When our Sages likened This World to a prozdor, a corridor that leads to the banquet hall (Avos 4), they were evoking the image of a person walking toward a destination.
There are many verses that use the metaphor of walking and travel to describe life in Olam Hazeh: “Ki holeich ha’adam el beis olamo — For a person walks toward his eternal home” (Koheles 12:5); “B’his’halechacha tancheh os’cha — When you walk, it [Torah] shall lead you” (Mishlei 6:22). The message is clear: Our movement in this world is forward and relentless. Each individual journeys to his final destination, and the world at large advances toward its culmination.
A person’s legs are responsible for his locomotion. When we speak of a life journey, what are the “legs” — the attributes that direct us to our goals?
In kabbalistic literature, there are two Sefiros that correspond to the legs. These are netzach, the right leg, and hod, the left leg. Unlike the arms, which can operate independently of each other, a person’s legs must work together in order for him to walk. Thus, netzach and hod, the fourth and fifth Sefiros, are partners.
Two Ways of Winning
Just as a trekker sometimes encounters obstacles in his path, every person faces obstruction and conflict during his life’s journey. What propels us forward when we meet resistance? One tool is netzach, the attribute of persevering, strengthening oneself, and overcoming the enemy. But there is another way to quash opposition. This is the middah of hod.
The word hod is closely related to hodayah, which means confession and acknowledgment. When one warring party concedes to the other, the battle is over.
Netzach and hod are personified by Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohein, respectively. Just as the legs are extensions of the torso, these leaders descended from the Avos. And just as a person’s legs move his body forward, they continued the leadership and the legacy of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. They walked us through the Midbar and guided us in becoming become Hashem’s nation. They taught us how to traverse the passageway to eternal life.
Moshe represented the approach of netzach. He was the go’el, the redeemer, who fought Pharaoh and argued with the malachim. He equipped us with the eternal Torah, our greatest weapon against the yetzer hara.
Aharon was not a fighter. He was the quintessential peacemaker, who “loved peace and pursued peace” (Avos 1). His classic method to end conflict was to convince each party that the other no longer wanted to fight and was ready for reconciliation.
Furthermore, Aharon’s work in the Beis Hamikdash included bringing korbanos and performing the Yom Kippur service, both of which involved Vidui, confession. He regularly pronounced the priestly benediction which ends with the word shalom.
The most common — and crucial — obstacles in our journey are internal. Netzach and hod are the tools we use when we contend with our inner conflicts and temptations. The way of netzach is to fight these earthly desires by reminding ourselves that when we abstain in this world, we gain immeasurably in Olam Haba.
By contrast, the way of hod is not to fight but to speak the language of our opponent. We silence our inner struggles by reminding ourselves that the Torah way results not in privation but in contentment, even in This World. We tell our guf: “You want pleasure? You like comfort? Look around and see who looks happier — those who pursue Torah and mitzvos or those who pursue sinful desires.”
Another translation of the word hod is radiance, which denotes the emergence of light from the inside to the exterior. When a person surrenders by confessing his sins, and acknowledging the truth, he reveals the radiance of his inner soul.
The word hod is particularly applied to spiritual light and beauty. The shafts of light that radiated from Moshe’s face as he descended the mountain are called, “karnei hod,” because, in his exalted state, the light of his inner neshamah was able to be penetrate the external barrier of his guf.
Until now, we have explained the expression of hod in human beings. Yet the Seven Sefiros are primarily the manifestations of Hashem’s middos. How do we understand hod in this context? Under what circumstances does He admit or acknowledge the opposition?
Any discussion of the fifth Sefirah of hod must touch upon Pesach Sheini, the first day of the fifth week of Sefiras Ha’omer. The Zohar notes that the radiance of Pesach Sheini continues for seven days — throughout the week of hod, including Lag B’omer, the fifth day of this fifth week, termed hod sheb’hod. What is the nature of this illumination?
The Torah relates that on the 14th of Nissan, when it was time to bring the Korban Pesach in the Midbar, some individuals approached Moshe with a plaintive request. They were unable to participate in this exalted mitzvah because they were ritually impure. Although they were halachically exempt, they begged to be included. “Lamah nigora? Why should we miss out?”
The commentaries note that their request was highly irregular and almost impertinent. The halachah states that one cannot eat the Korban Pesach in a state of tumah. What, then, was the basis of their plea? Did they envision that Hashem would modify a basic halachah just for them?
Actually, He did
Hashem acknowledged their dilemma and acceded to their request by allowing them to bring the Korban Pesach one month later, on the 14th of Iyar. In so doing, He did more than institute an alternate date. The sincere plea of lamah nigora opened up a new pathway in the celestial spheres, allowing the illumination of Pesach to continue past the original Yom Tov.
Various nuances of hod were at work here: The impure individuals acknowledged their missed opportunity to fully bask in the illumination of Pesach, implying that our laws are privileges rather than onerous duties, and Hashem conceded that their cry of lamah nigora was legitimate and deserved an affirmative response.
The Zohar describes it in this way: “The Jewish People receive illuminations from above on the first night of Pesach. This illumination lasts for 30 days. After the 30 days, there is an announcement from Heaven: ‘Whoever has not yet received the illuminations of Pesach can do so now, on the 14th of Iyar. For seven days, the Heavens will open up for you, and after that, they’ll close again.’ ”
These are the seven days of the Sefirah of hod.
When Heaven Defers to Earth
Pesach Sheini can be regarded as the forerunner of the unique system of Torah shebe’al peh, the Oral Law. When Hashem gave us the Torah, He also empowered the talmidei chachamim in every generation to interpret it. They were authorized to use the Torah’s laws to adjudicate disputes, answer questions, and explain Scripture to the best of their ability. And when there is a difference of opinion among them, the majority rules.
The Gemara (Bava Metzia 59a) relates a remarkable incident in which Rabi Eliezer disputed the halachic decision of Rabi Yehoshua and the sages and provided wondrous signs to prove his point:
“If the halachah is as I say, may the carob tree outside the beis medrash be displaced!”
And so it was: The tree moved 100 amos.
The chachamim countered, “We don’t bring proofs from carob trees.”
“If the halachah is as I say, may the stream of water outside prove it!”
And so it happened: The water flowed backward.
The chachamim retorted, “We don’t bring proofs from streams of water.”
…And finally, Rabi Eliezer declared, “If the halachah is as I say, the Heaven itself will demonstrate proof!” And a Heavenly voice intoned, “Why are you arguing against Rabi Eliezer? Don’t you know that the halachah is as he rules?”
At this point, Rabi Yehoshua stood up and proclaimed, “Lo baShamayim hee! The Torah is no longer in the Heavens! It has been given to mankind, and it commands us to settle disputes according to majority rule. We do not pay attention even to a voice from Heaven if it violates this rule!”
There is a postscript to this startling account of man’s empowerment. One of the Sages present later encountered Eliyahu Hanavi and asked him, “What was Hashem doing when Rabi Yehoshua asserted, Lo baShamayim hee!”
“Hashem was smiling and saying, ‘Nitzchuni banai, My children, you have been victorious over me!’ ”
Nitzchuni banai is Hashem’s concession speech. It teaches us that when the chachamim do their best to render a halachic decision, that becomes the halachah, even if they’re mistaken.
When we toil to understand Torah, it’s as if we’re insisting, “Lamah nigora: We want to be a part of this! The Torah was given to us!” And Hashem’s middah of hod yields to this cry.
We can now come to a new understanding of the famous Gemara that tells of Rabi Akiva observing a rock that had been eroded from years of water droplets falling upon it. In a sense, Rabi Akiva’s reaction was a response of “Lamah nigora: Why not me? If a stone can be softened, why can’t my heart receive Torah?”
When a person insists on breaking through barriers and finding the truth, Hashem concedes to him and opens up new pathways for him. Astoundingly, Akiva began to learn at the age of 40 and became, in the words of the Ari Hakadosh, the rebbi of Torah shebe’al peh.
And Rabi Shimon bar Yochai was the rebbi of the hidden Torah. It was on Lag B’omer, the day of hod sheb’hod, that the Torah’s secrets were revealed — yet another example of nitzchuni banai, of Hashem allowing man to surpass his natural boundaries, and of the light spilling out from within.
Judgment Cloaked in Kindness
The Gra looks at netzach and hod from the point of view of legs, or extensions, of the chesed and gevurah arms. Last week, we explained that he defines netzach as chesed cloaked in gevurah or din. We may wonder why the righteous suffer, but it may ultimately be a chesed for them. If it atones for their sins, they will earn eternal reward in the next world.
Conversely, hod is din that looks like chesed. We may wonder why evildoers prosper. It seems as if Hashem is conceding to them. In truth, their reveling in a life of pleasure is Hashem’s way of rewarding them for their few mitzvos in this transient world, rather than recompensing them in the eternal World to Come.
Yet is that fair? Why should a rasha’s mitzvah be worth less that the tzaddik’s? Hashem pays each person in his preferred currency. It’s as if he tells the rasha: “You want Olam Hazeh? I don’t really agree. I think you’re choosing trinkets instead of gold. But I’m not going to argue. I’ll concede to your value system and give you a good life in This World.” This is a manifestation of hod.
Still, on a deeper, more hidden level, there is a glimmer of light here — if the rasha is allowed to live in order to receive his reward, he still has time to come to his senses, and do teshuvah. Thus, Hashem’s use of hod can result in man’s hodayah, in his breaking through his self-imposed barriers and acknowledging the truth.
And then Hashem will say “nitzchuni banai!” and allow him into the banquet hall.
Sources include the writings of Rav Aharon Rubinfeld
Originally featured in Family First, Issue 643. Mrs. Shani Mendlowitz is menaheles of Bais Yaakov Seminary of Montreal.