Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight


Window into the Charedi World | Mordecai Plaut, director







Opinion & Comment
A Pearl In the Sand
by HaRav Y. D. Rosenberg

At the beginning of this week's parsha Rashi (Bereishis 37:1) explains the end of last week's parsha and its connection to Vayeishev: "After [the Torah] succinctly recorded Esav's dwellings and offspring, since they are not valued or significant [enough to justify] enumerating [the details of] where they lived, the wars they waged, and how they drove out the Horite, the Torah indicates at length Yaakov's dwellings and offspring and all the causes of what happened to them, since Hashem found it important to write at length about them. Likewise you find that in the ten generations from Odom until Noach [the Torah writes] `So-and-so gave birth to So-and-so' [and no more than that,] but when [the Torah] reached Noach it wrote at length about him. Moreover, in the ten generations from Noach until Avrohom [the Torah] wrote briefly about them, but when it reached Avrohom it wrote at length about him. A parable to this is of a pearl that fell into the sand. A person gropes in the sand and sifts it until he finds the pearl. After he finds it he throws away the detritus and takes the pearl."

This moshol clearly illustrates the relationship between Noach and Avrohom and all others who lived during those generations. Chazal intended to show us the correlation between the valuable and essential and the secondary and insignificant as far as spiritual values are concerned. This should stir us to set out to make our own comprehensive examination of the relative importance of all that matters that is in the tremendous world HaKodosh Boruch Hu has created.

According to the Rambam (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 2:2), contemplating Hashem's astounding Creation stimulates within us ahavas Hashem: ". . . And what is the way to [be able to truly] love and fear Him? When a person reflects about Hashem's colossal and miraculous deeds and creations, and sees His endless wisdom that cannot be measured, he immediately loves, praises, and exalts Him, and craves to know the all-powerful Hashem."

What the Rambam writes in Hilchos Teshuvah (10:6) complements this by showing us the vital need to reflect about this: "HaKodosh Boruch Hu loves only someone who knows Him by using his intellect. According to his intellectual grasp will be his love [for Hashem]: if it is shallow, so will [his love] be superficial, and if it is profound, so will [his love] be deep-seated."

The contemplation of Hashem's existence actually exceeds the bounds of man's intellectual and imaginary capability. The most astute person can only perceive a faint image of the eternal. Distances in the fearful cosmos are measured in light-years (a unit of length in interstellar astronomy equal to the distance that light travels in one year in a vacuum -- about 5,878,000,000,000 miles). Not only are we unable to perceive the distance of even one light-year, but also one light-hour, minute, second, or even part of a second, is beyond our power. This is obvious to any thoughtful person.

We are simply astounded by the fact that there are stars thousands and tens of thousands of light-years distant from earth. According to most opinions to this day, and according to all the evidence that there is so far, they are all stars without any planets where life might exist. Only on our own Earth, considered a tiny planet in comparison to planets that are tens and even hundreds its size, is there life. Why did Hashem decide to create such a tremendous Creation, and seemingly all of it just for the sake of our planet and those who live on it? The Earth does not make up even one-billionth of the whole colossal universe. What was the purpose behind this huge creation?

Dovid Hamelech asked this fundamental question: "When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars which You have established -- what is man, that You remember him, the child of mortal man that You are mindful of him?" (Tehillim 8:5-6). And what is Dovid Hamelech's answer? "Hashem, our Master, how mighty is Your name over all the earth" (ibid., 10).

This can be explained according to what the mussar masters have taught us: that the whole Creation was made so that one Jew could raise his hand to Heaven and praise HaKodosh Boruch Hu, so that someone could realize Hashem's presence through contemplation of the entire Creation: "Hashem, our Master, how mighty is Your name over all the earth."

Now let us ponder this deeper: There is immeasurable space in the universe. We are incapable of measuring it even with the most sophisticated instruments, these are distances beyond the capability of mortals to even dream of grasping, and all this was created for one single reason -- "How mighty is Your name over all the earth."

After this introduction let us concentrate on discussing the earth on which we exist. The phenomenon we have been speaking of repeats itself throughout the universe and on the earth too: more than two-thirds of the earth is covered with water! Most of the world is vast deserts, steep hills, and wild jungles that are unsuitable to live in. We are left simply overwhelmed over this universal occurrence: what is vital for man's existence is of negligible quantity in proportion to what is secondary.

Before we arrive at any conclusions, one more short observation should be made. It is indeed short, but only in length, not in worth. It is an observation that obligates us to think about our objective in life.

HaRav Yechiel Michel Tukatchinsky zt'l (in his Gesher HaChaim) makes an instructive comment (when I say that it is instructive I mean that it instructs us to learn the ways of righteousness proper for man; a comment that enlightens and inspires us). He writes that every year a person eats some thousand kilograms (twenty-two hundred pounds) of food. If he lives a hundred years, then we arrive at a hundred thousand kilograms of food (two hundred twenty thousand pounds) -- a hundred tons of food!

Now, if we were to separate out the various minerals from a person's corpse and try to sell them, we would receive just a few dollars in exchange. A person eats a hundred tons of food during his life in order to sustain a body that weighs on an average between seventy and eighty kilograms (150 to 200 pounds) -- a body which in life is worth only a few dollars and which ultimately turns to earth.

Our spiritual mentors have taught us that what we must learn by contemplating the above is to think about the indisputable fact that what is beneficial and vital for us in the world is a tiny minority of the total. The whole vast universe, that cannot even be measured, exists only to sustain man, who is nothing in comparison to it.

This principle is truer still in spiritual matters. "There were ten generations from Odom to Noach -- to show the degree of His patience, for all those generations angered Him increasingly until He brought upon them the waters of the Flood. There were ten generations from Noach to Avrohom -- to show the degree of His patience, for all those generations angered Him increasingly until our forefather Avrohom came and received the reward of them all" (Ovos 5:1- 2).

The world waited twenty generations until the rock of the world, Avrohom Ovinu, appeared. But the world was not merely waiting; all that time there was a worldwide rebellion against Hashem, that "angered Him increasingly." This was, however, all worthwhile as long as Avrohom Ovinu, the unique individual from among millions, was finally born.

The Meshech Chochmah, on the posuk, "And I will take you to Me for a people" (Shemos 6:7), cites the gemora (Sanhedrin 111a): "Their departure from Mitzrayim is compared to their coming to Eretz Yisroel. Just as their coming to Eretz Yisroel involved only two people out of six hundred thousand (namely Coleiv and Yehoshua), so also their departure from Mitzrayim involved only two from among six hundred thousand!"

What message is hidden in this gemora? The Meshech Chochmah says that we are being taught that all of the miracles, makkos, and krias Yam Suf that happened to bnei Yisroel when we left Egypt were all for the sake of two people out of six hundred thousand who would reach the Divine objective. Hundreds of thousands who did not succeed would perish for the benefit of a mere few, but these were exceptional individuals who believed in His Divine Providence.

"Rovo goes on to say," explains the Meshech Chochmah, "that it will be likewise at the advent of the Moshiach. The same proportion of the worthy and the unworthy will exist at that time: only a sparse few individuals will be worthy to live during the sublime event of Moshiach's coming, while all others will die.

"Someone who believes in Hashem should not feel powerless after realizing that only a few special individuals are fitting and privileged to fulfill the Divine objective. A spark of fire carried along a storm wind can light up a whole world. Likewise when Divine Providence clings to exceptional individuals they will spread a spirit of justice that will enlighten the world with a Divine flame."

Let us return to the moshol of the pearl buried in the sand that Rashi cited. What comparison is there, as far as worth is concerned, between sand and a single pearl? Sand is totally worthless. People trample on it and it has no objective to accomplish in and of itself. It is used for men's needs in building and the like.

On the other hand, the pearl is valuable per se and people all over the world search after it. Those who already have a costly pearl guard it carefully. Pearls are placed in the crowns of kings, adorn the fingers of nobles, and are safely stored away in the safes of the world's richest people.

The mussar that we should extract from this is that the ten generations from Odom to Noach, and the other ten from Noach to Avrohom, are compared to mere sand. This should totally shake any intelligent person. Twenty generations are considered worthless like sand!

So it is with individual men's lives. There are necessary and vital matters that are like jewels, while there are some matters that are worthless like sand. Every astute person should look at what he does during his life: Torah study, tefilla, performing mitzvos, eating, drinking, talking, recreation, and other activities. He should designate the relative importance of each activity in his life. This is man's constant duty: to weigh on a just scale all of his deeds and behavior.

There is an additional angle to be considered. R' Yisroel of Salant zt'l once remarked that all the high-echelon discussions in London and Paris about seemingly worldly matters center around those who toil over their Torah studies throughout the world. Many of the conferences, and the world- shattering matters being considered by those who are holding the steering wheel of international politics, are in the end relevant in one way or another to the Torah World. The fate of millions and hundreds of millions of people will be determined according to the needs of those who meditate over His Torah!

Although there might be other points to consider about the above, "Give instruction to a wise man and he will be yet wiser" (Mishlei 9:9). Let us analyze another point, one that is a natural outcome of the above.

Carbon is crystallized into diamonds in the depths of the earth, due to the tremendous heat existing there. The crude material is hardened by the many pressures and volcanic activities.

After being mined, cleaned, cut, and polished, diamonds are set in the crowns of kings and the rings of nobles. This is equally so in the formation of refined and eternal wisdom. The foundations lie in the refinement and nobility of man's nefesh. They are molded in the depth of a person's sublime feelings, created in a hidden and majestic world, and afterwards brought up and polished until they correspond to our world of concepts. We too must adjust ourselves to the world from which these concepts came in order to position them correctly in our world of concepts, so they can embellish and cultivate our philosophies of life.

However, the way such wisdom is formed is concealed from most people. The secret lies in the fact that when one properly controls his material side in the depths of his emotional makeup, this fact radiates outward to his power of analysis. Refinement of one's desires bridges between true concepts and reality. It binds together his practical, moral obligation and his intellectual grasp. Furthermore his intellectual perception stems from the refinement of his feelings.

Just as diamonds are formed through immense pressure and heat, refined feelings too, like diamonds, are formed through deep pressure, created by one's bridging the positive and the negative, and by the triumph of good over evil. This matter involves "immense effort and a mighty number of days," according to the pure language of Maran the Chazon Ish in one of his letters.

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.