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.
The 20th of Av, the yahrtzeit of the Rebbe’s father, R. Levi Yitzchak, occurs this Shabbos. His surviving works are all of a kabalistic nature, because although he had written thousands of pages on subjects in both niglah and kabala, they all disappeared with his arrest, and all that remains is what he composed during his exile. He possessed no seforim there, nor paper, save for the margins of a Zohar and a Tanya, and thus we only have access to those limited kabalistic writings. Yet, on occasion, even his kabalistic ideas are accessible, and what follows is one such piece.
An Impossible Kiddushin
It is well-known that the halacha always follows Rava’s opinion in his disputes with Abaye, except in six instances cited in the Gemara, known by the acronym “Ya’AL KaGaM,” where the halacha favors Abaye. The “K” in “KaGaM” is in reference to the case of “Kiddushin She’lo Nimseru L’biah,” or halachic ‘betrothal’ which cannot be consummated.
This is a case in which it is unclear which one of two sisters was ‘betrothed,’ and where it is therefore impossible to move forward because each might be the halachically forbidden sister of the true wife. Abaye and Rava’s dispute concerns the question of whether kiddushin which inherently don’t lead anywhere are valid to begin with; Rava maintains that they aren’t, Abaye disagrees, and the halacha here is in accordance with Abaye’s position.
Does Beyond Count?
Kabala and chassidus both employ the terms “p’nimius” (output personalized to its target) and “makif” (transcending it), the latter being divided further into “makif ha’karov” (near) and “makif ha’rachok” (distant). One example out of many is of a master teaching his student: What the student absorbs completely is p’mimius, what he feels he understands only superficially is makif ha’karov, since he senses a depth which is beyond him yet he is at least attuned to its existence, and that which he remains utterly oblivious to is makif ha’rachok, completely outside his sphere of comprehension.
In our case, “biah” is an act of p’mimius while “kiddushin” is a prefatory act of makif. But unlike an ordinary case where the abstract gives way for the personal, like a student whose vague understanding matures with time, the makif here will forever elude its target, prevented from ever being consummated. Rava was therefore arguing that something which is so aloof can’t possibly have any halachic significance, and that any spiritual matter which is utterly beyond the world’s parameters similarly can’t be reckoned with, while Abaye disagreed.
The Roof or the Heavens
The Hebrew letters of Samech and (the closed) Mem are both completely spherical with nothing inside, makif. (Since the etchings in the luchos were from end to end, the Gemara notes that these letters, the insides of which were unattached, hovered miraculously). Yet the closed Mem is merely a square, whereas the Samech is a perfect circle, suggesting that it is the greater makif. This is in consonance with the fact that Rava passed away at 40 (Mem, makif ha’karov), and Abaye at 60 (Samech, makif ha’rachok).
Moreover, as children, when asked who our brachos were directed to, Abaye and Rava both replied that it was Hashem, but when challenged to identify His location, Rava pointed at the roof, while Abaye went outside and gestured towards the heavens. Though both meant to indicate that Hashem transcends our world and comprehension, Rava sufficed with an accessible point of reference whereas Abaye pointed towards greater heights. It’s also interesting to note that a house is itself a square (Mem) while the heavens are spherical (Samech). Thus their inherently different outlooks and spiritual tendencies had already manifested themselves when they were children.
A Time to Rise Above
Ordinarily, the law favors Rava, because Abaye’s approach emanated from a plane too great for our consumption, just as the halacha follows Beis Hillel’s opinions because Beis Shamai’s words were beyond our grasp, and only once Moshiach comes will Beis Shamai’s positions be viable because we will have risen to their level.
The gist of the difference between the two approaches is that Beis Hillel’s point of departure is ‘mi’l’mata,’ our world, while Beis Shamai’s is ‘mi’l’maala,’ a perspective which will only be accessible during the messianic era. The same applies for Abaye and Rava, and we therefore generally follow Rava’s opinions; however, on occasion we catch a glimpse of a reality beyond ours, and that is why there are six instances in which Abaye’s position wins out.
The lesson here is that just as the halacha always follows Rava except in a small number of cases, we must generally act within the parameters of nature and avoid relying on miracles; however, we must sometimes switch gears and rise to a higher level, to that of Abaye.
For further learning see תורת לוי יצחק ס”ע קלז ואילך.