Student Union opens ‘hasbara’ room in effort to fill public diplomacy vacuum.
Framing the epic events of this week’s sedrah are two objects: the two sets of tablets – the first given before, and the second after, the sin of the Golden Calf. Of the first, we read:
“The tablets were the work of G-d; the writing was the writing of G-d, engraved on the tablets.”
These were perhaps the holiest objects in history: from beginning to end, the work of G-d. Yet within hours they lay shattered, broken by Moses when he saw the calf and the Israelites dancing around it.
The second tablets, brought down by Moses on the tenth of Tishrei, were the result of his prolonged plea to G-d to forgive the people. This is the historic event that lies behind Yom Kippur (tenth of Tishrei), the day marked in perpetuity as a time of favor, forgiveness and reconciliation between G-d and the Jewish people. The second tablets were different in one respect. They were not wholly the work of G-d:
“Carve out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.”
Hence the paradox: the first tablets, made by G-d, did not remain intact. The second tablets, the joint work of G-d and Moses, did. Surely the opposite should have been true: the greater the holiness, the more eternal. Why was the holier object broken while the less holy stayed whole? This is not, as it might seem, a question specific to the tablets. It is, in fact, a powerful example of a fundamental principle in Jewish spirituality.
The Jewish mystics distinguished between two types of Divine-human encounter. They called them “an awakening from above” and “an awakening from below.” The first is initiated by G-d, the second by mankind. An “awakening from above” is spectacular, supernatural, an event that bursts through the chains of causality that at other times bind the natural world. An “awakening from below” has no such grandeur. It is a gesture that is human – all too human.
Yet there is another difference between them, in the opposite direction. An “awakening from above” may change nature, but it does not, in and of itself, change human nature. In it, no human effort has been expended. Those to whom it happens are passive. While it lasts, it is overwhelming – but only while it lasts. Thereafter, people revert to what they were. An “awakening from below,” by contrast, leaves a permanent mark.
Because human beings have taken the initiative, something in them changes. Their horizons of possibility have been expanded. They now know they are capable of great things, and because they did so once, they are aware that they can do so again. An “awakening from above” temporarily transforms the external world; an “awakening from below” permanently transforms our internal world. The first changes the universe; the second changes us.
Two examples: Before and after the division of the Red Sea, the Israelites were confronted by enemies: before by the Egyptians, after by the Amalekites. The difference is total.
Before the Red Sea, the Israelites were commanded to do nothing:
“Stand still and you will see the deliverance G-d will bring you today … G-d will fight for you; you need only be still” (Exodus 14:13-14).
Facing the Amalekites, however, the Israelites themselves had to fight:
“Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose men and go out and fight the Amalekites” (17:9).
The first was an “awakening from above,” the second an “awakening from below.”
The difference was palpable. Within three days after the division of the Sea, the greatest of all miracles, the Israelites began complaining again (no water, no food). But after the war against the Amalekites, the Israelites never again complained when facing conflict (the sole exception – when the spies returned and the people lost heart – was when they relied on hearsay testimony, not on the immediate prospect of battle itself). The battles fought for us do not change us; the battles we fight, do.
The second example: Mount Sinai and the Tabernacle. The Torah speaks about these two revelations of “G-d’s glory” in almost identical terms:
“The glory of G-d settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day G-d called to Moses from within the cloud. Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of G-d filled the tabernacle.”
About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
If the only person available to perform the milah on the eighth day is a person who is not an observant Jew, the milah should be postponed until a devout mohel is available.
It is apparent from the Maharsha that he does not see galus as atoning for killing accidentally; otherwise, this Gemara would not bother him.
It was found to be a giant deer tick living in her head – with its claws in her scalp.
We are all entrusted with the mission of protecting our fellow Jews
Will Your brothers go to war, while you sit (in peace) here? (Bamidbar 32:6)
Perhaps, just perhaps, we can relate to this: whenever we feel distant from Hashem, that is the Churban.
Over the next 2 weeks covering portion Matot and Maasei, Rabbi Fohrman will bring order to confusion.
Our home is in the center of the Holy Land, surrounded by (what else?) green hills and valleys.
“Sound fine,” said Mrs. Schwartz. “In the middle, paint their names, Shoshana and Yehonasan. He spells his name Yehonasan with a hei and is very particular about it!”
The Investment Of Sanctity
Question: I recently returned from a trip abroad and wanted to say HaGomel. When I mentioned this to the officers of my synagogue, however, they told me – as per the instructions of the synagogue’s rabbi – that I would have to wait until Shabbos to do so. I was not given any reason for this and did not wish to display my ignorance, so I quietly acquiesced. Can you please explain why I had to wait?
We may not recognize the adverse affect of eating forbidden foods, but they leave an indelible imprint.
There are several rules that one must adhere to when making a neder.
The negotiation between Moses and the tribes of Reuven and Gad is a model of conflict resolution.
The very act of learning in rabbinic Judaism is conceived as active debate, a kind of gladiatorial contest of the mind.
In Judaism, to be without questions is a sign not of faith, but of lack of depth.
You perpetuate a transformative event by turning it into a ritual.
There is much in this episode that is hard to understand, much that has to do with the concept of holiness and the powerful energies it released that, like nuclear power today, could be deadly dangerous if not properly used. But there is also a more human story about two approaches to leadership that still resonates with us today.
Nasi is the generic word for a leader: a ruler, king, judge, elder, or prince. Usually it refers to the holder of political power.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/the-two-awakenings/2013/02/27/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: