Studies: Autumn 5771

Studies: Autumn 5771

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The Torah is multi-layered, yet one. At Yeshivah Gedolah, the study of Nigleh (the revealed dimension of Torah) and Chassidus (the inner dimension of Torah) are fused together. Below is a brief synopsis of recent studies at the Yeshivah, adapted from a Gemoro L’girsa Shiur delivered by Rabbi Shmuel Lesches.

Talmud Studies 

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 95b) relates:

After Sancheriv’s catastrophic defeat at the gates of Jerusalem, in which his entire Assyrian army – with the exception of a handful of soldiers – was eradicated by a G‑dly angel (Isaiah 37), G‑d appeared to Sancheriv in the guise of an elderly man. He said, “When you go back to your allies, whose sons you enlisted in your army and who died at Jerusalem, how will you justify yourself?”

Sancheriv responded, “I, too, live in constant fear of this! But, what shall I do?”

The elderly man responded, “Go and disguise yourself, so that they do not recognize you”.

The elderly man offered to shave Sancheriv’s hair, and he directed Sancheriv to procure a pair of scissors from a house nearby. When Sancheriv entered the house, he encountered ministering angels in the form of mortal men, busy milling date kernels. They demanded of Sancheriv to grind for them a measure of date kernels, and rented him a pair of scissors in return.

By the time Sancheriv returned with the scissors, it had already grown dark. The elderly man protested that he would not be able to see what he was doing, and suggested that Sancheriv bring a flame. Sancheriv returned with a fire, but when he fanned its flames, the fire caught hold of, and utterly consumed, his beard. Subsequently, the elderly man shaved the rest of Sancheriv.

The Talmud concludes that this is the meaning of the verse (Isaiah 7:20):

“On that day, the Lord will shave with a hired razor … the king of Assyria, his head and the hair of his legs; his beard too shall be destroyed.”

This passage of the Talmud recalls the words of the Rambam (in his introduction to this chapter), that the sages of the Talmud purposely cloaked their profoundest wisdom in the most inconceivable of tales, in order to arouse the curiosity of the wise and devoted, and at the same time, to engender indifference amongst the foolish and the unbelieving.

More specifically, in this instance, the Rama posits that the description of G‑d appearing in the guise of an old man is so grossly anthropomorphic, that it would be utterly blasphemous to accept the account at face value. The Rama continues to list no less than five approaches to interpreting this tale. Indeed, this enigmatic passage has intrigued the minds of our scholars throughout the centuries.

A Chassidic discourse delivered by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (the first Lubavitcher Rebbe), and transcribed by his son Rabbi Dovber (the second Lubavitcher Rebbe), focuses on the Torah's fixation with hair: The Nazir's hair is holy whereas the leper’s hair must be shaved; a man’s beard and sideburns must be untouched whilst a woman's hair must be covered. In describing G‑d, too, and His relationship with His people, the scriptures refer to “the hair of His head, white as clean wool” (Daniel 7:9), “His locks are curled, black as a raven” (Song of Songs 5:11), and “the braided locks of her head are like purple” (Ibid 7:6).

Hair is a paradox; on the one hand, its nourishment and growth is entirely dependent on its connection to the body; on the other hand, no pain is felt when it is severed from the body. Thus, in the world of Kabbalah, hair represents an extreme contraction of spiritual energies, which results in a creation which is entirely dependent on, yet mostly oblivious to, its source.

In the realm of holiness, this hairlike contraction of spiritual energies is a necessary step in transmitting an otherwise inaccessible level of holiness, of an intensity which would be damaging in the physical worlds. The hairlike contraction creates a vitality of the diluted variety, which can be harnessed by mortal man in his quest of G‑d, without being overwhelmed in the process.

In the realm of the Kelippot (the spiritual forces of impurity) however, the divine sparks which support their existence are already shrouded in the bonds of exile, and any further hairlike contraction of these sparks would produce nothing more than an existence in denial of G‑d.

And that existence was Sancheriv, who, unlike even the idolatrous kings before him, refused to ascribe supremacy of any sort to G‑d. And G‑d responded in kind, by shaving and destroying all of the hairlike contractions within the realm of the Kelippot, thereby abrogating the potential of a Sancheriv-like denial of G‑d.

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