Posts Tagged ‘Vilna Gaon’

Times of Israel Blog – Rachel Frankel – An Icon Was Born With Link

October 24, 2014

Offhand we can count numerous iconic figures that maintained world influence. In the presidential arena, this country was enamored with President Kennedy; in mathematics, Einstein captured the world’s imagination; in the arts, names like Rembrandt and Picasso come to mind and in the Jewish arena, legends such as the Rambam, Ramban, Vilna Gaon and Rabbi Chaim Soleveitchik stand out. All of these figures touched the world stage with their charisma, intelligence, creativity and self-expression.

To meet another iconic figure, one need only hear certain quotes,” G-d is not our servant,” Even if they don’t come home, we must be strong,” “We just want our boys home.” Of course these are the words of Rachel Frankel after the three boys were kidnapped. She had natural charisma, superior speaking abilities, creative expression and strength of character. Amazingly, she was able to say that even if the boys don’t come home we must be strong.

Considering her brilliance, I worried the press would only focus on Ms. Frankel and not the situation at hand. But Ms. Frankel took care of that as well.

She brought her plight to the most hallowed chamber; the United States Senate. After I saw Senator Cruz speak on the Senate Floor, I truly understood Ms. Frankel’s genius. Senator Cruz quoted her exact words, that “We just want our boy’s home.” Ms. Frankel gave a mantra and a mouthpiece to the free speaking world in how to frame the issue. She chose words of simplicity that could easily be quoted, words with a simple and powerful message. The other two quotes, articulating the necessity for strength if the boys don’t come home and that G-d’s not our servant defy human reach, contributing to her iconic status.

History only makes room for a few icons to set their imprint on the world at large, such as President’s, Prime Ministers, Great Intellects, Philosophers and Artists. However, there are people who reach iconic status born out of wanted or unwanted circumstances, in this case being the latter. The common man may have within him iconic abilities but we may never see them or need to see them in our lifetime. But such is not the case with Rachel Frankel. She rose to iconic status and will be part of a select few women in history that influenced the world. I am confident that Ms. Frankel will either be a future Prime Minister of Israel or a high ranking official.


Published Op-Ed Article in the Jewish Press With Link

October 7, 2014

Fear and Beauty

The conflict between fear and beauty is an underpinning of our faith.

The question is: Is fear greater than beauty or vice versa, or are they equal? Furthermore, what happens when the worlds of fear and beauty collide?

The Vilna Gaon has an astonishing chiddush relating to ShlomoHaMelech’s words that we recite every Friday night in Eishet Chayil:sheker hachen vehaevl hayofi esha yirat hashem he tethallel – charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30).

The Vilna Gaon says when cloaked with fear it’s the “beauty” that should be emphasized. I believe the Vilna Gaon is touching on the split that exists in the universe.

Basically, there’s the spiritual realm, where fear is a fit, and the physical world, where beauty stands out.

According to the Vilna Gaon they are two opposites of the same coin. Beauty alone has no purpose. Fear alone is substantial, but without fusing it with beauty, the fear doesn’t reach its highest potential.

In a physical world, beauty has a central place and must be acknowledged. Man can partake of this beautiful world and make himself feel beautiful in whatever way that manifests itself, and if one does that in conjunction with being fearful of God, the beauty is praiseworthy.

It may be argued that Shlomo HaMelech is not expressing the thought elucidated by the Vilna Gaon, for Shlomo himself downplays beauty based on his conclusion to Ecclesiastes (12:13): “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”

Shlomo HaMelech, who lived a life of splendor and abundance, split beauty and fear into two separate components rather than fuse them together with the singular intent of de-emphasizing beauty. (And since Ecclesiastes was likely his last book written, it can be said that it was his final word on the matter.)

A third scenario is when fear and beauty collide in real time. This is found in the famous Mishnah of Pirkei Avot (3:9) where we read, “Rabbi Yaakov said: One who is walking along the road and is studying [Torah], and then interrupts his studies and says, ‘How beautiful is this tree. How beautiful is this plowed field,’ the Scripture considers it as if he bears the guilt for his own soul.”

Why such a harsh punishment?

Based on the aforementioned thoughts, it may be argued that neither according to the Vilna Gaon, who believes beauty and fear can co-exist harmoniously, nor according to the second interpretation of Shlomo HaMelech’s words, that fear supersedes beauty, can there be any allowance for an act of fear (studying Torah) to be contemporaneously disrupted by an utterance of beauty (“How beautiful is this tree”).

Though fear and beauty can complement or supplant each other, fear cannot be simultaneously interrupted by beauty. (On a side note, it may be argued that another explanation of the harsh punishment for interrupting Torah learning to praise a tree is that it was a tree, after all, that was used by the Malach HaMavet to halt Dovid HaMelech’s learning, which caused his death.)

Along the same lines, someone once revealed a fascinating insight to me. One would think that one’s pull to the negative side of beauty – that is, beauty for its own sake – would begin with the physical instruments of the body, namely the eyes. As we know, the eyes covet and the body trails.

Interestingly, the Torah doesn’t present it like this. In Shema it says (Numbers 15:39), “Do not stray after your hearts and after your eyes that you may fulfill all of my commandments.” The Torah first recommends not to go after the heart and only then the eyes. Logically, it can be argued the verse should have said not to follow the eyes and then followed up with the heart; after all, it’s the eyes that cause the action.

But something comes before the eyes to determine one’s behavior, and that’s the heart. There is a control mechanism that precedes the superficial action of mere looking. Indeed, while lust is caused by the eyes, the heart has the first say in how to proceed.

Fear and beauty are two realms that split this world. Rosh Hashanah is a combination of both these ideals – a time of splendor through Malchut but also a time of judgment. Fusing the two together is our spiritual challenge.