Monday, March 29, 2010

Pesach and Zugos: Double Trouble

The Talmud[1] questions how the Rabbis could have instituted the rabbinic commandment requiring one to drink four cups of wine on the Night of Passover, if doing so is dangerous because four, as a multiple of two, alludes to pairs and thus renders one susceptible to attacks from dangerous spirits, known as Mazikin. Concerning the Night of Passover, at the apex of the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt, the Torah says[2], “It is a night of guarding for HaShem, to take them from the Land of Egypt. This night is to HaShem as a protection for all the Israelites for their generations. The Rabbis hermeneutically expounded[3] this verse to refer to the fact that the night of Passover is to serve as “protection” from dangerous spirits, known as Mazikin. Therefore, to answer the above-mentioned question, the Talmud quotes this interpretation. However, the Talmud does not explain why “pairs” (known in Hebrew and Greek as Zugos) makes one vulnerable to attacks from these damaging apparitions. Furthermore, the Talmud neglects to explicate the protective powers allotted to the night of Passover in negating the effects of these spirits.

Rabbeinu Bachaya (a thirteenth-century commentator) asks[4] why the Torah writes concerning each day of creation that HaShem saw that that which was created on that day was “good”[5], yet on the second day, the Torah does not record that HaShem saw that what was created was “good”. To answer this, Rabbi Bachaya writes that on the second day of creation, G-d created the Heavens and all spiritual Heavenly bodies including angels and the like; collectively all of this is known as the Olam Elyon, or “Higher World”. By omitting the fact that HaShem saw that this Higher World was “good” the Bible is teaching us that the Higher World on its own does not stand to exist, for the raison d'être of existence is humanity, whose physical creation is alluded to in the creation of the corporeal Earth on the third day of creation (even though Man himself—Adam—was created on the sixth day of creation). Therefore, since Man and the physical world created to serve him are the foci of existence, the Torah leaves out the “good” which HaShem saw in the Higher World, and rather mentioned twice[6] the “good” which He saw in creation of the tangible, “Lower World” on the third day. Since the material land is the pinnacle and core focal point of creation, and not the immaterial spiritual world, the Torah did not mention HaShem looking at the “good” of the spiritual world. Rabbeinu Bachaya continues to cite another reason as to why on the second day of creation, the Torah omitted HaShem seeing the “good” of His creation[7]. He explains that the Midrash[8] says that “Ki-Tov” was not written concerning the second day of creation because on that day “dispute” was introduced to the world by HaShem separating between the waters[9]. He reasons that the number two is the source for all discrepancies and differences. That is, since without something with which to compare it, one does not reveal the differences of something (for a difference can only be measured between two givens), the duality of a pair creates the divergences between the two. This is the source of all arguments[10]. From the second day of creation and onward, the elements “argued” with HaShem in His master plan of creation[11]. Because the number “two” is the source of all arguments and is the catalyst for rebelling against the singular united divine plan of HaShem, this number is a represent the dangers of duality—especially in the form of dualism and bitheism (or ditheism). Therefore, the demons were given power to assail humans who associate themselves with the number two.

In a similar vein, Rabbi Judah Loew, The Maharal of Prague (1525-1609), explains[12] that there are two types of creations, namely, that which is created for itself and that which is created for others. Even within the physical world, which was created for the sake of itself, exist elements which were not created for the sake of themselves, rather for the sake of creation in general. The Maharal cites worms as an example to such a concept, for worms were not created for the sake of themselves, yet are included in the physical world for the good of the world in general; similarly, within the realm of the meta-physical and supernatural, exist creatures which were not created for the sake of themselves, but rather to serve the physical world which stands at the center of creation. Included in these creatures are demons and other spirits, who lack a physical form, yet possess powers that can affect the physical world. These types of spirits are not the prime factors of existence; rather, they are secondary to the existence of the common Lower World as a whole. As secondary beings, their dominion only spans that which is associated with duality and the number “two”. With this fundamental understanding, the Maharal explains the phenomenon of these dangerous spirits harassing those linked to pairs.

The first day of Passover is referred to in the Torah as “the First Day[13]”. This Biblical appellation is especially noteworthy because Passover also falls out during the first month (the month of Nissan), which serves to intensify the association of Passover with being the “first”[14]. Therefore, the first day of Passover in particular is associated with the number one, to the exclusion of every other day on the calendar. Because of this, reasons the Maharal[15], the Mazikin lack power and dominance on the night of the first day of Passover. Accordingly, because of the protection afforded by the night of Passover itself, the Rabbis were able to institute the drinking of four cups on the night of Passover, even though four, being an even number, usually leaves one vulnerable to attacks from Mazikin.

The Talmud says[16] that one who recites Krias Shema at his bedside is as if he holds a double-edged sword in his mouth, for the Psalmist says[17], “The high praises of HaShem are in their throats, and an edged (plural) sword is in their hands”. Rashi explains that the advantage of a double-edged sword is that it can kill Mazikin. The Maharal explains that since these damaging demons only hold dominion over that which is linked to the plurality of the number “two”, when one recites Kris Shema, which includes the declaration of the uniqueness of HaShem, one counteracts the effects of these Mazikin which renders them powerless against him. In explaining the Talmudic analogy to a double-edged sword, the Maharal writes that a double-edged sword is completely sharp, unlike a traditional sword which is only sharp on one side. This double-edged sword rightfully represents the oneness of HaShem because while there exist other “ones” in the world (e.g. a king may be the sole sovereign of his country and may possess all executive powers there), those “ones” are only unique in certain aspects (in the above example, even this king is the only ruler in his country and in that facet he is unique, he is still not less common than any other human being because of his humanity), but HaShem is wholly unique under all terms. According to the above, reciting Krias Shema as protection against Mazikin should be redundant on the Night of Passover because on that night the Mazikin are powerless against Jews, for the holiday of the Passover itself shields and defends one from the damaging demons. Indeed, Rabbi Moshe Isserles (1520-1572) writes[18] that the prevailing custom is not to recite Krias Shema at one’s bedside on the night of Passover because one is already safeguarded from Demonic attacks through the supernatural protective powers of the night of Passover[19].

[1] Pesachim 109b
[2] Exodus 12:42
[3] Rosh HaShannah 10b
[4] Rabbeinu Bechaya to Genesis 1:4
[5] See Genesis 1:4,10,12,18,21, 25,31
[6] Genesis 1:10 and 1:12
[7] He also cites Pesachim 54a which says that the flames of Hell (Gehennam) were created on the Second Day of Creation. See also Maharsha to Pesachim 110a who discusses this at length.
[8] Bereishis Rabbah 4:8
[9] Genesis 1:6
[10] Perhaps this meant by the popular contemporary idiom, “It takes two to tango”.
[11] See Rashi to Genesis 1:11 that Hashem intended for the trees to taste equal to their fruits, but the trees defied this detail in their creation on the third day. See Rashi to Genesis 1:16 that the Sun and Moon were originally created equal in size, yet the Moon complained to HaShem that it wanted to serve as king of the heaven and was shrunk on the fourth day. And on the fifth day, G-d had to kill the female Leviathan and castrate the male Leviathan because they threatened to destroy the world (Bava Basra 74b). On the sixth day, Adam and Eve famously sinned by eating from the forbidden fruit.
[12] Be’er HaGolah, Beer 2 (page 28 in the Jerusalem print)
[13] Numbers 28:18, Exodus 12:16
[14] Additionally, when all three festivals are mentioned, Passover is always listed first (e.g. Exodus 23:15, Deuteronomy 16, especially 16:16).
[15] Gevuras HaShem, chapter 38
[16] Berachos 5a
[17] Psalms 149:6
[18] Ramah to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim §481:1
[19] See also Pri Megadim and Aruch HaShulchan who write that this custom applies even to the second night of Passover in the Diaspora.


Unknown said...

I enjoyed this blog. It is thorough and detailed. Keep blogging!!

This is Nancy from Israeli Uncensored News

Reuven Chaim Klein said...

Thank you for your kind words...

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