Truth and Beauty

Do you like left-brain right-brain studies? Do you like essays that explore both our right-brain and left-brain characteristics?

Any idea what Moshe (Moses) and David have to do with the title of this post?

Rejoice In Your Festivals
In Rejoice in your Festivals, a book of sermons by the late Rabbi Zvi Dov Kanotopsky, z”l, there is an essay originally given on Shavuot of June 5, 1946 called Truth and Beauty. I calculated that he was 23 years old when he gave this talk. What were you doing when you were 23?

Here’s how the sermon begins:

Two primary currents seem to flow parallel in the description of the essence of a Torah life: truth and beauty, the mind and the heart, halakhic and aggadic.

Later, he explains the connection to Shavuot and to Moshe and David:

These two elements that are to be found, which should be found in each and every mitzvah of the Torah, are symbolized also by the two heroes of the festival of Shavuot. Shavuot is the festival of matan Torah, the giving of the Torah, and Moses is obviously the hero of that drama of revelation. But Shavuot is also dedicated to honor King David whose yahrzeit (anniversary of his death), according to tradition, occurs on this Yom Tov (holiday). We also read Megillat Ruth, which recounts the ancestry of David. These two heroes, Moshe and David, symbolize in their lives and in their legacy the two fundamentals of the mitzvot of our faith.

Moshe represents halakha; Moshe represents truth; Moshe represents the mind. David is described as נְעִים זְמִרוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל (from Samuel II 23:1, the sweet singer of Israel). David is the one who left us a heritage of music and poetry, the zemirot ve-tishbahot that must supplement the halakha of Moshe. Each and every mitzvah of the Torah is composed of these two elements. Each mitzvah demands its complete fulfillment in the halakhic sense. And from each mitzvah there must emanate a spiritual beauty and spiritual pleasure.

Then Rabbi Kanotopsky talks about the dangers of being scrupulous in following the law but missing its beauty. He also feels that “much more dangerous and destructive, no doubt is the perpetual search for beauty in Torah at the expense of its strict observance. Among a vast majority of our Jews the search for the aesthetic has been overdeveloped! [snip] Shabbat has many beautiful aspects: the warm glow of the candles, the family dinner, the melodious kiddush. But to choose only this in Shabbat and to disregard the demanding halakhot of Shabbat means, ultimately, to destroy Shabbat. The continued search for the aesthetic at the expense of the halakhic will, Heaven forbid, destroy Torah.”

At the end:

God blessed Shabbat by offering a double portion of manna on Friday, that Israel may refrain from work on the Sabbath, and he sanctified the Sabbath by the Light of the Countenance (see Psalms 4:7) of the Jew! Shabbat is beautiful, but Shabbat also sets forth the prohibition of carrying the manna! Shabbat means issur of hoza’ah (prohibition of carrying). We cannot and dare not accept David while ignoring Moshe.

The ideal approach is a judicious blending of the Law and the Song, of Moshe and David, of the mind and the heart, of truth and beauty.

For more posts on Shavuot, see:

Shabbat Shalom.

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