Tuesday, March 27, 2007

sifting out the impurities

Pesah - Shir Ha'Shirim

On Shabbos Hol Ha'Moed of Pesah we have a custom to read Shir Ha'Shirim.

In 1:1 of Shir Ha'Shirim, the passuk starts off saying, "שיר השירים אשר לשלמה". Rashi tells us that Shir Ha'Shirim is an especially holy song and book, much more so than any of the other כתובים - later biblical writings. Rashi compares it to a king who gives a kilo of wheat to a baker and tells him to sift out the various levels of impurities and use the flour to make a special delicate loaf of bread.
So too, Rashi says, is Shir Ha'Shirim. All the כתובים are holy, but Shir Ha'Shirim is קדש קדשים - especially holy.

Kodesh Kodoshim is not a separate entity, in the sense that you have two levels; holy and holy of holies, with them being independant of each other. You achieve the level of "especially holy" by taking the holy and continuing to refine it.

You can have "holiness" and still not be completely pure. If you take that "holy" and continue to sift out the impurities you can then achieve the ultimate level of holiness, holy of holies.

This is similar to Hametz itself and its disposal and metaphorically to our actions. If we continue to sift out the hametz from within us we can continue to improve our ways and strive and even achieve higher levels of kedusha, eventually reaching the status of holy of holies.

3 comments:

yaak said...

See here regarding the Issur of translating Shir Hashirim due to its Holy of Holies nature.

a_man said...

Rafi, very interesting association!

I'd like to make the observation that all of the weeks of preparations for Pesach to seek-and-destroy all hametz climax at the the seder when we sit down and enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Hametz is likened to all the negative midot that a person might have: haughtiness, pride, being full of oneself, arrogance, etc...

However, right the next day we start counting the omer. At the end of it, 49 days later, we bring a korban - shtey halechem -- chametz! And where do we do it? Right in the middle of Beit HaMikdash!!!

Have we learned nothing? Have we accomplished nothing in refining and sifting our midot? Only a short while after going nuts trying to rid ourselves of every molecule of chametz in our possession (both physically and metaphysically) we bring chametz and where? Into the Holiest place on earth?

So, to add to what you said about metaphorically disposing ourselves of chametz: the trick is not just to completely dispose of chametz! Completely disposing of chamez is good for Pesach, the time of our liberation and beginning of self-refinement culminating at the reception of the Torah. To receive the Torah we need humility, modesty, humbleness, etc.. So, that's where the biur chamez comes in -- to uproot all the bad midot, leaving behind only the good ones. Up to this point, it is level 1 -- getting to matan Torah.

But what about the rest of the year? This is the idea behind shtey halechem. Now that we have Torah (on Shavuot) we can proceed to level 2: taking Torah and using it to take over the negative midot by subjecting to Holiness. In other words, transforming all these midos to be positive midos.

The Zohar states: "Kad itkafya sitra achra, istalek yakira Kadisha Barichu bekula almin"
Loosely translated: When you subjugate the "other side" (= the yetzer & bad midot etc...) you increase the light of Hashem in all the worlds.

So, take pride, kavod, as an example. A bad mida? Usually yes - a person can rub the clouds with the tip of their nose, become insensitive to the surroundings and act a bully to others in order to preserve this perceived pride. But if you take this mida and transform it into Jewish pride, you have elevated and corrected this mida. In fact, you can now achieve the exact opposite (and positive) effect with Jewish Pride.

The same goes for the rest of the midos. They can all be included in shtey halechem. So, when we bring shtey halechem we can do so in Beit HaMikdash, the holiest place in the world, precisely because we subjugated these midos (itkafya sitra achra, as the Zohar puts it) and we can say to Hashem: "Here take this chametz, we have given it all over to you, to the side of holiness!"

May we merit to bring shtey halechem as sacrifice this very year in the third Beit HaMikdash. Of course, to make things more beyidur, I would prefer to precede shtey halechem with a proper korban pesach this year as well, please G-d.

Rafi G said...

yaak - if not for a translation I would never have learned shir hashirim. while usually I do not use translations to learn from, I have tried to learn shir hashirim in the past and gotten nowhere. For the first time ever I am making my way through it thanks to trying via a translation. Hopefully I will finish it, though I must say that I hardly understand it beyond the basic pshat, if even that much.

a_man - thanksfor the addition of omer..