These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Yevgenia Baron Probst

Posted on April 28, 2013 by David Bogomolny

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YI shared the following words at Pardes, wishing my friend Yevgenia and her family chizuk (encouragement, support) and Hashem’s rachamim (mercy).

She was born with a congenital heart defect, which has always impacted the quality of her life. Last Sunday, a week ago, I was not entirely surprised to learn that she had been hospitalized.

Yevgenia inspires me to believe that we can all achieve more than we may believe possible if only we push ourselves to succeed and live our lives to the fullest. She has certainly done so herself.

Traditional Jews use the term hashkafa to refer to their religious worldviews, and many are  particularly committed to their own. The root of this word in Hebrew is ‘ש-ק-פ’, which means ‘to reflect’, as every hashkafa is essentially a reflection of Torah tradition – a lens through which we interpret our daily existence. Our hashkafot (pl.) guide us in making mundane decisions, as well as in forming our loftier ‘big picture’ understandings of life, the universe, and everything.

Not so long ago, a fellow guest at a friend’s Shabbat table voiced the idea that the Jews of Israel have a responsibility to begin building the Third Temple in Jerusalem today. I balked at this, immediately cringing at the idea of instigating a conflict with the Islamic Waqf that manages the Temple Mount, but had to acknowledge that his view was well within our shared tradition – in MaimonidesMishneh Torah, Sefer Avodah, Hilchot Beit Habechira 1:1 he explicitly wrote the following:

הלכה א: צות עשה לעשות בית ליי’ מוכן להיות מקריבים בו הקרבנות, וחוגגין אליו שלש פעמים בשנה שנאמר ועשו לי מקדש, וגו’. Halacha 1: It is a positive commandment to construct a House for God, prepared for sacrifices to be offered within. We [must] celebrate there three times a year, as [Exodus 25:8] states: “And you shall make Me a sanctuary” …

In contrast, in Rashi‘s commentary on the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Rosh Hashana 30a, he arrived at the following conclusion:

…הני מילי בנין בידי אדם, אבל בנין העתיד לבא – בידי שמים הוא. … These words [relate to] the Building (Temple) [built by] the hands of man, but the Building (Temple) of the future to come – [will be built] by the hands of Heaven.

In this discussion, my inclination is to favor Rashi, but reflecting upon these texts with my friend Yevgenia in mind has led me down a somewhat different trail of thought.

One could study the contexts & underlying reasons for Rambam’s and Rashi’s rulings on this issue (Rambam reflecting a rational, grounded approach, and Rashi representing a more G-d oriented, mystical perspective). Still, it strikes me that neither hashkafa is necessarily most appropriate in every context.

Some Jews in Israel believe that army service and other human contributions to our society are unnecessary, as all works out according to G-d’s will. Some others believe that it is incumbent upon them to settle the West Bank, in order to fulfill the Jewish nation’s destiny in the Land of Israel. Both approaches are supported by traditional Jewish texts – is either necessarily the most appropriate today?

My friend Yevgenia is a lovely, brilliant, warm and compassionate person whose dreams have sometimes bumped up against limitations that most of us have never had to contend with. On one hand, her talents and passion drive her aspirations; on the other, her choices are grounded by circumstances beyond human control. Life requires a dynamic, engaged approach – different hashkafot are appropriate for different situations.

Still, the truly beautiful thing about this conversation between Rambam and Rashi (and others) is that neither great rabbi doubted the coming of the Mashiach (Messiah) – neither doubted the eventual construction of the Third Temple. So too, Yevgenia’s optimistic attitude glows about her, and her loving, happy smile is simply uplifting. Her hashkafa navigates among the diverging and converging words of our heritage, ever faithful to G-d, living and loving life to the fullest.

For this, I love her.