The Eye Generation
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
How can I alone carry your contentiousness, your burdens, and your
quarrels? (Devarim 1:12)
Here we are again, approaching the end of the Three Weeks as Tisha B'Av
approaches. It will come and go, and hopefully it will be the last one,
which can only be the case if the third and final Temple is built this
year, may it happen soon in our days. In any case, Rosh Hashanah, the
Aseres Yemai Teshuvah, and Yom Kippur are now just around the corner.
For a long time it has always impressed me how the Jewish people, when the
summer time comes, go in the opposite direction from the rest of the world.
For the most part, once the warm weather rolls around, the gentile world
heads for the world of leisure. Granted people have to work even in the
summer time, but still, there is an atmosphere of leisure just about
everywhere one goes during the summer months.
On the other hand, the Torah world receives the summer months in a state of
national mourning. If only the Temples could have been destroyed in the
winter months, when death is a common theme anyhow. Well, that's Divine
Providence for you, always making sure that the Jewish people keep their
priorities straight, something you have to do on a consistent basis if you
want to maximize your portion in the World-to-Come.
Ah, right, the World-to-Come, the end-game of all of history. No one we
know has been there, at least no one we know who can talk about it, so it
remains to be a matter of faith. It is, without a doubt, the ultimate
leisure resort, but you won't need sunscreen there, nor shades for your
eyes either. It will be a place of inexperienced pleasure, to limits
beyond our wildest imaginations, which will make all of our physical
self-sacrifice far more worth it.
Alas, it is a hard sell. This is what Tisha B'Av reminds us of each year,
and this is really what we are mourning. For, the Temple was not the goal,
but the means, a way of staying in touch with the ultimate purpose of Torah
and mitzvos. To look at and to experience the Temple was to become
re-focused on the ultimate destination of the Jew, and to make physical
desires secondary to our true spiritual aspirations.
Jewish temples are destroyed when the reverse sets into the Jewish national
psyche. The Torah was given to the Jewish people to bridle our desires, to
channel them in the service of G-d, to help us make physical pleasure a
by-product, not an end until itself. This is what the Talmud really means
when it says:
Had the Torah not been given to Israel, no nation or people could stand
before them. As Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: "There are three who are
brazen: Israel among the nations . . ." (Beitzah 25b)
The posuk above from this week's parshah begins with the Hebrew word
"Eichah," the same word with which Lamentations begins, which is intoned on
the night of Tisha B'Av. Thus, when reading this posuk, the reader does so
with the same sad melody used for Eichah on Tisha B'Av.
Just a friendly reminder of what is coming up in the following week? Or, is
there a stronger connection between Moshe's complaint in this week's
parshah and Yirmiyahu's in Eichah? And, while we're at it, we might as well
inquire about the connection of both to G-d's one-word question to Adam
HaRishon after he ate from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge of Good and
Evil: Aiyekah - spelled the exact same way as eichah.
. . . Contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels? (Devarim 1:12)
Moshe does not sound so positive here. Yes, we are G-d's chosen people and
yes, we are a nation of priests. However, we also happen to be contentious,
burdensome, and quarrelsome. What did he mean by all of that?
HOW CAN I ALONE CARRY: If I were to say, "I will do so in order to receive
reward for it," I cannot do so. This is what I have already told you: Not
on my own do I tell you that I am not able to bear you, but at the request
of the Holy One, Blessed is He. YOUR CONTENTIOUSNESS: Moshe's use of this
word teaches us that the Jewish people were troublesome. If one of them saw
that his opponent in a law suit was about to be victorious in the case, he
would say, "I have witnesses to bring . . . further proof to adduce . . . I
will add judges to you who are sitting." YOUR BURDENS: This teaches that
they were heretics (they treated the judges with little respect): if Moshe
left his tent early, they would say, "Why does the son of Amram leave so
early? Perhaps, he is not at ease at home?" If he left late, they would
say, "What do you think? He is sitting and devising evil schemes against
you, and is plotting against you." YOUR QUARRELS: This teaches that they
were always litigious (Siphre). (Rashi, Devarim 1:12)
There is one word for all this: subjectivity. Objective people are not
usually burdensome people, subjective people are. They are rarely, if ever
at all, contentious. Rather, they care only about one thing, and that is
the best solution for a problem, or rather, the most TRUTHFUL solution for
a problem. They do not speak out of two sides of their mouth, so-to-speak,
claiming to be concerned only with Torah and mitzvos, while at the same
time breaking them to get the best personal deal. Objective people are true
B'nei Olam HaBah, people whose whole focus is on getting to the World-to-Come.
Thus, what Moshe Rabbeinu was reporting in this week's parshah was really a
warning that bad seeds were being planted in the ground of Jewish history.
Just like Yosef, when he called his brothers "spies," had really been
warning them about the potential error of the future spies, so too was
Moshe Rabbeinu warning the Jewish people of impending doom if they did not
stop being contentious.
How . . . She (Jerusalem) sits in solitude . . . (Eichah 1:1)
How can I alone carry . . . (Devarim 1:12)
They are really one and the same question, and they mean:
HOW did you become so unfocussed? HOW were you able to make success in this
mundane, temporary reality such a priority as to sell yourself out, and
your nation as well? HOW could you let things get so bad, that they could
descend to this level, leaving you so incredibly desolate? HOW could it
even have been worth it?
HOW could you, Adam HaRishon, who had been created on such a high level of
spiritual consciousness that you could talk to G-d on a personal basis, and
even confuse the angels into thinking that you were G-d yourself, make such
a simple error as to eat from a forbidden tree?
Granted, had Adam HaRishon possessed a yetzer hara internally, as we all do
since his sin, it might have been understandable. As Shlomo HaMelech
taught, even righteous people sin from time to time (at least in terms of
what G-d expects from them). However, Adam HaRishon had been free of an
internal yetzer hara, which in his time was only inside the snake itself.
As they say in the yeshivos: It's a kasha (difficult question)!
G-d commanded the Man, saying, "You may eat from every tree in the Garden,
except from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. On the day you eat you
shall surely die . . ." (Bereishis 2:16-17)
The instructions seemed quite simple and explicit, leaving little room for
error. However, just to make sure that nothing could go wrong, Adam even
told Chava that the prohibition included touching the tree, just to make
sure that she could not come within a distance that would make eating from
the tree possible.
What about LOOKING at the tree, was that prohibited also? And, even if
G-d's commandment did not include looking at the tree, wouldn't it have
been a good idea anyhow to avoid visual contact with the tree. After all,
as the Talmud warns:
The yetzer hara only has power when the eyes have seen. (Sotah 8a)
And, indeed, it has been revealed:
The third aspect [of the prohibition concerning the Tree of Knowledge of
Good and Evil] is that the Seichel (Mind) and the Da'as (Knowledge) are
also spoken of in terms of "eating," as we see in Yechezkel, "Eat this
scroll . . . And He fed me that scroll . . . Feed your stomach and fill
your innards with this scroll . . . So I ate, and it was as sweet as honey
in my mouth" (Yechezkel 3:1-3). Likewise, we find in Yeshayahu, "Go, buy,
and eat; go and buy wine and milk without money and without price"
(Yeshayahu 55:1). We find similar examples in Chazal, where they compared
the words of Torah to water, wine, oil, and honey (Shir HaShirim Rabbah
81). Thus, the Seichel and the Da'as are also referred to in terms of
eating, and the warning was also: Do not contemplate or glance at anything
with which evil is associated. It is crucial to not look at the ability of
the Chitzonim (spiritual impurities) themselves, to investigate them even
to learn how powerful they are, so that you are not seduced after them.
For, it is the nature of a person to be drawn after that which he
contemplates, for the Seichel, the thinker, and that which is being
understood become one. (Sha'arei Leshem, p. 441)
In other words, there is a natural union that occurs between the beholder
and the beholden, even when forbidden by the Torah. It is quite automatic
and often quite insidious,but eventually it can and often does lead to a
terrible sin, as it did with Adam HaRishon.
The Leshem continues:
Therefore, there is great danger in looking at and contemplating anything
to which evil is attached, and how much more so at the Chitzonim
themselves; it is very precarious to follow after them, like a sheep going
to the slaughter. This is what it says, "For, the lips of a forbidden woman
drip honey, and her palate is smoother than oil" (Mislei 5:3). (Ibid.)
The "forbidden woman," obviously, is a metaphor for heretical thinking,
which can be very seductive and destructive, even if only being looked at
for the sake of understanding it.
The Torah, likewise, gives testimony [to this idea] when it says, "For, the
tree was desirable to the eyes, and the tree was pleasing to
understand (Bereishis 3:6) . . . (Ibid.)
Thus, knowledge is spoken about as if it were something to be consumed.
"But her end is as bitter as wormwood," and "on the day you eat you shall
surely die," because it is death itself. (Ibid.)
The first quotation is the conclusion of the posuk from Mishlei quoted
above, whereas the second posuk was the warning from G-d to Adam HaRishon.
The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, here is being compared to a
forbidden, but seductive woman, and the destruction of each is the same: death.
. . . This was the essence of the prohibition and sin of the Tree of
Knowledge, against which The Holy One, Blessed is He, warned Adam HaRishon.
It was in this that he stumbled and sinned, and though in the beginning it
was accidental, in the end, it was pure negligence, as we will explain. (Ibid.)
Thus, in conclusion, though Adam approached the tree at first only to
understand it, even to overcome it - good reasons to be sure - in the end,
he was dragged down by it. It is this that lowered him and which MADE
POSSIBLE his eating; it gave him the potential to rebel.
So says G-d: After SEVENTY years of Bavel are completed, I will remember
you and fulfill My good word concerning you, to return you to this place.
I, Daniel, pondered in the books the number of years of the word of G-d
that came to Yirmiyahu the prophet regarding the completion of the
destruction of Yerushalayim: SEVENTY years. (Daniel 9:2)
Thus, as the Talmud teaches, it all begins with the eyes, with AYIN. Ayin,
of course, is the Hebrew word for "eye," and it is also the name of the
16th letter of the Aleph-Bais, which represents the number 70-the number of
years for which the Jewish people were exiled after the destruction of the
The 70 years of exile came to an end with the death of Haman, the chief
antagonist in the Purim story, whose rise and fall occurred in 70 days,
recorded in 70 verses in Megillas Esther. He, of course, was the direct
descendant of Amalek, whose name means: AYIN-malak (AYIN-mem-lamed-kuf) the
"severed eye." The holiday of Purim is all about ayin and the number 70.
Indeed, 70 is the number of nations that emerged from Noach after the
Flood, from which all the nations of the world have descended one way or
another, except for the Jewish people. The Jewish nation is the 71st
nation, and our language is the 71st language, the one which Pharaoh could
In fact, 70 is the number of days of the week, times 10. This is because
each of the seven days of the week are rooted in one of seven sefiros,
Chesed through Malchus, each of which have 10 sefiros of their own, in an
ideal state. Thus, each of the days of the week represent 10 sefiros,
making 70 altogether, which are the root of the nations of the world.
Thus, 70 is the number that represents this world, and if so, then Amalek
can also mean, "severing of 70," or the cutting off of this world. In other
words, it is Amalek's raison d'etre to make this world, Olam HaZeh, an
independent reality, severed from Olam HaBa, the World-to-Come. This way,
everyday life ceases to be a means to an end, but an end unto itself.
This is why Amalek, when they attacked the Jewish people after they had
left Egypt, severed the Bris Milah of those Jews they could reach. Bris
Milah symbolizes the connection of the Jew to the World-to-Come, and
whether Amalek actually performed the physical surgery or not is second to
the point that they performed a spiritual surgery, severing the Jews from
the absolute belief in the World-to-Come. After all, the gematria of Amalek
is equal to the Hebrew word for "doubt" (suffek).
Thus, when the Talmud asks:
Where is there an allusion to Haman in the Torah? In the verse, "Did you
eat from (heh-mem-nun) the tree?" (Chullin 139b)
It was not just playing with words. It was Adam HaRishon's eyes that led to
his sin, that led to his doubt, that led to the reality of Amalek, which
resulted, eventually, in Haman, a man whose very being represented the
result of Jews losing their connection to the World-to-Come.
Thus, when the Talmud says elsewhere:
Rav said, "All the dates of redemption have already passed, and now it
depends upon repentance and good deeds." Shmuel said, "It is enough that
the mourner remains in mourning!" This is like an earlier disagreement:
Rebi Eliezer said, "If Israel will repent then they will be redeemed, and
if they will not, then they will not." Rebi Yehoshua said to him, "If they
do not repent they will not be redeemed?! Rather, The Holy One, Blessed is
He, will cause to rise a king who will make decrees as difficult as Haman's
were and Israel will repent and return to the right path." (Sanhedrin 97b)
Why Haman? Why only Haman? There have been plenty of anti-Semites
throughout history who have carried out far greater atrocities against the
Jewish people than Haman had been able to do before his downfall. Why bring
him up as the example for the End-of-Days, if not to tell us that the
problem with the Jewish people at the end of days will be like the problem
with the Jewish people when the two Temples were destroyed: the eyes, the
severed vision; the living in this world as if it is an end unto itself,
until it actually becomes the end of itself!
That was the effect of Adam HaRishon's looking at the tree, and that is the
answer to Yirmiyahu's question, how? And, it was the reason why Moshe's
generation was so burdensome, for when one severs himself from the reality
of the World-to-Come, the "gravity" of Olam HaZeh has complete power over
him, weighing him down, so-to-speak, in everyday mundane concerns.
May Tisha B'Av be turned from a day of mourning into one of joy with the
completion of exile and the arrival of redemption.