Merkaz Anash, Beis Hamedrash L’shluchim and COLlive.com present The Chassidic Perspective with Rabbi Yoel Kahn, a weekly short webcast on topics that are timely and relevant.
Rabbi Kahn, often referred to as “Reb Yoel,” is the most preeminent authority on Chabad-chassidic teachings and was the chief reviewer and transcriber of the discourses of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Rabbi Kahn is also the lead editor of Sefer Ha’erechim, a multi-volume encyclopedia of abstruse chassidic and mystical concepts and the head Mashpia at the Central Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim Lubavitch at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, NY.
This webcast is delivered in Yiddish and a transcription in English appears below or can be printed in a PDF format.
Transcendent Yet Impactful
“It was on the eighth day” is how Parshas Shmini begins, the number eight being in reference to the seven previous days of milu’im, during which Aharon and his children were trained into the avoda; then, on the next, eighth day, the mizbei’ach was inaugurated.
The Kli Yakar raises the following question: considering that the events which took place on this day were unrelated to the things that happened earlier, why should this day be described as the eighth? And he explains that in view of the fact that this day was described as the day when Hashem’s glory would appear, there’s a need to address why this day was special and featured the revelation of the Shechina, and being referred to as the eighth bespeaks the reality that it was of a caliber unlike the usual.
Transcendent or Connected?
Seven represents our universe; eight indicates Hashem’s presence. The world was created in seven days, shivas yemei breishis or ha’binyan; on a level beyond that, there’s Hashem, eight. Bris Milah overrides Shabbos because Shabbos takes place on the seventh, while milah occurs on the eighth, indicating that it is of a superior quality. The instruments in the Beis Hamikdash had seven strings, while those when Moshiach comes will possess eight. And so, by referring to the day in our parsha as the eighth, Hashem’s revelation becomes understandable.
The Kli Yakar’s language is that seven is “chol,” mundane, while eight is holy, although “chol” isn’t literal, considering his example of milah and Shabbos, where Shabbos is holy as well; “chol” is being used in a relative sense, because as holy as Shabbos is, eight is entirely G-dly.
However, the more the Kli Yakar explains why eight is superior, which is intended to justify why Hashem appeared then, the question of how it can actually be considered the eighth looms larger. The seven days of milu’im seem even more unrelated than before, because the greater eight is, the more disconnected it becomes from the first seven. We must therefore conclude that eight is somehow both, demonstrating superiority on the one hand, yet displaying a connection on the other.
Beyond Work or Rest
The Kli Yakar also cites a midrash which states that Moshe’s great moments are always accompanied by the word “az”: “since I came to Pharaoh,” “Moshe then sang,” and many more; the midrash then states that “az” (which equals eight) signifies that “the aleph rides the zayin.” Zayin is seven, representing this world; either literally worldly things, or even Shabbos, but all within the world’s parameters. But the aleph of eight is higher, and “rides” upon the zayin.
What does that mean? Riding doesn’t just entail being higher; it also means impacting the entity below. When you ride a chariot, it doesn’t lose its status; but the previously ordinary animals now become beholden to you, your chariot, and have been elevated.
Eight is completely G-dly, while seven is holy but still relatively so. Sometimes Shabbos is differentiated, “Hashem created the world in six days, and on the seventh day He rested,” but on other occasions all seven are combined, like shivas yemei breishis. When it says that “Hashem concluded on the seventh day,” there’s the question of how that fits with Hashem resting on Shabbos. One of Rashi’s explanations is that the world was previously lacking rest, which Shabbos provided, indicating that Shabbos is still a part of creation, after which rest wasn’t lacking. When a person works and then rests, both are actions in relation to the world he inhabits; on a level beyond that paradigm, neither work nor rest would be possible.
So while Shabbos is still a part of the seven days of creation, ‘eight’ represents on the one hand a reality that is completely unrelated, yet, ultimately, “the aleph rides the zayin.” Shabbos isn’t too removed but doesn’t greatly affect the mundane, while the eighth is completely transcendent yet has a thorough impact.
Revelation vs. Transformation
We mentioned that the instruments when Moshiach comes will possess eight strings. What will happen then? “Hashem’s glory will be revealed, and all flesh will see together that Hashem’s mouth spoke.” But if Hashem’s glory will be revealed, and it’s the kind of revelation which isn’t accessible unless one possesses spiritual eyes, while eyes of flesh can’t experience it, then it isn’t truly revealed; describing it as revealed already indicates that it will be perceivable, in which case the fact that flesh will see it is already obvious at that point. So if it could only be perceived spiritually, then it wouldn’t be a revelation, and if it is indeed plainly revealed to the degree that physical eyes can see it, then what’s the second half of the sentence adding?
The Rebbe explains that these words really are a significant addition; it’s true that the possibility of physical sight is already evident, but the question still remains why. We might incorrectly infer that it will be due to the tremendous revelation of Hashem’s glory, but that would mean that the properties of the physical eyes wouldn’t change. After all, the maids at the splitting of the sea also saw things the greatest prophet didn’t, but are we going to claim that the maids became people of stature, greater than Yechezkel? Nonsense! The maids remained maids, even at that very moment, but the revelation was so strong that even maids saw it. So we might similarly believe it’ll be the same when Moshiach comes, just instead of the revelation lasting one night, it will remain that way constantly, as it will be even more powerful than ever before.
But that’s what the second half of the sentence clarifies. It redefines what flesh will be like; today the eyes of flesh see physicality, not spirituality, but when Moshiach comes, the flesh will see “that Hashem’s mouth spoke,” flesh will acquire these new characteristics. Just as eyes currently see physicality even in the absence of any G-dly revelations, because that’s their nature, their properties will switch then to perceiving Hashem.
Even in the Mundane
That’s what “the aleph rides the zayin” signifies; eight on the one hand is much greater than Shabbos, yet “the aleph rides” and impacts the zayin. “Riding” indicates that the world itself is made to perceive the highest things, and that’s what “shmini”, the eighth, means.
This will only happen on an absolute scale when Moshiach comes, but even when the mishkan was inaugurated, Hashem’s appearance didn’t just feature a great revelation from Above; it was the kind that transforms the world, the zayin rising to the level of the aleph. And that’s what’s meant here: why was Hashem revealed on this day? Because it was the eighth day, much beyond the seven days of milu’im which related to this world; it was this revelation which penetrated the seven.
What’s the lesson in our avoda? B’chol drochecha da’eihu, “in all your ways you should know Him,” our knowledge of G-dliness must emanate from everything we do, not just Torah and mitzvos, and this enables our very flesh to perceive “that Hashem’s mouth spoke.”