Do You Make the Cut?
חֵרֵשׁ: deaf person
מַעֲשֵׂה חָרַשׁ אֶבֶן פִּתּוּחֵי חֹתָם תְּפַתַּח אֶת שְׁתֵּי הָאֲבָנִים עַל שְׁמֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
Through the work of a stonecutter, you shall engrave the two stones with the names of the Bnei Yisrael.1
The Torah uses the word חָרַשׁto describe someone who is skilled in the art of cutting materials.חָרַשׁ עֵצִיםis a carpenter, חָרַשׁ בַּרְזֶלis an ironsmith, and here, חָרַשׁ אֶבֶןis a stonecutter, specifically of precious stones.
חַרִישָׁה, the action of preparing the ground, is the first process in a long production line of sowing, harvesting, gathering, selecting, grinding, sifting, kneading, and baking until finally we make the cut, i.e., in those freshly baked challos, which fill our palates with that distinctive and delicious taste of Shabbos.
The first time the root חרשappears in the Torah is in connection with Tuval Kayin, describing him asלֹטֵשׁ כָּל חֹרֵשׁ נְחֹשֶׁת וּבַרְזֶל/an artisan in the making of all types of cutting tools made from copper and iron.2Included in these implements were כְֵּלי הַמְחַרֵשִׁים, the cutting tools to plow the land.
Someone who is מְחַדֵד/sharp is able to silence people with his words. We see this idea in the following pasuk:וְיוֹעֵץ וַחֲכַם חֲרָשִׁים,3referring to חֲרָשִׁיםasבַּעַלֵי מַחְשָׁבָה/wise men who understand the secrets of the Torah. They are calledחֲרָשִׁיםbecause notonly are their minds able to cut through to the depths of thought, moreover, when they open their mouths, they make everyone else dumbstruck.
חֵרֵשׁ: Deaf Person
On the other hand, a deaf person is considered by the Torah to have noדַעַת/understanding. He is grouped together with the שׁוֹטֶה וְקָטָן, the insane and a young child, who similarly have no דַעַת. Unlike the חָרַשׁ/craftsman, who is able to cut things, and unlike the חַרָשִׁים/wise men, who are able to cut things with their minds, the חֵרֵשׁ/deaf person is incapable of cutting things with his mind. (The type ofחֵרֵשׁthat the Torah talks about here is usually the one who is deaf and dumb from birth.)
Now that we have defined our terms, let’s go a little deeper.
Hashem has given us all a field, so to speak, to cultivate. As we have mentioned elsewhere, this world is a period of אֵרוּסִין/engagement where we are the אוֹרֵס/sharecropper, one who doesn’t actually own the field, but is given the opportunity by the landowner (i.e., Hashem) to work the land and take a share in the produce.
Life is by no means easy, and to toil the land is excruciating work. Nevertheless, we are אָדָם/man, from the אַדָמָה/ground, meaning that we have a deep innate connection with the land. Our task is to make the land produce. הַזֹּרְעִים בְּדִמְעָהבְּרִנָּה יִקְצֹרוּ /those who sow with tears will harvest with joy.4
Hashem has given us various tools to help us with our task. We have כְּלֵי מַחַרֵישָׁה/cutting tools to plow the field, and we have oxen to pull the plow. The Torah also aids us in how to get the best out of the land. We are told not to plow the field with an ox and donkey together, not to plow and harvest on the Sabbath, and to let the field lie fallow on every seventh year.
לֹא תַחֲרֹשׁ בְּשׁוֹר וּבַחֲמֹר יַחְדָּו/do notplow a field with an ox and donkey together.5
One of the reasons given for this prohibition is because one animal istahorwhile the other is tamei. The Torah is hinting to us of the idea that some things just don’t mix.
The deaf person is like an unplowed field. Someone who does not have the tools to cut the ground is unable to sow the field and will therefore not produce. One may well ask that in the analogy of our being Hashem’s sharecropper who needs to produce, what purpose does a deaf person have in the world? He is in fact פָּטוּר/exemptfrom all mitzvos. One way to answer this question is with the perspective of gilgul neshamos, where the reincarnated soul needs to return to do some kind oftikkun. Invariably, the souls who come back into people who are פָּטוּרfrom mitzvos, like someone with Down syndrome, are said to be tzaddikimwho only need a minor rectification.
Man is like a tree; we grow from within the אַדָמָה.In order to succeed and take root, we need to be able to cut through. The trade of the Jew is the Torah. Just like there is the craft of aחָרַשׁ בַּרְזֶל/ironsmith and a חָרַשׁ אֶבֶן/stonecutter, so too our craft is the Torah; we are the חָרְשֵׁי הַתּוֹרָה — the Torah cutters. Our job is to plow through the Torah and reveal Hashem’s hidden light.
My first ever job was a diamond cutter/polisher in Hatton Garden, London. I was indeed a חָרַשׁ אֶבֶן/stonecutter!There are many different ways that one can cut a diamond — emerald cut, marquis cut, heart cut — but the most valuable cut is the round brilliant cut, so called because it optimizes the facets in such a way that it produces the most light and brilliance. In the same way, our task is to cut through the Torah in such a way that we not only reveal Hashem’s light, but we make it brilliant. There areשִׁבְעִים פָּנִים לַתּוֹרָה/seventy different ways to cut the Torah, and since there are only fifty-seven facets to a brilliantly cut diamond, it makes the Torah a cut above, as we say with reference to the Torah in אֵשֶׁת חַיִלthat“her value is far above pearls.” The Torah is brilliant; we just have to find the right way to cut it.
The tools that Hashem gives us to cut the Torah are our ears, as we sayשְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל/Hear Yisraeland אִםשָׁמֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ/if you will surely listen then the land will give its produce. אָזְנַיִםnot only mean ears, they also mean handles. Just like the handles of aכְּלִי/vessel allow one to מַחַזִיק/hold it, so too the Torah is an עֵץ חַיִּים הִיא לַמַּחֲזִיקִים בָּהּ/tree of life to those who are able to grasp it. The ears are what allow us to grasp it, to get a handle on it. If, however, we don’t listen, then the Torah falls on deaf ears, we are said to be מִתְחַרֵשׁ, we make ourselves deaf.6
The Torah gives us the ability to cut through the bedrock of life and gives us the upper cut to rise above life’s challenges. Without the ability to cut through life, we are left with just a superficial way of seeing the world and we miss out on the true עוֹמֶק/depth and the beautiful richness of life.
We can now expand our understanding of the prohibition not toplow a field with an ox and donkey together. Just like it is forbidden to plow a field by mixing a tahoranimal and tameianimal, so too the Torah is hinting to us the idea not to plow the field of Torah with one ear tuned into the truth while the other ear is still listening to the shmutz. The Torah is temimah/pure and not in the mix. Similarly, the pasukthat states: נִירוּ לָכֶם נִיר וְאַל תִּזְרְעוּ אֶל קוֹצִים/plow your field and do not sow upon thorns7means that if one sows the field without first plowing it to get rid of the קוֹצִים/thorns, then it will all be in vain. In the same vein, in order to return to Hashem, we first have to remove all the disgusting things in our life — שִׁקוּצִיםbeinglashonשֶׁקֶץ.8
And this is why we eat hamantaschen on Purim. Hamantaschen represent the ears of Haman, which symbolize the hearing of impure knowledge from the sitra achra/the dark side.9This hearing of tameiknowledge confuses us to the point where we ask ourselves: “Is Hashem really within us?” We become deaf to the true reality. This is the very reason for the mitzvah of remembering Amalek and “placing it in the ears of Yehoshuah” — davkahwith our ears, in order to counteract the hearing of false da’as/knowledge of impure ideology and instead eradicate it by tuning our ears in to the correct channel, to listen (שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל)and to only have ears for the Torah so that we can attain a clear, unfaltering da’asof knowing that Hashem is really within us.10
It is all well and good to be a חָרַשׁ אֶבֶן/diamond cutter — in fact, it sounds quite glamorous — but take it from me, the real glamour and brilliance comes from being a Torah cutter, for without being a Torah cutter, one may as well be a deaf diamond cutter.
So the choice is in our hands. If we want our field to produce spiritual fruits, then we need to make the Torah our trade and be חָרְשֵׁי הַתּוֹרָה/Torah cutters. We have the power to choose what kind of חרשwe want to be; it is the difference between being cut or remaining rough and uncut — between being deaf or alive!
6See Eruvin21b, s.v., אזנים לתורה.
8See Tosfos to Pesachim107b.
9See Bnei Yissachar, Adar 3:2.