Harav Yaakov Hillel On Parshas Behar-Bechukosai


rav-yaakov-hillelSpace, Time and Soul: The Juxtaposition of the Mitzvot of Shabbat and Festivals
From Harav Yaakov Hillel, Rosh Yeshivah, Yeshivat Ahavat Shalom
You shall keep My commandments and perform them. I am Hashem. Do not desecrate My Holy Name, but I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel. I am Hashem who sanctifies you, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your G-d. I am Hashem. (Vayikra 22:31-33)

These verses are a general admonition concerning all the Torah’s mitzvot. “You shall keep [them]” refers to the Torah’s prohibitions, while “and perform them” refers to the positive commandments. “Do not desecrate My Holy Name” – lo tihalelu, implies that a sinner not only desecrates G-d’s Name, but more so, he causes the Divine Presence to recede from the world, leaving the world empty and void halal of G-d’s holiness. By performing the mitzvot, however, we achieve the opposite: “I shall be sanctified among the children of Israel.” That is, we sanctify G-d’s Name and draw His Presence upon us, filling the world with His Light and Presence. This is the whole reason G-d redeemed us from Egypt, as the verses conclude: “to be your G-d” – meaning, to feel and experience our connection with Him.

Immediately after these verses in the Torah, we find the commandments of the Festivals:

And Hashem spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: The L-rd’s appointed seasons that you shall designate as holy occasions. These are my appointed days. Six days you shall do work, but the seventh day is a day of complete rest, a holy convocation; you shall do no form of work. It is a Sabbath to the L-rd in all your dwellings. These are the festivals of the L-rd, holy convocations, which you shall celebrate at their appointed times. (Ibid. 23:1-4)

There are several questions we can ask on these lines. First of all, how do they all relate to one another? Within just a few short lines, the Torah speaks of sanctifying Hashem’s Name by performing the mitzvot, and honoring the Shabbat and the Festivals. What is the connection? Furthermore, we can ask (as Rashi does), why the commandment of Shabbat is mentioned here beside that of the holidays? After all, the holiness of Shabbat was established at the very beginning of creation. It does not depend upon the date of the new moon, the cycle of the year, or any input from the Jewish people. The dates of the Festivals, however, always follow the day upon which the new moon occurs, or whether or not it is a leap year, and when the Bet Din sanctified them (in the times of the Temple), along with the sanctification of the month. We see this difference in the blessings made during the Shemona Esrei of Shabbat as opposed to that of the Festivals. On Shabbat, we say: “Blessed are You, Hashem… who sanctifies the Shabbat.” The sanctity of Shabbat depends upon G-d, not us! However, on the festivals, we say: “Blessed are You, Hashem… who sanctifies Yisrael and the Seasons,” for the holiness of the latter depends upon the holiness of the former. This distinction is particularly apparent in the blessing recited when a festival occurs on the Shabbat. Then, we say: “Blessed are You, Hashem…who sanctifies the Shabbat, Yisrael and the Seasons,” because that is the order of sanctification, as one leads to other.

The Purpose of Creation
I would like to answer these questions, as well as explain the juxtaposition of the verses above, based upon the Torah’s esoteric teachings.

The Sefer Yetzirah (authored by Avraham Avinu) speaks about three fundamental components of creation: olam, shana, and nefesh; literally: “world, year and soul” or, in other words: “space, time, and power” (since nefesh is the part of the soul which empowers the body). These three categories within the created world are singled out precisely because they stand in direct opposition to G-d’s Infinite Being, which transcends space and time, and is of unlimited power. However, it is precisely by creating a world of limitation, bound by the forces of space and time, that human beings can freely choose between good and evil, and through serving G-d with Torah and mitzvot, bring about a revelation of His unity in the world.

G-d Himself is perfect, without flaw or limitation. However, in order to create an imperfect world, where evil can exist and human deeds have value – precisely because the choice between good and evil is ever-present – Hashem, during the process of creation, held back some of His limitless power. Step-by-step, the creation descended from above to below, so that the further the worlds receded from their Divine source, the denser and darker they became, until they reached the level where G-d’s Presence became completely concealed, and the possibility for evil came into being, as an option and a test for us.

The obligation of the Jewish people, through Torah and mitzvot, is to draw G-d’s light down into this dark and empty reality, to perfect and illuminate all levels of creation, and to fill the earth with an awareness of G-d, “as water covers the sea” (Isaiah 11:69). Then G-d’s light will fill the world, and we will see that there is no other reality beside Him.

Perfecting the World through the aspect of “Soul”
Since the essence of G-d’s creative act was to withhold His limitless power in order for the world to come into existence, we can say that He acted from the aspect of nefesh. This allowed for the creation of the worlds that are also limited in power, space and time; worlds with a beginning and an end, commencing from the onset of creation until its ultimate fulfillment.

Now, since Hashem used these three aspects of space, time, and soul to create the world, so too, the Jewish people must elevate the world to its perfect and complete state by using these very same aspects. When we perfect the world through the power of Torah and mitzvot, and draw down G-d’s light into the creation in greater fullness, we also use the aspect of nefesh. This is alluded to in the first part of the verses cited above: “You shall keep My commandments and perform them.” That is, when we fulfill the Torah, with its 613 commandments – the 248 active commandments and the 365 prohibitions – we perfect our soul, which has 613 facets, corresponding to our 613 body parts: 248 limbs and 365 sinews. When all the Jewish souls achieve perfection, reaching the exalted level they were at while still included in Adam’s soul before he sinned, then G-d’s own unlimited power will be revealed on earth.

This explains the verses above: By “observing and performing” the commandments – both positive and negative – we draw down a revelation of “I am Hashem”; that is “I am the one who revealed Myself in this limited world by the Name “Hashem – Y-H-V-H.” Thus, the verse continues: “Do not desecrate My Holy Name.” For when we fail to fulfill the mitzvot, or even worse, sin, G-d forbid, we not only desecrate G-d’s Name, causing a hilul Hashem, we also limit the revelation of His Divine light in the world, causing the world to be halal – devoid of Hashem’s Presence. Whereas when we observe the mitzvot, we bring about a fuller revelation of G-d’s Name – of His light and His power. Thus the verse continues: “I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel.” Meaning to say, not only do our actions hallow G-d’s Name in the eyes of the world, they draw down G-d’s holiness “amidst” our souls; that is, within us, and through us, to the rest of the world. And since the Tetragrammaton, representing G-d’s power over creation, was first revealed in the events of the exodus from Egypt, as Rabbenu Asher wrote in Orhot Hayyim, chap. 1:26,[ the verse concludes: “…who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your G-d.” Because it is for the sake of our keeping the mitzvot that G-d delivered us.

“World” – the Holiness of Shabbat; “Year” the Holiness of the Festivals
This takes us to the next verses; those that speak about the holiness of the Shabbat, corresponding to the aspect of “world” or “space.” When Hashem restrained His infinite power to allow for the creation of the worlds, He essentially made a “place” for them to exist – from the highest of the created worlds, down to the darkest and densest world, in which we exist. And since the holiness of Shabbat does not depend upon our actions, but was set from the very beginning of the creation, it is an intrinsic part of the world that Hashem created. Therefore, contemporaneous with the creation of the world was the creation of the holiness of Shabbat. This explains the connection between Shabbat and the aspect of “place” – that is, the creation of the world. Thus, by carefully observing the Shabbat, we bring Hashem’s infinite light into the aspect of “world” or “space” that He created.

Finally, the yearly festivals – Pesah, Shavuot, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot – all relate to the aspect of “year” or “time” that Hashem created. By observing them, we reveal Hashem’s light, which is itself above time, during the Festivals and then beyond – illuminating the entire year with holiness.

Kabbalistic teachings explain that since the creation of the world, there has been a gradual process of spiritual rectification (tikkun) occurring on a daily basis. Every day, with each mitzvah we do and prayer we recite, another aspect of creation is rectified and uplifted. On a broad scale, there is the rectification of each day, of each week, of months, years, shemittas (seven year periods) and yovels (50 year periods). This process began even before man was created – from the moment the sun and moon were set in the sky on the fourth day of creation. Now, since the dating of each Festival depends upon the sighting of the moon (before our calendar was established), there is a connection between them and this process of rectification.
Thus we see that there are three categories of rectification. Through observing Torah and mitzvot, we draw down Hashem’s light into the world, rectifying the aspect of “soul” (power). Through observing Shabbat, we rectify the aspect of “world” (space). And by observing the festivals, we rectify the aspect of “year” (time).

All this is alluded to in the verses from this week’s parasha, quoted above. They define our task in this world; for by keeping Torah and mitzvot, we uplift and sanctify ourselves together with the entire creation, a process that continues for the six thousand years of the world’s existence, until the ultimate revelation of Hashem in the future. “On that day, Hashem will be One and His Name One” (Zekharia 14:9). Then, all creation will recognize that there is none else but Hashem alone.

[ Rabbenu Asher explains that the Egyptians did not acknowledge G-d’s power over nature, only His workings through nature. They knew the Divine Name “Elokim,” which has the same gematria as the word ha-teva, “nature.” However, they refused to recognize Hashem’s Name Y-H-V-H, which transcends nature. Thus, it was precisely this Name that became revealed in the miraculous events of the exodus. Thus the verse states: “…I will take out My host, My people, the children of Yisrael, from the land of Egypt with great judgments. And the Egyptians will know that I am Hashem” (Shemot 7:4-5).]

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