Thursday, April 15, 2010

Deep meaning in the placement of the lock

Over at Mystical Paths, a nice dvar Torah by the eponymous Reb Gutman Locks, based on the placement of a lock in the Mikdash. It is short, and more or less all of it needs to be cited to make sense of it, and so I will cite it in full, with my comments and reactions interspersed:
When we see something in the Torah that doesn't seem to make sense, it is a sign that we must look deeper. Indeed, there are a lot of things in the world that do not seem to make sense, but then, when we search, we find a very good reason for them.
Indeed, this is the driving force behind much good peshat commentary, as well as many midrashim. As the Torah states, in parashat Haazinu,

מז  כִּי לֹא-דָבָר רֵק הוּא, מִכֶּם--כִּי-הוּא, חַיֵּיכֶם; וּבַדָּבָר הַזֶּה, תַּאֲרִיכוּ יָמִים עַל-הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם עֹבְרִים אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן שָׁמָּה, לְרִשְׁתָּהּ.  {פ}47 For it is no vain thing for you; because it is your life, and through this thing ye shall prolong your days upon the land, whither ye go over the Jordan to possess it.' {P}

Which is interpreted midrashically and homiletically as that the Torah is not empty, and if it seems empty, it is from you. And so, we can search for an answer to a perceived difficulty. The devar Torah continues:
The Torah explains how, early in the morning, the on-duty kohen (priest) would unlock the gate to the Sanctuary. Next to the locked gate there was a small hole in the wall. With the key in his hand, he would reach into that hole, all the way up to his armpit. He would then unlock the lock that was on the other side of the gate! [i]

Now, that doesn't seem to make any sense at all. It's backwards! Why in the world would the Designer of All have made such an apparent mistake? You do not design a lock that has to be opened by reaching through a hole in a wall to get to the lock that opens from the other side. But since G-d told us to make it that way, there must be a good reason for it.

Here we have the explanation to one of the greatest mystical questions of all. How do I open the upper gate to holiness? Here, in the Temple, we see that the Gate of Holiness opens from the inside. It opens from the upper to the lower. We have to do all that we can in order to open that door, but it is only G-d's kindness from the Inside that finally unlocks the lock. We have to take the proper actions in order to come to it, but that wonderful gate to the innermost spiritual world opens from the Higher to the lower.

[i] Gemora Tamid 30b
And so, there is a big question as to this setup, such that it does not seem to make sense at all! It is backwards, and we should not expect Hashem to have made such a mistake. And so the answer is a "pnimiyus" one, where there is a deep significance to the incongruous placement of the lock.

And herein lies the problem with many a pnimiyus devar Torah. The basis, and the justification, for resorting to the deep meaning -- indeed, for assuming that there is one -- is that things do not appear to make sense. But once again, maybe that is mikem -- a result of our own lack of knowledge about the realia in the time and place of Chazal, or in this instance, of the First Temple or Second Temple Jews. If we were to know a bit more about history, and about the construction of locks in those days, then perhaps on a peshat level, the difficulty would simply melt away. And then there would be no pressing requirement for a pnimiyus answer. The pnimiyus answer might still be the real deep hidden significance, or it even might be true independent of the "problem". But perhaps not., an online keyless lock store, has a section on their website devoted to an ancient Roman key gallery and a brief history lesson. They discuss just how ancient locks were constructed:
It is quite reasonable to suppose that the first barring of a door was done by means of a cross beam, either dropped into sockets of sliding in staples fixed on the door; and it is equally reasonable to suppose that if it slid, a vertical pin dropping into a hole through the staple and beam together, kept the beam in place. If the beam was on the outside of the door, the locking pin must be hidden, and reached either through a hole in the beam, or else through a hole in the staple. This is the kind of primitive lock as made by the Egyptians...
That was one kind of lock, with the beam, and thus the lock, outside the door. It is a good construction, but it carries with it certain repercussions, as discussed in the above paragraph. A bit later:
The next two classes of primitive locks are those in which the beam or bolt was mounted on the inside surface of the door. In this case, if fastened by the tumbler pin, it would not be so necessary to conceal it as when bolt and pin were outside the door. There are some curious sickle-shaped pieces of iron found now and again - as illustrated - which look as if they were made for the purpose of putting through a hole in the door and pulling up or pushing up the pin.

Thus, not only is it non-idiotic to place the bolt and lock on the inside, and access it through a hole, this was actually fairly common. And so in the Bais Hamikdash they used this very common lock type. I am speaking well outside my field of specialty, but I can imagine four reasons for choosing this sort of lock:

  1. This might have been the only type of lock prevalent back then.
  2. It might be more difficult for someone to tamper with the lock to break in, since it is less accessible.
  3. With the bolt on the inside, perhaps it is easier during the day to simply bar and unbar the door.
  4. With the bolt on the inside, someone cannot be as readily locked in by accident.

(Of course, there might be better answers, but I do not know enough about ancient locks.) Thus, there in no longer anything which makes no sense, and no need to resort to the homiletic or mystical. This might be a kry difference between the rational and mystical approach, in general. Still, it is certainly true that:
Indeed, there are a lot of things in the world that do not seem to make sense, but then, when we search, we find a very good reason for them.
Update: I should have also mentioned the pasuk in Shir Hashirim, perek 5:

ב  אֲנִי יְשֵׁנָה, וְלִבִּי עֵר; קוֹל דּוֹדִי דוֹפֵק, פִּתְחִי-לִי אֲחֹתִי רַעְיָתִי יוֹנָתִי תַמָּתִי--שֶׁרֹּאשִׁי נִמְלָא-טָל, קְוֻצּוֹתַי רְסִיסֵי לָיְלָה.2 I sleep, but my heart waketh; Hark! my beloved knocketh: 'Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled; for my head is filled with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.'
ג  פָּשַׁטְתִּי, אֶת-כֻּתָּנְתִּי--אֵיכָכָה, אֶלְבָּשֶׁנָּה; רָחַצְתִּי אֶת-רַגְלַי, אֵיכָכָה אֲטַנְּפֵם.3 I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?
ד  דּוֹדִי, שָׁלַח יָדוֹ מִן-הַחֹר, וּמֵעַי, הָמוּ עָלָיו.4 My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my heart was moved for him.
ה  קַמְתִּי אֲנִי, לִפְתֹּחַ לְדוֹדִי; וְיָדַי נָטְפוּ-מוֹר, וְאֶצְבְּעֹתַי מוֹר עֹבֵר, עַל, כַּפּוֹת הַמַּנְעוּל.5 I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with flowing myrrh, upon the handles of the bar.
ו  פָּתַחְתִּי אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי, וְדוֹדִי חָמַק עָבָר; נַפְשִׁי, יָצְאָה בְדַבְּרוֹ--בִּקַּשְׁתִּיהוּ וְלֹא מְצָאתִיהוּ, קְרָאתִיו וְלֹא עָנָנִי.6 I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had turned away, and was gone. My soul failed me when he spoke. I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer.

The hole in the door is presumably precisely such a setup, of a lock.


zdub said...

Interesting information. But R. Locks' mistake started from the beginning, when he said "The Torah explains how..."

No, it wasn't the Torah, it was the Talmud. That Orthodoxy places oral Torah on par with the written is irrelevant here. The Torah "didn't know from" Temples and door locks. R. Locks is completely ahistorical in his quest for a meaningful d'var Torah.

joshwaxman said...

btw, is this site still slow for you?


zdub said...

Yes, very much so. So I mostly read it via Google Reader.

joshwaxman said...

how is it now?

zdub said...

It's fine now.


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