Friday, June 10, 2016

Shavuos 5646 First Ma'amar

How We Transformed from the Deepest Impurity to Receiving the Torah in Fifty Days
Why We Eat Dairy Foods on Shavuos

When the nation of Israel left Egypt, we were in a state of deep impurity[1].  In a period of a mere fifty days, we made a transformation from this low level to a state in which we were ready to participate in the greatest event in the history of mankind, the receiving of the Torah and direct communication from the Creator.
This transformation is one of the most optimistic and inspiring processes. It teaches us that regardless of the level of our impurity, we should not despair. This process of transformation is enshrined in the counting of the Omer.

How does the transformation work? How can the impure become pure? The answer to this question is based on the concept that everything both pure and impure was created by God and needs God’s constant and continuous attention to exist. Even though the Creation is a mixture of good and bad, of purity and impurity, at the spiritual source there is Unity. In the words of Chazal[2], there are forty-nine aspects or levels of impurity and purity. Levels implies that there is a mix. At the fiftieth level there is Unity. Of course, the unity, the Godliness is inherent even at the most impure level. It is simply revealed at the fiftieth level. Impurity is a barrier that hides Godliness. For impure to become pure, the barrier needs to be removed.

We find this concept in a Midrash[3] explaining a pasuk in Iyov (14:4), “מִי יִתֵּן טָהוֹר מִטָמֵא לֹא אֶחָד/Who produces purity from impurity? No one!” The Midrash translates this pasuk, “Who produces purity from impurity? Is it not the One?” Producing purity from impurity seems impossible. However, it is only impossible if we believe that impurity has an autonomous existence. Once we recognize that impurity is simply God’s concealment, producing purity from impurity is a matter of removing that which conceals God.

We also find this concept in a Zohar[4] explaining the pasuk, “... וְנִטְמֵתֶם בָּם/… and you will become defiled by them” (VaYikra 11:43) referring to one who eats forbidden foods. The usual spelling of “וְנִטְמֵתֶם/and you will become defiled” includes the letter א/alef - וְנִטְמֵאתֶם. Why is it spelled here without the alef? The Sfas Emes explains that the alef, meaning, “one”, alludes to the source – God. According to the Zohar the Torah spelled this word without the alef to teach us that one who has eaten forbidden foods and dies before having repented is so defiled that there is nothing that can heal his soul. He has lost his connection with the source, with God.[5]

This, the Sfas Emes teaches us, is the significance of the forty-nine days of counting the Omer culminating in the holiday of Shavuos on the fiftieth day. Counting is a process of sorting and clarification. During the forty-nine days of the Omer the nation of Israel worked to separate the impure from the pure, the evil from the good. This process ended on Shavuos with the receiving of the Torah and the negation of the evil inclination. For this reason, the Zohar[6] teaches, in addition to the regular holiday sacrifices, two loaves of leavened bread were brought as an offering.  Almost all meal offerings are made from unleavened dough.  Why is leavened bread brought on Shavuos.  The Zohar explains that leavening represents the evil inclination.  We offer specifically leavened bread to show that the evil inclination was nullified on the first Shavuos. 

On Shavuos we reached the fiftieth level of purity and experienced God as the source of everything. To symbolize harking back to the source, the two loaves were made from the first wheat of the year. This wheat is the called the first fruit and Chazal[7] teach us it is called, “רֵאשִׁית/first”, alluding to the Creation – בְּרֵאשִׁית – and ultimately to the source of the Creation – God. Shavuos, in fact, is called, “יוֹם הַבִּיכּוּרִים/Day of the First Fruit.” (Bamidbar 28:26)

The Kohanim offer the first wheat on behalf of the entire nation of Israel. In addition to this mitzvah, it is incumbent on each member of the nation to bring the first fruit produced by his field to the Beis Hamikdash, “רֵאשִׁית בִּכּוּרֵי אַדְמָתְךָ תָּבִיא בֵּית ה' אֱ-לָהֶיךָ ... /… You shall bring the first of the first fruits of your land to the house of God.” (Shmos 23:19) The Sfas Emes explains that, when we clarify for ourselves that God is the source of everything, evil no longer represents a barrier that hides Him. If this is true on an individual level, it is certainly true on the national level of the first wheat that is brought on Shavuos. The meal offering from the first wheat represents God’s revelation on Shavuos and provides the nation with protection for the entire year.

The second half of the pasuk instructing us to bring the first fruit to the Beis HaMikdash is, “... לֹא-תְבַשֵׁל גְדִי בַּחֲלֵב אִמּוֹ/… Do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk.” What is the connection between these two seemingly unrelated mitzvos? The Zohar[8] explains that once the source is revealed, there is no longer any possibility of a mix of good and bad. The Sfas Emes explains elsewhere that milk represents a clarification of the good from the bad. Chazal teach us that God turns the mother’s blood, which is impure, into milk which is pure. Chazal learn this from the pasuk in Iyov brought earlier, “מִי יִתֵּן טָהוֹר מִטָמֵא לֹא אֶחָד/Who produces purity from impurity? Is it not the One?” Meat, on the other hand, represents a mix of good and bad. The Sfas Emes notes an allusion to this from the quail that God sent to the nation in the desert. The quail was sent specifically in the evening. The word for evening – עֶרֶב – has the same root as the word for mix – עָרֹב

Since meat represents the mix whereas milk represents the clarification, milk should not be eaten with meat. For this reason, as well, it is appropriate to eat dairy foods on Shavuos since both dairy and Shavuos represent clarification and a revelation of the source – God.

[1] Zohar Chadash 39a states that the nation reached the 49th out of 50 levels of impurity
[2] Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 4:2; Shir HaShirim R. 2, 4:1
[3] Bamidbar R. 19:1
[4] Zohar 3:41b
[5] The gematria of the word טמא – is fifty (9+40+1=50). The gematria of טמ is forty-nine (9+40=49) representing the forty-nine levels of impurity. א/alef represents the fiftieth level on which there is Unity – God is revealed. Purity is only possible because God underlies the impurity. Therefore, if the alef is removed, reaching purity is impossible. This is the deeper meaning of the pasuk in Iyov, “מי יתן טהור מטמא הלא אחד/Who produces purity from impurity? Is it not the One (alluded to by the alef)?” (Nefesh David – commentary on the Zohar)
[6] Zohar 2:183b
[7] Breishis R. 1:4
[8] Tikunei Zohar 14:30:a

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