Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Holy Money, Holy Language and Holy Spirit- Shekel Hakodesh, Lashon Hakodesh and Ruach Hakodesh.

The past Shabbat we read the following:

יג זֶה יִתְּנוּ, כָּל-הָעֹבֵר עַל-הַפְּקֻדִים--מַחֲצִית הַשֶּׁקֶל, בְּשֶׁקֶל הַקֹּדֶשׁ: עֶשְׂרִים גֵּרָה, הַשֶּׁקֶל--מַחֲצִית הַשֶּׁקֶל, תְּרוּמָה לַיהוָה.
13 This they shall give, every one that passes among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary--the shekel is twenty gerahs--half a shekel for an offering to the LORD.

The translator here correctly translates Shekel Hakodesh, Shekel of the Sanctuary rather than holy shekel. Ramban explains that Shekel Hakodesh refers to a special coin that was used in all kinds of transactions that dealt with Mitzvot related to the Beit Hamikdash. Ramban points out that similarly Lashon Hakodesh – Hebrew – should also be translated as the language used for holy matters. It is the language in which the Torah was given to us by God; it is also used for the names of HKBH and the angels.

However Rambam in MN 3:8 has what seems to be a different take. He explains that Hebrew is called the Holy Language because it does not have specific words for obscene matters. Anything that has to do with sexual matters is referred to with equivocal words, words that are used for other things generally and based on the context we infer that it talks about sexual matters.

“I have also a reason and cause for our language being called the holy language [lashon Hakodesh[1]]--do not think it is exaggeration or error on our part, it is perfectly correct--the Hebrew language has no special name for the organ of generation in females or in males, nor for the act of generation itself, nor for semen, nor for secretion. The Hebrew has no original expressions for these things, and only describes them in figurative language and by way of hints, as if to indicate thereby that these things should not be mentioned, and should therefore have no names; we ought to be silent about them, and when we are compelled to mention them, we must manage to employ for that purpose some suitable expressions, although these are generally used in a different sense. Thus the organ of generation in males is called in Hebrew gid, which is a figurative term, reminding of the words, "And thy neck is an iron sinew" (gid) (Isa. xlviii. 4). It is also called shupka, "pouring out" (Deut. xxiii. 2), on account of its function.”

Ramban quotes this Rambam and disagrees with him based on a technical point. He interprets two of the proof texts used as sexually explicit whereas Rambam read them as non-explicit. He does not question the obvious issue if there is intrinsic holiness in Hebrew should it not be called Lashon Kadosh rather than Lashon Hakodesh? Apparently Ramban understood Rambam as saying that because Hebrew is used for the purpose of teaching Torah and in the performance of Mitzvot such as Berachot, Shema etc… (I left out the Names of Hashem which Ramban adds but I believe Rambam would disagree – a matter to be discussed elsewhere), it does not contain words that explicitly describe the most physical of all activities – sex. The difference between Rambam and Ramban however is whether there is intrinsic holiness in a language. Ramban sees it as intrinsically holy because it is the language that God spoke in it to us. Although it may contain sexually explicit words it remains intrinsically holy, or as he puts it “Kodesh Kadashim” because of who used it[2]. Rambam holds that the people who speak it have chosen not to include sexually explicit language because its ultimate purpose is to communicate with each other loftier matters. It is specifically designed for the purpose of “Holy” matters.

Continuing in the same vein, Ruach Hakodesh should not be translated Holy Spirit but the spirit used for holy matters. The opposite is Ruach Hatume’ah which also would translate as spirit used for unclean matters as opposed to the one used for Holy matters. There is neither intrinsic Kedusha nor intrinsic Tume’ah according to Rambam. It is what we make of it. Just as Hebrew is designed to be used for Holy matters so too thoughts that result in the contemplation of physical and metaphysical concepts for the purpose of finding God are designated as Ruach Hakodesh.

There is an alternate way of understanding Ruach Hakodesh, as the thoughts that emanate from a Holy place, from the Beit Hamikdash. When Jews came to the Beit Hamikdash they focused their thoughts on contemplating God and His creations. Because the Beit Hamikdash was the catalyst for these thoughts, the central part of the Beit Hamikdash being the Kodesh, the Holy of Holies, they are referred to as emanating from the Kodesh.

Which brings us to what exactly does Kedusha and Tume’ah mean? Rambam at the end of Hilchot Mikva’ot discusses it as follows:

[יב] דבר ברור וגלוי שהטומאות והטהרות גזירת הכתוב הן, ואינן מדברים שדעתו של אדם מכרעת אותן, והרי הן מכלל החוקים; וכן הטבילה מן הטומאות, מכלל החוקים היא: שאין הטומאה טיט או צואה שתעבור במים, אלא גזירת הכתוב היא, והדבר תלוי בכוונת הלב; ולפיכך אמרו חכמים טבל ולא הוחזק, כאילו לא טבל. ואף על פי כן, רמז יש בדבר: כשם שהמכוון ליבו ליטהר--כיון שטבל--טהר, ואף על פי שלא נתחדש בגופו דבר; כך המכוון ליבו לטהר נפשו מטומאת הנפשות, שהן מחשבות האוון ודעות הרעות--כיון שהסכים בליבו לפרוש מאותן העצות, והביא נפשו במי הדעות--טהר. הרי הוא אומר "וזרקתי עליכם מים טהורים, וטהרתם: מכול טומאותיכם ומכל גילוליכם, אטהר אתכם" (יחזקאל לו,כה).

(Partial paraphrase)
It is clear that that Tume’ah and Taharah are regulated by the Torah and a person’s mind cannot define them; they therefore belong to the category of Chukim… For Tume’ah is not like dirt or feces that can be washed away by water; it is a biblical regulation [that mikvah cleanses] and it is dependent on the persons thoughts… so too someone who focuses his mind to cleanse his soul from the unclean which are evil thoughts and incorrect concepts. Once one has made up one’s mind to leave those bad ideas and teach oneself proper concepts – one immediately becomes clean – Tahor…


[1] This is written in Hebrew in the Arabic text. It is thus not a translation.
[2] Ramban sees it as intrinsically holy but it is not reflected in its appellation. Lashon Hakodesh is what it is called because of its uses.

8 comments:

  1. >However Rambam in MN 3:8 has what seems to be a different take. He explains that Hebrew is called the Holy Language because it does not have specific words for obscene matters. Anything that has to do with sexual matters is referred to with equivocal words, words that are used for other things generally and based on the context we infer that it talks about sexual matters


    However,you do find in tanach words which were obviously obscene,otherwise you woudn't need a 'keri' to substitute different words for them.
    E.g.:
    1.ישעיע יג 16
    ונשיהם תשכבנה (כתיב-תשגלנה(

    2. זכריה 14 2
    והנשים תשכבנה (כתיב-תשגלנה

    3. ירמיה ג 2
    לא שכבת )כתיב-שגלת

    4. ישעיה לו 12
    לאכל את חראיהם ולשתות את שיניהם
    כתיב-צואתם,מימי רגליהם

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  2. Rambam addresses exactly those words and calls them "Kinuyim", Shegal is the status of a woman as a concubine and does not refer to the sex act per se proof is Vhashegal leyemino i think in Daniel. The same with Choreihem. Ramban does not agree and says it is the other way around.

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  3. It doesn't answer why the words were changed when pronounced.
    It's not an ordinary keri of male-chaser.

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  4. ואל יטעה אותך יִשגל ותחשוב אותו לשם המעשה. אין זה כך, כי שֵגָל הוא שם השפחה המוכנה לבעילה בלבד: נִצבה שֵגָל לימינך (תהלים מ"ה, 10), ודברו יִשְגָּלֶנָּה לפי הכתיב (דברים כ"ח, 30) פירושו: ייקח אותה לשפחה לעניין זה.

    Here is rambam. Youa re assuming that Keri and Ketiv are because of the nivul peh but it could be a variant that ezra found as per Radak. Ramban on Ki Tissa disagrees. As usual when there is an argument between these two giants there are no clear and easy conclusion of who is right. Both have pluses and minuses.

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  5. what's wrong with sex?

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  6. >what's wrong with sex?

    Too much of a good thing!

    Seriously, for someone to be able to dedicate himself to a life of contemplation, learning and the search for truth, one cannot be a hedonist. Everything has to be done in a balanced fashion. Your namesake was quite an ascetic!

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  7. nobody is talking about hedonism, just mentioning the word sex. Certainly for reproducing it is a holy act.

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  8. Wondering why it's not possible to comment on "unbridled speculation", kabbalah, and astrology or talismans being "idols" because they are lies or deceptions. Obviously David Guttman has no real knowledge of either talismans or astrology to make that statement. The RaMChaL addresses the issue of how the stars, zodiacal signs and the planetary forces are used by Hashem for His purposes in administrating the physical world. Even the Vilna Gaon realized how great the RaMChaL, a kabbalist of reknown, was, and remarked that he, the RaMChaL, had the most perfect knowledge of TORAH that any human could attain to.

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