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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Zoharia Yam and the Final Redemption!

My title sounds like the makings of a pretty heavy children's book.

Little Zoharia Yam, my granddaughter, had a celebration, a Simchat Bat they call it, in her honor yesterday, 27 years to the day since her father's brit mila. I think she will remember the occasion just about as well as Ezra remembers his brit.

I'll relate a few things I mentioned while sitting in the Sukkah and holding her on my lap (until she voiced her opinion of my thoughts and was removed to other quarters for a pick me up from her mother, Dorin).

The noun zohar זהר appears only twice in Tanach. The word at its root means to 'shed light' or 'give off light' (thus we get the word l'hazhir להזהיר– literally to cause light to be shed meaning to warn). It is related to the word tzohar  צהר which is the name for the sky light which God told Noah to build into the top of the ark. You might think that this variant implies something which accepts light given its placement in the top of the ark. However, there are implications from midrash that it was there to give off light from within.

Zohar is also related to the Aramaic cognate sohar סוהר and sihara סיהרא which refers to moonlight and moon respectively.

So these variants cover three aspects: Zohar-radiation of light, Sohar-reflection of light and Tzohar-giving and/or receiving of light. 

Tonight and tomorrow we celebrate the day after Sukkot known from a passage in the Torah as Shmini Atzeret. The word Atzeret literally means 'a stopping.' It is a holiday which is separate from but comes immediately after Sukkot. Later tradition has it that we celebrate the end and beginning of the Torah reading cycle on this holiday. Thus it is also known as Simchat Torah. 

But what is the nature of this holiday? 

Let's look for a moment back at Pessach. The main mitzvah on that holiday is to eat matzah (and back in the Temple times to eat that with the paschal sacrifice). The holiday goes for one week but we count seven weeks from the second day to get to the next holiday, Shavuot. Shavuot is known in the parlance of the mishnah as Atzeret. 

So on Pessach we turn inward in some essential way. It matters little where we eat but what we eat is essential.  

Pessach represents our g'ula, redemption, as a nation. We need(ed) time to move from our initial redemption until we could handle the receiving of the Torah at Shavuot. But then Shavuot became a kind of Atzeret--a stopping, that is an end or a way station in this process of g'ulah. 

On Sukkot, by contrast, it matters little what we eat but it is all important where we eat. We sit in the Sukkah and are surrounded by the mitzvah. We are pushing outwards now. 

The Torah in Parshat Pinchas tells us of the karban mussaf, the additional offering, which was brought on Sukkot and Shmini Atzeret. Part of the offering was oxen. The first day 13 were brought and then each day one less so that by the seventh day there were altogether 70 oxen brought. But then on Shmini Atzeret it drops down to one. 

Chazal tell us that the oxen offering which diminishes each day corresponds to the 70 nations which in the future will also diminish. Some people mistakenly think this means that the other nations besides Israel will die out. Not so.

The idea is that ultimately that which separates nations will die out. We will come together as a single 'nation' recognizing the single Creator. That singleness is symbolized by the single ox brought on Shmini Atzeret. Here we don't need to go through the 7 week cycle we had between Pessach and Shavuot--we go directly into the final redemption when we no longer need the sukkah or the matzah -- we just come to a unity of humanity with the Divine. 

May we merit to see the final redemption, the Zohar, a time which Chazal called 'a day which is entirely made of light.'  

Friday, September 17, 2010

Yom Kippur, Tumah, Taharah, Downfall and Purification

ויקרא פרק טז (ל) כִּי בַיּוֹם הַזֶּה יְכַפֵּר עֲלֵיכֶם לְטַהֵר אֶתְכֶם מִכֹּל חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם לִפְנֵי יְקֹוָק תִּטְהָרוּ:

Leviticus Chapter 16 (30): For on this day He will atone for you to purify you from all your sins; purify yourselves before God.

It is erev Yom Hakippurim and I am thinking about tahara-purification. As the above verse implies, we are striving to reach this state of purification particularly on this day. 

The laws of purity/impurity are vast and complex. Mostly they are not studied today even in yeshivot. In practical halacha the last vestiges of these laws are found in hilchot Niddah and the laws of washing one's hands before eating bread. 

But I will point out something you may already know: The Torah gives us many laws dealing with purities and various types of animals are considered impure. However, only human beings can become ritually impure and impart ritual impurity while alive--all other animals which give off impurity do so only when they are dead. 

So there is a correlation between taharah/purity and life; conversely there is a relationship between tumah/impurity and death. 

The m'tzora, for example, imparts tumah in much the same way that a dead human body does--even under a roofing without touching. So the m'tzora is kind of like 'dead man walking.' 

The m'tzora got his/her tumah, according to Chazal, for speaking ill of others (lashon hara). 

Thus, while one may think the laws of purities is removed from human relations they are in fact intimately entwined. 

Tumah can come upon one without knowledge or, more often, through carelessness. However, the Torah gives various methods of taharah/purification so that one may regain their prior state. 

Tomorrow evening the people of Israel will experience a collective taharah/purification. It will not last--that is part of the human condition. We sin, we are careless and worse. 

But there is always a way back to our previous state. Yet it is not precisely the previous state we reach but a higher level, like the next level on a spiral, which we only can reach because we fell before. 

Wishing all a g'mar chatima tova :)