Translated by: R’ Yaakov Klein

The article that follows is part two (of three) of a remarkable essay entitled, “Mesiras Moda’ah.” This work, which is printed in the back of sefer Derech HaMelech, was penned by Rav Kaloynimus Kalmish Shapira zy”a, the Piacezner Rebbe, as an introduction to his commentary on the Zohar HaKadosh, “Reshimos HaZohar”. Aside from this essay and a single discourse, this work was tragically lost during the Holocaust. We hope you enjoy, and please remember to share this important article with family and friends!

The Proper Way to Study Midrash: An Occupation of the Heart

Now, if one stubbornly demands to study Midrash in the way of intellectual analysis alone, he will find difficulties wherever he looks. Only one who knows that this is an occupation of the heart, that the heart must draw the words of the Midrash into its depth, only he – in accordance with his circumstance – will understand and walk in its light.

This can be likened to one who sees his friend crying and screaming during his prayer. He is able to sense that this is not a cry of pain or a scream of anguish. He wonders, “What is the nature of this cry, this scream?” and begins to use his intellect to understand his friend’s actions. But only one with a Jewish heart, a heart impacted by another’s inspiration and set aflame with yearning from another’s expression of longing, only this person’s heart will understand – the intellect will grasp nothing at all.

An Expression of Rebbe Tanchum’s Soul

Take for example, the following Aggadah which appears in Shabbos 30b: “This question was asked before Rebbe Tancḥum from the village of Nevi: What is the ruling with regard to extinguishing a burning lamp before a sick person on Shabbos?… (He answered) “A lamp is called ner and a person’s soul is also called ner, as it is written: ‘The spirit of man is the lamp [ner] of the Lord.’ It is preferable that the lamp of a being of flesh and blood will be extinguished in favor of the lamp of the Holy One, Blessed be He.”

Rashi comments: “Even though we learn that the risk of loss of life overrides Shabbos from the verse ‘V’chai bahem‘, since women and unlearned people had come to listen to the lecture, Rebbe Tanchum had fed them Aggadah which draws the heart.”

However, in truth, were these words only intended for women and unlearned people, so that a Torah scholar who studies Gemara should skip this teaching? ‘If even all of us were wise men and understanding people… all who knew the Torah’, we would all be obligated to study these words! Rashi only intends to deal with the question of why Rebbe Tanchum answered with this Aggadah instead of the halachic source from “V’chai bahem.” But this, too, is Torah. It is “Aggadah which draws the heart” because it emerged from the heart of Rebbe Tanchum and contained the emotions he felt upon hearing this question.

When asked whether to extinguish a lamp on Shabbos for the sake of Jewish patient in danger, Rebbe Tanchum rushed to save the life of a Jew, and his heart was enflamed with the goodness of this commandment learned from “v’chai bahem” – to desecrate Shabbos in order to save the life of a Jew. Immediately, the spirit of Hashem came upon him, and he saw the light of the world, the collective soul of the Jewish nation with which Hashem illuminates the darkest places, and he answered, “Do whatever is necessary for the sake of this light, for the entire world is worthwhile for this illumination alone. It is preferable that the lamp of a being of flesh and blood will be extinguished in favor of the lamp of the Holy One, Blessed be He.”

We do not see, in these words, an Aggadah taught merely for the sake of the women and unlearned people. We see the very soul of Rebbe Tanchum here, shuddering and shaking in a bid to rescue the candle of Hashem – the light of the world – from destruction.

Yaakov Avinu Did Not Die

Another example: (Taanis 5a)

Rebbe Yochanan said as follows:

“Yaakov Avinu did not die.”

“And was it for naught that the eulogizers eulogized him, and the embalmers embalmed him, and the buriers buried him?”

“I am interpreting a verse, as it is stated: “Therefore do not fear, Yaakov My servant, says Hashem, neither be dismayed, Yisrael, for I will save you from afar, and your offspring from the land of their captivity.” This verse juxtaposes Yaakov to his offspring: Just as his seed is alive, so too, Yaakov himself is alive.”

However many explanations one offers in the way of intellectual analysis of this Gemara, the wonder will yet remain – because he is interpreting a pasuk, this resolves the question of, “And was it for naught that eulogizers eulogized him…”?

Rashi comments, “It seemed to the embalmers as if he has died.” This would suffice for the eulogizers, but the embalmers – why, they had carried out their craft! If they, too, were mistaken, why was the response to the challenge, “I am interpreting a verse”, which leaves out the primary element of the resolution? He should have simply answered, “It appeared to them as if he died, but in truth he did not die.”

I have heard those who answer that since his offspring remained alive, the aspect of “Yaakov” yet remains, for am Yisrael are referred to as “Yaakov”. However, if this is so, the simple understanding of the declaration, “Yaakov did not die” is undone, for it emerges that he was referring not to Yaakov himself, but rather to the Jewish nation who are called “Yaakov.” Why then did he not simply answer, “I am referring to the nation, “Yaakov”?

When we are speaking about “Yaakov”, we aren’t speaking about him as a person, but as one of the Avos, the choicest of the Avos. The Avos established the Jewish nation – this group of men stands apart from all other people. They implanted their holiness, the form of their avodah – each in accordance with his nature and essence – within the Jewish nation. Avraham gifted us with Chessed and love for Hashem and the nation. Yitzchak – Gevurah and awe. Yaakov – Rachamim, an avodah that includes within it both Ahavah and Yirah. Meaning to say, it is these spiritual energies – the content and energies of holiness originally revealed in the form of these holy men and now within am Yisrael – that we are speaking about here.

The prophet upon whom rests the spirit of Hashem and is lifted to the world of the souls sees not physicality but only the spiritual, even the soul of physicality; how the spiritual develops into the form of this world. In one prophecy he sees “a branch of an almond tree”, (Yermiyahu 1:11) and in another he sees “a golden menorah”. (Zecharia 4:2) It isn’t simply that the prophet is communicating a sign using the metaphor of an almond tree branch or a golden menorah – this is truly what he saw. Because with eyes that are open, the Godly eyes within him, he saw the unadulterated essence – the essence of the almond branch and of the punishment Hashem would mete out using this branch in His manifestation within it.

In the same way, when the Tanna or Amorah would teach Torah, the spirit of Hashem would pulse within him. He became inspired and filled with passion to the point that he saw the descendants of Yaakov not as people, but as the holiness of their service that is imbedded within their blood and their souls. He didn’t simply contemplate using his intellect like every common person. He saw, with a prophetic vision, Yisrael Sabba, his soul and countenance spread out over the Jewish nation and permeating their hearts and all of their limbs to the point that every Jew is another cell of the “Yaakov” that appeared to him, in the same way the prophet saw the “golden menorah.” This was the intention of his response, “I am interpreting a verse; because I am in a state of ‘interpreting’, I see his descendants as “the living Yaakov.”

It is in this manner that the Midrash explains every pasuk and every mitzvah until every limb and bodily capacity is excited to carry out the mitzvah to which it corresponds. This also explains the parables presented in the Midrash, where many parables are offered by different Tannaim to illustrate a single concept. Intellectually speaking, it is difficult to identify the distinction between them – such as the parables brought in Midrash Shir HaShirim 1:8 and others like it. However, in light of what we have said above, when the Tannaim became inspired with the spirit of prophecy that coursed within them, each saw a different vision. Rabbah and Rav Tanchum, the compilers of the Midrashim, recorded all of the visions of the various Taanaim.

Developing Spiritual Eyesight

However, even if, in our physicality, we have not reached the spirit of prophecy and find it difficult to access the path of the Tannaim and their interpretations, we mustn’t despair of at least meriting the dregs of the dregs, the dust of the dust, a mere spark of the inspiration and vision of their teaching.

Even on a simple level, one is able to understand a little. For, “The wisdom of man illuminates his face”; every person is able to recognize, to some degree, whether his fellow is wise or foolish, physically oriented or spiritually inclined. That is, even when looking at a face of flesh and bone, we are able to perceive something of the spirit. It is only that, because our vision is accustomed to processing physical matters alone, we see the spirit of man in a secondary manner, not as it exists divested of his body. We primarily see his flesh and bones.

However, how is it possible for one to isolate the quality from within one’s entire capacity for vision so that one sees only the primary, spiritual content of what is being seen? As mentioned, the spiritual quality is also something that can be seen – albeit indirectly. Additionally, why is it that one’s eyesight is somewhat weakened when one closes his eyes for a long period of time?

This world, that is, the realm of things that may be seen, activates the capacity of sight and gets it accustomed to recognizing only things of its kind, the likeness of the world, limiting it to a very specific kind of vision. When one closes his eyes and does not allow for the things of this world to active his eyesight, his capacity for sight becomes concealed once more within the oneness of his soul. We have already spoken about this at length with regard to eyesight as well as the other senses, see there. Therefore, a person who works on inspiring himself and enabling the soul to emerge from her captivity, constantly engaging in soulful passion to the point that it overflows the banks of his body; a person who works on seeing the spiritual essence of everything and penetrates within each thing to encounter the spiritual form of everything he sees – why should he lack the expression of a spark of elevated vision, the ability to see the soul of everything? This is not to say that he should delude himself with regard to what he is seeing – a structure floating in the sky or other such delusions. Rather, when he looks at a person, he will truly and primarily see the spiritual form and the divine wisdom within what he is seeing, the physicality of that person registering as decidedly secondary – until he merits to look upon the soul as it stands alone, in the form through which it has evolved and entered his body.

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R’ Yaakov Klein is the founder of the Lost Princess Initiative, an author, musician, and lecturer devoted to sharing the inner light of Torah through his books, music, and lectures.

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