Pessach: Tshuva as Seuda, and the dialectic of wine and bread.
Appeasement/chessed - War/gevurah : Prayer/synthesis
The gemmara Pesachim on page 109b and 110a enters into a bizarre discussion about how, when the Rabbis instituted the 4 cups of wine on Passover, they put us all in intense danger, because when there are even-numbered things, this is an opening for damaging forces to enter. But, says the gemmara, if a person looks at the market place between cups, then he need not worry.
from 'A pocketful of Helbinah' by Gavriel Goldfeder
The Jewish people are very susceptible to Cain-based shame/shanda mentality. Having been subjected to so much shame and humiliation throughout the ages, we often seek to avoid it by denying 'shameful' truths about our communities.
The main purpose of the Jewish people is to do Tshuvah and to teach the world Tshuvah; our avoidance of this is our yetzer hara and we inevitably end up paying a terrible price for it.
By distancing ourselves from difficult or humiliating circumstances, for fear of being tainted by them, we are covering up and avoiding the process of Tshuvah. In a dichotomized world of success and failure where the priority is to look good, to look successful, we seek to avoid the taint of failure at all costs.
Yet despite the short-term discomfort, we need to embrace reality and search for God inside the blockage. This applies to stories in the Torah as much as to our own lives. If we 'sterilize' the stories and overlook the mistakes and the defects, we are missing the point, and we fail to learn the process of Tshuvah.
The avoidance of tuma/blockage/discomfort/humiliating circumstances belies the birth process. Menstruation and the loss of eggs before eventual conception and expansion of a microscopic drop into personhood is a vital part of the birth process. It is the losses endured before the conception that give the entire process its significance.
This is the significance of the barrenness of the Matriarchs and other women in Torah.
According to the Mei Hashiloach, the Matriarch Sarah is the archetype of this process. Through her mistakes, we learn to appreciate its significance. Her impatience with the process prompted her to bring Hagar as a surrogate and wife to Avraham, resulting in the birth of Ishmael - a consequence we are still paying for in a very real and painful way.
In the texture of Sarah's life we can viscerally feel the mechanics of the patience/initiative dialectic. It is her wrestling with this that is important for us, as she exhibits models of both patience and impatience that serve as permanent indelible lessons for the Jewish people, throughout the ages.
And yet the shame of messing things up is so deep and pervasive that is can totally subvert the Tshuvah process, because where there is no Simcha/Joy, there can be no Tshuvah.
Evaluating results tends to become entangled with ego, and therefore success oriented (which is why, on Pessach, we reduce ego by taking the chametz out of the Matza, and strengthen the outpouring of light, by allowing the wine to ferment).
If Sarah were to comment today on the far-reaching effects of the birth of Ishmael, what would she say?
Perhaps she would say that she was tested in this extreme way because of her strength, and not because of her weakness, and that her messing things up was part of the test. Sarah's task was to teach people how to balance patience and initiative, and she teaches this as much through her mistakes as through her successes.
There is no way to rationalize the suffering brought into the world because of the conflict between the sons of Ishmael and the sons of Israel, but there is a way to learn the process of Tshuva from it.
The one thing that subverts the Tshuvah process is wishing the mistake had never happened. It does no good to wish problems away, because problems are God's greatest gift. Instead of focusing on the results, we need to look at the process of how Sarah handled her sterility and barrenness. Through her process of being in the world she provided us with a critical model. The work Sarah did over 90 years, waiting for a baby, was a fundamental part of the process. It is 'empty womb work', and the mistakes she made through her impatience give the process integrity.
When Hagar conceived on the first night, Sarah blamed Avraham.
When she heard of the Akeida, she died, because the pain was too much for her.
All of this modeling and teaching about the process of Tshuvah would be lost if we were solely focused on evaluating results.
In a Tshuvah world, instead of focussing on the encompassing darkness, we learn to focus on the microscopic pinpoint of light it contains.
According to the Gemara in Avoda Zara, the purpose of the Pessach Seder is to rectify the sin of Adam Harishon. This is achieved through the dialectic of the Wine (Chessed) and the Matza (Gevurah). The wine, which is 'Chametz' (because it undergoes a process of fermentation) and the Matza are differentiated only by the letter Chet in Chametz, which is the letter Heh in Matza. Heh, which represents the open heart, the open womb, the open mind, is the letter of Tshuvah, and the letter Chet, which is closed up, represents sin. If the point that closes up the Chet is removed, it becomes a Heh, and Chametz becomes Matza.
In the Esh Kodesh (Rosh Hodesh Nissan, 1942), the Rebbe of Piacezna explains the significance of the tiny point that distinguishes the Heh from the Chet through an explanation of the Torah of the circles and the lines, which can be compared to the scientific understanding of particles and waves, in that the manifestation of each depends upon its being observed and experienced. The world of circles, in which each circle clothes the next in a hierarchy from materiality to spirituality, with God encircling and transcending everything, represents the linear, solar-driven, physical world.
This is the world of cause and effect, in which "what you see is what you get". The world of circles is the macro world of particles, in which the nucleus is encompassed by progressively greater circles or orbits.
The world of lines, however, is a world of paradox, in which "the shortest line includes the longer", meaning that in any process of birth, the entirety is contained within the infinitely small point of inception. All Tshuvah starts with this tiny point of light in the midst of darkness, which can be experienced as a 'still, small voice', or, as the Esh Kodesh implies elsewhere, as music.
This point is the window, the opening of the letter Heh, the tiny space that distinguishes it from the letter Chet, which is sin. When the point is filled in, blockage occurs, and this is the blockage of Tuma.
Filling in the tiny space in the Heh indicates an inability to see this point of light in the midst of darkness, and this occurs when the world is viewed as a dichotomy of light or dark, success or failure.
Our commitment, however, must be to the pintele point, which is God's presence in the barrier. The word Tuma implies this point, because it is God's potential within the darkness for the birth of Tshuvah.
Tzimtzum is the illusion of God's absence, and our task is to find the tiny window of God's presence in the darkness, and to have faith that it is there, even though it is inifinitely small - too small to see. This is the sense in which the Piacezna Rebbe (writing in September 1942 in the Warsaw Ghetto) says "the shortest line (the infinitely small point) includes the longer, up to the level of the line stretching from infinity, which is at the very center." The infinitely small point is the line that stretches to infinite length,
because it connects a person with God.
Every person comes up against this darkness, and the sense in which nes/test becomes nes/miracle is in how the person deals with this darkness. If I deny or cover up, the heh stays blocked. If I disappear into the magical world of Nadav and Avihu (the dichotomized world of absolute light) or if I descend into the hopeless world of Elisha ben Abuyah (the world of absolute dark) I will not find God in the darkness, and I will miss the opportunity for Tshuvah. In this sense, it is the gift of the test that contains the potential for the miracle.
The world of lines (which has much in common with the 'string theory' of modern physics) is a world in which material reality is outermost, and the Infinite is inside everything. This is the paradoxical world in which the soul of a rock, in its differentiated muteness, is closer to Hashem than the soul of a human, because the purpose of this world is to make room for dialogue with God - the reason for the Tzimtzum is to create the parameters of choice, so that we can rebel. The experience of Tzimtzum sees the world as a rock that God is apparantly unable to move.
The Piasezna Rebbe explains that "the root of all things physical is in the circle that surrounds everything, where the greater always encircles the lesser, and He, God, surrounds everything", whereas the soul "is in the category of the straight line, in which the lesser clothes the greater, and the line stretching from Infinity is the innermost."
The critical issue here is in the dynamic tension between the circles and the lines - between the material and the spiritual.
In a famous debate between Spinoza and Descartes, Descartes claimed that the body and soul are dichotomized, with the devil ruling the body, and God ruling the soul, while Spinoza insisted that body and soul exist in dialectic tension, which is what defines the uniqueness of the human being.
In the Gemara (Avodah Zarah) we learn that the solution for a problem must be clothed in the same garment as the destructive element of the problem. This is the way Hashem made the world, with the medicine inside the poison...as is case with inoculations.
This is the principle behind the idea of testing. If a person can be inoculated with a little bit of a problem, then this person will have much greater tools with which to face much greater problems in the same area.
To demonstrate this idea of healing within disease, the Gemara quotes two verses, one from Eicha: The walls of Jerusalem were destroyed by fire, and the other from Zecharia (12:6): The rebuilt Jerusalem will be fire.
The same principle applies to the consumption of food. Adam sinned by eating, and with the Seder we rectify this sin, by eating.
The snake told Chava, if you eat this fruit, you will be like God, implying, you will be as wise as God, possessing God's Knowledge, and the ability to control the world. Reb Shlomo Carlebach pointed out that at this moment of hierarchy and competition, Adam and Chava did something critical. For the first time, they ate separately.
This is why Avraham initiates Judaism by holding a seuda, to show the generation of Babel that despite the conclusions they drew from the Flood, God is constantly pouring the lifeforce into the world. In this way - through Birkat haMazon - he gave faith to a whole generation. The idea of a seuda over bread and wine is to bring people together in an environment of 'Knowing' - of talking Torah - and the Pessach Seder is the model for this meal.
Every seuda, by bringing us together in the 'knowing', aware, unblocked way of tahara, contributes to the tikkun of the chet of Adam and Chava.
Adam and Chava were impatient. They couldn't wait for Shabbes, which was when the fruit was meant to be eaten. On Shabbes, we are meant to come together to eat in an atmoshere of Knowing. But because they couldn't wait for Shabbes, death, the fundamental tuma - out of necessity – came into the world.
The appearance of death is accompanied by the appearance of the absence of God, and so the tuma of death is grounded in halacha. In Halacha, every Tuma has a number of levels, and each level has an infinite amount of technical detail...the halacha of tuma is a maze of intricate detail. The most obscure concept is grounded in the most intricate physical detail, indicating the significance of the body/soul dialectic.This is why the Tuma of death is so grounded in Halacha. Half the vitality of any Jewish community is in people sitting Shiva and saying Kaddish.
Saying Kaddish serves to free the soul of the deceased by clearing any blockage they may have caused while alive. If the child's perception stays blocked, then the journey of the soul of the parent who gave the child that blockage is impeded also. Blockage in the world of circles is paralleled by blockage in the world of lines. The whole image of Kaddish, according to Rebbe Akiva (author of the mourner's Kaddish) and the Arizal is tied to the journey of the soul after death.
Both wine and bread are the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
And so at the Seder, which is the tikkun of the sin of eating from the Tree, it is as if there is a whole dialogue between the wine and the matzo. The wine is fermented (chametz) and the matzo is flat. The mato is lechem/milchama (war), which is too much ego.
At the Seder, the poison (the wine) is the cure. We need to reduce the bread (ego deflation) and strengthen the wine (direct light) in order to effect the tikkun of chet Adam Harishon.
The wine is chessed. The distortion of wine is chaos - too much love and no boundaries. When we say Kiddush, the wine and the bread are a tikkun for themselves. We want the wine to ferment, so we can take its intense light (chessed) and give it the vessel of Kiddush, which involves sanctifying that which is permitted. This is the sense in which the destruction is the tikkun. And we need to unferment the bread, because chametz is anger and pride, which is too much ego, too many boundaries, and we need to reduce them.