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"Leaders of People and of Time"

Zohar, Beshalach, p. 47a; translation and commentary by Simcha Treister

(From our sister-site, Kabbala Online)


The difference between the expectations of the Zohar regarding spiritual leadership and our expectations regarding secular leadership are made clear in the following piece. It is interesting to note that the elections in Israel fell on this parasha the last time they were held and will follow shortly after the parasha this time.

"And Moses said to the people, 'Do not fear, stand still, and see the salvation of G-d'." (Ex. 14:13). Rebbe Shimon said: How happy is the lot of Israel that a shepherd such as Moses walked among them. It is written, "Then He remembered the days of old, of Moses his people" (Is. 63:11). "He remembered the days of old...", refers to the Holy One blessed be He [who recalled the Exodus]. "...Moses his people" [shows that] Moses was of equal weight as all Israel.

And we learn from this that the spiritual leader of the people is in fact the equivalent of the entire nation. If he is worthy, then all the people are [deemed] worthy. If he is not worthy, then the entire people are [judged as] unworthy and are punished because of him, as we have explained.

Rashi quotes the Midrash Tanchuma as a source for his commentary on Numbers 21:21: "the leader of the generation is like the entire generation because the leader is equivalent to all".

"Stand still and see the salvation of G-d". You need not fight for the Holy One blessed be He, [for He] will wage war for you, as the verse states: "G-d will fight for you, and you shall remain silent" (Ex. 14:14). Come and see, on that night [of the splitting of the Reed Sea] the Holy One blessed be He, gathered all His entourage together to pass judgment on Israel [as to whether they were worthy to be saved]. If it were not for the forefathers who had come first [to pray on behalf of their future children], they would not have been rescued from the judgment. Rebbe Yehuda said that it was the merit of Jacob that stood in favor of Israel as is written, "If it had not been G-d who was on our side [to save us], let Israel now say." (Ps. 124:1). That is [a reference to] Grandfather Israel [who prayed for the salvation of his children].

Note the importance of prayer, especially in time of war.

The crossing of the Reed Sea by the People of Israel was preceded by an instruction from G-d not to fight the advancing Egyptian Army. In Hebrew the word for fighter is "lochem" and shares the same root with the word for bread, "lechem". In the following discourse a parallel is drawn between stopping to fight for our bread on the Shabbat, and the instruction that Israel were given not to fight on the banks of the Reed Sea.

"G-d will fight for you, and you will be silent". Rebbe Aba opened his discourse with the verse "If you restrain your traveling because of the Shabbat, from pursuing your business on My holy day, and call the Shabbat a delight, to sanctify the honor of G-d, and honor it, not doing your usual things, nor pursuing your own desires or speaking of mundane things, then shall you delight yourself in the Lord." (Isaiah 58:13-14). How happy is the lot of Israel, that the Holy One blessed be He chose them to bind to out of all of the other people's of the earth, and out of the love for them brought them closer to Him and gave them the Torah and gave them the Shabbat which is the most holy of all the other days [of the week]. It has rest from everything and is the happiness of all [Israel].

The commentary on the Zohar, Matok MiDvash, notes that the three expressions regarding Shabbat that are a reference to the three higher sefirot. Shabbat is called "Holy" which is rooted in the sefira of chochma; "rest" from all outside influences is sourced in keter, and "happiness" refers to the sefira of bina. This in turn hints that the soul, which dwells in these three highest sefirot, is rejuvenated by the Shabbat.

The Shabbat balances against the whole Torah and one who keeps the Shabbat is considered as though he has kept the whole Torah.

Since the Shabbat rejuvenates the soul, and since the Torah is called a "tree of life", one can be balanced against the other. This explains the secular world's fight against the Shabbat - because once you "defeat Shabbat" you defeat the Torah. Indeed the pious waves of immigrants to America from Russia 100 years ago became estranged from the Torah as a direct result of being drawn into the desecration of Shabbat, feeling they had to "fight for their bread" also on that holy day.

"And you shall call to the Shabbat a delight" (Isaiah 58:13). [This means] delight in everything; delight of the spirit and of the body, enjoyment of the higher and lower worlds. And what is the meaning of the words "You shall call to [the Sabbath]"? This means that you have to invite it, as is written, "Called Holy" (Lev. 23:2). This means that you call to it or invite it, just as one would invite a guest into his house.

Here the Zohar tells us the mental attitude required to obtain the full delight of the Shabbat. It is a frame of mind where one is expecting a delightful guest, and then, once the guest arrives, to enjoy their company. This explains why the holy Ari would literally go out into the fields to greet the Shabbat. This was a physical manifestation of an inner state of mind that enables one to cling to the sanctity of the day. This is also the reason behind the other customs of greeting the Shabbat.

[Therefore, one should greet the Shabbat] with the house in proper order, with food and drink worthy and fitting [a special guest], more than on other days.


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Shmuel-Simcha Treister is a lawyer from New Zealand who made aliya to Safed with his family in 1993 to study Zohar. He continues doing so to this day. He also works in the Ascent multi-media center.


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