Kinah 24: As Angels
This Kinah, by Rabbi Elazar KaKalir, focuses on yet another tragic aspect of the Temple’s destruction. Not only was the Temple edifice destroyed but its furnishings, adornments and holy vessels were plundered too. Each one of these components was designed to reflect the celestial Temple in the heavens above where the ministering angels offer their fiery and awesome paeans of praise to the Almighty.
Moreover, each corresponded to some particular natural phenomenon. Here we lament the fact that these very adornments and vessels were ignominiously vandalized by the vile hand of Nebuchadnezar and then sent as gifts to adorn the pagan temples of the babylonian Empire.
Here we mourn this terrible degradation that befell both the terrestrial and celestial Temples.
Here we grieve over the diminution of benefits derived from the phenomena of nature. (Artscroll Kinot: Page 264)
One of the most prolific writers of Responsa in history was Rabbi David Ibn Abi Zimra (1479-1573), known as the Radbaz. As a Kabbalist, Radbaz believed that behind the plain meaning of the Scripture there are profound mystical meanings. A questioner asked Radbaz (#256) to explain to him the narrative of Adam’s sin according to the plain meaning, not according to the Kabbalah, which, the questioner says, is not his concern.
Adam was God’s creation, the work of His hands. The Rabbis wax eloquent in describing Adam’s lofty spiritual degree. All that God commanded him was to refrain from eating of the three, a small matter surely. How, then, could he have yielded to the importunities of Eve and defy his God?
Radbaz observes that the Zohar has tremendous things to say here but he is not permitted to divulge them and, in any event, the questioner has asked for the plain, not the mystical, meaning.
Radbaz proceeds to expound the narrative in its plain meaning, as he sees it. Adam knew that he could become immortal only by eating the fruit of the Tree of life. Unless he ate of this fruit he would be subject to the law of decay to which all creatures, by their very nature, are subject.
But Adam wished to live forever so as to be able to praise God for all eternity, attaining to the degree of the angels, nay, possibly to an even higher degree. In pursuit of his aim of living forever, Adam wished to discover where in the Garden the Tree of Life was situated, for this information had not been imparted to him.
When Adam saw that Eve’s knowledge had been increased as a result of eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, he realized that if he ate of the forbidden tree his knowledge too, would be increased, and that increase would endow him with the wisdom to discover the location of the Tree of Life.
He knew that it was sinful of him to eat the forbidden fruit, but justified the sin on the grounds that it was, after all, for the realization of the sublime aim of living forever to praise God. And he believed, further, that once having attained his spiritual ambition, he could erase the initial sin by repenting of it.
Thus, Adam did sin, but it was out of the highest motives and so, in no way, unworthy of his elevated degree.
Perhaps we cannot understand, appreciate, or even relate to the idea that, “Each one of these components was designed to reflect the celestial Temple in the heavens above where the ministering angels offer their fiery and awesome paeans of praise to the Almighty.” However, we can appreciate that there is a level at which a person strives to live at such elevated heights simply to be able to attach to God even more than can the highest angels. We lost much of this drive to connect heaven and earth when the Temple was destroyed.
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