Zeh Le'umat Zeh

  • Rav Yitzchak Blau


By Rav Yitzchak Blau




This shiur is dedicated in memory of Shmuel ben David Ehrenhalt, z"l,
father of our alumnus Steve.
May the entire Ehrenhalt family be comforted among the mourners of Tzion veYerushalayim.


Yeshivat Har Etzion mourns the death of Yona Baumel, z"l.
Mr. Baumol died on Friday, without fulfilling his heart's deepest desire:
to discover  the fate of his son – and our talmid - Zecharia,
last seen on the Sultan Yakoub battlefield in Lebanon 27 years ago.

We continue to pray for Zecharia's return.
HaMakom yenakhem etkhem be-tokh she'ar avelei Tzion veYerushalayim.



Shiur #26:  Zeh Le’umat Zeh


R. Zadok teaches that every trait allows for positive and negative expression.  Good characteristics become problematic when taken to an extreme; bad characteristics also have their legitimate place.  Thus, Chazal fault Shaul for excess compassion (Yoma 2b) and R. Zecharya ben Avkolus for inappropriate humility (Gittin 56a).  Conversely, a scholar should exhibit some degree of anger (Shabbat 63a) and pride (Sota 5a).[1]

A parallel idea animates R. Zadok’s thinking about world history.  Each generation manifests particular tendencies which find expression in a variety of opposing ways.  R. Zadok terms this idea “zeh le’umat zeh” (literally, ‘this opposed to this’).  For example, a generation that desires to know the future produces both prophets and fortune tellers.  A time period which emphasizes the abilities of the human intellect witnesses the rise of the Oral Law as well as the ascendency of Greek wisdom.  While R. Zadok frequently contrasts Jewish and non-Jewish manifestations of a given era, he sometimes places in opposition two different expressions within the Jewish world.

One midrash famously says that no Jewish prophet equaled Moshe but a Gentile prophet, Bil’am, did (Sifrei, Ve-zot Ha-berakha).  For R. Zadok, this fits his general concept of history.  Whatever themes find expression in Jewish circles must find a parallel outlet in the non-Jewish world.  Analogously, as already mentioned, the time of prophecy was also the time of star gazers.  In that era, the search for knowledge about the future dominated with different groups adopting superior or inferior versions of the search.[2]

At other times, R. Zadok identifies idolatry as the negative mirror image of prophecy.  The gemara (Yoma 69b) states that the sages managed to annihilate the inclination for idolatry.  R. Zadok agrees with the Vilna Gaon, Meshekh Hokhma, and Rav Kook in arguing that this maneuver was a double edged sword.   During the Second Temple period, the dangers of idolatry receded but prophecy ceased as well.  He notes that Elihayu Ha-navi’s generation incorporated both a large number of prophets (Rut Rabba Petichta 2) and a high concentration of idolatry (Sanhedrin 102b).  This overlap does not reflect historical coincidence; it indicates a conceptual relationship between these two phenomena.[3]

What do prophecy and idolatry share in common?  R. Zadok suggests that prophecy represents a clear apprehension of God.  For a religious person, the excitement and magnificence of such a possibility inspires ardent yearning for more such experiences.  In such a climate, people may make gods out of graven images due to their intense desire to visually experience divinity.  Powerful craving for something positive can also engender negative manifestations.[4]

 In other passages, R. Zadok adds a different factor: “According to the effort is the reward” (Avot 5: 23).  For the institution of prophecy to flourish, it must be born out of religious struggle and effort.  When prospective prophets combat the temptation for idolatry, their prophetic aspirations can materialize.  On the other hand, if they need not extend energy in overcoming this inclination, then they have not earned the ability to prophesy.  The most precious things in this world are acquired only in the crucible of struggle.[5]

The “zeh le’umat zeh” principle means that different periods of Jewish history bring divergent challenges.  In this context, it is worth noting R. Zadok’s sense of historical progression in his depiction of Jewish history.  Since significant changes occur over time, the rival forces invariably shift as well.  R. Zadok contends that the full flourishing of the Oral Law did not happen immediately at Sinai.  As Yaakov Elman points out, R. Zadok identifies several starting points for greater human involvement in the process of Torah.  Moshe’s greater role in composing Sefer Devarim marks one transition.  Other starting points include Sefer Yehoshua, the Purim episode, and the time of Shimon Ha-tzaddik.[6]

Elman emphasizes R. Zadok’s idea that the halakhic process during the First Temple period depended more on prophet than sage.  People preferred the greater clarity of prophetic directives to the more ambiguous endeavor of human reason as practiced by sages.  On the other hand, Talmudic dialectics of human reasoning have certain advantages over the prophetic method (we shall return to this theme in a subsequent shiur) and the prophet eventually gave way to the sage.[7]

Based on the “zeh le’umat zeh” principle, the prophetic era and the period of the sages produce varying challenges.   The former involves more obvious manifestations of the divine presence.  Therefore, the rival ideology to Torah was the world of magic, a world that attempts to access the grand cosmic forces of the universe.  When the written law was given, Egyptian sorcery constituted the world’s other major philosophy. 

At a later date, the world moved from reliance upon the divine to a greater stress on human intelligence and initiative.  In the Jewish context, this meant the flowering of the Oral Law.  The parallel in the broader world found the Greeks displacing old magic with their science and philosophy.  According to one gemara, Shimon Ha-tzaddik met Alexander the Great (Yoma 69a).  Since Aristotle taught Alexander the Great, that monarch can symbolize Greek wisdom.  Thus, the meeting of these two figures conveys humanity, both Jews and non–Jews, moving from reliance upon divinity to self-reliance.[8]

The question of how this process occurs provoked an interesting scholarly debate.  In an article in a memorial volume for Lt. Dani Cohen, Aviya Hakohen analyzes one of R. Zadok’s sermons on Chanukah.[9]  R. Zadok points out that the miracle of the oil was not truly necessary.  The Jews had vanquished the Greeks and reclaimed control of the Temple. They could not be faulted for not lighting the menora when they lacked available pure oil.  The need for this miracle must be located elsewhere.  R. Zadok identifies the light with the illumination of the Oral Law.  The miracle symbolizes the growth of Torah she-be’al peh at the time of Chanukah.  When we recall that Chanuka is the only halakhic holiday lacking scriptural basis, identification with the Oral Law becomes even stronger.

For R. Zadok, the priesthood has a special role to play in disseminating the Oral Law.  The Torah already speaks of the tribe of Levi as those who “teach your law to Jacob and your Torah to Israel” (Devarim 32:10).  The prophet Malakhi writes: “for the priest’s lips guard knowledge and they should seek the Torah at his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts” (Malakhi 2:7).  The centrality of the Hasmonean family in the Chanuka story takes on an added layer of meaning.   If this festival reflects a flowering of the Oral Law, how appropriate that the teachers of this law should serve as the heroes.   

This approach enables R. Zadok to offer a novel explanation for a well-known midrash.  According to the midrash (Tanchuma 5), Aharon is depressed that he and his tribe did not participate in the consecration offerings brought by the nesi’im - the princes of the other tribes (Bemidbar 7).  God reassures him that he has a greater role in his lighting of the Temple candelabra.  In the version preserved in Bemidbar Rabba (15:6), God reassures Aharon that sacrifices will cease with the destruction of the Temple but the lights continue forever.   Exegetically, this midrashic motif explains the juxtaposition of the mitzva to light the menora with the offerings of the princes.

Ramban wonders about the meaning of this midrash.  Why would God highlight the menora any more than the other unique responsibilities of the High Priest, such as entering the inner sanctum on Yom Kippur?  Furthermore, the Temple’s destruction stops both sacrifices and the lighting of the menora.  Why does the midrash portray the menora as more enduring?  Ramban explains that this midrash alludes to the Chanuka episode and the central role played by Aharon’s descendents. Chaunka lighting outlives the Temple and endures throughout Jewish history.[10] 

R. Zadok cites Ramban’s interpretation but also moves beyond it.  According to R. Zadok, the midrash refers not only to the Chanuka story but to the entire edifice of the Oral Law.  God reassures Aharon that his children would play a crucial role in the ongoing creation and vitality of Torah.  Surely, such a message would gladden Aharon’s heart and alleviate his sense of having been left out of the princes’ sacrifices.   

In the context of this discussion, R. Zadok writes:

And we have already said that they were in the outer husk (the kelipa), this opposed to that, in opposition to the sanctity of the Oral Law, which essentially spread due to Shimon Ha-tzaddik, who was from the remnant of the Men of the Great Assembly, and from him began the chain of the mishna.  And in his day was Alexander the Great, and then began Greek wisdom due to Aristotle, who was part of the outer husk in opposition to the sanctity of the Oral Law, that they too innovated from their own wisdom and ethics in proper behavior, and that is why they wanted to negate the Oral Law from Israel.

Aviya Hakohen interprets R. Zadok to mean that Greek influence brought about the growth of the Oral Law.  The Jews adopted a focus on human thought from the Greeks.  Of course, they did not blindly accept whatever the Greeks stood for; rather, they attempted to discerningly take the positive while rejecting the negative.  Azarya Ariel, one of the volume’s editors, appended a note to this article disagreeing with a few points.  Ariel objects that R. Zadok never says that the Greeks preceded the Jews in this endeavor or that Jews derived the concept of a more intensive reliance on human intelligence from the Greeks.

I believe Ariel to be correct.  R. Zadok was not against the idea that Jews could learn something of value from Gentiles, but that is not what he says here.  As we have seen, R. Zadok endorses a grand metaphysical principle of “zeh le’umat zeh.”   This need not mean that A influences B, but rather that A and B both respond to a change in the world order.  Presumably, Moshe did not learn from Bil’am nor did Eliyahu learn about prophecy from idolaters.  In each case, the individuals involved were attuned to the spirit of the age and they responded in different ways.  In the sources listed above, R. Zadok says nothing about one group influencing another.  

If anything, one source indicates that the influence proceeds in the opposite direction.  Ariel mentions a passage from Tzidkat Ha-tzaddik in which R. Zadok says that the Torah and the Jewish people are the map or the blueprint of the world.  R. Zadok says: 

in accordance with the innovations within the souls of Israel in a generation, so too are there innovations in the world at that time... and this is the Oral Law which allows for novelty in each generation through the innovations of the sages of Israel, and through these innovations of Oral Law, new Jewish souls come to light, and through them there are changes in the world.[11]               

This passage indicates that the dramatic changes originate with the Jewish sages and then trickle down to the rest of the world.  As mentioned, most of R. Zadok’s “zeh le’umat zeh” passages do not emphasize influence traveling in either direction.  Thus, we lack evidence that R. Zadok thought the sages learned to rely on human intelligence from the Greeks.     

I would like to add another brief point that will be elaborated on in future shiurim.  Hakohen’s presentation emphasizes the role of human wisdom in the Oral Law.  However, in R. Zadok’s worldview, innovations of the sages truly come from God.  On one level, the sages utilize their efforts and ingenuity to understand Torah.  On another level, they appreciate how their interpretations actually stem from God.[12]  This dialectic makes it difficult to portray R. Zadok as championing the power of human intelligence in the Oral Law.      



[1]Tzidkat Ha-tzaddik 47.

[2] Machshavot Charutz pp. 141-143.

[3] Divrei Soferim 38.

[4] Resisei Layla, pp. 13-14.

[5] Sichat Mal’akhei Ha-sharet, pp. 75-77.

[6] Yaakov Elman, “Reb Zadok Hakohen of Lublin on Prophecy In the Halahkic Process,” Jewish Law Association Studies, Vol.1 (1985), p. 5.

[7] Ibid. pp. 5-9.

[8] Machshavot Charutz, pp. 141-143.

[9] Aviya Hakohen, “Derasha le-Chanuka le-Rav Zadok Ha-kohen me-Lublin: Mavo U-bi’ur,” Be-orkha Nir’eh Or, eds. Yisrael Rozenson and Azarya Ariel (Jeruslaem, 5764), pp. 229-245.  The sermon is found in Pri Tzaddik, Chanuka 1.

[10] Ramban, commentary Bemidbar 8:2.

[11] Tzidkat Ha-tzaddik 90.

[12] Sichat Mal’akhei Ha-sharet, p. 77.