Backward PROGRESS

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By Yochanan Gordon

Relevant to the month of Adar, there is a well-known dispute between Rav and Shmuel recorded in Maseches Megillah. Regarding the statement in the first verse of the Megillah that “he is Achashverosh, who reigned over the provinces from Hodu to Kush,” Rav and Shmuel dispute the relative locations of Hodu and Kush. Rav says that Hodu and Kush are at opposite ends of the world, while Shmuel maintains that Hodu and Kush are next to each other. The Gemara concludes that Achashverosh ruled over the whole world—from Hodu to Kush. Since Hodu and Kush are near each other, if you traveled from Hodu and headed in the opposite direction of Kush, the last place you reached would be Kush.

Normally, if we wanted to travel from Hodu to Kush, we would proceed straight from Hodu to Kush and reach our destination very quickly. However, if we chose to travel in the opposite direction, we could still reach our destination, but it would take far longer—what they call traveling the scenic route. Similarly, in life, in order to move forward sometimes we need to take a step back.

Our sages discuss the notion of “yeridah l’tzorech aliyah,” a descent for the purpose of a subsequent ascent. An example of this would be a child jumping down onto a trampoline, or an archer pulling an arrow down and backward in order to impart an upward and forward motion upon its release. Similarly, growing a plant requires burying a seed beneath the earth in order for the plant to shoot up and blossom. These are but three examples that show that in this world that G‑d has created, we may need to move backward in order to go forward.

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We recently sold our home in Cedarhurst and we are in the market for a new home, but it seems increasingly likely that we will need to rent for some time in order to properly choose a new home. Our family has lived in the residence that we sold for about eight years, during which time four of the five children we now have were born and raised. We purchased this property initially as a starter home, as we were married for just a year and I was new in the business, and we believed that it made sense to start small and progress with time. But the more I began thinking about the incongruity of going from homeownership to renting, it dawned upon me that it follows suit with the seemingly strange ways of the world that I discussed above.

The Gemara relates that before leaving Babylonia for Eretz Yisrael, Reb Zeira fasted a hundred fasts in order to forget Talmud Bavli prior to learning Talmud Yerushalmi. Without getting into the halachic debate regarding why that was permitted in light of the mishnah which notes the severity of forgetting any Torah, it is understood that in order for Reb Zeira to fully embrace and appreciate Talmud Yerushalmi, he would need to forget Talmud Bavli.

The following anecdote brings this point further into focus. As a young child, DovBer Schneerson (who would later succeed his father, the Alter Rebbe, in assuming leadership of Chabad) would play with his peers by seeing who could climb furthest up a ladder. Time and again, while little DovBer would make it to the top, his friends would fearfully retreat to the bottom after climbing a few rungs. The Alter Rebbe asked his son why it was that he made it to the top every time, while his friends, try as they might, could never reach it. DovBer turned to his father and said that as his friends climbed the ladder, they were looking downward and realized how high above the ground they were and became frightened. “I, on the other hand,” said DovBer, “kept my gaze upward and saw how low I was in relation to where I needed to go.”

From the standpoint of revelation, the Talmud Yerushalmi far surpasses Talmud Bavli. It is known that the verse in Nach which alludes to Talmud Bavli says, “B’machshakim hoshivani k’meisei olam.” Talmud Bavli is depicted by darkness, as it requires painstaking analysis—letter by letter, word by word, and line by line—to arrive at clarity and understanding of it. Talmud Yerushalmi is depicted by light, as it is written in a more structured and reader-friendly manner. This came about because Talmud Bavli was authored in exile, while Talmud Yerushalmi was authored in Eretz Yisrael, in Yerushalayim, in an environment of revelation, redemption, and “avira d’Eretz Yisrael machkim.”

Perhaps another parallel to this would be the progression from before the creation of the world—when, in the words of the Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer, the world was permeated with G‑d’s essence. The next step in the creation, as is written in Eitz Chaim, is that G‑d withdrew Himself, creating space for the creation of the worlds. Ultimately, after life in this world, the soul returns itself to its Maker and is later reinvested in a body for eternal life.

But if the culmination of creation ends with the soul returning to its Maker, and that is how it began in the first place, what was the purpose of creation? Chassidus and Kabbalah explain that there are varying degrees of perfection. It would seem that prior to creation, with the souls basking in G‑d’s glory, there could be no greater euphoria—that is itself the manifestation of the Garden of Eden. However, as the famous Midrash Tanchuma states, “G‑d desired a dwelling place in the lowest realms and He therefore sent the souls within bodies down onto this earth charged with the purpose of refining the material world to mirror its spiritual soul’s counterpart. This is a mission and a journey that we have been on for thousands of years and at great cost, but it is nevertheless a plan that in the Divine perspective is well worth the costs, and it is that day that we long for with great fervor.

But, returning to the process of creation, with the universe at its initial state of perfection, G‑d withdrew His light, creating the space for our universe to be placed. Our own mission, then, is to withdraw our sense of reality and egotism to allow G‑d to shine through us—for us to remake what He had envisioned at the outset.

So we see a pattern of initial perfection, followed by withdrawal of the light, and an ensuing process of creating a dwelling for G‑d in the lower realms. Similarly, these past eight years at our initial residence was accompanied by the growth of our family, our children’s major developmental accomplishments, and great memories of the first ten years of marriage and child-rearing that we hope will last a lifetime. Notwithstanding that, we are at a point now where we must move on for spatial considerations, as we graduate to the next phase of married life and its milestones.

And just as we are unable, in life, to truly graduate to new heights without leaving behind the previous rung on the ladder, there is a necessity to create this proverbial vacant space before actually expanding. So whereas I had first thought it a bit counterproductive to go from ownership to renting, from a perspective of Divine progress I can now see it as the right way forward.

Comments for the author are welcome at ygordon@5tjt.com.

 

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