Friday, June 17, 2011

SHELACH; agents of the exile

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Exile can be a state of mind. But it can also be very real. The Nation of Israel was on track to be united with the Land of Israel, when the sin of the spies caused a deep rupture, thus delaying the reunion until the passing of the generation that was accustomed to a negative slave mindset. Thus the exile of the mind led to an exile of the body. Our thoughts determine who we are to become, and what our destiny will be.

The Torah identifies two agents of the exile. One agent leading us to sin was the organ of vision, viz. the eyes. In Eden man saw himself as larger than G*d, and thus his eyes caused him to disobey, leading to the first exile, the exile from Eden. This new exile similarly was caused by the eyes, but this time the sin was that man saw himself as being too small, just the opposite of Eden.

"..We were IN OUR EYES like tiny grasshoppers, that's all that we were IN THEIR EYES (vanhi v'eyneynu kachagavim v'chen hayinu b'eyneyhem - NUM 13:33).

The use of eyes attributed to both the Canaanites and Israel is possibly indicative that this smallness of vision was a universal pathology. The fixing or corrective for the sin of Eden was not that man should think of himself as being small, G*d forbid, but rather that he should see his own greatness as a reflection of G*d's greatness and thus become a partner with G*d to fix the world. Obeying G*d is essentially forming a partnership with the Divine.

The corrective for the sin of the eyes are the phylacteries which are worn during morning prayers. As they are placed as "frontlets between the eyes," they have the power to lift us up to a higher vision of ourselves. Ayin is the Hebrew word for eye, but it also means wellspring, as in maayan. Thus what we focus on with our mind's eye becomes the maayan/source of our inspiration for achieving our own greatness. We should be blessed to focus only on the positive. In other words our thoughts and attitudes markedly effect the outcome of our desired aims.

The other agent of the exile is the organ of action - the arm. Moses in his anger and rage disobeyed G*d and struck the rock to bring forth water. Now he himself, the leader of Israel, would in turn be denied entrance to the Land of Israel. His anger and rage, made manifest in his actions, led to his personal exile. We can apply this to our own lives. How often do our moments of anger cause us to be exiled emotionally from our friends and loved ones? Even an isolated and rare outburst can cause untold emotional damage.

The corrective for the sin of anger and angry action are again the phylacteries - those which are worn during morning prayers and wound around the arm and the hand. As they are tied as a sign upon the hand, they have the power to lift us up so that we engage in behaviors which sanctify the world and which bring humanity closer to its Divine Source.

There is anger, but there is also the acting out of the anger. They are not the same, not identical. G*d became angry at times with Israel, but Moshe was able to assuage that anger. The tefillin on the arm in a sense symbolize that binding, that sense of restraint, that can save us from irrevocable action we may later regret. The yad is the hand, but it also symbolizes the ten spies who spoke negatively about the Land. By gazing at the yad we can recall and fix through our speech that which had impacted us so negatively. We can say dai, enough, by just switching the letters yud and dalet, and become more conscious of how our words can impact others.

At the end of our parsha, Shelach (NUM 13:38), we have the mitzvah of wearing fringes on our garments:...veasu lahem tzitzit al kanfei bigdeyhem ledorotam...have them make tassels on the corners of their garments for all their generations."

This is already a sign of our healing. The reference to future generations speaks to Israel's eternal mission. Tzitz, the singular, is the diadem of gold that the High Priest wore on his forehead (LEV 8:9). Tzitzit is the plural, and yet, it lacks the letter yud which indicates the plural form. It is spelled Tzadi, Yud, Tzadi, Tav. The missing letter Yud (numerical value of 10) reminds us of the ten spies who caused Israel to sin. More importantly, it reminds us that just as the kohen gadol, the high priest, had the words Kodesh laShem, Holy to G*d, engraved on his Tzitz, his golden diadem, so too *all* of Israel, as represented by the Yud, the community of ten, are enjoined to strive to be Holy before G*d for all their generations. Phylacteries are essentially that - spiritual prophylactics to prevent and ward off the potential for spiritual exile which inheres within each of us, both as individuals and as a nation, when we lack control over our attitudes and how we manifest our capacity to become angry at others.

The Tefillin Shel Rosh, the head tefillin which rest above and between the eyes, serves as the symbolic spiritual prophylactic for the nation- in the realm of thought and vision, while the Tefillin Shel Yad, the arm tefillin, serve as a spiritual prophylactic for their actions in the realm of deed.

The Tzitzit, the fringed garment, points to a unity between the people and its spiritual leadership, in that one day all of Israel will come to take on its destined priestly role to serve G*d and to serve the nations, bringing them closer to recognizing the One G*d. The Tzitzit are a fixing for the sin of the spies: one cannot become a model nation for the world to emulate without first securing your own nation firmly in faith.

"Ve lo taturu acharei levavchem ve'acharei eyneychem..." -"and so that you not go on a tourist vacation without responsibility following after your heart and your eyes..."

Being that this passage follows the narrative of the spies and actually uses the same word root (laTuR), it is clear that the tallit is therefore a fixing for the sin of our forefathers when their eyes and their hearts led them astray. Levavchem (your hearts) is in the plural. Just as we have two eyes we also have two hearts: the good eye and the evil eye have their parallels in the good inclination and the evil inclination, which are rooted metaphorically in the heart.

Thus we have the potential for either an ayin tova ( a good, generous eye/disposition) or an ayin ra'ah ( a bad, stingy eye/disposition). Likewise we can have a lev tov ( a good heart - i.e., judging others favorably, or a lev ra (a bad heart - i.e., judging others poorly, without giving them the benefit of the doubt). A lev tov, it is written in Pirkei Avot, encompasses all the other good traits.

The tallit envelops us, ensconces us, serving as a reminder of G*d's own generous eye and expansive heart. The thread of blue in the tallit reminds of heaven. It gives us hope. The Kabbalah teaches that Tikva, or hope, is connected to the word yiKaVu, as in yikavu hamayim, from Genesis. There is an opening created, a channel, allowing the light to pour in. As Leonard Cohen, the poet/singer has said, "there is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."
Hashem made the first holy crack to let in the holy rays of light.

This supernal ray of light connects us to creation, and in wearing the tallit we connect with the primordial hope instilled within the cosmos at the dawn of creation. Our morning prayers, when we don all the three- the Tallit and the two Batei Tefillin, the two phylacteries, are to bring us closer to the realization of the dream- to end our collective soul exile and thus restore Eden's vision of harmony in our lives. May it come quickly and soon in our day.

Shabbat Shalom!
Good Shabbos!

© 2000 - 2011 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen Melman, z"l and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)

1 comment:

Leeba said...

Beautifully written and a nice lesson. Thank you.

Btw, as a woman, I see a man wearing Tzitzits and I admire them for doing so. This holds a very special place in my heart and brings back memories of my dear grandfather.

Again, thank you.



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When I was young I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.- Abraham Joshua Heschel
The whole world is a very narrow bridge. And the most important thing is to not be afraid.
-Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
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About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!