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What Does “May We Be the Head and Not the Tail” Mean in the Work?

Article No. 1, Tav-Shin-Nun, 1989-90

Our sages said, “Be a tail to the lions and do not be a head to the foxes” (Avot, Chapter 4). Therefore, what does it mean when they say, “May we be the head and not the tail”?

The order of the work is that when wanting to walk in the path of correction, called “in order to bestow”, the basis of the work should be faith above reason. That is, when the body sees that a person wants to work for the sake of the Creator and not for oneself, the body comes with the question of wicked Pharaoh, who asked the “Who” question, and the question of the wicked one, “What is this work for you?” Reasonably thinking, we should answer these questions with the mind, which is the intellect, and not answer as though we have no head. In other words, we should delve and scrutinize with our minds what to answer to these questions.

It was said about this that we should say to the body, “In terms of the intellect, you are correct and I have no reply to you. However, the path of Torah is that we must go above the reason and the intellect.”

Accordingly, we should interpret “Be a tail to the lions and do not be a head to the foxes.” That is, when the body comes with the “Who” and “What” questions, do not answer it with the head, meaning with the intellect and within reason. Rather, “Be a tail to the lions.” A “lion” is the quality of Hesed[mercy], since in the upper Merkava [structure/chariot] there are a lion and an ox, which are Hesedand Gevura, and a vulture, which is the quality of Tifferet. He says “to the foxes” because the questions they ask are in the intellect and a fox is considered clever; this is why they are called “foxes.”

A person should reply, “I do not reply to you with the intellect, meaning with the mind. Rather, I am following the lions as a tail follows the head. As for me, I have no head, but I am following the quality of Hesed, which is covered Hassadim [mercies].” That is, even though he does not see that they are Hassadim, meaning that it is covered from him, he still believes above reason that they are Hassadim.

This is called “Be a tail to the lions.” This means that he says, “I am following the quality of Hesed, which is only to bestow. A person should say that since he believes above reason that the Creator watches over the world with the quality of good and doing good, he therefore believes that although he sees concealment on Providence, since according to a person’s eyes it should have been otherwise, he still believes that the Creator wants that this way it will be better for man if he can accept everything with faith above reason, for by this he will be able to emerge from self-love and work for the sake of the Creator.

This means that if Providence were revealed to all, even before a person has obtained vessels of bestowal, it would be utterly impossible for man to be able to receive the good in order to bestow. Rather, once a person has made every effort to obtain the vessels of bestowal, he can receive the delight and pleasure in order to bestow, as the correction should be.

It is known that our sages said, “Everything is in the hands of heaven except for fear of heaven.” This means that the Creator gives everything but the fear of heaven. This, the Creator does not give.

Indeed, we should ask, Why does He not give it? But first we should know the meaning of fear of heaven. As it is explained in the “Introduction of The Book of Zohar” (Item 203), fear is that he is afraid that he will “decline in bringing contentment to his Maker.” Therefore, he is afraid to receive the abundance. This is as it is written, “And Moses hid his face for he was afraid to look.” Our sages explained that “In return for ‘Moses hid his face,’ he was rewarded with ‘The image of the Lord he beheld.’” It follows that we attribute to the Creator only giving, and not giving does not pertain to the Creator. This is why we say that fear of heaven pertains to the created beings, who detain themselves from receiving as long as they are uncertain that it will be only for the sake of the Creator.

This is all the work of the created beings, that they must work above reason. It is impossible to do anything without faith in the sages, who arranged for us the order of the work. Once a person has accepted his work as “a tail to the lions,” he follows the sages, to walk only as they had arranged for us.

This is as our sages said (Avot, Chapter 1:4), “Be dusted by the dust of their feet (of the sages).” The Bartenura interprets that you should follow them, for one who walks kicks up dust with his feet, and one who follows him fills up with the dust that they raise with their feet.

We should understand what our sages imply to us with this allegory. We should interpret that one who goes after faith in the sages looks at their way, and they say that we must go above reason. Then, a person begins to be as spies, to see if it is truly worthwhile to follow their path. This is regarded as the feet of the sages kicking up dust, which goes into the eyes of their followers. That is, when a person wants to understand the path of the sages, they tell us that we must follow them with our eyes shut, or dust will enter. Something unimportant is called “dust,” meaning that there cannot be greater lowliness than this.

Since man was given the reason and intellect in order to understand everything according to the intellect, and here we are told to walk by accepting faith in the sages, and a person wants to understand this path, and since as long as one is placed under the governance of the will to receive for himself, he cannot know what is good and what is bad, but must accept everything the way the sages determined for us, or dust and dirt will enter his eyes and he will not be able to move forward, but when we do not criticize the words of the sages and do not want to accept their words within reason, specifically by this we are rewarded with knowledge [reason] of Kedusha [holiness].

This is so because the whole reason why we need to go above reason is that we are immersed in self-love. Hence, through faith above reason, we are rewarded with vessels of bestowal, and then the delight and pleasure in vessels of bestowal is revealed. In the words of The Zohar, this is called “Reason spreads and fills rooms and corridors.” That is, when the Kelim [vessels] are proper, reason spreads both in the inner Kelim and in the outer Kelim.

By this we should interpret what we say, “May we be the head and not the tail.” It is known that there is the order of the purpose of creation and the order of the correction of creation. Therefore, in the order of the correction of creation, we must obtain vessels of bestowal, or it is impossible to receive the delight and pleasure. Therefore, the conduct is “be a tail to the lions,” and then the conduct is everything above reason.

Later, when he is rewarded with the vessels of bestowal through it, he is rewarded with a mind of Kedusha, called “reason of Kedusha,” as it is written in The Zohar, that the reason fills rooms and corridors. In other words, the reason of Kedusha in a person who is rewarded is called the “head.” Therefore, when we ask of the Creator and say, “May it be,” we ask to achieve the purpose of creation, which is “reason” and “head.”

This is the meaning of “May we be the head and not the tail,” meaning that we will not remain a tail of the Sitra Achra [other side], who has no reason, as it is written, “Another God is sterile and does not bear fruit.” Rather, we will be rewarded with “reason,” which is the fruits one obtains following the work of obtaining vessels of bestowal, which are Kelim that are fit to receive the delight and pleasure that He wishes to bestow upon His creations.

For this reason, if a person sees that he has still not been rewarded with “reason of Kedusha,” called “head,” it is a sign that he has still not been purified from vessels of self-love. This is why he still has no “reason.” In other words, it is because he did not initially walk in the manner of accepting faith above reason, by which one is rewarded with vessels of bestowal, which are Kelim where the Kedusha can clothe. This is why he has no reason of Kedusha.

This is similar to what the Sayer of Duvna said about the verse, “You did not call upon Me, Jacob, for you labored, Israel.” If a person still feels labor in the work of the Creator, it is a sign that he is still not working for the sake of the Creator, but is rather working for his own sake. This is why he has exertion in his work. Conversely, when he has corrected his Kelim so as to work in order to bestow contentment upon his Maker, he enjoys the work because he feels that he is serving a great King, and this is worth a great fortune to him. It follows that a person should come to a state of head, intellect, and reason of Kedusha, since this is the purpose of creation.

According to the above, we should interpret what The Zohar says (Pinhas, Item 143), “Rabbi Aba said, ‘I remember something I had heard from Rabbi Shimon, who had heard from Rabbi Eliezer. One day, a sage from the nations came to Rabbi Eliezer and said to him, ‘Three questions I would like to ask you: 1) You say that another Temple will be built for you, but there can only be building twice … for the writing called them ‘The two houses of Israel.’ Also, it is written about the SecondTemple, ‘The glory of that last house will be greater than the first.’ 2) You say that you are closer to the High King more than all other nations. One who is close to the King is always happy, without sorrow … but you are always afflicted, in trouble, and in more grief than all the people. 3) You do not eat carcass or nonkosher food so that you will be healthy, etc. We eat whatever we want and we are robust in strength, etc. Old man, old man, tell me nothing for I will not hear you.’ Rabbi Eliezer raised his eyes, looked at him, and turned him into a pile of bones. When his anger subsided, he turned his head and wept. …These words that the wicked man asked him, I asked Elijah one day, and he said that in the seminary of the firmament, the words were laid out before the Creator, and so they are.’”

We should understand why when the gentile asked him the three questions, Rabbi Eliezer turned him into a pile of bones, while he was rewarded with the revelation of Elijah and asked him the same three questions. Why was Rabbi Eliezer permitted to ask those questions?

According to the above, meaning that we must go above reason, there is no room for questions. That is, it is forbidden to be a head to the foxes, meaning answer the questions with the head, meaning with reason and intellect, namely the questions of “Who” and “What.” Rather, “Be a tail to the lions,” meaning we must say that common sense is as the body says, but we are going above reason. By this we are later rewarded with “reason of Kedusha,” which is being the head and not the tail. In other words, we are rewarded with the head of Kedusha.

By this we should interpret what is this act, that he tells us the argument that Rabbi Eliezer had with the gentile. What does it give us in the work? In the work, we should interpret this in one person. That is, when the body asks questions and wants to understand everything within reason, we must tell the body, “Your questions do not interest me, since I am going above reason.” This is the meaning of the saying that he “looked at him and turned him into a pile of bones.” That is, turning him into a pile of bones refers to his questions, since when one goes above reason, there are no questions and everything is canceled. Afterward, “when his anger subsided” over the questions that the wicked man asked him, he was rewarded with the revelation of Elijah, and Elijah gave him the reason of Kedushaon all the questions, according to what is learned above.


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