Wednesday, November 14, 2007

ashreichem yisrael - even in suffering

Kesubos 66b tells the tragic story of the daughter of the wealthy Nakdimon ben Guryon whose kesubah was worth millions of dollars, but at the time of the churban she was reduced to picking through animal dung to look for food. R’ Yochanan ben Zakai exclaimed, “Ashreichem Yisrael! When the Jewish people obey G-d’s will there is no greater nation, but when they fail to obey G-d's will not only are they subjugated to the lowest nation, but they are lower even than that nation’s animals”.

The Maharal asks: we understand why R’ Yochanan ben Zakai would exclaim “ashreichem yisrael” at the glory of Nakdimon’s wealth, but why exclaim “ashreichem yisrael” over the tragedy of the downfall of the Jewish people?

The human arm seems wonderfully resilient – you can bang it, bruise it, cut it, and it will usually repair itself and you go right on living. You can break a bone, need stitches, and still bounce back. An amputee can go right on living, albeit with limitations, even without an arm. But if a small scratch on the brain is a different story – even minor damage can lead to devastating injury. A minor heart defect can pose a risk of death. Paradoxically, the more essential the organ, the more delicate and susceptible to injury it is and the greater the trauma to the body when it suffers damage.

Ashreichem Yisrael that when we are hurting the trauma is great and painful, for that pain and trauma proves that we are indeed the mind and heart of this world.

(Since I don’t want to distort the Maharal by using my analogy, here’s how he puts it: tzurah can impose itself on chomer and mold it slowly, but chomer cannot impose itself on tzurah without completely destroying it. The fact that klal yisrael suffers so greatly proves that their essence is the more lofty tzurah, in comparison to the other nations which are merely chomer. In other words (again, at the risk of distorting the point): when American soldiers are killed we don’t say there is less liberty in the world as a direct result – the people and the national ideals are two separate entities. The Jewish nation, however, is the embodiment of ruchniyus, and when the world is spiritually damaged we suffer as a direct consequence.)

1 comment:

  1. Maybe you can do a post expanding on this idea of the Jews being tzurah and the goyim being chomer. I am pretty unschooled in this area.