March 1, 2022

Chagigah 13

Much of today’s daf (Chagigah 13b) compares and seeks to interpret the prophetic visions of Yeshayahu (Isaiah) and Yechezkel (Ezekiel). Specifically, our daf contrasts the depiction of angels in Yeshayahu 9:2 with six wings, while Yechezkel 1:6 describes angels as only having four wings, and asks why these differ?

The answer it gives relates to when each prophet lived. Yeshayahu lived around 120 years before the destruction of the First Temple, while Yechezkel lived before and during its destruction. As such, Yeshayahu’s depiction of angels are reflective of a period ‘when the Temple still stood’, while Yechezkel’s depiction reflects a period ‘when the Temple no longer stood’.

But then the Gemara asks הי מינייהו אימעוט – ‘which [of the wings of the angels] were reduced?’ – to which we are given two different answers.

According to Rav Chananel quoting Rav, the angelic wings which ceased to exist following the destruction were the wings of the songs previously sung in the Temple.

Contrasting this, the Rabbis explain that the angelic wings which ceased to exist following the destruction were those that covered the legs of the angels. This is based on Yechezkel (1:7) which describes angels as having straight-standing legs – a fact that was unknown before this period, which thereby suggests that until then the legs of the angels were covered by their wings.

However, as Rabbi Efraim Oved explains (in his ‘Torat HaAggadah’), the fact that Yechezkel refers to the legs of the angels also alludes to the fact that with the destruction of the Temple came the cessation of עליה לרגל – making a pilgrimage by foot to Jerusalem. As such, the sight of the legs of the angels following the destruction was a veiled reference to the fact that there were now no physical רגלים (legs) ascending to Yerushalayim.

Understood this way, this debate revolves around what was felt to be most missing after the destruction: was it the spirited and soulful connection to God through song as part of the Temple service? Or was it the energetic and bustling experience of people connecting to God through their pilgrimage to Yerushalayim and their coming together in the Temple precinct? Naturally, the absence of both were felt, but for Rav, the lack of song was what he felt was the greater spiritual loss, while for the Rabbis, it was the lack of pilgrimage.

Reflecting on this question today when, over the past two years, many of us have had prolonged periods of isolation and have not felt like full participants in synagogue life, some of us have felt that our greatest spiritual loss has been the lack of opportunities to pray as a full community and hear the roar of so many voices together in prayer and song, while others have felt that their greater spiritual loss has been the lack of opportunities to come together with Jews for prayer, study or smachot (celebrations).

Still, whatever the answer, each of us have felt that some of our wings have been clipped during this pandemic. As such, we hope and pray for a time – in the very near future – when they will be fully restored.

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