God told Moshe, “Tell the kohanim that the descendants of Aaron may not become defiled by the dead .” (Vayikra 21:1)
About 10 years ago, I wrote a book called “The Big Picture: 36 Sessions To Intellectual and Spiritual Clarity.” It was the result of a burst of inspiration that was ignited from a couple of sources, primarily the work of one particular author, Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv zt”l, a Torah leader and Kabbalistic who died in 1928.
He is called “The Leshem” for short, since he named his seforim, “Leshem Shevo v’Achlamah,” after the names of the three stones in the third row of the breast plate that the Kohen Gadol wore. Torah authors usually choose existing titles for the names of their works that are comprised of the letters of their names as well, and that is the case here as well.
Remarkably, though, the yarzheit of the Leshem tends to fall out during the week that these stones are mentioned in the weekly Torah reading, either in Parashas Tetzaveh or the other time they are mentioned, in Parashas Pekudai. I do not know of anyone else for whom this type of Hashgochah Pratis, Divine Providence, has occurred.
As for the number 36, it represents everything that the Big Picture is about. It is the number of the Hidden Light of Creation after it has been revealed, as I have written about so many times before. It is numerical marker in history that says: God has just been revealed in Creation, which is what the Big Picture comes to do, and results from. But, you can read all about that in previous parshah sheets, my site (thirtysix.org) or, in the book itself.
Anyhow, the seforim of the Leshem are all big picture. This is because they reveal and discuss axiom of Creation after axiom of Creation, page after glorious page. True, most of the material is sophisticated Kabbalah, but even without understanding that part of his seforim, in-between such sections are simple statements (well, simple inasmuch as they mean exactly what they say), about life in this often confusing world.
I have tried to learn something from the Leshem almost everyday since first being exposed to his works. No other sefer, word-for-word, has had such a dramatic impact on my life, and now on the lives of others as well. The insights are so profound and descriptive of reality that, once you finally understand them, there is a sense of recognition and a desire to integrate the concepts into one’s personal life. I wrote THE BIG PICTURE to share many of those insights with others.
However, around the same time, I saw something else that not only impressed me, it also inspired me. It was a feature article written back in 1992 that appeared in TIME Magazine called, “What Does Science Teach Us About God?” As to be expected, the article, many pages long, was a collection of opinions from both camps, believing scientists and those who scoff. And, though it was a longish article, it really boiled down to two fascinating and intriguing paragraphs:
- In short, the works of modern science, taken one by one, seem enough to dampen a person’s hope for higher meaning. If religion’s stock-intrade is the inexplicable, the coming years don’t look like boon times. This is half of the giant paradox, and it’s one reason why the average scientist today is probably less religious than the average scientist of 50 or 100 years ago.
The other half of the paradox comes from stepping back and looking at the big picture: an overarching pattern that encompasses the many feats of 20th century science and transcends them; a pattern suggesting, to some scientists, at least, that there is more to the universe than meets the eye, something authentically divine about how it all fits together.” (What Does Science Teach Us About God?; TIME Magazine, December 28, 1992)
The term “big picture” was obviously not new to me at the time that I wrote my book. But, its usage in the above article, especially with respect to religious belief flicked a switch somewhere in my brain, and I began to think in terms of THE BIG PICTURE, so that when I began to learn the Leshem, everything he said just seemed to be another component in the construction of the true big picture.
What is the true big picture? In simple terms, it is God’s version of reality, as He wants mankind to understand it. Therefore, it is the Torah, because that is how God has conveyed to mankind His version of reality. And, it must include the Oral Law and all of its commentaries, for they explain what God has conveyed to us through His Torah.
However, obviously the author of the TIME article did not have that in mind when he used the term “big picture.” Rather, he defines it immediately as:
- …an overarching pattern that encompasses the many feats of 20th century science and transcends them; a pattern suggesting, to some scientists, at least, that there is more to the universe than meets the eye, something authentically divine about how it all fits together.
In other words, if one takes all of science and pieces it together, a pattern begins to emerge that suggests, rather strongly, that Something designed and made the universe. There is just too much precision and too much that could have, and should have gone wrong from the Big Bang onward, had randomness been responsible for Creation being the way that it is. That’s what the secular big picture says.
However, they are really saying the same thing as we are, albeit in different words and with a different understanding. But why should it be any different, especially since Kabbalah explains that the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil emanates from the same root as the Tree of Life. Indeed, had Adam HaRishon not eaten from the former before eating from the latter they would have merged together forever.
But he didn’t. And, as a result the two trees split further away from each other, making the knowledge of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil less of a revealer of the hand of God than it was meant to be. It transformed the knowledge from being holy to secular, meaning that it is possible to learn it and not end up a believer in God or Torah, if, that is, one only learns it superficially.
Science has come a long way in the last 1,000 years, and especially in the last 100 years alone. Gone are the days of superficiality, as technology advances together with science making it possible for the latter to see, or at least conceive of things that used to be far beyond our wildest imaginations, and even perform experiments to confirm results we can’t even view with our eyes.
There is only one problem. Great as the experiments may be, and as fantastic as the conclusions may appear, they are all still the result of human perception and logic. Humans analyze everything from within their own mental framework, which can only be the sum total of all that they have learned, which is limited even for the greatest of geniuses.
Even Einstein was forced, after time, to revise some of his conclusions as advancements in science and technology disproved what he had previously thought. It happens all the time and every day. As big a big picture as humans can build on their own, it will always be so much smaller than the one responsible for Creation and the flow of history.
That is why you can find great people act like children sometimes, often for petty reasons. For, the true test of any big picture is the way that it allows one to rise above mundane matters and to cease being petty. Pettiness is completely a function of the small picture, a misguided approach to life and what matters most:
- In the Time-to-Come, The Holy One, Blessed is He, will bring the yetzer hara and slaughter him before the righteous and the evil. To the righteous it will appear like a high mountain, and to the evil it will appear like a thread of hair. Both will cry; the righteous will cry and say, “How were we able to overcome this high mountain?” The evil will cry and say, “How were we not be able to overcome this thread of hair?” (Succah 52a)
One world, two approaches, two versions of the Big Picture. What is the difference? The difference is that the righteous cheated, but in a good kind of way. They paid with self-sacrifice and bought God’s version of the Big Picture, a vision too great to assemble using feeble human logic, which works fine within the system, but not outside of it. They took the Torah, all of it, learned it, analyzed it, broke it down, and assimilated it.
And to the extent that they do, they rise above everyday reality. To the extent that they train themselves to look at the world the way God does is to the extent that they have the right priorities, and they cease to be petty. For, life is too short to be concerned about frivolous matters:
- The day is short, the labor vast, the workers idle, the reward great, and the Master urgent. (Pirkei Avos 2:17)
Besides, we’re only passing through:
- This world is like a corridor before the World-to-Come. Rectify yourself in the corridor in order to be able to enter the Banquet Hall. (Pirkei Avos 4:16)
So, why get bogged down in aspects of life that, in the long run, don’t really make that much of a difference?
Then again, without the true Big Picture, how can one possibly know this? You just see people all over the place wasting time and money on things that, in the long run, really don’t make a difference. That’s the only good thing about war and illness: it makes you clearer about how to spend your life, which, unfortunately, because of the nature of war and illness, stops being possible.
Which brings us to this week’s parshah. This week’s parshah starts off talking about the kohanim like no where else in the Torah, and ends off with a discussion about the chagim-the holidays. What’s the connection?
It is simple and yet profound. The kohanim lived with the reality of the big picture. That was their job, to preserve it. They only knew the service of God, and had to be concerned with doing it perfectly on a moment-bymoment basis. They lived in and around the Temple, which was a threedimensional version of the big picture itself.
That is why it was to the kohen, and not the chacham, that a person showed his signs of tzara’as in Parashas Tazria. When it comes to everyday halachah, which is a function of everyday Torah logic, it was the chacham’s job to decide what was what. But, when it comes to reading the signs from Heaven, that is a function of Divine logic, and the kohanim best represented that, and were the conduit for it.
Likewise, the point of the chagim was for the sake of reattaching oneself to the big picture. Like Shabbos itself, it is a time for the Jew to step back and get focused on what really counts most in life, and to pursue it the rest of the year, during the non-chagim periods of time. They represent the opportunity to push human logic aside for the time being in order to give oneself over to Divine logic-the Big Picture.
Only by looking at the world through the eyes of the Big Picture, can people properly interpret the events of their lives, and even more importantly, the Heavenly signs about where history is holding, and where it is going. And, given the events of recent history, that will prove to be the most valuable ability of all.
Copyright © by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Winston has authored many books on Jewish philosophy (Hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston’s Perceptions on the Parsha, you may enjoy his books. Visit Rabbi Winston’s online book store for more details! www.thirtysix.org