|Pirkei Avot: The Voice of Torah: 5:8|
|Written by Rabbi Chaim Goldberger|
According to the Mishnah in Avot (5:8), ten extraordinary items were created Erev Shabbat of the Six Days of Creation, at twilight, just infinitesimally prior to the onset of Shabbat. These items were:
1) The Mouth of the Earth (that swallowed Korach and his followers in Parshat Korach)
2) The Mouth of the Well (that sang Shira in this week’s parsha, Chukkat)
3) The Mouth of the Donkey (that speaks to Bil’am in Parshat Balak)
4) The Rainbow (of Parshat Noach)
5) The Manna
6) The Staff (of Aharon)
7) The Shamir (the worm King Shlomo used to cut the rocks of the Bet Hamikdash)
8) Hebrew script (which, unlike other scripts, captures in written form the essence of the thing it is describing)
9) The writing on the Tablets (which could miraculously be read properly whether reading from the front or from the back)
10) The Tablets (made of an ethereal material, as it says, “k’etzem ha’shamayim la’tohar”)
11) Mazikin (Destructive spiritual beings)
12) Moshe’s Grave
13) Avraham’s Ram
Still others add:
14) The First Tongs
It has been offered that God’s wish to create these items so close to Shabbat suggests that they possess some kind of “Shabbat quality” which would have made it appropriate for them to have been created on Shabbat but for the fact that God rested from creating on Shabbat. Being created at twilight just as Shabbat is about to enter becomes the closest thing to having them actually created on Shabbat.
The theory sounds good, but it falters when reasonable thinking has to be stretched in order to explain what “Shabbat quality” these specific items have.
It seems to me that a more productive approach is to remember that Shabbat not only stands for itself and its own qualities but for something else as well. Shabbat is “Me-ein Olam Haba”, an experience similar to that of Olam Haba – the World to Come. I would propose that the items listed in our Mishnah have some kind of “Olam Haba quality” for which God chose to create them in the shadow of the approaching Shabbat.
But that still leaves us with the challenge – in what ways do each of these items possess an “Olam Haba quality”? And while that may seem to be a challenge involving not too much difficulty, as all the items listed seem rather otherworldly, I would like to preface my answer with a seemingly unrelated study – that of the Blessing after Cake, the bracha of Al Hamichya.
The bracha of Al Hamichya is known as “Me-ein Shalosh” – a blessing similar to Birkat Hamazon, referred to as “Shalosh” because of its three signature blessings (of Biblical origin and one additional of Rabbinic). Rather than require the full Birkat Hamazon (Bentsching) every time a person enjoys a snack of cookies or cake, the rabbis allowed the Biblical obligation of V’achalta v’savata u’verachta (When you eat and are satisfied, you should bless) to be fulfilled with this single scaled-down blessing, in which the themes of all three (four) standard blessings are captured within one.
The problem is that Al Hamichya does not appear to be an accurate scale model of the Bentsching. Note the following discrepancies:
- While the order of the themes is accurately retained (al hamichya = thanks for food = Birkat HaZan; al eretz chemda tova = thanks for the Land = Birkat Ha’Aretz; rachem = prayer for mercy = Birkat Rachem; uv’neh Yerushalayim = prayer to rebuild Jerusalem = Boneh b’rachamav Yerushalayim; ki atah tov u’meitiv = mention of God’s goodness = Birkat Hatov v’hameitiv) – the phrase “le’echol mi’piryah v’lisbo’a mi’tuva” (to eat of its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness) does not appear anywhere in Bentsching, yet it appears twice in Al Hamichya.
- No mention is made in Al Hamichya of Malchus Bais Dovid, despite it being mentioned prominently in Birkat Hamazon in the Birkat Rachem.
- The Mizbeyach and the Heichal are specified in Al Hamichya, whereas in Bentsching they are only included within a general reference to the Beit Hamikdash as a whole.
- In Al Hamichya, we ask to be able to bless God “b’kedusha uv’tahara” – in sanctity and purity; yet this is not mentioned at all in Birkat Hamazon.
- In Bentsching, the special inserts for Shabbat and holidays come before Uv’neh Yerushalayim; in Al Hamichya, they come after.
- In Bentsching, the language for all the holidays is Zochreinu (Remember us); in Al Hamichya, Zochreinu is used only for Rosh Chodesh – for all other holidays we ask V’Samcheynu (Gladden us).
How can we explain a blessing said to be a miniature of a larger blessing having so many points of diversion from that larger blessing?
One last question on the text of Al Hamichya: After we ask God to rebuild Jerusalem, bring us up into it and gladden us in its having been rebuilt, we ask that he let us eat from its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness. What is this? The fruit of Jerusalem? The goodness of Jerusalem? Don’t we usually associate fruit and goodness not with Jerusalem but rather with the Land of Israel as a whole, just as we find at the beginning of the bracha when we thanked God for “the good and spacious Land given to our fathers to eat of its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness”?
Evidently, after mentioning the rebuilding of Jerusalem in Al Hamichya, we immediately refer back to the entire purpose of our having been given Eretz Yisrael in the first place – to be able to bless God in sanctity and in purity upon eating the fruits and partaking of the goodness of the holy land. So why is this done only in Al Hamichya and not in Birkat Hamazon itself?
It is because Al Hamichya is a “Me-ein”.
Allow me to offer a new understanding of what we mean when something is said to be a “Me-ein” of something else; and then let me bring it back to our Mishnah to explain how the items created Erev Shabbat Bein HaShmashot needed to be connected not to Olam Haba proper, but to that aspect of Shabbat we call “Me-ein Olam Haba”.
A “Me-ein” of something is not a scale model of that thing. It is not a miniature. It is not a replica. “Me-ein”, from the word “Me-ayin” – “from the eye”, is a representation that captures the essence of another thing without you having experienced the other thing. It allows you insight (from the eye of understanding) into the other without having actually lived the other.
Using a “Me-ein” has an advantage and a disadvantage.
The disadvantage is that it affords you only a conceptual understanding, not a real one. But the advantage is that what you can understand through conceptualization, you can understand all at once, without having to wait for the experience to pass through its progressive stages.
When we bless Hashem using the full-length Birkat Hamazon, we experience the developing blessing through a progression of three different brachot. Thus, when we thank Hashem for the Land and we are only up to the Birchat Ha’Aretz, we cannot yet mention eating its fruit and being satisfied with its goodness, because the purpose behind these activities – being able to bless God in sanctity and purity – is not yet manifest until after we have experienced the rebuilding of Jerusalem, which we will not encounter until the next bracha! Al Hamichya, as a Bracha Me-ein Shalosh, does not have this limitation, so as soon as we mention Eretz Chemda Tova Ur’chava (a good and wide land) we can add immediately Le’echol Mi’pirya V’lisboa Mi’tuva (in order to eat its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness), since in the comprehensive perspective of the mind’s eye, we can already grasp how the purpose of eating the fruit of Eretz Yisrael will be to bless God in purity and sanctity which will come about by the rebuilding of Yerushalayim and the Beit Hamikdash, even before we have arrived at the mention of those two entities in the text.
Now we can understand why Malchus Bais Dovid is prominent in Bentsching but left out of Al Hamichya. Accessing the true purpose of Creation through real-time progression of life in this world requires the institution of Malchus and the specific reality of Malchus Bais Dovid and Mashiach Ben Dovid. Reaching a mental understanding of the purpose of Creation, however, can be done without requiring the intervention of a Messianic figure. If the development is nothing more than a visualization, as is the case with a Me-ein, the mind can go ahead and conceive directly of Hashem’s plan for the universe.
And that is why the Beit Hamikdash as a whole in Birchat Rachem is replaced by the Mizbeyach and the Heichal in Al Hamichya. The Mizbeyach and Heichal represent the kedusha v’tahara purpose of the Beit Hamikdash. From Al Hamichya’s comprehensive perspective, those are relevant right away. But with Birkat Hamazon bound as it is to sequential progress, when we are at the beginning of Birchat Rachem, before we have introduced Uv’nei Yerushalayim, all we can reference is the makom itself and not its purpose.
The special inserts now become explainable as well. We cannot ask God “V’samcheynu” in Birkat Hamazon before we have encountered the binyan Yerushalayim that enables this great Simcha. But because in our progressive journey, we experience Shabbat and Yom Tov before Jerusalem is fully rebuilt, they must be mentioned first, and at that point all we can do is ask to be remembered. But in Al Hamichya we are not limited to sequential reality. There we can already imagine the great Simcha in our comprehensive vision, thus we can already now address the presence of Shabbat and Yom Tov in the context of coming after “Uv’nei Yerushalayim”.
(Proof to this thought can be found in the compensatory blessings for one who omitted R’tzei or Yaaleh v’Yavo. If one forgot these inserts, they can be replaced by special brachot that can only be said immediately after Uv’nei Yerushalayim – and in these brachot, reference is indeed made to the Simcha of the festivals.)
We have now explained what a “Me-ein” is all about. Now let us go back to our Mishnah in Avot.
What does it mean that Shabbat is Me-ein Olam Haba? According to what we have just established, it means not that Shabbat is a foretaste of the World to Come, but rather that the serenity and perspective of Shabbat gives one the ability to conceptualize Olam Haba, to envision a world not bound by the tethers of this world as they are experienced in the progressive development of life as symbolized by the days of the workweek.
What are those tethers that bind the world during its duration of the ordinary? They are essentially two – the restriction of time and the restriction of place. During the weekdays we can experience the world only through the limitations of time and space. On Shabbat, we can mentally break through those bonds and at least conceive of a world unchained to the limits of time and space.
If all this is correct, it comes out that the items created Erev Shabbat Bein HaShmashot were designed to be hybrids between weekday creations, limited by time and space, and Me-ein Olam Haba creations, unlimited by time or by space. As hybrids, it seems reasonable to suggest that what characterizes the items in our Mishnah is that they each have one of the two limitations, either time or space, but are free of the other.
Let us examine:
1) The Mouth of the Earth – Ramban describes the uniqueness of this chasm afterwards leaving no sign behind of its ever having opened. It is free of the limitation of space.
2) The Mouth of the Well – All of Creation will ultimately sing Shira to Hashem, but the Well reached beyond the limitation of time to sing Shira now, when the nation of Israel was inspired to join in.
3) The Mouth of the Donkey – Not the mouth, per se, but the message of the mouth. The donkey was telling Bil’am – You cannot see the Malach in the space before you, because your perception of space is limited. I am not bound by the same limitations of space, and thus I am able to see the Malach standing in that space.
4) The Rainbow – Rainbows are beautiful to look at and one would think they should be treated as a pleasant and welcome sight. If Halacha tells us to glance at a rainbow furtively and with trepidation, recite a bracha reminding Hashem of His forbearance, refrain from telling others about the sight, and resist the impulse to stare, it must be telling us that the Rainbow we see above our skies is traveling across time and is the very same Rainbow that asserted Hashem’s message to Noach of His distress over a world that caused Him to destroy it.
5) The Manna – Regardless of how much or how little a person thought he had collected, he always ended up with the same quantity of Manna. It was clearly not bound to the limitations of space.
6) The Staff – Aharon’s staff blossomed overnight (Bamidbar 17:23). It was not bound to the limitations of time.
7) The Shamir – According the Midrash, the worm did not have to be physically placed on top of the stone in order to cut it. Just passing the worm by the rock would cause it to split. Proximity in space was not a limitation for the Shamir.
8) Hebrew script – If the true essence of an item can be expressed in a mere squiggle, as, for example, the essence of water being captured by the shape of the letter Mem (in ancient Hebrew script), we see that k’sav can transcend the limitations of space.
9) The Writing on the Tablets – Something can be written on one side of a transparent tablet, and then erased, turned over and written on the other side. They just cannot be written that way at the same moment and be simultaneously legible. Michtav is a transcendence of time.
10) The Tablets – “The Tablets and the Broken Tablets rested in the Aron”, says the Talmud. And the Aron, when measured from one edge to one wall of the Kodesh HaKodoshim and then from the other edge to the other wall, was found to take up no physical space. The Tablets, therefore, were not limited by space.
11) Mazikin – According to the Gemara in Brachot, each of us is surrounded by 1,000 of them to our left and 10,000 to our right. Obviously, space is not a limitation for them.
12) Moshe’s Grave – We know its place, but we are unable to grasp it. We see it, but it remains elusive. The allusion is that it exists in some kind of time warp – it is right here before us but it is not in our time dimension.
13) Avraham’s Ram – The appearance of the ram is introduced with “v’hiney!” – an expression that indicates that a moment ago it was not there (this is even hinted at in Yitzchak’s question: Ayeh ha-seh l’olah – Where is the sheep for the offering? i.e. it is not here now). Evidently, the ram is not bound by the limitations of space.
(The opinion that includes The First Tongs I believe is learning an entirely different approach to the Mishnah.)
One important idea that emerges from this explanation is that we must recognize the natural limitations of slow and progressive growth. Despite the superior understanding we might enjoy by removing reality as a factor, reality remains the spiritual growth mechanism of choice. Anything else is just a “Me-ein”.