Friday, June 27, 2014

opposite sides of the same coin

1) The Sefer Yetzira says that the month of Tamuz corresponds to the letter ‘cheis’ (whatever that means) which symbolizes cheit.  The name of the month, Tamuz, appears in Sefer Yechezkel (8:14 see Rashi there), “mevakos es hatamuz,” where it refers to something heated up, something being burnt.  Sin, burning – these are not pleasant images. 

Yet, explains the Shem m’Shmuel, latent within these same images is exactly the opposite meaning.  We have in our parsha “mei chatas” and “hu yischatah,” where “cheit” means taharah.  The fire of Tamuz need not be a destructive fire, but can be the flame of Torah that gives warmth.

The Midrash writes that in every parsha that Hashem taught Moshe he learned the thing and its opposite, e.g. heter and issur, tumah and taharah, etc.  When Moshe got to parhas Emor, Hashem taught him the concept of tumas meis, but no opposite.  Moshe thought there is no remedy for that tumah.  Finally, Hashem taught him our parsha of parah adumah.

R’ Simcha Bunim of Peshischa explains that to truly understand something means to understand its opposite as well, it’s negation.  The Maharal writes in many places that opposites are logically actually very closely related, as they are two sides of the same coin; one cannot exist without the other.  If you grasp one, you grasp the other.  Whatever Moshe learned, he understood fully and was able to fathom the opposite ideas as well.  The only exception was the parsha of tumas meis.  Parah adumah is a chok, it is unfathomable.  Hashem had to reveal the parsha to Moshe and only then did he understand it.

In other words (what I think he means), we can justify and rationalize a lot of things.  We can talk about cheit having opposite meanings, we can talk about fire meaning different things.  It’s harder when it comes to talking about death.  Only G-d himself at some point can reveal to us that mystery.

2) For forty years Bnei Yisrael were wandering in the midbar eating mon.  Why now at the end of the road do they suddenly start complaining again, “nafsheinu katzah ba’lechem hakelokeil?” (21:5)  Chasam Sofer answers that the generation who left Egypt and entered the midbar had all died out.  The generation our parsha speaks to is a new generation, one that had been raised in the desert from birth and had known nothing other than mon.  Now, they find themselves on the borders of Edom, Moav – they encounter civilization for the first time.  They see people eating foods they had never tasted; they see drinks and delicacies they have never seen before.  Who wants mon anymore when you can have “real” food? 
The punishment Hashem gave them was the poisonous snakes.  For forty years in the desert the ananei hakavod had smoothed the road out – no one knew what a snakebite was or that it could prove fatal.  You want to complain that you haven’t had a steak for 40 years – remember that you haven’t suffered harm for 40 years either.  You want to complain that the food everyone else is eating looks so good – you tikun is to look at the nechash nechoshes and direct your vision to higher things.

1 comment:

  1. Re #1
    Rav Hutner's yesod of the shnai seirim: the identity in all superficial aspects emphasizes the ultimate vast distinction. So not only does the opposite elucidate the concept, if you find two concepts which appear to be identical, be careful to seek out their ultimate divergence.

    Tammuz [the name of the late, unlamented Iraqi nuclear reactor, taken out by the only Israeli government not to be a tool of the Mimshal - i.e., the American government], is of course, the name of an avoda zara, which emphasizes the dichotomy.