Filling Your Eyes with Puch

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How to Merit Seeing the Beit ha-Mikdash of Fire

With words of comfort and consolation, Yeshayah ha-Navi records a promise from Hashem that even though B’nei Yisrael will experience much suffering over the years, He will rebuild for them the Beit ha-Mikdash (Yeshayah 54:11-12): עֲנִיָּה סֹעֲרָה לֹא נֻחָמָה הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי מַרְבִּיץ בַּפּוּךְ אֲבָנַיִךְ וִיסַדְתִּיךְ בַּסַּפִּירִים׃ וְשַׂמְתִּי כַּדְכֹד שִׁמְשֹׁתַיִךְ וּשְׁעָרַיִךְ לְאַבְנֵי אֶקְדָּח וְכׇל־גְּבוּלֵךְ לְאַבְנֵי־חֵפֶץ (Afflicted, storm-tossed and not comforted! Behold, I will lay your stones in puch and establish your foundation with sapir stones. I will place kadchod as your windows, ekdach stones as your gates, and precious stones for all your borders).

Much has been written about these pesukim, and here is not the place to go into all of that in detail. Nevertheless, just on the p’shat level, the words of the Malbim are instructive. In summary, he writes that (1) puch is really nofech, the stone in the choshen mishpat representing the tribe of Yehudah, symbolizing monarchy, (2) sapir is the stone of Yissachar, which stands for wisdom and Torah, (3) kadchod is a gemstone elsewhere called shoham, the stone of Yosef, symbolizing wealth and success, and (4) ekdach, also called bareket, is the stone for Levi, symbolizing avodat Hashem.

Here, we want to focus more deeply just on puch. Rashi explains the phrase מַרְבִּיץ בַּפּוּךְ אֲבָנַיִךְ as רוצף רצפתך מאבני נופך (pave the floor with nofech stones). It seems that Rashi understands puch as the flooring stones themselves. This understanding is not reflective of our translation above where we rendered מַרְבִּיץ בַּפּוּךְ אֲבָנַיִךְ as ‘lay your stones in puch‘. We understand בַּפּוּךְ [ba-puch] as meaning ‘in puch‘ whereas Rashi understands it as ‘with puch‘. Do we have a source for translating this phrase differently from Rashi? Yes. Abarbanel explains it as follows: שאפילו אבניך יהיו מיושבות על נופך שיהיה לך במקום סיד (even your stones will be set upon nofech which will be for you in place of lime). So Abarbanel understands puch, not as the stones themselves but rather as powdered nofech upon which the flooring stones are set. This agrees with the Metzudat David who writes: אבני הרצפה ארביץ ואשכוב בפוך כי ישפך מתחת רצפת האבנים במקום החול כי כן הדרך לשפוך חול תחת אבני הרצפה להשכיב בהם האבנים ויסדתיך (I will lay the flooring stones and set them in puch, for that will be poured under the flooring stones instead of sand, for it’s the way [of builders] to pour sand under flooring stones and set the stones [i.e. the sapir stones] on them and establish your foundation).

What is the source of the idea that puch is actually powdered nofech upon which the flooring stones are set? The Metzudat Tzion explains the source when commenting on the meaning of puch in our pasuk: הוא הכחול והוא דק כעין החול ובו הנשים צובעות עיניהם כמו וַתָּשֶׂם בַּפּוּךְ עֵינֶיהָ (It is the kachol [a type of bluish black eye-shadow mentioned elsewhere in Nach], and it’s fine like sand, and women color their eyes with it, like [Melachim Bet 9:30] ‘And she placed puch on her eyes’). Who was this woman? And why did she color her eyes with puch? The woman was Izevel, the widowed wife of King Achav, and she was doing her best to prevent the new king, Yehu, from executing her. Of course, her attempt at seduction didn’t work and Yehu ordered her thrown out of an upper window to her death. So we learn from here that puch is eye-shadow (or perhaps mascara), powdered nofech.

Let’s summarize what we have learned so far. Hashem promises to rebuild the Beit ha-Mikdash out of precious stones, stones that correspond to the tribal stones in the choshen mishpat, and that these stones represent spiritual ideas or ‘lights’ such as avodat Hashem, Torah, chochmah, wealth, etc. Not only that, but the entire structure is resting upon a sub-structure made up of finely powdered nofech stone, the stone corresponding to the tribe of Yehudah, representing kingship or monarchy.

But what’s the point of all this? And why dafka does the sub-structure upon which the flooring stones rest have to be powdered nofech, a material that oddly enough was used by one of the most notoriously evil women in all of Nach when she attempted to seduce Yehu? Of all possible materials that could have been chosen as the sub-structure for the foundation of the Beit ha-Mikdash, why did Hashem say that it would be puch? If you think about it, that sounds pretty bizarre.

It is taught in the Zohar (Parashat Pekudei 240b): תָּא חֲזֵי אִינּוּן אֲבָנִין דִּיְסוֹדֵי צִיּוֹן וִיְרוּשָׁלַם חַס וְשָׁלוֹם דִּשְׁלִיטוּ עָלַיְיהוּ שְׁאַר עַמִּין וְלָא אוֹקְדוּ לוֹן וְלָא אִתּוֹקְדוּן אֶלָּא כֻּלְּהוּ אִתְגְּנִיזוּ וְגָנִיז לוֹן קוּדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא וְכָל אִינּוּן יְסוֹדֵי בֵּיתָא קַדִּישָׁא כֻּלְּהוּ אִתְגְּנִיזוּ וְלָא אִתְאֲבִידוּ מִנַּיְיהוּ אֲפִילּוּ חַד (Come, see. These foundation stones of Tzion and Yerushalayim, chas v’shalom, that the nations of the world ruled over [or, ‘had control over’, i.e. ‘saw’] them, and they didn’t burn them, and even if they did burn them [physically], they weren’t actually burned. Rather, all of them were hidden away because Ha-Kadosh baruch Hu hid them away, and all of the foundation stones for the Beit ha-Mikdash were hidden away, and not even one of them was lost). From this we understand that the stones mentioned in Yeshayah 54:11-12 are spiritual lights, not literal stones. This is why, even though the Roman legions and their allies burned the Beit ha-Mikdash to the ground, the Zohar ha-Kadosh is telling us that they really didn’t burn anything to the ground. The whole thing was an illusion. They only burned down a facade, something like a paper-mache version of the true Beit Mikdash.

Continuing in the Zohar: וְכַד יֶהְדַּר קוּדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא וְיוֹקִים לָהּ לִיְרוּשָׁלַם עַל אַתְרֵיהּ אִינּוּן יְסוֹדֵי אֲבָנִין קַדְמָאֵי יָהַדְרוּן לְאַתְרַיְיהוּ וְלָא יַשְׁלִיט בְּהוּ עֵינָא אַחֲרָא בַּר בְּזִמְנָא דְּיִכְחוֹל בַּר נָשׁ עֵינוֹי בְּהַהוּא פּוּכָא וְיִמְלֵי עֵינֵיהּ מִנֵּיהּ וּכְדֵין יֶחֱמֵי כָּל אֲבָנִין וְכָל יְסוֹדֵי יְרוּשָׁלַם מְתֻקְּנָן עַל אַתְרַיְיהוּ דְּלָא שָׁלִיטוּ בְּהוּ שְׁאַר עַמִּין וְכָל אִינּוּן אֲבָנִין יְקָרִין אַחֲרָנִין וְכָל אִינּוּן בִּנְיָינִי אֲבָנִין כֻּלְּהוּ קַיְימֵי עַל קִיוּמַיְיהוּ (And when Ha-Kadosh baruch Hu will return and establish Yerushalayim upon its place, those original foundation stones will be returned to their place, and no other eye will see [them], except when a person colors his eyes with puch, and fills his eyes with it, for then he will see all the stones and all of the foundations of Yerushalayim established in their place, and the rest of the nations will not ‘have control over’ [i.e. ‘see’] them, and all of these other precious stones and building stones will stand upon their fixed positions). So, if we want to see the House that Hashem builds, we will not only need to apply puch to our eyes, but we will even need to fill our eyes with it. Anyone who refuses to learn how to fill his eyes with puch will not merit and will not be given permission to see the Beit ha-Mikdash, at least not the one that Hashem builds. The Zohar repeats this idea and connects the teaching to our pasuk in Yeshayah 54:11: וְתָא חֲזֵי כָּל מַאן דְּאַסְתִּים מִן עֵינָא וְלָא אִתְיְיהִיב רְשׁוּ לְשַׁלְּטָאָה בֵּיהּ עֵינָא לָא יַכְלִין לְמִשְׁלַט בֵּיהּ עֵינָא בַּר בְּכִחְלָא דְּעֵינָא בְּמִלִּין יְדִיעָאן וּבְגִין כָּךְ הִנִּה אָנֹכִי מַרְבִּיץ בַּפּוּךְ אֲבָנַיִךְ (Come, see. That which is hidden from the eye and over which the eye is not given permission to see, the eye cannot see, unless one colors his eye with a ‘known thing’; and therefore, it is written [Yeshayah 54:11]: ‘Behold, I will lay your stones in puch‘). The ‘known thing’ is, of course, the puch mentioned in the pasuk.

So what does all of this mean? The Matok m’Devash summarizes the Ramak and other commentators with the following words: והנמשל בזה כי המזכך עיני ראייתו ויתפשט מחומרו ישיג השגה זו דהיינו בנין המקדש והתלבשו זו בזו (The nimshal [the reality upon which the mashal is based] is this, that one who purifies his eyes of sight and takes off his physicality [like someone taking off his clothes] will grasp this perception, i.e. the Temple building and it being clothed this in that). What does ‘clothed this in that’ mean? It means that the future Beit ha-Mikdash is actually a combination of two Temples, a physical one and a spiritual one (see Zohar ha-Kadosh, Parashat Pinchas 221a). Anyone alive at the time will be able to see the physical one, but only the ones who have purified their eyes by not looking at forbidden sights will merit to see the spiritual one, the Beit ha-Mikdash of fire that is clothed in the physical Beit ha-Mikdash. This explains the deeper meaning of the words that we pray at the end of רְצֵה [Retzei] three times a day in the Shemoneh Esreh: וְתֶחֱזֶינָה עֵינֵינוּ בְּשׁוּבְךָ לְצִיּוֹן בְּרַחֲמִים: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ הַמַּחֲזִיר שְׁכִינָתוֹ לְצִיּוֹן (May our eyes see Your return to Tzion with mercy. Blessed are You Hashem, who returns His Shechinah to Tzion). Eyes that merit to see such awesome revelations will need to be eyes that are pure and unblemished, for eyes that wish to behold such kedushah must themselves be eyes that have become kadosh.

Now we can understand why the pasuk in Yeshayah 54:11 specifies that the sub-structure, the fine, sand-like material upon which the flooring stones of the foundation of the Beit ha-Mikdash are laid must be puch, ground up nofech stone. It is as if Hashem is telling us to take the very material which Izevel used in her attempted seduction of Yehu, to entice him to violate his holy brit and the covenant with Hashem, to take that very substance and blind ourselves with it so that we no longer fall into the trap laid by the ‘adulterous woman’. There is much more to say here, but one who understands will understand.

The mitzvah of shemirat einayim, an aspect of being shomer brit, is one of the most central mitzvot of the Torah, if not the most central mitzvah, for without it we have no kedushah, and if we have no kedushah, chas v’shalom, we will not experience the eternal Beit ha-Mikdash. Guarding one’s eyes underpins the whole structure, the entire Beit ha-Mikdash, and that’s why its flooring stones are embedded in puch. It’s the foundation of all foundations, the sub-structure upon which the actual foundation, i.e. the yesod, is built. Therefore, Yeshayah 54:11 ends with the words וִיסַדְתִּיךְ בַּסַּפִּירִים (And establish your foundation [yesod] with sapir stones). Yes, filling one’s eyes with puch, blinding oneself from seeing forbidden sights, from seeing any woman or girl (including even an image of one) who is not of one’s immediate family, is so fundamental to the kedushah of Am Yisrael that it underpins even the foundation, the yesod, i.e. the sefirah of yesod, for the Beit ha-Mikdash itself!

It’s up to each and every one to work on this, and that’s why we read at the beginning of our parashah that Hashem spoke to Moshe Rabbeinu and said (Vayikra 19:2): דַּבֵּר אֶל־כׇּל־עֲדַת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי יְיָ אֱלֹקֵיכֶם (Speak to the entire congregation of B’nei Yisrael and say to them, Be kadosh because I, Hashem, your G-d am kadosh).

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