Vort from the Rav: Bamidbar

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וְלֹא יָבֹאוּ לִרְאוֹת כְּבַלַּע אֶת הַקֹּדֶשׁ

They shall not come in to see when the holy [vessels] are being wrapped up.

Bamidbar 4:19

When the ark was removed, the Levites and the Israelites were not to be present, or they would die. When the ark was recovered from the Philistines (1 Sam 6:19), the people of Beis Shemesh died when they looked at the ark.

God is the ultimate nistar (hidden One): And the Lord descended in the cloud. (Ex. 34:5). When Moses requested to see God’s countenance, God refused. (Ex. 33:18-20). Whatever is holy is hidden.

This concept applies to the human body as well.

When we attempt to understand what motivated the Hasmoneans in their revolt against the Greeks, many invoke patriotism. However, patriotism is a relatively modern concept, with its origin in the eighteenth century. The main reason for the rebellion was because Judaism hated nudity, and in Greece, nudity was an ideal. Roman and Greek clothing actually revealed more than was covered. The Greeks looked upon the human body as esthetically beautiful, and whatever is beautiful should be exposed. There is no reason for beauty to be hidden. Judaism, on the other hand, looked upon the human being, upon the body, as sacred.  The laws of burial, including the preparations of the body for burial as well as the laws of mourning, are nurtured by one principle: the human being is holy. Humanity itself is a source of holiness, of sanctity. And to Judaism, whatever is sacred should be concealed, hidden from public view.

This idea extends to how we must treat the terminally ill. A person may have lost all consciousness, near death in an irreversible coma. Such an eventuality expresses the absurdity of human life. Yet we have a maxim kedushas haguf lo paka, the holiness of the body does not depart. If holiness is intrinsic to man, it can never be lost no matter what the circumstances. The terminally ill comatose patient may have lost everything we associate with humanity, but intellect and consciousness are not the source of man’s holiness. He does not lose his sanctity as a human being. (Boston 1970)

From the time I was young I learned to restrain my feelings and not to demonstrate what was happening in my emotional world. My father would say that the holier and more intimate the feeling, the more it should be concealed. There is a hidden curtain that separates between one’s interior and the exterior. And the dividing curtain shall separate for you between the Holy and the Holy of Holies.(Ex. 26:33) What location is more sanctified than the inner sanctum of one’s emotional life? If all is going well and one’s heart overflows with happiness, he should reveal the deep interior of his soul to God, but he should not reveal it to others lest a stranger profane his Holy of Holies. If, on the other hand, someone is in dire straits, mired in a cloud of pain and suffering, finding himself abandoned and alone, he should reveal his thoughts before the Creator: he should cry to Him and supplicate behind the curtain. A stranger should not approach the Holy of Holies lest in his apathy he profanes the sanctity of the mute pain that burdens the sufferer. And no man shall be in the Tent of Meeting when he comes to effect atonement in the Holy, until he comes out. (Lev 16:17). The Kohen Gadol’s rendezvous with his Creator in solitude.

My father never kissed me. When he took leave of me, he would press my hand and say,“Go in peace, and may God watch over you.” A casual onlooker, were he to hear these routine words, might be taken aback and mumble to himself, “dry Brisker coldness.” However, that observer witnessed only the exterior, that which was outside the curtain of my father’s personality, and did not comprehend that his interior, his Holy of Holies, was full of mercy and compassion, containing a refined and bold love for his children — incessantly concerned about their welfare, sacrificing himself for their future. His entire being was overwhelmed with love. At the same time, he was careful not to violate the warning: and no man shall be in the Tent of Meeting, protecting the privacy of his emotional life. (Divrei Hagut Vehaaracha, p.174)



About Arnold Lustiger

Dr. Arnold Lustiger is a research scientist and has edited multiple volumes of the Rav's Torah, including the recently published Chumash Mesoras HaRav.

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