Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Chagigah 22 – Enmity of the ignorant

People who are knowledgeable (called “chaverim,” or trusted friends) are subject to less regulations than the ignorant (called “am haaretz,” or the “people of the land.”) For example, the additional precautions regarding purifying vessels in a mikveh apply only to the ignorant. However, this does not go well with the ignorant, and causes their enmity toward the learned.

Here is an example. Holy objects are accepted for sacrifice from the ignorant, in the hope that they did prepare them in purity. However, the priest's portion, “terumah” is not accepted by the knowledgeable priests, because perhaps the ignorant made it impure by mistake, and it would be forbidden to eat it. This seems illogical. If anything, we should not believe the ignorant about the priest's portion, which is less strict, and not on sacrifices!

Look at consequences though. If a knowledgeable priest refuses to accept a portion from an ignorant, then the ignorant will be upset, but at worst he will now go and give his unrequited portion to his ignorant friend priest. However, if the priests do not accept his items for sacrifices, he may go and build himself another Temple – therefore, they accept his oil and wine, presuming them to be pure.

Rabbi Yehoshua could not understand some of the opinions of Beit Shammai regarding ritual purity, and he exclaimed, “You should be ashamed of yourself, the (already dead) Sages of Beit Shammai!” One of the students explained to him the reason related above, about ignorant people not accepting that their utensil were impure, and thus elucidated the logic.” As a result, Rabbi Yehoshua fasted many days, until his teeth blackened, since he has offended the memory of the Sages wrongly, and Beit Hillel changed their rulings to agree with those of Beit Shammai.”

Art: A Barn Interior With A Still Life Of Kitchen Utensils And An Owl, Two Men Beside A Fire Beyond By David The Younger Ryckaert

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Chagigah 21 – How is one level of purity different from another?

We mentioned that there are five levels of purity, each one higher than the other. However, this is not mentioned anywhere in the Torah, where a food or a person can by either ritually pure or not. (Even that is not practiced today, when there is no Temple and no ashes of red heifer).

The Sages though instituted those multiple levels of purity, in order to train people in guarding objects from impurity. Holy (sacrifice-related) objects and the priest's portion (terumah) represent the fourth and the third levels of purity. There are ten areas where the purity of holy objects is stricter than those of priest's portion.

For example, when one takes objects to a mikveh to purify them by submersing in its water, he can dip them with one object being inside the other – so long as the water enters into all areas of the object; but this is allowed for priest's portion but not for holy objects. Why? It may happen that one of the objects, the one which is inside the other, is too heavy, and the place of their contact does not admit water. That is not a serious concern though, and the Sages added this only for holy objects.

Art: A personification of Purity by Simone Pignone

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Chagigah 20 – Many levels of purity

On the Holidays, there is a special requirement to purify oneself, in general, and also because one is going to visit the Temple, eat sacrifices, and also eat foods of second tithe, which all require special attention to purity.

However, it is not enough to go to the mikvah, but one also needs to keep in mind why he is going there, and moreover, keep this in mind consistently. For example, there were people who would eat their regular food only in the state of purity. And yet, when such a person goes into a mikvah, it is only good for regular foods. He would not be allowed to eat the second tithe. Even though it is the same mikvah and the same person, but it is not the same level of attention. Thus, while being “pure for regular food” he may have missed some subtle source of impurity which would prohibit him from eating second tithe – just because he was not watching for it. All in all, there are five such levels: regular foods, second tithe, priestly portion, sacrificial foods, and finally the ashes of the red heifer.

Examples of these rulings: two women accidentally exchanged their clothing, and even though they each watched them to keep them in the state of purity, still Rabbi Akiva declared both sets of clothing impure. Why? As soon as the first woman realized that her clothing was on her friend, of whom she was not sure if she knew all the laws – she lost concentration on her clothing, and this moment was enough to distract her, and any time one does not specifically watches the purity, it is lost.

Another one: a woman asked Rabbi Ishmael a question – she was pure while weaving a garment, but she did not have the intention to watch the garment. In the course of queries she recalled that in fact in the beginning of weaving, before a significant piece of clothing was formed, she may have made some threads impure. Said Rabbi Ishmael, “How great are the words of the Sages, who said that purity requires concentration.”

Art: Women Weaving By Enoch Wood Perry

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Chagigah 13 – How to teach mysteries

One should not teach the mystery secrets (of Kabbalah) other than to someone who understands them on his own, and even then he should only be told subject titles, but not the actual contents in detail. Some say it differently: anybody can be taught general ideas of Kabbalah, but to explain them in detail – that is only for those who can understand them on their own.

The reason for the two approaches is as follows: the first school says that it is impossible to transmit the mystery from a teacher to the student. Such attempt will inevitably result in misinterpretation and dangerous misunderstanding. The other, however, maintains, that it is possible to faithfully transmit deep secrets, provided that the student is worthy.

Here is one example of such teachings: "The Chayot (literally, live beings) angels ran to and fro, like the appearance of broken fire." This can be understood that they were raising their heads above their level, but then immediately drawing them back, out of fear of Divine presence. This phrase also teaches a meditative device of swinging between to extremes in the understanding of Divine, like a pendulum, gradually expanding its swing.

What is meant by "broken fire?" It alludes to purifying gold, when the fire is darting through the openings in the shards. The word for "broken fire," "bazak," has the connotation of earthenware shards, and also of fire.

Art: Interior Scene, Called 'Mystery' By Edouard (Jean-Edouard) Vuillard

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Chagiga 5 - When God cries

The phrase "I will certainly hide My face on that day" can be understood to mean that at night God will still help, by hinting of impending troubles in a dream - which will lead to prayer and actions. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chanania was often in the Caesar's palace, and once someone from the entourage signaled to him "You are a nation whose Master turned His face away from." Rabbi Yehoshua signaled him back, "His hand is yet outstretched to protect us." The Caesar asked "What are these signals?" and Rabbi Yehoshua explained both what the man said and what he replied. The Caesar then asked the man, and he said that he could not understand the reply. They Caesar said, "A man who does not understand signs, should he use them in the presence of the king?" and they executed him.

The phrase "And if you don't heed this, My spirit will cry in hidden chambers, because of your haughtiness" can be understood to mean that God cries because the exaltedness of Israel was removed, and some say, because the exaltedness of God was removed. But is there crying before God? - Yes, in the inner chambers, and because of the Temple's destruction.

Rabbi Yehudah the Prince was once reading Lamentations, and the book fell from his hand into a deep pit. He commented on this phrase from Lamentation, "He cast down from Heaven to earth the glory of Israel," - and not only God lowered the glory of Israel to earth, but there - to the deepest places.The same Rabbi Yehudah, with his nephew Rabbi Chiya, once visited a certain town. They asked if there lived a Sage in town, and they people answered, "Yes, but he is blind." Rabbi Chiya wanted to go alone, saying that it was not fitting for Rabbi Yehudah the Prince, but Rabbi Yehudah insisted to go greet the Sage. At the end of the visit, the Sage said, "You visited one who is seen but cannot see. Therefore, may you merit to pay respect to the One Who sees but is not seen." Rabbi Yehudah commented, "Had I not come with you, I would not get this blessing."

Art: Julius Caesar By Peter Paul Rubens

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Chagigah 4 – When the Sages cried

We mentioned that a deranged person does not have to appear in the Temple, as well as do any other mitzvah. Who is considered deranged? – One who goes alone at night to uninhabited places, sleeps in a cemetery, and tears his clothes for no reason. Do we need him to do all three? Rav Huna said that we do. Rav Pappa said, “Had Rav Huna heard another definition, 'One who destroys all that people give him', he would change his mind.” However, the Talmud is not convinced, for sleeping in a cemetery may be done for spiritual reasons, and walking alone at night can be explained by being depressed.

Rav Huna, when he came in his studies to the following phrase, wept. The Torah said, “Three times a year every male will come to be seen in the Temple.”  “To be seen” can be read as “to see,” and one who is blind in one eye does not have to go. Said Rav Huna, “The servant was beloved to his Master, and the Master wanted to see him, and now suddenly he is distanced!”

Rabbi Elazar wept when he came to the phrase, “And Joseph's brothers could not answer him, because they were confused.” He said, “If because of the rebuke of a human one is confused, how much more so before God!”

Rav Ami wept when he read about the destruction of the Temple and the following dispersion, “Let him put his mouth to the dust – perhaps there is hope.” He said, “All this suffering – and only 'perhaps'!?”

Art: Fishermen's Cemetery by Franz Heinrich Louis Corinth