Parshat Tzav: The Meaning of Pigul

A korban shelamim ( a type of sacrifice of an animal) becomes disqualified if someone eats it at the wrong time. The Gemarra says this is not true: the essence of this avera (sin), called pigul, is in thought not action. To separate, in the mind, the slaughter of the animal from its offering and consumption is pigul. The consumption can be by human beings or on the altar, where it is “consumed” by God.

R’ Hirsch explains this by relating “pigul” to”peleg”, to seperate or divide. To seperate shechita (slaughter) from achila (consumption). The Torah says this is punishable by karet, a serious punishment (understood by the Rabbis as death at the hands of heaven). Why is this so serious?

Pigul is the seperation of sacrifice and consumption. The inseparability of the two in Jewish law teaches two lessons: 1) Sacrifice is not a value in and of itself. Self-negation, martyrdom, yielding, giving up, getting out of the way, are not in themselves positive values. Sacrifice must be for the sake of nourishment: it must become positive energy. It must feed God or human beings. 2) Consumption is not a value in and of itself either. Life, when consumed, should be offered on the altar of our values: our acts of consumption must mean something.

– based on teachings of Rav Adlerstein on Rav Hirsch’s Chumash commentary.

The Idolatry of Dogmas

Man has often made a god out of a dogma, a graven image which he worshiped, to which he prayed. He would rather believe in dogmas than in God, serving them not for the sake of heaven but for the sake of a creed, the diminutive of faith. A creed is almost all a poor man has. Skin for skin, he will give his life for all that he has. Yes, he may be ready to take other people’s lives, if they refuse to share his tenets.

Heschel “Man is Not Alone” 169.


“In the realm of the spirit only he who is able to be a pioneer is able to be an heir.”

Heschel Ibid 164

Heschel on Silencing God

God is not silent. He has been silenced.

…The faith believers cherish is second hand, it is a faith in the miracles of the past, an attachment to symbols and ceremonies. God is known from hearsay, a rumor fostered by dogmas, and even non-dogmatic thinkers offer hackneyed, solemn concepts without daring to cry out the startling vision of the sublime on the margin of which indecisions, doubts, are almost vile.

We have trifled with the name of God. We have taken ideals in vain…Now we reap the fruits of failure. Through centuries His voice cried out in the wilderness. How skillfully it was trapped and imprisoned in the temples! How throughly distorted! Now we behold it gradually withdraws, abandoning one people after another, departing from their souls, despising their wisdom…

…God did not depart from his own volition; He was expelled. God is in exile.

More grave then Adam’s eating the forbidden fruit was his hiding from from God after he had eaten it. “Where art thou?” Where is Man? is the first question that appears in the Bible. It is man’s alibi that is our problem. It is man who hides, who flees, who has an alibi. God is less rare than we think; when we long for Him, His distance crumbles away.

…There are many doors through which we have to pass in order to enter the palace, and none of them is locked.

…Life is a hiding place for God. We are never asunder from Him who is in need of us. Nations roam and rave- but all this is only ruffling the deep, unnoticed and uncherished stillness.

The grandchild of Rabbi Baruch was playing hide and seek with another boy. He hid himself and stayed in his hiding place for a long time, assuming that his friend would look for him. Finally, he went out and saw that his friend was gone, apparently having not looked for him at all, and that his own hiding had been in vain. He ran into the study of his grandfather, crying and complaining about his friend. Upon hearing the story the Rabbi burst into tears and said: “God, too, says: ‘I hide, but there is no one to look for me.'”

(Man is Not Alone 152-154)

In Praise of Jewish Skepticism

“To Israel, the heir of the religion of truth, the children of Jacob, the man of truth…it is easier to bear the burden of exile than to believe in anything before it is thoroughly and repeatedly examined and all of its dross has been purged away, even though it appears to be a sign or a miracle. The undeniable evidence for Israel’s love of truth and rejection of anything which is doubtful can be seen in the relation of the people of Israel to Moses. In spite of the fact that they were crushed by slavery, yet when Moses was told to bring them the tidings of their redemption, he said to the Lord: “Behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken to my voice, for they will say: The Lord hath not appeared to thee’ (Exodus 4:1)”

-Solomon Ibn Adret of Barcelona (1235-1310), Responsa no.548.

Heschel on Wonder

The greatest hindrance to our knowledge is our adjustment to conventional notions, to mental cliches. Wonder or radical amazement, the state of maladjustment to words and notions, is, therefore, a prerequisite for an authentic awareness of what is.

Standing eye to eye with being as being, we realize that we are able to look at the world with two faculties- with reason and with wonder. Through he first we try to explain or adapt the world to our concepts, through the second we seek to adapt our minds to the world….Wonder goes beyond knowledge. ..Wonder is a state of mind in which we do not look at reality through the latticework of our memorized knowledge; in which nothing is taken for granted. Spiritually we cannot  live by merely re-iterating borrowed or inherited knowledge. Inquire of your soul what does it know, what does it take for granted. It will tell you only no-thing is taken for granted; each thing is a surprise, being is unbelievable. We are amazed at seeing anything at all; amazed not only at particular things but at the unexpectedness of being as such, at the fact that there is being at all.

(from Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man is Not Alone)

Lurianic Kabbalah and Shunryu Suzuki

I had an insight into Kabbalah today while reading the words of a Japanese sage, Shunryu Suzuki. Suzuki Roshi (as he is called by his North American students) was instrumental in bringing Soto Zen spiritual practice1 to the United States. I have some slight connection to his lineage, having practiced Zen meditation with students of his lineage- Peter Levitt2 and Norman Fischer3. Like many people in North America who have practiced Buddhism (perhaps most) I have read Suzuki Roshi’s beloved book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Today, however, I was reading a lesser known book of his called Branching Steams Flow In The Darkness. It is a transcription of Suzuki Roshi’s teachings in the 70’s on an ancient Japanese poem called the Sandokai, which can be translated as “The Interpenetration of The Ultimate and the Relative.” This, like all of Suzuki Roshi’s teachings, is marked by gentility, humour, maturity, and an enticing combination of nuance and directness. As I read it I am struck both by how I resonate with many aspects of his teaching and not with some others, which don’t fit my own deepest intuitions. In any case, as I read it today I was struck by something which shot like an arrow through my mind and hit a surprising and seemingly distant target: a teaching by Rabbi Isaac Luria, the 16th century Spanish-Israeli Kabbalist known as the Arizal, who reshaped Jewish mystical teachings in his brief life (1534-1572). The Arizal was also much concerned with what could be called the “interplay of the ultimate and the relative” or the interplay of the being of God, “The Endless One Blessed Be” and the being of phenomena- “materiality” or “the concealing shell”.

The passage from Suzuki Roshi I was reading is this one: “Kai means to shake hands. You have a feeling of friendship. You feel that the two of you are one. In the same way, this one great whole being and the many things are good friends, or more than good friends because they are originally one.”

According to the Kabbalah of the Arizal, when the Holy One, Blessed Be created the universe it burst into a million fragments racing madly away from eachother. From an original point which was so unified, so whole, that it transcended our mode of existence entirely, came being and being implies beings4. These quanta of being raced away from eachother, sparks of light becoming enclosed in the “husks” (klipot) of materiality. These energetic threads thus spun forth to become a great web of interdependent moving, humming, transforming strands of materiality concealing divine light within. With the birth of phenomena of greater and greater complexity came, paradoxically, greater and greater individuality for each compounded phenomena. This apparent individuality is the essence of the Arizal’s idea of klipa as understood by the Alter Rebbe5. Klipa conceals Divine Oneness because it appears to be independent phenomena.

In the world of the senses- the sensual universe which reveals materiality to us- we perceive a complex field of disparate objects with no obvious relation to eachother besides contingent functional relationships. Our toaster and our running shoes appear to be unrelated inanimate objects with seperate origins and purposes. It appears that way to me even when I consider the existence of the running shoe a miracle- why does it, or anything, exist at all?-or reflect that every moment, according to Torah, the whole of creation is willed into being by the Creator. The individual objects in my perception still seem alienated from eachother. But perhaps they shouldn’t.

Rashi6, commenting on the story of the Garden of Eden, asks why we are told that Adam was formed “from the dust of the earth”. He answers “To tell us that we all have a common origin- no descendant of Adam can claim higher rank.” In a similar way, all material phenomena- the running shoes, the oven, the flower on the table- are all united by a deep internal bond. A familial bond.

According to Lurianic Kabbalah all of the phenomena of our world were born from the same “singularity”- the singularity of Hashem’s willing of the Creation to arise in the womb created by tzimtzum7. In that sense all things, no matter how high or low, are one family, deeply intimate with eachother, sharing an infinite bond and identical internal signature in their hidden recesses- much like human beings. This was what I was struck by while reading Suzuki Roshi’s comment “the great whole being and the many things are good friends…because they are originally one”.

If we reflect on this we can remove the illusion of being an alien in the universe, trapped in an expanse of lifeless, impersonal objects. We can contemplate the truth of the kinship of all things, that they are “all good friends”. Our apparent individuality is a common inheritance from a common parent.

We are united in our common origin in a way deep beyond our imaginations. In the end, paradoxically, even the fact of our individuality, as well as its nature, unites us as something we share.

1Soto is a sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism. Zen emphazises waking up to the true nature of mind and world in a way which liberates from afflictive emotions and suffering. Soto emphasizes doing this through sitting meditation where one simply sits and is lucidly aware while not grasping at or rejecting any phenomenon which arises.

2Peter is the teacher of the Salt Spring Zen Circle on Salt Spring Island, BC Canada. He is a student of Jakusho Kwong Roshi, a spiritual heir of Suzuki Roshi’s.

3Norman Fischer is also a teacher of Jewish meditation and spirituality.

4For something to be it must not be something else.

5Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Rebbe of Chabad (1745-1812)

7Tzimtzum: Lurianic Kabbalah teaches that in order to create the world the Infinite One had to contract her infinitude and create a wombal space where she was not and the world could be.