Chapter 33

2 Where He offered the Torah to the Edomites…where He offered the Torah to the Ishmaelites: The Edomites and Ishmaelites are the archetypal cultures of non-Jewish civilization. Thus, in offering the Torah to these two peoples, God was in effect offering it to all the non-Jewish nations of the world, present and future.1 Whatever form this procedure actually took, its essence was that God examined the intrinsic nature of every nation and found none of them innately suited to accept the Torah and fulfill its instructions—except the Jewish people.

The fundamental reason why God offered the Torah to the nations of the world was in order to prevent them from ever contesting the apparent favoritism He displays toward the Jewish people: they can no longer argue that had God offered them the Torah, they too would have accepted it as readily and as unconditionally as did the Jews. But since, as we know, everything God does He does for a positive reason, there must also be something positive that was accomplished by offering the Torah to the non-Jewish nations.

The positive effect of offering the Torah to the non-Jewish nations was that doing so rendered them receptive to later accepting upon themselves the obligation to observe the Noahide laws, i.e., the seven categories of commandments that are incumbent upon all non-Jews. In order to properly accept this legal code, the non-Jew must accept its Divine origin and the fact that God gave it to humanity as part of the Torah that He gave through Moses at Mount Sinai. Furthermore, in the messianic future, the non-Jewish nations will be refined and no longer intrinsically oppose the lifestyle and world-vision of the Torah; in the words of the prophets, “I will then transform the nations to speak a pure language, so they will all call upon the Name of God, to serve Him with one accord.”2 By approaching the nations of the world with the option to accept the entire Torah, God implanted within them the receptivity to both their present obligation to accept the Torah’s authority over them, obligating them in the Noahide laws, as well as their future acceptance of the Torah’s world-vision, transforming them into active participants in the final Redemption.3

4 The Torah that Moses commanded us is the legacy (literally, “inheritance”) of the congregation of Jacob: As has been discussed,4 of the three forms in which transfer of property can take place—inheritance, sale, and gift—inheritance is the most absolute: its effectiveness and validity are not at all contingent upon the suitability of the inheritor to receive; even a newborn can inherit his father’s estate. In fact, an inheritance is so intrinsic to the inheritor that it may be considered to have always belonged to him in potentia, as an irrevocable birthright. Thus, by referring to itself as the Jewish people’s inheritance, the Torah is informing us that every Jew, even a newborn baby, is a bona fide inheritor of the entire Torah. The Torah becomes ours not only once we have matured sufficiently to study it and understand it, but immediately upon birth.

This being the case, it is clear that the aspect of the Torah that is referred to here is not its intellectual content, for a newborn lacks the tools with which to take possession of that aspect of the Torah. Rather, the aspect referred to here is the essence of the Torah—the Torah as the essential bond between God and us—which is the natural corollary of the Torah’s being God’s will and wisdom. Since intellect is not the “tool” through which the Torah’s essence is grasped, its acquisition is not dependent upon the intellectual development of the individual; therefore, even a newborn can possess it in its entirety.

It is specifically the awareness of this essential dimension of the Torah that forms the foundation of our approach to it and study of it. The scholar and the novice alike must remain aware at all times that the Torah is our essential connection with God. This awareness inspires us both to endeavor to learn as much of it as we can as well as to encourage and enable others to do the same.

For this reason, this verse is traditionally the first verse we teach our children when they begin to speak.5 It is crucial that children internalize this awareness before beginning to study the Torah, both in order that their subsequent study be based on this realization and in order that they not form the erroneous impression that the study of the Torah is merely an intellectual pursuit.6

Later on in life, when we begin to study the Torah, we experience it as a “sale” of “merchandise,” as it is written, “I have given you good merchandise; do not forsake My Torah.”7 Just as buyers must pay for what they purchase, so must we exert ourselves to learn the Torah. Referring to this aspect of our relationship to the Torah, the sages say, “Prepare yourself to learn Torah, for it is not your inheritance.”8 It is in this context that our intelligence, persistence, and available time come into play, determining our individual relationship to the study of the Torah.

In the course of studying the Torah according to our own abilities, we may receive a “gift” from God in the form of understanding aspects of the Torah that our own intellect or spiritual makeup would not allow us to grasp on our own, or in the form of retaining more of what we have learned than our own ability to remember would allow us to. Although this gift is beyond our ability to earn, God will only give it to us if we endear ourselves to Him by refining ourselves to the best of our ability.9

5 You will be King over Yeshurun when the totality of the people are gathered and the tribes of Israel are together: Unity is achieved not by all constituent elements of a group becoming alike, but by each one fulfilling its unique purpose and acknowledging the necessity and contribution of all the other constituent elements. This inter-relationship is similar to the kind we observe in the body, wherein every limb, organ, bone, etc., performs a unique role that no other component of the body can, thereby making a unique contribution to the complete functioning of the whole. Moreover, each component can function fully only when all the other components are functioning fully: the proper functioning of each component not only affects its own effectiveness and the overall effectiveness of the body as a whole, but also the effectiveness of every other component individually.

Thus, Jewish unity should ideally be more than the simple dedication to a common goal (although that is a worthy aim in its own right), and ideally more than a symbiotic relationship by which each of us completes each other (although this, too, is a worthy aim); it should be an awareness that all of us, together, form one whole. All aspects of all of us are part of one “body,” such that every facet of our individual lives has an impact on every facet of the life of every other Jew.

Conversely, just as the body’s completeness is dependent upon the individual completeness of each of its component parts, so is it crucial that each of us fully develop his or her individuality, living up to their unique potential.

Interestingly, it is the second-stage unity, that of our symbiotic relationship with one another, that often requires the most effort to achieve. Self-interest (the first stage) and self-denial (the third stage) are easier to negotiate than the delicate balance between self-awareness and mutual dependence.

The second- and third-stage unities are themselves interdependent. Experiencing self-denial takes the edge off the ego, enabling us to acknowledge our symbiotic dependence upon others. In turn, awareness of our interdependence with others paves the way for the further self-denial of viewing ourselves as parts of one greater whole.

Thus, second- and third-stage unity are achieved in stages, as each stride we make toward one enables us to take a further stride toward the other, and vice-versa.10

18 Rejoice, Zebulun, in your departure, and Issachar, in your tents: In addition to Zebulun’s merit in Issachar’s Torah study, Zebulun is mentioned first by virtue of the intrinsic merit of working for a living over full-time Torah study. As we know, our Divine mission consists of making this physical and materialistic world into God’s home. Although both studying the Torah and sanctifying the material world accomplish this goal, it is mainly achieved by the latter, and therefore, those who work for a living have a far greater opportunity to fulfill life’s purpose than do those who study full time. There is, of course, an advantage to full-time study, as has been mentioned11—and Jewish law insists that those who are both capable of full-time study and who do not have to work for a living devote themselves to full-time study12—but with respect to refining the world and thereby transforming it into God’s home, pride of place belongs to work. It is for this very reason that Divine providence has arranged that throughout most of our history, most of us have worked for our living.

This idea is alluded to in Zebulun’s name, which is derived13 from the word for “abode” (zevul).14

20 Tearing off the arm with the head: As has been discussed,15 our physical conquest of the seven nations who occupied the Land of Israel alludes to the spiritual conquest of the seven emotions of the human-animal soul. The two major obstacles to this conquest are the “arm” and the “head.”

The “head” in this context is the mental block that results from calculating the odds of success against the dominant material culture of our milieu. Confronted with the overwhelming forces and resources commanded by the agents of materialism, the lone Jew or the tiny Jewish people are tempted to capitulate even before beginning the fight. It is particularly difficult to imagine overcoming materiality when we ourselves are engaged in the struggle to eke out a living, seemingly subject to the material laws of natural cause and effect.

The “arm” in this context is the battery of physical resources we have at our disposal. We have worked hard to earn these resources, and are therefore loathe to expend them on spiritual pursuits whose material benefits are not at all apparent.

We must therefore “tear off the arm with the head,” i.e., deny the validity of both these suppositions. Furthermore, we must nullify both obstacles “together, in one blow.” There is no time to waste in lopping off the “head” and the “arm” separately, i.e., in an orderly fashion. Nowadays, in the final stages of the preparation of the world for the Redemption, the level and amount of Divine energy pouring into the world is such that the former orderliness of existence—in which all processes had to proceed according to a pre-established order—has been long overridden. We must take advantage of any opportunity that comes to hand to refine ourselves or the world.

The two weapons of war in ancient times were the arrow and the spear (plus its variant, the sword); lopping off the head and arm in one fell swoop is possible only with a sword, not with an arrow. The “sword” in our spiritual arsenal is our submission to God’s will, which we affirm whenever we recite the Shema. This is alluded to by the fact that the numerical value of the word for “spear” (רמח, 248) is the same as the number of letters in the three paragraphs of the Shema.16 When we submit to God’s will, no mental or material obstacle to fulfilling it can faze us.17

We must emulate the valor exhibited by the tribe of Gad not only when we set out to conquer the physical world; it is required of us as well if we hope to succeed in learning the Torah as we should. Rousing ourselves to self-sacrifice is the required preparation for studying the Torah,18 and the mentality of self-sacrifice must inform our learning.

In this latter context, self-sacrifice means relinquishing thoughts of any other pursuit during the entire time that we have devoted to studying. Just like the Israelites in the desert could devote their minds completely to the study of the Torah with no other cares to distract them—since they had manna from heaven to eat, water from the well to drink, and clothes laundered by the clouds to wear—so should we enter a state of complete absorption when we learn the Torah, as if we had not a single care in the world.

This connection between the valor of the tribe of Gad and the study of the Torah is alluded to by the fact that they chose the territory containing the location of the grave of Moses,19 through whom God gave us the Torah.20

23 Possess Lakesouth: The word for “lake” (or “sea”) is also the word for “west,” since the western border of the Land of Israel is the Mediterranean Sea. Thus, this phrase can also be translated: “the west and the south, inherit.”

The tribe of Naphtali was part of the camp of Dan,21 which traveled at the west, i.e., the rear, of the Israelites’ military formation and retrieved all the articles lost by the tribes that preceded them in the march.22 The fact that the camp of Dan traveled at the rear indicates that these tribes were the least noble, the least sophisticated. Thus, they allegorically represent the least illustrious aspect of our psyches, our inner “non-sophisticate,” our simple, selfless submission to God’s will—in the idiom of the sages, our “acceptance of the yoke of the kingdom of heaven.” The “lost articles” that these tribes are uniquely suited to retrieve are our sense of self-nullification before God.

In other words, in the course of employing our intellects and emotions to the particulars of our Divine mission in life—our personas as members of the other tribal camps—we can sometimes lose our sense of simple, selfless devotion to God. Without this basic sense of simplicity, the over-sophistication of the other parts of our psyche can become enervating or even toxic. In such cases, the solution is to summon our inner camp of Dan, our submission to God’s will; this renewed discipline will help us retrieve our lost sense of selflessness before God.

In this context, the camp of Dan traveled at the rear not only because they embodied the least illustrious aspects of the Jewish people, but also because of their selflessness. Their selflessness both inspired them to forgo the advantages of traveling further forward in favor of the opportunity to assist their fellow Israelites and represents the basic foundation of Jewish life, upon which all other facets of Jewish life rest.

Taking our cue from the camp of Dan, this innate self-sacrifice on behalf of our fellow Jews should be the basis of our lives. As Rabbi Akiva taught, loving one’s fellow Jew is the general synopsis of the entire Torah.23

The results of devoting ourselves selflessly and lovingly to our fellow Jews are alluded to in Moses’ blessing to the tribe of Naphtali:

The west: The sun, the moon, and the stars set in the west, which is understood to mean that the Divine Presence is principally manifest in the west; the daily westward setting of the heavenly bodies is envisioned as their prostration before the Divine presence.24 Similarly, the Holy of Holies was the westernmost part of the Sanctuary.25

And the south: In the northern hemisphere, the south is associated with the heat of the sun. Allegorically, the sun represents the Name Havayah, which signifies transcendent Divinity. Whereas the Divine Presence—immanent Divinity—is manifest within the natural context of time and space, transcendent Divinity is by definition not limited by time and space.

Inherit: As discussed above,26 inheriting refers to receiving Divine revelation without regard to the recipient’s merit. Selflessly devoting ourselves to our fellow Jew enables us to “inherit” both “the west” and “the south”—immanent and transcendent Divinity—since selfless devotion is not limited, as are intellect and emotions. Although, as stated, the Torah is every Jew’s inheritance, our preoccupation with intellect and emotions can obscure this aspect of our relationship with God and His Torah. When that happens, it is time to summon our inner camp of Dan, and, as promised to the tribe of Naphtali, once again inherit “the west and the south.”27

24 He will immerse his foot in oil. He will gratify his brothers: The foot, the lowest part of the body, allegorically signifies simple submission to the will of God. Oil allegorically signifies chochmah (“insight”), the first and most sublime faculty of the intellect. Immersing the foot in oil—using oil in the care of the foot—signifies the recognition of a virtue in submission to God’s will over intellect. As has been explained,28 the camp of Dan exemplified this recognition—over emotions, as well.

The fact that the tribe of Asher “gratified his brothers” by supplying them with oil and fruit indicates that it had an influence upon the rest of the tribes, much as, allegorically, the selflessness exemplified by the camp of Dan in general was the foundation of the rest of the nation. In particular, however, the tribe of Asher camped in the middle of the camp of Dan,29 and thus allegorically signified the inner dimension of selflessness, the selflessness rooted in the very essence of the soul. This deep sense of selflessness enables us to weather even the most difficult challenges to our faith in God. It is therefore particularly important to cultivate this inner selflessness when we venture out to places hostile to Divinity. Just as our general sense of selflessness exemplified by the camp of Dan is retrieved by loving our fellow Jew, our deep sense of inner selflessness exemplified by the tribe of Asher is summoned by loving our fellow Jew with utter devotion.30

Chapter 34

Inner Dimensions

1 Moses ascended…to the peak of Mount Nebo: As has been discussed,31 there are 50 “gates” of understanding, or levels of Divine consciousness that we can aspire to attain.

The Talmud informs us that of these 50 gates, 49 were given to Moses during his lifetime,32 and the Arizal informs us that he was given the 50th on the day of his death. This assertion is alluded to in the name of the mountain where Moses died, Nebo (נבו), which may be seen as a contraction of the letter nun (נ), whose numerical value is 50, and the word “is in it” (בו).33

The reason why Moses only achieved 49 of the 50 gates during his lifetime is that his life’s work, as we know, was to bring the Torah down into the world. The world, having been created in seven days—reflecting the seven sefirot of the emotions—is associated with the number 7. Infusing Divinity into the seven days/sefirot of the world involves rectifying the world such that each sefirah cooperates with the other six, producing an array of seven sefirot each inter-included of all seven, giving a total of 49 sub-sefirot.

The 50th gate, in contrast, represents Divine consciousness that transcends the context of the natural world. It was only on Moses’ last day, when, instead of bringing the Torah down into the world, he “ascended to the peak of the mountain” that he reached “Nebo,” the 50th gate.34

4 I have let you see it with your eyes: Judaism is distinguished from other religions in that whereas all other religions claiming to be of Divine origin allegedly began with a Divine revelation to one individual, Judaism stakes its claim to Divine origin on a simultaneous revelation to millions of people. Thus, Moses does not play the same role in Judaism as the founders of other religions play in theirs; he is indeed the receiver and transmitter of the Torah, but he is not the sole witness to or authority regarding its Divine origin.

Nonetheless, as God’s chosen emissary, Moses was the means through which God accomplished all His objectives for his generation. God redeemed the Israelites, punished their enemies, gave them the Torah, and led them through the desert and to the threshold of the Promised Land, all exclusively through Moses. Moreover, we are taught that all the apparent innovations that were and will be accomplished throughout history, up to and including the messianic future—the possession of the Land of Israel, the ongoing revelation of the Torah, the future Redemption and the future revelations of hitherto concealed dimensions of the Torah—are and will be nothing more than manifestations of what was initiated and accomplished in potentia through Moses.

It is for this reason that, as will be recalled, Moses assigned the territory of Sichon to the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the land of Og to part of the tribe of Manasseh, motivated by the knowledge that his involvement in taking possession of the land would strengthen the nation’s hold on it.35

It is for this reason, too, that God showed Moses the Land of Israel before he died, even though he was not allowed to enter it. Possessing the land is a fundamental aspect of Judaism, and as such, it had to be accomplished, or at least begun in some degree, by Moses. Moses therefore had to encompass the land in his gaze; by virtue of this gaze, the Israelites were then able to conquer the land in the succeeding generations, and we will ultimately be able to repossess it fully in the messianic future.36

5 Moses, the servant of God, died: Nonetheless, the Talmud records an opinion, derived from scriptural analysis, according to which Moses did not in fact die, but remains alive to this day.37

On the one hand, all righteous people are considered to live on in this world after their physical death (apart from their continued existence in the afterlife),38 for their spiritual influence continues. However, we nevertheless refer to them as having died, for their physical presence in this world has ceased. In Moses’ case, however, the sages’ statement that he did not die implies that his physical presence in this world continues.

Moses’ continued existence in this world is embodied in the Jewish religious leaders of each generation, whose bodies house a manifestation of his soul.39 In the words of the Midrash, “There is no generation that does not possess someone akin to Moses.”40 This is similar to how we saw that Jacob live on in the body of his descendants who remain loyal to his spiritual legacy.41

It is specifically Moses and Jacob who live on even after their “deaths” because they both embodied the attribute of truth,42 meaning unchanging incorruptibility. We have witnessed how Jacob was able to weather all the vicissitudes of his life unflinchingly and how Moses survived the most difficult trials in the course of his leadership. Furthermore, both Jacob and Moses personified the ideal of devotion to studying and teaching the Torah, which demand uncompromising dedication to truth.43 The incorruptibility they expressed in their lives made them both immune to death.44

8 The male Israelites wept for Moses: Why, in fact, did Moses not exert himself to promote harmony among people, including between spouses, as Aaron did? We have seen how Moses loved the Jewish people even to the point of being prepared to give up his life for them, and that he provided for all their spiritual and material needs. Even the protective Clouds of Glory and the well, which were given to the people in the merit of Aaron and Miriam respectively, persisted after their deaths in the merit of Moses. As we will see,45 the Torah itself considers Moses’ love of his people his greatest virtue. Why would such a devoted leader not take pains to ensure that his charges behave sociably and lovingly toward each other?

The answer lies in understanding the differences between the respective life-missions—and hence, the innate natures—of Moses and Aaron.

Moses embodied the ideal of truth. His primary task in life was to transmit the Torah from God to the Jewish people, and it is self-understood that properly carrying out this mission requires absolute and unflinching devotion to truth and accuracy.

Aaron, in contrast, personified loving-kindness (chesed). He was aware that although the Torah does not allow us to lie,46 it does allow us to present the truth in a slightly deceptive manner in order to foster peace among people.47 Thus, his predisposition toward loving-kindness allowed him to do just that. As the Talmud describes,

Thus were Aaron’s methods: When he would hear that two people were arguing, he would approach the first, saying, “So-and-so! Peace to you, my master!” The person would reply, “Peace to you, my master and teacher! What can I do for you?” Aaron would say to him, “So-and-so, your friend, sent me to appease you, for he told me, ‘I angered my friend.’” Hearing this, the first person would think, “Such a righteous person [as Aaron] has come to appease me!” and would tell Aaron, “It was actually I who angered him.” Aaron would then approach the second person and tell him the same thing. When the two went to meet, the first would say to the second, “Forgive me for angering you,” and the second would say the same to the first.

When he heard that a couple had an argument, he would approach the husband, saying, “I heard that you are thinking about divorcing your wife. If you divorce her, who’s to say that you’ll be able to find another one as good as her? And if you do find one, when you get into an argument with her, the first thing she’ll say is, ‘This is how you behaved with your first wife.’” [And in this way he restored peace between them.]

For this reason, all Israel, men and women, loved him.48

(Aaron allowed himself to tell each of the arguing friends that the other wanted to reconcile because he knew that, in truth, all Jews really do want to do the right thing.)

In Moses’ psyche, there was no room for the slightest hint of deception. Of course, he knew and taught others that the Torah allows us to present the truth in a slightly altered way to promote peace, but his unswerving devotion to absolute truth did not allow him personally to do this.

The Torah emphasizes this difference between Moses and Aaron in the course of praising Moses in its description of his death for two reasons: (1) to emphasize how devoted he was to the ideal of truth, and (2) to indicate that only toward the end of the final day of his life, when his mission on earth was completed and he no longer needed to manifest his uncompromising devotion to truth, could he truly appreciate Aaron’s willingness to bend the truth for the sake of peace.

The lesson for us here is that although with regard to Torah study, we must aspire to Moses’ uncompromising devotion to the truth, when it comes to our relationships with our fellow Jews, the approach we must emulate is that of Aaron:49 “loving peace, pursuing peace, loving all creatures, and drawing them close to the Torah.”50

12 Nor regarding the breaking of the tablets: As we have mentioned,51 the Torah is here listing Moses’ praises, as befits an account of his death. It notes that as his supreme accomplishment, he shattered the precious tablets he had just received from God’s hand in order to save the Jewish people from the death penalty.

It will be recalled that Moses had another motive for not giving the Torah to the people: he reasoned that the people in their riotous, rebellious state did not deserve it. Thus, when he saw them worshipping the calf, he was faced with a double challenge: that of taking action to safeguard the Torah’s honor and that of taking action to ensure the people’s safety. In order to safeguard the Torah’s honor, it would have been enough had he simply not given the tablets to the people; breaking them was clearly an act of disrespect toward the Torah, the opposite of safeguarding its honor. But in order to ensure the safety of the people, simply not giving them the tablets would not have sufficed; as long as the “wedding contract” still existed, the “bride” could be accused of unfaithfulness to her “bridegroom.” Moses therefore allowed his love for the people to override his deep respect for the Torah: he smashed the tablets, publicly disgracing the Torah for the people’s sake. It is therefore fitting that the Torah’s account of Moses’ life end with this, the most eloquent expression of his devotion to his people. It is also fitting, for the same reason, that the entire parashah, which consists of Moses’ blessing to the people, conclude with this incident.

But this verse not only concludes the account of Moses’ life; it also the concludes the entire Torah. Thus, the lesson it contains is also the summation of the message of the whole Torah. How, then, can Moses’ act of disrespect for the Torah be considered the proper finale to the Torah itself?

As we study the Torah and read of the numerous commandments directed at the Jewish people, it is possible to form the impression that the people are secondary to the Torah, a mere instrument God uses in order to accomplish His ends. It is therefore necessary to emphasize that the opposite is the case: the purpose of Creation is the Jewish people, and they preceded the Torah not only chronologically—since Abraham founded the nation generations before the Torah was given—but in God’s original plan for creation (in which the Torah also preceded the creation of the world), as well.52 The Torah, for all its greatness, is the means by which the Jewish people fulfill the purpose of creation. Aware of this, Moses knew that without the Jewish people, there is no Torah; it was for that very reason that God approved of his actions when he shattered the tablets. There is no better place to emphasize this point than at the conclusion of the Torah, as the summation of its message to all humanity.53