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Torah Studies: Vaetchanan

Torah Studies: Vaetchanan

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The 9th of Av is the date on which both Temples were destroyed. Each year, on the subsequent Shabbat, we read as our Haftorah the famous passage of consolation from Isaiah “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people.” The Midrash tells us that this is, literally, a two-fold consolation for the loss of the two Temples. And yet, would not one have been sufficient? For the First Temple saw a greater revelation of the Divine Presence than the Second, so that our grief and our consolation for its loss encompasses our feelings for the Second Temple. The Rebbe, however, argues that there was something unique about the Second Temple, and that this has repercussions for our daily religious life. At the heart of its analysis is the distinction between two different approaches to G‑d: Through righteousness and through repentance.

1. One Consolation or Two?

This week’s Haftorah, the first of the “Seven Weeks of Consolation” after the 9th of Av, begins with the words1 “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people.”

The Midrash2 explains that this apparent repetition refers in fact to two consolations and two tragedies: The loss of the First and Second Temples.

But this is not as simple as at first sight. The idea of consolation is that, when a calamity befalls a man, even though a second person may not be able to restore his loss, he still gives comfort by his sympathy. And if the man has sustained not one loss but two, then he can certainly be comforted twice over.

But in the case of the Temples, the consolation lies in the fact that a Third Temple will be built to replace those that were destroyed.3 And since the First Temple was greater than the Second in the revelations it housed and the miracles it witnessed,4 replacing it would, in itself, be replacing the Second Temple as well. The First contained all that was in the Second, and more. So it follows that the consolation for the loss of the First would in itself include consolation for the loss of the Second.

The answer is, that though the Second Temple was, in absolute terms, less exalted than the First, it still had certain unique virtues. Thus, the Talmud5 interprets the verse, “Greater shall be the glory of the latter house than the former,”6 to refer to the Second Temple, which was greater than the first in its size and duration.

This is why there will be two consolations, for the Third Temple will combine the virtues of both its predecessors.7

2. Tabernacle and Temple

To understand what the unique virtue of the Second Temple was, we must first see the way in which a Temple as such went beyond the Tabernacle that accompanied the Israelites in the wilderness. Both were “dwelling-places” of G‑d’s presence. But the Temple was a permanent dwelling, the Tabernacle a temporary one.8

For, there are two elements in drawing down a high degree of holiness to this world:

(i) where the holiness is apparent in the physical, but it does not actually transform it. This is a manifestation of the power of the spirituality, in that it can even permeate so gross a being.

(ii) where the holiness actually transforms the physical; that the material becomes, as it were, a “vessel,” or receptacle, to holiness. This is an even stronger revelation, whereby the “light” not merely affects, but intrinsically changes, the physical.

Similarly, the Tabernacle was holy: “And they shall make Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.” Its sanctity extended even to the curtains, the beams, and the ground on which it rested. But these were not the source of its holiness. The source was in the revelation from Above, the infinite light of G‑d which shone within it. That is why, when the Tabernacle was moved, its previous resting-place ceased to be holy ground. For its holiness was not from itself: It lasted only as long as the Divine Presence rested there.

But the sanctity of the Temple was vested in the physical materials from which it was built. Even after its destruction, the ground on which it rested was, and still is, sacred.9

This is the inner meaning of the fact that the Temple was built by Solomon. For in his reign, “the moon reached its fullness,” in the words of the Zohar.10 The sun gives light; and moon reflects it. And in spiritual terms, G‑d is the source of light, and the earth receives it. Whereas the Tabernacle had the sanctity of G‑d’s light, the holiness of the Temple lay in the very material of which it was constructed, in the things of the earth which were dedicated to G‑d. It was as the “moon” which receiving G‑d’s light and reflecting it outwards to the whole world.

3. Reflected and Generated Light

But there is a difference between the moon as it is now, and as it will be in the World to Come.

Now it draws its radiance from the sun. But in the future world, “the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun.”11 It will shine, not with reflected light, but with its own.

And this is paralleled by the difference between the two ways that the world and its beings are purified and transformed.

We may be changed by a light that comes from above, as a pupil learns from his teacher. He may come to understand what he has been taught, to the extent that, through his own efforts, he reaches the very essence of the subject. But still he is a reflection of his teacher. He is like the moon, shedding a light that came to him from elsewhere.

We may, on the other hand, be changed by a light from within. When a person, for example, returns to G‑d after forsaking His will, he does not do so because of any revelation from Above. On the contrary, at the point of return, he is far from visions of G‑d. He does so because of a prompting from within. For every Jew, in the true depths of his being, seeks to do G‑d’s will: It is merely that sometimes his inclinations get the better of him, and hide his real nature.12 The essence of the Jew is that he is part of G‑d. And the change that he brings to his life when he returns to G‑d is from within, in the strictest sense. He penetrates the surface of his inclinations, and finds G‑dliness at the core of his self. “All flesh shall see… for the mouth of the L-rd has spoken.”13 He reaches the word of G‑d through his flesh itself, through seeing the real nature of his existence. Such a person is like the moon of the World to Come. The light he casts is from the fire that burns within him.

4. The Word, the Command, the Return

There are therefore three stages: Receiving light from elsewhere, reflecting it, and generating light from within.

They are mirrored by three facets of Judaism: Torah, the commandments (Mitzvot)and the act of return (Teshuvah).

Torah is the word of G‑d, the light from Above. Even though, when we learn Torah, we become united with it,14 Torah is always the giver of light and we are always the recipients. In our learning we add nothing to it, we merely strive to uncover what was already there.

But through the Mitzvot,we both receive and give light. By wearing tefillin or tzitzit we turn parchment and wool into holy objects. By abdicating our egos in favor of G‑d’s will, we refine the world: “The Mitzvot were only given so that, by them, all creatures should be purified.”15 Whereas the Torah exists eternally in itself, the Mitzvot need the partnership of man. The Torah, although it speaks of the physical world, does not enter into it. But the commandments require physical acts and objects, and they change the fabric of the world. The Torah is like the “light of day”16 which illuminates but does not change that upon which it shines.17 But the commandments are like the “light of a lamp’’ in which wick and oil are turned into flame.

Nonetheless, the Mitzvot are still a reflected light. They need, first, the word of G‑d who commands them. But the ba’al teshuvah—the person who returns to G‑d—has shut himself off from the word of G‑d, and returns because of a flame within himself that refuses to be separated from its source.

By the Mitzvota Jew sanctifies only what is permitted to him.18 But by Teshuvah he sanctifies his whole past life, lived in the realm of forbidden acts.19 His past sins become his merits. And this is the unique virtue of the act of return: It sanctifies not only a part, but the whole of experience.

5. The Second Temple

We are now able to understand the unique significance of the Second Temple.

During the period of the First Temple, the Jewish people were in general at the level of “righteousness,” living a life of obedience to G‑d’s commandments. The light it gave to the world was a reflection of the will of G‑d.

But the Second Temple belonged to a time of repentance and return. The world was being sanctified from within, through Israel’s own spiritual resources. Thus it is significant that its building was ordered by Cyrus,20 the king of Persia, a non-Jew.

This is why we needed two consolations, “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people.” For the two Temples each had its own distinctive virtue. The revelations of G‑d’s presence which belonged to the First were greater, but those of the Second were more inward. They issued from the very texture of the physical world. Thus the Talmud says that the greatness of the Second Temple lay in its size (space) and its duration (time). For it drew its sanctity from man’s own efforts to purify his finite world, not from G‑d as He is above space and time.

The consolation will be the Third Temple, in which the light from above and the light from within will combine.

6. What Can be Lost, and What Cannot

All inner meanings of the Torah have their reflection in Halacha (Jewish law).

We can see that the land of Israel had a greater sanctity during the First Temple than during the Second. For—to take one example—when Rosh Hashanah fell on Shabbat, the Shofar was blown throughout the land in the First Temple times, but in the Temple alone in the time of the Second.21

On the other hand, the land lost some of its sanctity with the destruction of the First Temple, but none with the loss of the Second.

The laws attaching to the land of Israel show that the First Temple conferred a more intense holiness; the Second, a more permanent one.

This can be compared to the two sets of tablets on which Moses received the Ten Commandments. The first set was the more miraculous: But they were broken. The second were not. So too the First Temple conferred greater holiness on Israel, yet when it was destroyed that sanctity was removed. But the holiness of the land in the time of the Second Temple persists for all time.

By reading this week’s Haftorah, “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people,” we remember not only what was lost, but what survives. The generation of righteousness may belong to the past and the future. But the generation of return is a present possibility. It is the enduring heritage of the Second Temple. And by turning possibility into fact we bring close the time of the Third Temple—the twofold and final consolation.

(Source: Likkutei Sichot, Vol. IX pp. 61-70)

Footnotes
2.
Yalkut, Isaiah, Remez 445.
3.
Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi), Isaiah, Ibid.
4.
Yoma, 21b.
5.
Baba Batra, 3a.
7.
Cf. Zohar, Part III, 221a.
8.
Cf. Shir Hashirim Rabbah, 1:16. Cf. Psalms 132:14; II Samuel 7:6.
9.
Rambam, Hilchot Beit Habechirah, end ch. 6.
10.
Part I, 150a. Cf. Shemot Rabbah, 15:26.
12.
Rambam, Hilchot Gerushin, end ch. 2.
14.
Tanya, Part I, ch. 5.
15.
Bereishit Rabbah, beg. ch. 44.
16.
Proverbs 6:23: “For a Mitzvah is a candle, and Torah is light.”
17.
Torah Or, 87b.
18.
Cf. Shabbat, 28b.
19.
Yoma, 86b. Cf. Derech Mitzvotecha, 191a.
20.
Ezra 1:1. Cf. Ibid., 6:4. Rosh Hashanah, 4a.
21.
Rosh Hashanah, 29b (Likkutei Torah, Rosh Hashanah, 57c).
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Wales indonesi, jakarta barat August 4, 2017

Todah Reply

igor bartolic Zagreb Croatia July 29, 2015

Thank You Reply

Jamalok Georgia August 6, 2014

Reflected and Generated light Very Awesome! Interpretation Reply

Kevin Smith 08648 August 3, 2012

Comfort ye times two I find repetitions in scripture are frequently treated this way - too literally - when maybe all the author meant was to speak poetically or with intensity, such as when we try to comfort a child who skinned her knee falling off her bike. Reply

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