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In every generation a spark of the Mashiach comes into the world

Redeeming the Widow in Exile

Redeeming the Widow in Exile

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Redeeming the Widow in Exile
In every generation a spark of the Mashiach comes into the world

In the middle of this week's parasha, the Torah digresses from the story of Joseph to tell the story of Judah and Tamar. Tamar was Judah's daughter-in-law, married to his son Er. Er did not want pregnancy to damage Tamar's beauty, so he withdrew before completing intercourse and wasted his seed on the ground. After G‑d punished Er for this by killing him, Judah had his second son, Onan, marry Tamar in order to perpetuate Er's name, fulfilling the commandment of levirate marriage. Onan, knowing that the child of their union would not be considered his, also withdrew before completing intercourse, and G‑d punished him also by killing him.

Judah evidently did not know why his sons had died. He had a third son, Shelah, but hesitated to have him marry Tamar, because he was afraid she was somehow the cause of her husbands' deaths and that Shelah would meet the fate of his two older brothers. He therefore gave her an excuse for not having Shelah marry her:

So Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, "Wait as a widow in your father's house until my son Shelah grows up," for he feared lest he also die as his brothers did. So Tamar went to live in her father's house. (Gen. 38:11)

So Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar…. [Tamar] is an allusion to the Shechina, who accompanies us in exile after G‑d killed all of the evil generations [among us], who are [alluded to by] Er and Onan.

Some of the Jewish people who lived before the destruction of the Temple were guilty of very heinous sins. The Sages state that the First Temple was destroyed because of the sins of idolatry, murder, and adultery, while the Second Temple was destroyed because of the sins of baseless hatred and despising Torah study. Even though G‑d exiled the Jewish people, His Divine Presence accompanies us, always available to us…

These wicked people were eliminated in the destructions. The people remaining were not guilty of these sins, and whatever sins they committed could be atoned for and rectified by the process of exile. Even though G‑d exiled the Jewish people, His Divine Presence (the Shechina) accompanies us, always available to us.

"Wait as a widow…" [This image also applies to the Shechina], as it is written, "[Oh, how the populous city now dwells alone, the greatest amongst the nations] has become like a widow." (Lamentations 1:1) [The Shechina] has to be like a widow during the exile.]

This is the opening of the Book of Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah's dirge lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the seat of the Temple, is seen as the Shechina incarnate.

Exile is compared to widowhood, since in exile the Shechina (the wife, in this allegory) must exist without her husband (G‑d). The Shechina, the sefira of malchut of Atzilut, descends into the lower worlds in order to sustain them and is prevented from rejoining with Zeir Anpin of Atzilut to renew her inspiration.

"…in your father's house…" This refers to the Holy One, blessed be He.

"…and wait until my son Shelah grows up", implying that he is still young. This means that [she should wait] until [Shelah] is filled with the letter yud, indicating the supernal light. [This state] is alluded to in the verse, "Behold, I have made you small amongst the nations; you are very despised." (Obadiah 1:2) Shelah refers to the Jewish people in exile…

Thus, Shelah refers to the Jewish people in exile. The Shechina is destined to mate when Shelah attains his mature form, Shiloh. Shelah and Shiloh are spelled exactly the same, except that Shiloh possesses an additional yud.

"Shelah" is spelled shin-lamed-hei; "Shiloh" is spelled shin-yud-lamed-hei.

Shelah remains in exile "until Shiloh will come", filled [with the yud]. This refers to the Mashiach, who [will possess the soul of] Moses.

On his deathbed, Jacob prophesied, "The scepter [of rulership] shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from amongst his descendents, until Shiloh is come, unto whom the nations shall gather." (Gen. 49:10) Shiloh, in this verse, is an appellation of the Mashiach. Thus, Shelah here is the Jewish people, whose consummate leader and representative is the Mashiach.

The Sages state that Moses is the first and last redeemer. This means that his soul will in some way be present in the Mashiach.

The reason why [G‑d] decreed that [the Shechina] should be like a widow is "because He feared lest he die as did his brothers." Therefore, she would have to remain a widow, without a husband, until the Mashiach comes, i.e. until Shelah grows up. In exile, the Jews could be rectified gradually and safely…

If the Shechina would "wed" the Jewish people - and thus not be in exile - and they would be found unworthy of this union, they would have to die as did their brethren when the Temples stood. Therefore, G‑d prefered that the Shechina remain in exile. When living in the Temple's presence, the standards of behavior are higher, i.e. sinning is more sinful, more of an affront to the open manifestation of divinity. In exile, the Jews could be rectified gradually and safely.

"…because He feared lest he die as did his brothers." This is because in every generation a spark of the Mashiach comes into the world, in accordance with G‑d's will. If the generation is worthy, [he is revealed as the Mashiach]. If not, he dies or is killed as a martyr, as happened to Rabbi Akiva in the time of Ben Koziba, and in many other cases we do not even know about.

Rabbi Akiva was killed as a martyr in the Hadrianic persecutions that came as a reaction to the revolt of Bar Kochba, whom the Sages called pejoratively "Ben Koziba", "the deceiving one".

But come he must in every generation, either to redeem Israel if they are worthy, or to purify the generation, or to teach them the Torah if the generation is ignorant.

This is why [Jacob] said, "lest he also die," referring to the one [spark of the Mashiach] that comes in every generation. "Do not marry him," he said, "until he matures. He will then come to redeem Israel by G‑d's will."

The remainder of this excerpt describes how in the case of the prophet Habakkuk, we see also that G‑d said that the time must be ripe for the Redemption to occur. The vision is still for an appointed time, and it speaks concerning the end, and does not lie…

We also see this in the case of Habakkuk, who, according to some opinions, was the spark of the Mashiach in his generation. He said, "I will stand on my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what He will say to me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved. And G‑d answered me, and said, 'Write the vision, and make it plain upon tablets, so that he who reads it may run. For the vision is still for an appointed time, and it speaks concerning the end, and does not lie; though it seems slow [in coming], wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not come late.'" (Habakkuk 2:1-3)

This seems self-contradictory. If G‑d told him "Write the vision, and make it plain upon tablets, so that he who reads it may run [through it]", meaning, so that whoever reads it will understand it immediately, it is obvious that he will write it plainly and clearly. But then, after [G‑d] tells him what to write, He says that the matter is cryptic, and that "the vision is still for an appointed time, and it speaks concerning the end, and does not lie; though it seems slow, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not come late", without saying when. This statement adds nothing to what we have been believing for all generations, i.e. that even if [the Mashiach] tarries, we still await him, for "he will surely come".

The explanation, however is as follows. It is written in the book of Daniel: "Now I have come to make you understand what shall befall your people in the latter days; for the vision is for days yet to come." (Daniel 10:14)

This verse follows the account of how Daniel witnessed frightening and incomprehensible allegories.

Thus, whenever the term "vision" is used, it refers to an allegory.

Therefore, when G‑d told Habakkuk "Write the vision", He was referring to an allegory, which is by nature a riddle.

The expression "and make it plain on tablets" simply means that [Habakkuk] should write it down [clearly], not that it should be understood, for it is so obscure that the reader will run [through it, not pondering its meaning, since its] meaning [is so obscure].


Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.

Rabbi Yitzchak Luria […Ashkenazi ben Shlomo] (5294-5332 = 1534-1572 c.e.); Yahrtzeit (anniversary of death): 5th of Av. Buried in the Old Cemetery of Tzfat. Commonly known as the Ari, an acronym standing for Eloki Rabbi Yitzchak, the G-dly Rabbi Isaac. No other master or sage ever had this extra letter Aleph, standing for Eloki [G-dly], prefaced to his name. This was a sign of what his contemporaries thought of him. Later generations, fearful that this appellation might be misunderstood, said that this Aleph stood for Ashkenazi, indicating that his family had originated in Germany, as indeed it had. But the original meaning is the correct one, and to this day among Kabbalists, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria is only referred to as Rabbenu HaAri, HaAri HaKadosh [the holy Ari] or Arizal [the Ari of blessed memory].
Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky is a scholar, writer, editor and anthologist living in Jerusalem. He is a co-founder of Ascent Institute of Safed and one of the first contributing writers for KabbalaOnline.org. He has recently produced two monumental works: "Apples from the Orchard: Arizal on the Weekly Torah" (available for purchase from KabbalaOnline here) and a Chumash translation with commentary based on the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Kehot).
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