from the discourses of the Alter Rebbe and the Tzemach Tzedek by Rabbi
In the first verse of this week’s Torah portion,
Moses recalls his prayer to G‑d that he be allowed to enter the Land. He
is denied and instructed to empower Joshua as the new leader “for he shall inherit
the land for them.” This essay examines the inner meaning of Moses’ request and
G‑d’s choice of Joshua to lead the people into the holy land.
abbi Abraham the Levite
once entered the Arizal’s room and found his master asleep. The Arizal awoke and
said: “I have just heard supernal secrets and mysteries in the heavenly academy
regarding the section of Balak and Bilaam that were of such depth that if I were
to lecture for eighty years straight, day and night, I would not be able to say
it all.” —Pri Eitz Chaim 16:1
What one can perceive on
a conceptual level in a short glance, requires a far longer period of time to
articulate. In the case of the Arizal, whose conceptual perception reached the
highest spheres, eighty years would not suffice to verbalize what he had seen
in one glance.
This level of perception
is referred to in Kabbalah as “sight”—seeing, as opposed to hearing. Hearing is
associated with a more defined and articulated level of perceptiion. In kabbalistic
terminology these two levels are called Chochmah and Binah, wisdom and understanding.
[On its deepest level, the
difference between sight and hearing is the difference between the perception
of the student and that of the teacher, or the difference between the perception
of a true artist and that of an amateur.
The amateur recreates a
scene by studying each detail and copying it perfectly. While his painting may
be “flawless,” it will be missing the critical factor: life. His painting will
perfect but dead.
The true artist works differently.
He sees the essence of a scene, he finds its soul and core of being; the details
flow from there.
The amateur is an outsider.
The true artist enters inside the scene and conveys that perspective. So when
you look at his painting you do not see a reproduction of the external details;
you see the life and soul of the scene.
Similarly in the case of
the teacher and student. When the student repeats what he has learned from his
master he can only convey the details. He begins with an ignorant perspective
and methodically builds the logical points to prove and explain what he has learned.
The teacher, on the other
hand, comes from the perspective where the soul of the concept is clear in his
mind. He does not need the mathematical evidence to make the point real; it is
real to him because he knows its essence. He provides the anecdotes and the details
for the student. The idea does not flow from the details but to the details.
Thus the delivery of the teacher will be much more alive than that of the student.
Listening to the teacher is a much different experience than hearing the student,
even if both say the exact same thing and are of equal ability in the realm of
This idea is known in Chassidism
as the difference between osios harav and osios hatalmid, the words
(lit. letters) of the teacher vs. the words of the student.]
Moses exemplifies sight.
In Kabbalah, Moses, the transmitter of G‑d’s wisdom, is called Yesod Abba,
which is associated with Chochmah, sight.
It was this perspective
that he wished to impart to his people when he asked G-d permission to see
the land and thereby bestow that vision upon it. So even after he was told that
Joshua would lead them into the land, he still wished to enter the land and see
it for this purpose. In the end, he was only allowed to see it from afar,
which also had a great effect on the people but not the same as if he would have
seen it up close.
fter G‑d informs Moses
that he will not be entering the land, He instructs him to “place some of your
radiance upon [Joshua].”
commenting on the qualifier “some of your radiance,” says that the elders
of that generation said that “Moses’ face was like that of the sun, while Joshua’s
was like that of the moon.”
The difference between the
sun and the moon is that the light of the sun is constant; it experiences no change.
“The sun knows its destination,” says the psalmist.
The Talmud comments that while the sun seems to know where it is going, the moon
does not. Its orbit is irregular and erratic in comparison to the relatively steady
cycle of the sun.
The moon is dependent upon
its alignment with the sun for its light. And only once a month does the moon
reach the exact location where it can fully absorb the light of the sun.
The relationship between
the sun and the moon reflects the relationship between G‑d and man on the
level of hearing. The Divine light is constant and steady like the sun’s; but
man, like the moon, is not always a full recipient of that light. He is like a
person trying to meet up with a fellow on a roof. He tries one way and finds that
it is obstructed; he tries another and finds that he is encumbered by his inadequate
gear. He is on the bottom looking up and cannot see the full picture.
This idea is expressed in
the verse “Havayah Elokim is the sun and a shield.”
The Divine Name Havayah is compared to the sun, to the radiance of Divine
light. The Name Elokim, by contrast, refers to the shield, the tzimtzum,
or concealment of Divine light, which man often experiences.
ere Moses to take the people
into the land, says the Midrash, they would never have left it. The Holy Temple would have been built never
to be destroyed. The people would never have gone into exile. The Messianic era
would have commenced.
And that’s what Moses asked
G‑d to do: Let me take the people into Israel. Let your relationship
with them be like the face of the sun without the concealment, on the level of
sight, where You reach out to them without the need for them to stumble in their
But that was not what G‑d
had in mind. The people were not to enter the land on Moses’ level, but rather
on Joshua’s level. Like the face of the moon, they would constantly struggle to
align themselves with the Divine light.
Similarly the Midrash relates
that were King David to build the First Temple it would never have been destroyed. The Messianic
era would have commenced then. (For David embodies Kingship of the highest world
Atzilut and therefore an edifice built by his hands would not be susceptible to
destruction. Thus it was Solomon, who embodies Wisdom of the lower world of Beriah
that built the Temple. And indeed it was eventually destroyed and the
Jewish people sent into exile.)
n our Divine worship we
have these two levels: man reaching out to G‑d and G‑d reaching out
to man. In prayer, we reach out to G‑d; we attempt to transcend our material
orientation and cleave to the Divine reality.
With Torah study, on the
other hand, G‑d reaches out to man, and the Divine reality is revealed to
him without his having to pull himself upward.
When the person’s experience
is based on his efforts, as in prayer, the experience is limited to the level
where human effort can reach. However, when the experience is said to be Divinely
initiated that means that the experience stems from a place that human endeavor
cannot naturally attain.
Thus is explained a verse
that is applied to the Torah: “And from the desert a gift.”
The “desert” is described by Jeremiah
as a place “where no man goes and no human dwells”—alluding to a sublime spiritual
place where human experience cannot venture.
However, from this desert comes an unearned gift, indeed an unearnable gift,
the Torah, which allows man to access the sublime realities that are inherently
This level will reach its
apex in the Messianic era when G‑d promises that the light of the moon will
shine like that of the sun.
Man’s relationship with G‑d will no longer hinge upon his own actions. The
Divine light will shine without a shield and “they will see with their
own eyes as Havayah returns to Zion.”