Thursday, May 25, 2017

nezem zahav b'af chazir -- the golden ring

Hopefully I will get to post something before Shavuos, but in case I don't, this amazing Koznitzer Magid (at the end of Avodas Yisrael) should make your Yom Tov.  In the last perek of Avos R' Yehoshua ben Levi tells us that a bas kol echoes from Sinai every day bemoaning those who ignore Torah.  The Mishna describes these people using the pasuk, "Nezem zahav b'af chazir...," it is like a golden ring in the snout of a pig.  M'mah nafshacha, asks the Koznitzer, how does this analogy make sense?  If people are learning, then they are not dragging the gold ring through the mud; if they are not learning, then they don't have the gold ring to begin with!  They have nothing, no connection -- where's the gold ring?

The answer must be, says the Koznitzer Magid, that every Jew, from the day he/she is born, has a connection to Torah built into his/her DNA.  We're not born with a silver spoon in our mouths -- we are born with a gold ring, a nezem zahav, the beauty of Torah.  The Mishna is telling us that it's up to us to make the most of that innate connection.  We can either seize the opportunity and hear the call from Sinai, or we can end up dragging that gold ring through the mud. 

Rashi writes at the beginning of our parsha that Klal Yisrael were counted when they left Egypt, they were counted again after cheit ha'eigel, and here Hashem counted them again all to show his love for them.

Vayis’u m’Refidim va’yavo’u midbar Sinai…” (Shmos 19:2)  Chazal connect the departure from Refidim with the arrival at Sinai: just as the former was accompanied by teshuvah, so too, the latter was accompanied by teshuvah.  If they did teshuvah when they left, why did they need to do teshuva again when they arrived?  Two years ago I posted the Shem m'Shmuel's answer: when a person goes up in ruchniyus, they need to re-assess the past from their new vantage point.  Sinai was a new level, a new height.  What might have passed for an adequate measure of teshuvah before when they left now no longer looked to be sufficient.

When Klal Yisrael was counted after they left Egypt, it was to take stock of who had made it through the difficult challenge of being in Mitzrayim.  After the cheit ha'eigel, it was time to take stock again and asses who had made it though that challenging experience.  In our parsha, Klal Yisrael has completed a Mishkan and are about to start the march toward Eretz Yisrael.  It is a new level of spiritual heights.  Therefore, a new count is needed to take stock again, to re-asses the past and see if indeed, the teshuvah that was done then, the (ac)count that was taken then, still passes muster (based on the Sheiris Menachem).     


  1. now we know!--the malach who touches the newborn Jew between the mouth and nose, does so with a golden ring, an angelic nose-ring thru which an unbreakable angelic thread passes, so to draw a baby forth to the very recovery of the Torah totality just lost: a thread-and-nezem
    apparatus that is the yoke of Torah

    count 1, "the difficult challenge";
    count 2, "that challenging experience";
    count 3, the "challenge" of?
    ...the tochachah of bechukosai! the survivors of a shock that could knock one's socks off, and his nose-ring too...

  2. This works well with the idea that at Sinai each person was wedded to one letter of the Torah, Shishim ribbo osios. That connection is permanent. I actually think it was more than each "person." Each person there was the figurehead of a vast ship holding his family and descendants forever.

    1. which explains how a shevua can be chal on "es asher yeshno po ha'yom... v'es asher aineno po."