Seeing and Hearing the Tzaddik, First-hand
"Moshe (Moses) assembled the entire congregation of the Children of Israel and said to them, 'These are the things that God commanded you, to do them: Work shall be done on six days, but the seventh day shall be holy for you'" (Shmot 35:1).
The above passage raises several questions: First, why did Moshe go to the lengths of assembling the entire Jewish nation? Second, why did Moshe insist that parents bring all their children, including newborn babies? And third, of all the laws of the Torah, why did Moshe insist in personally informing the entire populace of the Sabbath? The following parable will help us understand:
The kingdom of Simpalia was breathtakingly beautiful, a land of stately mountains, bubbling streams, massive cedars that reached for the clouds, and golden fields of wheat that stretched to the clear blue horizons.
Simpalia lacked nothing. Its benevolent King ruled in utter simplicity, demanding virtually nothing from his subjects while fulfilling all their needs. All he asked was simple loyalty.
The residents of Simpalia, commonly known as Simpletons, continually failed to appreciate the King's simple benevolence. They misconstrued his simple goodness as a sign of weakness, and without considering the consequences, revolted from time to time.
The King easily extinguished the silly little revolutions of the Simpletons, but was sorely disappointed by his subjects' ingratitude. He decided to initiate an improved system of simple education. The King wrote a classic manual of ethics called "The Five Portals" and planned to teach it to all his subjects. But, the Simpletons had two drawbacks that impaired their learning – very stiff necks and very thick skulls.
Since the King could not rely on the Simpletons' ability to learn "The Five Portals" by conventional means, he summoned his trusty servant, the wise old sage and musician Reedsman.
Reedsman lived by the river, not far from the King's palace. He played enchanting melodies with his flutes, which he'd carve out of the reeds that grew by the river bank. Reedsman's flutes could not only laugh and cry, but could sing the songs of the birds, the plants, and animals. His music could cure the sick as well, and leave a lasting impression on the soul of anyone who ever had the privilege of hearing it.
The King had a brilliant idea: Rather than attempting to teach the thick-headed population of Simpletons the words of "The Five Portals", he invited Reedsman to the castle, and for forty days and forty nights, taught him the book from cover to cover. Reedsman then set the entire content of the King's book to music; he'd then play the music to the Simpletons. The King knew that image of wise and pious Reedsman and the enchanting strains of his music would immediately penetrate the souls of the Simpletons. The children especially, whose tender skulls had not yet hardened, would have the words of "The Five Portals" – clothed within Reedsman's heavenly melodies – engrained on their hearts and minds forever.
The King then declared a two-point edict: First, every man, woman, and child must appear at the arena of national assembly on a given day to hear Reedsman play his flute. Second, until the end of time, Simpletons may work for six days, but on the Seventh day they must rest from their chores to sing Reedsman's delightful melodies, so that they'll neither forget "The Five Portals" nor revolt against the King ever again.
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Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches (Likutey Moharan I:192), that the words of a true tzaddik are the essence of truth that exceeds anything in value. Also, the utterances of a tzaddik leave a clear and lasting impression on those who hear him, much more so than merely reading the words of a tzaddik. Indeed, a child that sees and hears a tzaddik will be profoundly influenced, especially since our sages stress the importance of both teaching the children (Mishna Avos 4:25) and of seeing the tzaddik with our own eyes (see Yeshayahu 30:20). Hearing the words of a tzaddik first hand is like writing on new paper, which imparts a clear and lasting impression.
Rebbe Nachman adds (Likutey Moharan I:157) that a person who clings to the words that are emitted from a tzaddik's mouth will yearn for the life of the world to come.
Rebbe Nachman's principles and our parable of Simpalia answer our questions and shed light on the underlying purpose of Hakhel, assembling the entire populace to hear the words of Moshe. The King in our parable, symbolic of God, knows that his stubborn Simpleton subjects – the Jews – will never live upright lives unless he gives them a book of ethics, "The Five Portals," the Torah.
The King also knew that the Simpletons wouldn't learn unless Reedsman – symbolic of Moshe, the tzaddik of the generation – instills the holy book on their souls by way of his flute's melodies, symbolic of the golden words of the tzaddik. For that reason, every man, woman, and child must personally attend the assembly.
The earlier children hear the words of Torah and see the holy image of the true tzaddik, the clearer that both will be engraved on their souls forever. For that reason, both our allegorical King and God required that even newborn babies be brought to the national assembly.
Finally, Moshe personally taught the entire populace the mitzvah of Shabbat, as the observance of Shabbat is tantamount to the observance of the entire Torah. He also desired to give the nation a taste of the world to come – represented in our parable by Reedsman's moving melodies – so that they'll continue to yearn for it. May we soon merit the days of never-ending Sabbat, the spiritual delights of the rebuilt Temple and God's divine presence in our midst, speedily and in our time, amen.
A Foot in Both Worlds
"And you shall anoint them like you anointed their father, and they shall serve in the priesthood for Me, and their anointment shall be for eternal priesthood for all generations" (Shmot 40:15).
Why did God command Moshe (Moses) that Aharon's (Aaron) sons should be the ones to serve under their father in the priesthood? Also, if the Torah commands that their priesthood shall be eternal, then why does it use the apparent superfluous terminology of "for all generations" – isn't that the same as "eternal"?
The following parable will help us answer the above questions:
A wealthy Odessa merchant had a fleet of a dozen ships that sailed the ports of the Black sea, transporting and trading Romanian hardwood, Bulgarian wine and cheese, Turkish black tea and spices, and Georgian silk. Most of the time, the merchant would have to sail to faraway ports, especially Istanbul, to personally select the best goods and to negotiate their acquisition.
The merchant's main warehouses in Odessa never functioned according to his expectations and high standards. The hired help lacked both loyalty and integrity. Large sums of missing funds and missing goods were unaccounted for. Whenever the merchant returned from abroad, he'd find his warehouses in disarray, his workers either absent or inebriated, and his customers grumbling and dissatisfied.
"Enough!" declared the merchant one day, after returning from a trip to Istanbul. "Why should I sail from port to port searching for the best goods at the best price, when all my hard work is wasted right here in Odessa?"
Meanwhile, the merchant's two sons had grown up and had completed their formal education. Without wasting a day, the merchant took them in the business and placed them in charge of the Odessa warehouses. The sons managed the business impeccably, to their father's pride and complete satisfaction. The business trebled its profits, and the merchant was able to continue sailing to faraway ports with a confidant heart. Even though he was physically across the sea in Istanbul, the presence of his sons at the warehouses was as if he himself were in Odessa as well, to the delight of the customers and everyone else that did business with them.
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Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains (Likutey Moharan II:68), that the prime quality of a true tzaddik is his ability to maintain a simultaneous presence "above and below". Above and below has a double connotation: First, for the broken-hearted who think they're "below", at low levels and completely removed from God, the tzaddik shows them that they are really close to God, and that God loves them and is with them. On the other hand, for those "above" who consider themselves righteous and learned, the tzaddik shows them how in actuality they are far away from God.
Second, although a tzaddik is "above", in other words, once his soul has left this earth and dwells in the upper worlds, he can maintain a simultaneous presence "below." How? Through leaving sons or pupils who live their lives according to his teachings. As the son or the pupil is in essence the continuation of the father's (teacher's) brain, the son or pupil enables the father or teacher to maintain a simultaneous presence in both worlds, above and below.
The Odessa merchant, in order to succeed, was required to maintain a simultaneous presence both in Istanbul across the Black Sea and in Odessa. He succeeded in doing so by bringing his most trustworthy sons into the business. This wise move enabled him to be in Istanbul, while they attended to matters in Odessa with the same acumen as if he personally did. So, in effect, the merchant would be at both places at the same time.
As in the above parable, Aharon's sons were commanded to serve under their father in the priesthood so that Aharon, the Kohen HaGadol (High Priest), could maintain a presence "above and below" – in the spiritual world, praying in behalf of all of Israel, and in the material world, to lead his people on the proper path. "Eternal" indicates the priesthood, which will forever be comprised of Aharon's offspring.
Since we are all commanded to be like the priestly tribe, we all must do our utmost to leave sons and pupils who will continue in the ways of Torah long after our departure from this earth, "for all generations". Like the tzaddik and Kohen HaGadol, we too must try to be "above and below" at the same time. May we all merit seeing our offspring vibrant in the service of God, amen.
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