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What a Man

Rabbi Wagensberg
Lag B'Omer
What a Man

Since we are going to celebrate Lag B’omer this coming week on Monday night and Tuesday, we will focus on this special occasion.

There is a famous song which is sung on Lag B’omer. It is called, “Bar Yochai.” This song was written by a kabbalist, Rabbi Shimon Levi. In the fourth stanza of this song it says, “Bar Yochai, you went up to the field of apples to gather a mixture of Torah secrets like blossoms and flowers, Na’aseh Adam (let us make man) was said for you.”

These words seem to indicate that when Hashem said, “Na’aseh Adam” (Parshas Bereishis, 1:26), He had in mind that it was worth creating man all because of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai.

This is a powerful statement which begs us to ask a question. Although the Rashb”i (the acronym for Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai) was a great tzaddik, there were also other great tzaddikim throughout our history. If so, how could it be that the whole creation of man was just for Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai.”

To understand this, we are going to look at the story about Hashem giving the Torah to the Jewish people in order to discover just how instrumental the Rashb”i was in our victory against the angels during the battle over the Torah.

Rebbi Yehoshuah ben Levi (Shabbos, chap. 9, "Amar Rebbi Akiva", pg. 88b-89a) relates that when Moshe went "Lamarom" (on high) to receive the Torah, the angels complained that the Torah should be left in the Heavens with the angels. Moshe proved to the angels that the Torah was tailor made for people and it cannot be fulfilled by the angels because none of the mitzvos apply to the angels. One example of this is honoring parents. Since angels do not have parents, they could never fulfill that mitzva.

The angels agreed and surrendered the Torah to Moshe. The verse which speaks of Moshe's victory says, "Alisa Lamarom Shavisa Shevi" (You ascended on high and captured captives; Tehillim,.68:19). The simplistic understanding of this verse is that the "captive" that Moshe captured was the Torah.

However, on a deeper level, the “captive” refers to something else. The Chidah (Rabbi Chaim Yosef Dovid Azulai, 1724 Jerusalem – 1806 Italy) in his Shem Hagedolim, (#332) cites the Arizal who says that the Rashb"i is hinted to in that verse. The word "Shevi" (captive) is spelled with three Hebrew letters shin, bais, and yud. Those three letters also serve as an acronym that stands for "Shimon Bar Yochai."

The Smichas Chachamim (Rabbi Naftali Kohen Tzedek, 1649 Ukraine – 1718 Germany) quotes Kabbalists who say that this hint tells us that when Moshe went on high to receive the Torah, "Shavisa Shevi", he captured another captive besides the Torah. That other captive was the soul of Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Moshe captured the Rashb”i’s soul before taking possession of the Torah because taking the Rashbi's soul was essential in order to enable Moshe to take the Torah itself. We will see why right now.

The Talmud we mentioned above said, "When Moshe went "Lamarom" (on high) to receive the Torah, etc." The word "Lamarom" is not just a general term for Heaven, but rather it refers to a specific chamber in Heaven that contains the Luchos (Tablets). This chamber, "Marom", is so high that even angels are not given permission to enter (See Iyov, 28:20, Devarim Rabba, Parshas Netzavim, 8:2).

When the angels saw Moshe about to enter "Marom" in order to take the Luchos, they lodged a complaint by arguing that if even angels are forbidden from entering "Marom." As such, certainly Moshe, a mere mortal, should be forbidden from entering “Marom.” Moshe responded that "man" can become greater than angels (Sanhedrin, chap. 11, “Cheilek”, pg. 93a). Therefore, restrictions on angels have no bearing on man.

Whether Man is greater than an angels or vice versa, is a subject which is debated by the Tannaic Sages. We are going to see this right now.

The Rashb"i says that the graves of idolaters do not make a person spiritually contaminated if both he and the corpse are underneath one roof. The reason for this is because it says, "You are My sheep, the sheep of My pasture, Adam Atem" (you are Man; Yechezkel, 34:31). The words, “Adam Atem” mean to say that You (Jews) are called man, but idolaters are not called man (Yevamos, chap. 6, "Haba Al Yevimto", pg. 61a). This implies that idolaters have a lower status than man, like an animal, which does not cause spiritual contamination after death.

Let me just point out that in this article we are speaking about the difference between a Jew and an idolater. We are not speaking about the difference between a Jew and a non-Jew.

The Tosafists (ibid) say that the law is not like the Rashb"i because Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel (Rashba"g) says that the graves of idolaters do contaminate a person who is under the same roof as it (Mishnah, Ohalos, chap. 18, "Keitzad Botzrim", Mishnah 9), and there is a general rule that says that whenever the Rashba"g taught something in a Mishnah, the law is always like him (Rebbi Yochanan, Baba Kama, chap. 7, "Merubeh", pg. 69a).

Now, the root of this debate between the Rashba"g and the Rashb"i is dependent on the definition of "Adam" (man). The Rashba"g maintains that the title "Adam" stems from the word "Adamah" (ground) from which man was formed (Parshas Bereishis, 2:7). As such, all people share this in common. Both Jews and idolaters come from the earthy ground and therefore both Jews and idolaters would make another person spiritually contaminated. Therefore, man has a lower status than the angels because man is merely physical, whereas angels are spiritual creatures. Obviously, a spiritual creature has a higher status than a physical one.

However, the Rashb"i maintains that the title "Adam" stems from the word "Adameh" (I will liken myself; Yeshaya, 14:14). The verse there says, "Adameh L'Elyon" (I will liken myself to the One Above). This means that since man has a soul (Parshas Bereishis, 2:7), he has the ability of becoming Godlike (See Abba Shaul, Shabbos, chap. 19, "Rebbi Eliezer D'Milah", pg. 133b, expounding on Parshas Beshalach, 15:2). As such, not everybody is Godlike. Those who strive to be Godlike are, but idolaters who turn their backs on Hashem are not.

Therefore, only the corpses of Godlike people have the status of man which can cause spiritual contamination to others, but idolaters who are not Godlike, and who have sunken down to the level of an animal, do not cause others to become spiritually impure. It also follows that those who do strive to be like God and actually become like God, have a higher status than angels because only man has a soul. Angels do not. This is why we do not find that angels have the ability to grow and become Godlike.

Since the law is like the Rashba"g (Tosafos, ibid; based on Baba Kamma, chap. 7, “Merubeh”, pg. 69a; Ohalos, chap. 18, “Keitzad Botzrim”, Mishna 9), the angels argued that if they, spiritual creatures, were forbidden from entering "Marom", how much more so should Moshe, a mere physical creature, be forbidden to enter "Marom."

However, it was God's will that Moshe take the Torah down to the people. Therefore, Hashem impregnated Moshe with the soul of the Rashb"i (Shavisa Shevi), because the Rashb'i's soul comes from a place which teaches that the name "Adam" comes from "Adameh L'Elyon", giving man an even higher status than angels. Therefore, although angels are forbidden from entering "Marom", man is not.

The Seder Hadoros (Rabbi Yechiel Halprin, 1660-1742, Minsk, Belarus; Eirech Rashb"i, citing the Vayakheil Moshe, by Rabbi Moshe from Prague, a student of the Arizal) says that the reason why we do not rule like the Rashb"i is because this world is not yet ready to handle his high teachings. But, in the future, the law will be like the Rashb"i and all the Torah's secrets will be revealed.

Reb Baruch of Medziboz (1753-1811, the grandson of the Besh”t; Quoted in the Shmuos Tovos) adds that although nowadays on Earth the law is not like the Rashb”i, nevertheless, in Heaven, the law is like the Rashb"i. This is why Lag B'Omer is called "Hilulah D'Rashb"i" (the celebration of the Rashb"i). Even though the Rashb"i died on Lag B'Omer, it is nevertheless called a celebration because in this world the law was almost never like the Rashb”i, but when the Rashb"i got to Heaven, he saw that the law was like him up there. This brought such joy to the Rashb"i that Lag B'Omer is called "Hilula D'Rashb"i.

The Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel Wisser, 1809-1879, Ukraine; Chukas, 19:2) cites the Arizal that says that the Torah takes on different meanings in different worlds, and the Rashb"i was not involved in the Torah of this world, but rather, he was preoccupied with the Torah of the Next World. When this world is finally purified and mirrors the heavenly domain, the law will be like the Rashb"i even on Earth. This will be the "New Torah" that will come down to this world (Yeshaya, 51:4; Rebbi Avin bar Kahana, Vayikra Rabba, Parshas Shmini, 13:3). Meaning, it will be like a whole new Torah to us on account of the sublime Divine teachings of the Rashb”i that will be revealed.

Based on the Shel"a (preface, Toldos Adam, #3, Gn. 5:2), the Shvilei Pinchas adds that the law is like the Rashba"g in this physical world because this world is the place of the body. As such, the body reigns supreme here and the title "Adam" is associated with the "Adamah".

However, the law is like the Rashb"i in the Heaven, the spiritual world, because Heaven is the place of the soul. As such, the soul reigns supreme there, and the title "Adam" is connected to "Adameh".

When Moshe went on High to receive the Torah, he left the domain of the Rashba"g and entered the territory of the Rashb"i. Moshe clothed himself with the soul of the Rashb"i, so to speak, and took on the status of "Adameh", and was thereby allowed to enter "Marom" in order to take the Luchos and bring them down to the People.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we will be able to understand the Kabbalistic poetic song which claims that "Na'aseh Adam Ne'emar Ba'avurechah" (Let us make Man was said about you - Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai.)

You see, the Zohar, (preface, pg. 2a) says that God said "Na'aseh Adam" because He foresaw that in the future the Jews would say, "Na'aseh V'Nishmah" (We will do and we will listen; Parshas Mishpatim, 24:7). At the time God embarked on the creation of man, He said "Na'aseh" (let us make) based on the merit that in the future the Jews would Na'aseh regarding accepting the Torah. But there is a problem. How can God give the Torah to the Jews if it is locked up in "Marom" which cannot be accessed even by the angels? Therefore, during the creation of Man, God added the word "Adam", hinting at the Rashb"i's definition of "Adam" which stems from "Adameh L'Elyon." This means that man can become greater than angels and, as such, enter into “Marom” to receive the Torah.

This whole approach in understanding "Na'aseh Adam" only works according to the Rashb"i's interpretation of "Adam." Thus, "Na'aseh Adam Ne'emar Ba'avurechah" (Let us make Man was said about you Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai), means that the relationship between Na'aseh Adam and Na'aseh V'nishmah only works because of the Rashb"i.

It turns out that these two expressions (Na’aseh Adam and Na’aseh V’nishma) parallel each other. By the creation of man, Hashem said the first word, “Na’aseh,” because the Jewish people were going to say the first word, “Na’aseh,” with respect to accepting the Torah. However, the acceptance of Torah will only happen according to the Rashb”i because only according to the Rashb”i does “Adam” mean “Adameh” (I will be like God). Therefore, by the creation of man, Hashem added a second word, “Adam,” which hinted to the word “Adameh.” That second word corresponds to the Jewish people’s second word, “V’nishma.” When you rearrange the letters of the word, “V’nishma,” it spells, “Shimon.” This shows us that the word “Adam” only means “Adameh” according to Shimon – referring to Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai.

Incidentally, part of what it means to be Godlike is to mimic God's traits. In particular, we will focus on the characteristic of humility, since this is one of the first traits of God that we find in the Torah. When Hashem addressed the angels and said, "Na'aseh Adam" (let US make man), although it was Hashem alone Who created man (Parshas Bereishis, 1:27), by speaking in the plural (“Let us make man,” referring to the angels that Hashem asked advise from), He was teaching us that we should always lower ourselves to listen even to the opinions of those who are younger and less experienced than us (Rashi, Parshas Bereishis, 1:26, citing Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Bereishis, 8:9).

Not only does Hashem conduct Himself with humility, but God chose the Jewish People because of their humility. The Gemara (Chulin, chap. 6, "Kisui Hadam", pg. 89a) deduces this from the verse which says, “Not because you are more numerous than all the peoples did God desire you, for you are the ‘me’at’ (fewest) of all the peoples” (Parshas Vaeschanan, 7:7). The word “me’at” does not only mean “fewest,” but it also means the Jewish people are known to be “mema’et” themselves (make themselves small).

The Gemara offers a few examples of this. For instance, Hashem bestowed greatness upon Avraham. Avraham was the most powerful, wealthy, and famous person of his time. Yet, Avraham humbly said, “Anochi Afar V’eifer” (I am but dust and ash: Parshas Vayeira, 18:27).

Hashem granted Moshe and Aharon incredible power. The entire world trembled before them after the Exodus from Egypt and the parting of the Sea of Reeds. Yet, they humbly said, “V’nachnu Mah” (What are we; Parshas, Beshalach, 16:7).

Hashem gave Dovid Hamelech sovereignty. Dovid was revered by all. Yet, he humbly said, “Anochi Tola’as V’lo Ish” (I am a worm and not a man; Tehillim, 22:7).

By contrast, Hashem gave power to idolaters and they became boastful. For example, Hashem gave Pharaoh sovereignty over Egypt which was the world’s superpower of that time, and Pharaoh arrogantly asked, “Who is Hashem?” (Parshas Shemos, 5:2). Pharaoh thought that he was a god who created himself and the Nile.

Hashem gave power to Chiram, King of Tzur, and he haughtily said, “I occupy the seat of God in the heart of the seas” (Yechezkel, 28:2).

The Toras Chaim (Rabbi Dov Ber Shneur, second Lubavitcher Rebbe, 1773-1827, Ukraine) on Rabbenu Bachya (Parshas Chukas) says that this Gemara in Chulin about the Jewish people’s humility, is connected to the words, “Adam Atem” (Yechezkel, 34:31) which means that only Jews are called Adam, but not idolaters.

You see, there were three personalities identified in the Gemara who personified humility. They were: Avraham, Moshe, and Dovid. The word “Adam” (from Adam Atem) spelled aleph, dalet, and mem, serves as the acronym for Avraham, Dovid, and Moshe.

The word “Atem” (from Adam Atem) represents the three levels of humility expressed by those three personalities. The word “Atem,” spelled aleph, tuf, and mem, serves as the acronym for “Eifer” (ash), “Tola’as” (worm), and “Mah” (what).

It turns out that the word “Adam” lines up with the word “Atem” in order. The first letter of the word “Adam” is an aleph which stands for Avraham, which links with the first letter of “Atem” which is an aleph, which stands for “Eifer” which Avraham compared himself to.

The second letter of “Adam” is a dalet which stands for Dovid, which is connected to the second letter of “Atem” which is a tuf, which stands for “Tola’as” that Dovid compared himself to.

The third letter of “Adam” is a mem which stands for Moshe, which is connected to the third letter of “Atem” which is a mem, which stands for “Mah” that Moshe compared himself to.

This explains the words, “Adam Atem,” meaning, only you Jews are called Adam because you typically make yourselves small like “Adam” – Avraham, Dovid, and Moshe, with expressions of humility like Eifer, Tola’as, and Mah, hinted to in the word “Atem.”

This is why idolaters are not called “Adam.” It is because they have nothing in common with “Adam” – Avraham, Dovid, and Moshe, because idolaters are typically arrogant.

We have seen that the Shepherds of Israel were humble. The Jewish people are considered to be the “Holy Sheep” of our “Holy Shepherds.” As such, we must follow in their footsteps. They demonstrated humility, and so should we. When we do, we are likened to Hashem Who also displays humility.

Therefore, the following Zohar will come to light. The Zohar (Parshas Yisro, pg. 86a) makes a connection between the verse, “Adam Atem,” and the verse, “V’Atem Hadeveikim BaHashem Elokeichem, Chaim Kulchem Hayom” (Parshas Vaeschanan, 4:4; And you who cling to Hashem your God are all alive today). The connection between these two verses is as follows. In the first verse, the word “Adam” is connected to the word “Atem.” In the second verse, the word “Atem” is connected to the words “Hadeveikim BaHashem Elokeichem.” Therefore, if “Adam” is connected to “Atem,” and “Atem” is connected to “Deveikus BaHashem,” then “Adam” is also connected to “Hashem.”

The Jewish people are called “Adam” which means “Adameh L’Elyon.” The reason why we are likened to the One Above is because we attach ourselves to His characteristics, namely, humility. After all, it says, “V’Atem Hedeveikim.” The word “Atem” alludes to “Eifer,” “Tola’as,” and “Mah” (the acronym of Atem). When we attach ourselves to God, by conducting ourselves with humility, we are indeed “Deveikim” to Hashem and that is when we are truly called “Adam” - "Adameh" (Godlike), which is greater than the angels, and as such deserve to receive the Torah from the highest place called "Marom" (Shvilei Pinchas).

When Hashem said, “Na’aseh Adam,” He meant, “Let us create a people who will be like “Adam” – meaning, like the acronym of “Adam,” - Avraham, Dovid, and Moshe. Hashem found such people with B’nei Yisrael.

Perhaps we could make a suggestion to practice for the duration of the Omer. Let us try to learn at least one passage from the Rashb"i every single day. Many of the Lag B’omer books have a collection of the Rashb"i's teachings in them. Many of those teachings are one-liners. When learning a Rashb"i passage, keep in mind that we want to connect with Toras Shamayim (Heavenly Torah) and that we want to be more of a soul person that a body person (Adameh L’Elyon).

In this way, we will be better suited to receive the Torah again this Shavuos from the highest place called Marom. This is how Lag B’omer prepares us for Shavuos.

So, may “Atem,” you and I, all be blessed to humbly blossom into the ultimate "Adam", likening ourselves to Hashem by trying to cultivate His middos (traits) through the study of the Rashb"i's teachings, and thus deserve to receive the greatest gift, the Torah Hakedoshah, from the highest place BaMarom.

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