I beseeched G‑d at that time (Deuteronomy 3:23)
Moses prayed 515 prayers—the numerical value (gematria) of va’etchanan, “and I beseeched”—to be allowed to enter the Land.
When Moses saw that the decree had been sealed against him, he went and drew a circle and sat inside it, and said: I am not moving from here until You nullify the decree! . . . He then wrapped himself in sackcloth and covered himself with ashes, and stood in prayer and supplication before G‑d until the heaven and the earth and the very laws of creation began to tremble, and said: Perhaps the time has come for G‑d to destroy the world? . . .
What did G‑d do at that moment? He announced at every gate of every heaven and at every gate of every court that Moses’ prayer should not be admitted . . . for the voice of Moses’ prayer was like a sword that slices and rips, and which nothing can stop . . .
Said Moses to G‑d: If You will not allow me to enter the Land, allow me to [enter] as a beast of the field, which grazes on the grass and drinks water and sees the world that way—let my soul be as one of those!
Said G‑d: “Enough!”
Said Moses to G‑d: If You will not allow me to enter the Land, allow me to [enter] as a bird that flies in the air to all four corners of the earth to collect its feed, and in the evening returns to its nest—let my soul be as one of those!
Said G‑d: “Enough!”
Said G‑d to him: He who admitted to his land is buried in his land; and he who did not admit to his land shall not be buried in his land. Joseph admitted to his land when his master’s wife said (Genesis 39:14), “See, they have brought us a Hebrew man . . . ,” and he did not deny it; on the contrary, he said (ibid. 40:15), “I was abducted from the land of the Hebrews.” Therefore, he shall be buried in his land. You, however, did not admit to your land when the daughters of Jethro said (Exodus 2:19), “An Egyptian man rescued us from the shepherds,” and you heard this and were silent. Therefore, “you shall not cross this Jordan.”
Said Moses to G‑d: Why are You doing this to me? “You have begun”—You began it all by coming to me in a flame of fire from within the thornbush. . . . After raising me up, You cast me down from my greatness?
Said G‑d to him: But I have sworn [that you shall not enter the Land]!
Said Moses to Him: “You have desecrated”—when You so desired, did You not violate Your oath? Did you not swear that You would annihilate Your children when they worshipped the golden calf, and then, [when I appealed on their behalf,] did You not retract Your oath?
[The Hebrew phrase Moses uses, atah hachilota, translates both as “You have begun” and “You have desecrated.”]
Moses was G‑d’s faithful servant, the greatest of the prophets, the recipient of the Torah from G‑d. Yet after 120 years of the most G‑dly life ever lived, he sees himself as only having begun in his relationship with G‑d!
(Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov)
“The goodly mountain”—this is Jerusalem; “the Levanon”—this is the Holy Temple.
G‑d said to Moses: You can’t have it both ways. I have already nullified My decree and upheld yours. I said: “I shall destroy them” (when Israel worshipped the golden calf), and you said, “Forgive them”—and your desire prevailed. Now, if you wish that your desire, “Let me cross over,” should be upheld and My decree (that you not enter the Land) be nullified, then you must retract your “forgive them”; if you wish “forgive them” to be upheld, then you must retract “let me cross over.”
When Moses heard this, he proclaimed: May Moses die, and a hundred like him, and not a fingernail of one of them be harmed! . . .
When Moses approached death and the children of Israel did not appeal to G‑d on his behalf that he should enter the Land, Moses gathered them together and began to rebuke them. He said: One man saved 600,000, and 600,000 cannot save one man!
G‑d said to Moses: Such is the way of the world—each generation has its teachers. Until now it was your portion to serve Me; now has come the portion of Joshua your disciple.
Said Moses to G‑d: Master of the Universe! If it is because of Joshua that I must die, let me become his disciple.
Said G‑d to him: If that is your wish, you may do so.
So Moses arose early in the morning to Joshua’s door, and Joshua was sitting and teaching. Moses bent his frame and covered his mouth, so that Joshua did not see him. . . . All of Israel came to Moses’ door, but found him at Joshua’s door, and Joshua was sitting and Moses was standing. The people said to Joshua: “Joshua! What has happened to you, that Moses our master is standing and you are sitting?” As soon as Joshua lifted his eyes and saw this, he immediately tore his garments and cried and wept: “Master! Master! Father, my father and lord!”
Said the people to him: “Moses our teacher! Teach us Torah.”
Said he to them: “I have not license.”
Said they to him: “We shall not leave you!”
Then a voice came forth from heaven and said to them: “Learn from Joshua!” and they accepted it.
Joshua sat at their head, Moses to his right and the sons of Aaron to his left; he sat and taught, and Moses did not understand his teaching.
After they stood up, the people of Israel said to Moses: “Moses our teacher, explain the teaching to us.”
Said he to them: “I know it not,” and Moses was stumbling and failing.
At that moment, he said to G‑d: “Master of the Universe! Until now, I asked for life. Now, my soul is placed in Your hand.”
The wicked, even in their lifetimes, are considered dead. . . . The righteous, even in death, are considered alive.
(Talmud, Berachot 18a–b)
G‑d is the exclusive source of life; hence life, by definition, is connection with G‑d. A “life” of disconnection from G‑d is pseudo-life—life devoid of all but its most superficial illusory shell.
(The Chassidic Masters)
This teaches that G‑d overturned the mountain upon them like an [inverted] cask, and said to them: “If you accept the Torah, fine; if not, there shall be your burial.”
Rabbi Acha ben Yaakov observed: This resulted in a strong legal contest against the Torah (since it was a contract entered into under duress). Said Rava: But they re-accepted it (out of their own, uncompelled choice) in the days of Ahasuerus, as it is written (Esther 9:27): “The Jews confirmed and accepted”—on that occasion they confirmed what they had accepted long before.
(Talmud, Shabbat 88a)
From here is derived that it is forbidden to receive payment for teaching Torah: just as I (Moses) taught you the Torah free of charge, so too must you teach it for free.
(Talmud, Nedarim 37a)
The Torah stresses that when you seek G‑d from there, from your place of exile “among the nations,” you will find Him. For G‑d is to be found everywhere, and every corner of His creation can serve as the vehicle to reach Him. If divine providence has dispatched you to a certain place and life, your surest path to Him is from there.
(Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov)
If the eye were allowed to see the spiritual vitality flowing from the utterance of G‑d’s mouth into every creation, we would not see the materiality, grossness and tangibility of the creation, for it would be utterly nullified in relation to this divine life-force . . .
Rabbi Binyamin Kletzker, a chassid of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, was a lumber merchant. One year, while he was adding up the annual accounts, he inadvertently filled in under a column of figures: “TOTAL: Ein od milvado (‘There is none else beside Him’).”
A fellow chassid admonished him for his absentmindedness. “Don’t you know, Reb Binyamin, that everything has its time and place?” he admonished. “There’s a time for chassidic philosophizing, and a time to engage in worldly matters. A person’s business dealings are also an important part of his service of the Almighty, and must be properly attended to.”
Said Rabbi Binyamin: “We consider it perfectly natural if, during prayer, one’s mind wanders off to the fair in Leipzig. So what’s so terrible if, when involved in business, an ‘alien thought’ regarding the oneness of G‑d infiltrates the mind?”
(Told by the Lubavitcher Rebbe)
The foundation of all foundations, and the pillar of all wisdom, is to know that there is a First Existence, who brings all existences into being; that all existences of heaven and earth, and between them, derive existence only from the truth of His existence.
(Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Fundamentals of Torah 1:1)
Surely we know that the heavens are above us and that the earth is below our feet; why couldn’t the Torah, whose every word and letter is measured, simply say “in the heavens and the earth”?
But here is a lesson in how we are to approach the heavenly and earthly aspects of our own lives. In all that pertains to the heavens, to our spiritual achievements, we must look upwards, to those greater than ourselves, and strive to emulate them. But as regards our earth, our material possessions and attainments, we must look below us, to those who have less than we do, and be grateful for what we have.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Because G‑d appeared to them at the Red Sea as a mighty warrior, at Sinai as a sage teaching Torah, in the days of Solomon as a handsome lad, and in the times of Daniel as a compassionate old man, G‑d said to them: Just because you perceive Me in many guises, do not think that there are many gods; rather, it is I who was at the sea, I who was at Sinai, I who is in every place—“I am the L‑rd your G‑d.”
Would it not have been more appropriate for G‑d to say, “I am the L‑rd . . . who created the heavens and the earth”?
But G‑d the creator is the G‑d that Israel shares with the rest of creation. At Sinai, G‑d did not speak to us as the author of nature, but as the executor of the miraculous Exodus. For at Sinai we forged a covenant with G‑d in which we pledged to surpass all bounds of nature and convention in our commitment to Him, and He pledged to supersede all laws of nature and convention in His providence over us.
(The Chassidic Masters)
In Exodus 20 (where the Ten Commandments are first written), it says, “Remember the Shabbat day.” “Remember” and “keep” (which represent the imperative and prohibitive aspects of Shabbat) were expressed in a single utterance—something which the human mouth cannot articulate and the human ear cannot hear.
(Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 27a)
This, too, is a divine decree. Just as the people of Israel were commanded to rest on Shabbat, so too were they commanded to work on the other days of the week.
Is it then possible for a person to do “all his work” in six days? But rest on Shabbat as if all your work is done.
There are three partners in man: G‑d, his father and his mother. When a man honors his father and his mother, G‑d says: “I consider it though I had dwelt among them and they had honored Me.”
(Talmud, Kiddushin 30b)
(The Midrash points out that the Ten Commandments were engraved on two tablets—five on the first and five on the second. The first tablet contains mitzvot that are “between man and G‑d,” while the commandments on the second tablet govern the relationship “between man and man.” This means that as the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” belongs to the category of “between man and G‑d”!)
In Leviticus 19:3 it says, “Every man, his mother and father should fear.” For it is revealed and known to G‑d that a person adores his mother more than his father, and that he fears his father more than his mother. G‑d therefore set the honor of one’s father first, and the fear of one’s mother first, to emphasize that one must honor and fear them both equally.
(Talmud, Kiddushin 31a)
How were the Ten Commandments given? Five on one tablet and five on the second tablet. This means that “Do not kill” corresponds to “I am the L‑rd your G‑d.” The Torah is telling us that one who sheds blood, it is as if he has reduced the image of the King.
To what is this analogous? To a king of flesh and blood who entered a country and put up portraits of himself, and made statues of himself, and minted coins with his image. After a while, the people of the country overturned his portraits, broke his statues and invalidated his coins, thereby reducing the image of the king. So too, one who sheds blood reduces the image of the King, as it is written (Genesis 9:6): “One who spills a man’s blood . . . for in the image of G‑d He made man.”
When Moses ascended to heaven, the angels protested to G‑d: “What is a human being doing amongst us?”
Said He to them: “He has come to receive the Torah.”
Said they to Him: “This esoteric treasure, which was hidden with You for nine hundred and seventy-four generations before the world was created, You wish to give to flesh and blood? . . . ‘What is man, that You are mindful of him, and the son of man, that You take notice of him? . . . Place Your glory upon the heavens!’” (Psalms 8:2–5)
Said G‑d to Moses: “Answer them.”
Said Moses: “Master of the Universe! I fear lest they consume me with the breath of their mouths.”
Said G‑d: “Hold on to the Throne of Glory, and return them an answer.”
Said Moses: “Master of the Universe! This Torah that You are giving to me, what is written in it? ‘I am the L‑rd your G‑d, who has taken you out from the land of Egypt.’”
“Have you descended to Egypt?” asked Moses of the angels. “Have you been enslaved to Pharaoh? So why should the Torah be yours?
“What else does it say? ‘You shall have no other gods.’ Do you dwell amongst idol-worshipping nations? What else does it say? ‘Remember the Shabbat day.’ Do you work? . . . What else does it say? ‘Do not swear falsely.’ Do you do business? What else does it say? ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ Do you have parents? What else does it say? ‘You shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal.’ Is there jealousy among you? Do you have an evil inclination?”
Straightaway the angels conceded to G‑d . . . and each one was moved to befriend Moses and transmit something to him. Even the Angel of Death, too, confided his secret to him . . .
(Talmud, Shabbat 88b)
[For another version of this dialogue, click here.]
The Hebrew phrase velo yasaf, which we have translated “which was not again,” can also mean “which did not cease.” Thus there are various meanings to this verse. One meaning is that the revelation at Sinai was a one-time event, never to be repeated in history (Rashi; Ibn Ezra). Other meanings are: that it was an extremely powerful voice that spoke without interruption (unlike a human voice, which must pause for breath—Targum; Rashi); that it did not cease, in the sense that all subsequent prophets prophesied from that voice, or in the sense that it did not confine itself to the Holy Tongue but reverberated in mankind’s seventy languages (Midrash Rabbah); that it did not “repeat”—i.e., it had no echo (Midrash Rabbah).
But often, says the Rebbe, one may feel challenged by something in our lives or in our world that seems unresponsive, or even resistant, to the mission entrusted to us at Sinai. It may appear that one or another of the Torah’s precepts does not “fit in” with the prevalent reality. So the Torah tells us that the voice which sounded G‑d’s message to man had no echo.
An echo is created when a sound meets with a substance which resists it: instead of absorbing its waves, the substance repels them, bouncing them back to the void. But the voice of the Ten Commandments permeated every object in the universe. So any “resistance” we may possibly meet in implementing the Torah is superficial and temporary. Ultimately, the essence of every created being is consistent with, and wholly receptive of, the goodness and perfection that its Creator desires of it.
G‑d . . . is one, and His unity is unlike any other unity in existence. He is not “one” as in “one species” which includes many individuals. Nor is He “one” as in “one body” which includes various parts and dimensions. Rather, [His is] a unity the likes of which there is no other unity in the world.
(Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Fundamentals of Torah 1:7)
The Maggid of Mezeritch expounded on this verse, and asked: how can there be a commandment to love? Love is a feeling of the heart; one who has the feeling, loves. What can a person do if, G‑d forbid, love is not embedded in his heart? How can the Torah instruct “you shall love” as if it were a matter of choice?
But the commandment actually lies in the previous verse, “Hear O Israel . . .” The Hebrew word shema (“hear”) also means “comprehend.” The Torah is commanding a person to study, comprehend and reflect upon the oneness of G‑d. Because it is the nature of the mind to rule the heart, such contemplation will inevitably lead to a love of G‑d. If one contemplates deeply and yet is still not excited with a love of G‑d, this is only because he has not sufficiently refined and purified himself of the things which stifle his capacity to sense and relate to the divine. Aside from this, such contemplation by the mind will always result in a feeling of love.
(Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch)
While putting on the tefillin, one should have in mind that G‑d commanded us to inscribe [within the tefillin] the four passages [Exodus 13:1–10 and 13:11–16, and Deuteronomy 6:4–9 and 11:13–21] which speak of His unity and the Exodus from Egypt . . . and that He commanded us to place them on the arm opposite the heart, and on the head opposite the brain, so that we should submit the soul which is in the brain, as well as the desires and thoughts of our hearts, to His service . . .
Why is this so? I understand that one should first put on the arm-tefillin, since the verse states, “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as tefillin between your eyes”; but from where do we derive that the head-tefillin are to be removed first?
Said Rabbah: Rav Huna explained it to me. The verse states “and they shall be as tefillin between your eyes”—they, in the plural—to imply that at any time that there is tefillin between your eyes, there shall be both (i.e. both the head- and the arm-tefillin).
(Talmud, Menachot 36a)
The head-tefillin represents the mind; the arm-tefillin represents action. Both mind and deed are to be enlisted in man’s service of his Creator. Doing, however, must come first, as the people of Israel proclaimed at Sinai, “We will do and we will hear (comprehend).” Hence the law that the arm-tefillin is to be bound first.
Furthermore, while it is possible to conceive of a temporary state in which doing exists without understanding, understanding that is divorced from deed is utterly worthless. Hence the law that “at any time that there is tefillin between your eyes, there shall be both.” In the words of our sages (Talmud, Yevamot 109b), "Whoever says, ‘I have only Torah,’ does not have Torah, either.”
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
What is inscribed in G‑d’s tefillin? The verse (II Samuel 7:23), “Who is like Your people Israel, one nation on the earth.”
(Talmud, Berachot 6a)
G‑d’s tefillin, the people of Israel, also consist of arm-tefillin and head-tefillin. There are the head-Jews, the scholars and thinkers, and the arm-Jews, the doers. Both are precious to our Father in Heaven; both are integral to the role of G‑d’s “one nation in the earth.” But when G‑d ties His tefillin to reaffirm His bond with His people, He gives precedence to the “simple” deed, cherishing it above all else.
(Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov)
When Onkelos the son of Kalonymus [a nephew of the Roman emperor Titus] became a proselyte (a convert to Judaism), the emperor sent a contingent of Roman [soldiers] after him, but he enticed them with words of Torah and they converted to Judaism.
Thereupon the emperor sent another Roman cohort after him, bidding them not to say anything to him. As they were about to take him away with them, he said to them: “Let me tell you just an ordinary thing: In a procession the torchlighter carries the light in front of the torchbearer, the torchbearer in front of the leader, the leader in front of the governor, the governor in front of the chief officer; but does the chief officer carry the light in front of the people [that follow]?”
“No!” they replied.
Said he: “Yet the Holy One, blessed be He, does carry the light before Israel, for the Torah states (13:21): ‘G‑d went before them . . . in a pillar of fire to give them light.” Then they, too, converted.
Again he sent another cohort, ordering them not to enter into any conversation whatever with him. So they took hold of him; and as they were walking on, he saw the mezuzah which was fixed on the doorframe, and he placed his hand on it, saying to them: “Now what is this?” and they replied: “You tell us, then.”
Said he, “According to universal custom, the mortal king dwells within, and his servants keep guard on him without; but in the case of the Holy One, blessed be He, it is His servants who dwell within while He keeps guard on them from without . . .”
They, too, converted to Judaism. The emperor sent for him no more.
(Talmud, Avodah Zarah 11a)
The doorway is a sort of “no man’s land” between the home and the street, an area where these two realms overlap and interact with each other.
Two mitzvot are connected with the doorway: the mezuzah and the Chanukah lights. The mezuzah points inward, while the Chanukah lights are oriented outward. The mezuzah serves to safeguard the home and define it as a sanctum of holiness and divine presence; the function of the Chanukah lights is to illuminate the street, to disseminate their message to places still untouched by the warmth and light of the Jewish home.
The mezuzah marks the doorway as the entrance to the home; the Chanukah lights exploit it as the gateway to the outside.
(The Chassidic Masters)
“Today to do them”—and not to do them tomorrow; “today to do them”—and tomorrow to receive their reward.
(Talmud, Eruvin 22a)
[What is the proof for this?] In connection with the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents it is written, “In order that your days may be prolonged, and that good befall you” (Deuteronomy 5:16). In reference to the mitzvah of “dismissal of the nest” (to chase away the mother bird before taking the young) it is written, “That good befall you, and that you may prolong your days” (ibid. 22:7). Now, what if a person’s father says to him, “Ascend to the loft and bring me young birds,” and he ascends to the loft, dismisses the mother and takes the young, and on his return falls and is killed—where is this man’s good, and where is this man’s long days? But “in order that good befall you” means on the day that is wholly good; and “in order that your days may be long,” on the day that is wholly long.
Perhaps such things don’t happen? Rabbi Jacob saw an actual occurrence.
(Talmud, Kiddushin 39a)
Thus we have olam hazeh (“the present world”) and olam haba (“the world to come”)—two entirely different modes of existence, each confined to a world all its own. Our “present world” is the stage for deed and achievement, but without the possibility to enjoy the true fruits of our labor. On the other hand, the “world to come” is a place of ultimate reward, bliss and perfection, but one that precludes any further achievement on the part of man. The Talmud goes so far as to declare, “There is no reward for mitzvot in this world,” and regarding the world to come it quotes the verse (Ecclesiastes 12:1), “There will come years of which you will say: I have no desire in them,” and says: “This refers to the days of the messianic era, in which there is neither merit nor obligation.”
Why this dichotomy? Because a world in which the benefits of obeying G‑d’s commandments are self-evident would lack the challenge which makes their observance meaningful and worthy of reward. Conversely, a world in which the goodness of G‑d is manifest precludes truly meaningful accomplishment on the part of man. Thus our sages have said: “A single moment of teshuvah and good deeds in this world is greater than all of the world to come. And a single moment of bliss in the world to come is greater than all of this world” (Ethics of the Fathers 4:17).
(The Chassidic Masters)