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Adapted from the discourses of the Alter Rebbe and the Tzemach Tzedek by Rabbi Yossi Marcus


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.


Rabbi 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 oratory.

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.        

sun vs. moon


fter G‑d informs Moses that he will not be entering the land, He instructs him to “place some of your radiance upon [Joshua].”[1] The Talmud,[2] 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.[3] 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.[4]

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.”[5] 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.

a moses-like redemption


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.[6]

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 seeking You.

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.) 

torah and prayer


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.”[7]  The “desert” is described by Jeremiah[8] as a place “where no man goes and no human dwells”—alluding to a sublime spiritual place where human experience cannot venture.[9] 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 beyond him.

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.[10] 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.”[11] &


[1] Numbers 27:2.

[2] Bava Batra 75a.

[3] Psalms 104:19.

[4] Rosh Hashanah 25a.

[5] Psalms 84:12.

[6] See Ohr Hachaim, Deut. 3:25; Megaleh Amukot 185 (see Likutei Sichot 19:346 fn.).

[7] Numbers 21:18.

[8] 2:6

[9] See, however, this commentary on parashat Maasei.

[10] Isaiah 30:26.

[11] Isaiah 52:8.



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