“Hashem oz l’amo yiten, Hashem yevoraich es amo bashalom”…Amen.
This paper is a discussion of two concepts, oz and shalom. When the four Rabbis entered the Pardes as related in tractate Taanis, only Rabbi Akiva went in with shalom and departed with shalom. The rest of the group suffered severe consequences; one committed suicide, one went crazy, and one left the faith. What was this shalom that Rabbi Akiva entered and left with that was so integral to survival. To understand this it is important to know what the other three were lacking which resulted in these profound losses. When Ben Zoma went in to the Pardes he saw his yetzer harah as one cup and his yetzer hatov as another, he couldn’t reconcile the concept that good and evil were united in Hashem this taxed his mental faculties to the extreme limit and caused him to go insane. When Ben Azzai went in to the Garden the spirituality was totally overwhelming, he couldn’t conceive of spirituality and physicality existing together and he wanted that intense, 100% spirituality so he committed suicide. Finally, when Elisha Ben Abuye (also known as Acher) went in to the Pardes he saw the boy climb the tree and shoo away the mother bird to fetch an egg for his father, two things that are known to merit long life. The boy fell out of the tree and died.
Acher saw Hashem as power and when he entered the Pardes he saw the angel Metatron sit down. Acher mistook Metatron for Hashem because Metatron is the manifestation of Hashem’s power and assumed that Hashem was weak and that explained the upsetting situation that he witnessed. Acher doubted Hashem’s strength and lost faith in Hashem and in himself which meant that he stopped serving Hashem. Acher believed that power is the be all and end all. When Acher was just born his father invited all of the great sages to his bris. At the party the sages were doing amazing magic tricks and Acher’s father blessed him that he should learn Torah like these sages in order that he have the same powers as them. Acher grew to respect only power, it follows logically then that when Acher saw this tragic thing happen he was overwhelmed by a fear of abandonment and he accepted Aristotle’s theory that G-D created the world and then pulled back to let it run itself.
A person’s concept of G-D is an accurate indicator of his projective reality. It is clear that in each of the above examples, there existed a dichotomous projective reality. What happens in a dichotomous reality is that the appellate “evil” is assigned to the trait or facet that cannot be reconciled and it is rejected. However in Rebbe Akiva who entered and existed b’shalom there existed a completeness (i.e. shelaimut) that came with a dialectical view of Hashem. How does one attain this level of completeness where the perspective of Hashem is b’shalom? The answer is prayer. Of the many Hebrew words referring to prayer there are two that will be singled out here, l’hitpallel and l’hitchanen. The word l’hitpallel has a root word that means “struggling”, the form of the word is reflexive so it means struggling with oneself. The word l’hitchanen has the same form and the meaning of the root is “begging” so it means begging oneself. With this understanding it is clear that prayer is an effort with one’s own perceptions and experiences. The three rabbis who did not make it out of Pardes whole perceived parts of it as contradictory to their beliefs or desires. The lesson we can learn is to strive to be whole and accept all of life and ourselves as real and possible. The perception of contradiction is called tzimtzum, literally constriction (referring to the constriction of Hashem’s light). There is a story in maseches Chagiga that a king tells his workers to build his palace on top of a trash heap, he also adjures them not to discuss that fact because it will dishonor the king. The world is the palace built on the trash heap of tzimtzum. When we see the tzimtzum we logically believe that Hashem has abandoned us or that there is an irreconcilable contradiction. The antidote to this fatal way of thinking is the concept of hashgacha pratius, specific Divine Intervention When we see something that doesn’t quite fit, or that doesn’t make sense we are presented with a test. The test is do we look at this with a projective perspective in which we assign the problem to someone else and are hostile to them because of their problem. Or on the other hand to we take responsibility for our problems and strive to see the Hashgacha Pratius, Hashem’s light, in everything and thereby achieve a compassionate reality. This compassionate reality is where we are gentle with ourselves and allow the fault to reside with us with the comfort of seeing Hashem’s light in this fault. This compassion can also be extended to others with similar faults. This is the dialectic, compassionate view of the world with Hashem’s love as the binder between the dialectical tensions that exist everywhere. This is the definition of shalom and this is how Rabbi Akiva was able to enter and exit the Pardes with Shalom.
We fight with Oz, we conquer with Oz, we accept defeat with Oz, we die with Oz. What is Oz? I would venture to say that Oz is the strength that is required to look at the world with Shalom. There is a picture of a Jew about to be killed by the Nazis. The Jew is wearing his tallis and tefillin, standing barefoot in front of the bodies of his dead brothers and the laughing faces of his murderers. This Jew is a picture of Oz. This Jew is facing tzimtzum in the faces of the Nazis. He is totally connected to the light in this moment of absolute tzimtzum. This is shalom: absolute evil and absolute good coexisting synergistically. When we are faced with something that tests us to our core we have a choice to react with projection and focus on “other” and “other’s” problems or we can access the deeper part of our core that is sensitive to Hashem’s love and respond with the cognizance of the dialectic tension of the world with total love and total compassion between myself and Hashem.