We are in the midst of examining the criteria by which the new mikveh project in RBS-A should be judged: the time-honored test of tov (if it is inherently good, proper, appropriate); moh’il (if it accomplishes the goals it set out to accomplish, and the degree to which those goals are necessary, compelling, and pressing); and if it is areiv (if it is enjoyable and pleasurable, or gratifying).
We are in the midst of examining the hashkafic appropriateness of building something which, admittedly, is ambitious and perhaps (or so the questioner wonders) a bit grandiose. A very good question, worthy of a straightforward answer. I will leave for next week, im yirtzeh Hashem, some stark, boring figures which point out the utter essential nature of this project; the reality of how correct it is to do it in the planned way for our community; and the benefits which will emanate from just such a hiddur mitzvah on a real, practical level.
But please bear with me just one more week as I examine the conceptual underpinnings of such an approach, which shows that we have no need to feel apologetic or defensive, but that on the contrary, it is totally and wholly suitable and correct.
We left you last week with a cliff-hanger. Hopefully, you were properly mystified at the seeming contradiction in lifestyle when it came to life in the Beis Hamikdash: on the one hand, a rule which states that “ein aniyus b’makom ashirus,” we are not to pinch pennies or cut corners to save a bit of money in the expenditures there, for the Beis Hamikdash is to be a place of grandeur, beauty, glory and expansiveness; and on the other hand the operative behavior is many times to be one of thrift and frugality — HaTorah chasah al mamonom shel Yisroel — the Torah (Hashem) sympathizes with the expenditures of Klal Yisroel.
The mefarshim have two approaches to explain this enigma. The Tiferes Yisroel, one of the classic commentators on the Mishna, claims that it really follows no discernable pattern. Chazal, or the Torah leaders of the generation, ruled which behavior pattern was most fitting for any particular circumstance on a case-by-case basis, with no specific, overall, overreaching general principle governing the seeming randomness of the different practices.
However, others say, based on a Tosafos in Gemara Shavuos, that there is indeed a fundamental formula at play here: the former rule, the expansive one, is only said with items or with actions which are kadosh with the highest level of kedushah (holiness), termed kedushas haguf (inherent essential holiness which now permeates the object, e.g., an animal sanctified to be a korban, a knife designated to be a vessel to be used in the slaughter of the korban, or any such other example). And the more restrictive rule governs when the item is not at that highest rung (although it might have a lower-lever kedushah — in fact, to a degree, anything and everything connecting with Hakadosh Baruch Hu is holy! — but we are talking now about the highest rungs, things used in the Beis Hamikdash itself, in a service directly and intensely connecting to the service of Hashem; this actually has a legal, halachic name: as stated, kedushas haguf).
This explanation, stated by the Noda B’Yehuda, does not give a rationale, an explanation for why it should be so. The solution works — but why?
The Mesilas Yesharim, a most famous mussar work by Ramchal, when describing the rungs of self-transformation a person should undergo in his or her lifelong search for connection to the Ribbono Shel Olam, has one level which he calls tahara, and another which he calls kedushah. These words are many times used interchangeably, but as we see in the Mesilas Yesharim, that is inaccurate, and they represent two completely different concepts. (As we see, Mesilas Yesharim places tahara just about towards the middle of his “ladder”; while kedusha is at the very end, the highest grade one can attain.) Tahara is the complete cessation of its opposite, tumah, and represents a purity, an untaintedness, an immaculateness of spirit, of lev, heart, soul, motive, free from any personal agenda. When our deeds are tahor, when we are tahor, we perform our mitzvos l’shem shamayim, with an unsullied motivation or agenda. This manifests itself when we are already doing mitzvos; but how much and to what extent do we mean to serve Hashem, and how much is tainted by other considerations of self and ego and ultimately self-serving perspective? (At its highest level, one would not be serving Hashem for the sake of attaining his or her olam haba, although olam haba is certainly the eventual reward awaiting us; and, truth be told, I think I would be more than thrilled to do everything right, awaiting and anticipating olam haba!)And certainly it finds its place when I perform my physical, corporeal needs, such as eating, drinking, the bodily necessities that we must meet. When we attain tahara, we perform all those actions with the goal of thereby being able to serve Hashem properly — a tired, hungry person, a person whose physical needs which Hashem decreed go unfulfilled will not be able to function in this world even as an eved Hashem. But tahara demands and expects that we do these actions — or at least strive towards doing these actions — for the purpose of being able to serve Hashem, or because we understand it to be Hashem’s will — not for personal pleasure or self-centered gratification — even as we eat, sleep, and seem to be going about our business.
No doubt the reader thinks I have strayed from my original topic, last spotted about three or four twists and turns ago. I assure you that I have not. In the larger picture, even beyond this particular project that I am presenting and explaining, the ideas and concepts are fundamental and essential to how we live our lives as Jews. And so I ask your forbearance as I struggle with the lack of space, while doing justice to the topic, which is deep and broad. So I must stop now and implore you to be with me, im yirtzeh Hashem, next week when we (try to) conclude this series of articles, to have you fully understand why Still Waters (i.e., a mikveh) Run Deep (there is much more than meets the eye!).
To be continued…