We can change the world together – Part 2 (28 Adar I, 5774)

(Continued From Part 1)

Download the PDF of Part 2 Here

Not Reviewed nor Edited by Harav Ginsburgh

2. Natural, Social, and Torah roles in life

Roles, responsibility, and commandment – a universal concept

We said that role is the main meaning of the root פקד. When a person receives a role he receives responsibility, to follow and do what the one who gave him the role wants. This is the connection between meaning of פקד as role and the meaning as commandment. Like Betzalel who did everything that Moshe had appointed him to do. A role is not just something that pertains to the Torah, it pertains to every human being and to every creature in creation, regardless of how close or distant they are from the Torah and its commandments.

The natural/habitual role – propagating the species

For instance, in the animal world, the main role that every animal has to fulfill is to propagate its species. That is the central role that is the foundation of all roles in the world. We see this in the Torah too. The first commandment the Torah gives is “to be fruitful and multiply, and to fill the earth.” The most basic level of role is in order to propagate the species.

The consciousness and awareness of propagating the species is instinctual. In the psyche it appears in the habitual part. The psyche consists of three spheres: the intellectual, the emotional, and the habitual/instinctual. All animals (and humans) have instincts. That is the basis of life. The nature of all animals is to bear offspring to propagate life, even if it demands self-sacrifice, even if it leads to their individual demise. There is a saying from the previous Rebbe: Auf kinder darf man muss haben mesirus nefesh, which means that in order to have children, a person has to have self-sacrifice.

On the fifth day of creation, God blessed the fish and the fowl with propagating their species. Then on the sixth day He repeated the blessing to man. He repeated the blessing to Noach and then Jacob received another blessing for being fruitful. In the vegetable kingdom there is no explicit blessing for being fruitful, but the very definition of a plant is that it contains seed, “every grass that conceives seed” (כָּל עֵשֶׂב מַזְרִיעַ זֶרַע). The Mashiach is called a plant, “Tzemach [plant] is his name, and from beneath him, he grows” (צֶמַח שְׁמוֹ וּמִתַּחְתָּיו יִצְמַח), meaning that his essence is to have seed.

Our social role as human beings

There is a second level of role that we are given as humans: being social, living in a society, a collection of individuals. (If there are examples of social behavior in animals, it presents an example of inter-inclusion, what we would call the social in the animal).

A human being lives in a society, in a state. The ruler of a society, of a state, or kingdom is called the speaker, he rules with his speech, as the verse says, “with speech does the king rule”[1] (בַּאֲשֶׁר דְּבַר מֶלֶךְ שִׁלְטוֹן). That is why the first sense of the 12 senses of the Book of Formation is the sense of speech. Everything follows the inception and since the Book of Formation identifies speech as the first human sense (these are not exactly the physical senses of man), it follows that speech is the most inclusive of the senses, defining us as human beings. Man is identified by the sages as a speaker (מְדַבֵּר) even before he is defined as a thinker (מַשְׂכִּיל).

The consciousness here is that each of us, as human beings (not just Jews), have a responsibility to our fellow men. The second level of role is rectifying society, making society just and good. And we do this primarily with speech. That is why one of the 7 Universal Laws (given to Adam and Noach), the seventh such commandment, is to create courts of law to judge the people justly, enforcing the other 6 universal laws. In general, many of the particulars in these 7 laws pertain to the rectification of society. That is why this role we play in society is not necessarily limited to Jews. It precedes being Jewish. Sometimes this requires a person to sacrifice himself. When? For instance, when an individual is required to join the army. It is not logical for a person to sacrifice himself for this social cause. But, this is a requirement; it is part of our role as members of a society. Every normal state has a standing army.

Now, what connects people socially is the psyche’s emotional realm. Even though we speak to one another, and the speech can also (and should) reflect rational thoughts, still, the real thing that passes between people is the emotions. In Kabbalah, the garment of speech corresponds to the emotional realm. The type of speech that governs our relationship originates in the emotions. As the sages say, “words that exit the heart enter the other’s heart and affect him.” You of course need a mind to be able to talk, but the mind here is in service of the emotions, therefore in Chassidut this is called the intellect in the emotions. The role we play when rectifying society and building it properly, to the point of self-sacrifice, is related to the emotional level of the psyche. This again is universal for all human beings.

Retaining commitment to our lower roles

Finally, we come to the third level of roles that we play. This is already a uniquely Jewish level related to the intellectual powers of the psyche. If you don’t ascend to this third level, and you only remain for instance in the second emotional level of role related to social issues, you can end up with ideas such as equality (or equal-burden, שִׁוְיוֹן בַּנֵּטֶל) without anything higher, like we discussed earlier.

Now, it’s important to understand that just because something is associated with a lower role, doesn’t mean that it will automatically be adopted by someone who thinks they are focusing on a higher level of role. For example, society can accept norms that are opposed to the propagation of the species, for instance accepting abnormal sexual identities. So what we are getting is that when we ascend to the third level of role, you have to include both lower levels too. You can’t forget the need to propagate the species when you come to the third level. For instance, you can’t forget that the purpose of man is to be fruitful and multiply. Like what the Alter Rebbe said, A yid macht darfen a yid, “A Jew must make another Jew.”

In fact, so essential is each of these lower roles, that when a human being neglects his lower roles, propagating the species and social commitment, his life becomes empty. A person has to do everything they can possibly do in order to have children. If it is impossible, it is a decree from heaven that it not happen, than that is God’s choice, but for our part, we have to do everything we can. Otherwise, “life” (חַיִּים) becomes “emptiness,” a “void” (חָלָל).

So again, we have three levels here: a first level of propagating the species, a second level of rectifying society. This second level is universal. But, if a Jew remains at this second level, he feels empty. Now what is this third level?

The unique Jewish role: Performing mitzvot

The megilah we will read in two weeks says, “There was a Jewish man in Shushan the capitol and his name was Mordechai.” The sages explain that Jewish (יְהוּדִי) can also be read as “unique” (יְחִידִי), meaning that every Jew has to reveal his uniqueness.

What shall we call the third and highest level of role that we assume? We’ll call it the performance of mitzvot (קיום מצות), which in Hebrew follows the same idiom as “propagating the species” (קיום המין). This highest role that I have as a Jew is based on an awareness that I am here like a soldier taking orders from my Supreme Commander, the Almighty. Perhaps my assignment is to be the Chief of Staff, but even the Chief of Staff is a soldier who takes orders. In any case, my Commander is neither nature, nor society.

Our habitual role: following nature’s commandments – children, life, and livelihood

Our commitment to nature also entails following commandments, in this case, nature’s commandments. Nature, as my commander, commands me and instructs me and gives me to have offspring. When someone goes to study the exact sciences, he is studying the laws of nature—studying what the commandments of nature are. The study of all sciences is the mochin (the intellect) of the habitual/natural/instinctual part of the psyche.

Someone who identifies with nature and wants to follow its laws, that is a very deep and real thing, but what kind of ethics does one find in nature? First and foremost, being ethical in terms of nature means to propagate the species. Perhaps there are also other instructions and commandments that nature gives me. For instance, to retain my health. Perhaps, if I am not healthy, I won’t be able to have children.

Now, imagine that there is a good child, who once saw how a doctor helped a friend of his. As a result, this child wants to be a doctor when he grows up. This is a lofty purpose. But, as a doctor, whose orders, whose commandments will he be following? Nature (that’s why it’s best to be a naturopath)! To be a doctor means to do good for other people’s nature. This applies both to medical doctors and to psychologists and psychiatrists.

To have children, to be healthy, and to make a living (בָּנֵי חַיֵּי וּמְזוֹנֵי)—the three basic blessings that we all request—are all related to nature. You need to make a living to put bread on the table, if you have food to eat, you can be healthy, and then you can have children. It is all part of the same system.

Our emotional role: following society’s commandments – law and military

It is certainly a good thing for a child to want to be a doctor, but that in the end is a natural role. If the child grows up a little and then wants to do more good, then he will want to rectify society. What profession should he choose? We’ve already noted that this would be running society, being the Prime Minister or President.

There are two ways to pursue this goal. You can either choose a military career or a legal one. Then he decides he should be either a judge (he should study law), just like with the 7 Universal Laws, or he decides that he should join the army and become an officer. In the end both of these directions can lead you in the end to be a Prime Minister.

Indeed, the connection between the two is evident when the Torah mentions the mitzvah of appointing judges right next to the mitzvah to appoint a king. So this is one very important career choice involving commitment to our emotional realm and our social responsibility.

Appointing a king – the first essence of social commandments

The mitzvah to appoint (לְמַנּוֹת) a king is one of the 3 communal mitzvot that we are required to perform—it is the first. If a society wants to win the contract of teshuvah as a community (not just personal teshuvah), the first thing it must do, the first thing we must do, is to seek to appoint a king.

A king is appointed both by the people and by the Almighty. He has to be chosen both from Above and from below. He receives the crown from Above, but also his brethren have to agree to accept him as a king, out of free-will. The moment we decide, as a people, that we want to appoint a king, that is the beginning of our communal and public teshuvah, because this is society’s first commandment.

With this observation, we are nearing our goal: to see how the Torah contains all three levels of appointment, of taking responsibility. Again, the basis is propagating the species and all that we need to exist are all at the first level. The second level is responsibility towards society. (At the start, it may seem that our social involvement is similar to that of all the earth’s people, not necessarily something Jewish). This is what we have speech for, to rectify society and to be able to lead people.

Our intellectual role: following the Almighty’s commandments

The highest level of role that we play is the, mochin be’etzem, intellect itself, and in fact, it is actually counter-intuitive to understand that the essence of intellect is to stand commanded by the Creator. It means that I have a responsibility towards the Creator Himself. I am before God. At the first level, I am commanded by nature, at the second, I answer to society, and at the third I answer to God, because I believe. The third level is in some ways similar to the first, the end is enwedged in the beginning.

Without this third level of being responsible towards God, of feeling that it is God that appoints me to my highest role in life, without that, a Jew remains empty. Even if you perform the first two roles perfectly and do many good things—you can have offspring, go to the army—but, if you don’t perform your third and highest role, your life will feel empty.

The Almighty did us a kindness by giving us so many roles and in the highest role, 613 commandments. Each of the commandments is a gift in this sense. Just like Betzalel did all that God commanded him through Moshe Rabbeinu. The Torah doesn’t say this even about Moshe Rabbeinu, that he did all that he was commanded which is why Betzalel knew secrets that even Moshe did not. That is why Betzalel was the one who constructed the Tabernacle—a national building—but one that is entirely dedicated to God.

So again, there are three roles that we play in life. In the role we play as commanded by God there are certain commandments that are reasonable, we can understand them with our rational intellect. They seem to be similar to the commandments of society. The main movement between the public and the individual is in regards these commandments. If a person has a negative inclination to steal for instance and he overcomes it because God commanded him that is still the rectification of the individual. It becomes social rectification, when he refrains from doing this because of his responsibility towards his fellow Jews. The highest level is when one ensures through education and social programs that no one steals and no one murders in our society.

Rebuilding our faith in a malchut – filling the void

Being motivated to keep the mitzvot because of our mutual responsibility for one another as members of the same society, that is, the Rambam writes, the responsibility of the king—in fact, it’s his main task: to ensure that there is no murder for instance in his kingdom. Rectifying society in this manner is the role of the righteous king we are longing for.

Given that humanity has suffered so many disappointments from kings who did not act properly, most people no longer put trust in the idea of a king, in the institution of malchut. Still, we have to build from scratch a yearning in people for a kingship. Sometimes you can build yearning out of the feeling of despair that people have in the present system works. As good as democracy is and for all the good things it brings with it, people feel that it has left us in a void, with emptiness.

3. The all-inclusive Torah role – Excellence in all our roles

So the final idea here is that even when a person dedicates himself to learning Torah, he may still not realize that the Torah includes commitment to the two lower levels as well. Certainly such an individual is using his psyche’s faculties of intellect, but he has forgotten his role in society, similar to how we said that some people have strong commitment to their social role, but neglect their natural role—to propagate the species.

We are not saying that a Jew, God forbid, has three rulers: that he is separately committed to God, to society, and to nature! That is certainly not true. Rather, everything should be treated as one—because God Himself consists of everything. God Himself includes society and nature. That’s the way a Jew should think. It is well known that the gematria of Elokim (God’s Name that means the “Master of all forces”), אֱ־לֹהִים equals “nature” (הַטֶּבַע). These are different levels of God’s manifestation, the highest of which is Havayah and the lowest of which is Elokim, but we declare “Havayah is the Elokim,” a declaration we received from Elijah’s time when the people made this declaration at Mt. Carmel.

What this is saying is that when God gave us responsibility, it includes all the responsibilities we have as human beings, commitment to propagating the species. This includes that I be healthy, and all my family be healthy, so that we can all perform our natural duty. All of us have to keep the Torah and the commandments, which are good for everybody. The Torah has commandments called “laws” (מִשְׁפָּטִים), which can be understood by our reason. There are also commandments that cannot be understood with reason, these are called chukim (חֻקִּים), for instance the Red Heifer and Sha’atnez. Chassidut teaches that they should be inter-included: what is reasonable should be performed like it was above our minds, and that what is above our reason be captured by our minds. But, in the end the one who commands us with all our roles, is God and the main thing he wants from us which includes rectifying society is to appoint a king. Appointing a king implies cooperation between all the parts of society, everyone has to want it and choose the king. This brings about the recitifcation of all  the parts of the state: education, economy, and even healthcare. Healthcare should also be part of the Torah.

The sages taught us a principle, “Whoever takes upon himself the yoke of Torah, is freed from the yoke of the kingdom [society] and the yoke of derech eretz [nature].” A single individual does not have to carry three yokes, just one: the yoke of Torah. But, when a Jew truly takes on the yoke of Torah, that already includes in it a positive commitment to kingdom [society] and to derech eretz [nature]. The sages say that derech eretz comes before Torah, and it is actually the first mitzvah in the Torah, the mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply. Regarding kingdom [society], the sages picture receiving the yoke of Heaven as: “First accept my [God’s] kingdom, then accept my [God’s] decrees, or commandments” (קַבְּלוּ מַלְכוּתִי וְאַחַר כָּךְ קַבְּלוּ גְּזֵרוֹתַי). Rashi explains that accepting the yoke of God’s kingdom is the addressed in the first of the Ten Commandments.

Indeed, this can all be understood even better from the continuation of the mishnah from Avot, “Whoever takes upon himself the yoke of Torah, is freed from the yoke of the kingdom [society] and the yoke of derech eretz [nature].” The mishnah continues, “And whoever removes the yoke of Torah from himself is fixed with the yoke of kingdom and the yoke of derech eretz.” Anyone who thinks about this will see that the sages are saying that if one tries to be free of the yoke of Torah, then the two other yokes take its place.

The four species – excellence by focusing on one role

Now there are people who think that they can’t be committed to more than one thing at a time. For instance, the Four Species we take on Sukot. There is a person who like the citron has good smell and good taste, he learns Torah and performs mitzvot. Then there is the date palm that has only good taste, and the myrtle branches that have good smell, but no taste, and then there are the aravot that have neither. But, in the end we say the blessing over the date palm (לִטּוֹל לוּלָב). The good taste of the date palm is better than the taste of the citron (which has both taste and smell). Likewise the smell of the myrtle branches is better than that of the citron. What we learn from this is that sometimes, when you are lacking something, you become much better at something that is unique to yourself.

Is it possible that someone with a social role is more ethical than someone with a Torah role?

What this tells us is that usually the Torah Jews—we are saying that in the Torah, you have to include all three levels—for instance someone who is not Torah, he only has the second level of social recitification, but he doesn’t care for instance about anything else (he’s not bothered by homosexuality). If a person is entirely dedicated to ethics, that’s what he studied in university and that’s what he does all day long—is it possible that he’s better at social recitification than someone who has all 3 levels? Another example: do animals who are committed to only the first level keep nature’s laws better than human committed to all three levels do?

Is it possible to neglect some of my roles?!

If this is indeed the case, I am very distressed. I wouldn’t like to accept this. I would want the person who is committed to God to do all three better than someone who just does one or the other. Because I answer to God who is the all-encompassing light of reality, I should be able to do them all better than one who is committed just to one or the other. There is a mitzvah to rectify society, to appoint a king, and there is a mitzvah to propagate the species—he should be able to do all of them at a higher level. Is it the case then that someone who is dedicated only to social justice would know how to do that better than someone who does all three? I can’t accept this.

Returning all the roles into faith

The answer to this is explained in chapter 33 of the Tanya. There it says that the role of the intellect is to accept the yoke of the mitzvot, the commandments. Sometimes when a Jew looks at all the 613 commandments, there are so many, and he falls apart because the yoke is so heavy, it’s such a big burden. So the Alter Rebbe says that when a Jew reaches this state, he should meditate on the fact that his only role, his only commandment is to believe in One God. Faith, alone. That’s it. If you fulfill that, you’ll see that as the sages say, “Habbakuk came and founded the entire Torah on just one mitzvah, faith in God, ‘And the tzadik lives because of his faith” (בָּא חֲבַקּוּק וְהֶעֱמִידָן עַל אֶחָד וְצַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה).

Ascending from the three lower worlds (intellectual, emotional, habitual) to the nothingness of Emanation

The life that he receives from this one mitzvah of faith in God, is like the resurrection of the dead. And this resurrection gives renewed life that allows all 613 commandments to be performed. To reach this state of resurrection, one has to experience the nothingness of the World of Emanation (אֲצִילוּת). In the World of Creation, one feels how one is being created out of the nothingness. But, Emanation itself is nothingness itself.

The secret of Pakad – the backside of Ab – drawing nothingness from Emanation to the three lower Worlds

Now, פקד equals 184, it is equal to the backside of the name Ab (72), the filling of Havayah related to wisdom: יוד הי ויו הי is equal to 72. When we write the backside of this filling it is יוד יוד הי יוד הי ויו יוד הי ויו הי, which equals 184. We didn’t mention that the word פָּקַד is the code-word for the redemption—the redemption from Egypt (not the final redemption by the Mashiach). What this means is that this name that equals 184 transmits the experience of the nothingness out of which creation is created. It is the experience of the World of Emanation. The Name Ab is also the inner essence of Abba, the seifrah of wisdom. But, the Name Pakod (184) is the one that transmits the essence of the World of Emanation, the nothingness, to all of creation and all of formation and all of action. These three lower Worlds correspond to the commitment to the Torah, to society, and to nature.

Nothingness in the first verse of parashat Pekudei

Let’s go back to the first verse of Pekudei, אלה פקודי המשכן משכן העדת etc. It contains 61 letters, the value of “nothingness” (אַיִן). The first, middle, and final letters of this verse are exactly אין! This is one of the most beautiful remazim in the entire Torah. One book says that even though 184 is the backside of wisdom, still, in wisdom the backside is related to its inner essence.

From the nothingness of Emanation comes the excellence in all our lower roles

All evening we have been talking about receiving a role. Actually, receiving a role is the backside, it is external to one’s essence. For this reason, there are people who don’t want to play any roles at all, like an anarchist. As negative as this is, it also points to something very deep. There is one place where you can be without a role at all. That is in the World of Emanation, in the place where all there is, as we said, is nothingness. There are no roles there. To get to that level, you have to have simple faith in One God. It is like the state after the resurrection of the dead, when all the commandments are nullified. But, we want this nothingness to also include the 3 lower levels. And this is what the first verse of this week’s parashah gives us.

A true man of Torah can understand that the highest role of Torah also includes commitment to rectifying society and to nature—nature too is dictated by God, it’s not just survival of the fittest. Nature wants everyone to have children (not just the fittest). It also wants us all to be beautiful—because in nature beauty is a segulah for having children. So nature wants us all to be healthy and beautiful and have offspring. And all these levels, they all come out of the nothingness of the World of Emanation. It is from there that we can become committed to all the levels.

What we learn from this is that we should take responsibility to all these levels. It also includes the Academia. Like we said before, the exact sciences, the natural sciences are from our commitment to nature. To be committed to nature, you also have to be a scientist. And you have to perform what nature wants from you.

May the Almighty help us to succeed in all these roles so that we can be both the citron with all the taste and smell as well as be like the willow branches, without either.


[1]. Ecclesiastes 8:4.

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