Thursday, June 28, 2007

Light of the Torah, Deveikus, and Gerim

(Picture by Rabbi Dovid Sears courtesy of RabbiRiddle.com)
(Based on Meor Einyaim from R' Menachem Nachum from Chernobyl - Parshas Chukas)

Reb Nachum Chernobyler explains the first pasuk in Parshas Chukas (Bamidbar 19:2), " זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה, אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה יְהוָה לֵאמֹר: דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה תְּמִימָה אֲשֶׁר אֵין-בָּהּ מוּם, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-עָלָה עָלֶיהָ, עֹל." He explains that this pasuk is teaching that a person must attach his life-force to the light within the Torah. Where is this idea hinted at in the pasuk? The revealed Torah, consisting of letters, vocalizations, trop and crowns are the revealed portion of the Torah that we can have some natural human comprehension of. The light within the Torah, however, is one with Hashem and cannot be grasped with the natural human mind.

It is this illumination within the Torah that the Torah refers to as "Para," heifer. Why? Chazal say (in Pesachim 112a), "יותר ממה שהעגל רוצה לינק פרה רוצה להניק ," more than the calf wants to drink, the heifer wants to nurse [the calf]. This means that the desire of a giver to give is even greater than the desire of the receiver to receive. Hashem desires to give of Himself, the greatest good there is. So, the gift of His illumination within the Torah that He so desires to give is called by the name, "Para."

Therefore, the pasuk means, "You should take to yourself the aspect of Torah called Para, the light of Hashem that is within the Torah." It is called "temima," pure, because the light of the Torah, which was hidden away for the Tzaddikim at the beginning of time, is pure and virtually untouched, since the number of Tzadikim who have merited to ascend to that level are few and far between. That light, he says (based on Psichta Eicha Raba 2) has the power to bring a person back over to the good, which is something everyone wants. Therefore, when one learns Torah, he shouldn't just have in mind to learn the revealed meaning of the Torah. He should also daven before he learns that his chiyus (life-essence) be bound with the illumination of the Torah, which is actually the light of Hashem, so that he can thus truly be daveik with Hashem and will be returned to the good.

The Meor Einyaim, in his 4th piece in Parshas Shmos, also teaches about the Ohr within the Torah. He says that one cannot access this illumination within the Torah all at once. It is only revealed to the person little by little over time. However, he says that this deepest level of connection to the Torah, which is beyond its intellectual understanding, is only accessible to Yidden who are literal descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. However, Geirei Tzedik, converts, are unable to attain that same level. This statement is fully citated in the Zohar.

Now lest anyone reading this think that I or the Meor Einyaim are "anti-convert/Ger," let me assure you that I am not. In fact, I know that this is so because I, myself, am a Ger. I was megayer when I was 18 years old. I am sharing that for the purpose of lending, unnecessarily in my view, ethos to this difficult teaching of the Meor Einayim. At first, it bothered me. Why should I or any other Ger be able to attain any less of a level than any natural born Jew?

However, after thinking about this piece and re-reading it several times over the past couple of months, I've had a couple of thoughts about it. One thought is: Who said that being an actual child of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov has no value at all? If anyone who joins the Jewish people can be the same in every single respect, then what is the value of this special status? It seems that the very existence of that special parental relationship we have with our Avos indicates that it is somehow irreplaceable.

Also, I think the whole question comes from a krum place. We live in a society that is preoccupied with relative status. Who is better? Who is lower? Who is superior? Who is inferior? It was like that when America was a sexist and racist country. But that same relative status mindset informs the opposite extreme of political correctness today. Many Americans are so concerned with egalitarianism and sameness because they are unable to fathom that there can be differences between people (even differences of "higher" and "lower" in various areas of life) that do not imply superiority or inferiority. That is why, in America, "separate but equal" is found inherently unequal. This is not so with the Torah however, There are thousands of gradations of higher and lower kedusha betweem people in all areas of life. Some people have a higher level of access to kedusha in some areas. Others might have access to higher levels in other areas. However, Hashem created everyone for a very specific reason and not everyone has to be destined for the exact same thing. If Gerim had the same tachlis in life as born-Jews, then one or the other of them was created superfluously, which is obviously not the case. At any rate, these are some of my reflections on this initially difficult part of the Meor Einyaim. May we all merit to access the light of Hashem within the Torah, each on our own level!

-Dixie Yid

(Rav Bentzion Twersky, the son of Rav Michel Twersky, goes through this piece in Meor Einayim in a very nice way on two mp3 shiurim available here and here)

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Zohar states that true gerim have to be reborn as Jews, and then they WILL attain the deepest levels of Torah, according to their merits. And, of course, the Gemara says that gerim are even more precious to Hashem than born Jews.

Also IIRC the Rebbe Rashab said that today's gerim are not true gerim, rather, they are Jewish neshamos that had to be nisgalgel and converted due to having formerly drifted away from Yiddishkeit. So, I don't know if this applies.

And BTW, who exactly gets to the "deepest levels" of Torah in this world anyway?

PS - The ARI zal says that the RaMa"K was a gilgul of Zechariah ha-Navi, who was a gilgul of Eliezer Eved Avraham -- the "arur" who couldn't make a shidduch with Avraham... The Eybishter has His ways!

DixieYid said...

Anon,

Great comments!

The Rebbe Rashab lived 1860-1920. R' Nachum from Chernobyl cited the Zohar for his point during his lifetime which was 1730-1797, about 100 years earlier. It could be that the status of Gerim changed from true Gerim to Jews who'd been nisgalgeil as goyim during those 100 years. Or it could be that the Rebbe Rashab was choleik on the heilige Meor Einayim on this point. I'm not sure but if one is Chabad, I suppose he should accept the Rebbe Rashab over Reb Nachum and would therefore believe that Gerim today were actually Jewish to begin with and this issue would become moot to them.

I certainly don't see myself as getting to the deepest levels, but the Meor Einayim clearly says that even regular people like us should have kavannah to bind our chiyus, our life to the Ohr She'baTorah, and not just the intellectual understanding. So one can hardly say that he would begrudge us that deep connection to Hashem through His light within the Torah.

What does IIRC stand for?

I'd not heard the great teaching about Eliezer eved Avraham. Thank you. It is also interesting if one looks at the heights Gerim have reached in Klal Yisroel. Consider Rebbe Akiva (ben Gerim), Shemaya v'Avtaliyon (Tena'im), Ben Bag Bag, Ben Hei Hei (also Tena'im) and Onkelus among others. I'm also curious how the tenaim especially were able to be considered Tena'im halachically, considering the isur d'oraisa of a Ger taking any position of authority from "'Mikerev achecha, Tasim Alecha Melech...' achecha, v'lo Ger." Any halachic insight would be appreciated!

And remember also one of the peshatim in Tosafos on the Gemara in Kiddushin "Kashim gerim al Yisroel k'sapachas;" Gerim, in their scrupulous observance of mitzvos, are a Kitrug on the Jewish people who don't observe the mitzvos as scrupulously. There are other pshatim there but that one is certainly interesting!

yitz.. said...

@dixieyid

IIRC = if i recall correctly

It's interesting that Anon mentioned the RAMAK and you mentioned Rebbe Akiva because I just read in the Shivchei Ohr HaHayyim that he (Ohr HaHayyim, whose hillulah is today) was purported to have been a gilgul of the RAMAK who was a gilgul of Rebbe Akiva...

Also, the Alter Rebbe of Lubavitch said that a Jewish soul can be born to a non jewish mother and a non-jewish soul (cv"s) can be born to a Jewish mother.. He explained that the proof is in the end, if a goy converts and lives his whole life Jewish, he bears witness that his soul was always a Jewish soul, and the reverse (r"l) is also true. (so that was probably the makor of the Rebbe Rashab's teaching.) I will try and find the source for that quote--i think it's actually somewhere in Shulchan Aruch HaRav. (Though I think I heard it quoted by Rav Steinsaltz)

Taking this into account, it still raises the question: is the Maor Eynayim saying that someone needs to have a Jewish mother to access this Torah, or a Jewish soul? The best question is this though: if a goy has a Jewish father and converts, l'kulei Alma it seems he would still be privvy to this light, as he is a child of Avraham Yitzhak and Yaakov (patrilineally (sp?))

Also a point worth raising, according to everything I know, Gerim get a new soul when they convert which comes directly from Avraham avinu and Sarah imenu, and this is part of the sod of v'chol hanefesh asher asu b'charan. Which means spiritually, every ger is the child of Avraham and Sarah. (which is why we call them ben/bat Avraham and ben/bat Sarah) So it would seem that the Maor Eynayim must mean biological parents.?

rebelwithacause said...

Here is my two cents, I am a frum Jew by the way.
I am disgusted when I read citations or documents which are supposed to say that converts are at a lower "state" or are not good enough. First of all Zohar is not Torah and neither is Tanya. The written and oral Torah dictates us that we must love and accept a Ger.
As a Ger you are at the same level with other born Jews. There are many big rabbis who were gerim and the Jewish nation comes from Avraham Aveinu so to say that converts are at a lower spiritual level is to say that Jewish nation descended from individuals with low spiritual levels or the Jewish nation descended from the "no goods". Humbug.

DixieYid said...

Yitz,

First, thanks for the explanation of IIRC.

So the Ramak was a gilgul of Rebbe Akiva, Zecharia HaNavi and Eliezer Eved Avraham... Wow.

If you find the mekor in the Baal Hatanya that a Ger's life as a Jew is a testimony to his always being Jewish. I'd be very interested to find that out.

That's a great question you have about a Ger with a Jewish father. Halachically, if a Ger has a Jewish father who's a kohen or Levi, the Ger is still only a Yisroel because "Ger shenisgayer k'katan shenolad dami." Would we say that the person would still be called a born-Jew in the sense that the Meor Einyaim is talking about? Or, similar to the Levi/Cohen compairison, would be say that since he's k'katan shenolad dami, he has no benefit form that past? You're right though that that's a good test case. I did that there's a medrash Shochar Tov on Tehillim 29:1 "havu Lashem bnei elim" on the topic of the different status of a Ger with a Jewish father, but I have been unable to find this. If anyone can help me out or can talk about it, it would be much appreciated!

Rebelwithacause,

I appreciate your words in defense and love of Gerim like me. :-) However, you seem to be responding to words that neither I, the Meor Einyaim or the Zohar ever said. You used words like "lower state," "not good enough," "lower spiritual level," and "no goods."

It is interesting that when I wrote about Gerim having less access to a certain madreiga in Torah, you, as a reader, translated that into "no good" and "lower spiritual level." I didn't read it that way. Similarly, when the Gemara says "B'makom she'ba'alei Teshuva omdim, ein tzadikim gamurim yacholim la'amod," do you believe that the Gemara is saying that Tzaddikim Gamurim are "no goods" or are somehow "not good enough"? Obviously not. What the gemara is teaching is that there exists a certain type of tikun that, because of their Aveiros, Ba'alei Teshuva can accomplish that Tzaddikim Gamurim, who have not sinned, cannot attain. There does indeed exist a place where a Tzadik Gamur cannot compair to a Ba'al Teshuva.

What you must understand in order to be able to come to terms with these teachings is that different people can be great in *different* areas of life. We do not all have to be as great in all of the exact same areas. Just like Onkelos, Shemaya v'Avtaliyon and Avraham ben Avraham (the famous Ger of the GR"A) were surely able to accomplish certain things spiritually that their contemporaries were unable to accomplish, those Tzaddikim bnei Tzaddikim were also zoche to other levels that those holy Gerim could not reach. We need not be offended by that. We must simply realize that Hashem has different plans for different people and each person coming from his own place is great and irreplacable in his or her own way, regardless of whether they are a Ger, an FFB, a BT, or an FFBWL.

I hope the fact that my words are coming from someone in the category that you feel has been victimized by the teachings of the Meor Einyaim makes a difference. If I am able to accept that different people have a different tachlis in life, and that that does not make them unequal as human beings or as Jews gives the idea more ethos in your eyes.

Be well and please check in again and comment. Tizku l'mitzvos and thanks for your thoughts!

-Dixie Yid

yitz.. said...

last night I was zocheh to happen upon the Rav who first told me about the Alter Rebbe's hidush regarding gerim, he confirmed that the said point is in Shulchan Aruch HaRav under hilchot Talmud Torah.

i don't have a shulchan Aruch HaRav here.. but in the next couple of weeks i will be in the states by my parents and i know there is a copy on the shelf there that no one knows about, so I will check it out them iy"h ..

DixieYid said...

I have a copy of the Shulchan Aruch Harav, so if you have a ma'areh makom, I can look it up...

-Dixie Yid

Anonymous said...

About the passage saying that only those literally descended from Avraham, Yitzhoch and Yaacov can reach a certain level, you might be interested in the work of some genealogically-oriented mathematicians. They claim that when you go back thousands of years, virtually everyone on earth is descended from basically everyone then alive who has modern descendants. That is, the vast majority of humankind, and certainly Europeans and Middle Easterners, are likely descendants of the Jewish patriarchs, along with the Egyptian Pharoahs and so on. This makes sense, because when you go back 2000 years, or 40 generations, that means you had a trillion grandparents. (2^40). The population of earth at that time was only a few million, which means that most people on Earth were probably in our family trees thousands of times.

If you also consider all the forced and willing conversions of Jews to Christianity over the last 2000 years, it would seem that there's good reason for a European-origin Ger to assume he or she is descended from Jews, and thus from the forefathers, at some point. Let's say you're of English origin, and 10 English Jews were forced to convert in 1000 AD. Let's say an average of 2 of their kids survived each generation. So by 1800, about 30 generations later, there should be 10 billion descendants of these Jews! Obviously this calculation is off, since there are far less than 10 billion English-origin people today, but it shows how over a long span of time even a few converts who have descendants can mean that Jewish ancestry is widely spread among non-Jewish populations.

DixieYid said...

Anon, well according to what you're saying, that would give a very literal meaning to the fact that Avraham was called "Av Hamon Goyim." Thanks for the information!

-Dixie Yid

Anonymous said...

it is a sad fact that i have seen repeatedly in frum communities that despite the injunctions to love the ger, gerim are honored in public but derided and held under suspicion in private. everything else being equal, as a matter of practice, their yichus is lower than that of someone born from a jewish mother. (just the other day a friend from a yeshiva in israel was telling me how he met a russian gera and how in his mind she was still a shickse despite her frum ways).

DixieYid said...

Anon, I personally haven't found that to be the case, though I'm sure you're right that many people still have those attidutes. That's sad that your friend said what he did. I think in terms of shidduchim that Gerim or gioros would have the same problems that Baalei Teshuva would have. I think many bachurim and girls want to have in-laws (and their parents want co-in-laws) who are similar to them. And BTs and Gerim just can't "provide" that.

But I don't think there is any connection at all between what the Meor Einayim is saying and these prejudicial attitudes that somtimes exist in the frum community.

-Dixie Yid

Anonymous said...

Dixie Yid, I don't seem to be able to find the reference you're talking about in the Meor Einayim. I'm looking at the drashot to parshat Shemot but in my sefer they're not separated by numbers. Can you quote the relevant passage?
(btw, i'm a different anon than the one who posted above - anon2 maybe...)

DixieYid said...

That paragraph starts off "U'l'zu." It's on the bottom left hand corner of the "Meor Hatorah" edition of the Meor Einayim. It's also after the 5th asterisk in Parshas Shmos. I'm asking two tzadikim IY"H this week about this question, so IY"H, I might have more insight into it soon.

-Dixie Yid

Tal Moshe Zwecker said...

wanted to share this with you, how being chosen doesnt negate others:

“And Aharon carried their names on his heart.” (28:29)

We should ask why is it that carried the names of the tribes? Especially since we find that in all places we mention the merit of our forefathers, we specifically mention Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov. And although our sages and Rabbis did teach in Yoma (73b) that the patriarchs names were also there [on the breastplate], even so this is not explicitly written in the verse, rather only the names of the tribes were engraved on the stones.

This can be explained by the fact that it is written regarding Aharon that (Shemos 28:1 and Devarim 18:5) Hashem selected him from among all the children of Israel. Selecting one from among the general group, forces us to conclude that this choice for this specific person is due to the fact that Hashem loves him, but dislikes or hates the others in that group. So too we would have though to say that selecting Aharon from among the Jewish people was done in the same way. This is why the names of all the tribes were engraved [on the stones], to demonstrate that Hashem desires and loves them as well.

Kedushas Levi Parshas Tetzaveh
From my soon to be published translation imy"h