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Livyasan Zeh Yatzarta LeSachek Bo


The Midrash on this week’s Torah portion, Shemini, relates: “[Two gigantic creatures,] Behemoth and Leviathan, will be the sport of the righteous in the [Messianic] Future to Come….Behemoth will smash Leviathan with its horns and tear it asunder, and Leviathan will smash Behemoth with its fins and pierce it to death.…[This is problematic in light of the fact that the righteous are to eat these creatures, for] have we not learned as follows: ‘Anyone is fit to slaughter [animals for kosher consumption], and one may use any instrument to slaughter, and slaughtering can be done at any time, except [that one may not slaughter with a] sickle’?…[However, the verse, ‘Torah will come from Me’ can be understood to mean] ‘An innovation in Torah will come from Me.’”

That is, when the time comes, G-d will temporarily sanction the type of slaughter that the leviathan will perform upon the behemoth. As for the identity of this latter creature, whose name simply means “animals,” it denotes the colossal shor habar, or “ox of the wild.”

***Two Types of Tzaddik

The above midrash can be understood as a reference to tzaddikim, righteous people or saints.

There are two types of tzaddik. The first worships G-d primarily in ways that are wholly spiritual and not readily apparent—such as through devout intention in order to effect yichudim on high—and that are played out on lofty spiritual planes. For example, the Mishnaic sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was forced into hiding by the Romans, who had condemned him to death. For thirteen years, he and his son, Rabbi Eliezer, lived in a cave, where they survived on nothing but carobs and water. Obviously, they were unable to perform many mitzvos: they could not eat matzah on Passover, recite kiddush over wine, fulfill the mitzvos of esrog and sukkah, etc. Instead, they accomplished the spiritual effects of these mitzvos through their holy meditations. The Ari Zal, too, also had this ability. As will be explained shortly in the main text, this type of tzaddik is symbolized by fish. The Zohar associates this—a physical person involved in spiritual yichudim—with the verse, “They will increase like fish in the midst of the land.” That is, although they are on the high spiritual level symbolized by fish, they operate on land—in the physical world. By contrast, ordinary “fish” (in this sense), fish of the sea, refers to the angels.

The second type of tzaddik serves G-d more openly, focusing on performance of mitzvos in this physical world. In this regard, it is written, “You shall rejoice on your holiday”—for, as explained elsewhere, this involves the drawing forth of a very high degree of G-dly revelation; the joy comes from this manifestation of G-dly light. This is accomplished specifically by engaging the physical world in the service of G-d, as our Sages have taught, “While the Holy Temple stood, joy came exclusively through meat”—that is, the sacrifices known as shalmei simchah (“joyous peace-offerings”), which were offered on all holidays—“whereas now…there is no joy but in wine.” Even more particularly, the G-dly revelation is elicited through performing the physical mitzvos prescribed by the Torah for each holiday: eating matzah on Passover, engaging in Torah study on Shavuos, the mitzvos of sukkah and the Four Species on Sukkos, etc. Without this physical, practical, element of worship, it is impossible to elicit any G-dly revelation at all.

(Nevertheless, as noted above, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who was of the order of the leviathan and “fish that go about on land,” was able to draw forth the G-dly revelations in the cave by means of yichudim and spiritual elevations and the like.)

***Hidden Tzaddikim Link G-d and the World

Nevertheless, the truth is, it would not be possible to reach, to “touch,” as it were, G-dliness—spirituality, Divinity—through physical worship unless this itself were facilitated by the purely spiritual worship of the first type of tzaddik. Such saints are likened to fish, for, as fish are concealed by the sea, so are these tzaddikim—who are to be found in every generation—nevertheless hidden. Their souls are rooted in the spiritual realm known as alma de’iskasya, the hidden realm, and it is they who facilitate linkage of the created worlds with the blessed Infinite One—G-d.

(This is, in fact, the connotation of the word “leviathan,” which comes from the root meaning “attachment,” as our Matriarch Leah said in naming her son Levi, “This time, my husband will be attached to me.”)

The Talmud states that during the final three hours of each day (i.e., the fourth quarter of a 12-hour day), G-d “sits and plays with Leviathan.” Now, this period is called “close to Minchah [the time for the afternoon sacrifice, or Minchah-offering].” We thus find a connection between this time of day and G-d’s “play” with the leviathan: the afternoon Minchah prayer was instituted by the Patriarch Isaac, whose Hebrew name, Yitzchok, denotes laughter and play. This is why it is then, specifically, that G-d plays with the leviathan.

On another note, the Talmud implies elsewhere that the degree of commitment to G-d assumed by the Biblical passage beginning VeHayah Im Shamoa—which we recite as part of the Shema prayer after the passage beginning VeAhavta—is not quite optimal, or wholehearted, performance of G-d’s will. This is because the phrase “and with all your might” is missing from the VeHayah Im Shamoa passage. That is, in order to successfully draw forth the spirituality associated with G-d’s transcendent aspect (known as Sovev Kol Almin) and make it immanent and manifest within the created universe (Memalei Kol Almin)—an accomplishment mystically alluded to by the Talmud’s phrase “performing G-d’s will”—one must worship G-d with the degree of love and commitment implied by “with all your might.” And this is what is being discussed in the main text: connecting the transcendent G-d with the created universe—reaching and drawing into the world the level of G-dliness implied by the verse, “This time, my Husband will be attached to me”—can only be done through the purely spiritual service of the type of tzaddik associated with fish and the leviathan. Without this—without the full commitment of “with all your might”—one’s worship can only be described as less than optimal. In that case, even though the passage VeHayah Im Shamoa contemplates a life in conformity with G-d’s commandments, the type of G-dly connection discussed in the main text does not take place.

Another insight along these lines can be derived from the statement in the writings of the Ari, of blessed memory, to the effect that by studying Torah and performing mitzvos, we effect the union of the Sefiros represented by za and Malchus, whereas in order to effect the union of Abba and Imma (which is a superior level, eliciting “new light” from the blessed Infinite One Himself), self-sacrifice (mesiras nefesh) is necessary. This is the theme of the Shema prayer: giving up one’s very soul to G-d as one contemplates His utter unity, signified by the word “One.” This, too, is in keeping with what we have been saying in the main text: Torah and mitzvos without mesiras nefesh accomplishes great spiritual revelations, to be sure, but it takes the degree of commitment possessed by those tzaddikim compared to the leviathan in order to elicit new light directly from the blessed Infinite One into the universe, to effect that connection between G-d and the world.

Likewise, this is all consistent with the observation that divestment of physicality is close to the level of prophecy. One may say that this is the purely spiritual service engaged in by souls likened to the leviathan, who thereby bring about the flow of G-dly revelation.

In contrast to all the foregoing—which is based upon the teaching that G-d sits and plays with the leviathan during the final three hours of the 12-hour day—it is taught, “Since the Holy Temple was destroyed, there is no longer any ‘play’ for G-d….What does He do during the fourth 3-hour period [instead of playing with the leviathan]? He sits and teaches children Torah.”

***”Sea-tzaddikim” and “Land-tzaddikim”: Both Are Necessary

Even so, though—on the other hand—we must acknowledge the basic truth that the world, as G-d created it in real life, is physical. And it is physical precisely because G-d wanted it that way. The type of worship of the second kind of tzaddik—which is primarily through practical performance of mitzvos—is thus also essential to G-d’s purpose, as expressed by the statement that there is a single pillar called “Tzaddik” upon which the entire world is supported.

It develops, then, that both types of tzaddik—the leviathan, sea-creature type and the shor habar, practical-action-on-solid-ground type—are necessary. This is symbolized by the fact that the earth and the sea possess parallel features (each has mountains and valleys, a rich diversity of plant and animal life, etc.), as expressed in the teaching, “Whatever there is on dry land, there is [also] undersea.”

***How the Mode of Worship of Sea-tzaddikim Is Like Swimming

We may develop the analogy of tzaddikim to sea-creatures further. Fish are able to traverse great distances with but a single movement; one powerful motion and they seem to glide effortlessly from one place to another. In a similar way, tzaddikim likened to fish—“sea-tzaddikim”—reach incomparably loftier and greater spiritual heights in a single step than can the type of tzaddik involved in physical worship, the type we may term “land-tzaddikim.”

Land-tzaddikim practice a mode of worship requiring engagement with the physical world (symbolized by meat and wine), and the arousal of emotions such as joy and fiery passion in the worship of G-d. This cannot be hurried: the mitzvos must actually be performed; the emotions must actually be experienced; the world must actually be refined. By contrast, the worship of sea-tzaddikim is characterized by coolness and calm; See the explanation given in Beiurei HaZohar on the verse, “and furthermore, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father.” The term “father” is a metaphor for the Sefirah of Chochmah, which is superior to emotion; this is the level being referred to in the text. See also the explanation of why G-d assured Aaron that his role was superior to that of the nesi’im, the tribal heads: Aaron elevated the Jews to a higher spiritual level by means of the oil in the Menorah, whereas the tribal heads elevated the members of their tribe by means of the sacrifices they offered. This is the same contrast being made in our maamar: bittul (such total devotion to G-d that one loses all sense of self before Him), associated with the Sefirah of Chochmah (symbolized by the oil of the Menorah), is superior to the fiery passion symbolized by sacrificial meat. they are not held back, as it were, by the need to elevate the physical world or express G-dly emotions, and in one swoop they can accomplish much more in terms of pure spirituality. It is impossible to explain this concept in words—how it works and what it means.

This is the symbolism of the leviathan’s fins, by which it propels itself from one end of the world to the other: they represent that ability of sea-tzaddikim to glide, as it were, effortlessly through the spiritual realms, making enormous progress all at once.

In the main text, a statement was quoted to the effect that the land-tzaddikim constitute the pillar upon which the entire world rests. A parallel statement is also found about the leviathan (corresponding to sea-tzaddikim): the world is said to stand upon it[s fins], for it surrounds the entire world.

***The Mode of Worship of Land-tzaddikim

Now, as mentioned in the midrash cited earlier, the leviathan will eventually do battle with the shor habar and slaughter it. To appreciate why, we must understand the mode of worship of those tzaddikim analogized to the shor habar.

While it is true that such tzaddikim worship with vigor, eating meat and rejoicing in it, it would be a mistake to assume that, for them, this activity reflects gluttony or even pleasure in worldly things per se. That this is not so is alluded to by the word bar in the phrase shor habar. In that phrase (meaning “ox of the wild”) we have translated bar as “wild”; more precisely, however, the word signifies something like, “wide open spaces” or “outer regions.” This relates it to its other sense, which is “pure,” as in the verse, “One who has clean hands and a pure [bar] heart.” The idea being expressed by the Messianic shor habar and its association with tzaddikim is that, although these saints worship G-d through meat (shor) and the hot-blooded passion it engenders, they do so in a manner which is pure and refined (bar). Their intention is to refine and elevate the physical world and corporeal existence—symbolized by meat and wine—and unite them with their spiritual source, similar to the effect of the holiday sacrifices known as shalmei simchah (“joyous peace-offerings”), which consisted of meat. Their joy is in G-d, and their passion is inflamed in the performance of His mitzvos.

(We, too, beseech G-d for the opportunity to do this, when we pray, “may we rejoice in You [on the holidays].” Our goal is not to rejoice in festive meals and full stomachs; it is to rejoice in You—in the spirituality and G-dly revelation of the holidays.)

***Battle Between the Leviathan and the Shor Habar

For all that, however, this mode of worship is rooted in corporeality and is inferior to that of sea-tzaddikim, who—by contrast with the fiery passion of land-tzaddikim—coolly and calmly, and in one shot, reach infinitely higher in the spiritual realms. That is why the leviathan will slaughter the shor habar with its fins: bearing in mind that ritual slaughter (similar to sacrifices) elevates the meat to its spiritual source, this represents the elevation—by means of the fins that propel the leviathan such great distances—of the land-tzaddikim to a level they would not have been able to attain on their own.

On the other hand, in one respect the mode of worship of land-tzaddikim is superior to that of sea-tzaddikim. As mentioned above, G-d did deliberately create the world in physical form, and He does specifically want us to worship Him in this way. Spiritual worship alone is well and good, but it just can’t accomplish G-d’s ultimate purpose. That is why the shor habar, in turn, will elevate the leviathan.

And this is what G-d will show the tzaddikim—of both sorts—through the contest of the leviathan and behemoth in the Messianic future: that both forms of worship are necessary, and that they complement one another to form a complete whole.

Another reason land-tzaddikim are symbolized by the shor habar may be in the sense of the verse, “There is much produce in the strength of an ox,” and the Talmud’s related comment, “Rabbi Yossi said, ‘I never called…my ox [simply] “my ox”; rather…[I called] my ox “my field.”’” That is, Rabbi Yossi recognized that his ox was more than just an animal; to him, it represented the ability to work his land and derive the benefit of his field. This is relevant to our discussion about tzaddikim, because the Torah, too, is compared to the produce of the field, as implied by the spelling of the Biblical phrase, “the first fruits of His produce.” The “produce” of Torah is drawn into the world through the “oxen”—tzaddikim—which is why, like Rabbi Yossi’s ox, they are more than just men, but the very conduits that bring Torah and its spirituality into the world. These tzaddikim are therefore analogized to the shor habar, which can also be translated,“ox that brings produce.”

Yet another reason for comparing land-tzaddikim to the shor habar is that, as mentioned above in the main text, these tzaddikim represent the spiritual concept described as the “single pillar called ‘Tzaddik.’” This refers to Joseph the Tzaddik, who was likened to an ox, as it is written, “His [Joseph’s] glory is like a first-born ox.”

***Why G-d Will Permit a Novel Form of Shechitah

Finally, as the Midrash teaches, G-d will sanction the ritual slaughter (shechitah) of the shor habar by means of the leviathan’s fins. As things stand now, shechitah must be done with a perfectly smooth blade; a serrated edge is not permitted. Serrations are hills and troughs along the surface of the blade; the edge rises and falls repeatedly. This is not acceptable today, but in the Messiah’s time it will be necessary: shechitah of the shor habar by the leviathan represents, as explained above, the elevation of land-tzaddikim to the spiritual heights reached by sea-tzaddikim. Such a radical leap cannot be made in one shot; there are many heavenly chambers (heichalos), and they cannot all be experienced at once. The serrated edge of the leviathan’s fin symbolizes the necessary break between each heavenly chamber to be traversed by the rising tzaddikim. To allow for this, G-d will permit that type of shechitah.

The elevation of the leviathan by means of the shor habar, by contrast, is symbolized by the ox’s horn a relatively smooth surface in keeping with the ability of sea-tzaddikim to travel great distances at once.

Lo Tov Heyos HaAdam Levado
Mayim Rabim Lo Yuchlu L'Chabos
B'Etzem HaYom Hazeh Nimol Avrohom
Erda Na
Chayei Sara
V'Avraham Zakein Ba Bayamim
Vayachp'ru Avdei Yitzchok
Vayashkeim Lavan Baboker
Vayeavek Ish Imo
VeHinei Anachnu M'Almim Alumim
Ner Chanukah Mitzvah L'Hanicha
Vayigash Eilav Yehudah
Chachlili Einayim Miyayin