From Strength to Strength
G-d told Moshe and Aharon to tell them, "Tell the Children of Israel
these are the animals which they may eat..." (Vayikra 11:1)
Once again we are addressing the topic of animals which may be eaten and
those which are "treif." What makes one animal kosher and another not
kosher? Only G-d knows for sure. Perhaps it has to do with the animal's
nature, or living habits. Fine, but what about a kosher cow that is treif
because it wasn't slaughtered properly? In such a case, the difference
between being kosher or not kosher can be a hairsbreadth, as Rashi points
out at the end of the parshah:
Between impure and pure . . . between whether only half the windpipe was
cut, or the majority. (Rashi, Vayikra 11:47)
Why should it make a difference whether or not the majority of the
windpipe was cut, or just a portion of it, as long as the animal was
ritually slaughtered? How does it change the status of the animal from
being kosher to treif, or because it was attacked by an animal and on the
verge of death?
These are good questions, and obviously they have been asked throughout
the ages. However, today most Jews don't pay much attention to them
because, thank G-d, in most places that Jews live nowadays, there is
plenty of meat to go around. Indeed, in many communities, the kosher
butcher shops rival some of the treif butcher shops, so we don't even feel
the need to wonder about such issues. Instead, we contently leave their
answers to the realm of chok-laws whose reasons seem to defy human logic.
Surprisingly, their reasons are not quite so chuki, and even more
surprisingly, they have so much to do with the Final Redemption for which
we anxiously await. In fact, understanding them perhaps, could have saved
the Jewish people and the rest of mankind the pain of so much suffering,
and perhaps, also from the pain of any other suffering that might be
coming up, G-d forbid.
It has to do with the concept of Gevuros. Gevuros means "strength," but it
is also the name of the fifth sefirah. It is principally associated with
the constriction of Divine Light, which is what makes free-will possible.
Its job is to create what the Torah calls "Hester Panim," the hiding of G-
d's face, or what is better known in the Western World as Teva (Nature),
which gives the impression that Creation is automated.
Without Gevurah, the light of Chesed would shine through full-blast,
meaning that the Presence of G-d would be an intellectually inescapable
reality. So, Gevurah is a light that acts as a kind of spiritual "belt"
around the light of Chesed, containing it and limiting its illumination in
the world. A miracle is when the belt comes off, so-to-speak, and the
light of Chesed bursts through into the mind's of all those who witness it.
Thus, when people look at the world and have difficulty seeing G-d, to
such an extent that they feel comfortable assuming that He is not even
there, it is really the effect of the light of Gevurah. It is like looking
at an overweight person who is wearing his belt taut, and assuming that he
is actually underweight, or like looking into a two-way mirror and
assuming that your reflection in the mirror is all that is looking back at
Thus, as nasty as Gevuros sound-all evil is the result of them, and they
play a very important role in history, a temporary one, but a very
important role nonetheless. In other words, they only have value, at least
in this form, as long as free-will remains necessary, and they will lose
their value once free-will becomes unnecessary, such as in Yemos
HaMoshiach (Succah 52a). Indeed, Yemos HaMoshiach is specifically tied to
the rectification of the Gevuros.
And what about rectification? Who said anything about rectification? The
Gevuros may obstruct the light of Chesed, but that is their job. What is
broken about the light of Gevuros is how do you fix it, but what does it
have to do with eating kosher?
Whatever has a real cloven hoof, and chews its cud, you may eat.
Right! Now what does that have to do to make an animal kosher?
The answer has to do with the role of Gevuros. If their role is to hide
the light of Chesed, which conceals the reality of G-d, then it must be
incumbent upon man, and particularly the Jewish people, to combat the
light of Gevurah so that the light of Chesed can break through and reveal
the hand of G-d in life. This, in fact, is the basis of a Kiddush Hashem
(the Sanctification of G-d's Name).
Obviously, if we are expected to "combat" the Gevuros, and if they are
only a temporary reality, then they must be limited. In other words, there
must be a set amount of Gevuros that require tikun, and indeed this is the
case. The moment that the last aspect of Gevurah is rectified is
synonymous with the first moment that Moshiach assumes his rulership of
the world, of course, on behalf of G-d.
With the mission defined, we need to know where our enemy can be found and
the best way to defeat him. The answer is, Gevuros are everywhere
throughout Creation, and the best way to defeat them is not the way you
might think. For, whereas most enemies that you have to face you might
want to completely destroy, like Amalek, for example, Gevuros are meant to
be converted, not annihilated.
In fact, the currency of Olam HaBah (the World-to-Come) is rectified
Gevuros. A U.S. Dollar bill may have "In G-d We Trust" written on it, but
you will not be able to take it with you to the next world. Instead, what
does go with you, and actually precedes you is all the Gevuros that was
rectified through your own actions.
The fact that everything in the physical world can be a source of abuse,
meaning that it can be used in a way that the Torah does not sanction,
indicates that Gevuros is lurking. Like with the Tree of Knowledge of Good
and Evil, there is something in everything that pulls at us in a way that
can result in our using it in a selfish and unG-dly manner. That is called
The negative pull to abuse Creation that we refer to as the yetzer hara is
really a function of Gevuros. It is the Gevuros that acts as that mystical
magnetic pull to do that which the Torah forbids. Likewise, when inertia
prevents us from getting up and doing that which the Torah commands, or at
least in a satisfactory way, that is also the Gevuros at work.
If you can feel the tension and the struggle, and you hesitate to do the
wrong thing, or you feel bad not doing the right thing, then you are
locked in battle with the light of Gevurah. If you lose that battle when
you should have won it, then it is called a sin, and if teshuvah is not
forthcoming, then punishment will be forthcoming. But if you win the
battle, by either avoiding doing the wrong thing or overcoming the inertia
against a Positive Mitzvah, then something really interesting happens to
the Gevurah: it is sweetened, after which it ascends and is deposited in
your Olam HaBah account.
This process is called Mituk HaGevuros (the sweetening of Gevuros) or,
Bisum HaGevuros (the perfuming of Gevuros). Either way, the Gevuros have
been tamed, converted, and added into your personal account. And, just as
important, the "pot" of Gevuros has been emptied somewhat, and the world
has moved that much closer to its own rectification and the end of
history. It is the heroic way to bring rectification to Creation.
Again, what does this have to do with animals being kosher or treif?
For I am G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your G-d.
will therefore be holy, for I am holy. (Vayikra 11:45)
If you think about it, it should not be so hard to figure out where the
Gevuros hold out. If the result of Gevuros is the hiding of G-d's light,
the light of Chesed, you just have to identify those things in Creation
which do the same thing. The more something acts contrary to Torah, which
can even be a fully Torah-observant Jew who has acted out of Torah
character for even just a moment, the more the Gevuros have exposed
themselves in the world.
Let's rephrase that. As the Torah points out, it is really an issue of
holy and unholy, the latter being the result of Gevuros. Hence, a "red-
light district" is a very overt and obvious sign that Gevuros are at work,
whereas an area of a city in which holy things occur is a place where the
Gevuros have been subdued, although perhaps not completely (as shul
politics can prove).
And this is what makes an animal kosher or treif, and why shechitah is an
exact science and an important rectification for Ma'aseh Bereishis. For,
before the sin of eating from the Aitz HaDa'as Tov v'Rah, ALL the animals
were kosher and pure, and the only thing possessing Gevuros and requiring
rectification was the tree itself, and of course, man. Abstaining from
eating until the first Shabbos, only three hours later, would have taken
care of all of that.
However, explain the Kabbalists, not only did Adam HaRishon, in not
obeying G-d's commandment, NOT rectify himself or the tree, he unrectified
that which G-d had previously rectified during the previous five days of
Creation, including, of course, the animals. And thus, the treifness of an
animal is really just an expression of the depth to which the Gevuros,
that were a result from man's sin, affected one species of animal as
opposed to another.
Therefore, a cow is kosher because it is not as affected by the Gevuros as
much as a treif animal is. However, it was affected enough that it cannot
be eaten without some kind of preparation, unlike fruits and vegetables.
In other words, a process like shechitah is not only about taking the life
of the animal, it is also a Divinely-designed method for removing the
remaining Gevuros from the animal, to make it completely kosher, in every
sense of the term.
Likewise, if shechitah does not work to make an animal kosher, then it
means that the Gevuros are so inter-woven within the fabric of the animal
that it can't be removed, at least before Moshiach comes and the Gevuros
are completely rectified. And, to eat such an animal means to consume pure
Gevuros, which are obviously going to have an effect on the holiness of
the person. This is what the Torah is trying to instruct us to avoid, so
that we can pursue holiness and self-rectification, without which one can
become a breeding ground for Gevuros, with tremendously adverse effects
that are the basis of what has always gone wrong, and what is going wrong
G-d told Moshe, "Speak to the Children of Israel and tell them that
you come into the land which I give to you and you harvest, then you must
bring an omer of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. He must
wave the omer before G-d, to be accepted for you; on the day after the day
of rest [the second day of Passover] the priest must wave it."
So that's what history is all about, and will continue to be about until
Moshiach comes: sweetening the Gevuros, using them as a way to reveal G-d
as opposed to hiding Him. This means that instead of allowing ourselves to
be conquered by them, as most of the world does by simply pursuing the
designs of their hearts, we must use their strength to do what we have
been mandated to do: work as a partner with G-d to rectify Creation.
If ever there is a time in the Jewish year that this is true, it is now,
during Sefiras HaOmer (the counting of the Omer). Purim is like the yetzer
hara's last hurrah, L'Shem Shamayim, but this is then followed by cleaning
for Pesach, a.k.a. the dismantling of the yetzer hara (chometz) on our
journey to achieve the spiritual simplicity of matzah. Seder Night is the
break from its bond, the leap toward spiritual freedom.
The next night, we get to work on sweetening as much Gevuros as possible
while we're in our mode of freedom. The Omer-Offering was one of barley-
se'orah-in Hebrew, which Kabbalah says represents Din (Judgment) or
Gevuros. Bringing the Omer to the Temple had the same effect that
shechitah has on a kosher animal, releasing the Gevuros from within it.
It is no coincidence that there are fifty days to the Omer Counting, a
number that always alludes to the Nun Sha'arei Binah (the Fifty Gates of
Understanding). The Nun Sha'arei Tuma (the Fifty Gates of Spiritual
Impurity) are what the Gevuros look like unsweetened; the Fifty Gates of
Understanding are what they look like after they have been rectified, and
that results in Kabbalos HaTorah-the holiness and the Reception of Torah.
Even though we remain without a temple today, and are unable to fulfill
the mitzvah of bringing the Omer-Offering, by simply counting the omer
each day and accessing the Middas-HaYom, the special trait of each
particular day (listed in most siddurim: Chesed sh'b'Chesed, Gevurah
sh'b'Chesed, etc.), has a similar effect. Just as verbalizing the daily
sacrificial service that takes its place in the meantime, likewise does
verbalizing the Omer-Offering act in its stead until such time as we can
once again continue the Temple service.
For, it is all about finding and accessing the Gevuros in Creation, and
then drawing them out and channeling their energy into some activity that
rectifies Creation. And, just as G-d has many messengers to carry out His
will, He has many methods for allowing Gevuros to be used up and
rectified. The counting of the Omer between Pesach and Shavuos is one such
very important process.
We already know from previous essays the centrality of speech, especially
when it comes to this time of year. Pesach (peh-sach: "the mouth that
spoke") is the holiday that celebrates the true freedom of speech, from a
Torah perspective. Pharaoh (peh-ra: "the evil mouth") was defeated by
Moshe Rabbeinu, who once complained about having uncircumcised lips, but
whose "power was in his mouth." We finally achieved freedom at Pi
HaChiros, the "Mouth of Freedom."
Indeed, the mouth is one of the most important battle grounds for fighting
against the Gevuros. "Loose lips sink ships," and the road to Gihennom is
tiled with words of loshon hara. Thus, prayer is such a powerful tool for
redemption, and a short declaration like counting the Omer can have a
phenomenal effect in terms of personal and world rectification, just as
eating kosher food also does. For, when food is properly prepared and
eaten with the right intentions, it is also like bringing an offering to G-
d, to such an extent that the table upon which we eat is compared to the
altar. And it was there, on the altar, that the Gevuros, in the form of
the fire, were used to free the Holy Sparks in every aspect of the
sacrifices to bring the world closer to perfection.
Have a great Shabbos,
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.