Class Notes - Class #18

The source verse for mitzvah #92, “Do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk,” appears three times in the Torah.  The rabbis attribute a different prohibition to each one.  Here, the prohibition is on cooking.  We will see the other two prohibitions, on eating meat and milk cooked together and on benefiting from milk and meat cooked together, in mitzvah #113.

            Our author explains that the prohibition is not limited to kid, “lav davka g’di.”  In other verses, the Torah refers to “g’di izim,”  “the kid of goats,” so if the Torah is sometimes more specific, here is must be more general. The Torah prohibition is limited to mammals, as only mammals give milk, but it is not limited to cooking the meat of an animal in the milk specifically of its mother.  Thus, the prohibition applies to cooking the meat of any kosher mammal in the milk of any kosher mammal.  By rabbinic law, we also refrain from cooking fowl in milk, lest people confuse poultry meat with mammal meat.

            The author struggles with the shoresh of this mitzvah.  He could choose to explain this as a kashrus issue with its shoresh in health concerns, or to explain this as a forbidden mixture with its shoresh in not interfering with the forces keeping God’s plan for nature working properly.  The author chooses to explain this as a forbidden mixture, since we are forbidden not only to eat this mixture, but also to make the mixture and to benefit from the mixture.  Further, the prohibition on eating meat and milk cooked together applies even when something noxious is mixed in, something we would not normally even consider an act of eating. 

            The author also mentions Rambam’s approach to this mitzvah, that meat and milk cooked together is prohibited because it was a practice of idol worship.  Our author is not impressed, although he does not say why.  But the author is willing to consider something that Rambam would not consider.  Our author says, “We are still in need of a m’kubal (expert in the mystical tradition.)”  It is hard to tell whether or not our author knows what this m’kubal would say on this topic, or how that would fit with the author’s primarily rationalistic approach. 

 

Mitzvot #93 and 94 tell us how to deal with idol worshippers who live among the Jews who have conquered Israel.  The Torah envisioned a society in Jewish Israel that did not include people worshipping idols. It is part of our job to eradicate idol worship.  If we have neighbors living among us who worship idols, we are likely to follow them and get ourselves into trouble.  That leads to three categories of people:

1.  Jews who worship idols, who are subject to the death penalty.

2.      The seven nations whose land we conquered.  The Torah considers these people evil.  We are prohibited from making treaties with them.  Rather, we give them the choice of foregoing idol worship of being killed.  If they chose to give up idol worship, they are welcome to stay.

3.      Nations other than the above seven.  They may not continue to live in Israel while they worship idols.  They can give up idol worship and stay, or they can leave. 

 

If these former idol worshippers do stay in Israel, they have the status of ger toshav.  We have seen that status earlier.  The ger toshav is a full part of the economic life of the community.

            Our author promises to come back to other aspects of this area of halachah later in his work.  In mitzvah #94, the author explains that, if any of the idol worshippers do remain in Israel, we are prohibited from selling them land or renting them a residence into which they are likely to bring an idol.  It is permitted to rent them a storage facility for goods, but we may not rent to three people because that seems permanent.  The author mentions that there are other rules about renting fields and vineyards.  There are some differences between Israel proper and Syria. 

 

Mitzvah #95 is a mitzvah to build the Temple.  We will learn a great deal more about the Temple itself, its furnishings, the people who worked in it, and the sacrifices and other rituals that took place there.  In this mitzvah/essay, the author gives us an overall context for these disparate topics.  In our next class we will discuss the layout of the Temple.  Since many of these Temple topics are not very familiar to us, we will need to fill in more background on these topics than we have needed to do on other topics.

            Until the Jews built the Temple, people were allowed the bring sacrifices at other places, but once the Temple was built, it was the only place for sacrificial ritual.  The mitzvah of building the Temple falls on the Jewish community as a whole, not on any given individuals.  The mitzvah applies when the majority of Jews live in Israel.  (We have seen many mitzvot that only apply when the Jews are in Israel.  Here, we have a sharper definition.  It is not clear whether this definition would apply to the other mitzvot.)

The Temple was, for people who visited it, a multi-media extravaganza.  It was a huge building, adorned with colored tapestries and carvings.  The building was staffed with handsome men in white uniforms.  There was music, sung and played on loud instruments.  There was incense.  There were crowds of people and animals.  In a world of small buildings and drab colors, coming to the Temple must have been an overwhelming experience.

            The source verse for this mitzvah says, “Make for mMe a ‘mikdash’ and I will dwell among you.”  Our author’s understanding of the role of the Temple reflects this verse.  The Temple’s function is to help us feel the presence of God.  The author uses this essay to present an overall approach to everything about the Temple and its practices.

            The author starts his long introduction to the question of the shoresh of the mitzvot related to the Temple by trying to invoke for the reader something of the sense of awe he imagines the Temple would have evoked.  He projects some sense of inadequacy and humility to that task.  He resorts to using verses to make his points, something he has not done since the introductory essays. (This is where we learn that our author is a levi.)

            Then he goes on to explain that there are many different approaches to understanding the Torah.  Each approach bears fruit to the student.  Even when we struggle to understand, that struggle blossoms into wisdom and “seichel,” understanding.  However hard we work, our labor will pay off with some level of understanding.  He encourages us to keep at the task of understanding even if things do not immediately fall into place. We should have faith that our labor will be successful.

            In the midst of this discussion, the author addresses his son in second person.  The tone here is very different from the angry, frustrated father we saw earlier.  Instead, his tone is encouraging.  He is inviting his son to join the process, and reassuring his son that the effort involved will pay off.

Then he reminds us that the purpose of mitzvot is to make us ready and worthy to receive the good God wants to bestow on us.  The author explains two different approaches people take when they observe mitzvot.  Some people focus primarily on the notion that God will reward us for doing what He requires us to do.  A person who takes that approach, and succeeds in keeping mitzvot, can expect God’s reward, at least in the afterlife.  (The author does not mention people who keep mitzvot out of fear of punishment.  It is hard to tell whether he thinks that approach is less worthy than the approach that emphasizes seeking reward, or whether he would consider those two equivalent.)   This is a good approach, but it is not the best approach.  Some people pursue the highest possible understanding of God’s qualities and attributes.  This leads to love of God, and an attempt to set every action and effort toward carrying out what God wants.  These people act not for reward, but just out of yearning for God.  This is a higher level.

This analysis echoes Rambam at the end of Hilchos Tshuvah.  Rambam is harder on the person who does mitzvot to seek reward and avoid punishment.  These people serve God out of fear, and according to Rambam that is a function of their ignorance.  They do not study Torah for its own sake, but for reward.  Obeying God out of love is much better.  This takes a great deal of knowledge and understanding, and even some of the sages never attained it.  Rather, it is the way Abraham related to God, and it is what we should try to do, too.

Finally, the author reminds us that God has no need of the Temple.  God cannot be limited to any physical space, has no need of our rituals. 

After all of that, the author addresses the question of the shoresh for the Temple mitzvot, trying to articulate what he understands to be its “plain meaning.”  We need the Temple because it helps instill in us a sense of the presence of God.  That allows us to properly perform our obligations, to purify our hearts to serve God fully.  The more magnificent and impressive the experience is, the more motivated we will be.  God sets the Temple at the “center of the world.”  But more important than the impressive edifice are the actions we do in the Temple, which reflect and reinforce our dedication to God. 

This reasoning applies to many of the Temple practices.  It applies to the work of the cohanim and levi’im, and to the beautiful Temple furnishings.  It applies especially to the sacrifices people bring in repentance for sin.  It is easier for us to focus on reforming our inadequate deeds if we have actions to take that seem important and significant than if all we have available is prayer. 

The author shares Ramban’s similar observation that, just as sinning involves many of our senses and actions, it is easier to atone if there are actions we can take in that process that engage our senses.  Similarly, when we bring an animal sacrifice as part of our atonement, we identify with the animal and that helps us focus.  The internal organs, which symbolize our organs of thought and desire, are burned on the altar.  The animal’s blood, reminding us of our lifeblood, is sprinkled on the altar.  Part of the animal is given to the cohanim to eat, motivating those holy teachers to pray for us.  The author also shares Ramban’s observation that there are mystical meanings behind the Temple and its accoutrements, but the author does not share what those are. 

Instead, the author pursues this theme in other aspects of Temple practice.  Sacrifices involve types of desirable food: meat, wine, bread.  That helps get our attention.  Sacrificing animals conveys a powerful lesson.  We have many things in common with animals, but we have kinds of intelligence that animals do not.  When we sin, we behave like animals, without proper intelligence.   By burning the sacrifice, we express a judgment about out past deeds.  That helps us cherish and use the intelligence God gave us.  Even a voluntary sacrifice expresses an ethical lesson of the superiority of the spirit over the body.  The offering on Yom Kippur of the goat sent to die in the wilderness, Azazel, holds a message for us as well.  There are some sins so severe that we cannot expect to return from desolation and destruction even though we regret the sins we committed.  Having this dramatic image is a reflection of God’s generosity to us; “none but a good friend teaches moral lessons.”

Although we can find rational lessons in some of the Temple ritual, we should not expect to be able to explain everything.  Rather, our author says, we need to look to the mystical tradition for deeper understandings.  We have seen the author make reference to the mystical tradition earlier.  Here, though, he asserts that the mystical tradition explains the Temple ritual when the rationalist approach cannot.  The author does not explain the insights the masters of the mystical tradition would share, though.

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