When the Heart is Still

A still nightIt is well known that the laws of Yoreh Dei’ah, especially those of shechitah, are very complex. The Pri Megadim, zt”l, wished to write a comprehensive explanation of the first part of Yoreh Dei’ah, and to ensure that he had the right understanding of the subject, he spent twenty years delving into maseches Chulin. Only afterward did he begin to write his essential commentary on the Shach and Taz in the first volume of Yoreh Dei’ah.

But some people lack this understanding and believe that these halachos are exceedingly easy. They breeze through them quickly and expect to receive semichah from the greatest halachic authorities. One such simpleton went to the famously sharp Rav Aizel Charif, zt”l, to be certified as a shochet. After a short time it was clear to Rav Aizel that the young man did not really understand the halachos. He had perhaps learned them through on a superficial level but had apparently felt that they would remain anchored in his mind with hardly any review.

Rav Aizel wanted to send him a message that he was not nearly ready for kabbalah. The gaon said, “I am afraid that it is impossible to give you kabbalah. You see, I am worried about shechutei chutz…”

Despite the rav’s well-earned reputation for acerbity, the young man could not leave well enough alone. Rather than retreating, he foolishly asked what exactly Rav Aizel meant by this. “How could I transgress shechutei chutz when today there is no Beis HaMikdash?”

Rav Aizel Charif retorted, “I am referring to the chutz in the first mishnah in Chulin: ‘All may slaughter and their slaughter is kosher —except for—a deaf mute, a lunatic and a minor…’”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories off the Daf
“Except for..”
Chullin 2

On the other hand, in Menachos (43a) the Beraisa declares that all are commanded about tzitzis and when the Beraisa enumerates the people obligated in the Mitzvah it includes women as part of that list. R’ Shimon, however, disagrees and exempts women from tzitzis, consistent with the Mishnah in Kiddushin, giving the reason that it is a positive time-bound mitzvah…

Rambam rules that women are exempt from the mitzvah of tzitzis. Ran, however, notes that according to some texts the Beraisa in the Gemara Kiddushin does not list tzitzis as an example of a positive time-bound mitzvah. The Tanna, following the Beraisa in Arachin, holds that the mitzvah of tzitzis applies even at night. Shulchan Aruch rules in accordance with Rambam that women are exempt from tzitzis because it is a positive time-bound mitzvah. Rema adds that a woman who wears tzitzis appears haughty; therefore a woman should not wear tzitzis.

Daf Yomi Digest
Halacha Highlight
“Women fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzis”
Chullin 2

If you’re not religiously Jewish (or Jewish at all), you may not understand what is being said in the quotes above and may feel they are irrelevant or even a bit foolish in terms of a life of faith. However, the sages have much to say to both Jew and Christian if we will only quiet ourselves and listen.

I’m not trying to start a controversy about whether or not a woman appears “haughty” if she wears tzitzis, but you may ask yourself, so what is if a (Jewish) woman is or isn’t obligated to the commandment of tzitzis (Deuteronomy 22:12)? The “Story off the Daf” may make even less sense to you, except to the degree that you can read how a “simpleton” overstepped his bounds and arrogantly thought he could pass off a superficial level of learning as scholarly.

But what of it? What can we learn from these two stories; what do they have to do with us?

The human heart is beautiful.

The human heart can know secrets deeper than any mind could fathom.

The mind cannot contain G-d,
but deep inside the heart there is a place for Him.

Yet there is nothing more dysfunctional than a brain controlled by its heart. Indeed, the finest mind is capable of the most horrid crimes when under the management of the heart.

Let the heart be quiet and hear out the mind. In that quiet listening, she will discover her true beauty and her deepest secrets will awaken.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“A Quiet Heart”

Sometimes, in our passion to learn and our zeal to draw closer to God, we can start driving our journey of faith mainly with one part of our personality or another. While it’s easy to fool ourselves and believe that we can study and learn and thus truly conceive of God, Rabbi Freeman tells us that it is the heart and not the mind that contains the Divine Presence. The mind cannot conceive of infinity and the vastness of Ayn Sof, but the heart can choose to contain His love. However, passion cannot be the ruler, and the heart must in stillness, listen to the mind or there is no room for God.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.” –Psalm 46:10

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. –1 Kings 19:11-12

Where is God? He is a small, hot ember nestled in the ash of our lives waiting for the opporunity to burst into flames. He is a light radiating from us whenever we perform an act of faith and kindness. He is the Divine Spark inside of us striving to rise upward and rejoin God’s burning heart. He is the Torah in the night; our companion when fear and pain and anguish cause us to drench our beds with sweat and when sleep eludes us on a hot wind.

God is not in the haughty or the arrogant. God is not in our lofty thoughts nor in our unbridled passions. God is only there when we contract some part of ourselves and allow Him room to enter.

At the beginning of time, God’s presence filled the universe. When God decided to bring this world into being, to make room for creation, He first drew in His breath, contracting Himself. From that contraction darkness was created. And when God said, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3), the light that came into being filled the darkness, and ten holy vessels came forth, each filled with primordial light. –Tikkun.org

Among the mystics, it is believed that to allow room for Creation, God, who occupied literally everything, voluntarily compressed Himself and willingly withdrew some portion of His essence so that enough space would exist for the Universe. All of Creation exists not for God’s benefit but for ours and it was for humanity and humanity alone that God chose to do this. If God, the Master of All, the Infinite, and the Radical and Unique One, who has no needs, chose to make room for us, how can we not reserve some portion of our hearts for Him?

You need only be still –Exodus 14:14


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