Dewdrops of Light–Shavuot 5773 / 2013
When HaShem revealed the Torah at Sinai, the Israelites died at every word. Their souls flew from their bodies and Hashem revived them with the dew that He will use to resurrect the dead. [MR Ex. 29:4; TB 88b]
From where does the dew of resurrection descend? From the head of God, as it says (SHS 5:2), “For My head is drenched with dew, My locks with the damp of night” [YS SHS 988]
“This is the Torah when a man dies in a tent…” (Num. 19:14)1 Resh Lakish derives from this verse that the Torah’s words will only endure when those who have learned them will also die for them. [TB Shabbat 83b]
“Your dew is droplets of light…” (Isaiah 26:19) From this we learn that one who engages with the light of Torah [and dies for it], the luminous dew of the Torah will resurrect him/her. [TB Ketuvot 111b; TZ Tikun 19]
Truth be told, we are born pleasure seekers. HaShem endowed our souls with an innate drive to avoid pain and pursue pleasure. This legacy (called the pleasure principle) is a mixed bag—it is our greatest stumbling block and the force that drives us toward redemption. Our appetite for pleasure will not cease until it’s satiated, and that will not occur until the messianic golden age.
Life is actually a spiritual path that trains us to become connoisseurs of pleasure. We start off enthralled by things that glitter and taste sweet but soon move on to more exotic treats. Our pleasure buds slowly refine and we become more discerning. Cheap thrills lose their allure when, time after time, they produce more pain than pleasure, more loss than gain. We grab for delight and then discover a closetful of hidden costs. We were duped and won’t make that mistake again. With our newfound savvy we look for a better bargain. Our goal is to find a pleasure that is 1) intense, 2) long-lasting 3) free of noxious side effects, 4) that does not produce a crash in its wake.
These more stable pleasures are also more “expensive.” To finance a two week vacation in the Bahamas, we must concede part of our paycheck to the piggy bank and deprive ourselves of the luxuries that money could have provided in the present. This is called delayed gratification. We give up our daily ritual of a Starbucks latte (a pleasure relatively minor and short-lived) which eventually enables a two week getaway in the Bahamas. But even that luxurious R & R fades before you know it.
And so the hunt continues for the perfect pleasure. According to kabbala every delight without exception comes from absorbing some new increment of consciousness. Even sugar highs and carnal gratifications reduce to this. But if the container of that consciousness is coarse and cheap it will produce pains and losses, crashes and travails that devour its benefits and make the whole venture hardly worth its while.
The Madoff fiasco is a perfect example. Were those five years of monthly satisfaction—opening the statements and watching the numbers grow—was that exhilaration worth the loss of the entire nest egg further down the line.2 Obviously not. It was a hype. The problem is that our visual field is circumscribed. So when we calculate the costs of an action we only foresee its chain of effects up to a certain point. We can’t see to the finish line and consequently (as in the Madoff debacle) disasters occur that were invisible at the outset because of our contracted visual field.3 Slowly our horizons widen, we acquire wisdom and anticipate the longer-term consequences of our deeds.
One sign of maturity is when our taste buds start to register ever more subtle delights—like the pleasure of discovering a new truth, or making someone happy by lending them a hand, or choosing the high road despite its sacrifice. These more noble pleasures are much closer to our 4-point goal. Yet if we examine our gratification from these deeds we will usually find that it is mixed. Part is from the pure goodness of the act, and part is from the praise, love, merit, or honor that it attracted. The more the latter plays a role, the more brief the pleasure and the more likely a crash of sorts will follow, as the saying goes: “Pride precedes a fall.” [Prov. 16:18]
But once we’ve tasted the “sweetness of good” (which kabbala calls tsachtsachot),4 the soul is hooked…it wants more of that. And so begins our spiritual path, the search for this elusive joy, commingled with good, that does not degrade, and targets the soul’s pleasure center. The Torah tells us that good is actually a synonym for God-Presence, in Hebrew, Shekhina.5 Our search for the perfect pleasure, leads us to good which leads us to God.
Yet the more intense the delight the more expensive its price tag.6 There is an inverse ratio between tsachtsachot and ego gratification. The former increases at the latter’s expense. Whichever way one accesses Presence—whether as insights that come through wisdom teachings, love that comes through imitating HaShem’s generosities, peace that comes from meditation, alignment that comes from obeying Hashem’s will, rapport that comes through prayer—it is only acquired through discipline, sacrifice, blood, sweat, and tears. You must trade a fistful of ego for a sliver of tsachtsachot (the tranquil elation that comes from bringing heaven down to earth).
Kabbala informs us that the purest and most expensive pleasure is called crystalline dew—luminous drops of sweet light (טלא דבדולחא) that distil from the crown (כתר) and trickle down through the seven brain centers that mark the path of inner awakening.7 They are such a potent force of paradigm shift that they even revive the dead and are thus called (טל תחיית המתים), resuscitating dewdrops.
These luminous droplets made their appearance at Sinai—the most profound manifestation of God that ever transpired on the planet. An estimated four million people experienced that historic event. A searing revelation of Presence engraved the souls of an entire nation with the-truth-of-the-universe compressed into a single burst of light.
The people were overwhelmed. The revelation was so mind-blowing they could not contain it. Their souls flew out of their bodies at every word. They died and were revived, says the midrash, by this resurrecting dew. These restorative droplets of light—this soothing balm of Shekhina Presence—initiated them into the ultimate pleasure of meeting their Creator face to face,8 breath to breath.9 The impact of this mass awakening (and the bliss of it) still now impels the Jewish people to be seekers and servants of God and will continue do so until the end of time.
Connoisseurs of tsachtsachot, we crave this resurrecting dew, this distillate of pure consciousness, these droplets of eternal life. But its purchase price is the steepest on the planet. It only comes to one who dies for it…who dies for truth, or integrity, or humility, or generosity, etc. To those with educated taste buds, this pleasure is so compelling that they are willing to die a million ego deaths—to face their demons, admit their flaws, renounce temptations and die for truth.
The enlightened master and the junkie are equally pleasure-seekers, only one is a connoisseur of tsachtsachot while the other is addicted to cheap thrills.
Please HaShem, on this anniversary of the Torah’s revelation as we study in its honor may we receive a precious drop of resurrecting dew. And may its sweet light melt into the cells of our being and reset our pleasure compass so that we know (once again) in our bones that the only enduring pleasure comes from choosing life—eternal life—that comes from “cleaving to the tree of life,” the Torah that is our treasured guide for life.
——————- “This is the Torah (i.e. the law that applies) when a man dies in a tent. All who come into the tent and all that are in the tent shall be ritually unclean for seven days. And every open utensil, which has no covering upon it, is unclean.”Num. TB Shabbat 83b.
2That is from the perspective of the investor but one could ask the same question from the perspective of Madoff himself. Were those years of wealth and status worth the shame, incarceration, humiliation of wife and family, etc. Also, obviously not.
3That’s the Talmud’s definition of a sage: One who sees the entire chain of cause and effect that will be set in motion by a deed and chooses accordingly.”
4 Isaiah 58:11; Zohar 1:148a; Ramak, Pardes Rimonim 23:18.
5 Ex. 33:19. I will cause my goodness. Also, there is a prayer in which good becomes a name of God: Blessed are You, Hashem…Hatov m’ha’maytiv (who is good and does good).
6 L’havdil. A study was done with rats in a cage. The rat was on one half of the cage and a delectable was placed on the other end. Between the rat and the treat was an electrified plate. The question was how much discomfort was the rat willing to endure to get the goody at the other side. The rat endured low levels of discomfort for food. But as the volts got higher, he refrained. If there was sugar water he was more highly motivated but again soon refrained. If there was a mating option he endured more but that incentive also that had its limits. But if, on the other side of the cage, the rat received a zap straight to his amygdale’s pleasure center, there was no amount of discomfort that would dissuade him. These inner pleasures that we are discussing here are zaps of varying intensities to the soul’s pleasure center, and one who has cultivated the tastebuds for this will endure any discomfort, even unto death.
7Ari, Mavo v’Shearim, 3:2:3.
8 Devarim 5:4. ד פָּנִים | בְּפָנִים דִּבֶּר יְהוָֹה עִמָּכֶם בָּהָר מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ:
9 Zohar in 37 places.