Chapter 9

1 Aaron’s merit was superior to Moses’ own: The integration of Godliness into the physical world requires two complimentary and essential dynamics: Firstly, Godliness must “descend” into the world, meaning that it must be expressed in such a way that it can enter into created reality, which is not intrinsically receptive to Godliness. Secondly, the world must “ascend” to the notion of Godliness, meaning that it must be made receptive to it. The first dynamic is essential because we created beings could never achieve transcendent levels of Divine consciousness on our own, due to the innate limitations of our finite minds. The second dynamic is essential because without preparation and inspired readiness on our part, Divine revelation cannot be absorbed into our being, and therefore cannot elevate us in any lasting way.

The agent for the first dynamic was Moses. Being more of the higher, spiritual worlds than of this world,1 he was uniquely suited to transmitting God’s Torah to the people. The agent for the second dynamic was Aaron. Aaron labored to promote peace between friends and spouses,2 thereby making society more receptive to Godliness,3 and also worked directly to inspire the people to aspire to the spiritual life.4

Although both dynamics are essential, the ultimate purpose of infusing the world with Divinity is our ascent to higher levels of Divine consciousness. Thus, in this context, Moses’ efforts were secondary to Aaron’s. It was therefore Aaron’s involvement in the consecration rites that made it possible, so to speak, for God to complete the process begun by Moses’ preparations and reveal His presence in the Tabernacle.

This insight is not merely of academic or historical interest. We all desire to feel God’s presence in our lives; a necessary preparation, then, is to follow the sages’ direction5 to “be of the students of Aaron: love peace and pursue peace; love your fellow creatures and bring them close to the Torah.” Doing so is not only good for others; it causes God’s presence to be felt in our lives.6

Chapter 10

1 Liable to the death penalty: From a deeper perspective, Aaron’s sons did not sin, nor was their death a punishment. It was not only in full accordance with God’s will that they offer up their incense before Moses could command it, it was a vital conclusion to the consecration rites.

The innate consciousness of our Divine soul is its awareness of being bound to God, being one with Him. Normally, this awareness is obfuscated by the self-awareness of our human/animal souls, but we have seen7 how drinking wine can, under the proper circumstances, allow the Divine soul to overtake our consciousness. In the words of the Talmudic sages: “When wine enters, secrets emerge”8—the ultimate “secret” being our unity with God. Wine is also a metaphor for the inner dimension of the Torah, the study of which also aids the Divine soul in manifesting itself in our consciousness.

This is why Aaron’s sons drank wine—in order to open their minds and reveal their Divine souls. At the same time they drank wine literally, they also drank “wine” metaphorically: by allowing their Divine souls to overtake their consciousness, their minds became simultaneously flooded with profound insights into the Torah’s inner dimension, increasing their sense of oneness with God.

When this sense of oneness with God overtakes our conscious mind sufficiently, we gain an intuitive knowledge of God’s will. At this level of consciousness, there is no need for God to articulate His commandments to us explicitly, since we already know what He wants of us.

(There are advantages both in waiting to fulfill God’s will until He expresses it and in intuiting His will before it is expressed—or fulfilling it beyond how it is expressed. On the one hand, submitting to God’s express will evinces our devotion to it, our willingness to override our own agendas in favor of His. Thus, the sages teach us that “one who performs [a Divine commandment] having been commanded [to do so] is greater than one who performs [such a deed] though not having been commanded [to do so].”9 On the other hand, intuiting His will before it is expressed and/or fulfilling it before we are required to—or when we are not required to—evinces our identification with His will, the substitution of His agenda for ours. The first is a greater sacrifice; the second a greater achievement of Divine consciousness.)

It was to this level of Divine consciousness that Nadav and Avihu ascended on the eighth day of the installation rites. Thus, their incense offering was one “that He had not commanded,” for they intuited its necessity even before God disclosed it.

Moreover, their incense offering was an expression of their conscious unification with God. Incense is offered up on the Inner Altar, which parallels the inner dimension of the heart—i.e., our Divine soul, which is constantly bound to its Divine source—and serves to reveal and intensify this bond. In contrast, the sacrifices offered up on the Outer Altar are designed to elevate the outer dimension of the heart—our human/animal soul—to Divinity. Thus, the Hebrew word for “sacrifice” (קרבן) means “to come close,” implying that the offerer is not yet close, and that through the sacrifice he comes close but does not necessarily become one with God. In contrast, the Hebrew word for “incense” (קטרת) means “bound,”10 implying that through the incense, the offerer binds himself with his Divine source, becoming one with it.

Aaron’s son’s incense offering therefore completed the rites performed by Moses and Aaron and sanctified the Tabernacle. Although the Divine Presence had already descended upon the Tabernacle, it did not permeate it; the Tabernacle and the Divine Presence remained separate entities. This dichotomy mirrored the Divine consciousness that Aaron had evinced in performing his rites: he had done all that he was commanded, but had stopped short of ascending to the level where commandments become superfluous.

Therefore, the Tabernacle’s sanctification, the achievement of oneness with God, required an “alien fire,” one that was different than any rite that had yet been performed, by virtue of having originated in consummate Divine consciousness. Nadav and Avihu’s incense satisfied this requirement, and therefore elicited a fire from God that surpassed the fire that descended through Aaron’s sacrificial service, permeating the Tabernacle with holiness rather than just manifesting holiness in it.

Nadav and Avihu’s elevated Divine consciousness led them to lose all sense of their physicality, until their souls left their bodies. As Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar explains,11 in their intense desire to cleave to God, they continued to rise through spiritual heights even as they felt their souls leaving them. From this perspective, their death was not a punishment; they died in the same way that Moses and Aaron would later die: by the Divine kiss.12

Nevertheless, their behavior was acceptable only as an ad hoc measure required for the purposes of that special day. Therefore, we are not intended to emulate their example; on the contrary, we are expressly forbidden to pursue such suicidal spiritual rapture. Although it is necessary to seek inspiration and renew it constantly, the purpose of reaching increasingly higher planes of Divine consciousness is to bring the acquired consciousness down into the world, thereby making the world increasingly more conscious of God and transforming it into His home.

This duality of seeking inspiration by transcending the limitations of the physical world and then applying the inspiration gained to elevating the physical world is but one reflection of the oscillation that characterizes all life. In the words of the prophet Ezekiel, “the living beings were running and returning,”13 which is interpreted to mean that “all life exhibits running and returning motion.” Physically, this oscillation is manifest in the inhalation and exhalation of the lungs as well as in the systole and diastole of the heart. In spiritual terms, the health of the soul requires periodic oscillation between world-forsaking flights of inspiration and world-affirming dedication to our Divine mission.

Inasmuch as the purpose of creation is to make the physical world into God’s home, we are bidden to undertake our “runs,” our temporary departure from worldly pursuits to renew our inspiration, expressly for the purpose of enhancing our “returns.” By so doing, we ensure that we will sense the preeminence of the “return” over the “run,” and thereby be protected from the sort of unchecked “run” that results in total departure from this world.

In this context, Nadav and Avihu’s “sin” consisted of emphasizing the “run” at the expense of the “return,” and pursuing the “run” for its own sake, rather than as a prelude to the subsequent “return.”

Therefore, after this incident, God forbade drinking wine to intoxication, i.e., “drinking” the inner dimensions of the Torah in a way that leads to the rapturous expiration of the soul and the abandonment of our Divine mission.14

16 He discovered that it had been burned up: Moses’ and Aaron’s reasonings with regard to the difference between the special sacrifices of the day and those that would be offered up on a regular basis reflect their respective visions of humanity’s relationship with God. As we saw above,15 Moses’ life was devoted to transmitting God’s Torah to the people, whereas Aaron’s life was devoted to elevating the people to the Torah. If we imagine the relationship between God and the Jewish people as a marriage, it is Moses who escorts the Heavenly Groom to the canopy and Aaron who escorts the earthly bride.

The Torah is objective and unchanging truth, whereas human beings are subjective and constantly changing. Therefore, Moses sees the Torah’s truth as being uniformly applicable in all situations, in contradistinction to Aaron, who realizes that each situation must be assessed individually in order to know how to apply the Torah’s immutable truth effectively. Aaron sees that an ad hoc sacrifice is different than a permanent one, that God’s truth can be reflected differently on different levels.

In our own lives, we must evince both Moses’ and Aaron’s perspectives. For ourselves, we must aspire to be like Moses, devoted to the Torah’s truth absolutely and unchangingly. But when dealing with others, we must take into account their moods and inclinations, and draw them to the Torah with forgiving love, as did Aaron.16

Chapter 11

2-3The creatures that you may eat: One of the reasons we are instructed to abstain from eating certain animals is in order not to internalize their deleterious behavioral traits. Permitted animals, on the other hand, are characterized by traits that we are encouraged to adopt as our own.17 Furthermore, the signs by which the Torah identifies kosher animals contain profound insights into the way we should lead our lives. Some authorities even suggest that these signs are not only the means by which we can identify kosher animals but the traits that make them kosher. Even if they are merely incidental, it is certainly significant that these signs are those of the kosher animal.

The first sign of the kosher animal is its split foot. The foot, being the part of the animal that touches the ground, signifies our contact with the physical world. The division of the foot into two completely separate “sub-feet” indicates that our contact with the physical world should be twofold.

In general, by eating an animal, we are supposed to be elevating it from the animal kingdom into the human kingdom. In order to accomplish this, however, it is essential that we not act like animals ourselves, for then the animal merely moves from one animal state to another when we eat it. The test of whether we are acting like people, rather than animals, lies in the way we approach our Divine mission. Our ascendancy over animals is our ability to imitate God, transcending the limitations of nature. Thus, if we are able to incorporate normally opposing means in fulfilling our mission (e.g., kindness and severity, love and awe), it indicates that we have risen beyond our inborn, natural (i.e., animal) tendencies to reflect the paradoxical harmony of opposites that characterizes Divinity. Only when our “feet”—our involvement with the physical world—are “completely split”—two-dimensional—do we know that we have risen beyond being animals, and can thus elevate the animals we eat to the human level.18

Just as the foot is our point of contact with the physical world, it is also our separation from it, the cushion that keeps us aloof in our dealings with materiality, signified by the earth. As Rabbi Shalom DovBer of Lubavitch remarked to a distinguished student of his who had apparently become overly immersed in his boot business: “I have seen feet in boots, but a head in boots…?”

In this context, the fact that the foot must be split indicates that there must be an aperture in this barrier, meaning that we must make the light of holiness permeate even the most mundane aspects of creation, and make sure to retain Divine consciousness even when we are involved in the mundane aspects of our lives.

In light of our previous remarks19 about the necessity of embracing both Moses’ and Aaron’s approaches to applying the absolute truth of the Torah to the relativity of human life, the split in the foot can be additionally understood to signify this duality, the necessity of lovingly embracing those who are estranged while resisting the urge to dilute the Torah’s message into a form that we imagine will be more appealing. As the sage Hillel said of Aaron, “He loved people and brought them close to the Torah”20—them to the Torah, not the reverse.

The other kosher sign is rumination, which alludes to the necessity of deliberating before engaging the animal, mundane aspects of life. We must weigh firstly our intentions, ensuring that they are purely toward elevating the world and purging them of any desire to simply indulge in sensuality for its own sake. Secondly, we must weigh our methods, ensuring that they conform to the guidelines set forth in the Torah.21

Split feet and rumination also allude to the two general phases of our elevation of the physical world: The feet, as mentioned, signify our primary, active engagement in physical life, through which we elevate the material world out of its materiality by harnessing it for holy purposes. Rumination, in contrast, signifies the secondary, more subtle refinement of the physical world that we have elevated, by which we assimilate it (“digest it”) into the realm of pure, Divine spirituality. In other words, the primary elevation is the negation of the negative aspects of physicality, while the secondary refinement is its positive transformation into holiness.

Both of these phases should be double—just as a kosher animal’s feet are split into two and it digests its food twice. Every step we take in elevating the physical world should be taken with a mind toward our next step in elevating the physical world, indicating that our goals in this regard are unlimited; our aim is to elevate the entire physical world, in accordance with God’s intention in its creation. Similarly, every morsel of the physical world that we “digest,” i.e., refine into spirituality, should be refined on a higher level, for since God is infinite, the ascent into Divine consciousness is likewise infinite.22

4 But you must not eat: Everything in God’s creation serves a purpose,23 and it is our task to effect the fulfillment of that purpose. Although in many cases, this requires our active initiative—e.g. through fulfilling an active commandment with the entity or otherwise using it for a Godly purpose—in other cases, it requires us to be passive—e.g., through fulfilling a passive commandment with the entity or otherwise avoiding it. But even when God commands us to avoid something, we still thereby elevate it.

God commands us not to consume non-kosher animals since they originate in the realm of spirituality that is beyond our ability to elevate through eating. In their case, we elevate them by fulfilling God’s commandment to abstain from eating them.

In addition, these animals can be elevated directly and actively by using them for purposes other than eating. For example, when a donkey or horse transports a person to perform a commandment, it, too, is infused with holiness. By utilizing everything in our lives for fulfilling our Divine mission, we sanctify all aspects of reality with which Divine providence has put us in contact.24

A Closer Look

[5-6] The hyrax; the hare: The hyrax has not been observed to chew its cud. However, its digestive system is somewhat similar to that of ruminants; the time it takes to digest food is similar to that of ruminants; it can digest fiber, as ruminants can; it chews laterally and even when not grazing, as ruminants do; and it possibly regurgitates and re-chews some of its food.

The hare has also not been observed to chew its cud. However, in order to fully digest its food, it often reingests some of it in the form of specialized pellets that it excretes for this purpose (this process is called “cecotrophy”), and its chewing habits also resemble those of ruminants.

These characteristics can be considered sufficient to include these animals in the Torah’s description of “chewing the cud.” It is also possible that the Hebrew terms refer to animals that are no longer extant.25

17 The cormorant: The belief in Divine providence is a fundamental precept of Judaism. However, there are different schools of thought regarding the extent of God’s involvement in the intricacies and minutiae of nature. According to some classic Jewish philosophers, God merely supervises the special survival of each vegetative and animal life form; His direct, detailed involvement in every aspect of the life of each individual in the species, however, is limited to human beings.

The Ba’al Shem Tov, on the other hand, taught that all the myriad events constantly happening in our world are Divinely executed, in essence forming the ultimate choreographed ballet of existence. Every leaf turning in the wind, taught the Ba’al Shem Tov, is doing so by design; it may very well be on its way to a specific location to provide shade for a lowly worm.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi cited the following passage from the Talmud in support of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s thesis: “When Rabbi Yochanan saw a cormorant, he exclaimed [addressing God by quoting the following verse from the Psalms26]: ‘Your justice is carried out even in the depths of the sea.’ ”27 Rashi28 explains that Rabbi Yochanan was referring to how “God judges even the fish of the sea, arranging that the cormorant catch and devour those deserving punishment.” Thus, the Talmud states unequivocally that the specific fish the cormorant eats is Divinely chosen.

Homiletically, it is instructive to note that the Hebrew word for “nature” (טבע) is related to the verb “to submerge” (לטבוע), implying that the Divine vitality that is the true source of all life is concealed from our perception by (i.e., “submerged within”) the forces of nature that God set into effect. God’s intimate involvement in everything that takes place is hidden from us by the seemingly independent functioning of the laws of nature.

In this context, the hunting of the cormorant not only demonstrates God’s providence over all reality but also serves as an allegory for it. As it draws fish from the sea, the cormorant reminds us that our task in life is to reveal the Divine providence that is submerged within the ocean of nature.29

38 They become ritually defiled for you: A plant used for food can only become susceptible to ritual defilement if the following three conditions are met: First, it must be intended for human use, not animal. Second, it must have become wet (even if it has since dried). Finally, it must be entirely severed from the ground. As long as it is still attached to the ground by even the smallest root, it is not susceptible to ritual defilement, even if it becomes wet.30

Allegorically, “defilement” is distance from God, the opposite of “holiness,” or closeness to God. One of the axioms of Jewish theology is that the closer we approach God, the greater the danger of “defilement,” i.e., of falling from the heights of spirituality into the depths of estrangement or depression. In the words of the sages, “the greater a person is, the greater is his evil inclination.”31 In moral terms, this graduated moral challenge is necessary in order to preserve free choice and therefore reward and punishment. If our progress in spiritual refinement were to leave us correspondingly less morally challenged, we would progressively lose our free choice, and concomitantly any reward for our resistance to evil.

In the imagery of Kabbalah, the forces of evil subsist on a very meager amount of Divine life force; they therefore persistently seek to siphon off Divine energy from holiness by dragging people into sin; thus, the holier the person or setting, the greater the effort these forces exert to corrupt them.

This does not mean, of course, that we should shun spiritual growth in order to be “safe” from the dangers inherent in the climb toward holiness—there could be no greater victory for evil than that! It only means that we must be sure to take the required precautions.

This dynamic is reflected in the three conditions for ritual defilement just mentioned:

¨ Food for humans: “Human” food, in this context, refers activities that nourish the Divine soul, whereas “animal” food refers to activities that sustain the human/animal soul. The Divine soul’s “food” is the study of the Torah and the performance of the commandments. The purpose of studying the Torah and fulfilling its commandments is, of course, to bring us closer to God, but, as just mentioned, the closer we get to God, the more the forces of evil try to divert, delay, or derail us.

¨ Liquid: “Liquidity” in this context means (a) the nature of liquid to flow downward, alluding to our ability to bring holiness to the lowest spiritual levels; (b) the fluidity that distributes the nutrients derived from the food we eat throughout the body, alluding to our ability to properly integrate the spirituality of the Torah and its commandments into our very being; and (c) the viscidity liquids, alluding to our ability to make Jewishness “infectious” to others. These are all qualities that we should aspire to in our relationship with God, but, here again, the more we evince them, the greater the forces of evil exert themselves against us.

¨ Uprooted: However, as long as the plant is connected to the ground, none of these factors are relevant. Spiritually, this means the one precaution we can take to immunize ourselves against the machinations of evil is to remain rooted to our source—to the essence of our Divine soul. The essence of our soul never becomes defiled, for it is constantly united with God. When the essence of our soul is roused from its dormancy and is manifest in all of our thoughts, words, and deeds, we are immune to defilement.32

42 The snake, who moves about bent over: The Zohar compares the snake to the evil inclination (the yetzer hara).33 The evil inclination is smarter than to immediately suggest that we “crawl on our belly” and bury ourselves in earthliness. It begins by suggesting that we walk with a lowered head, that we forget God who is above us, as well as the higher purposes of life. This eventually leads us to forget our purpose altogether.

The antidote to the snake’s schemes is to immerse ourselves in the study of the Torah, especially the inner dimension of Torah, which lifts us into a realm that the snake cannot enter.34

43 You will remain spiritually defiled through them: The Hebrew word for this phrase (ונטמתם) is written without the expected alef (ונטמאתם), such that it can be read “lest you become dulled.” The Talmud adduces this altered spelling to assert that consuming non-kosher foods causes the heart to grow spiritually dull.35

It is the heart’s nature to be influenced by the mind. Intellectual recognition of God’s greatness, or understanding of His wisdom and His Torah, should logically lead to an emotional swell of love and awe. Unfortunately, however, this sometimes does not happen. We see, study, and understand, but remain uninspired.

This dullness of heart is attributable to the heart’s overstuffing with material indulgences, which render it spiritually sluggish or “hardened”—much as when any vessel is full, it “solidifies” and becomes unreceptive. Therefore, in order for the heart to be spiritually inspired, it must be emptied of material influences; it must become once again a heart of flesh, rather than of stone.

The sages offer several tactics in restoring a dulled heart to its former pliability and receptivity:

It is taught in the Zohar: “If a log does not catch fire, it should be splintered until [the fire] shines [from it]; if the body does not catch fire from the light of the soul, it should be crushed, and then the light of the soul will shine [in it].”36 Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi explains that this means that there are times when a stone heart can only be shattered by a serious lecture to oneself. First, an honest appraisal is needed. We must examine how we spend our time: Are we seriously working toward achieving our higher goals? Are we devoting our energies and resources in accordance with our priorities? If we find that we are favoring the material over the spiritual, we should ponder how, then, do we differ from an animal. (True, a cow eats hay and straw while we prefer other delicacies, but are our material desires ultimately so different?) Such an honest appraisal and the resulting distress over our shortcomings deflates our material drives, enabling us to more easily achieve true spiritual joy and ecstasy.37

Another strategy is to “artificially” help the mind overpower the heart. When we meditate constantly about lofty spiritual concepts, their light will eventually break through even the thickest barrier, illuminating the heart as well.

Finally, it is possible to soften the heart by taking advantage of the intrinsic holiness of the letters of the Torah. Even simple repetition of those holy letters or recitation of passages of the Torah draws their spirituality into the person reciting them, and ultimately even a heart of stone will melt before them.38

47 To distinguish between the defiled and the undefiled: Allegorically, this injunction also refers to making the moral distinction between what is acceptable behavior and what is not. This distinction is easy enough when matters are clear and obvious. But all too often, the distinction is blurred, and the defiled can easily be mistaken for the undefiled.

Therefore, in order to fulfill the mandate of this final verse of the parashah, we are bidden to draw upon the lesson of its first verse: On the eighth day. As mentioned in the Overview, the number eight signifies transcendent Divinity, which is beyond the normal, natural cycle of seven. When we are attuned to Divine consciousness, to the “eight,” we instinctively know what is defiled and what is not; the rational mind cannot run circles around us and convince us that dark is light and bitter is sweet.39