Devar Torah for Purim: A Close Reading of Pachad Yitzchak on Purim #4, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Not Trust Translations.

Pachad Yitzchak, by R. Yitzchak Hutner, is my favorite sefer to learn, for a variety of reasons. Number one, R. Hutner was a fascinating, fascinating man, an outstanding and compelling thinker who contained multitudes, an authority firmly within the Haredi community who nevertheless had interests that transcended that world, including a time spent in the University of Berlin learning philosophy. Because of that, number two, R. Hutner is never boring, and always has the capacity to surprise. When you open up a piece of Rav Hutner, you have to throw away any biases and expectations you may have of him, and you have to keep your mind open to what he might be saying, because Rav Hutner was bigger than your boxes. True, he was a Haredi gadol, but he often has ideas that, when subjected to critical analysis, are shocking in their boldness and in the influences he may be reflecting. You can’t discount any possibility when learning R. Hutner. Which is, perhaps, why I love it so much. It’s deeply challenging, and engages me on the level of my weaknesses. I’m lazy, and I like to go into reading something with a basic idea of what I’m dealing with. You can’t do that with R. Hutner. You have to be patient, you have  to be thorough, and you have to cultivate the ability to allow R. Hutner to surprise you. Because when you read him carefully, he can shock you with the boldness of the ideas, a boldness he seems to have concealed behind the artistry of his rabbinic prose.

Let me show you an example I uncovered when looking for a very short piece of Pachad Yitzchak to learn with a chavrusa. We’re gonna look at the full text, and you’re gonna come with me on this journey as we subject it to a close reading, and consider the full import of what R. Hutner is saying.

The full text of Pachad Yitzchak on Purim 4:

יום נקם בלבי’ ואמרו חכמים על זה ‘לבא לפומא לא גליא’. כלומר, אותו יום שבו עתיד הקב”ה לנקום נקמתה של כנסת ישראל, אותו יום נעוץ הוא בלבבו של הקב”ה כביכול וגנוז הוא אותו יום במעמקי התעלומה של אותו לב, עד שלא יגיע ממנה שום גילוי לפיו כביכול. וכל זה הוא בשאר ימות השנה, אבל ביום הפורים שבו נקהלו היהודים להנקם מאיביהם, נקמה זו היא גם נקמתו של כביכול. ביום זה נפלה המחיצה בין הלב והפה של כביכול. לבו של הקב”ה הוא קרוב מאד לפיו ביום הפורים. וזו היא אחת הטעימות שאנו טועמים בשכרות דפורים. שכן מצב השכרות הוא מצב של סילוק המחיצות בין הפה והלב. לבא לפומא גליא 

The text, as translated by R. Pinchas Stolper, in his “Purim in a New Light” Translation of Pachad Yitzchak on Purim, which will give us a basic, and, as I will go on to argue, erroneous understanding of this Ma’amar:

I have set a day of for revenge in my heart (my heart anticipates the day of final retribution and vegeance)” (Yeshaya 63:4)”

Concerning this quote, our sages taught, “the heart of G-d has not yet revealed its intentions to the mouth” (Midrash Sochar Tov, Tehillim 9:2)

The day on which the Holy One will avenge Israel is hidden within the folds of the Lord’s heart. That day is so deeply concealed that we have no hint when that day will be and when G-d’s intentions will be revealed. All of this is true on all the other days of the year, with the exception of Purim, “the day on which the Jews gathered to take vengeance on their enemies” (Esther 9:2)

On this day, the curtain which separated G-d’s heart and G-d’s mouth metaphorically parted. On Purim the heart of the Holy One is close to his mouth. This is one of the tastes that we are able to savor in the midst of the drinking of the Purim feast. Imbibing liquor brings about the removal of the partition between the mouth and the heart. The heart reveals itself to the mouth.
We know that on that day, this will again happen! And experiencing this day each year assures us that this day will happen soon.

The things that R. Stolper gets right are the basic components of the maamar. There is a medrash on a quote from Sefer Yeshaya about the day of G-d’s vengeance being in his heart, which says that the heart of G-d has not revealed its intentions to its mouth. R. Hutner then explains that to mean that the day of vengeance is hidden deep in the recesses of God’s heart, to the point it is not revealed by G-d’s mouth. However, on Purim, unlike all the other days of the calendar, that separation between G-d’s heart and G-d’s mind is parted. And that getting drunk on Purim has something to do with that.
The last paragraph is not a translation, but seems to be R. Stolper’s attempt to sum up the content of the maamar. The experience of Purim provides a taste of the ultimate divine day of vengeance, and experiencing Purim provides an assurance that it will happen in the future.

However, I think that, when one reads closely, a greater depth to this ma’amar can be ascertained, a depth R. Stolper could not adequately present in translation.
The key to this ma’amar, I believe, is the term כביכול, “as it were”, which is the rabbinic term to denote that a description of God is meant to be taken as metaphor, which dampens down the heretical potential of any given description of God. By way of example, “God’s hand lifted the man up and took him to heaven” is a little heretical. “God’s hand lifted the man up, k’viyachol, and took him to heaven” is pretty much fine. Its a way of denoting that our descriptions of God are ultimately insufficient and we merely use such language for a lack of better alternatives.

But watch how R. Hutner uses the term “k’viyachol” over the course of this maamar.

The first couple of lines, R. Hutner is using the term k’viyachol to describe the notion of God’s heart and God’s mouth being in partition, and using it fairly typically, as rabbinic writing goes:

כלומר, אותו יום שבו עתיד הקב”ה לנקום נקמתה של כנסת ישראל, אותו יום נעוץ הוא בלבבו של הקב”ה כביכול וגנוז הוא אותו יום במעמקי התעלומה של אותו לב, עד שלא יגיע ממנה שום גילוי לפיו כביכול.

The day of vengeance referred to by Yeshaya is in God’s heart, k’viyachol, and is not revealed to his mouth, k’viyachol. Fairly typical usage, letting the reader know that the notions of God having a heart and having a mouth are mere allegory.

But then, when it comes to Purim, something odd happens:

וכל זה הוא בשאר ימות השנה, אבל ביום הפורים שבו נקהלו היהודים להנקם מאיביהם, נקמה זו היא גם נקמתו של כביכול

On the day of Purim, we are told, when the Jews gathered to avenge themselves on their enemies,  נקמה זו היא גם נקמתו של כביכול, “this vengeance is also the vengeance of k’viyachol”. K’viyachol does not seem to be modifying a clause here, making the vengeance referred to one which is only metaphorical. Rather, it is a vengeance “shel k’viyachol”. The vengeance belongs to, or is of, “k’viyachol”. This is an odd clause, and R. Stolper doesn’t translate it at all. The next sentence, however, returns to this odd phrasing:

ביום זה נפלה המחיצה בין הלב והפה של כביכול

“On this day,” R. Hutner continues, “The partition between the heart and the mouth of k’viyachol falls”. R. Stolper translates this phrase as G-d’s mouth and G-d’s heart, but that is an imprecise translation. G-d is not a subject which appears in this sentence. Either the subject of this sentence is “k’viyachol”, which would make it k’viyachol’s heart and mouth that has the partition, which would in turn require more explanation, or k’viyachol is, in fact, modifying this partition. In other words, the partition between G-d’s heart and G-d’s mind is “k’viyachol“. That the division between the God we imagine and the God we intellectually comprehend is what is overcome on Purim. This is too crazy, right? Look at the next line.

לבו של הקב”ה הוא קרוב מאד לפיו ביום הפורים.

The heart of God is very close to his mouth on Purim, says Rav Hutner. What’s missing here? K’viyachol. The rabbinic qualifier of divine metaphor, that he used in the opening of this very maamar with this very metaphor.
This, in turn, explains the connection between the idea of this maamar and the idea of drinking on Purim day, a connection which seemed tenuous in R. Stolper’s reading.

וזו היא אחת הטעימות שאנו טועמים בשכרות דפורים. שכן מצב השכרות הוא מצב של סילוק המחיצות בין הפה והלב

Drinking blurs barriers, not only between “Baruch Moredchai” and “Arur Haman”, but between our cognition and our emotion, our intellectual  and philosophical comprehension of God’s limits and our imaginative depictions of God’s actuality, all stemming from the blurring of lines between our in-progress imperfect world and the perfected world where good has triumphed over evil, a day that God winked at us through the veil of history and we caught a glimpse. A day in which we break free from the constraints of k’viyachol and apprehend God, for a brief moment, as physical reality. And a day in which we, in an act of imitatio dei, remove the barriers between our hearts and our mouths for ourselves, שכן מצב השכרות הוא מצב של סילוק המחיצות בין הפה והלב

Rav Hutner concludes the Maamar by, perhaps in the spirit of Purim, turning the rabbinic phrase that served as the backbone of this piece on its head.

לבא לפומא גליא

On Purim, unlike all other days, the heart is revealed to the mouth.

Purim Sameach.

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One Comment

  1. Great analysis, and I have one bit to add. נקמה זו היא גם נקמתו של כביכול
    Translation:
    This vengeance is also God’s vengeance of k’v’yachol.
    The suffix on the second time his use vengeance is important. The piece goes on to clarify that the vengeance is between the head and the heart. The aforementioned suffix makes it clear that destroying the division between the head and the heart is an act of vengeance for God. In this way, God battles us, k’v’yachol! I believe it makes the radical piece even more so.

    Reply

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