Chapter 25

11 Pinchas the son of Eleazar: The fact that Pinchas was much younger than any of the authority figures of the time—Moses, Aaron’s sons, or the other sages—did not prevent him from acting in their presence, once it was clear that they were paralyzed. Similarly, we should not be intimidated by the fact that those of greater stature or learning are not righting some wrong that needs to be righted. It could well be, as it was with Pinchas, that Divine providence is keeping them silent so a “less qualified” individual will seize the moment and answer destiny’s call to greatness. Rather, when Divine providence presents us with an opportunity to right some wrong in the world, we must pursue it with total self-sacrifice, as did Pinchas. The fact that we are given this chance means that the fulfillment of our life’s purpose depends on it.

We are taught that Pinchas possessed the soul of the prophet Elijah, who existed prior to him as an angel. Practically, this meant that Pinchas possessed within him the powers of his previous manifestation—Elijah the angel—when he was confronted with the sin of Zimri. We are further taught that Elijah will herald the messianic age.

The lesson for us in this is that when we emulate Pinchas, responding to the call of the hour with self-sacrifice, we are empowered to accomplish what we are called upon to do and our efforts hasten the coming of the Messiah.1

12 I hereby give him My covenant: Priesthood is hereditary, that is, intrinsic to the individual. No amount of work can earn it for him. How then, could Pinchas have “earned” it? Pinchas must have been naturally fit for the priesthood, the traits associated with it having lain dormant within him from birth. His act of vengeance merely awoke his latent “priesthood personality” and made it his active consciousness. God then granted him the priesthood officially.

In this way, Pinchas’ priesthood anticipates the Divine revelations that will occur in the messianic future. In general, Divine revelations are of two types: those that are a response to our initiative and those that are unsolicited. Each type has an advantage over the other. The intensity of a revelation given in response to some initiative from below is always proportional to the intensity or quality of the initiative. Thus, such revelations are by nature limited, since finite beings can produce only a finite, limited arousal. In contrast, the intensity of an unsolicited revelation is unlimited by any prior arousal, so it can be infinite. However, since it is infinite, it generally cannot be fully assimilated and integrated by its finite recipients. The advantage of the limited, elicited revelation is that its initiators have laid the groundwork for it, so it can be more fully integrated into their lives once it occurs.

This is analogous to a teacher-student relationship, in which the teacher’s knowledge is infinitely broader and deeper than that of his students. If the teacher lectures on a subject his students know nothing about, he can expound endlessly on it; some of it will “go in” and some (probably most) of it will not. His lecture is not a waste of time, since the students will have glimpsed the infinity of the subject and will have gained awe and respect for both the subject and the teacher. But they will be able to repeat very little of what they heard.

In contrast, if the teacher assigns homework and the students prepare for the lecture, the opposite will be the case. The teacher will not allow himself the liberty of disclosing endless insights to his students; he will stick to the topic his students prepared. He will reveal much less to them than in the first type of lecture, but they will understand and absorb whatever he says, since they have made intellectual “vessels” for it.

The Divine revelations of the future will have both advantages. They will convey all the infinity of unsolicited revelations, but we will be able to fully absorb them. The world (including us) will be so refined that the finite will paradoxically be able to absorb the infinite.

Priesthood, being a gift of God passed on hereditarily, is similar to an unsolicited Divine revelation: no amount of work, refinement, or money from “below” can procure it. Pinchas, however, did procure it by his acts. His priesthood thus evinced both advantages: the infinity of Divine initiative and the worthiness and integration of elicitation from below.

Pinchas could to do this only because he exhibited self-sacrifice for God and His purposes in the world. As was mentioned in the overview, he thereby rose above the limits of reason and attained the connection with God that will typify the messianic era. Since he was already functioning, in this respect, on the messianic level, his priesthood reflected this dynamic and was able to transcend the inherent limitations of the present order.

This is why God describes Pinchas’ priesthood as “My covenant of peace”: “peace” implies a union or blending of two opposites. Here, the two opposites were this-worldly revelation granted in accordance with effort expended and the future dynamic of infinite, unsolicited revelation.2

Chapter 26

11 Korach’s sons...did not die: The sons of Korach played a key role in fomenting his rebellion, and to all outward appearances were full participants in it. This is why, to all appearances, they indeed suffered the same fate as the rebels. But because they repented in their hearts, they were spared the full punishment and allowed later to resume their lives in the community. We are taught that among their descendants were the prophet Samuel3 and Levites who officiated at the Temple,4 and that their poetry was included in the Book of Psalms.5

This shows us the tremendous power of repentance—even when it is not acted upon as it should be.

This insight can serve to quiet any doubts that we or others may entertain about the possibility of redemption in our times. We are taught that “when the Jewish people repent, they will be immediately redeemed.”6 But the power of just thinking about repenting, especially when added to the merits we have accrued throughout our protracted exile—the Torah we have learned, the commandments we have performed, and the martyrdom we have suffered—is certainly enough to bring about the promised Redemption!7

53 The land will be divided: The Land of Israel was divided in three ways:

  • by population, that is, the larger the tribe, the larger the portion it received,
  • by lot (which was God’s hand at work), and
  • through inheritance.8

In other words, the Jewish people’s connection to the Land of Israel exists on three levels:

  • rationally, i.e., by their own merits,
  • by Divine decree, and
  • by inheritance.

This is because God chose the Land of Israel to be the central setting in which the process of making the physical world into His home would unfold. The Jewish people are similarly the nation God chose to be the central players in this drama. Therefore, the relationship that is about to be established between the chosen people and the chosen land must reflect that which has been established between the people and God.

The relationship between God and the Jewish people is threefold, as is stated in the daily morning liturgy: “Happy are we: how good is our portion, how pleasant our lot, and how beautiful our inheritance.”

  • “Portion” refers to the contractual relationship between God and Israel. We have undertaken to serve God in various ways, and He has promised to reward us for our service. The portion we receive from God is commensurate with the effort we exert to earn it.

On a deeper level, “portion” refers to the fact that the Jewish Divine soul is “a veritable portion of God above,”9 just as a child may be seen as a portion of his parent. This intrinsic relationship between God and the Jewish people binds them inseparably.

  • “Lot” refers to the suprarational relationship God forged with us by giving us the Torah and making us the bearers of His message to humanity. This was an act of absolute free will on God’s part; He was not compelled by any logical considerations to choose us, anymore than a lot is compelled to fall a certain way.

This suprarational relationship is deeper not only than the contractual, servicereward relationship, but even than the intrinsic, parent-child relationship, since the latter also “forces” God, so to speak, into a connection with Israel. Beyond this, God also chooses Israel of His own, suprarational volition.

  • “Inheritance” refers to the mutual identification of God and Israel. According to Jewish law, the inheritor assumes the legal standing of the parent and thereby automatically assumes ownership of his parent’s property. He does not earn it, nor does the parent choose to bequeath it to him; he in essence becomes his parent.

Here, the Jewish people are not a separate entity that God chooses; they and God are, so to speak, one and the same.

Before the Torah was given, the relationship between God and the Jewish people was solely on the contractual and child-parent levels. Service of God was limited; an individual could serve God and elicit Divine revelation to the extent his natural talents and faculties allowed, but no further. At the same time, God showed the Jewish people special attention due to the Divine soul they possessed from the time of Abraham.

When the Torah was given, the free-choice relationship between God and Israel was added. From this point on, God sets the tone in the relationship, meaning that even the service-reward reciprocity is no longer limited by our finite capacities; the Torah and its commandments enable us to achieve Divine consciousness far in excess of our natural ability.

With the messianic Redemption, however, the inheritance relationship will become paramount. Our creature consciousness will both dissolve into Creator consciousness and continue to exist separately; our unique personalities will shine individually even as they paradoxically exist as part of God’s absolute reality.

Thus, since the Land of Israel is intended to be, as we have said, the microcosm of the comprehensive process of making the physical world into God’s home, its relationship to the Jewish people had to be established on all three levels: rational, suprarational, and intrinsic. In this way, our entry and possession of the land foreshadowed the final Redemption, in which our intrinsic, essential identification with God will become the operative consciousness of reality.10

Chapter 27

17 I believe my son is qualified for this position: Since kingship is indeed passed on hereditarily, Moses felt that his leadership should be inherited by his sons. God countered that since Joshua dedicated himself totally to the study of the Torah, he deserved to lead the people. Of course, Moses knew that Joshua’s dedication to Torah study was superior to his sons’, but he thought Joshua could be the next generation’s Torah authority, while his sons could lead the people in the political and military arenas.

In later generations, the leadership of the Jewish people was indeed divided between the president of the Sanhedrin (the legislative- judicial branch of government) and the king (the executive branch). However, despite his absolute authority over the people, the Jewish king is merely the emissary of the Torah and its authorized interpreters, the sages. The Jewish government is not a monarchy but a theocracy; the king is subordinate to God, His Torah, and its teachers.

Thus, when the Torah’s absolute authority is vested in one individual, there is no need for a second individual to act as its executor. Only when the Torah’s authority is vested in a legislative-judicial body, i.e., the Sanhedrin, is it necessary to appoint a single individual to act as king.

Such a division was not relevant in the case of Joshua any more than it was in the case of Moses. Since Joshua—and only Joshua—was ordained directly and fully by Moses, the entire authority of the Torah was vested in him.

God, however, did not command Joshua to ordain one, unique successor. “Moses received the Torah from Sinai, and transmitted it to Joshua, and Joshua [transmitted it] to the elders….”11 True, the Sanhedrin had functioned since the days of Moses, but only in the generation after Joshua did the authority of the Torah become fully vested in this body.12 Therefore, it eventually became necessary to appoint a king.13

Chapter 28

2 Command the Israelites: Besides requesting a physical, human leader for the people, Moses also was requesting that God ensure that the people always recognize that they are subject to Him, their Divine leader—that He runs the world and that all aspects of life occur through Divine providence. God granted this request by instituting the daily sacrifices, which correspond to the daily prayers. The daily sacrifice/ prayer rituals enhance our awareness and recognition that there is a God in the world.14

My food: The sacrifices are termed God’s “bread,” for just as eating strengthens the connection between the body and soul, drawing the life-force of the soul into the body, the sacrificial service (and the prayers that correspond to it) draws Divine life-force into the world.15

Command the Israelites…My food: The constancy of the daily sacrifice expresses the eternal and inviolate bond between God and the Jewish people. Its daily observance therefore gives God great pleasure, and He even calls it His daily “food,” the nourishment that “sustains” Him.

The daily prayers were instituted to parallel the daily sacrifices and, in the absence of the Temple, substitute for them.16 It follows that our daily prayers also “sustain” God. If we ever doubt how important our prayers can be, even our ordinary, middle-of-the-week ones, we should recall that God considers them vital to the world’s existence and maintenance. They are as important to Him as our daily bread is to us.17

4 In the morning…in the afternoon: The “morning” symbolizes the bright, happy times in life, while the “evening” symbolizes the dark, difficult times. Just as we are to serve God when things are going well, so should we keep serving Him during the difficult periods in life. This constancy cements our relationship with Him and enables us to develop a true feeling of closeness to Him.18

6 Like the one offered up…during the week of inaugurating the Tabernacle: The uniqueness of the inaugural sacrifices is that Moses offered them himself. Since Moses was the collective, all-inclusive soul of his generation, by offering these sacrifices he paved the way for all other Jews to accomplish the same spiritual ends he did. Whereas parts of other offerings were eaten, the meat of the ascent-offering was consumed on the altar.19 Such is the Jew’s ability to relinquish his self-consciousness and dissolve into the greater reality of God. We inherit this ability from Moses.20

8 A fire-offering to please God: The Maggid of Mezeritch interpreted this phrase as follows:

A fire offering—when a Jew serves God with warmth and enthusiasm—this is pleasing to God.21

14 The ascent-offering of each new month may be offered only in its month throughout the months of the year: Every month a different permutation of God’s Name (that is, the four-letter Name, spelled yud-hei-vav-hei and referred to as Havayah) is manifest in creation. The Maggid of Mezeritch explained that the monthly offerings ascend on High via the specific permutation manifest that month.22

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch added that although the same sacrifices were offered every month, the meditative intention accompanying them differed, and was based on these differing permutations.23

Allegorically, this verse refers to the soul’s continuous yearning to ascend out of and transcend the confines of its existence within the body and regain the Divine consciousness it knew before its descent into this world. This love for God became fixed in every Jew’s soul-consciousness when God revealed Himself to us at Mt. Sinai.24

Chapter 29

1 It shall be a day of shofar-sounding for you: The Ba’al Shem Tov gave the following analogy to illustrate the effect of blowing the shofar:

Once there was a king who had an only son. The son was well learned and his father loved him very much. One day, the king and the prince decided that it would be educational for the prince to travel to faraway lands to learn the wisdom and ways of the people who lived there. The king gave the prince an entourage of ministers and servants as well as a large amount of money for this expedition, all so that he advance in his knowledge and wisdom beyond his ability to do so at home, in the king’s court.

But as the journey wore on, the prince spent all the money on the luxuries he was accustomed to at home plus other excesses that he indulged in on the way. Eventually, he was left with nothing, and had arrived at a place so far away from home that no one there had ever heard of his father.

Distraught, the prince decided it was time to go home. But he had been away so long that he had forgotten his native tongue, so when he finally made his way back to the capital city of his kingdom, he could not explain to anyone who he was and where he needed to go. He tried to gesture to them that he was the prince, but of course no one paid any attention to him. Finally, when he was near enough the palace so the king could hear him, he let loose a wordless scream so his father would recognize his voice. The king indeed recognized his son’s voice and sent for him, and so they were reunited.

So, too, the Jewish soul is God’s child; this child was sent into the foreign environment of this material world for its own edification, accomplished by learning the Torah and fulfilling its commandments. But by indulging in the delights of this world, the soul becomes increasingly estranged from its native milieu; it is gradually drawn into an environment that does not recognize Divinity and is not concerned with it, and it eventually forgets the language of holiness and purity.

But at some point, it remembers who it is and cries out to God. This is the wordless blast of the shofar, which utters the innermost voice of the soul in its regret for its past deeds, its longing for its Divine home, and its desire to rededicate itself to its Father. When God hears this cry, it arouses His mercy, and He forgives the soul restoring it to its former intimacy with Him.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev gave the following analogy:

A king once set out on a journey that led him deep into a thick forest. At one point, he lost his way and could not determine how to get out. A group of villagers passed by, so he asked them for directions back to the palace. But they did not recognize him, so they did not know if they should help him or not, and moreover, they did not know the way to the palace. Eventually, someone passed by who did recognize that this was the king and who did know the way to the palace, so he escorted the king back home. The king was so impressed with this person’s knowledge that he made him his personal advisor.

A long time after this, the advisor wronged the king in some way, and in his anger, the king told his ministers to judge the advisor and declare him guilty of rebellion. The advisor was very upset because he knew what this meant, so he asked the king for one last request: that they both dress themselves in the clothes they wore when they had their first encounter in the forest. The king agreed, and when he put on the clothes he wore then and saw his advisor wearing the clothes he wore then, he remembered at once the tremendous favor the advisor had done him by leading him out of such a hopeless situation. In his gratitude, the king forgave the advisor of his misdeed and returned him to his post.

Similarly, when God wished to give the Torah, he first inquired of all the other nations and none accepted it. It began to look as if no one was interested in fulfilling God’s purpose in creation and God had created the world for naught. But then, the Jews accepted the Torah immediately and enthusiastically.

Eventually, our initial enthusiasm waned and we transgressed the Torah’s instructions. We therefore blow the shofar to remind God of the day when we first “met” at Mount Sinai and the shofar was blowing as we accepted His Torah. The shofar blast reminds God of how we accepted His Torah unconditionally, and He forgives our misdeeds.25

Both of these parables revolve around the idea that Rosh Hashanah is a time of renewal, of returning to the origin and drawing new levels of connection from the inexhaustible wellsprings of our relationship with God.

This annual renewal is necessary if life is to retain its freshness and novelty. Every level of Divine consciousness carries its inherent modes of thinking, expression, and action—its own language. If we merely continue developing the same level of Divine consciousness we have been nurturing the past year, we will remain locked in its intrinsic limitations and religious life will begin to seem repetitive and dull. On Rosh Hashanah, God withdraws the Divine energy that sustained creation the previous year and replenishes with new and fresh vitality. It is therefore an opportunity for us to do the same: to make a quantum leap to a new plateau of Divine consciousness that will inspire our lives for the coming year.

To do this, however, we cannot rely on words, because words carry specific meanings for us that are limited by the knowledge and experiences we have accrued in our lives. In order to break out of the contextual meaning of our limited modes of expression, we use the blast and wails of the shofar, which transcend the confines of language.

In this way, we recapture the innocence and inspiration of a soul newly born and of the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, and this renewed inspiration powers our relationship with God for the coming year.26

13 The bulls decrease from thirteen on the first day to seven on the seventh day: We all have a non-Jewish aspect of our nature, a part of us that is predisposed to see the material world as an end in itself and therefore opposes dedicating our lives to our Divine mission. Part of our task in life is to reorient this non-Jewish nature toward holiness, so that its strength and enthusiasm can be harnessed for holy purposes.

The Torah here tells us to take our cue from the bulls offered on Sukkot, which decreased daily. If we pamper our materiality, always giving in to what it insists are its “needs,” it will quickly learn to assert itself and make continuously more demands of us. Rather, we should accustom it to make do with the minimum, while we strive for greater and greater fulfillment in spiritual areas.

At the same time, if we try to change our non-Jewish nature overnight, it will simply buck at the idea. Rather, we must accustom it gently and gradually to this new orientation, showing it step by step how spiritual fulfillment is even more satisfying than gross material fulfillment.

This technique resembles that of encouraging Torah study by rewarding small children with sweets, more mature youngsters with money, and still more mature youths with honors or the promise of prestige, until finally the students learn to study the Torah for its own sake.

Once our material drives have been educated in this way, it is possible to make a quantum leap and wean them entirely of their material orientation, like the quantum leap from the last day of Sukot to Shemini Atzeret, when the number of bulls offered drops from seven to one.27

35 A time of restriction for you: The word for “restriction” (atzeret) can also be translated as “retaining,” implying assimilation and integration.

Shemini Atzeret is described as “a time of restriction for you,” whereas the seventh day of Pesach is described as “a time of restriction for God, your God.”28

This is because Pesach celebrates the Exodus from Egypt, when we were not spiritually mature enough to assimilate and integrate the significance and implications of the great Divine revelations we witnessed. Therefore, these revelations remained above, “for God, your God,” kept in safekeeping, so to speak, until we were ready for them.

The holiday of Sukot, however (which culminates in Shemini Atzeret), celebrates God’s protection of us during our trek in the desert, most of which took place after the revelation at Mt. Sinai, after we had achieved spiritual maturity. As such, we could integrate these revelations into our consciousness, and therefore they are “for you.”

On the personal level, we are all reborn into a higher level of relationship with God every year. On the seventh day of Pesach, a mere week after our yearly rebirth, we are not mature enough to appreciate the implications of this new awareness. Only after we have received and integrated the new Divine consciousness fully—six months later, at Shemini Atzeret—do these revelations become truly ours.29

This is alluded to in this verse, “the eighth day shall be a time of restriction for you.” The imagery of the “day” connotes revelation; “eight” (in Hebrew: shemoneh) connotes “fat” or “fullness” (shemen). The verse can thus be read, “you will integrate the fullness of the revelation” on Shemini Atzeret.30