The Maharal Gevurot Hashem

Author: Esther Ehrman, Tevet 5779/December 2018

A shiur I gave recently at one of the Etta Study groups on The Maharal, Gevurot Hashem (pp 136-143).

In his work, Gevurot HaShem, The Maharal, Yehuda Loew ben Bezalel, (1525-1609} discusses the Exodus as the formative event of the People of Israel. Having discussed the impact of Egypt on the materialistic outlook of the people of Israel, the role of Moses and the Haggada, the Maharal speaks of the crossing of the sea. He looks at the ‘Shirat haYam’, recognised as most significant, since there the people ‘believed in G-d and His servant, Moses’ (Gen.14,31). This, however, is not the Maharal’s topic here. His question is about who sings, who has priority and why.

While the Maharal writes as a philosopher, his thinking is often on Kabbalistic lines ( he is known as the creator of the Golem in Prague). In these pages, He illustrates his passionate conviction of the centrality of Israel in G-d’s world, the world of ‘the G-d of Israel’ by a very insistent defence of the merits of Israel as against the heavenly world of angels.

The Maharal focuses on the tension between angels and Israel. G-d allows Israel to sing first, because Israel is ‘my son’. Angels are G-d’s ‘servants’, they are, in tradition, jealous of man because they lack free will; they are messengers, who do G-d’s bidding . However, while they follow after Moses and the Israelite men, they are allowed precedence over the song of the women - the latter are dependent upon men. The argument moves back and forth: Angels live in the upper world, but G-d loves Israel more, writes the Maharal, quoting a passage of Gemara (Hullin 91,b) which makes this statement.

The rival merits of Israel and the angels are next discussed more specifically, for two reasons: 1.Angels sing only sporadically, once a day, once a week, a year, perhaps once ever. That is because angels each have a separate entity, they each have one mission - their mission is their ‘song’, so they sing only when they perform that mission; Israel can and do sing all the time. Next, the Maharal stresses that Israel mentions G-d after TWO words ‘shema Israel, H’ echad’, whereas the angels mention Him after THREE : ‘kadosh, kadosh, kadosh, H’ tzevaot’. This shows that Israel is closer to G-d than the angels. The latter are separate from each other and from G-d, although they inhabit the higher region of the world; the separateness is seen in the notion of Three - the three words: in the link between 1-2-3, 1 is not connected to 3. For Israel, 1 and 2 connect.

Moreover, although Israel is in the lower world, the word ‘shema’ implies receiving, Israel ‘receives’ directly from G-d. The two words represent two stages in their rising to the connection with G-d: 1, from their physical state; 2, to a spiritual state, where the receiving can take place.

The Maharal suggests a possible support for his views in the work of Rav Meir ibn Gabbai, a contemporary Kabbalist. Ibn Gabbai also speaks of the superiority of Israel over the angels, for three reasons: 1. G-d is the reason for their existence, they are not the reason for His.2. G-d gives them continuity, they do not give that to Him. 3. G-d is wholly separate from angels,angels are not separate from one another (seems to contradict earlier statement, but this is not, here, the view of the Maharal, but ibn Gabbai’s). 1 and 2 would seem to apply to Israel as well, but 3 does not, because of the direct connection of Israel, the ‘son’. Israel is unique, one; its separateness is being separate from all other nations; it is basic to G-d’s world.

Interestingly, the editor of this edition seems to distance himself from the Maharal’s ‘bias’ in favour of Israel and notes that Rav Chaim of Volozhin, on this subject, writes in a more even handed way about the merits of each side, the angels and Israel.

Maharal on the Mashiach

Author: Esther Ehrman, Tammuz 5778/July 2018

A shiur I gave recently at one of the Etta Study groups on Maharal, the Mashiach (pp.175-181).

While the Prophets give some hints about the Days of the Mashiach and the World to Come, the subject naturally generates a great deal of speculation. What will it be like? Who will be privileged to be there? What can we do to hasten the coming of that time?

Rationalists such as the RamBaM (Maimonides) as well as Kabbalists theorise on the subject. Maimonides thought that there was a clear demarcation between the days of the Messiah and the World to come and, on the whole, The Maharal, four centuries later, accepted that view.

These pages focus on the timing of the event of the coming of the Mashiach and the revolution that will come with it. In these pages, with his Kabbalistic approach, the Maharal sees clues to information hidden in the text of the Prophets and Writings (Ketuvim) as he writes about the timing of those days, the changed nature of those who will be there and the lineage of the Mashiach. In this edition (Beshvil ha Neshama, Talmidei Yeshivat Merkaz haRav), each page introduces a new idea.

First, the timing (p.175). The Mashiach will come one year after a Shemita cycle. Why? Because Shemita represents the natural world, this world; and this world is based on the number 7. One hint is that the lute, the psaltery, in the Temple had seven strings.The Maharal brings a proof verse from Psalm 16, where the word ‘SoVaH’, abundance, could be read as ‘SHeVaH’, seven. The world of the Mashiach is above the natural world (just as the Brit Mila is on the 8th day, raising the natural to the level of the Covenant with G-d. -E). In those days, the lute will have 8 strings. Again a Psalm,12,1, where the singer plays an 8 stringed instrument and it it possible to read the Psalm as referring to Future Days. Lastly, in the World to Come, the instrument will have 10 strings. Psalm 92 speaks of the 10 strings of the ‘navel’; the Psalm is the Psalm of Shabbat, so that Shabbat is here seen as representing the next world.

Most commentators, already in the days of the Talmud, looked for clues in the TeNaCH, the Bible. Kabbalistic texts often stress the significance of numbers. The Maharal sees the number 7 as signifying ‘plurality’ in the Torah; the number 8 stresses the extra one and creates, as it were, a unity between this world 7 - and HKBH -1-. The number 10 is associated with kedusha, sanctity and is therefore appropriate for the World to Come.

p.177 Before the Mashiach can come, the relevant seventh year will be a year of war, war against Israel by the nations, the pangs that precede the redemption,commentators assume. This will be followed by the redemption The Maharal sees the clue for the difference between the period when the nations of the world are sovereign and the time for the redemption in the sacrifice of the 70 bulls offered for the nations of the world during the seven days of Sukkot, followed on the day after by one single bull offered for Israel. He sees the nations of the world as sovereign in the material world, the natural world based on the number 7, the world of the seven days of Creation. To Israel, the nation above the material world, then belongs the eighth year. Mind, knowledge and wisdom, spiritual characteristics, will mark this world that is above nature. The Maharal does not comment on a seeming contradiction of the seventh year as one of war, having just said that it marked justice and completion. And did non-Jews, I wonder, read these views that speak of the privilege of the Jewish nation?

p.179 In Kabbalistic thinking, there is a treasure of souls, and a ‘guf’, their location, created in the 7 days of Creation. The Maharal seems to be basing his thoughts on this tradition and says that Mashiach can only come when these ‘neshamot’ have, as it were, had their day. Then, in the days of the Mashiach, they will be different. [it is not clear whether they will be different souls or whether they will simply have been ‘freed’ from their material ‘body-wrap.E]. ‘Guf’, the commentators explain, has different meanings in spiritual and in material contexts. Our Sages speak of the ‘guf’ of angels...which may mean a ‘lack’ of some kind. But the lack is heaven-oriented, whereas man’s lack is physical , material, earth-oriented. The importance here is that the time of the Mashiach is a new stage, without the impedimenta of the material world. The Maharal here does not speak of the World to Come, as he did earlier; which raises the question of ‘techiat ha meitim’, the resurrection of the dead which, if we follow the thoughts of the Maharal here, would be a wholly spiritual existence,rather than a physical resurrection.

p.181 Life, in the days of the Mashiach, is an entirely new experience and, as such, cannot be brought about by someone of the ‘old’ stock alone. Melech haMashiach is ‘ben David’, but also a descendant of Moav(Ruth) and Ammon (Naamah, wife of Shlomo), two nations furthest removed from Israel.The New World of the Mashiach needs the talents of the nations as well as the (holiness) talent of Israel . Just as each animal species has all animal nature plus its own talent - the gazelle is both a generic animal and a specially gifted runner - so the Mashiach will have the talents of the nations plus the kedusha of Israel (Rav Kook). And he will add the significant destiny of the individual that obtains in Israel to the the nation-destiny that all nations have. Thus a wholly new world can be brought about. Such thoughts not only show the absence of any racism in the Maharal’s philosophy. They also reflect an attitude to paradoxes that appear in the Torah, as e.g. the ashes of the parah aduma that are used to purify the impure, but make impure the person who prepares them; the incense pans of the rebellious community of Korach that are made into a cover for the altar. Sanctity, kedusha of spirituality of the days of the Mashiach is brought about with the help of the material ingredient of this world.