Thursday, July 4, 2013

Broken Shards of Bein Hameitzarim

On Makkos 21 Rav Yanai makes a seemingly strange statement to Rav Yochanan: “If I had not lifted the pottery, would you have found the pearl beneath it?” Tosafos wonders why Rav Yanai specifically chose to use pottery as a metaphor for a place where a gem is concealed. Why would one find gems beneath shards of pottery? Rabbeinu Tam explains that on the ocean floor there are rocks which appear to be large shards of pottery under which are found precious pearls. We find a similar expression in Bava Kama 91: “You swam in such deep waters and all you brought up was mere pottery?” That which is precious is understood to be secreted within something of little value—mere refuse. The Baal Shem Tov, zy”a, used this concept to explain why it is said that great spiritual light can be found during the three weeks of Bein Hameitzarim. He said, “If a person has precious stones, he must be extra careful that they are not stolen from him. But how can he be sure to safeguard them? A wise person will put his greatest treasures where he keeps old and broken-down junk. This is the safest place, since no thief would ever think to look in such lowly places for treasure. Similarly, during the three weeks, when people feel the pain of our lowly status in exile, their hearts are broken and it is much easier to truly connect with Hashem. The treasure is hiding there within the lowly refuse.”