Kenneth Cohen

The Debate of Heaven and Earth

A major theme of Pesach, was the emphasis on the removal of Chametz. The difference between Matza and Chametz, is that the unleavened bread, represented humility, and the leavened bread, represented haughtiness and arrogance. The efforts to clean our homes, was a symbolic representation of removing the undesirable character traits that we might possess.

Two of the greatest Chassidic masters, were the brothers, Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, known as the “Noam Elimelech,” and Rabbi Zusha of Annapoli.

These two great Tzaddikim, once debated what was the correct path in worshipping Hashem. Rabbi Elimelech claimed that one should first focus on his own lowliness, and this humility would lead to an awareness of the greatness of the Creator.

Rav Zusha held the opposite view and felt that focusing on the exalted state of Hashem, should be the focus, as this would lead man to realize how small he is.

This debate was serious enough where they went to a third sage, Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezritch for clarification as to who was right. They noted that this same debate existed a few thousand years before, between Beit Shammai, who felt that the Heavens were created first, and Beit Hillel, who felt the earth was created first.

Rav Zusha agreed with Beit Shammai, that recognizing the greatness of G-d would lead to humility. Rav Elimelech held like Beit Hillel that the earth was created first in order to show man’s lowliness and vulnerability, in comparison with G-d.

Rav Dov Ber settled the debate by saying that both opinions had validity, and both were important. However, he felt that the emphasis on man’s connection to the earth should be the priority, because, “No person can fall off the ground!” He meant that if you start too high, you could end up falling.

The emphasis on humility is seen as a great priority in Judaism. If one gives in to his ego and pride, he loses. He will be off course in a big way. He will not find peace of mind. Moshe Rabbeinu is the hero of our Passover story. And it is no coincidence that the greatest man who ever lived, was the most humble. He succeeded in removing all of his Chametz. Hopefully, we will have similar success, and worship G-d just as our saintly sages did.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at
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