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Thought for the Day: P'shat, Sod, and All That

I occasionally get new ties from my son (hand me ups).  I one time came downstairs wearing one of the new (to me) ties and my son noted, "Wow!  You did a great job of picking a tie to match that suit!"  (I am not known for my fashion sense, so this was noteworthy.)  I looked down as the tie and said, "You mean it is possible for a tie not to match a suit?"  A bit crestfallen, but at the same time reassured that you really can rely on some things, my son just shook his head and walked away.  I am about to talk about shoulder straps, so I wanted to first put my fashion knowledge into perspective.

One of the talmidim of the Gr"a, R' Menachem Mendel, said about his rebbie that the Gr"a would not give p'shat in a pasuk in mishlei until he fully understood the sod.  The "pardeis" acronym for p'sukim is well known and usually described as follows.  Any verse in Torah can be explained in four levels: p'shat (simple meaning), remez (hint; a tangential meaning), drush (exposition; barely connected, but makes for a nice d'var torah at the shabbos table), sod (secret/mystical; so cool).  There seems to be very little connection between the pasuk and the sod at all, let alone to its p'shat.  And, after all, p'shat is p'shat; what does it mean that the Gr"a couldn't explain even the surface meaning without knowing the secret, underlying meanings?

I have a fashion mashal to explain this.  (Right; but give me a chance. k?)  On some overcoats there are is a small piece of cloth on each of the shoulders that is sewn on the proximal end and buttoned on the distal end.  (Impressive vocabulary; no?  That's to make up for for the abysmal dearth of fashion knowledge.)  These bits of cloth are called, interestingly enough, shoulder straps.  Why are they there?  That, of course, depends on who is wearing the coat.  If it is a soldier, they are used to hold his beret, keep the straps of his backpack from slipping, etc.  If he is a general, they may be used to display his rank stars or to hold his epaulettes.  If he is a business man, he may feel that style of coat presents the best image to his colleagues, workers, and customers.  If he is a college student, they might mean nothing at all; they just happened to be on the coat he got from the military surplus store.  Before I can begin to  know what those two little pieces of cloth mean, I need to know at least something about who is filling the coat.  The more I understand about the person filling the coat, the more I will know about the shoulder straps and the more the shoulder straps will tell me about the person who is wearing the coat.

Just to end with a bit of a teaser, the Ramban (on b'reishis 18:19) says that knowledge of HaShem comes from appreciating the details of His management of the low and physical world.  So appreciating hashgacha as understood through the body of Torah is knowledge of HaShem.


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