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Parashat Pinchas 5775 — 07/08/2015

Parashat Pinchas 5775 — 07/08/2015

The latter part of our parashah contains a listing of all the communal offerings, from the daily offering of two lambs through all the special additional (musaf) offerings for the New Moon (Rosh Chodesh) and Festivals.  The appropriate paragraphs are recited during the musaf service on Rosh Chodesh, Shabbat and the Festivals, and the paragraph of the daily offering is recited daily in the preliminary service of shacharit (morning service).

The offerings of Rosh Chodesh and the Festivals include a goat for a sin-offering; the Rabbis explain that these communal sin-offerings atone for violations of the laws of ritual impurity, viz., inadvertently entering the Temple grounds or eating portions of sacrifical meat when ritually impure.  While the Festival sin-offerings are described simply as “a he-goat for a sin-offering,” that of Rosh Chodesh is described as “a he-goat for a sin-offering for Hashem.”  Needless to say, this anomaly did not escape the Sages’ attention.  They explain the association of a sin offering for Hashem and the New Moon as follows: Originally Gd created the sun and the moon as equals, as it says, “Gd made the two great lights…” (Gen 1:16).  However the moon came to Gd and complained that two kings couldn’t make use of one crown.  Gd agreed, and commanded the moon to diminish itself, as the just-cited verse continues, “…the great light to rule by day, and the small[er] light to rule by night.”  Gd “felt guilty” about reducing the moon’s stature, and therefore commanded Israel to offer a sin-offering to atone for His “lapse.”

Rav Kook explains the significance of this Midrash:

This monthly offering relates to the essence of the creation process.  The very act of creation is problematic, confining infinite Gdliness within the finite boundaries of time and place.  This constriction is only possible if there is a continual process of renewal, whereby the physical limits are gradually releaased, expanding the material boundaries.

The sin-offering is a goat, which is the most destructive of domestic animals on the environment:

Within the order of creation, the universe requires destructive forces, in order to break down the limmiting borders and push forward the renewal of existence to ever higher levels.  In this context, those pheonmena that would seem to be purely negative and destructive are redeemed and given cosmic significance.

The full complement of offerings on Rosh Chodesh includes a series of burnt-offerings, called in Hebrew olah, meaning “to elevate.”  The olah (elevation/renewal) combines with the sin-offering (destruction) to provide atonement for the very process of creation itself!

This is quite a remarkable confluence of ideas.  I might point out that there is one other instance where a “sin-offering” is made for something that doesn’t appear to be a sin.  A woman who has given birth undergoes a 40- or 80-day period of purification (for a boy or a girl respectively), after which she is required to bring a sin-offering and an olah-offering to complete her purification.  The Rabbis ask the obvious question: What is her sin?  The answer given is that in the throes of labor she might have vowed never to sleep with her husband again – the sin is that she will almost assuredly violate the vow.  I don’t really understand the significance of that answer at all.  I would like to suggest that the process of  bearing a child is parallel to the process of creation, and the offerings at the end of that process are parallel to the offerings of Rosh Chodesh (incidentally, a holiday associated with women especially, for obvious reasons).

In the Kabbalistic view, the process of creation is an interaction between the “male” quality of Chesed and the “female” quality of Gevurah, the first two of the “lower 7” sefirot, or levels of emanation from Gd.  Chesed in ordinary speech means kindness, and is here associated with an unrestricted outflowing of goodness.  For our purposes here, the emphasis is on “unrestricted.”  It’s like a flood of goodness.  When we pray for rain, we always are careful to pray for a rain of blessing, one that will water the crops, not a flood that will wash them away.  Gevurah means strength; here it is associated with boundaries, a channel that gives form to the flow of Chesed.  Without a flow, a channel is just a dry wadi in the desert; without a channel a flow can become a disastrous flood.  I think the parallels with mammalian reproduction are obvious.  The male provides a more or less unrestricted flow of DNA; the female takes it in and provides a restricted environment in which the fetus can take form.  Hence, the woman brings an olah, representing the Chesed value and a sin-offering, representing the Gevurah value.

The fundamental challenge of creation is getting from 1 to 2.  Gd, the ultimate basis of existence, is pure Unity, not an integrated system of many parts.  Gd has no boundaries, no restrictions, no form.  In fact, Gd is almost the antithesis of His creation!  How do we get Creation?  The Kabbalists describe the process as beginning with a contraction of Gd’s infinite essence, to “provide space” for finite values to exist.  How does this contraction take place.  I would like to suggest the following mechanism.  Gd certainly has consciousness.  We have consciousness, so Gd certainly must.  When we are  conscious of something, it is generally something outside ourselves.  Of course, there is nothing outside Gd, so Gd’s awareness must be Self-awareness.  This means that Gd assumes the roles of both subject (the observer) and object (the observed).  Now it is probably too much to say that we have created two out of one, because there is no division within Gd, but perhaps we can say that there is a “virtual duality” that exists with Gd’s unity.  Of course any multiplicity that arises from this virtual duality will itself be virtual.  On the other hand, is this any worse than saying Gd “contracts Himself”?!

We say at least twice daily that Hashem our Gd is One.  That doesn’t mean the biggest and the best.  It means that Gd is, ultimately, all that there is.  Hashem, He is Gd, there is nothing besides Him.  Our entire Torah lifestyle is engineered to ingrain this truth into us.  If everyone had this perspective, the world would be a lot better place!

Pirke Avot, Chapter 1

Mishnah 3

Antigonus of Socho received the Tradition from Shimon the Righteous.  He would say: Don’t be like servants who serve the Master for the sake of receiving a reward.  Rather, be like servants  who serve the Master not for the sake of receiving a reward, and let the awe of Heaven be upon you.

When we think of reward, we generally think in material terms.  When we pray during the week, we ask Gd for good health, prosperity, etc.  But we always need to bear in mind that material things are ephemeral, not of lasting worth.  The point of asking Gd to supply them is simply so that we have the means to develop ourselves spiritually.  Our soul inhabits a body, and that body allows us to interact with the material world.  The material world provides us with the moral challenges our soul needs to grow.  All this is arranged by Gd’s infinite intelligence; to try to apply our own standards is not only foolish, it is impossible.  What we need to do is take care of our business, as Gd defines it for us, and let Gd take care of His business, which is running the universe.  We can be certain that the ultimate reward – connection to Gd – will be there if we do our job faithfully.