Friday, November 19, 2010

VaYishlach/Chanukah: Putting It All On The Line

Some of the ideas in this essay have been adapted from a Rav Avraham Schorr in his Sefer HaLekach V’Halibuv, Rav Moshe Shapiro in his Sefer Afikei Mayim, the Sfas Emes and the Shem MiShmuel. If there are concepts that I misunderstood; and thereby improperly conveyed, I apologize.

In the beginning of this week’s Parsha, Yaakov Avinu prepares for his reunion with his brother and nemesis - Eisav HaRasha. After sending gifts to appease him, and splitting up the camp in order to outsmart him; Yaakov, in a last minute decision decides to backtrack in the middle of the night to recover some forgotten containers. There he meets an angel, whom he wrestles with the whole night. Locked in stalemate, the angel lands a blow to Yaakov’s hip, but Yaakov doesn’t give up, rather he retains a headlock on his challenger and demands a blessing. The angel concedes and blesses Yaakov by giving him a new name: Yisrael.

It’s brought down that this strike to Yaakov’s hip was a P’gam, a ‘wound’ in the cosmic attribute of Hod; and through this, all of our problems with Greece begin as well. We need to clarify what Hod is, how this struggle damaged it, how this is connected to Greece, why the angel’s attack occurred now, and most importantly of all what we can take out of it all.

Hod means magnificence or glory. The deeper sources teach us that the beauty of Hod is different than other types of beauty. Hod is the beauty of revealing a splendor contained within. When externals are subdued to let the internal purity shine through – this is Hod.

In regards to our Avodah, Hod is our ability to be Modeh to Hashem. Modeh, L’Hodot, Hoda’a all have connotations of thanks and admittance. What is the common denominator between to thank and to admit? The answer is that when I thank someone, I admit that something I have is really attributed to him or her. When I admit in court that I in fact owe my friend two hundred dollars, I’m saying that in my possession is something that is not really relevant to me, even though right now it is physically located near me.

The Ramban explains that this is why we are called Yihudim (also from the same Lashon), because the entire role of a Jew lies inHod; to reveal and admit that no matter what the world says, everything s really Hashem’s. By thanking Hashem, we reveal His true ownership over everything and thereby return all physicality back to its spiritual source. Our relating things back to Hashem, sheds them of their dull physicality and reveals their inner beauty, i.e.: their connection to the divine. This is Hod.

It’s brought down that the different spiritual attributes parallel the human body. Hod corresponds to the leg/thigh. Why? The thigh is the part of my body that I use to bow, like we do during Modim (again, the same Lashon). By bowing, I say that I am subduing my body so that is can be a vessel of Ratzon Hashem. Bowing at the hip is an Avodah of Hod. In my life, all times that I ‘bow’ – all the times that I suppress my body so that my soul can shine through, I begin to express my inner Hod.

When the angel strikes Yaakov in the hip, an attempt is made to impede his ability to bow, and therefore the bang to the leg is a P’gam in Hod.

But why is the angelic ambush specifically posed against Yaakov Avinu now? As we mentioned before, Yaakov runs back in the middle of the night to find some lost containers. The Midrash tells us that these containers held oil inside, and even more amazingly it was this oil that lasted through the generations and was used to light the Menorah during the miracle of Chanuka! With a worldview of Hod, where everything is a vessel to reveal God’s dominion, every single thing in my possession gains an elevated purpose – everything is now of tremendous importance. How can I just let my possessions slip through my fingers? Everything I own is an instrument used to reveal God’s unity! So Yaakov makes a midnight run to retake another small tool to reveal just a little more Hod in the world – and it is here where the angel challenges him.

Through this jolt to the hip, the Jews received a prohibition: we can no longer eat from the Gid HaNasheh, which is commonly translated as the sciatic nerve, a tendon that runs through the thigh. Why is it called the Gid HaNasheh? The Zohar says because it is the Gid, the nerve which is Menasheh, which causes forgetfulness in man. (In Parshas Miketz we read the term Ki Nishani ‘because I was forgotten’. Enosh is also a description of mankind in his forgetful state.) The Gid HaNasheh is a tendon, that when eaten, creates a spiritual reality that causes one to forget the good that God does to him.

In essence the Gid HaNasheh and it’s consumption are in direct opposition to the attribute and beauty of Hod. When I thank Hashem, I tap into Hod. When I associate with the Gid HaNasheh, I forget Him and therefore push Hod farther away. Simply put, it’s Hod versus Gid HaNasheh. Hod is the part of my thigh that helps me serve Hashem, the Gid HaNasheh is the part of the thigh that prevents me from doing so.

Greece is compared to the hip. In one of Daniel’s prophecies he sees a statue comprised of four parts, each one corresponding to one of the four exiles. There, the hips, which are described as the third segment, are analogous with the Greek domination. It’s brought down that this paralleling of the Greeks to the hips teaches us that Greece stands as the opposition to Hod.

How? Greeks introduced philosophy. They tell us that we don’t need a Torah, because all the wisdom you need is right there is your brain. The olympics teach us to glorify the body. In essence they tell us that reality starts and ends with human capabilities and that there is no need to tap into a higher source. There is no reason to attribute things to a higher power. So we see very clearly that the Greek mentality stand in direct disagreement to everything that Hod stands for.

This is why they attempt to impurify the Beis HaMikdash. The Gemara in Brachos tells us that the term Hod is a reference to the Beis HaMikdash. Why? Because it is there that we fully ‘bow’ to Hashem, in the physical and figurative sense. There, through animal sacrifice, we clearly say that the physical is merely a vessel that reveals the divine.

The Zohar tells us that the three hundred and sixty five negative prohibitions line up with the days of the solar year. The prohibition of eating the Gid HaNasheh corresponds to Tisha B’Av, the day of the destruction of the Temple. The day of the loss of the Beis HaMikdash, is the day that we lose Hod, and therefore it corresponds to the Gid HaNasheh, the energy that opposes Hod.

It’s brought down that the two names of Yaakov and Yisrael correspond to the body and soul respectively. So it is only when Yaakov, the body side, puts his life on the line for the sake of Hod can he achieve the highest level of personal Hod by letting his soul shine through and attain the name Yisrael corresponding to his spirit-portion.

And therefore it is only when the Chashmonaim; the Maccabees, put their physical bodies on the line in defense of the Beis HaMikdash and everything that Hod stands for can they find the very same containers of oil that Yaakov Avinu put his body on the line for, and did so for the very same reason. And when they do, they reveal from within this oil supernatural amount spirituality. For nothing reveals godliness in this world, nothing serves as a vehicle of Hod as much as an open miracle, and the classic example of an open miracle is the oil’s burning for eight straight days.

The whole world stands in the way of Hod. Culture screams to us that we should see things only on the surface. Billboards and disposable cutlery dull us to any deeper sense of reality. But it is our job, like Yaakov Avinu and Chashmonaim to put ourselves on the line and see through all the density that blinds us to the meaning of life. It is this mentality that re-establishes the Beis HaMikdash.

B’Ezras Hashem we should be Zocheh to perceive the world in such an exalted manner. Because if we can, there is no doubt that we will live lives of Simcha and meaning, moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and ultimately the Geulah Sheleimah!

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