This shiur is
dedicated in memory of Shmuel ben David Ehrenhalt, z"l,
father of our alumnus
May the entire Ehrenhalt family be comforted among the mourners of
Har Etzion mourns the death of Yona Baumel, z"l.
Mr. Baumol died on Friday,
without fulfilling his heart's deepest desire:
to discover the fate of
his son – and our talmid - Zecharia,
last seen on the Sultan Yakoub
battlefield in Lebanon 27 years ago.
We continue to
pray for Zecharia's return.
yenakhem etkhem be-tokh she'ar avelei Tzion veYerushalayim.
Shiur #26: Zeh Le’umat
R. Zadok teaches that
every trait allows for positive and negative expression. Good characteristics become problematic
when taken to an extreme; bad characteristics also have their legitimate
place. Thus, Chazal fault
Shaul for excess compassion (Yoma 2b) and R. Zecharya ben Avkolus for
inappropriate humility (Gittin 56a). Conversely, a scholar should exhibit
some degree of anger (Shabbat 63a) and pride (Sota 5a).
A parallel idea
animates R. Zadok’s thinking about world history. Each generation manifests particular
tendencies which find expression in a variety of opposing ways. R. Zadok terms this idea “zeh le’umat
zeh” (literally, ‘this opposed to this’). For example, a generation that desires
to know the future produces both prophets and fortune tellers. A time period which emphasizes the
abilities of the human intellect witnesses the rise of the Oral Law as well as
the ascendency of Greek wisdom.
While R. Zadok frequently contrasts Jewish and non-Jewish manifestations
of a given era, he sometimes places in opposition two different expressions
within the Jewish world.
One midrash famously
says that no Jewish prophet equaled Moshe but a Gentile prophet, Bil’am, did
(Sifrei, Ve-zot Ha-berakha).
For R. Zadok, this fits his general concept of history. Whatever themes find expression in
Jewish circles must find a parallel outlet in the non-Jewish world. Analogously, as already mentioned, the
time of prophecy was also the time of star gazers. In that era, the search for knowledge
about the future dominated with different groups adopting superior or inferior
versions of the search.
At other times, R.
Zadok identifies idolatry as the negative mirror image of prophecy. The gemara (Yoma 69b) states that
the sages managed to annihilate the inclination for idolatry. R. Zadok agrees with the Vilna Gaon,
Meshekh Hokhma, and Rav Kook in arguing that this maneuver was a double
edged sword. During the
Temple period, the dangers
of idolatry receded but prophecy ceased as well. He notes that Elihayu
Ha-navi’s generation incorporated both a large number of prophets (Rut
Rabba Petichta 2) and a high concentration of idolatry (Sanhedrin
102b). This overlap does not
reflect historical coincidence; it indicates a conceptual relationship between
these two phenomena.
What do prophecy and
idolatry share in common? R. Zadok
suggests that prophecy represents a clear apprehension of God. For a religious person, the excitement
and magnificence of such a possibility inspires ardent yearning for more such
experiences. In such a climate,
people may make gods out of graven images due to their intense desire to
visually experience divinity.
Powerful craving for something positive can also engender negative
In other passages, R. Zadok adds a
different factor: “According to the effort is the reward” (Avot 5:
23). For the institution of
prophecy to flourish, it must be born out of religious struggle and effort. When prospective prophets combat the
temptation for idolatry, their prophetic aspirations can materialize. On the other hand, if they need not
extend energy in overcoming this inclination, then they have not earned the
ability to prophesy. The most
precious things in this world are acquired only in the crucible of struggle.
The “zeh le’umat
zeh” principle means that different periods of Jewish history bring
divergent challenges. In this
context, it is worth noting R. Zadok’s sense of historical progression in his
depiction of Jewish history. Since
significant changes occur over time, the rival forces invariably shift as
well. R. Zadok contends that the
full flourishing of the Oral Law did not happen immediately at Sinai. As Yaakov Elman points out, R. Zadok
identifies several starting points for greater human involvement in the process
of Torah. Moshe’s greater role in
composing Sefer Devarim marks one transition. Other starting points include Sefer
Yehoshua, the Purim episode, and the time of Shimon Ha-tzaddik.
Elman emphasizes R.
Zadok’s idea that the halakhic process during the First Temple period depended more on prophet
than sage. People preferred the
greater clarity of prophetic directives to the more ambiguous endeavor of human
reason as practiced by sages. On
the other hand, Talmudic dialectics of human reasoning have certain advantages
over the prophetic method (we shall return to this theme in a subsequent shiur)
and the prophet eventually gave way to the sage.
Based on the “zeh
le’umat zeh” principle, the prophetic era and the period of the sages
produce varying challenges.
The former involves more obvious manifestations of the divine
presence. Therefore, the rival
ideology to Torah was the world of magic, a world that attempts to access the
grand cosmic forces of the universe.
When the written law was given, Egyptian sorcery constituted the world’s
other major philosophy.
At a later date, the
world moved from reliance upon the divine to a greater stress on human
intelligence and initiative. In the
Jewish context, this meant the flowering of the Oral Law. The parallel in the broader world found
the Greeks displacing old magic with their science and philosophy. According to one gemara, Shimon
Ha-tzaddik met Alexander the Great (Yoma 69a). Since Aristotle taught Alexander the
Great, that monarch can symbolize Greek wisdom. Thus, the meeting of these two figures
conveys humanity, both Jews and non–Jews, moving from reliance upon divinity to
The question of how
this process occurs provoked an interesting scholarly debate. In an article in a memorial volume for
Cohen, Aviya Hakohen analyzes one of R. Zadok’s sermons on
Chanukah. R. Zadok points out that the miracle of
the oil was not truly necessary.
The Jews had vanquished the Greeks and reclaimed control of the Temple. They could not be
faulted for not lighting the menora when they lacked available pure
oil. The need for this miracle must
be located elsewhere. R. Zadok
identifies the light with the illumination of the Oral Law. The miracle symbolizes the growth of
Torah she-be’al peh at the time of Chanukah. When we recall that Chanuka is the only
halakhic holiday lacking scriptural basis, identification with the Oral Law
becomes even stronger.
For R. Zadok, the
priesthood has a special role to play in disseminating the Oral Law. The Torah already speaks of the tribe of
Levi as those who “teach your law to Jacob and your Torah to Israel”
(Devarim 32:10). The prophet
Malakhi writes: “for the priest’s lips guard knowledge and they should seek the
Torah at his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts”
(Malakhi 2:7). The
centrality of the Hasmonean family in the Chanuka story takes on an added layer
of meaning. If this festival
reflects a flowering of the Oral Law, how appropriate that the teachers of this
law should serve as the heroes.
This approach enables
R. Zadok to offer a novel explanation for a well-known midrash. According to the midrash (Tanchuma
5), Aharon is depressed that he and his tribe did not participate in the
consecration offerings brought by the nesi’im - the princes of the other
tribes (Bemidbar 7).
God reassures him that he has a greater role in his lighting of the
candelabra. In the version
preserved in Bemidbar Rabba (15:6), God reassures Aharon that sacrifices
will cease with the destruction of the Temple but the lights continue forever. Exegetically, this midrashic motif
explains the juxtaposition of the mitzva to light the menora with the
offerings of the princes.
Ramban wonders about
the meaning of this midrash. Why
would God highlight the menora any more than the other unique
responsibilities of the High Priest, such as entering the inner sanctum on Yom
Kippur? Furthermore, the Temple’s destruction stops
both sacrifices and the lighting of the menora. Why does the midrash portray the
menora as more enduring?
Ramban explains that this midrash alludes to the Chanuka episode and the
central role played by Aharon’s descendents. Chaunka lighting outlives the
endures throughout Jewish history.
R. Zadok cites
Ramban’s interpretation but also moves beyond it. According to R. Zadok, the midrash
refers not only to the Chanuka story but to the entire edifice of the Oral
Law. God reassures Aharon that his
children would play a crucial role in the ongoing creation and vitality of
Torah. Surely, such a message would
gladden Aharon’s heart and alleviate his sense of having been left out of the
In the context of
this discussion, R. Zadok writes:
And we have already
said that they were in the outer husk (the kelipa), this opposed to that,
in opposition to the sanctity of the Oral Law, which essentially spread due to
Shimon Ha-tzaddik, who was from the remnant of the Men of the Great Assembly,
and from him began the chain of the mishna. And in his day was Alexander the Great,
and then began Greek wisdom due to Aristotle, who was part of the outer husk in
opposition to the sanctity of the Oral Law, that they too innovated from their
own wisdom and ethics in proper behavior, and that is why they wanted to negate
the Oral Law from Israel.
interprets R. Zadok to mean that Greek influence brought about the growth of the
Oral Law. The Jews adopted a focus
on human thought from the Greeks.
Of course, they did not blindly accept whatever the Greeks stood for;
rather, they attempted to discerningly take the positive while rejecting the
negative. Azarya Ariel, one of the
volume’s editors, appended a note to this article disagreeing with a few
points. Ariel objects that R. Zadok
never says that the Greeks preceded the Jews in this endeavor or that Jews
derived the concept of a more intensive reliance on human intelligence from the
I believe Ariel to be
correct. R. Zadok was not against
the idea that Jews could learn something of value from Gentiles, but that is not
what he says here. As we have seen,
R. Zadok endorses a grand metaphysical principle of “zeh le’umat
zeh.” This need not mean
that A influences B, but rather that A and B both respond to a change in the
world order. Presumably, Moshe did
not learn from Bil’am nor did Eliyahu learn about prophecy from idolaters. In each case, the individuals involved
were attuned to the spirit of the age and they responded in different ways. In the sources listed above, R. Zadok
says nothing about one group influencing another.
If anything, one
source indicates that the influence proceeds in the opposite direction. Ariel mentions a passage from Tzidkat
Ha-tzaddik in which R. Zadok says that the Torah and the Jewish people are
the map or the blueprint of the world.
R. Zadok says:
in accordance with
the innovations within the souls of Israel in a generation, so too are there
innovations in the world at that time... and this is the Oral Law which allows
for novelty in each generation through the innovations of the sages of Israel,
and through these innovations of Oral Law, new Jewish souls come to light, and
through them there are changes in the world.
indicates that the dramatic changes originate with the Jewish sages and then
trickle down to the rest of the world.
As mentioned, most of R. Zadok’s “zeh le’umat zeh” passages do not
emphasize influence traveling in either direction. Thus, we lack evidence that R. Zadok
thought the sages learned to rely on human intelligence from the Greeks.
I would like to add
another brief point that will be elaborated on in future shiurim. Hakohen’s presentation emphasizes the
role of human wisdom in the Oral Law.
However, in R. Zadok’s worldview, innovations of the sages truly come
from God. On one level, the sages
utilize their efforts and ingenuity to understand Torah. On another level, they appreciate how
their interpretations actually stem from God.
This dialectic makes it difficult
to portray R. Zadok as championing the power of human intelligence in the Oral