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Blog - Torah Insights

The Human Hybrid - ויקרא

 

The Human Hybrid

 

The first commandment of the third book of the Torah begins with the word Adam.  

Adam, which means Man or human being, is a complicated creature with conflicting and extreme drives. The word Adam itself captures the tension between these opposite extremes. In the book of Genesis the Torah tells us that “Adam” (man) was formed from the “Adamah” (earth):    

And the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living soul. (Genesis 2:7).  

The implication is that the human being is essentially an earthly existence, who is drawn to his source, the earth, and whose aspirations and desires are physical and earthly.    

The Kabbalists, however, teach us to look deeper than what appears at the surface and discover the often hidden reality. The word Adam has another meaning as well. Adam comes from the word “Adameh”, which means “similar”, based on the verse “I will be similar to the One above”. According to this meaning Adam’s essential quality is that, at his core, he is a spiritual being, a reflection of the Divine.   

Indeed man is a hybrid of heaven and earth. Adam possesses two souls, two essential drives. Part of man is similar to earth, self-oriented, concerned exclusively with physical well being and comfort. Yet that does not capture the full story of the human being, for man is also an Adam, “similar to the Divine”. Part of man seeks to transcend the confines of self and, like a flame surging upward, seeks to reconnect to his source in heaven. 

The opening portion of the third book of the Torah, the book of Vayikra, offers the roadmap to resolving the built-in tension within man. The opening commandment of the third book presents the laws of the offerings. G-d tells Moses:  

Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When a man [Adam] from [among] you brings a sacrifice to the Lord; from animals, from cattle or from the flock you shall bring your sacrifice. (Leviticus 1:2) 

To create harmony within the human being man must seek, not only to come close to G-d but also to draw the animalistic, self-oriented, side of self to appreciate and value holiness and spirituality. The beginning of the verse addresses the G-dly soul within the person: “when a man [Adam] from among you brings a sacrifice to the Lord”. The second half of the verse “from animals, from cattle or from the flock you shall bring your sacrifice”, refers to the animal soul within man. The Hebrew word for sacrifice is “Karban” which means to draw close. G-d tells us that if the Divine soul within us desires to come close to heaven, we must resist the urge to forget about the animal side of self. Instead we must bring along the animal with us. We must channel the passion and desire of the animal soul to desire and connect to the spiritual. We must teach our animal, that the most pleasurable thing in life, is to connect to something greater than ourselves.    

Man is a hybrid of heaven and earth, Adam is both from the earth and similar to the Divine. The third book of the Torah, which focuses on the laws of the offerings, teaches us to manage the tension within our soul, to strive that not only our G-dly soul but also our animal soul, be drawn to the Divine. 

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos, Vayikra vol. 1).

 

Learning From the Temple’s Vessels - ויקהל פקודי

Learning From the Temple’s Vessels  

The Torah devotes no less than four portions to the details of the temple constructed by the Jewish people in the desert. Our sages teach that G-d dwells, not only in the physical temple but also in the temple each of us creates within our own heart. We must, therefore, read these portions with a careful eye on the details, for hidden within the details lies insight on how to build a temple for G-d in our life. How to fill our own environment with holiness and inspiration. 

If we look carefully we will see that the three vessels of the temple, the ark, the table and the alter, differ in their dimensions in the following way. 

All the dimensions of the ark were half cubits:

They shall make an ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits its length, a cubit and a half its width, and a cubit and a half its height. (Exodus 25:10)

The table’s dimensions were mixed, some of the cubists were complete, and some were half cubits: 

And you shall make a table of acacia wood, two cubits its length, one cubit its width, and a cubit and a half its height. (25:23)

Unlike the ark and the table, all the dimensions of the altar were complete: 

You shall make an altar for bringing incense up in smoke; you shall make it out of acacia wood.

It shall be one cubit long and one cubit wide, a square, and two cubits high; its horns shall be [one piece] with it. (30:1-2)

The dimensions of the vessels contain a powerful and transformative lesson for our own life. 

The ark, which contained the Torah, represents wisdom. The only way to acquire wisdom is to realize that we are “half”. Our knowledge, our perspective, is incomplete. Possessing much information makes one knowledgeable, but not wise, for wisdom is the capacity to appreciate the mystery of infinite knowledge. The Hebrew word for wisdom, “Chochmah”, consists of two words: “Koach Mah”, which means “the ability to ask, what?”. In order to attain wisdom, the dimensions of the ark teach us, one must always see himself as “half”, as incomplete. This will inspire the person to seek to grow and increase in wisdom.   

The table with its bread represents the blessings of material possessions, for Judaism teaches that we can serve G-d not only when we study Torah but also when we enjoy physical blessing. The dimensions of the table, however, were complete. The lesson is that in order for a person to enjoy material blessing he must follow the teaching of the Mishnah: “Who is wealthy? One who is satisfied with his lot”. In order for a person to benefit from material wealth one must feel as if he has everything he needs in order to fulfill his purpose on earth. 

Many people harbor the illusion that if they would have more wealth they would be happy. If they could only afford a vacation, car, private jet, or if they could only get into the next tax bracket, they would, they tell themselves, finally be happy. Yet the dimensions of the table, as well as human nature, tell us otherwise. Only the dimension of the height of the table was incomplete: one and a half cubits, . The lesson is that unless one learns to be satisfied with their lot, one will never be happy and always feel as if he is lacking and incomplete. 

The altar is the only vessel whose dimensions were complete: one cubit, by one cubit, by one cubit. The altar represents serving G-d through prayer and the performance of good deeds. Only through devotion and service to G-d can man become complete. A person by definition is finite and flawed, only by connecting to his source in heaven, can man escape the state of incompleteness and reconnect to infinity.

(Adapted from the Kli Yakar, Parshas Terumah).

Are Jews Stubborn? - כי תשא

Are Jews Stubborn?

It’s a tragic story. The Jewish people betrayed G-d on their honeymoon. Just forty days after they heard the Ten Commandments in G-d’s voice, while still camped at Mount Sinai, the Jewish people served the golden calf. 

Moses turns out to be the hero of the story. G-d wanted to destroy the people, yet Moses using multiple arguments, persuaded G-d to not only forgive the people, but also to give them the second set of tablets (since Moses smashed the first set of tablets), and to reaffirm his covenant with the people. 

Among the arguments that Moses put forth to evoke forgiveness, we read: 

"If I have now found favor in Your eyes, O Lord, let the Lord go now in our midst because they are a stiff-necked people, and You shall forgive our iniquity and our sin and thus secure us as Your possession." (Exodus 34:9)

This verse is seemingly strange: Moses asks G-d to forgive the people “because they are a stiff-necked people”, but why is being “stiff-necked” a reason to forgive? It would make sense for Moses to ask that they should be forgiven despite being a stiff-necked people. But why is being  “stiff-necked” a reason to forgive? 

The truth is that almost every force and energy in the world is neither good nor bad, but rather neutral. Stubbornness is a case in point. The stubbornness of the Jews caused them to sin and harm their relationship with G-d. Moses, however, put forth a brilliantly novel argument: stubbornness is a cause for forgiveness because that quality would allow the Jewish people to cleave to G-d despite all the persecution and difficulties they experienced. Moses makes the point that the only way the Jewish people would survive throughout history, when mighty empires come and go, is because of their steadfast, stubborn, faith and devotion to G-d and his Torah. 

Moses teaches us how to look at the seemingly negative aspects of our personality, and inspires us to realize that every part of our character can indeed be used to enhance our relationship with G-d and holiness. The “stubbornness”, when channeled correctly, is a cause for forgiveness, and will reveal the best within ourselves. 

 

Make Some Noise - תצוה

Make Some Noise

The high priest wore eight garments as he performed the service in the sanctuary. The garments were designed for “honor and beauty”. One critical component of the garments was the bells at the hem of the robe. As the Torah commands:  

And on its bottom hem you shall make pomegranates of blue, purple, and crimson wool, on its bottom hem all around, and golden bells in their midst all around...

It shall be on Aaron when he performs the service, and its sound shall be heard when he enters the Holy before the Lord and when he leaves, so that he will not die. (Exodus 28:33-35)

Why was the noise so important? Why was it so critical that “his sound shall be heard”, to the extent that if the sound was not heard he would die? It is even more surprising when we consider that the garments the high priest wore when he entered the holy of holies on Yom Kippur did not have bells and did not produce noise!  

Noise is a symbol of passion. When a person experiences the extraordinary or unusual the person becomes excited and enthused. This is reflected in the spiritual service of a Jew. There are moments when a Jew is in a spiritual state of tranquility, when he or she feels close to G-d, in touch with his or her soul, and in harmony with his mission and purpose. When experiencing this state of harmony a Jew is in a state of “righteousness”. There are however moments when a Jew feels chaos and tension within himself. He feels pulled away from his spiritual purpose and source and pulled towards his destructive impulses. In these moments, life is more of a battlefield than a vacation resort. In  these moments, a Jew must cultivate a sense of strength and must passionately “escape” the forces of negativity just as one would run to escape danger. 

Ironically, the interaction with negativity creates passion and “noise” which surpasses the energy of the “righteous”, tranquil, individual. For the passion of the escape from negativity can create a more profound yearning and desire to connect to G-d. 

The Torah tells the high priest that when entering the temple he must appreciate and represent not just the people who naturally feel connected to holiness, but rather Aharon must appreciate that G-d values the passion and noise produced by the struggle. 

On Yom Kippur, the day of the year, when the essence of every Jew is revealed, there were no bells on the garments of the high priest. On Yom Kippur, every Jew is in a state of “righteousness”. There is no struggle because every soul feels at home with G-d. The rest of the year, however, the Torah teaches us to celebrate the struggle. For the noise produced by transforming the negativity is precisely the noise that G-d is waiting to hear. 

(Adapted from Lekutei Sichos 16 Tizaveh 2). 

 

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