ESSAY: In Pursuit of the Divine
Seeking G-d where He can be found
A month after he has been unequivocally banished from
our homes, a most unexpected guest is made welcome at the
A TELLING STORY: Making it Count
The most important hour of a shopkeepers day is
when he counts the days receipts
In Pursuit of the Divine
by Ari Sollish
And G-d spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, saying: speak to
the children of Israel and tell them... for six years you
may plant your fields, prune your vineyards and harvest your
crops. But the seventh year is a year of resting for the land...
you may not plant your fields nor prune your vineyards.
Leviticus 25:1- 4
Why is the commandment of shemittah [the law to
rest the land every seven years] associated specifically with
Mount Sinai; were not all of the commandments given at Mount
Sinai? Rather the Torah is telling us that just as shemittah
was taught at Mount Sinai both in a general manner and in
specific detail, so too all of the mitzvot were taught at
Mount Sinai both in a general manner and in specific detail.
Rashi on verse
We live in a time of unprecedented material prosperity and
technological advancement. The benefits of these technologies
affect every aspect of our lives, from education to entertainment,
from business to health. As the computer/technology revolution
propels us on a journey towards material and physical contentment,
we may ask whether these advancements can in any way be integrated
with spiritual growth. Many philosophies contend that spirituality
is an ethereal, transcendental state, unencumbered by physicality
and corporeality. Judaism however has a different perspective:
Twice daily we affirm G-ds unity by proclaiming, Hear,
O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the Lord is One. In reality, the meaning of G-ds unity is
not only that there are no other forces or powers existent
in creation, but even more so, that there is nothing else
which exists besides for Him, including creation itself. Just as images conjured up in a
persons mind have no real existence of their own outside
his mind and are all composed of the same substance called
thought, the same is true regarding G-d and His
creation: the totality of creation is merely the physical
manifestation of Divine energy, which is the true and only
substance in existence.
So although the world appears to be a viable reality, distinct
from G-dliness, the very opposite in fact is true: the only
reality is the Divine reality, of which the world is merely
a projection. Just as G-d is utterly quintessential, having
no beginning or end, creation similarly feels itself as a
quintessential existence, without beginning or end. The reason
why the world feels itself as a self-sustaining entity is
that it in fact is nothing other than G-dliness.
This then is the true meaning of the verse, I am G-d;
I have not changed.
Many great philosophers have concluded, based on this statement,
that after creating the world G-d promptly gave over its control
to other forces.
It is impossible to say, they maintain, that G-d remains intimately
involved with creation and yet is not affected by it. The
mere notion that the Supreme Being, the Ultimate Truth, could
even be associated with such a lowly, fragmented world evokes
cries of protest. Accordingly, you can forget about miracles,
Divine Providence, or anything of the sort.
In light of the above explanation, however, a completely
different picture emerges. The reason why G-d is not affected
by creation is not that He is completely detached from it;
on the contrary, the fact that He and His creation are one
is what makes it possible. Therefore, the meaning of G-ds
proclamation is: just as there existed only G-d before creation,
the same holds true even after creation there is still
only one existence, that of G-d, for He is the very definition
of existence, indeed, the substance of creation. Thus, nature
itself is Divine; the very physicality of earth,
These two perspectives differ not only ideologically, but
practically as well.
How is one to attain spirituality? According to the philosophers,
one must transcend the limitations of this world, essentially
cutting oneself off from materiality to reach a sublime state
conducive to spirituality. As long as one remains trapped
within the confines of this world, they say, he will never
truly experience spiritual fulfillment, for G-d is effectively
locked out of His own creation.
Judaism teaches, however, that spirituality is realized not
through leaving the natural order, but rather by peeling away
the external layers of obscurity to reveal the Divinity inherent
in creation, the G-dliness that is manifest expressly in this
world. So while others believe that G-d and the world are
contradictory and that the natural must be shunned to reach
Divinity, we believe that G-d is not limited to the realm
of the spirit, and is found in His creation as much as in
And this is the purpose of our existence, the why and wherefore
of creation. G-d desired to have an abode in the lower
our sages explain. Our mission is not to create something
that does not exist, rather to reveal the G-dliness that is
already embedded within creation, to prove that there in fact
is no dichotomy between spirit and matter, the infinite and
That is also why the mitzvot are primarily physical acts
performed with physical objects, for it is only then that
we are able to reveal how divinity exists within even the
most mundane and material aspects of creation, which is the
objective of our being.
Based on the above explanation we can better understand the
statement of Rashi quoted at the beginning of this essay.
Why did the Torah choose the mitzvah of shemittah,
the obligation to refrain from all land-related work every
seven years, as the basis of derivation that all of the mitzvot
were taught at Mount Sinai both in a general manner and in
specific detail? The Torah should have used a more fundamental
mitzvah, such as giving charity or observing the Sabbath.
But in fact, it is specifically shemittah that expresses
the whole purpose of the mitzvot. During the shemittah
year, one was not permitted to work the land in any fashion.
This expressed ones complete faith and unwavering devotion
to G-d, to trust that He would provide the necessary sustenance
in an entirely supernatural way. Yet, in all other aspects,
the seventh year was an ordinary one, for other forms of work
could be performed; only the work pertaining to the land was
This then epitomizes the concept of the mitzvot: to reveal
the supernatural within the natural, the Divinity within the
mundane, the spirit within the matter. This is why the mitzvah
of shemittah is the source from which derive all of
the other mitzvot, for it conceptualizes the purpose of mitzvot,
and ultimately, the purpose of creation. So the next time you have the opportunity
to do a mitzvah, dont pass up the chance, dismissing
it as a trivial, meaningless act. Know that the whole journey,
indeed, the single mission that unites all of mankind and
the entire passage of history, is depending on it.
Based on addresses of the Rebbe given Shabbat Parshat
Behar 5718 (1958) and on various other occasions
by Yanki Tauber
What are the differences between the First Passover and
the Second Passover? On the First Passover, [leaven] is forbidden
to be seen or to be found [in ones possession]; on the
Second Passover, leaven and matzah coexist in ones home...
Talmud, Pesachim 95a
A mitzvah is a commandmentG-d instructing man what
He desires for man to do or not do. Understandably, then,
virtually all of the Torahs 613 mitzvot are unilateral
declarations of divine will: one does not see many proposals
for mitzvot being presented to G-d, or negotiations
between the supreme legislator and His earthly constituents.
One of the rare exceptions to this norm is the mitzvah of Pesach Sheini,
the Second Passover. The First Passover, as we
all know, commences on the evening following the 14th of Nissan,
the night that the Jewish people were liberated from Egypt.
The Second Passover comes one month later, on the 14th of
Iyar, and was instituted as a result of a petition by several
individuals who were unable to participate in the First Passover.
At the heart of Passover is the korban pesach (the
paschal lamb), which was offered in the Holy Temple
on the afternoon of the 14th of Nissanindeed, all other
observances of the festival (the eating of matzah and maror,
the prohibition against leaven), as well as the festivals
very name, are related to the Passover offering. The laws
of korban pesach mandate that only those who
are in a state of taharah (ritual purity) may offer
and partake of it. One year after the Exodus, as the Jewish
people were preparing to celebrate their first Passover outside
Egypt, a group of Jews approached Moses. They explained that
they were ritually impure because they had come in contact
with a corpse; the law would therefore preclude their bringing
a korban pesach. But they refused to reconcile themselves
to this. Why should we be deprived?! they cried;
why should we be excluded from observing the festival of redemption,
as will the entire community of Israel? G-d responded by instituting
a second Passover especially for those who, for whatever reason,
were prevented from offering the korban pesach in
its appointed time.
An Exception and Its Exception
Those who offer the korban pesach on the 14th
of Iyar follow the same basic procedure as those who brought
it one month earlier, on the First Passover. There are, however,
several legal and procedural distinctions between the two
Passovers, the most important of which concerns the prohibition
against leaven. On the First Passover, leaven is strictly
forbidden from noon of the 14th of Nissan (the earliest time
at which the korban pesach can be brought) until
the conclusion of the festival; throughout this period, no
leaven may be eaten, used in any way, or even be present in
ones domain. On the Second Passover, however, this prohibition
does not apply. While the korban pesach is to
be eaten with matzah, the unleavened bread, there is no mandated
exclusion of leaven; in the words of the Talmud, leaven
and matzah coexist in ones home.
Leaven is dough that has risenflour and
water that have come in contact and have been allowed to ferment,
with the effect that the mixture has bloated and exaggerated
its mass. Leaven is thus the symbol of egotism and pridea
leavened soul is one in whom the ferment of self-importance
has caused him to lose sight of his true place in G-ds
world, with the result that he recognizes only his bloated
self and its inflated wants.
This explains why the prohibition against leaven on Passover
is so severe and uncompromising: in no other instance does
the Torah not only forbid the consumption of, or derivation
of benefit from, even the smallest quantity of a substance,
but also its very existence in our possession. But egotism
and pride is not just another undesirable traitit is
the source of all evil in the heart of man. Every sin and
vice originates in an assertion of egowith the sense
that the self is supreme and that its needs and desires take
precedence to all else. Thus, in his Laws of Human Character, Maimonides advises that in all traits a person
should pursue the Golden Mean,
with a single exception: pride. Pride must be vanquished utterly.
This is not to say that there is nothing positive in the
stimulation of ego. Indeed, no phenomenon in G-ds world
is intrinsically negative, for all derives from Him, and He
is the essence of good. But while we have been empowered
to exploit many ostensibly negative traits toward
a productive and G-dly end, there also exist forces that are
so potent, and whose potential for corruption is so devastating,
that we must renounce them as beyond our capacity to deal
with. One such element is pride: we must reject it unequivocally,
as any attempt to make positive use of it is bound to fail
and be counterproductive.
There are times, however, when the positive core of a most
negative phenomenon rises to the surface, when its G-dly essence
asserts itself over all iniquitous expressions and corrupting
possibilities. Such was the case with the group of individuals
who approached Moses in the desert: their me instinct
asserted itself not in the form of a desire for dominance
or corporeal gratification, but in a soul-searing desire to
serve their Creator. The cry Why should we be deprived?!
expressed not a need to have and be, but a yen to give and
serve, to recognize and submit to the divine grantor of their
freedom. In their petition, the ferment and leavening
of their selves was not the antithesis of humble and self-effacing
matzah, but rather its complement. Leaven and matzah coexisted
in their souls, ego giving rise to commitment, self-realization
giving rise to an affirmation of mans indebtedness to
On the Second Passover, the festival that came
into being out of their selfish cry, there is
no need to banish leaven from our homes. For when the self
thus asserts itself, it is a welcome participant in our celebration
of the freedom we achieved at the Exodusthe freedom
to be G-ds people.
Based on the Rebbe’s talks on various occasions 
You shall count for yourselves, from the morrow of the
Shabbat, from the day on which you bring the raised omerseven
complete weeks shall there be. Until the morrow of the seventh
week, you shall count fifty days
One of the Chassidic masters explained the significance of
Sefirat HaOmerthe daily counting of the days
and weeks from Passover to Shavuot commanded by the Torahwith
the following parable:
A person finds a chest full of gold coins, takes it home,
and then proceeds to count them. His counting has no effect
on the actual number of coins in his possession: he now has
no more and no less than he had before he counted them. But
counting them makes them real to him; he can now digest the
significance of his find and deliberate how to make use of
On the first day of Passover, we were granted the entire
treasure chest. The moment of the Exodusthe
moment of our birth as a peopleencapsulated within it
our entire history. Then, on the following day, began the
count: the process of examining our gifts, quantifying and
itemizing them, translating them into the resources of our
 See Derech Mitzvosecha, Mitzvas Achdus Hashem, pp.118-124
 Tanya, Iggeres Hakodesh section 20, pp.130a-b
 The great codifier of Jewish Law, Rabbeinu Moshe
ben Maimon (Rambam), writes that this ideology in fact forged
the foundation of idolatry and the complete denial of a
Creator. See the beginning of his Laws of Idolatry.
 Midrash Tanchuma Parshat Naso 16, Parshat Bechukotai
3; Midrash Bamidbar Rabba 3:6; Tanya, beginning of Chapter
 Although generally speaking the Sabbath also represents
the fusion of spirit and matter, there are ultimately so
many special laws governing it that it feels like a completely
holy day, without this fusion at all.
 Likkutei Sichot, vol. I, pp.273-276.
. Another instance of a mitzvah prompted by human
initiative is the laws of inheritance legislated in response
to a petition by the daughters of Tzelafchad, as related
in Numbers 27. See also Jethros proposal for a judicial
hierarchy in Exodus 18.
. Mishneh Torah, Laws of Human Character,
2:3. Cf. Ethics of the Fathers, 4:4.
. I.e., he should be neither miserly nor a spendthrift,
but generous; neither cowardly nor reckless, but brave;
neither contrary nor timid, but easygoing; etc.
. Cf. Lamentations 3:38.
. Likkutei Sichot, vol. XVIII, p. 121; Rebbes
Haggadah (1991), pp. 880-881; et al.