Parshat Breishit : Orot Mei’Ofel

The author explains that the Rambam, when writing of happiness, is not saying that we are to serve the Lord happily; rather, he’s saying that our service is Simcha, being happy, living happily. Ed. Note: Dr. Hirsch on the Shalit deal is at end.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch

“The primeval Light is in the treasury of eternal life. The Almighty declared: ‘ Let there be lights from the darkness’- and so it was” ( from the Shacharit , morning prayers, of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur).

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” (Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, scene 7).

“In the beginning the Almighty created the heavens and the earth”(G-d, Genesis 1,1).

RavMatis Weinberg explains that on the recently completed holiday of Sukkot, the quintessential service of the holiday is Simcha, happiness. He proves this from the Rambam, who writes that “ the Simcha that a person ( adam) rejoices( on Sukkot)…is an avodah gedolah, a great service”( Hilchot  Sukkah, chap.8, halacha 15).

Rabbi Weinberg makes the point that the Rambam is not saying that we are to serve the Lord happily; rather, he’s saying that our service is Simcha, being happy, living happily.

The question is: how is this to be done?  The answer it related to this whole holiday season we’ve just had, and to the message of Parshat Breishit:

One way to look at our world is as Shakespeare’s Jacques did, above: “All the world’s a stage”.  This is a very Christian idea: the world’s a given, G-d created it , and our role is to act well or poorly on this stage, and in some future world we’ll receive good or bad reviews( reward or punishment).

But that is not the Jewish idea:

“And all the plants had not yet appeared on the earth.. for the Lord Almighty had not yet brought rain onto the earth, as man ( Adam) had not yet appeared , to work the land’ ( Genesis2,5).In the Sukkot season, we return to Gan Eden, surrounded by the Etrog from the Tree of Life and the Lulav( palm) from the Tree of Knowledge.

Rashi explains ( and Rav Weinberg elaborates)  that without man to pray for rain, there was no rain: and so  with no Adam to pray( avoda= service) , there were no plants, and Creation (the Briah) was not complete. There was no stage before the appearance of man;if man does not create, there IS no Creation. In Jewish thought, man is a partner (shutaf) in Creation. Just as those Shacharit prayers, quoted above, continue with the assertion  that G-d “ in his Goodness is mechadesh ( renews) every day, in perpetuity, the work of Creation”- so too man is to continuously (Hilchot Teshuva, 7:1-2)  use his creative power, called Teshuva, to become an active partner in Creation.

This mutuality in the Briah, Creation, is what gives man a significant place in the universe. It is, for example, why we do Brit Mila: it’s the sign that we humans are equal partners  with G-d in Creation, finishing off the job He started. 

The Talmud relates how pagan Roman Turnus Rufus debated Rabbi Akiva over just this principle; to the pagan, this world is a stage, to take things for ourselves, not to perfect as partners in Creation. Even the Christian fundamentalist, and many observant Jews, believe that the function of this world is exclusively as a staging point for the big payoff in the world to come, with no other importance.

This idea is what led to that melancholy speech by Jacques in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. This is  the constant refrain of King Solomon in Kohelet( Ecclesiastes), it’s all “vanity of vanities, havel havalim”.

Unless one has the patient of a saint, waiting a lifetime for that big payoff in Heaven,  that is  the depressing conclusion one would reach about this world, in the pagan, Christian view.

But not in the Jewish world. We live in a world powered by Tshuva, the human energy of Creation.

We are put here to rebuild our lost Eden by acts of “l’avda ( service,avoda)  u’lshomra (guarding)”(Genesis 2,15). Through the millennia of history, our task is to follow the “path of the Tree of Life” in a world ultimately perfected by our consciousness and service.

This is a triumphant quest, not some melancholy story of an ‘ original sinner” repeated ad infinitum throughout endless, pointless Time( see Kohelet chapter 3).B’simcha,happily  we develop this physical world( both physically and spiritually), and thereby build a “World to Come” right here in this world; our happy World to Come is a continuation of, and subsumes, this world of the here and now .

Aptly, it is in Orot Ha’Teshuva that Rav Kook finds a practical lesson from all this, for our task of nation building( Chap.12, 12; as elaborated on by Rav Tzvi Yehuda Tau¸Emunat Iteinu, vol. 8 , pages 222-230).  The Almighty created our universe ,” heaven and earth”, along a blueprint of His thoughts,i.e. lofty spiritual ideals. His plan is that these spiritual principles be actualized in this physical world ; this by definition necessitated a lowering of the spiritual, to the lowly, physical realm.

But the Orot, the holy spiritual thoughts of the Lord, still exist – in the physical world, in our very souls- undiluted, unsullied.

For these plans to be actualized by men, G-d needed men of energy , motivation and understanding of agriculture, banking, warfare, etc. These  men are not commonly to be found among your typical “yeshiva  bocharim( students)”, and thus the plans take on aspects of “Ra”, evil, impurity: hakol mesai’im l ’Melech malchei ham’lachaim”- all help the King of Kings( midrash shochar tov, Tehillim,chap.24). “

It is only a yeridat  sha’ah l’tzorech aliya” , a temporary descent for the purpose of ultimate elevation back to the plan’s pure spiritual core, which never disappeared, but was constantly driving the physical progress. “Orot  mei’ophel  amar vayehi”, Light from Darkness, declares  the Lord.

Anyone who sins, furthers himself not only from G-d and Torah, but also from Nation, since the basis of our Jewish nationalism is our Divine soul and its pure Light .

Those who follow this Light are “ chamushim b’Koach tzidkat Hashem” , armed with the might of godly righteousness, which expresses itself in two ways: a belief in the historic process of our Redemption; and a belief in the inner Segula, treasured Divine core of every soul in Israel, which is not darkened by any Darkness.

Rabbis Kook/Tau finish thus: “ When Israel rises up in this world and, utilizing the lofty Divine presence that resides within the national soul of Israel,  lights up all the Darkness, then  all the Cosmos will testify to this zidkat Hashem ( godly righteousness)”. All of Creation will reach its completeness in all aspects, physical and spiritual; this wholeness will lead to Sukkot’s Simcha(happiness; indeed, all of the Haftorot of Sukkot deal with this issue of the world of Moshiach/Messiah).

And this testimony is the culminating verses of the Haftorah of Parshat Breishit:  “ G-d wishes, for the sake of His ideal righteousness( tzidkat Hashem, again), that  His servant  (who does His avodah) establish His Torah in its greatness and power …for you are eidai  v’avdi asher bacharti , my witnesses and servant whom I have chosen, saith the Lord “( Isaiah 42,21 and 43, 10).

Question of the Week             

Although Pesach is the usual time for questions, the release of Gilad Shalit prompts me to ask one question this Sukkot:

How does one tunnel  under a tank? Tanks do move, don’t  they?

As it turns out, not this one.  Not the tank which is now the most famous one in Israel: the tank that Gilad Shalit was sitting in when Gazan terrorists tunneled under it, killed his commander and  its other two crew-members, and kidnapped Gilad.

They could not complete that tunnel in one night.

The truth is that all tank crews in the Gaza area are under orders not to sit in the same spot night after night, in order to prevent precisely what happened to the crew of Shalit’s tank.

Those orders were in place in 2006 when Shalit was kidnapped. Gilad’s tank commander was well aware of those orders when he sat in the same spot night after night for weeks, making his tank a prime terrorist target.  And that commander paid for disobeying orders with his life. He was killed.

Gilad Shalit was disobeying those same orders when he sat in that tank  in one spot outside Gaza night after night for a month. In essence, he disobeyed orders, and foolishly endangered his life.

In fact, subsequent to his kidnapping, when  Army  instructs tank crews, it uses Gilad’s  bad example for what not to do when a tank crew guards outside Gaza.

Is any Jew obligated to endanger his life,  the lives of those who may be killed by freed terrorists,  to save someone who foolishly takes chances with his own? Is the government of Israel obligated to save Gilat Shalit ?