Tishah B’Av Reading

Weekly Download: Tishah B’Av Reading

With Tishah B’Av approaching, we want to help our readers prepare to have a meaningful fast. This week we are sharing two free downloads that will make your Tishah B’Av more meaningful.

First, a portion of the Kinnos: 

The destruction of the Six Million is our own generation’s stark connection to the eternal Tishah B’Av. Two great and inspiring spiritual leaders of our time, The Bobover Rebbe and Rav Shimon Schwab composed Kinnos lamenting and memorializing the unspeakable tragedy. Adopted by many congregations worldwide, these painful laments are read on Tishah B’Av.

Click here to download the excerpt from the Schottenstein Edition Interlinear Kinnos / Tishah B’Av Siddur.

Click here for details on the Schottenstein Edition Interlinear Kinnos

Second, a portion of the Talmud: 

On Tishah B ’Av, it is customary to study the interpersonal conflicts which led to the ruin of the Second Temple. One well-known source comes from the Schottenstein Edition Talmud Bavli Tractate Gittin, pages 55b-56a.

Click here to download the excerpt from the Schottenstein English Edition Talmud

Click here to download the excerpt from the Schottenstein Hebrew Edition Talmud

May we merit to see the speedy coming of Mashiach, and the transformation of Tishah B’Av from a day or mourning to a day of celebration. 

To the Jew 1st

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And for this reason Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach is the Metavekh of a Brit Chadasha in order that those who are HaKeru’im (the Called ones) may receive the nachalat olam (eternal inheritance) of the Havtachah (Promise), because a mavet, a kapparat hapeysha’im has taken place that gives them pedut (ransom for redemption, Geulah) from peysha’im (transgressions, Isa 53:5) that were committed under HaBrit HaRishonah.

HEBRAYA 9:15 Arameric

Because of this
994 metul cn because
500 hana pro this, these

he, being mediator of the new covenant,
481 hu pro he, it, she
486 hewa vv be, become, been, being
1028b mes‘aya pn Mediator
428 diyatiqi nn covenant
583b hadta adj new

that by his death
988c mauta nn death
481 hu pro he, it, she

be the redemption
486 hewa vv be, become, been, being
1472c purqana nn redemption, salvation

of who transgresses concerning the first covenant
61 ’aina pro who, what, which, what, which
1252a abar vv cross, pass over, transgress
1306a ‘al prp about, above, concerning, over, upon
428 diyatiqi nn covenant
1538f qadmaya adj first

to take the promise
1111a nesab vv take, hypocrize
1013c mulkana nn promise, reign, rule

— who is called to the eternal inheritance.
61 ’aina pro who, what, which, what, which
1608a qera vv call, plead, recall
810c yartuta nn inheritance
1309a ‘alma nn eon, eternity, world

 

 ובעבור זאת הוא מתוך לברית חדשה למען אשר־יירשו המקראים את־הבטחת נחלת עולם אחרי אשר־מת לפדות מן־הפשעים אשר נעשו בימי הברית הראשונה׃

Lashon Hara

Lashon Hara

I would like to bring attention to the issue of our speech. It seems there are cases where we openly attack other believers in the Messiah. Be they called Christians, Messianic Jews, Messianic Believers, Believers, we should not make disparaging comments about what they are called, we should not take pot shots as to their faith.

If some one is a Believer in Messiah Yeshua – Jesus the Messiah or other circumlocution’s we might choose. Believers are NOT “what ever flavor”. These are our brothers and sisters. They are members of the Body of Messiah.

If they are saved by the Blood of the Messiah, by Grace then they are our brothers and sisters. We do not always agree with their theology, or their choice of Denomination, but until the Most High G-d tells us they are otherwise, any derogatory comment, or name we apply to them is Lashon Hara.

We can and do openly come against teaching we do not agree with, and when we bring scriptural citation and reasoned discussion this is highly acceptable. But when we belittle some one by attacking them personally it becomes a violation of G-d’s laws.

Christians, Messianic Jews, Messianic Believers, Believers, Hebrew Christians, Messianic Hebrews are acceptable terms and there are more.

Xians, Xtians, Messy’s, Judys, SNer, Yah-Yah’s are not acceptable as well as dozens of others.

Tasteless descriptors and the like are again against G-d’s laws and lashon hara.

On Jerusalem Council we discuss doctrines, dogmas, halakha, Torah. We often will discuss and dissect teachings of various movements, religious beliefs, sects, denominations. We can do this in a respectful way and with out violating G-d’s laws. If we can not do so we do not need to post.
We should never post in anger, or with contempt. To do so would be against G-d’s laws.

*The following Teaching may only be quoted in it’s entirety with copyright notice intact, it is used by permission*

Lashon Hara
The Evil Tongue
There are Jewish laws that apply even to one’s speech, and one who endeavors to abide by these laws will notice a tremendous difference in not just how he speaks, but also in how he acts and feels toward others.
There are many different kinds of speech that are “non-kosher” and best to avoid.

EVIL TALK (LASHON HARA)
The most common, and perhaps the most serious speech problem is lashon hara, literally, “evil talk.” It refers to any statement that is derogatory or potentially harmful to others — even if it is true. Although there are other distinctions in Jewish law, the term lashon hara is also popularly used to include tale bearing (rechilus) and slander (motzei shem ra) or spreading lies.
In simple terms, this means that one may not tell his friend that someone else did something wrong. Nor may one make a statement about someone that will bring physical, psychological or financial harm to that person. Any statement that will lower the subject in the eyes of the listener is to be avoided.
The above rules, however, do not apply in all situations.
There are situations where one is required to speak up, such as in warning about a prospective marriage or business partner. To know when to remain silent and when to speak up is the subject of an extensive body of law. By turning to the Torah for guidance, one can learn what should and should not be said in all situations.
Why is watching what one says so important? If you take a look at just about every broken marriage, shattered friendship, or ruined career, you’ll see that the damage was often caused by hatred. And where did that hatred come from? Often, it starts with a few hurtful words.

HURTFUL WORDS (Ona’as Devarim)

“The pen is mightier than the sword…” and words can cause more pain than any weapon.
The Torah says that the greatest pain in this world is embarrassment. One who embarrasses another so the person blushes is judged as if he spilled blood.
And one who embarrasses another so the person’s face becomes ashen and drained of blood is likened to a murderer.
Consider all the little comments we make all the time to our parents, spouses, co-workers, or children. One poorly chosen word spoken in anger can cause major damage in a relationship. This is why the Talmud suggests this formula for a good, long life:
There is no greater advice than silence.

DECEPTIVE TALK (GANEVAT DA’AT)
Fooling people with words is also problematic. Asking a salesman “How much is this item?” is deceptive if one has no intention of actually buying the item.
If you really need to know, be straight and say initially that you have no intention of buying.
In many other ways we mislead others through our speech, including flattery and boasting.

DISGUSTING SPEECH (NIVUL PEH)
Another kind of “non-kosher” speech is disgusting language. Included in this category are such things as curse words, off-color jokes, or negative innuendo.
What’s wrong with saying an occasional curse word?
The Torah teaches that the way one acts on the outside affects who one is on the inside. So even if a person is basically good, once he begins to speak in a crude way, his character will become negatively affected.
The more crude a person’s speech, the more crude he becomes.
Idle chatter also falls into this category of impure speech. A Jew shouldn’t talk just for the sake of talking. First, this often leads to gossiping about others, simply because a person has nothing better to say. Second, in Judaism there is a concept that each person is allotted a certain number of words in their lifetime. Who wants to waste them on idle chatter?

USE WORDS POSITIVELY
Speech becomes “kosher” when a person chooses to point out the good in others rather than the bad, when his words uplift others and to encourage and advise them.
“Kosher” speech is also categorized as speech that is free of expressions that are beneath a Jew’s dignity. He instead uses words that reflect the traits of humility, modesty, and loving kindness that are a manifestation of his soul.

THE KEY TO JEWISH UNITY
By giving the Jewish people guidelines to “kosher” speech, G-d has also given us a tremendous gift — the key to living peacefully together.
“Kosher” speech is the tool for preventing and neutralizing the anger, bitterness and jealousy that commonly exist between people. It brings in its place love, kindness and harmony, which unite the Jewish people with each other and, ultimately, with G-d.
Learning to use “kosher” speech is a very worthwhile investment. The benefits for oneself and for others make “kosher” speech a win-win choice.

Rabbinic Midrash
The Torah teaches of the punishment of leprosy, or tzaraas, which visits a person on account of his speaking “Lashon Hara”, derogatory remarks concerning another. The method for the Leprosy visiting the person is in stages. At first, Leprosy attaches itself to the person’s home. If the person heeds the warning and repents, it is gone. If not, it excels towards the person’s garments. Again, if one repents, it is gone. If not, it finally attaches to the person’s body.
The questions are, what is the purpose of this progression, and why these objects? Additionally, the Torah states that for one to be “micapare” or atoned, one must bring two birds, one is slaughtered, and its blood is caught in a bowl. The live bird is dipped therein along with a branch of hyssop and myrtle, and the live, bloodied bird is now set free over an open field. On the surface, this seems barbaric, or at the least, unintelligible. However, as we know G-d is the Designer of the Torah, and “all its ways are pleasant”, there must be a rational explanation for these required practices, and for the objects used in attempting to correct the person who spoke badly.

In order to understand how “mida k’neged mida” (measure for measure) works in this case, we must first understand the crime.

Speaking derogatorily against another has at its source, the desire for self affirmation of one’s greatness. An insecure person will usually be found degrading others, and in this manner, he is higher in his self- estimation by comparison. A secure individual however, will not concern himself with others, as this doesn’t effect his self estimation. Being secure, another’s level has no effect on his status. What then is the remedy for this egomaniac type of personality? To diminish his image of his self proclaimed, imagined grandeur with a realistic dose of self recognition that he is undesirable by others. Part of the need to elevate oneself is the desire to be loved by others. When this cannot be, as a leper is banished outside the camp of the Israelites, he is faced with the fact that he is not the great image he conjured, and he must eat his words of scorn.

G-d however tries to avoid the worst by hinting to the person that he has done wrong. G-d doesn’t send the Leprosy to the body first. He initially uses other vehicles with which the person identifies, viz., his home, and his clothing. G-d commences with the home, as this is further removed from the person, but specific enough to him so as to awaken him that there’s something distasteful in him that he should delve into. If the person is obstinate, G-d sends the leprosy to a closer object, his garments. This is more closely tied to one’s identity, and is more effective. But if not heeded to, G-d finally has the punishment of leprosy delivered to his body, undeniably him. We see from here G-d’s mercy, and intelligence in using that with which one will identify.

Parenthetically, these three objects, namely the house, clothes and body, are exactly where Mezuza, Tzitzit, and Tefilin abide. These are also tied to the idea of identification, but from a different angle.

Since G-d desires that one place their trust in Him, and not in their own strength, G-d created these three mitzvot (commands) to redirect where one places their trust.

Mezuza reminds one not to invest too much reliance in his home, as G-d should be recognized as the True Protector. The home is correctly viewed as a haven from the elements. But G-d desires that we act above the norm, meaning, that we have trust in His dominion of the world. So we place a reminder on the doorway, which is the best place for us to be reminded of G-d, as a doorway receives most of the activity of a home.

We are urged not to place too much importance on our dress, and therefore are commanded to wear tzitzit, fringes. Clothing again is an area where people derive identity, as people wear different styles to express themselves. Lastly, but most closely tied to our self identity is our bodies. One is most effected when something happens to his body, even if no pain is suffered. This is due to our false definition of what “man” is. Society tells us man equals body.

The Torah tells us that man equals intellect and love of G-d. Hence, we are commanded to wear tefilin. A reminder placed on our bodies that we should not invest too much worth here either.

These three, the home , clothes, and body are the three main areas where one identifies, and thus, the three areas where G-d therefore saw it fit to place reminders that G-d alone should be Who we depend on.

What are the ideas behind the two birds?

Besides correcting the person’s flaw of overestimation, he must also realize the damage done to the other.
Rashi states that birds are brought who chirp, to make clear that the crime had to do with his “chirping” like a bird. The one bird ( resembling the sinner) is dipped in the blood of the other bird (resembling the one humiliated by the speech) and let over an open field to demonstrate that just as his evil speech is irretrievable, so is this bloodied bird, “bloody speech” irretrievable.

As you cannot catch the same bird twice, so also he cannot catch his words which were let loose on the world. The damage is done, the “bird is loose”, a spoken word is irretrievable. This will hopefully give recognition to the person who spoke destructively and make clear his crime.

Knowing one’s sin is the first step to atonement.

Priestly Dressing
Even our priests were ‘on guard’ against Lashon Hara.
On the extensive description of the eight garments which the Torah gives us, we have also the description of the rabbis, who name each specific garment as protection to its wearer from an individual sin.

1. The inner garments guard against the urge to murder.
2. The pants, against the urge to form illicit relationships.
3. The turban, against haughtiness.
4. The belt, against illicit thoughts.
5. The breastplate, against incorrect judgments.
6. The ephod, a kind of vest, against idol worship.
7. The robe and incense were to guard against two kinds of lashon hara.

Yeshua’s Midrash (Matt 5)
“5:21 You have heard it said…”
One of the teachings of Judaism regarding Messiah (to this day), is that He will come and teach His people the deeper points of the Torah.
Yeshua does just this in the remaining verses of chapter five. He begins with the expression, “You have heard it said.” This He does both to draw his audience’s attention to a specific point, as well as to make a distinction between His opinion on a matter of Torah and any other(s) of His time.
He is offering His authoritative interpretations on how to follow the commandments. In the Judaism of Yeshua, these are called halakhic (hah-LAHK-ik) rulings. Later in this Gospel we will see Yeshua extending this authority to His apostles. We also see Paul issuing such halchic rulings in several of his epistles.
It is important to realize that Yeshua did not come to, “correct all the misguided teachings of the Pharisees.” (This thought is commonly expressed in religions that have little understanding of the Judaism of Yeshua’s time.) First, it should be noted that there was no dominating concensus among the Pharisees and other religious groups at that time. A brief look at the Pharasaic writings in the Talmud, show a diversity of opinion, including many that argue against each other.
This is called arguing for the sake of HaShem (G-d). Secondly, Yeshua actually supported most Pharasaic opinion on the Torah that eventually were captured in the text of the Talmud. Yeshua not only quoted and supported Pharisaic teaching, as seen in the chart above, He also upheld the religious authority of the Pharisees. He told the people to obey the Pharisees, as they “sat in Moses’ seat,” meaning their authority came from G-d. (Matthew 23:1-3)
There were two majority schools of Rabbinic thought at that time, the school of Rabbi Hillel and the school of Rabbi Shammai (both of whom had died prior to Yeshua’s ministry). Hillel was the grandfather of Gamliel, who was the leader of the Sanhedrin and who taught the apostle Paul. Hillel’s teachings were thought to be more liberal than those of Shammai, which were considered more strict. As we will see, throughout the Gospels, Yeshua is often agreeing with an already existing Pharasaic interpretation of Scripture.
The main point is that Yeshua’s comments are within the framework of Pharasaic discussion. Unfortunately, the term “Pharisee” has a totally negative meaning today, even though many Pharisees were G-dly men and some followed Yeshua – (i.e., Paul, Nicodemus, and the factions mentioned in Acts 15 and Luke 13:31). As uncomfortable as many would find hearing this — Yeshua Himself would have been regarded as a Pharisee. When the Pharisees went out to question John the Baptist about who John was, he said that one among THEM (the Pharisees) was the Messiah to come (John 1:26-27).
The Pharisees themselves were highly critical of one another, saying there were “seven kinds of Pharisees,” and not all were good. (1) The disciples of Hillel went so far as calling those of Shammai, “sons of Satan,” in a similar fashion to what Yeshua called some of them. (2) When we see Yeshua rebuking the Pharisees, it is very much a “family argument,” and needs to be understood as such.
In Matthew verses 21-48, Yeshua brings up a number of issues surrounding actual commandments. As we will see, he often quotes directly from the Talmudic writings of the Pharisees. He is addressing the “fences” (safeguards) placed around the Torah — in some case supporting the ones the Pharisees put in place — in other places he offers His own “fences.”
Matt 5:21 Thou shall not kill …
This is a direct commentary on the sixth commandment (which is actually against “murder,” and not “killing”). Note that when He says, But I say unto you, He is not canceling the commandment, as murder is still sin and will bring judgment. Rather, He is showing that in addition to following the letter of the commandments, one should go beyond the minimum requirements as we grow in our relationship with G-d.
Matt 5:22 … But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother …
This comment is on the heels of 5:13-21 where Yeshua says he is teaching Torah “correctly” (in its fullness) to His Jewish audience, so that they can take this Torah out to the world.

Yeshua makes a connection between murder in verse 21, and “speaking evil” of someone in verse 22. This was not a “new teaching,” but had been greatly overlooked by that time. Such “evil speaking” is called speaking “Lashon Hara” (Evil Tongue) against a person, and is equated with murder throughout Jewish literature. The book of “James” (Ya’akov is his real name), it also speaks of the subject of “the tongue” to great length (See James 3).

Yeshua is reminding the people that “character assassination” is as bad a “physical assassination” in G-d’s sight. This is the higher level of Torah that He taught — All part of His greater command to “Love one another.”
This is also the first of many examples we will show of Yeshua supporting Pharisaic Talmud:
Babylonian Talmud, Bava Mezia 58b – One who shames the face of his fellow, it is as if he has murdered him.

The Torah Speaks to Lashon Hara :

Negative Commandments Relating to Lashon Hara
1. “You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people” (Vayikra 19:16)
2. “You shall not utter a false report” (Shmot 23:1)
3. “Take heed concerning the plague of leprosy” (Dvarim 24:8)
4. “Before the blind do not put a stumbling block” (Vayikra 19:14)
5. “Beware lest you forget the Lord, your G-d” (Dvarim 8:11)
6. “You shall not profane My holy name” (Vayikra 22:32)
7. “You shall not hate your brother in your heart” (Vayikra 19:12)
8. “You shall not take vengeance nor bear any grudge against the children of your people” (Vayikra 19:18)
9. “One witness shall not rise up against a man for iniquity or for any sin” (Dvarim 19:15)
10. “You shall not follow a multitude to do evil” (Shmot 23:2)
11. “You shall not act similar to Korach and his company” (Bamidbar 17:5)
12. “You shall not wrong one another” (Vayikra 25:17)
13. “(You shall rebuke your neighbor) and you shall not bear sin because of him” (Vayikra 19:17)
14. “Any widow or orphan shall you not afflict” (Shmot 22:21)
15. “You shall not pollute the land wherein you are” (Bamidbar 35:33)
16. “You shall not curse the deaf” (Vayikra 19:14)

Positive Commandments Relating to Lashon Hara
1. “Remember what the Lord you G-d did until Miriam by the way as you came forth out of Egypt” (Dvarim 24:9)
2. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18)
3. “In righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” (Vayikra 19:15)
4. “If your brother be waxen poor and his means fail him when he is with you, then you shall uphold him” (Vayikra 25:35)
5. “You shall rebuke your neighbor” (Vayikra 19:17)
6. “To Him shall you cleave” (Dvarim 10:20)
7. “You shall fear My sacred place” (Vayikra 19:30)
8. “Before the gray-haired you shall rise up, and you shall honor the face of the old man” (Vayikra 19:32)
9. “You shall sanctify Him” (Vayikra 21:8)
10. “Honor your father and mother” (Shmot 20:12)
11. “The Lord your G-d shall you fear” (Dvarim 10:20)
12. “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall talk of them by the way when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Dvarim 6:7)
13. “From a false matter you shall keep yourself far” (Shmot 23:7)
14. “Walk in His ways” (Dvarim 28:9)

Guidelines:
Here are nine rules to remember:
1. It is lashon hara to convey a derogatory image of someone even if that image is true and deserved; it is slanderous (motzi shem ra) to do so when the image is false.
2. It is lashon hara to convey information about people that can cause them physical, psychological or financial harm.
3. It is lashon hara to embarrass people, even in jest, or to tell embarrassing things about them when they are not present.
4. Lashon hara is not limited to verbal communication; the written word, body language, innuendo, and the like can also be hurtful.
5. It is lashon hara to speak against a community, race, ethnic group, gender, or age group as a whole.
6. Do not relate lashon hara even to your spouse, close friends or relatives.
7. Do not repeat lashon hara even when it is common knowledge.
8. Avoid r’chilut (Gossip): Do not relate to people negative things others may say about them, for this may cause needless conflict.
9. Do not listen to lashon hara or r’chilut. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

Guard Your Tongue!
Copyright © MZkn. Walter N.Thorpe, esq.

 

Pirkei Avos

The World’s Fallen State

By Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld

As I mentioned two weeks ago, much of Chapter 5 of Pirkei Avos contains lists. Mishna 1 discussed the Ten Utterances with which G-d created the universe. This mishna continues with the earliest generations of man.

We know very little of the people of the antediluvian era. The great Deluge has left little meaningful trace of this prehistoric age. The lives, cultures and societies of the ancients of that time have all but been forgotten. Were they advanced or primitive, cultured or savage? Did they reap the wisdom and lessons of Adam and Eve and live with knowledge of G-d, or did they degenerate into a primitive, animalistic existence in search of food, shelter and conquest? Scripture does little more than list the names and superhuman lifespans of the patriarchal leaders, leaving us with little knowledge of their true lives and natures.

Scripture (Genesis 6) does provide us a brief summary of the wickedness of the generations leading up to the Flood — and the Sages draw for us a clearer picture. Genesis 6:2 tells us that the “sons of the lords” — either the noblemen or actual heavenly angels — saw the beautiful daughters of the common folk (or the humans), and took wives of whomsoever they chose. In verses 5-8 G-d observed that the wickedness of man was great and that his inclination was “only evil all the day.” G-d resolved to destroy man — all except for Noah who “found favor” in G-d’s eyes. Finally, verse 11 refers to the earth as having become “corrupt” before G-d, and filled with violence and robbery.

So, the world suffered from lawlessness, lust, and intermarriage — possibly of the extraterrestrial kind. (The Talmud writes further that the people of the time mated animals of different species both with each other and with humans (Sanhedrin 108a).) How did people who lived so close to Genesis — who could hardly *not* know of G-d and His wondrous creation — degenerate into such corruption and debauchery?

Our Sages elucidate further. The Talmud writes: “The generation of the Flood was arrogant on account of the great good G-d had bequeathed unto it” (Sanhedrin 108a). The Talmud there, in a few brief comments, depicts a people blessed with natural bounty and physical beauty. The earth was richer and more bountiful than it is today. Humans lived longer and led more fruitful lives. They were not shackled by physical weaknesses of any kind — old age, arthritis, hemorrhoids, bad backs, nearsightedness, etc. The flesh was strong: they were invincible. How did they respond? How did they use the far superior gifts G-d had blessed them with?

The answer, it appears, is that they lived totally and wholly for themselves. Each man looked out for his own, enjoying and indulging in every pleasure his dark heart fancied. Rather than using comfort and physical well-being as goads towards spiritual growth, they used their endless potential towards their own selfish ends. They felt their invincibility; they had nothing to fear. There was nothing they could not solve with their own great strength and ingenuity — and nothing to humble them before G-d. They did not experience the challenge and frustration which would be the lot of latter-day man — battling the elements for food, clothing and shelter, and consequently they saw no reason to turn to G-d in prayer. They lived lives of eternal youth — in endless pursuit of physical pleasure, without the maturing effects of aging and of sensing one’s mortality. They were eternally virile and youthful — and they were never forced to grow up. And such a world left little room for a G-d of morality and accountability.

G-d realized that man had become irredeemably evil. But G-d did not content Himself with punishing man alone. G-d “reconsidered” His creation of man, states the Torah (v. 6). G-d was to refashion Creation in a much more fundamental manner. He was to break the divine levees, wash away all that existed, and begin anew. Why was this necessary? Why destroy the entire earth on account of puny, obstinate man?

The answer is that in the days before the Flood, the physical world was far superior to the postdiluvian world. The earth was richer, people were stronger, and generally speaking the world was a closer reflection of the G-d who created it.

And this was no mere coincidence. There was a reason for this: the physical world was more closely tied to the spiritual worlds above. We discussed last week the close correlation between the physical world and the spiritual, metaphysical ones above, and how the physical world is “energized” by the spiritual forces which emanate from above and work their way down through the myriad layers of creation. (One of the more Kabbalistic lectures I’ve written — with even less idea what the heck I was writing about…) 😉

In the time before the Flood, these forces were much more closely aligned. The physical world — and the human race — had so much more vitality and potential because they drew from the infinite wellsprings of the spiritual worlds. People lived infinitely longer and the earth was infinitely richer because the physical reality of the world below was a much stronger reflection of the spiritual one above.

This arrangement made for a more bountiful and vibrant world, but it also wreaked havoc on the fabric of the universe. A more strongly interconnected world meant that the sins of man would corrupt the earth itself — far more severely than they do today. (As we explained in past weeks, in this system of interconnected worlds our actions, both good and pact, impact enormously on the worlds above — which in turn impact on the layers of existence below them.)

And this is exactly what happened. Adam, for eating of the Tree of Knowledge, was punished that he would attempt to plant grain and weeds would flourish (Genesis 3:18). When man became steeped in immorality the animals followed suit. There were few animals still loyal to their own species which Noah could allow on board the Ark. The others had all followed the evil ways of man. Man’s sins corrupted and damaged the physical world about. The result was that the earth itself became evil — so much so that it was doomed to the same destruction man had brought upon himself.

To correct this situation, G-d did more than destroy man. He destroyed the very bonds which coupled heaven and earth so tightly. And this could only be achieved by destroying the entire earth — that spiritually-charged place which so closely reflected man’s spiritual state. And so, G-d washed away all. The Midrash tells us that the Flood washed away the top three handbreadths of the world’s topsoil (Bereishis Rabbah 31:7). The very rich and verdant earth which — as reflection of the spiritual worlds — had become corrupted by man, had to be removed forever. The one that would remain would be far coarser and earthier, but it would not be so vulnerable to the rise and fall of fickle man.

And with this came a Divine pledge: G-d would never again destroy the earth on account of man. “All the days of the earth — planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night — they shall not cease” (8:22). Why? “For the inclination of man is evil from his youth” (v. 21). Precisely because man’s propensity is so thoroughly towards evil, G-d saw fit to sever the world from man’s influence — so that the world would no longer be utterly dependent on man’s rises and falls. G-d recognized that man would not always reach the lofty pinnacle G-d intended for him, and He would not allow His world to suffer irreparably on account of this. The world would no longer be the spiritually-attuned place it had once been. It would be more earthy, stubborn — and physical — and yet it would have the stability and permanence it needed to survive.

So the world after the Flood had a new beginning. The world lost much of its lushness and vitality — as reflected in the many inches of topsoil the Sages state were lost. It would no longer have the same physical potential — and would never be quite the same reflection of G-d it had once been — although to be sure the discerning observer can still see Earth’s beauty as a reflection of its Maker. But man was not able to handle this awesome task — of serving as caretaker for the entire physical reality of the universe. The physical world was here to stay — a message attested to by the dazzling yet delicate beauty of the rainbow, and man would — till the time of the Messiah — walk in a smaller, more humbled mission before G-d.


Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and Torah.org.

Maimonides on Life

The Power of the Human Eye, Part II

Maimonides, Laws of De’os – Chapter 2, Law 7(b)

“…Neither should a person be overly greedy (lit., ‘one of a wide soul’), obsessed with the pursuit of riches, nor one lazy and neglectful of work. Rather he should be one with a good eye, [of] little work and [who instead] ‘works’ in Torah study. And the little which he does acquire (lit., ‘which is his portion’) he should be happy with.”

Last week we began discussing the concept of a good eye. The Rambam states that rather than being too obsessed with riches or too lazy, one should have a good eye and work the proper amount. Although the advice is of course quite sound, we noted that the Rambam’s mention of a “good eye” didn’t really fit. Having a good eye would seem to imply looking favorably upon others and not being jealous of what is theirs. The Rambam thus implies that the solution to not working too hard (or too little) is not being jealous of others.

Now this might be true if the reason we overwork is to keep up with the Joneses. But I simply don’t believe this is so. Don’t we get obsessed with money for its own sake? Doesn’t man have an inherent drive for riches? All of the workaholics I have observed are driven by the desire for prestige and fulfillment, or simply to rise in their professions — not to outdo someone else who has more. And finally, is a good eye the Rambam’s solution to working too little (as his language implies) — or did the Rambam simply neglect to address that shortcoming?

We then quoted a passage in the Talmud (Bava Metziah 42a), that one who is going to measure his store of grain may pray to G-d that his grain “increase”. He may not, however, do so once he has already measured it, for a blessing only descends on that which is hidden from the eye. As we explained, the idea does *not* seem to be that G-d starts playing around with the Laws of Nature as soon as our backs are turned. G-d does not lightly trifle with the laws He Himself set in motion. As the Midrash elsewhere states, G-d made specific conditions with His creations to override their ordinary behavior at various point in history — such as for the sea to split for the Children of Israel or the sun to stand still for Joshua.

Rather, the key to fathoming the above passage lies in a better understanding of the nature of the human eye. As my teacher R. Yochanan Zweig (http://rabbizweig.com/) explained, placing one’s eyes on something is a form of control. If a person stares unabashedly at someone else, it’s a form of saying he has rights over that person. The other has no rights to his or her privacy; I can look wherever I want without shame. Likewise, staring someone down or looking him in the face are forms of asserting yourself over him. He is cowed before you; he is under your domination. (I’m sure many of us remember the “give-me-look-at-me-time” our mothers put us through when they wanted our complete obedience or to see if we were telling the truth.) Likewise a parent — one truly worthy of his role — rarely needs to yell and to hit. He just has to look at his child, and the child instantly falls in line. Eyes are thus a means of controlling that which is outside a person. This is the meaning of the Talmud as well. If I have already laid my eyes on my grain, it’s mine — and will certainly not start miraculously multiplying. Looking over my grain and tallying it up are forms of asserting my authority over it. (A parallel passage in the Talmud there is that blessings descends only on that which man’s eyes haven’t taken control of (via looking).) And what is man’s is surely bound by the rules of the physical world.

If, however, I haven’t laid my eyes on it, it may increase. This is not because G-d starts playing around when our backs are turned. It is because that which man hasn’t taken control of is still G-d’s. Man has not *looked at* it: he has not taken it as his own. It still resides in the infinite domain of the Almighty. It is G-d’s bounty, not yet transferred to the world of man. And in an unbounded, infinite universe, quantity is meaningless. The Laws of Nature do not even begin to take hold.

With this we can understand the true meaning of a good eye. A person with a good eye is not simply one not jealous of others. He views the world as “good”: as part of G-d’s all-good and infinitely-worthy universe. He doesn’t look at his surroundings possessively — in terms of his versus another’s, in so doing removing it from the realm of G-d. He sees all as “good” — purposeful and connected to G-d. Everything in this world, whether in the possession of a particular person or not, is not truly removed from G-d. All is ultimately His, to be used in the manner He wishes.

Thus, to cite the example we raised last week, Boaz realized that Ruth’s looking at his field with her good eye would make its yield increase. It would strengthen the perception that Boaz’s produce was really G-d’s and truly resided in His infinite realm.

And so, a person with a good eye lacks jealousy not simply because he is satisfied with little and does not look around. He recognizes that even that which belongs to another is good. All truly belongs to G-d — a G-d who surely grants each of us just what he needs to serve Him properly. And this is the attitude the Rambam recommends we adopt. The true solution to not working too hard lies in our attitude towards ours and others’ possessions. If I have that good eye that sees all as G-d’s, I will have no drive to possess more myself. I’ll do what is reasonable and I’ll let G-d take care of the rest. (It is true that we must make some effort. Ever since the curse of Adam — “with the sweat of your brow will you eat bread” (Genesis 3:19), we generally don’t get it for free.)

Lastly, I believe that this too is the Rambam’s solution to working too little — as the simple reading of the Rambam implies. One who views the good of this world favorably will appreciate that everything has a purpose in G-d’s scheme. He will thus not be too lazy either. I *should* work — enabling G-d to grant me what I need for my mission in life. It’s good to have — so long as I realize that what’s mine is truly G-d’s. Property is not only an evil temptation. We Jews don’t believe that the truly pious must take vows of poverty, and there have been many righteous souls throughout history who were also successful businessmen and entrepreneurs. If it all really is G-d’s, it must have a good purpose. And my goal is to do my part in bringing it to that purpose.

Judaism thus has a very balanced attitude towards money. The pursuit of wealth is not something to be eschewed, nor is it something one would pursue for its own sake, divorced from the realm of spirituality. It is a drive as all others which need not be quashed nor ignored, but can be sublimated to higher purpose. For if one truly has a good eye, he sees the good in everything in G-d’s creation. And so riches, rather than driving us away from God, may — as all things — be used to bring us closer.


Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and Torah.org

Laws Pertaining to Tisha Be’av

There are five categories of abstinence which must be observed on Tisha Be’av: Eating and drinking, washing one’s self, rubbing one’s body with oils or lotions, wearing leather shoes, and marital relations. Our Sages also prohibited learning Torah on Tisha Be’av, for the words of Torah gladden the heart. The only portions of Torah that one may delve into on Tisha Be’av are the book of Iyov (Job), the prophecies regarding the destruction of the Temple in the book of Yirmeya (Jeremiah), the portions of Midrash and Talmud regarding the destruction of the Temple, the laws of mourning, and the like. One may likewise learn Mussar works which arouse one to repent and humble the heart.

On Erev Tisha Be’av, one may only eat until several minutes before sunset. The five categories of abstinence we have mentioned above take affect beginning from sunset.

One may not wash one’s body on Tisha Be’av with either hot water or cold; this applies to one’s entire body or even just partially. One may not even stick one’s finger into water (for pleasure). Thus, on the morning of Tisha Be’av, one should wash his hands (“Netilat Yadayim”) only until one’s knuckles the way one washes the rest of the year, i.e. three times on each hand while alternating hands, and then recite the blessing of “Al Netilat Yadayim.” After using the restroom, one should wash his hands the same way, only until the knuckles.

One should not wash one’s face on the morning of Tisha Be’av; rather, after one washes his hands, before drying them while they are still wet, one may rub them over his eyes. If one has eye residue or any other filth in or around one’s eyes, one may wash the affected area. If one is extremely concerned about one’s personal hygiene and does not feel at ease with himself without washing his face in the morning, one may indeed do so on the morning of Tisha Be’av.

A new bride who is still within thirty days of her marriage may wash her face on the morning of Tisha Be’av so that she does not become repulsive to her husband.

Regarding the fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz (and other such public fasts), if it is extremely difficult for one to abstain from brushing one’s teeth on the morning of the fast, one may act leniently and brush his teeth while taking care not to swallow even a drop of water. Additionally, one must take care not to put a “Revi’it” (81 ml, approximately 2.7 oz.) of water into one’s mouth at once. Nevertheless, on Tisha Be’av one should not act leniently unless one  will suffer immensely without doing so or if one suffers from bad breath, in which case, one may indeed act leniently on the condition that one tilts his mouth downwards in order that the water not reach his throat (in addition to the aforementioned conditions). One should not rely on this leniency on Yom Kippur though.