Thursday, April 16, 2015
"את זה תאכלו מכל אשר במים כל אשר לו סנפיר וקשקשת... תאכלו"
“This you may eat from everything that is in the water, everything that has fins and scales...those you may eat” (11:9).
QUESTION: TheGemara (Niddah 51b) says that a fish that has scales also has fins and there is no need to examine for them. However, there are fish that only have fins and they are tamei — unclean.
What lesson can we derive from the signs of the kosher and non-kosher fish?
ANSWER: Fish in their habitat — water — are analogous to scholars studying Torah. This is obvious from that which is related in Gemara (Berachot 61b) in connection to the Roman government’s decree against Torah study. When Pappas ben Yehudah saw Rabbi Akiva convening public assemblies to study Torah he asked him, “Akiva are you not afraid of the regime?” Rabbi Akiva replied, with a parable: “Once a fox was walking alongside the river bank and saw fish gathering from place to place, as they were fleeing something. When the fox inquired, ‘From what are you running away?’ They told him, ‘From the nets people set up to catch us.’ The fox said to them, ‘Come up to dry land and we will dwell together just as our ancestors dwelled together.’ The fish responded, ‘You are a fool, for if in our habitat where our life is sustained we are afraid, all the more so we should be afraid for our existence if we leave our habitat.’ Likewise, Rabbi Akiva said, “If now when we study Torah which is our lifesaver, our existence is threatened, how much are we in danger if we would absent ourselves from Torah.”
Scales serve as a protective garment to the fish and through the fins it flies (swims) from place to place (see Rashi). When one studies Torah it is expected of him to create chidushim — innovative thoughts and explanations. It is also imperative that one who studies Torah have yirat shamayim — fear of Heaven. The Gemara (Shabbat 31a) compares Torah study with yirat shamayim to wheat which is stored with chumton — a preservative consisting of earth with a high salt content. Just as the grain will spoil quickly without the preservative, likewise, one studying Torah without fear of Hashem, will easily forget, and his Torah study will be like a poisonous medicine for him.
Thus, the fins represent the power to accomplish and reach new heights through innovative contributions to Torah, and the scales represent the essential ingredient of yirat shamayim, through which one’s Torah study is preserved and becomes a source of sam chaim — medicine that adds life.
Consequently, if one possesses the quality of “scales,” he is on the right track with his Torah study and will eventually enhance himself and the Torah with his “fins” — innovative thoughts which will be compatible to Torah truth — אמיתתה של תורה. Such an individual is considered tahor — pure and clean. But one who studies Torah and does not have “scales” — fear of Heaven — is tameih — unclean and unfit. His Torah study and fins — innovations — are contrary to Hashem’s desire and it does not merit him the spiritual source of life which Torah gives to those who study it.
Friday, March 27, 2015
The Torah commands us to constantly burn a fire on the Outer Mizbei’ach, the altar that stood in the courtyard of the Temple, and to never extinguish it. Moreover, as taught in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Yoma 4:6), the Torah’s emphasis on this fire’s constancy comes to teach us that this fire must be continuously maintained, even if the kohanim responsible for it are in a state of ritual impurity.
This detail in the service in the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash is equally vital in the spiritual Mishkan that we each must create within ourselves.
The altar represents the heart of man, and the fire on the Outer Mizbei’achrepresents a conscious and heated passion for G-dliness. The Torah’s demand that even when the kohanim are in a state of impurity they must still maintain the fire on the altar addresses the person who feels impure and defiled—distant from anything holy. Notwithstanding his undesirable spiritual state, he must never allow the G-dly fire that burns in his soul to be extinguished. He, too, is commanded to continuously fan the natural flames of excitement toward anything G-dly that burn in his heart - as they do in the heart of every Jew.
By keeping that fire alive, he will ultimately purge himself of impurity as well. As the Maggid of Mezeritch interpreted this verse homiletically: “When the fire on the Altar is constant, everything “not” (i.e., negative) shall be extinguished.”
—Likkutei Sichos vol. 1, p. 217
One of the miracles attributed to Shabbos Hagadol is recorded in the Midrash (cited in Machzor Vitri 259 and elsewhere): “The selection of the lamb for the Pesach sacrifice was on the 10th of Nissan, which was on Shabbos. …When the Egyptians saw this, they wanted to rise up and take revenge, but their intestines became sweltering and torn and they were stricken with horrible pains and afflictions, and could do no harm to Bnei Yisrael.”
The Tur relates a similar account, but with slight variations: “Each took a lamb for the Pesach sacrifice, and tied it to his bedpost. When the Egyptians asked why are you doing this, they replied that it is to be slaughtered as a Pesach sacrifice as commanded to us by G-d. The Egyptians gnashed their teeth, because their gods were being slaughtered but they could say nothing. In recognition of that miracle, we call that day Shabbos Hagadol.”
Notably, the Tur makes no mention of the Egyptian’s desire to harm Bnei Yisrael nor that G-d miraculously saved Bnei Yisrael by afflicting the Egyptians. He states only that the Egyptians were powerless. On the other hand, he documents a full dialogue between Bnei Yisrael and the Egyptians, emphasizing Bnei Yisrael's response, “it is to be slaughtered as a Pesach sacrifice as commanded to us by G-d.”
The Tur’s choice of words indicates that Shabbos Hagadol does not commemorate the salvation from the Egyptians’ revenge, for that is celebrated on Pesach among all the other miracles associated with the exodus. Rather,Shabbos Hagadol commemorates the mere fact that the Egyptians were unable to stop Bnei Yisrael from observing their mitzvah.
The Tur therefore omits the details of the afflictions that held back the Egyptians, and elaborates instead on Bnei Yisrael’scourageous response — they disregarded the risk involved and openly stated that they would slaughter the lamb in observance of G-d’s will. This highlights, that Bnei Yisrael’s determination and courage to fulfill G-d’s command brought about the great miracle of Shabbos Hagadol, in which the Egyptians became entirely powerless to stop Bnei Yisrael from doing G-d’s bidding.
—Likkutei Sichos, vol. 37, pp. 7-8
A number of miraculous events are attributed to the Shabbos that preceded the exodus from Egypt, earning the Shabbos before Pesach the title Shabbos Hagadol, the Great Shabbos. Yet the Alter Rebbe, Rav Schneur Zalman of Liadi, cites only one of these miracles in his Shulchan Aruch: “When the Jews took the lambs for their Pesach offerings on that Shabbos, the gentile firstborns assembled and inquired why they were doing so. They responded, ‘This is our Pesach offering, for G-d shall slay the Egyptian firstborns.’ The firstborn went to their fathers and to Pharaoh and demanded that they liberate the Jews. They refused, and the firstborn declared war against them and killed many of them.”
It is particularly this miracle that is commemorated by Shabbos Hagadol, according to the Alter Rebbe, because this demand and uprising from within the Egyptian rank and file marked the start of the actual exodus. In the Alter Rebbe’s words in the subsequent paragraph, “because Shabbos Hagadol was the beginning of the redemption.”
This explanation also provides deeper insight into the name Shabbos Hagadol.
Shabbos is both “a remembrance of the creation of the world” (see Shemos), and “a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt” (see Devarim ). The acknowledgement of G-d’s rest on the seventh day of creation emphasizes Shabbos’ contribution to the creation: “to instill in our souls the belief in the world’s deliberate creation” (Sefer Hachinuch). The second aspect of resting on Shabbos, however, pays tribute to G-d’s redemption of the Jewish people from the harsh labor in Egypt, and represents Shabbos of transcendence of creation. It draws attention to Shabbos’s unique relationship with the Jewish people (and not the world as a whole), and to the redemption from Egypt, which utterly defied the rules of nature.
Accordingly, the Shabbos before Pesach is not only “The Shabbos of great miracles,” but “The Great Shabbos.” For this Shabbos marks the launch of the redemption, whose commemoration on Shabbos is the greater aspect of Shabbos. Hence, the war waged by the Egyptians to procure freedom for the Jews is the event that made Shabbos truly great.
—Likkutei Sichos, vol. 37, pp. 9-12