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Blog - Torah Insights

The Woman Who Will Plant a Seed - תזריע

 

The Woman Who Will Plant a Seed


The third book of the Torah includes two extreme topics, one of intense holiness and the second describing ritual impurity. The book begins with the discussion of the offerings, which are presented in the temple and bring the person closer to G-d. It continues by describing “the eighth day”, the day the Divine presence rested upon the tabernacle. Yet, soon after, the book describes many forms of unholiness and ritual impurity that a person is subject to. 


The tension between the extremes of holiness and ritual impurity emerges from the fact that every person is indeed a hybrid of body and soul, finitude and infinity, physical and spiritual. 


And so, a recurring underlying theme of the book is the question of how to navigate the tension between the physical and spiritual dimensions of our personality. The easier path is to choose one and stick to it. Later in the book, we read about the corrupt behavior of the Egyptians and the Canaanites, who succumbed to the animalistic side of the human being. Yet, earlier in the book, we read about the two sons of Aaron who perished because they drew too close to G-d, entering the temple and offering a foreign fire because they wanted to escape the mundane physical world and be subsumed within spirituality and holiness. 


The more difficult but proper path is to follow what the Kabbalists refer to as “running and returning.” We must desire to cleave to holiness and spirituality, and we begin our day with a devotion to spirituality, yet, in order to fulfill our purpose in this world, we “return” to the physical world, a place susceptible to pain, negativity, and impurity, in order to sanctify it.  


Our portion focuses primarily on the intricate laws of tzaraat, a form of ritually impure skin discoloration. Yet the opening statement of the Parsha inspires us on how to live in the “run and return” model. The verse states: 


And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the children of Israel, saying: a woman who will conceive {literally seed} and give birth (Leviticus 12:1-2) 


The relationship between G-d and the Jewish people is likened to the relationship between man and woman. The Hebrew word for woman, “ishah”, originates from the verse in Genesis where Adam proclaims: “This one shall be called ishah (woman) because this one was taken from ish (man).” Isha alludes to the state of the Jewish people, the woman, when they feel part of, and therefore, drawn to G-d. Yet, even when we feel the yearning and desire to cleave to our beloved, the verse continues, “will give seed,” we must descend to earth and plant holiness in the most unlikely place, the physical plane. 


When we “return” to saturate the earth with holiness, we are assured that we will “give birth”, that ultimately, the seeds of goodness we plant will sprout, grow, and give birth to a transformed reality. We are assured that we, individually and collectively, will fulfill the purpose of creation, which is to create a dwelling place for G-d in the physical world.   


Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Likkutei Sichos Tazria vol. 1 



The Infinity of Eight - שמיני

 

The Infinity of Eight 


Finally, after many months of construction and seven days of preparation, the children of Israel reached the climactic eighth day. Finally, after months of effort and anticipation, the Divine presence rested in the Tabernacle. As the Torah tells us:  


And Moses and Aaron went into the Tent of Meeting. Then they came out and blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people.

And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fats upon the altar, and all the people saw, sang praises, and fell upon their faces. (Leviticus 9:23-24)


If G-d is everywhere, why did he command us to build a home for him in a specific place? If G-d is spiritual, why does he ask for a physical home? A similar but broader question: If G-d is spiritual and transcendent, why do we need concrete and physical acts, the Torah's 613 commandments, to connect to him? 


The answer is that spirituality or infinity do not capture the essence of G-d, who is undefinable. The only thing we know about G-d is that he cannot be defined. G-d cannot be confined to the spiritual realm, for G-d defies all definitions. As the Kabbalists write: "the Infinite light is completely perfect, just like Hecan express himself in the realm of the finite, so too He can express himself in the realm of the infinite." G-d can be grasped only in the interface between physical and spiritual, which indicates that he transcends them both. Therefore, when G-d chooses to express himself within finite space and within a physical act, when G-d invests his infinity within a defined space, that is when we touch the essence of G-d.


This is expressed in the name of the Parsha "Eighth." The number seven represents the natural cycle and includes the six days of creation, which represent the physical domain, and the seventh day of Shabbat, which represents holiness and spirituality. The number eight, by contrast, transcends the division between material and spiritual, holy and mundane, and represents the fusion of the two, where the infinite G-d enters the finite space. 


"Know G-d in all your ways." Judaism teaches us to connect to G-d not only by praying and studying but also by infusing our daily physical acts with spiritual meaning. Because only within the synthesis of the physical and spiritual can we touch the essence of G-d, which transcends them both. 


Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Shmini 5762

Constant Fire - צו

 

Constant Fire 


How does one keep motivated and inspired? How does one ignite one’s inner passion? In other words, how does one kindle their inner Menorah? 


This week’s Torah portion gives us insight. 


The Menorah, which stood within the sanctuary, and represents the fire within the heart, is kindled from the fire upon the “outer altar”, which stood outside in the sanctuary’s courtyard. 


The Torah states: 


And the fire on the Altar shall burn on it; it shall not go out. The Kohen shall kindle wood upon it every morning, and upon it, he shall arrange the burnt offering and cause the fats of the peace offerings to [go up in] smoke upon it.

A continuous fire shall burn upon the Altar; it shall not go out. (Leviticus 6:5-6)


Addressing the words “a continuous fire,” which are redundant since the verse also states that the fire “shall not go out”, Rashi explains that the word “continuous” alludes to the fire of the Menorah, which is ignited from the fire of the Altar: 


A continuous fire: The fire which the Torah calls “constant” is that with which they would light the lamps {of the Menorah}, about which it says, “to light a constant lamp.” It, too, should be kindled {using fire} from the Outer Altar. 


The Menorah, the inner fire of inspiration, is ignited from the outside altar, representing the external part of the person and his relationship with people outside of himself. The Torah tells us that instead of seeking inspiration that will inspire ourself, we should engage in action that will ignite our inner inspiration. If we want our inner emotions, our “Menorah,” to feel kind, we should engage in acts of kindness; if we want our hearts to be filled with love, we should begin with loving acts. And, we ignite joy within our hearts from the joy we bring to others. 


Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos, 17 Tzav Sicha 2


Adam Reappears - ויקרא

Adam Reappears

 

The name “Adam”, the first human being, does not appear in the Torah for most of the book of Genesis and the entire text of Exodus. As a result of the sin of the tree of knowledge, Adam became distant from G-d, and is therefore not mentioned again in the Torah.  

 

Yet, in the opening statement of the third book of the Torah, Adam makes a surprising reappearance. The Torah says:  

 

And He {G-d} called to Moses, and the Lord spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying, Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When Adam {a man} 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)

 

The Midrash explains that the verse uses the term “Adam,” one of the four words that mean “man,” in order to allude to Adam, the first human being. As Rashi explains:

 

a man: Hebrew Adam, Why is this term used here {as opposed to “Ish”}? {It alludes to Adam, the first man on earth, and teaches us:} Just as Adam, the first man, never offered sacrifices from stolen property, since everything was his, so too, you must not offer sacrifices from stolen property. 

 

Adam reappears in the third book because, at this point in history, Adam has been rectified. When Adam and Eve sinned, they were expelled from the Garden of Eden, where they lived in peace, tranquility, and closeness to G-d. The Midrash describes how due to the sin G-d’s Divine presence was expelled from the world in the sense that it was no longer felt and accessible within the world. Yet, at the culmination of the book of Exodus, the Jewish people built the tabernacle, recreating a home for G-d in this world. As the verse states (40:34): “And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan.” 

 

The temple was built, G-d once again had a home on earth, Eden was restored to the earth, and Adam was rectified.  

 

Adam has been rectified. It is now up to his children to extend the holiness of the temple, and expand the atmosphere of the Garden of Eden, to the entire earth.  

 

(Adapted from Tzror Hamor)


 

 

The Cloud on the Tent of Meeting - פקודי

 

The Cloud on the Tent of Meeting 


The final chapter of the book of Exodus describes the culmination of a great national effort to build a temple that would house the presence of G-d. Finally, after months of donating, building and anticipation, the chapter concludes with the description of how the Divine presence rested upon the temple: 


He {Moses} set up the courtyard all around the Mishkan and the altar, and he put up the screen at the entrance to the courtyard; and Moses completed the work.

And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the L-rd filled the Mishkan.

Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud rested upon it and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan. (Exodus 40:33-35)


The Jewish people built the temple in order to sense the closeness to G-d; to witness how He would dwell in their midst. Yet, surprisingly, the book ends, not with the excitement of revelation but with concealment - Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because of the cloud. 


Chassidic Philosophy explains that sometimes “concealment” is, in fact, superior to “revelation” because “concealment” can represent the level that is far beyond our comprehension and our ability to perceive. This explains why the book concludes with concealment, because the “cloud” represents the essence of G-d that transcends our understanding. 


Nevertheless, the third book of the Torah, Leviticus, begins with an expression of revelation and closeness: “And He {G-d} called to Moses, and the L-rd spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying.” This expresses the Chassidic principle that when revelation follows concealment, the revelation is far more profound. It is a revelation of the essence, which was previously concealed. 


This pattern, where revelation follows concealment because it represents a far more profound revelation, is reflected in our life as well. We all occasionally experience challenge, confusion, and spiritual darkness, when we feel distant from G-d and distant from our true potential. We must realize that the purpose of the darkness is to enable us to reach a greater awareness and revelation when we overcome the “concealment ” and return to a place of inspiration and positivity. Because, as explained, the light that follows darkness is a far more profound level of revelation. 


Perhaps this is the overarching theme of the Book of Exodus. The unprecedented revelation at Mount Sinai and at the Tabernacle follow the darkness of Egyptian slavery because the darkness of slavery is an opportunity to reach the far more profound revelation, the revelation that follows the concealment. 


Adapted from the Rebbe’s teachings, Lekutei Sichos Pekudei vol. 1. 

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