by R. Aharon Rubin, author of Eye to the Infinite
We say in davening every morning:
שבחי ירושלים את ד', הללי אלקיך ציון
כי חזק בריחי שעריך, ברך בניך בקרבך
השם גבולך שלום, חלב חטים ישביעך
“Laud the L-rd, O Jerusalem, praise your G-d, O Zion, For He has strengthened the bars of your gates, He has blessed your children within you, He Who has set [firm] your borders with peace, has satiated you with the fat of wheat.”
The verse-syntax contrasts the general with the particular, the peripheral with the central.
Jerusalem is to praise the L-rd, but Zion, “your G-d”. (“L-rd” is general and even impersonal; “your G-d” is immediate, immanent and individual.) Secure gates and boundaries roundabout are set against the blessing of indigenous progeny and agricultural prosperity (the fat of wheat) within.
I suggest that also hinted within these verses is the secret of Pesach compared with Shovuos.
Jerusalem comes from the words Yeru Sholaym – Complete Fear (of G-d). Yeru-sholayim was the Mountain of G-d. Our sages say that just by going up to Jerusalem (of old), sleeping the night within its walls, would render the person righteous; it automatically instilled the fear of G-d.
But fear means G-d is distant. He is “the L-rd”. The Transcendent. The Unapproachable. Thus, שבחי ירושלים את ד' - “Laud, O Jerusalem, the L-rd”.
Within that Jerusalem (not geographically), there is Zion. The word Zion means a signpost, a mark. We read in Tehillim – “For G-d chose Zion, He desired it for His abode”. (Specifically, Zion refers to the Temple, G-d’s abode on earth.) If G-d has chosen Zion, marked it off for Himself as it were, then we have a relationship.
We have a bond between the transcendent and the immanent, the eternal and the transient, the infinite and the finite, the perfect and the imperfect.
G-d is interested in me; He becomes “my G-d”.
הללי אלקיך ציון - “Praise your G-d, O Zion”.
In the Exodus, for a relatively short period of time, the ‘G-d of Creation’ revealed Himself. It was curtains up with the G-d of Genesis at centre-stage. There was no mistaking Who was Boss.
But with the forced realisation of the ultimate reality and truth (if one is not ready for it) comes a paralysing fear, and the quelling of personality. Where G-d takes centre-stage, there is no room for anything else. It is the fear of Yerusholayim and the secret of Matsah. It is the reality of עד שנגלה עליהם מלך מלכי המלכים וגאלם – “till the King, King of kings, revealed Himself over them and redeemed them”. (עד שנגלה עליהם מלך מלכי המלכים – with the letters - is gematriah אני יוצא בתוך מצרים)
There is no space for ‘human pride’. No false air.
(It brings to mind the Midrash of how G-d disposed of the angels who disagreed with His creating the world: “He placed His finger amongst them and burnt them”. Where G-d reveals His Light, like a large torch next to little flames, all else is extinguished.)
It is שבחי ירושלים את ד' - “Laud, O Jerusalem, the L-rd”. First Yeru-sholayim – the fear, then “the L-rd” – apart from me.
But with no room for mental manoeuvring, man is little more than a robot or animal. Which is why we bring barley for the Omer offering on the second day of Pesach. Barley is basically animal food – as opposed to wheat. (The ability to speak to and praise G-d, the gift given at the time of Exodus, is hinted at in the Matsah we eat and the Mitsvoh of Haggadah – the Arizal says the word Pesach comes from Peh Sach – “a speaking mouth”. But the basic innate state of Israel at that time was that of barley.) Though on Pesach the Jewish nation was born, it still had a long way to go to mature as G-d’s Chosen People. But with Bris Miloh, the Paschal Offering and the Exodus from Egypt, the foundations were set. This is also the secret of barley.
(ח"ג הפס"ח, ד"ם פס"ח, ד"ם מיל"ה גימ' שעור"ה עה"כ.)
Besides animal fodder, barley denotes the initial mindset, referred to kabbalistically as katnus d’moichin – translated by R. Aryeh Kaplan z”l as “constricted consciousness” but perhaps equally referring to the initial subconscious programming essential for (later) intelligent functioning.
The Arizal notes that barley - שערה - has the same root letters as שער – a gate. (Bris Miloh, the Paschal Offering and the Exodus from Egypt are all described by the Zohar as “gates” to holiness and attaching to the Shechinoh.) And שער is the numerical value of כף מם, נן,פף, צץ – the end letters commonly known as אותיות מנצפ"ך. In other words, the secret of barley is the primary frame of mind; it is there to set boundaries within one’s thinking, to train the mind; it constitutes the gates and boundaries of the inner mind.
The Midrash tells a moshol: A man discovered an orchard and vineyard, its trees and vines trailing in the ground and worms and vermin covering the decaying fruit. He staked up the trees and vines and trained the branches against the supports. The result: healthier trees, improved growth, and an abundance of luscious fruit.
So, says the Midrash, was Israel at the time of the Exodus. Unformed and raw, a nascent nation, G-d’s revelation as Creator and Controller of the natural world had the effect of staking up the trailing vines – making a nation out of an enslaved people, lifting up the heads of a broken populace.
This is כי חזק בריחי שעריך – “For He has strengthened the bars of your gates”. (Note the word שעריך – “gates” – a hint to the barley offering שערה, as explained above. Besides the letters שע"ר, the entire phrase is gematriah 3 times מצה – another hint to Pesach, and its first and last letters are gematriah עמר בפסח – the Omer on Pesach.)
It is השם גבולך שלום – “He Who has set [firm] your borders with peace”, the setting up of safe peripheral gateways and borders. (Note that גבולך is gematriah ה' נ"ו – i.e. 5 times 56, which equals 280, the gematriah of מנצפ"ך. Also, שלו"ם is gematriahעומ"ר שעורי"ם – if the final מ"ם of שלו"ם is taken as 600.)
But after the last plague, the smiting of the Egyptian firstborn, and with the Israelites let out of Egypt, G-d in his role as revealed Creator of the world, as it were took a step backwards. Thus we find Parshas B’shalach opening with the words, “When Pharaoh sent out the people from Egypt, etc”. One verse earlier, it was “G-d took you out of Egypt”. Now it was Pharaoh that sent us out.
Exit G-d of creation. Enter G-d of revelation.
The G-d of genesis had, as it were, removed His finger from the pie. It was the start of an altogether different relationship. G-d went before us in a pillar of cloud and fire. He led us like a father leads his son. The revelation of the splitting of the Reed Sea was unlike that of the ten plagues. It was “This is my G-d … the G-d of my fathers”.
After Pesach, we start eating chomets again. It commemorates the time when the people were given a chance to prove themselves, the freedom to think for themselves and develop intellectually. It culminated in the acceptance of the Torah on Shovuos. What was שבחי ירושלים את ד' - “Laud, O Jerusalem, the L-rd”, became הללי אלקיך ציון – “praise your G-d, O Zion”.
The Parsha of Bereishis starts with 42 letters which Rashi in Sukkah tells us hold the secret of the 42-letter Name of G-d. Not surprisingly, it is the Name associated with the creation of the world. (Interestingly, מ"ב – the Hebrew letters for the number 42, stands for מעשה בראשית – creation ex nihilo.) The Ritvo, in his explanation on the Hagaddah, brings a Midrash that this Name was inscribed on Moses’ staff, with which he acted as G-d’s emissary to bring the plagues. In other words, the first 42 letters of Bereishis, the power of Genesis, were used in Egypt.
After these 42 letters, there are then 49 letters till the words יהי אור – “Let there be light”. I suggest these 49 letters hint at the 49 days of the Omer, through חשך על פני תהום – “darkness on the face of the depths”, as the Jewish People mature, emerge and develop, till the Revelation on Sinai, “Let there be light” – the revelation of the inner light of creation, the חלב חטים ישביעך – “He has satiated you with the fat of wheat”.
חט"ה – “wheat” is gematriah 22, the 22 letters of the aleph-beis. It denotes the inner light, that which is transmitted from higher than this created world, higher than the 42-letter Name. On Shovuos we bring the double loaves of wheat, double, because man’s intelligence met, as it were, with G-d’s, double, as in 2-2.
Look at the words: בר"ך בני"ך בקרב"ך (-“He has blessed your children within you”). Which letters are repeated? The letters ב"ך – gematriah of חט"ה – 22. This is the hidden light of the Torah. (3 x 22 = 66. + ציון (156) = 232 = יהי אור) The entire phrase is gematriah 628 = אורייתא or טו"ב תור"ה – (אין טוב אלא תורה).
The 3 times 22 perhaps also allude to the marriage of 22 from above (G-d’s) and 22 from below (our reaching up), resulting in a new 22, the bond where G-d and His People meet. And the total of 66, the letters ס"ו, depict the inner light - ו - infusing the peripheral ס, the primary gates and borders of the barley offering.
May we merit a Simchas Yom Tov and a Geulah Sheleimoh.