11 March 2008

Gevuros, Merkaz HaRav, and Zachor

by Rabbi Pinchas Winston of Thirtysix.org

We interrupt this series of essays on the concept of Gevuros to talk about the reality of Gevuros. Part 2 was supposed to have been an explanation of the quote with which we left off at the end of Part 1— more theory—but the reality of Gevuros has drawn the attention of the Jewish world for now, just in advance of Parashas Zachor, when we remember just how real and damaging Gevuros can be.

Before explaining just what the Gevuros are in technical Kabbalistic terms, at this time, it is important to know that there are a set amount of them. When they are used up completely, or more accurately, when all of them have been “sweetened”, then Yemos HaMoshiach automatically begins.

That is good news, and bad news. The good news is that, the difficult part of Gevuros do not last forever, and that their completion results in a period of history during which they can no longer do any damage, or intercede between man and God. It may take a long time to use them up, but once it happens, they are gone for good and Yemos HaMoshiach begins in earnest.

However, that might not be so bad if Yemos HaMoshiach did not have to begin by a certain, pre-designated time in history. If it didn’t matter when Yemos HaMoshiach begins, then the Gevuros could be, theoretically, used up over a long period of time, perhaps softening their effect on man and Creation.

However, that is not the way God planned it. Rather, Yemos HaMoshiach has a final possible date, what the Talmud calls “b’ittah” (Sanhedrin 98a), if, God forbid, we don’t bring Moshiach earlier, which means rectifying the Gevuros early. It is this reality and interdependency that creates all the turmoil and tragedy in history, especially for the Jewish people.

The following analogy explains the point.

Let’s say a new condominium project is started, and that, within a few weeks, the prospective building is already half sold, with people leaving large deposits upon the signing of the contract between the builder and the buyer. Aside from the myriad of technical details found in the contract, the main points are the schedule of payments of the buyer, and the building schedule of the builder.

If the buyer fails to make the necessary payments on time, then he loses the condominium that he bought, plus his deposit. If the builder fails to complete the project within the requisite amount of time, then he will have to either pay a fine, or cover the cost of temporary accommodation for the buyer, who probably sold his house and planned to move out by the expected date of completion of his new apartment. Either way, the result is a hefty loss of money for the builder.

Let’s say, that after a year of keeping to schedule, the construction worker’s union calls a strike, resulting in major construction delays. With less than a year to go until the completion date, the builder finds himself falling behind schedule on a daily basis, and starts worrying about big losses and potential court cases.

Fortunately, the strike is resolved, and the workers have permission to return to their former jobs. However, as they resume their work, they find themselves very behind schedule, and in a very tense working environment as the worries and concerns of the owners and managers alike can’t help but spill over into what used to be an upbeat work environment. The workers are asked to put in extra hours, or to find another job. Deadlines have a nasty habit of turning up the heat in life.

Creation is no different. It is a work in progress, ever since it was first made, and certainly since Adam HaRishon ate from the Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Rah. God is the builder, man is the construction crew, and history is the buyer, so-to-speak. The building? A world in which all the Gevuros have been rectified.

How are we supposed to do that?

Well, every time we overcome laziness to perform a mitzvah, or, we hold ourselves back from performing a sin, we harness the power of Gevuros for the sake of God, and that sweetens it, rectifies it, and sends it back to its pure source above. And, most important of all, Creation has come that much closer to rectification, and we have earned more reward in the World-to-Come, the purpose of Creation in the first place.

But, what if we don’t overcome our inertia and pass up the mitzvah, or fail to reign in our wanton desires and transgress instead? We also use up Gevuros, except not the ideal way. Rather than harness them, they harness us, and that demands rectification as well, either in the form of teshuvah, or punishment, both of which purify the Gevuros and rectify Creation.

For the most part, that is how history works. There are those, a minority, who overcome their yetzer hara, and perform mitzvos and avoid transgression, and sweeten the Gevuros the ideal way. Then there are those, the vast majority of mankind through history, who avoid mitzvos and perform transgressions, and suffer the consequences as well, using up the Gevuros in a negative way. History, during such times, is a matter of personal successes and tragedies, many of which barely make the news.

However, as one can imagine, Gevuros are used up too slowly this way. When the Jewish people cease to be the light unto nations they were redeemed from Egypt to become, and mankind simply drifts through history, then when the “construction” deadlines come —“keitzim” in Talmudic language—mankind may find himself desperately behind schedule, and requiring a major rectification.

Those are the times of gazeiros—Heavenly decrees. Those are the times of darkness. Those are the times of tragedy, when history catches up on its schedule of rectification at our cost.

If the Gevuros are not used up by us, then they are used up through us. The worst the suffering, the more the Gevuros are used up. The greater the Kiddush Hashem while going through the suffer, the more the Gevuros are used up, until enough are used up for Creation to be considered back on schedule, at least for the time being.

Yes, the State of Israel was “built upon the ashes of the Holocaust,” because Gevuros are likened to a consuming fire. Had history continued without the Holocaust, the nations of the world would never have agreed to let the Jewish people form a homeland within her historical borders; the Gevuros would not have permitted it. Spent, the Chassadim were allowed to do their magic, and the Jewish people gained a homeland, once again, after 2,000 years without one.

You can always tell where history is holding with respect to the rectification of the Gevuros by how it treats the Jewish people. Anti-Semitism is never logical, never like other forms of racism, and the more this is the case, the more a keitz must be on its way, and the more we must behind on the construction schedule.

Last week’s attack on the Merkaz HaRav Yeshivah at the entrance to Jerusalem was both a major blow and a wake up call. Aside from being the terrible, terrible tragedy that it was, it was also a frightening upping on the ante. The fools of the world may justify it by claiming that such yeshivos produce the kind of Jew who is prepared to live on land that the Arab’s fight over. However, we, on the other hand, have to ask, “How could Divine Providence have allowed such evil to enter the walls of such a holy place, and kill and harm so many pure souls?”

Why didn’t their Torah and mitzvos protect them?

Granted, no one dies by accident. It could very well be that, as always, Divine Providence arranged it so that all the people who died were those who had finished their personal rectifications, and had to move on. The attack was just a way to bring it about for them.

However, that is between them and God. From our vantage point, we see young men cut down in the prime, in a gruesome way, in a holy place while pursuing a holy path in life. How could that have happened, and what does it mean for the rest of us, even those who don’t see any connection between those who were attacked and themselves?

If we’re going to ask such probing questions, then we might as well phrase it correctly:

Are we so far behind, at this late stage of history, for the next keitz, perhaps the final one, in the rectification of the Gevuros, that such an extreme tragedy had to occur? Are we in fact approaching, God forbid, a new gazeirah designed to bring history up to speed, as was the case with respect to the Ten Martyrs who died in Roman times?

If the answer is yes, then this has not been only about changes in a yeshivah, but about changes to the entire world. What happened last week was a fierce wind, but it is only the heralder of a much larger storm brewing on the horizon.

And, something else as well.

Many people reacted differently to the crisis, but one very common reaction, among Jews in the Diaspora was, “You see, it’s not safe to be in Israel at this time.” They might as add well to that, “… and God is telling us not to come to His holy land … He is telling us not to further the cause of Kibbutz Golios that seems to be in progress at this very time.”

Well, that makes sense, doesn’t it? There’s God, working overtime to engineer the Final Redemption, as evident from the amazing miracles in Eretz Yisroel over the last 60 years, the great success of the Jewish people abroad for the last 100 years, and all the prophecies that have come true over the last decade alone. And now He’s saying, “Scrap that.”

Perhaps. But only to the “Four-Fifths”, that large body of Jews throughout history who have always looked for reasons to stay in the Diaspora, with what they would like to believe is God’s blessing. And, if they can’t manage to do that through blessing, then they’ll use negative events, such as last week’s slaying, as their basis for their decision instead.

However, if we learn anything from Pharaoh at all, it is this: you hang by the rope you tie. If a Jew wants an excuse to not come home, then God will give it to him, and give it to him, and give it to him. If redemption is not his priority, and he chooses not to pursue the path of his ancestors, then God will cut him the necessary slack to not do so. This way, when the redemption comes, he’ll be right where he thought he wanted to be: on the wrong side of the ocean.

The Kabbalists have a name for it: birrur—separ-ation—and nothing carries it out better than the Gevuros. For, as we come close to the end of history, God wants to know where each and every Jew stands, with respect to Torah, mitzvos, Eretz Yisroel, the temple, and redemption in general. Redemption has always been invitation only, and the Host has His criteria.

Come on, folks, wake-up! Every redemption has always left Jews behind, lots of them. And, just like our generation, most of them assumed that they were safe, in God’s good book, worthy of redemption, and therefore, had nothing to think too deeply about. They just sat back, waited, and … and … got lost along the way.

And, each time, the present generation failed to learn from the mistakes of the previous generation. They just went about their business as if whatever caused the suffering of the previous generation has no relevance whatsoever to their approach to Torah and mitzvos. Despite signs to the contrary.

Fortunate is the Jew who knows history, and has made a point of understanding its relevance to all the generations. Even more fortunate is the Jew who has taken to the time to understand how God runs his world, and what our role in history is meant to be. How many Jews today can boast such an intellectual and spiritual advantage?

Tragically, very few. As a result, the one thing that made us so different from the rest of the nations of the world, and kept us in good stead with the Creator of the Universe, is no more. We are still, per capita, the brightest people. We still produce highly talented individuals. We still make money like the best of them out there. But, we no longer look past the surface of history, below the surface of events taking place, to understand them on the deeper level they weren’t meant to be understood.

We have always been a people who believed that nothing is really as it seems on the surface. One of the reasons we dress up on Purim is to remind us of that crucial detail of life. We are supposed to be a deep-thinking people, each one on his own level, so that we can earn our reward in the World-to-Come by seeking out the story behind the story behind the story, etc. It’s how we find God and His message.

It is Amalekian to deal with life superficially. That’s why the gematria of “Amalek” is that of “suffek”, which means “doubt”. Doubt is symptomatic of superficiality, and when it attacks us, it is for the sake of making us delve deeper into the meaning of life and history.

That is why, says the GR”A, after the first defeat of Amalek, Moshe Rabbeinu was told to speak “b’aznei Yehoshua”, into the ears of Yehoshua. For, the gematria of “b’aznei” is “sod”, as in Kabbalah, for, the GR”A revealed, Amalek will only be defeated at the End-of-Days, b’derech Sod.

That may mean different things to different people, but it also means one thing to all of us: Amalek is not fought with superficiality. Quite the contrary, we learned last week that simply pursuing a life of Torah and mitzvos is no guarantee of survival in a war that is designed to make people re-think history, and the events of today.

Gevuros are the source of hester panim. They constrict the light of God, light that can only be regained by going from Pshat to Remez to Drush and to Sod. They keep back information that we need to know in order to see how wasteful sin really is. They keep us in the dark about ideas we ought to know about, in order to partner up with God in bringing history to a peaceful conclusion.

And, they do it in such a way that we are convinced that it is for our own good. (The Original Snake sure seemed like a swell fellow until God lowered the boom!).

But that is, in the end, their job, remember? At the end of days, when God says to you, “Why did you think like that?” you may answer, “It’s the fault of Gevuros! They made me do it!” but it won’t fly. God will simply answer back, “You’re right, the Gevuros did it. But that was their job. Yours, on the other hand, was to go past them and find the truth. Why didn’t you do that?”


We need to do ourselves a favor. We need to start thinking again. I don’t mean the kind of thinking that makes us excel at gemora or business, but the kind of thinking that allows us to see past the costumes of the modern world. Morgan Stanley, and the rest of Wall Street, works for God. They just don’t know it. Neither does Yves St. Laurent, or any of the other financial and fashion institutions that soak up our attention and divert us from the true issues of our time.

Likewise, there is a secret Torah world within our Torah world. Secret, because we choose to ignore it, or to stay ignorant of it. But it’s the one with the real road map, one that was written long before President Bush took power, and one that will exist longer after he leaves the White House.

In fact, they all work for God, every single element of Creation is His. He created them, He sustains them, and He maintains them. But their job is to work for the Gevuros; every single element of Creation that keeps us from concentrating on the long term goals of the Jewish people, and the true mission of our nation—to rectify the Gevuros—is on Team Gevuros. They can even include close family members.

The blueprint for Creation was drawn up long ago. It includes a rendering of the final building. After 5,768 years, we are fast approaching the completion date, and from the sound of it, it seems we’re behind schedule.

Last week’s event was a reminder, once again, of the other ways of getting back on track. Purim reminds us of how we can avert such events if we push, while there is still time, to make up for lost time.


(Rabbi Pinchas Winston, Thirtysix.org )

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