The Contrast Between Moshe’s Faith and That of Our Patriarchs

The conclusion of the previous portion, Parshas Shmos, relates Moshe Rabbeinus complaint:1G‑d, why do You mistreat Your people?” Moshe was perplexed: How could preparations for the Redemption from Egypt lead to further mistreatment of the Jews? After all, the Redemption was a process which was entirely good,2 the mission was carried out by Moshe, of whom it is said:3 “And she saw that he was good,” and the one who ordered the mission was G‑d Himself.

G‑d in His glory4 was the agent of the Jews’ redemption. Since they had sunk to the 49th level of impurity,5 they could not have been redeemed by any agent within the natural order, for this would have enabled the attribute of strict justice to oppose the redemption. Instead, it was G‑d Himself who had to redeem them.6

So the motivating forces were surely of the utmost good, as alluded to in the Kabbalistic expression:7 “There is no left [vector] in [the realm of] Atik. ” Since the mission itself, the person sent to fulfill it, and the One who sent him all represent the ultimate good, how is it possible that the mission should have negative consequences?

To this question, G‑d answers (as related in the beginning of this week’s Torah reading):8 “I am G‑d (י-ה-ו-ה) …. I revealed Myself to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov…, but I did not make known My name י-ה-ו-ה to them. And I established My covenant with them….”

G‑d told Moshe that Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov also faced many challenges, yet they had not questioned G‑d’s ways. Indeed, the Midrash9 quotes G‑d as saying: “It is a shame that those who have departed no longer exist.”

This narrative raises several questions:

a) Why in fact did Moshe question G‑d? Moshe was on a higher spiritual level than the Patriarchs. He was the seventh in the line of tzaddikim that arose after Avraham, and as our Sages state:10 “All sevenths are cherished.” If the Patriarchs did not ask questions of G‑d, why did Moshe?

b) Since G‑d’s answer highlighted the virtue possessed by the Patriarchs that they had unquestioning faith why did He use the name Yaakov, and not the name Yisrael? The name Yisrael reflects a higher spiritual level than the name Yaakov.11

c) All the stories in the Torah are intended to serve as instruction for every Jew.12 This is particularly so concerning this story. For the Torah generally refrains from making unfavorable statements, even with regard to animals.13 Surely this principle should be applied with regard to man who is singled out from all other created beings! And how much more so does it apply with regard to Moshe Rabbeinu, who was singled out from the entire Jewish people.

Since the narrative casts Moshe Rabbeinu in an unfavorable light, we are forced to say that it is included in the Torah only because of the importance of the lesson it teaches that Jews in every generation are expected to emulate the unquestioning faith shown by the Patriarchs.

It is, however, very difficult to understand how every Jew, particularly those living in ikvesa diMeshicha the present generation, when Mashiachs approaching footsteps can be heard possesses the potential to choose either the path of the Patriarchs or the path of Moshe Rabbeinu. It is true, as our Sages say,14 that in every generation there are individuals who resemble Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, and Moshe. But this applies to a select few. The Torah, by contrast, was given to every Jew, and “speaks about the situation that applies by and large,”15 serving as a source of guidance, not merely for the spiritual elite, but for the ordinary man and woman. How can we expect an ordinary Jew not to follow the “lowly” path of Moshe, but instead emulate the example shown by our Patriarchs?

The Personification of Spiritual Qualities

The difference between Moshe and our Patriarchs can be explained as follows: Moshe Rabbeinu is identified with the level of chochmah, Divine wisdom, which in turn is associated with bittul, selflessness, as Moshe said of himself:16 V’ananchu mah, “And what are we?,” i.e., he was identified with the level of mah, which is characteristic of those at the rung of chochmah. For this reason, Moshe served as the medium through which the Torah, G‑d’s wisdom, was given to the world. The Divine service of the Patriarchs, when compared to that of Moshe, was associated with middos, the emotions.

Avraham’s Divine service centered on kindness and love. He served G‑d with love, as reflected in the verse,17 “Avraham who loved Me.” And similarly in regard to his relations with his fellow man, he was a fountain of kindness in both the material and spiritual sense.

Yitzchak’s Divine service, by contrast, was characterized by the vector of might (gevurah) and fear, as indicated by the phrase:18 “The Dread of Yitzchak.” And because Yitzchak served G‑d through fear and awe, he could not tolerate even a trace of evil in his environment. For this reason, he became blind, unable to witness the incense being offered by Esav’s idolatrous Canaanite wives.19

Yaakov’s Divine service displayed the vector of tiferes, beauty, which is identified with rachamim, mercy. These attributes combine kindness and might. Reflecting this fusion, Yaakov said of himself: “The G‑d of my father[s], the G‑d of Avraham, and the Dread of Yitzchak, was with me.” For Yaakov fused the attributes of Avraham and Yitzchak.

This synergetic blend enabled him to manifest perfection in his personal affairs. And thus it is said of him:20 “His bed was perfect,” i.e., his progeny were unflawed. For Divine service which fuses two opposing emotional attributes empowers one to overcome all the difficulties and challenges which life presents. These include the challenges of wealth and prosperity (chesed), as Yaakov experienced at Lavan’s household, at which time it was said of him:21 “And the man prospered prodigiously.” And they also include the challenges of difficulty and aggravation (stemming from gevurah) with which he was confronted when Esav marched against him at the head of 400 armed men. Despite these different challenges, Yaakov emerged unblemished, as the commentators mention in their interpretation of the verse:22 “And Yaakov came to the city of Shechem safely (shaleim).”

Balanced, yet Distinct

The identification of our Patriarchs with the emotional qualities mentioned above is not meant to imply that they were not involved in Torah study. On the contrary, our Sages say23 “The Holy One, blessed be He, designated two kidneys for Avraham, and they were like two sages, endowing him with understanding and counsel, and teaching him the wisdom [of the Torah].” And our Sages said:24 “Throughout the lifetime of our Patriarchs, their [attendance at a] yeshivah did not cease. Avraham our Patriarch was elderly, and attended a yeshivah … Yitzchak, our Patriarch…, Yaakov, our Patriarch…,” reflecting the connection of each Patriarch with diligent study.

Conversely, Moshe Rabbeinu, although associated with the intellect, also displayed an emotional commitment to Divine service and to his fellow men. This was reflected in the vector of chesed, as indicated by the verse:25 “And [Moshe] went out to his brethren and saw their affliction”; showing care and empathy with their plight. And he also manifested the quality of gevurah, as it is written:26 “And he said to the wicked one, ‘Why are you beating your brother?’ ” When he saw two Jews in conflict, he firmly rebuked the one who had lifted his hand against the other.

Nevertheless, although both our Patriarchs and Moshe manifested the full range of human intellectual and emotional attributes, each had their own fundamental thrust. Moshe’s fundamental thrust was chochmah. He was the one who conveyed the Torah to the Jewish people, and indeed, his commitment to the Torah was so great that it is identified with him, as it is written:27 “Remember the Torah of Moshe, My servant.”

The fundamental thrust of our Patriarchs, by contrast, was emotional, as reflected in the description of Avraham as one “who loved Me.” Each of the Patriarchs endowed every one of the Jews who descended from them with the attributes that distinguished their own Divine service.28

Every Person Has His Mission

The association of our Patriarchs with emotions, and Moshe with the quality of chochmah enables us to understand why Moshe, who was on a higher plane than the Patriarchs asked: “G‑d, why do You mistreat Your people?”, while the Patriarchs followed G‑d with unquestioning faith.

To explain: Moshe was on a higher spiritual level than the Patriarchs. The mission with which he was charged, however, required reason and intellect, and therefore he asked questions. For intellect naturally seeks to understand everything with which it comes in contact. When an intellectual encounters something that appears to defy explanation, he has difficulty in continuing with his mission.

Moshe’s question did not reflect a lack of faith. Instead, Moshe asked so that he would be able to continue his life’s mission: disseminating G‑d’s wisdom.

Preparing for Change

In response to Moshe’s question, the Torah relates: “And G‑d spoke to Moshe, and He said to him: ‘I am G‑d (י-ה-ו-ה, Havayah)…. I revealed Myself to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov…, but I did not make known My Name י-ה-ו-ה to them.”

Before the giving of the Torah,29 G‑d’s name E-lohim had been revealed in the world, but not His name Havayah. At the giving of the Torah and, in an extended sense, at Moshe’s announcement of the Redemption which led to the giving of the Torah the name Havayah was revealed, as it is written: “I am Havayah. ”

The name E-lohim relates to the Divine light enclothed within the world,30 as reflected in the numerical equivalence between the word E-lohim (א-לוהים) and the word hateva (הטבע), meaning “nature.”31

The name E-lohim places limits on every entity, and in doing so allows for a distinction to be made between it and other entities. Since this makes multiplicity possible, the name E-lohim itself employs a plural form, as it is written:32 א-לוהים קדושים. For the name E-lohim relates to and indeed is the source of the multi-faceted nature of our material existence.

The name Havayah, by contrast, reflects a level of G‑dliness which transcends limitation and division. And thus one of the interpretations of the name י-ה-ו-ה is33 היה הוה ויהיה כאחד, “the past, present, and the future as one,” referring to a light which transcends temporal existence.

This light was first revealed at the giving of the Torah. At that time, G‑d nullified the decree separating the higher spiritual realms from this lowly material world.34 Applying this concept with regard to the inner world of the soul, the nullification of this decree makes it possible to unite intellect and emotion.

This is the inner meaning of G‑d’s reply to Moshe. He told him that at that time, moments before the Redemption which would come in the merit of and in preparation for the giving of the Torah,35 even a person whose mission centers on wisdom and reason should temper these potentials with natural emotion, and continue with unquestioning faith.

This also explains why G‑d refers to Yaakov by that name, rather than Yisrael. G‑d was demanding that Moshe, the personification of wisdom, temper his approach with emotion. And an emotional response to G‑d reflects kabbalas ol, the acceptance of His yoke, a mode of Divine service associated with Yaakov. The name Yisrael (ישראל), by contrast, is identified with a higher level, as reflected by the fact that it can be broken into the words לי ראש , “a head for me.”36 Yaakov (יעקב) can be divided into י'עקב, implying that the י which represents G‑d is drawn down into the עקב, “the heel.”37

On a personal level, this fusion of higher and lower levels is expressed when the “wise head” displays kabbalas ol, unconditional acceptance, the mode of Divine service associated with the feet.

Activity Versus Abstraction

Emotion has another fundamental advantage over intellect. This was implied when G‑d told Moshe Rabbeinu, the personification of wisdom, to don the mantle of emotion.

Every power of the incarnate soul has a specific limb or organ which is appropriate for it. Thus the functioning of the primary organs, the brain and the heart, enables us to understand the powers of intellect and emotion which are enclothed within them.

Both the brain and the heart influence all the organs of the body. There is, however, an enormous difference in the way they function. “The heart disperses [life energy] to all organs,”38 and there is normally nothing which prevents this life-energy from spreading.

This does not apply with regard to the brain. Although the brain is the most prominent of the three organs which control the body,39 its influence on the other organs of the body is restrained. Between the brain and the body is the neck, which is far narrower than the head and the body. In Kabbalistic terminology, this is referred to as meitzar hagaron.40 In a manner which parallels this physical phenomenon, the influence which the head transmits to the heart is constricted; from the heart, this influence is then disseminated to the other organs.

Parallels exist with regard to the powers of intellect and emotion. Emotion leads to deed, e.g., love motivates one to “do good,” while fear compels one to “turn away from evil.”41 Intellect, by contrast, inspires a person to become one with the subject he studies. Thus, although a person understands the way in which he should conduct himself, intellect alone does not push him toward actual deed. On the contrary, the tendency of intellect is toward abstraction. Indeed, the pleasure that results from the mind’s connection with a concept can actually prevent a person from applying the concept.42 To cite an example, when asked why he did not marry, Ben Azzai answered:43 “What shall I do? My soul yearns for the Torah.” Although he was aware of the importance the Torah places on marriage and family life, the pleasure he experienced in studying the Torah prevented him from setting up a home.

Warning against this tendency, our Sages taught:44 “Whoever says, ‘For me, there is nothing aside from the Torah’ will not possess even the Torah.”

Since intellect has a natural tendency toward abstraction, it is possible that a person who studies the Torah can become satisfied with this endeavor alone. Therefore it is necessary for our Sages to emphasize the importance of deeds of kindness. Torah scholars must labor against their nature and involve themselves in actual deeds.

Why the Title “Patriarchs”?

The tendency of emotion to lead to action enables us to understand why Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov are given the title “Patriarchs,” as our Sages commented:45 “There are only three who are called Patriarchs.” For “Patriarchs” are by definition those individuals who generate a posterity.

There are two expressions of this concept: a) Our Patriarchs’ emotions motivated them to perform good deeds, as our Sages commented:46 “The posterity of the righteous are good deeds”; and b) they extended themselves and were involved with others. This relates to the simple meaning of the term Patriarch one who establishes an ongoing line of children and grandchildren.

Posterity, the Essence of Our Patriarch’s Contribution

In the light of the above, we can also resolve a difficulty in Rashi s commentary on the beginning of the Torah reading. On the verse “I revealed Myself to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov…,” Rashi cites the words “I revealed Myself,” and adds “to the Patriarchs.” This is seemingly unnecessary; everyone knows that Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov are the Patriarchs of the Jewish people.

Other commentators explain that Rashi is merely restating the first portion of the verse in a condensed form, setting the stage for his commentary on the remainder of the passage: “[through the medium of] the name י-ה-ו-ה, but I did not make known My name י-ה-ו-ה to them.” This, however, is insufficient. For if this was Rashi’s intent, he could have used merely the final words of the verse, without mentioning the initial words at all.

The need for an explanation is heightened in light of the emphasis placed on every word and every letter in Rashi’s commentary by the Sheloh, the Alter Rebbe, and the Rebbeim who succeeded him.

It is possible to explain as follows: Rashi is highlighting the fact that the preeminent quality of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov is that they are Patriarchs. Each one has a unique personal prominence in his path of Divine service: Avraham in kindness, Yitzchak in might, and Yaakov in beauty. Following these paths, each developed their own attribute to perfection. Nevertheless, this was not their fundamental positive virtue. Their fundamental virtue was that they were Patriarchs, progenitors of our nation and heritage.

This is indicated by the verse concerning Avraham:47 “I have distinguished him, so that he will command his sons and his household.” G‑d showed special love for Avraham. Why? “Because he will instruct his children and the members of his household to follow the path of G‑d.” The emphasis is on perpetuating the Jewish tradition as a whole, and not on conveying the Patriarch’s particular quality.

Although the word “Patriarchs” is not mentioned explicitly at the beginning of this Torah reading, Rashi highlights this concept, and calls attention to it. For the fundamental quality that characterizes Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov who are also identified with the emotions is that they are Patriarchs, i.e., they begat a posterity.

Descent and Ascent

G‑d’s demand of Moshe that he temper his mission of wisdom and reason with natural emotion has two dimensions: a) that he should not ask questions, but instead proceed with kabbalas ol, as explained above; and b) that he should extend himself downward to other people. Indeed, we find that after the giving of the Torah, Moshe concerned himself with worldly matters far more than the Patriarchs had done, although the Patriarchs are identified with emotions, which (when compared to intellect) are characterized by such an outward thrust.

For this reason, the Patriarchs were shepherds, and lived to a certain extent removed from worldly concerns. Moshe, by contrast, translated the Torah into 70 languages,48 demonstrating his involvement with the entire world. And with regard to the Jewish people, he to borrow the Torah’s wording49 carried them in his bosom like a nursemaid carries an infant.

Here also we see a parallel to a Midrash mentioned with regard to the giving of the Torah. The Midrash states that after the giving of the Torah, “the higher realms descended to the lower realms, and the lower realms ascended to the higher realms.” To relate this to the personal realm:

a) Within our personalities, “the higher realms” refer to the potential of intellect, which has a tendency to favor abstract concepts and surge upward. “Descending to the lower realms” refers to the intellect’s involvement in “lowly” matters actual deeds.

b) With regard to the “ascent” of the lower realms A foot is the lowest limb of the body, and obeys the instructions it receives from the head without question. For our minds, container of the highest of our potentials, to adopt this approach and proceed with kabbalas ol, without asking questions, reflects how the “lowly” tendency has “ascended” and has been embraced by “the higher realms.”

Establishing Unity

Based on the above, we can appreciate the message this narrative conveys to every Jew.

There are many categories of Jew, from “your heads, [the leaders] of your tribes” to “your hewers of wood and drawers of water.”50 It is demanded of the “heads” to descend and involve themselves with other Jews, even “hewers of wood, and drawers of water.”

And those on the lower levels are charged with “ascending upward” by studying Torah not only Nigleh, the revealed body of Torah law, but also pnimiyus haTorah, the Torah’s mystic truths. Moreover, they are charged to observe mitzvos on an ever-higher plane, behiddur, in a beautiful and conscientious manner.

In this context, the phrase “all the fat [should be offered] to G‑d”51 can be interpreted as a directive for every Jew.52 The “fat” refers to what is choice and desirable in a personal sense, one’s prime potentials. These must be “offered to G‑d,” and dedicated to His service, thus elevating one’s study of Torah and observance of mitzvos to a higher rung.

Developing this concept further, the “heads,” a term which by and large refers to students of Torah, are enjoined to fuse the higher realms and the lower realms within their own personalities. They must involve themselves with the world at large by having their intellect follow the approach of kabbalas ol, as explained above.

The ability to join the highest and lowest ends of the spectrum was granted every Jew through a vision which G‑d revealed to Moshe Rabbeinu. Our Sages interpret the phrase:53 “until the last sea,” as meaning “until the last day.” G‑d showed Moshe all the generations of the Jewish people until the coming of the Mashiach.

As is well known,54 with his gaze, a tzaddik empowers those upon whom he looks. By gazing upon the Jews of all the forthcoming generations, including those of the generation of ikvesa diMeshicha, Moshe empowered them to fuse the higher and lower potentials.

This fusing of intellect and emotion hastens the manifestation of the four expressions of redemption mentioned later in the Torah portion. And then we will leave all boundaries and limitations,55 witnessing the fulfillment of the promise:56 “I will bring you to the Land,” “as in the days of your exodus from Egypt,”57 led by Mashiach in the near future.

The Torah in Translation

The above concept shares a connection with the upcoming date, Rosh Chodesh Shvat,58 concerning which it is said:59 “In the eleventh month, on the first of the month… Moshe began to explain this Torah.” Our Sages relate that on that day, Moshe translated the entire Torah into 70 languages.

Why was this necessary? At that time, all the Jews spoke Lashon HaKodesh, the Hebrew of the Torah. Although they were going to conquer the 31 kings living in Canaan, they had been commanded:60 “Do not allow a soul to live.” So why was it necessary for Moshe to translate the Torah?

And if it was necessary for the Torah to be translated, why was Moshe the one charged with the task? Seemingly, this job could have been accomplished by another. Every moment of Moshe’s time was precious, especially on Rosh Chodesh, a day which is considered above ordinary work days61 to the extent that some and particularly women62 do not perform any work at all on Rosh Chodesh.63 Why then was it Moshe who had to translate the Torah?

These questions can be resolved as follows: Before the generation of the Tower of Babel, all mankind spoke Lashon HaKodesh.64 After the sin of the Tower, discord and division arose; “one person did not understand another’s speech.”65

This represents the direct opposite of the oneness which permeates the realm of holiness, where there is “one G‑d,” and “one nation,” the Jews. Moreover, through “one Torah,” this “one nation” draws down G‑d’s oneness into the material world. The generation of the Tower of Babel rebelled against G‑d’s oneness, bringing division and separation into the world. And from them originated the 70 different languages.66

By translating the Torah into those 70 languages, Moshe drew down the oneness of Lashon HaKodesh into a realm characterized by separation. The translation of “the one Torah” made it possible to appreciate “the one G‑d,” even in the framework of the 70 languages of the world symbols of separation and isolation.67

This translation could be performed only by Moshe Rabbeinu for the following two reasons:

a) It is dependent on the fusion of the higher and lower realms mentioned previously, this fusion being brought about by the giving of the Torah. Accordingly, G‑d demanded of Moshe Rabbeinu that he also manifest the Divine service associated with the Patriarchs, thus reflecting a fusion of the intellect and the emotions. Therefore it was Moshe, who represented the highest level of wisdom, who had to “descend” and translate the Torah.

b) It was Moshe alone who could draw down the oneness of G‑d into a realm characterized by separation; no other person was capable of this. For to descend to the lowest levels, a person must be on the highest.68

To illustrate this with an analogy: When it is necessary to explain a concept to an average student, the task will be within the ability of an ordinary teacher. But only a very great teacher can explain a profound concept to a student with little knowledge. An ordinary teacher who makes the attempt will be forced to admit that the concept’s depth finds no echo in his words. Similarly, it is Moshe Rabbeinu alone who was capable of translating Lashon HaKodesh into the 70 languages, a realm characterized by darkness and separation.69

From Rosh Chodesh Shvat to Yud Shvat

The term Rosh Chodesh is used for the first of the month because of the analogy implied. Rosh Chodesh means “the head of the month.” Just as a person’s head directs the life energy of all his body’s limbs, so too, Rosh Chodesh subsumes all the coming days of the month.

Included in these days is Yud Shvat, the yahrzeit of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe. Based on the above, we can appreciate a connection between Rosh Chodesh Shvat and Yud Shvat.

Moshe Rabbeinu, the first nasi of the Jewish people, translated the Torah from Lashon HaKodesh into 70 languages. “The extension of Moshe in every generation,”70 the nasi of our generation, my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, involved himself in the deepest dimension of Nigleh, the revealed aspects of Torah law, and in pnimiyus haTorah, the Torah’s mystic secrets. Moreover, he had these concepts translated into foreign languages, making them accessible even to assimilated Jews.

The Rebbe also emphasized that his example should be emulated by his chassidim. On one hand, they should labor to comprehend the deepest concepts in Nigleh and pnimiyus haTorah. Simultaneously, instead of choosing isolation in enclaves of spiritual observance, they should involve themselves in their surroundings.

The merit of this course of behavior, which combines two opposite tendencies, will serve as a catalyst to take us out of exile. “All the exiles are called Egypt,”71 for both Mitzrayim (Hebrew for Egypt) and exile are associated with limitation. This will lead to our entry into Eretz Yisrael, led by Mashiach. May this take place in the near future.

(Adapted from Sichos Shabbos Parshas Va’eira, Rosh Chodesh Shvat, 5722)