Monday, May 14, 2007

Question & Answer With Dixie Yid - Kedusha & Man-Made Objects

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

According to halacha, if one has a choice between toiveling a utensil in a river or toiveling it in a keilim mikvah, it is preferable to use the keilim mikvah. In essence, we are saying that it is better to use something created by man over something created by Hashem in order to imbue an object with kedusha. How can one explain this?

Dixie Yid answers:

Number one, that's a great insight you have by looking into a "simple" halacha, and seeing the underlying prinicipal behind it. In order to have asked the question, it sounds like you already know the answer. But thank you for asking me to write about this as it is one of my favorite topics. It is definitely a true concept that Hashem created us to perfect things ourselves, and not simply to enjoy living in a world where He perfects everything for us. I want to bring down a few of the places where this idea manifests its self.

The main source for this idea seems to be an amazing story in the Midrash Tanchuma on Parshas Tazria, 5th perek. I'll quote it in Hebrew and then paraphrase the relavent English translation.

מעשה ששאל טורנוסרופוס הרשע את רבי עקיבא, איזו מעשים נאים, של הקדוש ברוך הוא או של בשר ודם. אמר לו, של בשר ודם נאים. אמר לו טורנוסרופוס, הרי השמים והארץ יכול אדם לעשות כיוצא בהם אמר לו רבי עקיבא, לא תאמר לי בדבר שהוא למעלה מן הבריות שאין שולטין עליו, אלא אמור דברים שהם מצויין בבני אדם. אמר לו, למה אתם מולין. אמר לו, אני הייתי יודע שעל דבר זה אתה שואלני, ולכך הקדמתי ואמרתי לך, שמעשה בני אדם נאים משל הקדוש ברוך הוא. הביא לו רבי עקיבא שבלים וגלסקאות, אמר לו, אלו מעשה הקדוש ברוך הוא, ואלו מעשה ידי אדם. אמר לו, אין אלו נאים יותר מן השבלים אמר לו טורנוסרופוס, אם הוא חפץ במילה, למה אינו יוצא הולד מהול ממעי אמו. אמר לו רבי עקיבא, ולמה שוררו יוצא עמו והוא תלוי בבטנו ואמו חותכו ומה שאתה אומר למה אינו יוצא מהול, לפי שלא נתן הקדוש ברוך הוא את המצות לישראל אלא לצרף אותם בהם. ולכך אמר דוד, (כל) אמרת ה' צרופה (תהלים יח לא):

Turnus Rufus asked Rebbe Akiva, "Whose acts are better; those of The Holy One or of flesh and blood?" Rebbe Akiva answered him, "Those of flesh and blood." ... Turnus Rufus then asked him, "Why are your circumcised?" He answered him, "I knew that's what you were really asking me before, which is why I answered you the way I did." Rebbe Akiva brought him some wheat and a loaves of bread. He said, "One is the work of the Holy One and one is the work of man. Aren't the loaves better than the [raw] wheat?!" Turnus Rufus then asked, "If [Hashem] desires Mila, why aren't your born circucised!?" ... Rebbe Akiva answered him... "[It is] because the Holy one only gave mitzvos to the Jewish people in order to purify them." (Cf. Bereishis Raba ch. 11, which is a debate between a philosopher and Rebbe Hoshea)

What does this mean? One would think that it is an insult to Hashem. He hands us the most perfect thing in the world, a human baby. And the first thing we do is say, "No, no, no. This is not right. We have to cut a piece off right here. It wasn't good enough the way Hashem made it." It seems like such chutzpa. But the truth is that Rebbe Akiva is teaching us that it is davka the first thing we do in order to show that we do not have the outlook that Hashem gave us a perfect world and perfect selves, which we must merely protect in their natural state. We start off by changing ourselves immediately after birth in order to set the tone that our function in life is to fix, fix, fix. Hashem created us with imperfect bodies and in an imperfect world in order to give us the job of fixing it, and fixing ourselves.

It has the ability to turn the way we view so many aspects of life upside down. A non-Jew asked me one time, "If G-d didn't want you to eat pork, why did he create pigs? Do you think G-d creates things for no reason?!" If I had known this teaching all those years ago, I would have answered him that Hashem did not create the pig for no reason. He created it so that we would have something not to eat! The purpose of life is to be mesakein ourselves, not to relax in a perfect world. We'll have that in Gan Eden.

A similar debate took place between Turnus Rufus and Rebbe Akiva with the same theme in Bava Basra 10a, "וזו שאלה שאל טורנוסרופוס הרשע את ר"ע אם אלהיכם אוהב עניים הוא מפני מה אינו מפרנסם א"ל כדי שניצול אנו בהן מדינה של גיהנם." Turnus Rufus asked Rebbe Akiva, "If your G-d loves the poor, why doesn't he feed them?" He answered him, "In order that He save us from the judgments of Gehenom." Again, the philosophy of Eisav (from the word "Asui," made completed, not "needing" tikun) is that G-d must have made the world perfect, and there is no place for man to be the one doing the perfecting. But Rebbe Akiva teaches us that Hashem intentionally created the world in a way of "Bidieved," as a Lechatchila! This is because our job and focus in this world is to be mesakein ourselves and the things around us.

This is also referenced in Bereishis Raba 24:1, which questions the laws of shchita; Why do they have to be the way they are? "Rav says The mitzvos were only given as a means of purifying people. And does the Holy One really care if we shecht from the front of the neck or the back?! This indicates that the mitzvos were only given to purify us."

This idea is also found in the dichotomy between the Talmud Bavli and the Talmud Yerushalmi that Chabakuk Elisha referred to on this blog in this post. The Yerushalmi is clearer like light. It does not require our own clarification and yegiah as much. On the other hand, the Bavli is longer, more difficult to understand, it goes through a longer process to get to clarity and understanding. It's involved in a constant process of tikun, more so than the Yerushalmi. That is perhaps one reason why it is the primary Talmud that we learn; since our avoda is to be mesakein ourselves in an imperfect world, we must learn Talmud Bavli, which personafies that struggle. This idea is similar to the ma'aseh I brought down with the Shpoler Zeide here.

Similarly, this is perhaps one reason why the second tablets "survived," while the first tablets were not the ones to take us through history. The first luchos Hashem gave Moshe were carved out of stone by Hashem, and the letters were carved into the stone by Hashem. Those luchos had to be destroyed. But regarding the second luchos, it was Moshe who carved them out of stone, though Hashem did carve the letters into them. Since they were made by human hands, they represent what this world needs in a way that is very relevant to us, today. We must realize that our avoda is not to live in an idealized world. It is to live in a world and in a body that Hashem intentionally created "faulty," so that we would have the job of fixing and purifying it.

As you already said, this is probably the outlook behind the halacha you referenced, that it is better to dip your kelim in a man-made mikva, than a natural mikva, like a river. Our ikar Tahara and tikun in life is supposed to be done by us, and we have to know that we don't wait for Hashem to do it for us.


At May 14, 2007 at 7:14:00 AM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

typo correction:
"It's involved in a constant process of tikun, moreso than the Bavli."

you meant "Yerushalmi" here instead of Bavli.

Of note that all this idea of Tikkun doesn't seem to relate to Esav, interesting then that Yaakov was always meant to raise up Olam HaTikkun, not Esav, who was rooted in Olam HaTohu. (see Torah Ohr)

I wonder what that says, that the midrash shows Esav (his ilk anyways) Toheh, observing without comprehension, the tikkunim of Yaakov. (R' Akiva)

At May 14, 2007 at 7:36:00 AM EDT, Blogger DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Yitz, thanks for the correction. I see ASJ already corrected it. Yasher koach!

At May 15, 2007 at 11:18:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nice posting, Reb Dixie Yid!

It reminds me of the Gemora (my memory fails me, maybe someone else remembers where it is - Brochos?) regarding parchment for Sifrei Torah, Tefillin and Mezuzos:

A certain 'min' (or tzeduki?) asked how it is that we allow the use of hides of an animal found to be a treifa as long as it is from a kosher species (for example, a cow that died of natural causes) for Tefilin and the like. To which Chazal answered, “What is greater? That which is slaughtered by man, or that which is slaughtered by HKB”H?”
Which prompted the follow up question, “Very well; in that case you should be able to eat it as well – don’t you think?”
Chazal answered, “But the Torah does not allow it.”
And the man conceded, “You have answered wisely.”

I always understood this Gemora to be a general rule – the fact is that both viewpoints have validity and their respective proper places: G-d’s perfection and man’s job to perfect. The question is when and where to apply which perspective.

So here the parameters are stated: When we use purely our own intellect, it is possible to rationalize anything – it is even possible to build a beautifully logical case, even based on Torah, that flies in the face of it (it is even possible to ‘prove’ a sheretz is tahor, while the Torah clearly tells us that it is not). Therefore, we are to apply our own logic and human rationale – correctly – but only as long as we remain within the guidelines of – and never lose sight of – the Torah’s sated boundaries.

At May 15, 2007 at 11:27:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

I think your last paragraph sums it all up, Chabakuk Elisha!

At May 15, 2007 at 12:17:00 PM EDT, Blogger DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Chabakuk Elisha,

Thanks. That's a great counterpoint to the ideas I brought up. It's not all one way or all the other. But both have their place. On a related topic, Shabbos is special because it is purely an "Isarusa D'leila," whereas Yuntif is an "Isarusa D'l'sata." One's kedusha is instigated from above, and the other's is instigated by us, below. But they both have their place.

-Dixie Yid

At May 15, 2007 at 1:16:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said!

At November 13, 2008 at 9:31:00 PM EST, Blogger DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

ASJ, I just found a typo here. It shouldn't be Breishis Raba 24:1. It should be Breishis Raba *44*:1. Thanks!

-Dixie Yid


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