficult to part with them and offer them as a tzedakah donation. Therefore, Abba thought the scholars might have been reluctant to ask.
All of this analysis mirrored the pureness of heart and "good eye" of Abba the surgeon. He possessed a mind-set which enabled him to interpret everything the Torah scholars did in a pure and wholesome way. Abba interpreted their actions in a positive way even through it required quite a stretch of the imagination to work out a set of circumstances which could justify such actions.]
The scholars concluded by saying to him: 'Sir, take them back, now.' ['For we had no intention of taking them from you. We only used them to test you.] He answered: 'From the moment I noticed that the mattresses were missing I dismissed them from my mind and dedicated them to charity...' ['Therefore you must keep them.']
Rabbi Berkoa Chozaah used to frequent the market of Bei-Lafet where Eliyahu HaNavi often appeared to him. [This is also an honor accorded only to people who are classified in the upper world as men of great stature.] Once he asked Eliyahu: 'Is there anyone in this market who has a reserved place in the world to come?' [the Maharsho explains that Rabbi Berkoa's query to Eliyahu was whether there was someone here who had a special, elite place awaiting him in the world to come because of his extraordinary accomplishment. The reason extraordinary accomplishments were singled out is because every single Jew who observes Torah properly - even if only in a "middle-road" or average fashion - has at least aminimal share in the world to come, as stated by the Mishna in Sanhedrin (90a). Apparently those involved in the market place of Bei-Lafet were simple, hardworking people with no one seemingly outstanding in Torah knowledge or deeds.]
Eliyahu replied: 'No.' Meantime Rabbi Berkoa caught sight of a man wearing black shoes [meaning laced with black laces which was specifically the custom of gentile dress of that time and therefore forbidden by Torah law to Jews] and wore no tzitzis on the corners of his garment. Eliyahu said to Rabbi Berkoa: 'This man has a reserved place in the world to come.' Rabbi Berkoa ran after the man and asked him, 'What is your occupation?' The man replied: 'Go, now, and come back tomorrow.' The next day he again asked him, 'In what are you involved? [The intent of Rabbi Berkoa's question was to find out the personal details of what this man did - so that he could pinpoint the kernel of greatness which brought him his right to a special share in the world to come and learn from it. The man apparently recognized the greatness of Rabbi Berkoa, a sage of Israel, and out of respect to him, told him all.]
'I am a jailer,' he began. 'I separate the men and women and place my bed between them so that they will not come to sin. When I see a Jewish girl upon whom the gentiles [the heads of the prison] cast their eyes, I risk my life to save her. Once there was amongst us a betrothed girl upon whom the gentiles set their eye. I therefore took residue of red wine and smeared it on her skirt, and I told them she was menstruating.' Rabbi Berkoa then asked the man; "Why is it that you have no tzitzis and why do you wear black shoes [laces]?' He replies, 'I come and go among the gentiles, and I do this so that they will not know that I am a Jew. When the gentiles make a harsh decree against Jews I inform the Rabbis, and they pray and thereby bring about the annulment of the decrees.'
Rabbi Berkoa then inquired about the delay, 'When I asked you, what is your occupation, why did you say to me 'Go now, and come back tomorrow?' He answered, 'At that time the gentiles had just issued a severe decree, and I thought I would first go and inform the Rabbis of it so that they could pray to G-d.'
In the meantime two men passed by and Eliyahu remarked, 'These two also have reserved places in the world to come.' Rabbi Berkoa then approached them and asked, 'What is your occupation?' They replied, 'We are jesters. We cheer-up people who are depressed. Furthermore, when we see two people quarreling we exert great effort to make peace between them!'"
In another vein, we can postulate that the human assets which serve as the best tools for the acquisition of material possessions in this world often impede the acquisition of the spiritual attainments and the fulfillment of man's true purpose upon which personal eternity is based. Countless men and women are side-tracked in life and fail to attain their higher purpose because of their unusually choice set of human assets. Specifically because of their handsomeness or beauty, intellectual brilliance, or wealth they may fail to meet the challenges of life. The sweet tastes of pleasures, success, or power which are fed to them on the golden spoons of gifted endowments have broken and even destroyed many of them.
Were such people to know how their "good fortune" would in the end affect their eternity, they would have been the first ones to beseech their Creator before birth (if they had been given the opportunity to do so) to assign them a mediocre set of human assets in place of the superior ones which were given them. However, only the Divine Wisdom knows all the reasons behind the particular distribution of roles to man.
Point three): To comprehend and grasp the concept of eternity is extremely difficult. Still, it is possible to project a powerful picture on the screen of our imagination which provides us with a sample of the nature of eternity. It was used by one of our great philosophers long ago and has become the classical illustration.
Imagine a large banquet hall completely filled from floor to ceiling with birdseed (which would number in the billions of tiny seeds). If every thousand years a bird flew into the window and carried off a single seed, then eventually the supply would dwindle down to nothing and the banquet hall would be completely emptied. Think of that period as an introduction to infinite times, for eternity continues for billions of trillions of years afterwards!
Point four): The average man is, for the most part, not interested in acquiring knowledge and wisdom in any area for the sheer value and enjoyment of the knowledge itself. Only when knowledge serves as a stepping stone to richer physically and material benefits and enjoyments does he have a serious interest in knowledge and pursue it. Because of this limitation it is very difficult to offer examples of the intangible pleasures of the soul which one has experienced in life and exemplify what is meant by "delights of the soul." Far removed from the thoughts of the average man is a place where the soul alone enjoys eternal spiritual ecstacy without a setting of earthly props.
Yet there have been many throughout the ages who have sought wisdom, and to this very day there are those who seek knowledge and wisdom for its own sake. They know enough to realize that those who become immersed in it and possess knowledge of great scope and depth do derive great pleasure from it. They know that the great intellectuals, scientists, philosophers, and, in particular, the greats of Torah, the tzaddikim and gaonim, live and breathe knowledge and wisdom like others breathe air. Those who live in the world of the mind and spirit are willing to forego the comforts, pleasures, and diversions which belong to the domain of the physical world in order to pursue their goals. In actuality, they do not forego anything and do not consider that they have sacrificed anything.
Most Torah giants are people endowed with all of those capacities which make for material success in life. These are people who have fine minds, shrewdness, drive, backbone, and a thorough understanding of people and the ways of the world. They have the potential to be successful in any business or professional vocation which they might choose to enter. Had they set their sights on it, their cups could have run over with a rich assortment of material acquisitions and all of the accouterments which normally accompany success.
Do you think that these people are naive when it comes to material delights or that they lack the capacity to enjoy them and therefore show little interest in them? On the contrary, precisely because they do know what the world of materialism has to offer and the limitations of its caresses and bear hugs, Torah giants turn their backs on it. The continuous flow of exhilarating enjoyments they receive when dealing with the world of true wisdom makes the enjoyments of the material world appear no more exciting than the joy a child derives building sand castles or blowing soap bubbles. A child, who knows no better, delights in such activities, but for the adult who has tasted more sophisticated pleasures, the child's actions constitute empty, unfulfilling pastimes.
The minds of great Torah scholars sail the seas of Torah. They constantly dive into its depths to bring up pearls of wisdom. Ask the Torah scholars if they would be willing to trade their knowledge for hundreds of millions of dollars or even billions of dollars. Ask them if they are to be pitied because of the modest and often impoverished life they live in order to dedicate their time to the study of Torah. Don't be surprised if they tell you that if you genuinely understood the ecstatic delight and pleasure which comes from learning Torah, you would feel sadness for those who treat life as a vehicle of nothing more than "fun" and "thrills." "You should feel compassion," he might tell you, "for all of those people whom the world considers to be squeezing the most out of life and enjoying it most."
The way such people spend their time is tantamount to a person who collects empty shells on a beach. The sands of man's time runs out quickly. Only those who know of nothing better can value collecting empty shells. If they were able to taste the delights of true wisdom, these people would very quickly abandon their beachcombing activities and focus their efforts on the pursuit of wisdom. The ex-shell collectors would seek pleasure in the enjoyments of the soul: the most exhilarating, fulfilling, and ecstatic experience available to man upon this earth!
Only those who (a) have extensive lines of communication to the upper world from whence wisdom emanates and (b) who industriously seek wisdom, enjoy the constant delights of the soul while upon this earth. The mind of man - the spaceship of the soul - serves as the connecting pipeline through which flows the Creator's Divine wisdom. Those who utilize this pipeline do so even for the enjoyments of secular knowledge - the exact sciences and their technologies, although the beamed rays are of another quality. The joy, fulfillment, and spiritual delights are not as intense or euphoric in nature. The reason for the difference is that their subject matter does not deal in the higher truths, the truths which are closest to G-d.
The Higher Truths begin with basic, rational, and common-sense ideas and concepts which deal with man's obligations in the world. These comprise the thoughts and actions by which a straight-thinking man should seek to live. This includes the world of ethics and philosophy which similarly rests on common sense, derech eretz; through these corridors man first enters the gates of truth and begins his ascent. The rungs at the epoge bring one to the Divine truths of the universe; these divine truths are beyond the realm of man's self-powered grasp and are all incorporated into the Torah. Man attains the closest possible contact with G-d by immersion in this higher area of classical Torah study. Direct communion with the Creator of wisdom comprises the greatest source of pleasure upon this earthly world and after death is magnified beyond comprehension in the world of the spirit. In that world no physical deterrents weaken the soul's capacity to link up with its Creator.
The Steipler Rav zt"l cites the joy experienced in doing a good deed (simchah shel mitzvoh) as an illustration of pleasures of the soul.
It is common knowledge, he says, that the intensity of the joy we experience is proportionate to our desire for and attraction to, a particular thing or event. When a man eagerly anticipates and strongly desires something, then his joy will be proportionately greater upon attaining it. When one neither desires nor looks forward to something, then its realization of acquisition means little and gives minimal joy.
Furthermore, the same applies to the avoidance of anything distasteful. When one is saved from something which he has greatly feared and which has caused him great concern, then his joy is intense. In contrast, when he is able to avoid something which moves him very little, successful avoidance elicits almost no joy.
Moreover, sometimes people may do a good thing, for example, a great mitzvoh, and even perform it with a pure heart and without any ulterior motives. Still, we may find that a particular man might not have initially pursued a specific mitzvoh nor eagerly awaited the opportunity to do that mitzvoh. He may have happened upon it only by chance, yet you will often see that his joy is still great. The accomplishment of the mitzvoh has become for him a source of intense delight.
Likewise, when one is exposed to a great temptation and he conquers his inclination to perpetrate a wrong, the joy which the victory creates in his soul brightens him up. The joy created by the victory is much greater in degree than is his fear of the sin. In fact, he may have been a hairsbreadth away from committing the sin and even remained unmoved by any fears of pangs of conscience.
Such phenomena can be observed even in someone in whom neither faith nor belief were inculcated and from whom a Torah education was withheld. The individual might have no conception of the value and gravity of mitzvohs and aveiros. (This assumes that the individual did not overly soil and contaminate his soul with serious transgressions and tumah. Serious transgressions bring with them tumah encrusted with spiritual char to such an extent that the joy no longer can come through.)
A classical example of this is when an opportunity to do something good arises and is performed with a pure heart and without any ulterior motives, for example saving innocent people from death. This happened often in the Nazi era. Many Jews who totally lacked Torah values saved fellow Jews and plucked them out of the very hands of death by putting up the necessary monies to save them or through other types of aid. Other common and very frequently encountered opportunities are the chances to bring joy to the hearts of downtrodden people. Among these are orphaned young men and women who need financial support to get married or start a business; or the broken man or woman who need immediate aid if they are to get back on their feet. The man who performs such mitzvohs will feel a tremendous surge of pleasure. Although the man neither awaited, anticipated, nor in practice sought out this kind of chesed, still when he performs it, he is warmed by the glow of elated joy and fulfillment.
What is the source of this joy which does not follow the cause-and-effect pattern we have pinpointed? Simply put, the man was privileged to fulfill a particular mitzvoh; the happiness it brings him is the product of a "soul experience." The soul enjoys the intense delight radiated by the mitzvoh. The spiritual ecstasy the man feels is something which cannot be measured even by comparing it to any of his greatest material or physical pleasures or achievements. He will remember the spiritual exhilaration and treasure it throughout his life. When he carried out the mitzvoh, it served at that moment as a source of attachment to his Creator, for it is from He Himself that man's soul originates. He (the Steipler Rav) concludes that the essence of this joy is therefore nothing other than the soul entering into a state of communion with the very presence of the Creator by way of doing something which He desires man to do.
The same applies to all enjoyments of the soul. They are more pleasurable, intense, and fulfilling than are any material or physical encounters. They are caused by a union of man with G-d by the only channel available to him to make this contact, the mitzvohs of the Torah.
In contrast, the material and physical pleasures and joys which we experience in this world constitute and originate from the creations which G-d has placed here in the world for our benefit.
A simple analytical exercise can bring home to us a fundamental, crystal-clear conclusion: it pays for us to give up or limit these pleasures which can be obtained from the creations and instead seek those which are available from the Creator of all creations. It is self-evident that we will find more joy in the Creator Himself - the source of all goodness, kindness and pleasures in the world - than we will in His creations. When one draws this simple conclusion and thinks about it, it helps him to aim in life for the joys, pleasures, and the fulfillments which come directly from the Creator Himself. These joys, pleasures and fulfillments are available though "soul attachments" by man, something which comprises the pinnacle of joy. Pleasures and thrills emanating from the creations who belong to the lower world order can give man only what their own world offers. At best, that which the lower world offers is illusory and swiftly passing.]
This Book Divided into Seperate Documents
Specific places have been prepared for souls after they take leave of the body. In one, the souls rest in peace until the time of the resurrection - if they merit it. The other place is for the souls which must pass through and be subjected to a refining process of purification through punishments. Such treatment is meted out to the particular souls which are burdened by wrong doing which make it necessary to withhold from them the joy of a final rest. This place of final rest is called Gan-Eden, and it is made up of various levels.
There is a lower Gan-Eden and an upper Gan-Eden. In the lower Gan-Eden souls repose in the form of the bodies in which they once resided, and there they enjoy varied spiritual delights. This place has been designed to provide pleasures that were decreed to be available there. In the upper Gan-Eden souls dwell in the form of actual souls [pure spiritual entities with no ties to the physical]. The various spiritual delights they enjoy are greater and stand upon a higher place than do those of the lower Gan-Eden, where there are changes of both seasons and times for varied and alternating kinds of bliss. There are also different levels among those who are privileged to share in these enjoyments.
Gehinom is the place that is reserved for those souls that deserve to be punished. The suffering and pain that they undergo is determined by what is relevant to their particular state. There are various levels of pain just as there are various levels of pleasure. Through their suffering, those who have done wrong free themselves of the burden of their wrongs. If they are worthy of being rewarded [for the good deeds done in life] after they are purified of their wrong doings, and cleansed by suffering and pain], they can enter into final peace.
[A physical body that has become contaminated and infected by a serious germ or virus infection cannot be cleansed and made free of the infection without treatment. Often the treatment is painful and protracted. So it is with the soul. The contamination and consequences of wrong-doing are just as real. However, since the contamination and consequences of sin belong to the realm of the spiritual, neither are they perceived by the human eye nor can they be sensed by our scientific instruments.
The Creator has designed the methods that must be used to rid man of the spiritual infections that come about through wrong doing - somewhat along the lines of purging physical contamination. The treatment is usually painful and often of long duration. The degree of pain and its duration depend on the seriousness and scope of the "infection" and how deeply it has penetrated the soul. It should also be noted that this is also the purpose of much of the suffering and pain we see here in our lower world, to cleanse the soul and return it to a state of health. All this suffering is no less kind and merciful than is that which is brought about by any surgeon who must use harsh drugs, needles and scalpels to heal his patients.]
If the souls cannot be cleansed [because of the gravity of the wrongs] they will be punished until ultimately destroyed. Punishments which culminate in the total annihilation of the soul are rarely meted out to Jews.
This Book Divided into Seperate Documents
The Master of the Universe constantly oversees all of His creations, sustains them, and governs them in accordance with the specific purpose for which He created them. However, since man was singled out by Him to be subject to reward and punishment based upon his deeds [which are under his control because of free-will given man], His careful watch over man is different from that which He bestows upon all other species.
The purpose of Divine Providence over other species is solely to maintain each particular species within the framework of those rules and limitations which He desired. Therefore, the individual members of each and every species are supervised only in relation to those occurrences which may affect the whole of the species (hashgachah clalis), but not in relation to those happenings which solely affect the individual members. This is so because the end goal desired for them is merely to maintain intact the species as a whole.
In contrast, each and every one belonging to the species of man is not only supervised in regard to those actions or events which affect the whole of the species but also he is individually supervised (hashgachah pratis) in regard to what he himself is and does. His deeds are judged individually. Divine decrees issued focus upon him as an individual and take into account the minutest details of his actions and life.
It is of importance to know that man's actions are divided into two categories:
one) Those which are deemed to be either meritorious or a liability, that is, actions through which either a mitzvoh (positive Torah commandment) or aveiroh (Torah transgression) is produced.
two) Actions which are neither mitzvoh nor aveiroh because they constitute neither.
Everything which pertains to the performance of a mitzvoh or aveirohs is completely in the hands of man. No one coerces him to execute any specific action. The Divine Judge monitors both mitzvohs and aveirohs in order to judge them in accordance with their true nature [and He takes all factors into consideration. When judging mitzvohs He determines their true motivation. He establishes whether the actions are motivated by honor, material benefit, etc.; and assesses the purity of heart involved. In judging aveirohs He considers the temptation involved, the duress, ignorance, environment, intrinsic weaknesses or strengths etc.], and He decrees the proper recompense for them.
When man's actions are unrelated to mitzvohs or aveirohs, his connection to them is similar to that seen in the other species. Here man is subject to a lesser degree of supervision, one which consists of a general supervision. Man's actions in such cases serve as the vehicle for channeling down to him from upper world forces, specific happenings. These events are directed towards maintaining the order of the species [of man] as a whole or in order to transmit to him the rewards of punishments which he deserves. [The rewards or punishments stem from his other actions which did involve a mitzvoh or aveiroh.]
The Creator is the one who watches over all, judges all, and issues all decrees. The angels serve as His agents. Each one is responsible for carrying out his particular assignment, i.e., each one is (a) responsible for the transitional shifts of man which are to take place within a specific set of boundaries, or (b) rewarding or punishing man in ways which parallel his activities, as has been previously explained.
You must realize that the Master of the Universe truly knows all, nothing is concealed from Him, and no knowledge of events is in any way new to Him. Yet, it is not upon this basis that He administers His world and His judicial system. He established a particular system of justice which He desired. The system is similar to the system which is seen in mortal kingdoms. That is, He judges all things in courts of celestial angels. In these courts, witnesses testify about the events, prosecutors demand judgment, and defense attorneys plead the defendant's case. All of these functions are carried out by angels. Some testify about the happenings in the world, others prosecute, and still others defend. The final verdict is then reached in keeping with a true and just judgment.
This Book Divided into Seperate Documents
The Master of the Universe desired and prepared a variety of revelations by which He might be revealed to men while they are still alive in our lower world. He did this so that he could reveal Himself to them and inform them about matters which He wished them to know. Among these are His hidden matters and secrets (mistorov u'sodosov) His Divine Providence or Supervision (hashgachah), and that which He plans to bring upon His creations. These kinds of revelations are called prophecy (nevuah).
Such revelation emerges through a specific course which the wisdom of G-d saw most fitting to employ for this purpose. In it there are various levels. However, the general rule in all prophecy is that it is crystal clear to the prophet that what is being revealed to him is G-d's own glory. The prophet understands fully what He reveals to him; absolutely no doubts remain regarding the nature of his prophecy.
When such revelation comes to a prophet, the revelation is preceded by a great trembling; all the organs of his body quiver; and his [conscious] senses cease to function. During this state he is similar to one who is asleep. While in this deep sleep certain visions appear to him. It is through these visions which he perceives the revelation of G-d's glory and he understands that which the Highest Will (ratzon haelyon) desires to make known to him.
Besides the higher knowledge which the prophet gains by the revelation of prophecy, another factor is involved. One who merits and achieves the stature of the prophet must as a prerequisite be bound upin a close attachment to the Creator. For the perspective of such a close relationship, the stature of the prophet is one of greatness. He achieves thereby the ability to perform miracles and wonders. The extent to which a prophet can perform them is dependent upon the level of attachment he has attained.
One must realize, however, that the levels of all prophets of all time are lower and are greatly removed from the level of Moshe Rabeinu's prophecy. Every man who merits prophecy may reach any one of these graduated levels, but the prophecy of Moshe Rabeinu is a unique level which was given solely to him. It is impossible for any other person ever to achieve that level.
Directly under the level of prophecy there is a level called ruach hakodesh which is Divine inspiration. Ruach Hakodesh refers to an emanation transmitted from G-d to the mind of man. When it reaches man the knowledge of a particular matter is firmly implanted in his mind in a way which is free of all doubts and errors. He knows the subject perfectly - he can understand its reasons and details, and he can place everything in its proper perspective.
Through this divine inspiration one is able to understand those very same matters which fall into the boundaries and grasp of natural intellect. The advantage of understanding through ruach hakodesh rather than through normal intellectual resources is this: through ruach hakodesh the understanding comes about effortlessly and is free of any error or doubts. Neither characteristic is present when knowledge is absorbed by conventional methods of learning. Moreover, ruach hakodesh makes it possible to perceive matters which lie outside the confines of natural human understanding. Examples of this category of special knowledge are "concealed" Higher Knowledge and seeing into the future (hanistaros v'haasidos).
Ruach hakodesh is sensed by those who attain it. The recipient recognizes without any doubts that it is a divine inspiration which is being channeled down to him. Also, occasionally an inspiration is transmitted to the heart of man which provides him with the essential understanding of a specific matter without the recipient sensing the source of it. It comes to him in the same way that a thought suddenly pops into one's mind. Those thoughts in this category which suddenly pop into our minds may also be loosely termed, although not fully faithful to the term, ruach hakodesh.
This Book Divided into Seperate Documents
The chosen of the human species are the Jewish people, [by dint of having merited this status through their devotion to G-d and refinement of their character] and it is they who are destined to be attached to G-d. It is therefore fitting for them to be adorned with the crowns of unique holiness and that the Spirit of Hashem rest upon them and become attached to them. In this way they can be perfected through this closeness to the degree that they can receive the ultimate true goodness [which is to come].
One should know that, although through deeds true goodness can be acquired by each and every individual qua individual, still the universe as a whole will not achieve perfection until these goals are met; the chosen people is established in its rightful place, attains perfection, has achieved all its purposes, and the shechinah (Holy Spirit) of Hashem is bound up with it. Only after these conditions are met will the world reach a state of perfection. In that kind of world an individual will achieve his optimum perfection, each by virtue of his own accomplishments.
However, this ideal world has, as yet, not been realized in the period which began with creation and continues into the present time. No sooner had man been created than he transgressed. Afterwards, the Patriarchs [Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov] emerged, and their sons followed in their footsteps and nurtured the development of a special, treasured nation (am segulah). However, in spite of this, there was never a time when a state of perfection was attained. A number of transgressions held them back from making complete rectification (tikun hashalem),
Consequently, we have an obligation to ensure that we will one day reach this position where the Jewish nation will attain its state of perfection by fulfilling all of the required conditions. Then the universe as a whole will assume the status of a rectified state. In the rectified state the righteous will experience eternal delights. Each one's enjoyments will be based upon the deeds [of his lifetime].
Six thousand years is the span of time which the Highest Wisdom (chochmah haelyonah) has set as the limit for the period during which man must labor and strive to attain perfection. After this, the world will be renewed in another form, one which is designed to fit its ultimate purpose. This will consist of indulgence in everlasting delights by those who merit it. Before these 6,000 years end,5 it is necessary that the chosen people be firmly entrenched in its state of perfection so that the world can pass through a final transition and enter a state of eternity.
These events, we have been guaranteed, will come to pass no matter what! The medium through which these events will transpire will be the actions of one coming from the seed of David the King. He will have been chosen by the Master of the Universe for this specific purpose. He will help him to succeed and will be called the Messiah King (melech hamoshiach). In his time and through his efforts, the Jewish people will achieve great restoration, and so, too, the whole of the Universe will be uplifted.
At that time goodness will abound on all sides and evil will disappear altogether. These final fates of goodness and evil will be evident both in that which is related to the soul and that which is related to the body. Man's heart of stone will become a heart of flesh, that is, in man the drive to do good will become so powerful that he will no longer be drawn after materialism and the flesh. He will aspire constantly and to ever-increasing degrees of higher service and Torah growth.
As a result, peace and prosperity will abound, and all harm and destruction will cease to be found in the world. This is exactly what the prophets promised. Isaiah, for example stated that "They will do no evil nor destroy on all of my holy mountain..." lo yiru v'lo yashchitu b'col har kodshi... (Isaiah 11:9). No longer will any foolishness be found in the world. All hearts will be filled with wisdom, and Divine inspiration (ruach hakodesh) will be poured upon all flesh in a way which will be easily accessible to all. This is what the prophet meant by, "I will pour my spirit upon all flesh" "eshpoch es ruchi al col basar (Joel 3:1).
At this time men will find happiness and joy in the abundant good of the universe, they will become bound up with the Creator, and they will serve him in a perfect manner. Through this they will elevate themselves, climb from height to height, and eventually reach that level necessary for them to reach in order to transfer successfully to a status of eternity through the renewal of the world.
The nations of the world in existence at that time will be subjected to an awesome process of purification. Those who, according to Highest Divine Judgment, are deserving of annihilation will be destroyed by sword, plague, and other varieties of punishment. Those who are worthy of being spared will remain and recognize the truth. They will abandon their foreign deities and subordinate themselves to the Jewish people. It will be an honor for them to labor for the Jewish people and to serve them. They will realize and know at that time that only through this avenue can they attain what it is possible for them to obtain of the holiness and light of G-d. The whole world will then be drawn towards serving the Creator; no longer will anyone in the world worship strange deities. This is what the prophet intended when he stated, "For then I will convert the nations to a purer language so that they may all call in the name of G-d to serve Him..." "ki az ehafoch el haamim safah brurah l'kro kulam bshem Hashem..." (Zephaniah 3:9). And "...on that day G-d will be one and His name one." "...b'yom hahu yehiye Hashem echod ushmo echod..." (Zecharia 14:9).
All those living at that time must die and return to dust for at least a short interval before the dead are resurrected (techiyas hamaisim). However, only those "worthy" of rising will return to life. That is, in the resurrection both the tzaddikim and the reshoim (the wicked) will rise to life. The reshoim who sinned but did not complete their course of deserved punishment will then receive retribution.
After the resurrection, the Great Day of Judgment (yom hadin hagadol) will occur. On that day the Creator will judge all; He will pass judgment on those worthy of remaining for eternity and on those deserving of eternal annihilation. Those deserving of annihilation will first be meted out the punishment which they justly deserve and afterwards will be completely destroyed.
Those worthy of remaining will be placed at the particular level in this renewed world at which they deserve to be, as decreed by Diving Justice. Initially, Divine Justice will deal with those who are worthy of remaining for eternal existence and will place them in their proper individual levels. Then the world will revert to a state of desolation and void (sohu v'vohu). That is, it will shed its present form and return to "water amidst water" (mayim b'mayim) as it once was in the first stages of creation. During the period in which the restructuring of the world takes place, the righteous (those who have followed the creator's rules), the ones who have been "invited" to enter into eternity, will be sustained by the majesty of the Creator's verbal command (His desire), as are the celestial angels whose existence is not contingent upon an earthly world.
However, the righteous will not attain the true good they deserve until after the world has remained in a state of desolation and void for the full period which Highest Divine Wisdom (chochmah haelyonah) has decreed. The world will then be renewed in another form, one designed to be most appropriate for eternal life. At that time the righteous will return, be established in it forever, and be granted the opportunity to enjoy the ultimate true goodness, each one according to his level.
[It is most interesting to note that the findings of scientific research over the past years tie in directly with the Torah's concept of a limited time span for man's existence upon earth in its present form. As mentioned, the Torah's revelation to us is that the world in which we live was created to serve for no more than 6,000 years.
When we take into account the population explosion and the projections of a continuing geometric increase, statistical calculations lead us to the conclusion that the earth will be incapable of supplying enough food for the world's population before the end of the 22nd century (C.E.). It is projected that many of the world's natural resources, among which are minerals, oil reserves, etc., will run out. This poses a serious problem for the world. However, according to Torah belief, this outcome constitutes a most practical destiny for the world. The world as we know it now is to be renewed and completely restructured. It is to be freshly equipped to serve an entirely different purpose for man, not one of labor, material challenge, and technological advance. Thus, why would the Creator (who know His own plan for the world upon His initial creation of it) place an inexhaustible supply of material resources in a temporary world which has need for such resources only until the year 6000 (corresponding to the common era year of 2240?]
This Book Divided into Seperate Documents
It is beyond question that all of the creations of our universe came into existence only because the will of the Creator decreed that it be so. The same applies to all of the natural laws and the limitations associated with the universe. All of these [laws] were established only because the Creator in His wisdom understood that they were most suitable for the use of the creations He placed in the world. [This is what the world calls the laws of nature. Typically, people acknowledge such laws but, ironically, completely ignore the Master who instituted them!] However, just as He established these laws solely through His ill, in the very same way He can, at any time or period He desires, revoke them or alter them through His Will.
Events which the Creator causes to happen in the world contrary to the fixed set of natural laws which He established are called miracles (nissim).
By and large, the Master of the Universe wishes to run the world He created within the framework of its laws. Because He chose this particular system and designed it the way He did, it is certain that He knew it to be the best of all possibilities. Nonetheless, He does not refrain from changing these laws at the time He so desires for reasons known to Him.
It is possible that He may perform a miracle to make known the truth of His Divine Providence (hashgachaso) and His Omnipotence (yecholto). It is also possible that He performs a miracle because it is appropriate for use in dealing with a particular happening. Sometimes the reason behind such a miracle may be understood by invoking a rational interpretation of the occurrence and linking it to the overt and known features. It is also possible that the reason for that particular miracle may be connected to hidden aspects of the events and certain secrets of Divine Providence (hashgachah) which are involved. There are still other possible reasons for a miracle to occur which are not at all within the grasp of our mortal understanding.
Sometimes the Creator will bring about miracles through those dedicated servants which are close to Him. He does this to demonstrate the high esteem in which He holds such servants and the power which He vests in them to act in a way exercising mastery over the universe. Their degree of closeness to the Creator determines the extent to which they are granted the power to bring about miracles and wonders.
Belonging to the category of miracles is also the power of the Divine Names. It was the will of the Creator that he be called by various names. These names correspond to the concealed influences (hashpaos) which emanate from Him to His world and to the operational mode through which He administers His world. He desired and programmed into His universe processes which respond to these Holy names, and mere mention of them produces many miraculous wonders. He apportioned and designed these matters with wondrous wisdom, and he inserted a different potential power into each one. It was the Creator's design that by mentioning one of these particular names, a divine effect is triggered which consequently causes specific, unusual, and miraculous events to occur in the universe.
This Book Divided into Seperate Documents
[The following section is somewhat technical, for it deals with the mechanics and technicalities of the Written Torah and the Oral Law. Therefore, it is not for casual or quick reading. If you are a Yeshiva student or "Ben-Torah" it will bepart of your daily fare. For the layman, it is something to work on when you feel like biting into a challenge. If you need help, don't hesitate to ask someone to help you with it. At most, all it requires is some help accompanied by a desire to understand.
Although a mastery of this particular chapter should not be considered a prerequisite for studying Torah, still a general idea of the first part of this chapter, which illustrates the basic link between the written Torah and its Oral Law explanation, is most important.]
The Master of the Universe did not wish to write the Torah in such a simplified form that no explanation would be required. Quite to the contrary, He wrote in it many concealed things (devarim stumim). The true meaning of the concealed material is impossible to fathom by any man in the world without access to the explanations which were handed down through a chain of tradition (kabbalah), one which begins with G-d, the Author of the Torah, Himself. Examples of this concealment involve such mitzvohs as the mitzvoh of tefillin and the mitzvoh of mezuzoh, in regard to which we find commandments in the Torah. Those passages which deal with these commandments offer no explanation whatsoever as to what they actually are. [So how then could one know how to observe the commandments of the Torah?]
However, the truth is that the Master intentionally concealed the true meaning of His words for reasons known only to Him. However, all which He concealed in the written Torah (The Bible) He taught to Moshe Rabeinu orally, and from him the tradition - masorah (literally meaning "handing over") - was transmitted to the Sages generation after generation. Through this Oral Law tradition, the meaning of all passages are fully explained and make it possible for us to understand how to fulfill every aspect of the mitzvohs in just the way the Master wishes them to be done.
The harmonious interweaving of the contents of the Written Torah and their explanation, by way of the Kabbalah, is divided into three categories:
[Masorah and kabbalah constitute interchangeable terms. Both refer to the body of Oral Law explanations which was passed on from generation to generation. Masorah, which means handing over, focuses on the one handing over the knowledge, that is, the giver. In contrast, kabbalah means receiving; it spotlights the receiver. Each is part of the chain of tradition which comprises all of the knowledge embodied in the Oral Law. Therefore, they are one and the same. Because the secret wisdom of Torah (sodos haTorah) can only be acquired by receiving it orally from another, we also refer to it by the term kabbalah. However, as you see here, the term kabbalah is also used as a general term to describe the total body of Oral Law knowledge.]
The first): Torah passages with subject matter which is stated only in general rules of ambiguous terms. These do not specify details, but the details are filled in and fully explained by the masorah (or kabbalah). [Example: the aforementioned passages dealing with tefillin and mezuzah.]
The second): Torah passages, the textual meaning of which is uncertain because they can be interpreted in many ways [which conflict with one another], and for which the Oral Law masorah established the definitive explanation.
The third): Still more complicated Torah passages, in which, if we were to adhere faithfully to the text, then the implied intent emerges in one form; but the masorah states that the desired intent [of G-d] is radically different from the obvious interpretation. Regarding this category, our Sages z"l said, "The halacha [the authority of the Oral Law] supersedes the text." "halacha okeres es hamikra" (Sota 17b). Only a few passages fall into this third category. Most importantly, even here, if one takes the pains to probe the depths of the obvious interpretation, he will find that the literal meaning of the text neither contradicts the halachah entirely nor opposes it fully. Instead, upon close analysis, it is found that the text in its literal posture is being extrapolated in a certain vein and within certain delimitations.
Also, among those concepts which we have received from the masorah of the Oral Law is this one: The Author of the Torah, G-d wrote it in a specific format and utilized a unique set of rules. If we want to understand the intention of the Author, we must analyze and interpret the Torah according to those rules and the specific format which He employed. It follows that it may be possible to explain a passage in a manner which fits the text well, or to explain the text in what appears to be a still more fitting way, [than the Oral Law explanation]. Nevertheless, such an explanation will not be a true one for the particular passage because the intent of the Author Himself was a different one. These rules and their format make up the "13 Rules Through Which the Torah is Interpreted" "yud gimmel middos shehatorah nidreshet bahen," along with their full compliment of details.
One must also know that the core of all of the laws contained in the positive commandments (mitzvohs aseh) and in the negative prohibitions (mitzvohs lo sa'aseh) were all handed down from Moshe Rabeinu. Also, the Sages received the tradition that the teachings of the masorah are alluded to in the Written Torah (remazim heim b'Torah shebichtov) through various hints, and these hints themselves follow specific formulas known to the Sages. It was common knowledge and acknowledged by them that it was G-d's desire that we exert ourselves in this area in order to pinpoint those places in the text where the written Torah hints at the Oral Law rulings.
Not surprisingly, we find in the Talmud that each of the Sages went to great lengths to identify and define the hints in the text which, in his opinion, produced the most faithful match to the masorah's ruling. This is why you will often find in the Talmud discussions involving a search for proofs [from the Biblical text] for a specific law [known to us through the masorah] and disputes in some cases between the Sages about the validity of certain proofs. In some instances, you will find that, in the light of a simple logical explanation of the passages in question, the proofs will not fit adequately. However, the reason is as we have stated before: the law itself was known to the Sages by way of the masorah. What the Sages were attempting to do was to pinpoint the particular passage which hints at this law in the written Torah, all the time following through in the aforementioned procedures.
The Sages did not claim that the interpretation they gave to the text [serving as the source of a particular law] was the textual intent of that passage. What they meant to state was that this was what G-d, the author of the Torah, had inserted in that passage to serve as a desirable hint about the particular law and that the hint was discovered by the method used for the discernment of such allusion. The hint was only meant to provide an additional facet to what He wanted to express through the literal meaning of the text [the peshat]. Our sages sometimes term this allusion as asmachtah ("a support").
All of the material which we have been discussing relates to the various types of mitzvohs and laws of the Torah. However, when we deal with the category we call aggadohs (the sections of the Talmud and midrashim which deal in ethics and other non-halachic matters), other principles are involved. These I have explained in a separate essay ["Essay on the Aggodahs"].
Besides [the laws handed down through the masorah] there are other laws which comprise the "Rabbinic laws" (takanos chazal). [These were added in the generations after the receiving of the Torah and are invoked to fortify Torah observance.] Even in these cases, very delicate hints can be found in the passages of the Torah; this, too, is called asmachta. However, this variety of "asmachta" is much more superficial than is the first type which we have mentioned. The basic intent of this secondary type of hint is to serve as a focal point [or peg] for remembering a particular law. Nonetheless, our Sages did not refrain from viewing these Rabbinic laws as ones which have also been incorporated into the Torah's texts as hints - although in some cases the allusions may be very remote ones. Such hints as incorporated into a passage rest upon prescience, seeing into the future (tzipiyah b'asidos), for all is foreseen by G-d and He hinted [in His Torah] about everything [which will ever occur]. However, this particular area [the Rabbinic Laws] is not at all part of the explanation of the commandments. Therefore He alluded to them in a very abstract manner.
There are also other details of law which were not handed down, and the Sages derived them through logical reasoning processes or through the "13 Rules of Interpretation" [as mentioned previously]. Disputes can arise in regard to these laws. The decisionrendered, based also on a set of rules for deciding such disputes, is binding upon us. We must follow and fully abide by them. We cannot allow the fact that there is a dispute in the matter to weaken to any degree the validity of the final decision. This is exactly what G-d commanded us: if there be a dispute regarding the laws of the Torah, it must be decided by the bais din [when the Temple existed it was the "Sanhedrin," the Highest Court which decided], and the decision which emerges must be obeyed in an absolute fashion.
It has also been passed down to us by way of the commandment, "You shall not turn aside from that which they tell you, either to the right or to the left" (Deuteronomy 17:11). "Lo sasur min hadavar asher yegidu l'cha yamin u'smol," the Master intended that (a) the Jewish Courts and their Sages be empowered to issue decrees and to legislate laws, and (b) that we all are obliged to follow them, and (c) that no one may violate their directives in any manner or form. We must realize that all of these laws were legislated by the Sages to ensure the observance of the mitzvos of Torah itself and to do what is desirable in the eyes of G-d. These laws, then, are to be observed just as meticulously as all of the mitzvohs of Torah must be observed. Moreover, it has been passed down to us by the masorah that the intention of this commandment [of following the instructions of our Sages] is that we make "fences around the Torah."
It would have actually been appropriate that G-d Himself command us in the Torah about these very same laws. However, it was His desire that the laws originate through our own efforts and that we ourselves be the ones to initiate certain mitzvohs [the Rabbinic laws] according to the format of His Torah. He also desired that we do this by following the specific regulations and limitations which He provided for this purpose.
Therefore, there is no difference between our obligation to follow the commandments which have been explicitly expressed in the Torah and our duty to follow the enactments and decrees of our Sages (takanos chazal u'gezerosaihem). For, it was G-d's desire that we observe these [laws legislated by the Sages] along with those expressly-stated in the Torah. Likewise, just as the violation of expressly stated Torah laws is considered a rebellion against G-d's word, so too is the violation of any laws promulgated by the Sages. No distinction is made between the two types other than that which the Sages themselves have made. That is, where a bona fide doubt exists in cases of Torah law in regard to whether something is forbidden or permissible, doubt is resolved on the side of the stricter opinion; and, in cases of Rabbinical laws, the doubts are resolved in favor of the more lenient option.
Another example of such divine differentiation can be found among those laws belonging to the category of the negative commandments: adulterous relations by Torah ruling are punishable by koress (to be "cut off" spiritually) or by death sentences which are decreed by bais din. [The implementation depends on the particular adulterous relationship - for there are various Torah punishments for the respective kinds of forbidden sexual relationships.] In contrast, the wearing of shatnes [wearing a garment containing wool and linen is only forbidden by a negative commandment with no capital punishment involved.] Or, to cite another example: it is forbidden to derive any benefit from meat and milk [cooked together] yet cheilev (forbidden fat), although forbidden to be eaten, one may derive benefit when used for non-food purposes. These distinctions are there solely because they represent the boundaries established by G-d's will. However, our obligations are to observe the commandments within the specific, designated limits. In regard to the applicable limits, there is no difference whatsoever between one variety and another.
It follows then that for this specific reason the Sages saw fit to discuss so extensively [in the Talmud] many of the laws and decrees they promulgated. They discussed them in great detail and clarified their nature in complicated disputes, though they be only Rabbinic Legislation. In terms of binding obligation upon us to carry out these regulations, it was considered by them of equal importance that we obey the Rabbinic Laws and decrees and follow them as faithfully as the commandments of Torah itself. The only difference is that is was G-d's desire that the Rabbinic Laws come about in a special fashion, through our own efforts. Therefore, it is the very same, whether He commands us to put in tefillin between our eyes - or He commands us that we legislate decrees upon ourselves for the safeguarding of Torah. All it means is that the form of discharging one particular mitzvoh is in such and such a manner, and the form of executing another is in a different manner. The common denominator in both is that they represent the fulfillment of G-d's will and comprise acts of obedience to His Decree.
Included among the explanations which define this particular commandment our Sages have received [of following the words of the Sages] is this: power lies in the hands of the bais din to set aside a Torah regulation (yesh koach b'yad bais din l'vatel davar min haTorah) when it is done for the purpose of safeguarding the Torah itself.
This power is limited to a law which is set aside in a passive way (b'shev v'al ta'aseh) but not in an active way (b'kum aseh). It was upon this principle which the Sages made their decrees regarding the use of the shofar and lulav on Shabbos, as explained in the Mishna and Talmud. The Rabbis legislated that we refrain from fulfilling these mitzvohs because of the chance of inadvertently violating Shabbos. This was done by employing the authority of the masorah handed down to them (Rosh Hashanah 29b, Sukkah 42).
This Book Divided into Seperate Documents
This work is based on Ma'amar Ha'Ikarim - "Essay on Fundamentals," by R. Moshe Chayim Luzzatto zt"l (1707-1746), born in Padua, Italy, and died at the age of 39 in Eretz Yisrael. [A broader treatment, in even more depth and detailed structure but in a similar format, can be found in Derech Hashem - "The Way of G-d," by the same author. The study of it should follow the briefer selection presented here. Feldheim Publishers has available an extensively annotated English translation of superb quality by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan z"l.
The next step towards more advanced study would be Luzzato's Da'as Tevunos, available from Feldheim with English translation by Shraga Silverstein, entitled The Knowing Heart. It goes even further and focuses on the ultimate destiny of the Jewish People and why theirs is so different from that of the other nations of the world. However, since it is a difficult work, most people will get little out of it if they study it alone. It should be studied under the guidance of a teacher or a tutor who has mastered the material.]
1 The whole panorama of Jewish history proves this so perfectly. The continued existence of the Jewish people, "The one lamb surrounded by seventy wolves" (the nations of the world), miraculously surviving and thriving, is the clear reflection of G-d's intercession and monitoring of His world. The history of Purim and the sparing of the Jewish People form genocide, with all of the bizarre links in a chain of events that began with sure annihilation and ended in salvation and elevation, serve as the classical example of the concealed hand of G-d.
2 The term Hashem is used to denote G-d. It literally means "The Name," referring to that specific name which we do not wish to use freely because of its sacredness and holiness - G-d's name. Therefore, we use the term "The Name" which is understood to be a substituted for that unique and one-of-a-kind name that requires special treatment and deliberation before use in its proper form.
3 The Sefer HaYoshor calls this world, nivey ha'tlaohs, which means the "meadows or dwelling place of hardships." In our fantasies we hope this world will be "Happy-acres" or a place suited to a name like "Sunshine Meadows." Those wise men, who knew the world better, saw it as it really is.
4 He was one of the greatest reshoim of all times. As king, he dragged the Jewish people down into the mud of the most despicable wrongs.
5 We are now in the year 5754 counted from Creation - corresponding to the common-era year of 1994 - very close indeed!
The Kest-Lebovits Jewish Heritage and Roots Library
and is distributed by Feldheim Publishers
© 1994 Rabbi Yehudah Lebovits
Ohr Somayach Institutions is an international network of Yeshivot and outreach centers, with branches in North America, Europe, South Africa and South America. The Central Campus in Jerusalem provides a full range of educational services for over 685 full-time students. The Jewish Learning Exchange (JLE) of Ohr Somayach offers summer and winter programs in Israel that attract hundreds of university students from around the world for 3 to 8 weeks of study and touring.
Ohr Somayach International. Send comments to: email@example.com