The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l. The Rav’s unique perspective on Chumash permeated many of the shiurim and lectures he presented at various venues over a 40-plus-year period. His words add an important perspective that makes the Chumash in particular, and our tradition in general, vibrant and relevant to our generation.
Mazal Tov to Rikki and Sammy Kahn on their recent marriage. Special Mazal Tov to grandmother Rebetzin Leona Bomzer.
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Parshat Ki Tavo begins with Mitzvat Bikurim, the first fruits brought to the Temple as thanks to Hashem for all the favors He has shown us, from our beginnings in Egypt, to giving us our inheritance in the Land of Israel from which the Bikurim were brought. Chazal (Baba Kama 30a) quote multiple opinions as to the study path for one who desires to be a chasid. One opinion says to study torts, a second says Avot, and a third says the concepts of blessings. Brachot study is inclusive of the former two, as the Torah outlook it represents covers Bayn Adam L’Chaveiro (torts and Avot) and Bayn Adam L’Makom (Avot).
What does the word Baruch mean? Why did Judaism obligate man to say a Bracha and express praise and thanks to Hashem? All we can infer is that apparently reciting a Bracha is a fundamental principle in Judaism. The concept of Bracha is Biblical, even though we often say that the individual Brachot are Rabbinic.
Baruch means either blessed should be God, or praised should be God. Kabbalists, from the Ari to the Gaon, Nefesh HaChaim to Tanya, disagree with the definition of Baruch as meaning praised. Already from our earliest history as detailed in the Torah, Brachot play a great role. Within the process of creation, Hashem blessed the world and told it to be fruitful and multiply. After the description of Shabbat, He blessed everything. He blessed Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who in turn blessed their children. It would be odd to interpret the use of the word Baruch in all these cases as praised. Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau; he did not praise them. Moses and Jacob uttered Baruch when instructing Bnay Yisrael, but they included rebuke and not only praise in their words. The logical conclusion is that Baruch Ata Hashem means that You (Hashem) should be blessed. How paradoxical! The insignificant human being comes before the King of Kings and says, “You should be blessed”!
Even more paradoxical, the Torah combined the principle of blessing with an even greater mystery, Sod HaIbur, the Kabbalistic idea of Duchra V’Nukva (male and female). In Genesis Hashem blessed them, male and female. Hashem created them in His image. From this verse we discern a major Judaic principle: the concept of procreation, Pru U’Rvu, was ingrained in the organic world. The primordial will of the Creator resulted in an inexorable drive within nature to procreate. What forces the bees to pollinate in the spring? The animal kingdom to bear children? It is the Ratzon HaKadmon of Hashem, the creation blueprint He ordained. Ratzon HaKadmon applies to man as well, as per Judaism’s prohibition against subverting the reproductive process through immoral or proscribed actions.
In terms of the spiritual realm, how do we understand the idea that Hashem created male and female? Chassidic thought explains the spiritual realm based on the Kabbalistic interpretation of Mashpia (influencer) and Mushpa (influenced). The Mashpia is considered the Duchra (Zachar) male, while the Mushpa is the Nukva (Nekayva), female. According to the Kabbalists, each person incorporates both spiritual aspects; s/he is both Mashpia (Duchra) and Muhspa (Nukva). A teacher imparts knowledge to his students. He is the Mashpia, the initiator, or Duchra, whose ideas shape and influence the minds of his students, the recipients, or Nukva. Suddenly, a student challenges the teacher with a probing question, and an amazing transformation takes place. The wide-eyed student becomes the Mashpia, the Duchra, and the teacher the Mushpa, Nukva. As Chazal say, Mtalmiday Yoter M’Kulam. Even the greatest of teachers, Moses, occasionally acted as Mushpa, when he consulted Hashem on various questions.
Inherent in the Bracha of Pru U’Rvu is that everyone is both Duchra and Nukva. However, not all are able to fulfill these dual roles. A person may be born with great talents, but lacks the teacher to develop them. He doesn’t have the opportunity to be a Nukva, a Mushpa. A gifted teacher may lack students. He is a Mashpia, but has no one to influence. As Hashem blessed man with both characteristics, man must develop both to realize his full spiritual potential.
Kabbalists portray Hashem as having a dual connection to creation, as both Duchra and Nukva. The attributes of Tiferet (glory) and Yesod (foundation) exemplify Duchra. Malchut (monarchy) exemplifies Nukva. Kabbalists universally interpret the verse, And Hashem created man, He created man in His image, He created them male and female, like Hashem’s revelation in the world through Duchra and Nukva, male and female attributes. Chassidic thought refers to the Nukva trait as Chakal Tapuchin, Raya Mhemna, and the Duchra trait as proactively going to meet the approaching Shabbat expressed in Lcha Dodi. Hashem is Malka Kadisha, all-capable. Judaism maintains that Creation was not a one-time occurrence. It is renewed daily, Hamechadesh Btuvo Bchol Yom. If Hashem removed His gaze from the world for an instant, it would immediately revert to Tohu V’Vohu. Hashem acts as Mashpia, Duchra, Creator and Sustainer of all. We are the recipients, Mushpaim, or Nukva. Paraphrasing King David, what can man contribute? He is merely a Mushpa. He has only that which Hashem gives him.
However if man is only recipient and not initiator in the covenant between God and man, what place is there for Torah and Mitzvot or free will? In a covenant, both parties contribute something. What does Knesset Yisrael contribute to Hashem? David asks Mah Enosh Ki Tizkerenu? Why should man be considered? He immediately answers Vatchasrayhu Me’at M’Elokim, Hod Vhadar T’Atrayhu. Man can reach great heights. Hashem hides in the world He created, in nature; Yoshev B’SeTer B’Tzayl. In one area, man indeed acts as Duchra and Kvayachol helps Hashem. Our role is to reveal Hashem’s glory. We encounter Shechina constantly. I fulfill Ratzon HaKadmon when I use my senses and physical gifts to influence the world around me. Hashem is Nistar, He hides in a way that most cannot ‘see’ Him. Hashem appears to each individual through a unique cloud, just as He appeared to Moses at Sinai millennia ago. To the physicist, the cloud consists of specific mathematical formulae. He appears to the biologist through the wonders of physiology. To the military general, He appears in the battles he wages. Seldom does Hashem dissipate the cloud and reveal Himself, as He did at Kabbalat HaTorah. He remains a hidden Nukva waiting for Duchra, Knesset Yisrael in particular and mankind in general, to pierce that cloud and reveal His glory.
With the command Lech Lcha, Hashem charged Abraham to travel forth, as a Duchra, and reveal Hashem’s name to humanity, as Nukva, dispersing the cloud obscuring Hashem. Abraham’s message that Hashem is the ultimate Mashpia reverberates to this day. Unfortunately we tend to ignore it. In the 1950’s, the Rav decried Israeli reliance on the army’s strength and faith in American Jews to intercede on Israel’s behalf as both foolish and contrary to Judaic thought. Remarkably, the situation remains unchanged, as Israel relies on the strength of her army and faith in a misguided American Jewish community that condemns Israel and eagerly foregoes her security to side with the false prophets supporting the Iranian nuclear agreement. The true Mashpia is ignored.
Revelation of Duchra and Nukva results in their Zivug, union, and Hitpashtut Kdushat Hashem. When we act appropriately, we ‘procreate’ or expand sanctity in the world, strengthening the union between man and Hashem, Malka Kadisha, facilitating blessing.
The Rav’s Chabad teacher explained that Hashem Kvayachol wept over the Churban. He asked his teacher why should Hashem cry, as He can rebuild the Temple anytime He desires? His teacher replied the Temple was destroyed because it no longer served its purpose of facilitating the revelation of Hashem to the world. In order for it to be rebuilt, Hashem waits for the Jew and Knesset Yisrael, as Duchra, to be Mashpia on the Shechina, Nukva, and reveal it. Until then Hashem cries.
BE’H we will continue our analysis of the meaning of Brachot in future articles.