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Holy Pants Create Awesome Wicks

In Judaism, The Greatest Light is Generated from The Holiness In the Lower Part of the Body

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

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  • October 14, 2016
  • |
  • 12 Tishrei 5777
  • Comment

Class Summary:

There is a curious detail about the celebration of Simchas Beis Hashoavah. The Talmud states, that very tall golden candelabras were placed in the courtyard of the Temple, on the Temple Mount, around 100 or 150 feet tall. Each candelabra had four golden bowls on the top, filled with oil and dense wicks that were woven from the worn out pants and belts of the Kohanim. So great was the illumination that a woman could stand in her Jerusalem courtyard (at night) and check grain by the light of the candelabras.

Asks Tosefos: Why not the worn out shirts? Asks the Tosefos Yom Tov: And why not the worn out hats? Why did they use only the pants and belts for the wicks? Why are we “discriminating” against the tunic and the hat?

I will offer you an incredible insight shared by the Lubavitcher Rebbe during his public address on Sukkos 5714 (1953). With the conversation today in American politics, it is an insight I feel is so vital to learn, internalize and share during this festival of Sukkos. It is about the infinite light that can be generated not through holy shirts or hats, represents a holy mind and heart, but only from holy pants and belts, representing holiness in the lower part of our body.

I am not sure there has been a time in recent history that allowed us to truly appreciate the contribution of Torah and its laws concerning gender relationships. You sometimes wonder why the Torah is concerned with our intimate life and has so many laws concerning the proper behavior between men and women? Can’t we just trust men to do the right thing? Can’t we just trust women to respect themselves? But as I read today’s headlines, I wish that all of our youth, Jews and non-Jews alike, would get a dosage of Torah education on how to wear holy pants and holy belts. 

The sermon, naturally, stays far away from politics, but underscores how the Torah treats our inner struggles dealing with temptation and immoral behavior. It gives the Zohar’s interpretation on the unique nature of Yosef, and relates three stories of how Torah imbued Jews with a purity and a wholesomeness when it came to intimacy.

Summary:

There is a curious detail about the celebration of Simchas Beis Hashoavah. The Talmud states, that very tall golden candelabras were placed in the courtyard of the Temple, on the Temple Mount, around 100 or 150 feet tall. Each candelabra had four golden bowls on the top, filled with oil and dense wicks that were woven from the worn out pants and belts of the Kohanim. So great was the illumination that a woman could stand in her Jerusalem courtyard (at night) and check grain by the light of the candelabras.

Asks Tosefos: Why not the worn out shirts? Asks the Tosefos Yom Tov:[1] And why not the worn out hats? Why did they use only the pants and belts for the wicks? Why are we “discriminating” against the tunic and the hat?

I will offer you an incredible insight shared by the Lubavitcher Rebbe during his public address on Sukkos 5714 (1953). With the conversation today in American politics, it is an insight I feel is so vital to learn, internalize and share during this festival of Sukkos. It is about the infinite light that can be generated not through holy shirts or hats, represents a holy mind and heart, but only from holy pants and belts, representing holiness in the lower part of our body.

I am not sure there has been a time in recent history that allowed us to truly appreciate the contribution of Torah and its laws concerning gender relationships. You sometimes wonder why the Torah is concerned with our intimate life and has so many laws concerning the proper behavior between men and women? Can’t we just trust men to do the right thing? Can’t we just trust women to respect themselves? But as I read today’s headlines, I wish that all of our youth, Jews and non-Jews alike, would get a dosage of Torah education on how to wear holy pants and holy belts.

The sermon, naturally, stays far away from politics, but underscores how the Torah treats our inner struggles dealing with temptation and immoral behavior. It gives the Zohar’s interpretation on the unique nature of Yosef, and relates three stories of how Torah imbued Jews with a purity and a wholesomeness when it came to intimacy.

The Match

A bereaved husband feeling his loss very keenly found it desirable to divert his mind by traveling abroad. Before his departure, however, he left orders for a tombstone with the inscription:       

"The light of my life has gone out."       

Travel brought unexpected and speedy relief, and before the time for his return he had taken another wife. It was then that he remembered the inscription, and thinking it would not be pleasing to his new wife, he wrote to the stone-cutter, asking that he exercise his ingenuity in adapting it to the new conditions. After his return he took his new wife to see the tombstone and found that the inscription had been made to read:

"The light of my life has gone out;

But I have struck another match."

The Dancing

It was a glorious sight to behold: The Jewish nation dancing away all night. For seven nights, Jews, men and women, were up all night—singing, dancing, celebrating, and rejoicing with each other and with G-d, in the courtyard of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Each night, during the festival of Sukkos, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the hundreds of thousands more that made the pilgrimage to the capital city from other parts of the land and abroad to celebrate the festival, held the "Simchat Beit HaShoeva," or "Celebration of the water-drawing." Throughout the year, the daily offerings were accompanied by the pouring of wine on the altar; on Sukkos, water was poured in addition to wine. The drawing of water was preceded by all-night celebrations in the Temple courtyard, with instrument-playing Levites, and huge oil-burning lamps that illuminated the entire city of Jerusalem.

The singing, music and dancing went on until daybreak, when a procession would make its way to the valley below the Temple to “draw water with joy” from the Shiloach Spring. (When you visit Jerusalem today, you can go into this spring—and it is an incredible experience to dip into the spring where Jews dipped constantly right before entering the Temple, and from where they draw the water to pour on the Altar on each morning of Sukkos).

“For all the days of the water drawing,” recalled Rabbi Joshua ben Chanania, “our eyes saw no sleep.” The Talmud declares: “One who did not see the joy of the water-drawing celebrations, has not seen joy in his life.”

Wicks

There is, however, one curious detail about this celebration. The Talmud states, that very tall golden candelabras were placed in the courtyard of the Temple, on the Temple Mount, around 150 feet high. Each candelabra had four golden bowls on the top. Each candelabra had four ladders attached, a ladder for each bowl, and four young kohanim would climb up the ladders carrying pitchers containing thirty lug of oil which they poured into the bowls. 

Thick wicks were I inserted into the cups so that the menorahs would give off considerable light. When the lamps were lit, there was not a courtyard in all of Jerusalem that was not illuminated by the light, for the Holy Temple was situated on the highest hill in Jerusalem and the menorahs were tall and extended above the walls of the courtyard. So great was the illumination that a woman could stand in her Jerusalem courtyard (at night) and check grain by the light of the candelabras. (And remember, this is 2000 years ago, before the days of Edison, when night was truly night, pitch dark.)

From where did they obtain the wicks? For this the Mishnah teaches us:

סוכה נא, א: מתני' מי שלא ראה שמחת בית השואבה לא ראה שמחה מימיו במוצאי יום טוב הראשון של חג ירדו לעזרת נשים ומתקנין שם תיקון גדול מנורות של זהב היו שם וארבעה ספלים של זהב בראשיהם וארבעה סולמות לכל אחד ואחד וארבעה ילדים מפירחי כהונה ובידיהם כדים של מאה ועשרים לוג שהן מטילין לכל ספל וספל מבלאי מכנסי כהנים ומהמייניהן מהן היו מפקיעין ובהן היו מדליקין ולא היה חצר בירושלים שאינה מאירה מאור בית השואבה...

As we recall, the kohaim donned four garments while serving in the Temple: pants, a belt, a shirt and a hat. From the worn out pants and belts they weaved wicks to be used to ignite the fire to illuminate this courtyard and all of Jerusalem during the Sukkos nights.

תוספות סוכה נא, א: מבלאי מכנסי כהנים ומהמייניהן. תימה דלא חשיב נמי כתונת שגם היא היתה של שש:

Asks Tosefos: Why not the worn out shirts? Asks the Tosefos Yom Tov:[2] And why not the worn out hats? Why did they use only the pants and belts for the wicks? Why are we “discriminating” against the tunic and the hat?

What is more, the Talmud states[1] that from the all of the four garments of the kohanim, when they were worn out, did they fashion wicks for the regular use in the Temple. Yet when it comes to the light during the Sukkso nights of night, the shirt and the hat were left out. Why?

I will offer you an incredible insight shared by the Lubavitcher Rebbe during his public address on Sukkos 5714 (1953).[3] It is an insight I feel is so vital to learn, internalize and share during this festival of Sukkos.

Modesty

The garments of the priests are defined in the Torah as “bigdei kodesh,” sacred garments. They were to be worn by the kohanim only when they performed their service in the Holy Temple (Beis Hamikdash), and it was an essential part of the service.

Yet there were two categories of garments: the shirt and the vat, vs. the belt and the pants. The shirt and hat of the kohanim covered, naturally, the upper part of their bodies. The pants, in contrast, covered the lower part of the body. The belt, too, was designated to separate the two halves of the body, in order to create awareness of the pitfalls in life when you don’t have clear boundaries between the two parts of your body, and you allow the lower part of your body to trump the higher part of the body.

Thus, both on a symbolic and practical level, the shirt and hat of the priests, the sacred garments they wore on the upper part of their bodies, represents the holiness in ones “higher self,” in one mind and heart (the region covered by the hat and shirt.) The pants and belts of the kohanim embody the holiness that one is capable of introducing into the lower parts of his body, the region of the belt and pants. This represents the sanctity in the way we conduct our intimate life. How we speak about intimacy; how we communicate to a woman or a man who does not belong to us; how we treat our own wife, or our own husband; how we behave during intimacy; how we conduct ourselves when we are behind closed doors alone with ourselves and G-d, etc.

Unlike other religions, Judaism never saw intimacy as sinful or disgusting. To the contrary, the great 13th century Spanish sage, physician, leader and philosopher, the Ramban, famously writes that it is “the holy of holies of Jewish life.”[4] In the Tanach, the Holy of holies in the Temple is called “the bedroom,” the space where the male and female cherubs gazed at each other, representing the love of G-d to Israel. Rabbi Schnuer Zalman of Liadi says, “Intimacy is a great spiritual moment, here on earth, and also in heaven.”[5] Judaism sees intimacy, in the proper context, in the proper place, in the proper time, as a sacred experience, one in which we come closest to G-d, for it is then we are empowered to become creators of life just like G-d.   

The Talmud relates an astounding tale of how one of the greatest sages conducted his intimate life with the greatest passion and joy.[6] For in Judaism, the physical relationship is holy.

And precisely because of that, Judaism always maintained that there is no spiritual and moral greatness like the one that comes from a person who wears “holy pants” and a “holy belt,” meaning from a life that is dedicated to moral boundaries and holy behavior when it comes down to our pants and our belts, from a person who despite natural human temptation is careful with their seed, careful with how they speak about these issues, careful of how and where they express their intimacy.

The Deepest Source of Infinite Light

And this is the essence of the above Talmudic story that the wicks for Simchas Beis Hashoavah were woven from the holy pants and belts of the kohanim. In other words, the light that illuminated the entire city of Jerusalem during each night of Sukkos, to the point that it penetrated every courtyard of the holy city; the light that was generated each night during our most joyous festival, came from one source only. It did not come from the shirts or hats of the kohanim, only from their pants and belts.

To wear a holy shirt or a holy hat is awesome. But that represents holiness in the higher parts of the human psyche. It embodies a sacred mind and heart. These garments, as prominent as they were, could not become wicks that would illuminate all of Jerusalem with the light and joy of Sukkos. It was only the holy pants and the holy belt—representing the sacred sensitivity when it comes to our intimate life; the struggle to live a disciplined, sacred, and moral life when it comes to our “pants,” that, and only that, could generate such a light.

The greatest explosion of holiness in you and around you is when you wear holy pants and a holy belt. All other forms of spiritual service are wonderful and vital, but nothing comes close to the achievements of “shmiras habris,” of guarding your intimate self. People who truly control this aspect of their lives become moral giants and generate the deepest luminescence into their souls and into the world.[7]

In fact, as the Zohar teaches,[8] there is one Jew in our ancient history we call a Tzaddik. Not Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob, not even Moses or Aaron. None of them are given the title of Tzaddik. Besides one person, the lease expected candidate for the title—the man most enmeshed in material pursuits, the Prime Minister of Egypt, and the brilliant economist of the time—Joseph. He is known as Yosef Hatzadik.

Why him? So the Zohar says, because he was tested in one area more than everyone else. Alone in Egypt, as a 17 year old slave, he was seduced by his master’s wife. Had he succumbed to her, he had nothing to lose and all to gain. She told him she would grant him endless abundance and freedom; if not she will torture him and kill him.[9] He was a young boy, without a family, in fact abused by his family, in a country where this behavior was the norm,[10] getting attention from his master’s wife.

Yet he abstained! And because of it he was cast into prison for 12 years. It is for this moment, the Zohar says, that he earned for eternity the title of Tzaddik. For there is no light like the light that is generated from someone who wears “holy pants” and a “holy belt.”

Bemoan a Nation

This message must always transcend party lines and political candidates. We must bemoan a nation that not only has lost its modesty, but does not even know that it has lost anything. It does not even know there is something called “modesty” that one can lose. Woe to women who feel that in order to attract attention to themselves and become popular they need to compromise their infinite Divine dignity. Woe to men who don’t even know how shameful it is to speak a certain way and to behave in a certain way, how much it detaches them from their own dignity and soul, how immoral and unjust it is.

I am not sure there has been a time in recent history that allowed us to truly appreciate the contribution of Torah and its laws concerning gender relationships. You sometimes wonder why the Torah is concerned with our intimate life and has so many laws concerning the proper behavior between men and women? Can’t we just trust men to do the right thing? Can’t we just trust women to respect themselves? But as I read today’s headlines, I wish that all of our youth, Jews and non-Jews alike, would get a dosage of Torah education on how to wear holy pants and holy belts.

My Mother Taught Me

Two small illustration of the sensitivity and awareness that Torah introduces into the life of a Jew:

A married woman once stuck out her hand to shake the Lubavithcer Rebbe’s hand. As you know, in Jewish law, a woman and man who are not related ought not to touch each other, out of respect for each other. But this woman did not know this law, so she stuck out her hand to the Rebbe.

The Rebbe said to her: When I was yet a child, my mother taught me never to touch that which does not belong to me!...[11]

With My Yatzer Hara

A telling story:[12]

An old Polish Rabbi, a widower, who was around 90 years old, had an old polish maid working in his home, helping with the daily chores, preparation of food, cleaning, etc. There was also a young yeshiva student living in the home to help the rabbi with his personal needs.

One winter night, the yeshiva boy told the rabbi he needed to go do an errand and would return in 20 minutes. When he returned, he found the old rabbi standing outside the house, trembling from cold.

“Rebbe!” The boy asked. Why are you standing outside? It is so cold!

The Rabbi explained to him, that Jewish law did not permit a man to be in the same private space, behind closed doors, with a woman who was not his relative.  “So I had to leave the house and wait for you to return.”

“But Rebbe,” the boy protested. “You are a holy man! And it was just twenty minutes that I was gone!”

“My dear student,” the Rabbi said. “The law is the law for all.”

“But Rebbe, let’s be honest. You are, for heaven’s sake, 90 years old. She too is old lady. And she is not the most beautiful woman Poland. What exactly are we afraid of?

The Rabbi looked at him with piercing eyes and gave him a lesson he never forgot—and we should never forgot:

איך מיט מיין יצר הרע, אין פינף מינוט ווער איך יונג און זי שיין!

“My dear student, with my yatzer hara (with my evil inclination), it would take only five minutes for me to become young and for her to become beautiful.”

I marvel at a faith that does not romanticize man, but also does not debase man. It tells you exactly how low you can fall at any moment, and how high you can become at that very moment. This is how an “erlicher yid,” how a Torah Jew thought. He knew that no human in the world is above falling prey to mistakes, to temptation, to immoral behavior. To be a human being does not mean that you do not struggle; it means that you are aware of your struggles and you do everything necessary to stay away from situations and encounters that can compromise your morality and ethics.

The Girl from Auschwitz

Rebetzin Chaya Sarah Silberberg from Detroit related this story:[13]

When the Russian army approached Auschwitz in the beginning of 1945, the Nazis evacuated the death camp. The inmates were forced to march towards Germany, on what would become known as the Death March. The Nazis shot anyone who fell behind, could no longer walk (and there were so many), or just because. More than 15,000 are estimated to have died on this march.

The young girl from Auschwitz survived the march, and ended up in Neustadt Glewe, near Frankfurt-on-Oder in Germany. It was officially a “work camp,” but she was very sick, probably with typhus, running a high temperature and barely able to move, and certainly in no condition to work. The Jewish woman in charge of the barracks suggested that she go to the infirmary; if she was registered in the infirmary, she would be exempt from work.

The infirmary was a distance of about three blocks from the barracks, but in her feverish and emaciated state it took the girl almost two hours to get there. When she arrived, she saw the patients, half-dead, lying naked on the cots, since when a patient came to the infirmary the doctors would take her filthy clothes and burn them. The girl had a nightgown in the barracks that she had somehow salvaged from Auschwitz. There was no way she would lie there naked, so she turned around and dragged her weakened body back to the barracks—another two hours—to retrieve the precious garment.

The barracks leader saw her, and suggested that she lie down to rest a while before she returned to the infirmary. Since the girl had no strength to move anyway, she took this advice. A short while later the barracks leader returned and told her that there was no longer any need to return to the infirmary. The Nazis had taken out all the patients and had murdered them.

Less than a month later, the girl was liberated. She lived to marry and have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The girl is my mother, Perel Schulkind, may she live and be well.

[Of course, this is not to suggest that it was this mitzvah which allowed her to be saved. So many millions of holy Jews, full of mitzvos, were not saved. And we will never understand why. It just demonstrates how sometimes we can see the power of a mitzvah in a very tangible way.]

The Power of Holy Pants

Let’s face it. This is a deep struggle many of us have—and it is something many of us do not discuss with anybody. Sometimes it is a lone struggle, in the privacy of your bedroom, in the privacy of your hotel room, in the privacy of your office. It is easy to lose sight of what is right and fall prey to weakness.

Yet this is the timeless lesson from the story of Sukkos in the Holy Temple.  When you control your pants and your belt—that is when you generate the greatest, deepest, most awesome, and infinite light in your life and in your environment. It is the holiness of our pants and belts that transforms you, perhaps, more than anything else. And, according to the teachings of the Arizal, it is the single most important mitzvah to hasten the coming of Moshiach.[14]



[1]

 



[1] To the Mishnah Sukkah 51a

[2] To the Mishnah Sukkah 51a

[3] Published Toras Menachem, Sicas Simchas Beis Hashoavah 5714.

[4] Igeres HaRmban

[5] Torah Ohr Purim 92d

[6] Berachos 62a

[7] See also Likkutei Torah Rosh Hashanah 63c-d:

מפני פגם הברית שכן מצינו באברהם שאחר המילה ניתוסף לו אות ה' על שמו והיה שמך אברהם... ולכן בפגמו נסתלק אות הה"א שהוא בחי' פנימית הלב הנ"ל ונעשה לבו כאבן ונטמטם שאינו יכול לפתוח לבו בשום אופן בעבודת ה'. ולכן נרמז מילה בר"ת מי יעלה לנו השמימה. שמה שאמר לא בשמים היא. פי' שבחי' המשכת אלהות קרובה אל האדם, היינו כשאין בו פגם הברית, אבל בפגמו נסתלק למעלה ובאמת מי יעלה לנו השמימה ונרמז בר"ת מילה וס"ת הוי'. כלומר שע"י שמירת אות הברית ממשיך בחי' הוי' עד סוף כל דרגין (ועמ"ש עוד מזה בד"ה בעצם היום הזה נמול אברהם. ועמ"ש ע"פ הזח"א ר"פ נח דנ"ט ע"ב כל מאן דנטר האי ברית כו')... וכן בברית הלשון כת שקרנין כו' הבלא דשקרא כו'. וכן המספר בגנות חבירו אפי' אומר אמת...

[8] Vol. 1 59b

[9] Yuma 35b

[10] See Rashi (Genesis 12:19): Shtufei zimah.

[11] This story went around when I was a child. I do not know the original source.

[12] I heard it from Reb David Forkash.

[14] The entire essay, from beginning to end, is based on Sichas Simchas Beis Hashoavah 5714 (1953) with references noted there. The Rebbe gave a fascinating introduction to the talk, namely, that usually we do not address this theme explicitly, yet he will in order to bring out the positive aspects of what happens when someone does have “shmiras habris.” I heard from someone present at the farbrengen how emotional the Rebbe became when he said this talk, especially when discussing in the name of the Arizal how this sin (of emitting seed wastefully) is the main sin that prolongs the exile. In the very same year, the Rebbe wrote a letter to the Helmitzer Rav about this (referenced in the footnotes there), in which he says that we live in a time when this must be addressed since people are unaware of the seriousness of the issue.

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    Sukkos 5777

    Rabbi YY Jacobson
    • October 14, 2016
    • |
    • 12 Tishrei 5777
    • |
    • 0 views
    • Comment

    Class Summary:

    There is a curious detail about the celebration of Simchas Beis Hashoavah. The Talmud states, that very tall golden candelabras were placed in the courtyard of the Temple, on the Temple Mount, around 100 or 150 feet tall. Each candelabra had four golden bowls on the top, filled with oil and dense wicks that were woven from the worn out pants and belts of the Kohanim. So great was the illumination that a woman could stand in her Jerusalem courtyard (at night) and check grain by the light of the candelabras.

    Asks Tosefos: Why not the worn out shirts? Asks the Tosefos Yom Tov: And why not the worn out hats? Why did they use only the pants and belts for the wicks? Why are we “discriminating” against the tunic and the hat?

    I will offer you an incredible insight shared by the Lubavitcher Rebbe during his public address on Sukkos 5714 (1953). With the conversation today in American politics, it is an insight I feel is so vital to learn, internalize and share during this festival of Sukkos. It is about the infinite light that can be generated not through holy shirts or hats, represents a holy mind and heart, but only from holy pants and belts, representing holiness in the lower part of our body.

    I am not sure there has been a time in recent history that allowed us to truly appreciate the contribution of Torah and its laws concerning gender relationships. You sometimes wonder why the Torah is concerned with our intimate life and has so many laws concerning the proper behavior between men and women? Can’t we just trust men to do the right thing? Can’t we just trust women to respect themselves? But as I read today’s headlines, I wish that all of our youth, Jews and non-Jews alike, would get a dosage of Torah education on how to wear holy pants and holy belts. 

    The sermon, naturally, stays far away from politics, but underscores how the Torah treats our inner struggles dealing with temptation and immoral behavior. It gives the Zohar’s interpretation on the unique nature of Yosef, and relates three stories of how Torah imbued Jews with a purity and a wholesomeness when it came to intimacy.

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