Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Bris Shalom

Rav Mordechai Greenberg

"Let G-d, the G-d of the spirits, appoint... a man over the community" [Bamidbar 27:16]. Why does the phrase "G-d of the spirits" appear, and not, for example, "He who created the heaven and the earth"?

The Talmud tells us that Rav Huna and Rav Chisda were sitting and talking, when they saw the man named Ganiva approaching (Gittin 31b). One said to the other, let us stand up to show him respect as a Torah scholar. His colleague replied, should we stand up for a man who is involved in disputes? In the meantime, Ganiva reached them and asked what they were talking about, and they replied "spirits." But it would seem at first glance that they were telling a lie – they were not talking about spirits at all!

There is a good explanation for this in the memorial book published for Rabbi Frankel. We have been taught, "Anybody who is favored by the spirit of the people is also favored by the spirit of G-d" [Avot 3:12]. However, in the Yerushalmi Talmud the text is reversed: "Anybody who is favored by the spirit of G-d is also favored by the spirit of the people." The point is that we must be aware what sets the tone – is it the spirit of G-d or the spirit of the people? And that spirit is the one which concerned Rav Huna and Rav Chisda when they talked about Ganiva, who was a Torah scholar (and therefore favored by G-d) but was involved in many disputes (and therefore was not favored by many people). After all, Judaism wants perfection of the type, "to find favor and to appear wise in the eyes of G-d and man" [Mishlei 3:4].

When a person is appointed to lead a community, he must be perfect on both levels, and therefore Moshe spoke to the Holy One, Blessed be He, as the G-d of the spirits – to make sure that the new leader would be perfect with respect to two aspects, the spirit of G-d and the spirit of the people.

Even when there is a dispute it is important to know how to handle it. "Every dispute which is held in the name of heaven will continue to exist, such as the arguments between Shamai and Hillel" [Avot 5:17]. Just what is a dispute in the name of heaven?

The Kli Yakar gives an explanation of what this means. The sages teach us that G-d "makes peace in His exalted place," between Michael and Gavriel, the angel of fire and the angel of water. Usually, water extinguishes a fire and a fire causes water to boil. However, the sages saw the verse, "And G-d called the heavens 'shamayim' [Bereishit 1:8]" as a play on the words for fire ("eish") and water ("mayim"), where the word for heaven ("rakiya") can be seen as related to the root for a "kera," a dispute. This teaches us that it is possible to heal a rift and to create a third combined and positive item from two opposites. And this is an argument in the name of heaven. Neither element overcomes the other, but rather the combination makes use of the best in each half, just as heaven is made up of water and fire. This is also true of Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel, who did not refrain from marrying women from each other's communities in spite of their disagreements.

In this period of the "three weeks," we must remember that the destruction of the Temple came about because of unfounded hatred among the people. In his introduction to the book of Bereishit, which is called "Sefer Hayashar" (the book of the upright ones), the Natziv writes that the Patriarchs were upright not only in their relationship to G-d but also in their relationship with other men. This is the opposite of the people of the Second Temple, who are described as a "generation that is perverse and twisted" [Devarim 32:5]. They were righteous and pious in observing the commands of the Torah, but they were not upright in their human relationships. As the Natziv writes, "Therefore, because of the unfounded hate for each other in their hearts, they suspected anybody who behaved differently from them in serving G-d as being a Tzeduki or an Apikorus, and this led to bloodshed... Butthe Holy One, Blessed be He, is upright and has no patience for such 'righteous ones,' but only those who follow an upright and not twisted path in their ways, even though they act in a way that they think is in the name of heaven."