Choose the Spice of Life

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“Rabbi Yehoshu’a son of Levi asked: ‘What is And this is the teaching which Moses שָׂם (sam), set, before the children of Israel (Deuteronomy 4:44)?’ If he is worthy it becomes for him סַם (sam), medicine, of life, if not, סַם (sam), poison, of death [cf. pharmakon]” (BT Yoma 72b, cf. BT Ta’anit 7a).

“There is nothing good higher than עֹנֶג (oneg), delight, there is nothing evil lower that נֶגַע (nega), affliction” (Sefer Yetsirah §18).

Inasmuch as you will not have served YHWH your God in joy and with a good heart out of an abundance of all things, you will serve your enemies whom YHWH will send against you… I call to witness for you today the heavens and the earth. Life and death I set before you, the blessing and the curse, and you shall choose life so that you may live, you and your seed (Deuteronomy 28:47; 30:19).

“Our Rabbis taught: וְשַׂמְתֶּם (Ve-samtem), and you shall set [these words on your heart and in your very being…] (Deuteronomy 11:18)—סַם תָּם (sam tam), a complete remedy. Torah is compared to סַם חַיִּים (sam ḥayyim), an elixir of life. A parable: A man who struck his son a strong blow, and [then] put a plaster on his wound, saying to him, ‘My son, as long as this plaster is on your wound eat and drink what you like, and bathe in hot water or cold water, and do not fear. But if you remove it, look, it will rot.’ Thus the blessed Holy One said to Israel: ‘My children! I created the evil impulse but I [also] created Torah, as its תַבלִין (tavlin), antidote [lit., ‘spice’]; if you occupy yourself with Torah, you will not be delivered into his hand, as is said: For if you offer well, will it not be uplifting? (Genesis 4:7). But if you do not occupy yourself with Torah, you will be delivered into his hand, as is written, at the tent flap sin crouches (ibid.). And not only that, but he is entirely occupied with you, as is said, and for you is his longing (ibid.). Yet if you wish, you will rule over him, as is said, and you will rule over him (ibid.)” (BT Qiddushin 30b).

“This may be compared to a doctor who had one vial full of vivifying drug, which he kept for his son. He wanted to give his son that vivifying ointment. The doctor was wise, and he said, ‘There are bad servants in my house. If they know that I am giving this present to my son, it will be evil in their eyes, and they will seek to kill him.’

What did he do? He took a little bit of deadly poison and put it on the opening of the vial. Then he called his servants and said to them, You are faithful to me; would you like this drug?

They said, Let’s see what it is. They took a bit to taste, and before even smelling it, they felt that they were about to die. They said to themselves, If he gives this drug to his son, he will die, and we will inherit our master.

They said to him, Our master, this drug is fitting only for your son. Here are the wages of our labor; we leave them for you—give them to him as a bribe so that he will take this drug.

Similarly, the blessed Holy One is a wise doctor. He knew that if He gave the Torah to Israel before informing [the heavenly princes], they would pursue Israel every day on account of it and kill them. But He did this, and they gave Him gifts and presents so that [Israel] would accept it. All of these Moses received to give to Israel, as is written: You ascended the heights, you seized captives, you took gifts for humans (Psalms 68:19). Consequently, Israel inherited the Torah without any challenge or any accusation at all. Blessed is He and blessed is His name forever and forever!” (Zohar 3:193a, cf. BT Avodah Zarah 2b–3b).

“Even with all [of one’s lifetime of חֵטְא (ḥet), missing the mark] if he turns back in repentance of this it says, Turn back and be healed (Isaiah 6:10). And I will give him his soulmate, as it says, Let her be healing to your navel (Proverbs 3:8)—the form of Torah is סַם (sam), medicine, and she is life, as is written, A tree of life is she to those who grasp her (ibid. 3:18) [cf. BT Qiddushin 30b]. And his wife is in his form, as is written, Enjoy life with a woman whom you love (Ecclesiastes 9:9). Torah is good, as is written, For good learning I have given you, [do not forsake תּוֹרָתִי (torati), My teaching] (Proverbs 4:2). And his wife is in his form, as is written, Who finds a wife, finds a good thing (ibid. 18:22)” (Tiqqunei ha-Zohar 30a).