Friday, March 28, 2008

p' shmini - a thought from the noam elimelech on his yahrzeit

One last idea for the week l’kavod Shabbos. Today is 21 Adar, the yahrzeit (unless you marked it in Adar I) of R’ Elimeleh m’Lizensk, author of the Noam Elimelech. I remember reading in R’ David haLivni’s autobiography “The Book and the Sword” (well worth reading irrespective of his theories about Tanach!) that in his hometown of Sighet in Romania people would go to mikveh before learning the torah of the Noam Elimelech, and the rumor was that the stars found in many editions at the end of certain segments hint to greater sodos that could not be put into text. With rumors like that it’s enough to even get a misnaged (even one that reads R’ David haLivni) curious enough to take a peek. Anyway, the opening torah on this week’s parsha seems appropriate:

VaYisa Aharon es yadav el ha’Am vayivarchem, vayeired mey'asos hachatas v’ha’olah v’hashelamim” (9:22). There seems at first glance to be no reason for the Torah to tell us that Aharon descended from the mizbeyach after blessing the people, and grammatically, the phrase itself is strange – one descends from a place, from the mizbeyach, not from an action. The Noam Elimelech uses the pasuk as a springboard to discuss the tension in balancing love of G-d with love of mankind. The “ivory tower” tzadik” can devote himself to the pure pursuit of perfection and closeness with G-d, but that pursuit comes at the sacrifice of closeness with others who can never reach such lofty heights. One cannot influence and elevate people without coming in contact with their problems and their shortcomings; one cannot bless people unless one is truly sensitive to their shortcomings.

Aharon is the paradigm of the tzadik who suffers a “descent” not in the physical sense of going to a lower location, but in the sense of sacrificing the world of personal perfection for the sake of bringing blessing to the lives of ordinary people. “Descent” is a consequence of blessing. Dealing with people, even for the lofty goal of elevating their lives, entails personal sacrifice of the world of “chatas, olah, and shelamim”, korbanos, from the root krv=closeness to G-d, but that sacrifice itself is the mark of true tzidkus.

When I first thought about this idea I was somewhat depressed by it, maybe because I’m not a chassid. Is it fair to say that one must choose between mankind and G-d, between dedication to self-perfection and tolerance for others? I have a hunch that is not what R’ Elimelech meant to convey. I think the lesson here is that the dichotomy that I painted is ultimately a false one. One cannot truly be dedicated to G-d without concern for one’s fellow man, and one cannot truly achieve perfection without being willing to sacrifice that goal for the concern of another. The “descent” of Aharon is temporary and superficial, as it ultimately leads to the elevation of the people as a whole to greater and more lofty heights.

Of course, R’ Elimelech’s life and the lives of so many tzadikim are characterized by a love of G-d comparable only to their love of mankind. Their teachings are the bracha left for us to learn from, a bracha which entailed a ”descent” in terms of sacrificing time and effort to impart, but paradoxically I think it is that descent to influence future generations which ultiamtely is the source of the greatest aliya, esp. on the yom hayahrzeit.

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