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Shemini shel Pesach 5775 — 04/08/2015

Shemini shel Pesach 5775 — 04/08/2015

Note: Since Pesach falls on Shabbat this year, the 8th day of Pesach also falls on Shabbat.  Since Pesach is only celebrated for the Biblical 7 days in the Land of Israel, they will read Parashat Shemini this week, while we in chutz la’aretz will read the special reading for the last day of Pesach (Devarim 14:22-16:17).  Although there are 3 double portions till the end of Sefer Vayikra (Tazria-Metzora, Acharei Mot-Kedoshim and Behar-Bechukotai) it is the third one that is split in Israel to take up the extra week and get the entire Jewish world back in sync.  I don’t know the reason for this – it may simply be that those parshiyot are the longest, or it may be because of the tochachah (passage of rebuke) in Bechukotai, or it may be for some other reason completely.

Traditionally, the Splitting of the Sea took place on the 7th day after the Exodus – the Jews originally asked to go a 3-day journey into the desert.  When they weren’t back in 6 days (3 out and 3 back), Pharaoh saddled his horse and led an army against the Israelites, only to be drowned in the sea.  In relief and gratitude for their salvation, the Jews sang the Song of the Sea – the first recorded instance in Tanach of anyone singing a song to Gd.  R. Morrison includes a discussion by Rav Kook of the place of Art and Literature in the spiritual life:

The purpose of Art, in all its forms, is to give expression to every concept, every emotion, and every thought found in the depths of the human soul.  As long as even one quality remains concealed within the soul, it is the responsibility of the artist to reveal it.

Of course, artistic expression is not without boundaries and limits.  The artist is duty-bound to create and express as long as his art serves to enrich and ennoble life. … Woe to the author who uses his artistic tools for the opposite purpose, to uncover and reveal unseemly matters, thus polluting the general atmosphere.

It goes without saying what Rav Kook’s attitude would be towards much of what passes for art today, or the behavior of the artists who create it.  Currently the world is breathlessly awaiting the arrival of a soft-porn novel to the silver screen, where we will not be left simply to imagine what is going on, but will be able to feast our eyes upon it.  I recently saw a picture of some chareidi Jewish men who actually wear a veil in front of their eyes when they are outside the walls of their synagogue or study house, lest they see something “unseemly.”  (Another chareidi man, presumably one who is more inured to such sights, had to lead them to their destination.)  It looked ridiculous to me at the time, and it is a bit extreme, but the level of public depravity to which we’re daily exposed is pretty extreme as well.

Of course, as Rav Kook points out, there is a positive purpose that can, and must, be served by art and literature.  By expressing the deepest and purest thoughts and feelings in the human heart it serves to uplift and enrich the life of the viewer or the reader.  Of course, for the artist to be able to express these feelings, he or she must have access to them.  Somebody who is caught up in  the physical is naturally directing his attention away from his inner spiritual core.  The thoughts and emotions he expresses in his art will just as naturally reflect this outer focus.  Thus the art is sensuous, but the sensuality is devoid of the inner content that, for example, is the difference between having sex and making love.

The depth of the human soul is infinite, it is pure being, the foundation of creation.  It is beyond space, time, senses and change.  Art that comes from this depth reflects the Divine process of creation; every brush stroke or note or word on the page is suffused with that infinity, and can bring that infinity to the viewer, hearer or reader.  This infusion of the infinite into all of its expressions is the purpose of creation, and especially our purpose as individual Jews and as a nation.  Not all of us will be artists (I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler!).  But all of us can master the art of living the full value of our spiritual, inner self and expressing it in our every thought, word and action.  We can all contribute our small piece to the beautiful, perfect tapestry of Gd’s creation.