David Walk

The Seeker

In the imaginary world of Harry Potter, the big sports star isn’t the quarterback, point guard or clean up hitter. It’s the Seeker in the magical world’s sport of Quidditch. I believe that it’s wonderful that the big man on campus is a ‘Seeker’. Moshe Rabbeinu was a ‘Seeker’ too. How do I know? Because the verse says so: Moshe was seeking, was seeking (Vayikra 10:16).

Since Moshe wasn’t ‘seeking’ the Snitch, what was he seeking? Rashi makes the clearest observation: The repetition of the word implies that he made two inquiries: why has this (the goat for the New Moon) been burnt and why have these other goats been eaten? 

So, the first and most logical attempt to explain the repetition of Moshe Rabbeinu is that there are two words for the search because of these two seemingly contradictory laws to be analyzed. As Rav Steinzaltz explains: Moses inquired about the goat which was of the sin offering, which was supposed to have been eaten by the priests as part of their service, after the removal of the portions designated for burning on the altar. And Moses discovered that behold, it was burned; and he was angry with Elazar and with Itamar, the surviving sons of Aaron.

But the interest in the  repetition was just beginning. The great scholars of the Second Temple, who were called SOFRIM, noticed that the halfway point of the Torah (by number of words) is between the first and second DARASH (was seeking). This group’s name is usually translated as Scribes, but the term really means ‘Counters’, because they assured the accuracy of these holy texts by counting letters, words and verses of every copy they authorized.

Now this is fascinating because, clearly, the text is emphasizing and highlighting this term. But why? Before we address the ‘why’ let’s discuss what the word DARASH really means. Perhaps, the greatest source for us of the true definition of a Biblical term is the Malbim (Rav Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser, 1809-1979), and to clarify the meaning of this word, he contrasts it with another similar term in the following verse: My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched (DORESH) or looked for (MEVAKESH) them (Yechezkel 34:6). 

So, the Malbim compared the two terms (both here and other verses) to better clearly delineate the exact meaning of each: The search (DORESH) of a one who lost something is in order to find it; the seeker (MEVAKESH) wants to reclaim the item from a finder with identifying marks. When something is lost the search precedes the seeking. Similarly, ‘those who have not sought (BIKSHU) the Eternal, nor inquired (DIRSHU) of Him’ (Zephaniah 1:6). 

Actually, these two terms are often found together to describe a quest. As many of you know, every Hebrew name (at least the traditional ones) has a verse which either contains the name or at least its letters, which many recite at the end of the SHMONE ESRE. Well, my verse, for David, is: Turn (DIRSHU) to the Lord, in His might; Seek (BAKSHU) His presence constantly (Tehillim 105:4).

Again we can better clarify the meaning of each term by focusing on the meaning of each in these parallel instances. And, of course, we have many great commentaries doing just that. The Vilna Gaon suggests: Torah requires two items: to search (DORESH) with strength and effort, and to request (BAKESH) God’s support in the quest. The Teferet Shlomo offers: All pursuit (DORESH) and seeking ( BAKESH) for physical things are finite, when you possess the item you stop; however, seeking God is eternal, because when you achieve one level there is always another level to pursue. The more one accomplishes the more one realizes there are still levels to achieve. And Rebbe Nachman adds: But now, as soon as we see the destruction of the wicked, God’s countenance is immediately revealed to those who do good. This is the meaning of “Seek His countenance constantly” (Psalms 105:4). By means of “constantly”—the aspect of the Land of Israel, as it is written (Deuteronomy 11:12), “God your Lord keeps His eyes on it constantly”… by means of the Land of Israel you will merit to find God’s countenance.

I brought up Rebbe Nachman’s comment not because he emphasizes the meanings of the words, but because he adds a critical area in which we must invest our efforts to the inquiry and search, namely Eretz Yisrael. Moshe describes the initial area of our effort at DORESH, which is Torah. Of course, the great Rabbinnic effort to elucidate Torah is called MIDRASH, and when a rav addresses his community with his own Torah thoughts, we call it a DRASHA.

There are numerous verses which describe our attempts to DORESH our beloved homeland, like A land which the Lord your God cares for (DORESH); the eyes of the Lord your God are upon it always” (Devarim 11:12). 

However, the greatest use of the term is neither Torah nor Eretz Yisrael, but the Almighty, as in: Seek God when He is present, call on Him when He is near (Yeshayahu 55:6) or: For so says God to the house of Israel: Seek Me  and live!” (Amos 5:4), and: Is there anyone with understanding, who seeks God?” (Tehillim 14:2). Of course, God is also the object to be sought in my verse (Tehillim 105:4), too.

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein Z”L, a noted seeker of Torah, Eretz Yisrael and God, observed:

This ‘derisha’ involves a dialectic of searching on one hand – seeking God’s presence, seeking to encounter Him, and longing on the other hand – as expressed throughout Shir Ha-Shirim – longing for a beloved who reveals but a tiny portion of Himself, a beloved who appears and disappears. The longing for God as our companion, as it were, is the longing for something which we know we shall never attain, something which is beyond our reach, behind the wall, between the cracks, in the faraway ‘hills of Bater (‘spices’, Shir Hashirim 2:17).’  

Isn’t that frustrating? Knowing, before we begin, that we shall never fulfill our ultimate quest? Well, yes, and no. There are quests which can be accomplished. Moshe found the answer to his query. We are living in Eretz Yisrael. But the greatest quest of all, rendezvous with God, is always (exactly like the lovers in Shir Hashirm) just beyond our reach. 

Yes, there is frustration. Nevertheless, the quest itself is sublime, and irresistible for the true Jewish Seeker. The Golden Snitch is off!

About the Author
Born in Malden, MA, 1950. Graduate of YU, taught for Rabbi Riskin in Riverdale, NY, and then for 18 years in Efrat with R. Riskin and R. Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Spent 16 years as Educational Director, Cong. Agudath Sholom, Stamford, CT. Now teach at OU Center and Yeshivat Orayta.
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