Monday, February 26, 2018

Purim Teaching From the Izhbitzer

From The Path of the Baal Shem Tov, pp. 112-13

This teaching comes from Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner, the Rebbe of Izhbitz (Izbica), from his classic “Mei HaShiloach,” in the section “Likutey HaShas: Megillah,” 12. We have adapted it slightly to make it less cryptic.

Megillas Esther describes the feast of King Achashverosh and the refusal of Queen Vashti to appear before him unclothed. Therefore, the King sought the advice of his royal ministers, who are mentioned by name: “And those close (vi-hakarov) to him: Carshena, Sheisar, Admasa...” (Esther 1:14).

Rabbi Levi said: This entire verse alludes to the sacrificial offerings (korbanos). [Taking the term “royal minister” as an allusion to the ministering angels, R. Levi rendered the names in the verse interpretively, using various word-plays.] “‘Carshena’’—the Ministering Angels declared before the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘Master of the Universe! Did any other nation offer before You yearling lambs (karim bnei shanah) as the Jews have offered before You? “Sheisar—Did any other nation offer before You two turtledoves (shtey torim) as have the Jews? ‘Admasa’—Did any other nation build before You an altar of earth (adamah) as have the Jews?” (Megillah 12b).

The relationship between this Talmudic passage and the incident of Vashti may be derived from a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov. Vashti was asked to appear before the King naked, but did not come. Concerning this, the Baal Shem Tov remarked, “The aspect of nakedness still has not come.”

Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner of lzhbitz explained this as follows:
God gave the Jewish people the Torah and mitzvos, which are garments by means of which His Essence may be grasped. In this world it is impossible for a human being to apprehend God’s Essence except by means of garments. Thus, Godliness is concealed within physicality—to the extent that whatever we perceive is through the intermediacy of garments.

In the present state of reality, God pours forth shefa (bounty) by way of the Four Worlds [parallel to the four letters of the Divine Name YHVH], using whichever sefirah is necessary at a given time until the shefa reaches this world. All this is so the influx of shefa is graspable. Also, the nations of the world are able to receive some of this, for they, too, can grasp the outer garment. However, they misuse this shefa when they perform all sorts of abominations.

When the Men of the Great Assembly saw that Achashverosh had commanded Vashti to appear before him naked, they understood that God wanted to confer upon the Jewish People a true revelation without any garment, as will be the case in the Ultimate Future. Then the Holy One, blessed be He, will reveal His light without any garment. However, as long as man is attached to his lower nature, such a revelation can only reinforce his physical passions.

Therefore, at this time the Men of the Great Assembly endeavored to uproot the desire for sexual immorality from the heart of humanity (Yoma 69b). This would have made this direct revelation equally available to those who had struggled against immoral desires and those who had pursued them without restraint. That is why the Ministering Angels protested, “How can the nations of the world be permitted to grasp the aspect of nakedness? Did any other nation offer before You...” For even when the light was concealed from them, the Jewish People exerted themselves with all their strength to bring sacrificial offerings and to serve God in order to come closer to the light. Throughout history, they worked through the barriers of physicality, symbolized by the sacrificial offerings, by striving to live according to the Torah. Thus, it is fitting that in the Ultimate Future God will reveal His light to them completely, without any intermediary.

It is written, “My soul longs and even expires for the courtyards of God; my heart and my flesh will sing unto the Living God” (Psalms 84:3). That is, in the present state of reality, since garments are necessary, “my soul longs and even expires for the courtyards of God,” for the physical Holy Temple and the various forms of Divine Service, which are garments of His light. However, “my heart and my flesh will sing unto the Living God.” My waiting and hoping is for the revelation of light which will take place in the future, without any garments—a ¬revelation of life in its very simplicity. This is suggested by the term “Living God.” But those nations that did not exert themselves in Divine service nor endeavor to draw closer to the Divine light, why should they deserve to share this revelation when, at last, struggle and garments will not exist?[1]

[1] However, rightous non-Jews will also receive a portion in the World to Come; see Sanhedrin 105b; Yerushalmi Berakhos 9; Bereishis Rabbah 26:2; Zohar, Pekudey; Pirkey Rabbi Eliezer 34; Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Melakhim 8:10-1. The Kabbalists frequently cite the teaching from Tanna D’vei Eliyahu 9:1: “I call heaven and earth to witness than anyone—Jew or non-Jew, man or woman, slave or bondmaid—can attain Ruach ha-Kodesh (Divine Inspiration). Everything is in accordance with one’s deeds.”

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