Chapter 32

1 Listen, O heaven…. Hear, O earth: The prophet Isaiah also addressed heaven and earth, but he switched the verbs that Moses associated with them. He said, “Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth.”1 The Midrash explains2 that this is because one can ask someone close to him “to listen” but can ask someone far from him only “to hear.” Since Moses was closer to heaven than to earth, he asked heaven to “listen” to him and earth to “hear” him. Isaiah, compared to Moses, was closer to earth than to heaven, so he asked earth to “listen” and heaven only to “hear.”

Moses’ consciousness was that of the world of Atzilut; Isaiah’s was that of the world of Beriah. Relative to each other, Atzilut is “heaven” and Beriah—the first of the lower three worlds—is “earth.” This being the case, why did Moses have to address the earth at all, and conversely, why did Isaiah have to address heaven?

They both addressed both heaven and earth in order to harmonize the two. Moses’ task was to bring heaven down to earth, which he accomplished by transmitting the Torah to the Jewish people, giving them the guidelines for making the world into God’s home. Isaiah’s task as a prophet, in contrast, was to elevate the spiritual behavior and stature of the Jewish people, i.e., to bring life on earth back up to the standards of heaven.

When we have made life into “heaven on earth,” resolving the dichotomy between the two, they both testify how we have fulfilled our mission in life.

The practical lesson here is that those who are “closer to heaven than to earth,” i.e., Torah scholars, must realize the value of the simple observance of God’s commandments and the performance of good deeds. Those who are “closer to earth than to heaven,” i.e., who work for their living and therefore focus more on the simple observance of God’s commandments and the performance of good deeds, must make sure also to set aside fixed time for Torah study.3

Nonetheless, there are periods in our lives when we must emphasize one or the other of these two aspects of our relationship with God. During our formative years—or whenever we rise to a new level of Divine consciousness and are still novices at this level—we should give precedence to Torah study. We should feel “closer to heaven than to earth.” Once We have settled into spiritual stability, however, we should focus on disseminating this spirituality throughout the world via observing God’s commandments and performing good deeds. We should feel “grounded,” “closer to earth than to heaven.”4

2 My doctrine drops drown as the rain…. My speech flows as the dew: In this verse, the Torah is likened to both rain and dew. The significant difference between the two is that the extent to which rain falls is dependent on our merits, whereas the extent to which dew condenses is not. Thus, God tells us that “if you study My commandments continuously…in order to serve...with all your heart and soul…I will give you the rain for your land in its time,”5 and if “your heart is misled…and you neglect to study…and you worship insentient deities…there will be no rain,”6 but there is no similar pronouncement regarding dew.7 Rain therefore alludes to the aspects of Divine beneficence that we must elicit through our good behavior, whereas dew alludes to the aspects that we do not have to elicit ourselves.

Just as Divine beneficence in general falls into these two categories, so are there two parallel aspects of Divine revelation that we receive when we study the Torah: one earned by virtue of our efforts and the other beyond our ability to earn. Of course, we have to put forth the effort to learn in order to receive both aspects of Divine revelation, but with regard to the first aspect, the revelation is commensurate with our efforts and similar to them, whereas with regard to the second, the revelation is a Divine gift beyond both the intensity and nature of our efforts.

In a broad sense, these two aspects of Divine revelation are present in the study of any part of the Torah. Even the study of the Torah’s most seemingly prosaic parts is not simply the acquisition of knowledge but an encounter with the Giver of the Torah, who reveals Himself subliminally within the words we utter and the ideas we study. In the narrower sense, however, the first aspect is elicited by studying the external dimension of the Torah (the Torah’s laws and their derivation) and the second through studying its inner dimension. The association of the Torah’s outer and inner dimensions with rain and dew, respectively, parallels their respective association with the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life, which we have seen previously.8

The full revelation of the “dew” of the Torah, the Torah’s inner dimension, will occur as part of the future Redemption. An allusion to this may be found in the sages’ teaching that as part of the future Redemption, God will resurrect the dead using “dew”9—specifically, the “dew”-aspect of the Torah.10

In this context, the two types of Divinity we experience when studying the Torah (the “rain” and the “dew”) are analogous to the two stages of the soul’s experience in the afterlife. In the first stage, the soul’s return to its origin in Paradise (the spiritual “Garden of Eden”), it experiences Divine revelation commensurate with the spiritual accomplishments that it completed while alive in its body. In the next stage, the soul’s re-entry into its resurrected body, it will experience Divine revelation beyond anything it could have earned during its lifetime. The soul therefore has to be cleansed in Purgatory before entering Paradise, in order to be fit to receive the revelations it has earned, and not all souls merit reaching the higher levels of Paradise, whereas in contrast, we are taught that “all Israel has a share in the World to Come,”11 i.e., the Resurrection of the Dead, without regard to their diverse merits.

Nonetheless, as we have noted repeatedly, as we approach the advent of the messianic Redemption, we are granted a taste of this future revelation of the Torah’s inner dimension, especially in light of the fact that all the future revelations of the Torah were implicit within the Torah as it was first given, at Mount Sinai, such that any new revelation of Torah, rather than being a novel innovation, is simply a matter of exposing what is latent within the Torah as it has already been revealed to us. Thus, when we study the inner dimension of the Torah, particularly as it has been expressed through the teachings we know as Chabad Chasidut, by means of which we can understand these sublime ideas thoroughly and thereby internalize them fully, we can experience something of the future resurrection—we can live life on a higher, more spiritually developed level.

This “taste” of the future will then serve both to inspire us to redouble our efforts to hasten the true Redemption, in order to experience the full revelation that will accompany it, and prepare us for this revelation.12

Inner Dimensions

[2] My doctrine drops drown as the rain…. My speech flows as the dew: The Torah is described in the Midrash—based on the verses “I was His delight every day, playing before Him at all times, playing with the world, His land”13—as God’s plaything, the “toy” that He enjoys. For us, this characterization of the Torah is reflected in the sublime delight we feel when we study it.

Thus, in this context, the Torah is identified with the partzuf of Atik Yomin, the inner dimension of keter, which corresponds to the experience of sublime delight. Specifically, the first three sub-sefirotof Atik Yomin—its intellect—are the “dew” of the Torah, whereas the latter seven sub-sefirotof Atik Yomin—its emotions and expression—are the “rain” of Torah.14 This accords with the notion that dew, unlike rain, is beyond our ability to elicit, inasmuch as the latter, lower sub-sefirot of Atik Yomin are said to be connected with the rest of the orderly development of spirituality (seder hishtalshelut) by descending and becoming clothed in the next partzuf, Arich Anpin, whereas the first, upper sub-sefirot of Atik Yomin do not descend, remaining aloof from the rest of creation.

This correspondence is also alluded to by the fact that the numerical value of the word for “rain” (גשם, 343) is a multiple of 7 (and is actually 73).15

A Closer Look

[3] Proclaim the Name of God: Based on this verse, whenever the explicit Name of God was pronounced in the Temple, whoever heard it responded with the phrase, “May the Name of the glory of His kingdom be blessed forever and ever.”16 In remembrance of this practice, it is now customary to respond “Blessed be He and blessed be His Name” after hearing someone pronounce the word substituted for God’s Name (Adonai) when reciting a blessing.17

7 Recall the ancient days; contemplate the years of generation and generation: The phrase “generation and generation” idiomatically means “all generations.”

The simplest way to understand this verse is that when anyone is confronted with that extraordinary phenomenon known as a Jew—a historical and social anomaly by any standard—the first thing he or she must do in order to have any hope of understanding this phenomenon is to inquire how it all started. The result of such an inquiry will be the patriarchs and matriarchs, who to this day are referred to by the Jewish people as their fathers and mothers: “Abraham, our father,” “Sarah, our mother,” and so on. Thus, it is readily apparent that every Jew intuitively considers the patriarchs and matriarchs his or her personal parents, virtually no different from his or her biological parents, who lovingly raise, educate, and provide for their children. For us, our forefathers are not merely ancestors from the distant past but living entities who accompany us throughout our entire lives.

Knowing that these loving and concerned parents are always there to assist us enhances our dedication to their ideals, as reflected in the study of the Torah and the performance of its commandments.18

9 Jacob is the “rope” of His inheritance: The imagery evoked here is that of a rope hanging downward from some high elevation, where it is attached to some elastic entity. When one pulls on the rope from below, the top of the rope is drawn down as far as the elasticity of its “anchor” will allow.

By likening both the individual Jewish soul and the collective soul of the Jewish people (“Jacob”) to a rope that binds us to Divinity, we are informed that our actions in this world influence what the root of our soul experiences “above,” in the spiritual realms. Furthermore, inasmuch as the Divine Presence is inextricably bound to the collective soul of the Jewish people, our behavior in this world influences the fate of the Divine Presence. In the words of the sages, “The Divine Presence went with [the Jews] into exile in Egypt…. The Divine Presence went with them into exile in Babylonia…. The Divine Presence is destined to be redeemed with them.”19

Taking this imagery further, we are taught that the soul-rope comprises 613 strands, corresponding to the 613 commandments of the Torah. If we transgress one of these commandments, then the corresponding strand of our soul is temporarily severed, until we properly repent and repair the damage. This imagery lends graphic vividness to the punishment of excision (karet), in which the entire soul-rope is cut, severing it from its source in Divinity. It is for this reason that when faced with the test of transgressing commandments punishable by excision, we are more likely to resist the temptation, for we sense that our overall connection with God is at stake. Transgressions not punishable by excision, in contrast, are less likely to evoke such a heroic response, since they compromise only one of the 613 strands of the soul, and thus do not pose so immediate and severe a threat. In any case, if we are not sensitive to the effect of a transgression on our psyche, it is only because the materiality foisted upon us by the human-animal soul obscures our Divine soul’s sensitivity to the various gradations of Divine consciousness.

This deliberate obfuscation is referred to by the sages as the “spirit of foolishness”20 by which we are hoodwinked into believing that misdeeds carry no consequences. As we have seen,21 the antidote to this pernicious foolishness is “holy foolishness,” willingness to go beyond the strict requirements of the Torah in fulfilling our Divine mission or in refining ourselves.22

10 Indeed, God found the Jewish people faithful to their destiny: A “find” is something we come upon unexpectedly, rather than as the result of any efforts we have expended to earn it. As we have seen, when God gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai, we undertook to relate to Him beyond the dictates of reason or logic, but with pure faith.23 Faith, being by definition beyond the reach of intellect and therefore unattainable by unaided human effort, can truly be categorized as a “find.”

Thus, the use of the verb “to find” in describing God’s encounter with the Jewish people at Mount Sinai indicates that, in return for us binding ourselves to Him on pure faith, beyond reason and logic, God bound Himself to us similarly, transcending reason and logic.24

10 He made them surround Him by commanding them to camp around the Tabernacle: As we have seen,25 we are enjoined to “construct a Tabernacle,” a dwelling for God, in our personal lives. The import of this verse in this context is that we make sure that the rest of our lives center around this inner sanctuary, that our lives be theocentric. When the Tabernacle—whose innermost point is the Ark, housing the Tablets of the Covenant, i.e., the Torah—is the focal point around which the rest of our lives revolve, the Torah can affect all aspects of our lives as it is meant to. Furthermore, once the Torah is illuminating and influencing our lives as it is meant to, it can spread still further outward, enlightening and refining all humanity and the entire world.26

15 Yeshurun got fat and kicked: There are three categories of “getting fat” and two types of “kicking”:

You got fat: This refers to people when they first become prosperous and allow themselves to indulge in some of the many extraneous sensual pleasures that life offers us.

You forsook God: When people first begin to become “fat,” they begin to subtly change their habits. Instead of perusing some Torah literature on the Sabbath, they allow themselves to read novels; instead of glancing over at someone else’s newspaper or magazine in the park, they start coming home with a newspaper in hand; instead of attending an Orthodox synagogue, they start attending synagogues that cater to their more progressive tastes, etc. Eventually, this behavior renders them—

Thick: This refers to the callousness and insensitivity to authentic Jewish refinement that renders people crude, ceaselessly seeking to satisfy their sensual desires. After living this way for a while—

You scorned the Rock of your salvation: They begin to disdain true Judaism altogether. Even the more “modern” Jewish company they recently began to keep and the more fashionable synagogue they recently began frequenting are now too Jewish for them. Anything smacking of Jewishness has become for them passé, tedious, embarrassing. They become—

Covered with fat: altogether insensitive to true Jewish values. If they still attend synagogue, it must be one that has entirely shed any trappings of traditionalism; it must be pluralistic, politically correct, morally relativistic—the whole lot. Instead of following true Jewish leaders, they select “leaders” who follow their tastes, who conform to the trends of the times.27 Their elevated social status blinds them to their own lack of sophistication in Torah, convincing them instead that they are wise enough to offer expert opinions even in matters of Jewish practice that they are not qualified to judge.28

Of course, there is nothing wrong in being wealthy per se, as long as we take the necessary steps to ensure that we retain the proper perspective, striving all the more to refine our human-animal natures while not allowing ourselves to indulge in excess mundane gratification, whether material or cultural. We can then progress to refining ourselves and the world by shining the light of the Torah outward,29 using the blessings of wealth for their intended purposes: to support and further the study of the Torah and the dissemination of Judaism.30

Conversely, when we encounter someone who has “gotten fat and kicked,” there is no reason or excuse to give up hope; even the most callous Jew remains a Jew at heart, and the truth can breach and penetrate even the hardest, thickest barrier. By explaining to such an individual that the Jewish people are all together aboard one ship sailing in a tumultuous sea, and that if one of us pokes a hole in the ship, we all go down, we can arouse his or her innate concern for their fellow Jews. With God’s help, this will inspire them to return home.31

A Closer Look

[28-43] Rashi explains the rest of the poem from this point on as referring first (vv. 28-31) to the Israelites’ enemies and then, until the end, to the Israelites themselves; this is how we have translated the text. However, he further points out that it is also possible to read the poem from this point on as referring either entirely to Israelites or entirely to their enemies. According to the first of these two additional possibilities, vv. 28-31 would read as follows:

28 For the Israelites are a nation who has lost the Torah, My counsel for them, and they have no understanding. 29 For were they wise, they would understand this. They would understand the reason behind all that befell them in their end. 30 They should have understood and said, “How could one of them pursue 1,000 of us, and two of them cause 10,000 of us to flee, were it not that God, their Rock, had sold them, and God had delivered them into their enemies’ hands?”

According to the second possibility, vv. 32-41 would read as follows:

32 Continuing in God’s voice, Yet, the nations do not realize this, for their vine is the vine of (i.e., they are debased like) Sodom and their deeds are from the field of Gomorrah. Their grapes,whichthey feed the Israelites (i.e., the way they treat them), are the grapes of bitterness, so therefore, their clusters from which they squeeze wine to drink (i.e., their rewards) likewisedeserve to be bitter. 33 Their wine (i.e., their cup of punishment) is like the venom of dragons. Their ‘wine’ is like the cruel venom of snakes. 34 Is not this cup stored away with Me? Is this cup not sealed in My storehouses? 35 I have the means to avenge them, and these means will repay them when their foot falters. For the day of their calamity is near (i.e., it is easy for Me to make it occur whenever I so please), and their destiny will come upon them quickly at that time.” 36 Moses continued, “For God will plead the case of His people; He will relent of His anger toward His servants when He sees that the power of their enemies is growing, and that no one among His people is being saved by a ruler or by one who strengthens them. 37 When the enemy will say, ‘Where is your God, the Rock in whom you trusted for protection, 38 who ate the fat of your sacrifices, and drank the wine of your libations? Let Him arise and help you! Let Him be your protection!’ 39 God will respond, ‘See, now, that it is I who raised up the Israelites and that it was I—not you—who cut them down, and that there is no deity on par with Me who can prevent Me from doing anything. I kill and I bring to life; I struck and I will heal, and no one can deliver you from My hand. 40 For My power looms above you in My heavenly abode, and since the combatant who has the upper hand always wins, and since in any case I am omnipotent, I can therefore punish you immediately. But I say, “Since I live eternally, I can wait; I can exact punishment from both the living and the dead.” 41 When I will sharpen the blade of My sword so it glistens like lightning, and My hand will dismiss My attribute of mercy, with which I behaved toward you until now, and will instead take hold of My attribute of judgment, which I will now exercise against you—for I was only temporarily angry with My people, whereas you persecuted them beyond what I required of you32I will execute vengeance on My adversaries, and repay those nations who cause others to hate Me by denying Me.