Dark Shades and Perfect Doves

Friday, 4 January, 2019 - 1:24 pm

Sunglasses serve to protect our eyes from the sun’s harmful UV rays. They also make it more comfortable for us to be out when the sun is bright. However, they simultaneously obscure our vision and skew the perspective of what we are seeing. The darker the shades, the less true to reality our picture becomes, and the more difficult it is for us to truly see what is before us.

There is a verse in Song of Songs (6:8-9): “There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and innumerable maidens. My dove, My perfect one, is but one…” The Midrash explains: “The sixty queens are the sixty tractates of the Mishna. The eighty concubines are the passages of the Braita (statements by the Tana’im – Mishnaic sages – that are not included in the Mishna, but were recorded in a later generation). The innumerable maidens are the Halachic statements by the Amora’im (sages of the Gemera – Talmud).

Chassidus explains: The reason why their number keeps increasing is because the vision of the truth is more and more obscured as the generations descend. The relationship with the King (through Torah) is more diluted, and shared with a greater numbers of contenders. The earliest sages (Tana’im) lived during or just after the Second Temple era. The G-dly revelation associated with the Temple was still very potent. Thus their path to truth was short and relatively easy. As such, their statements are clear and concise declarations of the Torah’s truths. There is not a lot of discussion or dialogue necessary. Their vision of Torah is through a clear glass.

A generation passed and exile intensified. The Braita teachings are more complex with greater detail. It was as though their vision of Torah was via the shade of sunglasses. Their path to the truth was longer and littered with obstacles, lacking the clarity of the earlier Mishna teachings.

Fast forward to the next era. Now the Jews are in a diaspora. In fact, the Talmud was primarily recorded in Babylon. The teachings include lengthy discussion and challenges. Only after much give and take are conclusions reached. The vision of Torah can be compared to a fully tinted glass that allows for very poor vision. Their path to the truth was almost a perilous one.

As the generations descend, the density of the obscuring force increases; and the light shining through decreases, leading to a more difficult path to truth. But with supreme effort, the sages inevitably tread through the path and arrive at the truth by the glimmer of light that shines through to them.

So what is left for us? We are certainly not queens. Nor are we concubines or even maidens. Our Torah learning is like the light coming through a thick curtain, barely providing illumination for our way. What is left for us is “My dove, My perfect one, is but one.” The dove is a reference to the love that we demonstrate to Hashem through prayer and mitzvot. While our Torah may be imperfect, we are empowered to fulfill G-d’s purpose for creation – making this world a dwelling for Him. The greater the challenge, the darker the path, the more valuable and meaningful the achievement. So valuable, that Hashem calls us “My perfect one,” thereby emphasizing our uniqueness, “is but one.”

So when we are assaulted with feelings of spiritual inadequacy in comparison to earlier generations, remember that you have the power to build a dwelling for the Divine. Hence Hashem sees you as “My dove, My perfect one.”

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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