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A living movie

“Miriam and Aharon spoke about Moses…” Miriam the Prophetess and Aharon the High Priest criticized their younger brother, this Moses, adiposity for separating from his wife (as the sages explain) and immediately God revealed Himself to them and informed them of the essential difference between Moses’ prophecy and that of all other prophets. “If there be prophets among you, [I] Havayah will make Myself known to him in a vision; I will speak to him in a dream. Not so is My servant Moses; he is faithful throughout My house. With him I speak mouth to mouth; in a vision and not in riddles, and he beholds the image of Havayah. So why were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?”

What connection is there between Moses’ prophetic rank and the fact that he separated from his wife? The sages explain, “Moses did well to separate from his wife since the Divine Presence revealed itself to him frequently and there was no set time for speaking” (Rashi). This was illustrated to Aharon and Miriam when God revealed Himself to them “suddenly” when they were impure. Although the verses deal with the level of Moses’ prophecy in general and not with the frequency of his prophecy, this detail is obviously the essential issue of Moses’ prophecy for which he had to separate from his wife. So, let’s meditate on the comparison between Moshe Rabeinu and the other prophets and by doing so we will gain better understanding of the different levels of prophecy and their consummate manifestation in Mashiach.

Two mirrors

The sages refer to Moses’ prophecy as a “shining lens” in contrast to other prophets who prophesied through a “lens that does not shine” (as Rashi points out in his commentary on the above verses). What exactly does it mean to prophesy through a “lens?” There are sages of the opinion that this is like a glass partition through which we can see through to the other side and there are others who say that this is like a mirror that reflects the image before it. Combining these two interpretations, we come to the understanding that the “shining lens” refers to a clear glass through which one can see, while the “lens that does not shine” refers to a mirror. This fits in nicely with the different expressions that appear in the abovementioned verses: regarding all the prophets it says, “In a vision I will become known to him,” whereas concerning Moses it states “In a vision and not in riddles.” The word the Torah uses for “vision” (????????) in the first verse and in reference to the prophecies of all prophets but Moses, also means “mirror.” As we recall, this level of universal prophecy is described as the “lens that does not shine” [as in the copper “mirrors” (???????) that the women donated to the Mishkan, which were used to make the washbasin.] In contrast, the word the Torah uses for “vision” (???????) in the second verse and in reference to Moses’ prophecy is a completely translucent lens. One more point: the prophets’ “vision” (????????) is in the feminine form, whereas Moses’ “vision” (???????) is in the masculine form, which further illustrates the faculty of a mirror to reflect the vision, like a female who receives from the male.

What does this mean? In general, we are taught that Moses integrates his prophecies with completely clear intellectual insight, in contrast to the prophets who see visions, riddles and allegories, but cannot visualize Divinity itself. Moses integrates the prophetic vision itself as it descends from above and even though he has a personality of his own, and he lives in a physical body, nonetheless, his ego is transparent, like clear glass, and his person does not obstruct his vision at all. In contrast, all other prophets have an obstruction that blocks God’s word as it descends from above, and they can integrate it only when it “hits” the lowest reality, as if they held a mirror in their hand and gazed at the Divine light reflected in it. If we compare the Divine light to sunlight, then Moses was able to gaze directly at the light through a single clear lens without it blinding him, while other prophets can only look at the light once it is reflected back from the earth, becoming “returning light.”

[In Kabbalistic terminology, a mirror (???????) corresponds to the sefirah of kingdom, the lowest sefirah, which “has nothing of its own,” and only reflects the light and the essential content that reaches it from the sefirot above it. In contrast, a vision (???????) represents the sefirah of beauty, the principal sefirah of all the sefirot (the persona of “the small countenance”) which emits a revelation of Divine light. Beauty is the male and kingdom is the female.]

Moses separates from his wife

What we learn from this is that Moses did not need our mundane world to receive his prophecy. He stood directly before God, “mouth to mouth” and “face to face,” “he gazed at Havayah’s image.” This is why Moses had to eventually separate from his wife. A couple must always retain mutual positive communication, looking into one another’s eyes and transmitting the message, “I love you.” But Moshe Rabbeinu, who at every moment was ready to receive his prophecy, could not allow himself to be distracted by turning his gaze away from the Divine vision; he was therefore forced to separate from his wife, Tziporah. Moses knew that it is impossible to simultaneously look upwards at the Divine Presence and downwards at his beloved wife. He therefore had no choice but to leave Tziporah to marry the Divine Presence, as it were. Miriam the Prophetess and Aharon the High Priest, who were both happily married (Miriam to Caleb ben Yefuneh and Aharon to Elisheva bat Aminadav), did not understand at first why Moses had to separate from Tziporah, until the Almighty Himself explained Moses’ exceptional level of prophecy and how it required his total devotion, making it impossible for him to engage in normal family life.

At a more profound level, we touch here upon an important issue regarding the relationship between a husband and wife. A woman uses a mirror profusely to adorn herself and to examine her looks and her beauty. But a man does not usually need a mirror and in fact, halachah (Jewish law) forbids a man to look at himself in the mirror like a woman (as part of the prohibition, “A man shall not wear a woman’s dress”)! This gender difference stems from a very deep source: a woman’s experience of selfhood is based on her appearance to others around her. She needs to see her reflection, as it were, in order to experience herself. A man’s experience of self starts from within, therefore men take less interest in how others see them. [To put it another way, looking in the mirror (be it figuratively or literally) does not help men see themselves for what they really are because of their inherent bias to how they see themselves from the inside. But, women, are less subjectively biased and therefore gain from looking into a mirror.]

Yet the truth is that a man also has (and needs) a mirror?his wife! By looking at his wife, a man can see himself as he truly is. [An experiment for the men reading this article: if you are not sure how you feel, simply look at your wife; she reflects your feelings perfectly.] Moses however, was incapable of looking at his wife in this way, because he was totally, “the man of God” for whom it is unfitting to stare at reflections of reality. Moses constantly had a prophetic vision in sight, “the real thing” literally face to face with God.

Mashiach returns to his wife

We have explained why at his level of prophecy, the highest attainable, Moses had no other option but to separate from his wife. Yet, from our own non-prophetic perspective, this conclusion seems to arouse a sense of cognitive dissonance. We have all been brought up on the merits and importance of raising a strong Jewish family, centered around the loving relationship between husband and wife. Is this spiritual apex not the true apex of Jewish life? Does Moses’ separation from family life imply that there is some higher calling?

The truth is that although Moshe Rabbeinu is the greatest of all prophets, who ever have been and ever will be—“Never again has there been appointed a prophet for the Jewish people equal to Moses”—the Mashiach’s level will complement his level, and will bring us all to a higher status. Indeed, in Chassidut it is explained that although Moses was right to separate from his wife, Mashiach will not follow suit.

In order to sense this messianic revelation to some extent, let’s return to the difference between the two lenses. Meditating more deeply, it becomes clear (as explained in Chassidut) that the “lens that does not shine” actually has a certain advantage over the “shining lens.” As much as we are able to gaze directly at Divinity, facing God, nonetheless our intellect and insight are limited. Even with the clearest of lenses, with the clearest insight, we can reach only so far in our perception. As we ascend further and further, going from “strength to strength,” we will always find that beyond the horizon, there lies another horizon; beyond the vision we have perceived, there remains an infinite expanse. And yet, “the lens that does not shine,” the mirror that lies below and only reflects higher realities has no such limitation. It is able to reflect light from the highest realms, revealing it to us in the form of sparks of holiness that have been extracted from below. This means that when the mundane has become a polished mirror that can reflect Divinity, there is an advantage to perceiving God through it.

We can say that Moses himself took the first step in this direction. Although he was not allowed to completely return to his wife, Tzipporah, nonetheless it seems plausible that after hearing his sister Miriam’s criticism, he understood that just looking at his wife would not necessarily stand in contradiction to his dedication to the Almighty (and even when one cannot be intimate with one’s wife, just looking at her with a loving gaze is allowed and desirable.)

The loving gaze between husband and wife will reach its highpoint with the Mashiach, whose soul is Moses’ soul. Mashiach will clarify that when a couple gaze at one another, with sanctity and purity, they see in each other a special revelation of the Almighty, who is called the third “partner” in a Jewish home. This consummate bond between man and wife does not remain visual only, but also manifests as actual physical union, without requiring the husband, as spiritually elevated as he might be, to separate from his wife. Rather, their marital joy can be revealed on every plane of existence. In fact, the more one is sanctified and dedicated to God by freeing oneself of corporeality, the more one recognizes that in fact the highest level of Divine revelation can be experienced by looking at one’s beloved spouse.

??? ??? ???? ?”? ??’ ??

Parashat Shelach begins with the words, purchase “Send yourself men to survey the land of Canaan….” What was the purpose of this assignment? There is obviously no doubt that the Jewish people were intent on entering the land of Israel, ask as God had promised Abraham, and had told Moses at the Burning Bush (where Moses received his own mission: serving as the Jewish people’s redeemer). There is also no doubt that the land is good, “A land flowing with milk and honey” (as Moses was told on that same occasion), and that it is the most fitting place for the Jewish people to live. Why then, was it necessary to send men to examine the land’s quality?

Some commentaries explain that nonetheless, the main purpose of the spies’ assignment was to see that the land was good, and by doing so to increase the people’s motivation and joyfully raise their spirits as they came into the land. The Ramban (Nachmanides) writes,

Moses—knowing that the land was fertile and good, as he was told that it was “a good and expansive land”—told the spies to pay attention to this point so that they could convey it to the people. The people would then rejoice, regain their strength, and enter the land joyfully. This is why Moses told the spies, “Be strong and take of the land’s fruit,” so that they would see the land’s worth with their own eyes .

Moses himself did not need this, because he fully believed in God’s promise and could envision the goodly land in his mind’s eye, but not everyone was on such a high level; the people required a visual confirmation of the land’s fruitfulness for it to make an impression on them.

Joy and pleasure in the land

This answers our first question concerning Moses objective in sending the spies, but it leaves us with another. Why was it so important to enter the land of Israel joyfully? Obviously, we are commanded to, “Serve God with joy,” but, usually this refers to joy while actually performing a mitzvah. However, in this case, the joy stems from the land of Israel’s physical goodness, and from the benefits we gain from the land.

Moreover, a general principle regarding all the mitzvot is that someone who performs a mitzvah for personal fulfillment is missing the point of what a mitzvah is. The emphasis should be on obediently performing the mitzvah solely because the Almighty commanded us to do so, thereby accepting the yoke of Heaven. In halachah, there is an iron rule, that “mitzvot were not given for one’s benefit.” The performance of a mitzvah is not meant to benefit us. Therefore, for example, if Reuben vowed to not receive any benefit from Shimon, Shimon is still able to fulfill Reuben’s obligation regarding a particular mitzvah by performing it on his behalf. In spite of Shimon having performed Reuben’s duty for him, Reuben is not considered to have received any benefit from Shimon. Of course mitzvot should be performed with joy. The joy accompanying a mitzvah is what adorns our observance of God’s commandments (so much so, that the reason for the exile is, “Because you did not serve Havayah your God with joy and good heartedly”). But this joy is spiritual in nature. In contrast, performing a mitzvah for personal gain might blemish the act, categorizing it as a mitzvah performed shelo lishmah (out of ulterior motives).

It follows then that the mitzvah of settling the land of Israel is unlike other mitzvot. Even if inheriting the land is considered one of the 613 mitzvot—an opinion held by a number of great poskim (first and foremost, by the Ramban)—it is unique in that its performance certainly includes the benefit and joy gained from living in the land. This is already apparent from the language God used to command the first Jew, Abraham, “Go for yourself from your land… to the land that I will show you.” As Rashi explains, the use of the uncommon word “for yourself” indicates that fulfilling God’s command will be for Abraham’s own benefit and pleasure. The form of the command given Abraham, “Go for yourself” (???? ????) is identical to the one given Moses at the beginning of our parashah, “Send for yourself” (?????? ????), suggesting once again that entering the land of Israel inherently involves the benefit and pleasure the land will give the Jewish people.

One illustration of the difference between the mitzvah to inherit the land of Israel and all other mitzvot can be seen in the words of the greatest posek, the Rambam. Even though the Rambam does not enumerate conquering the land of Israel among the 613 mitzvot, in his legal work (which is usually relatively dry) he does include halachot that refer to loving the land and cherishing it. For example, he writes,

The greatest of the sages would kiss the borders of the land of Israel and kiss its stones and roll in its dust, as it says, “For Your servants desire its stones and they favor its dust.”

As if to say that a true Jew, without a doubt, loves the Holy land. Surely, you enjoy being in the land of Israel, and when you deplane at the airport, you will naturally kiss the ground.

Torah and mitzvah

To better understand the unique place held by the land of Israel among other mitzvot, let us consider the how the commandment to learn Torah differs from other mitzvot. Although learning Torah is one of the 613 mitzvot (according to all opinions), it is special in regard to the issue of receiving benefit from it. Above, we mentioned the halachic rule that “mitzvot were not given for one’s benefit.” However, the Taz glosses on the Shulchan Aruch states that this rule is not at all applicable to learning Torah. Therefore, if Reuben forbade Shimon from receiving benefit from his book, it is forbidden for Shimon to learn Torah from that book, indicating that without question, learning Torah with this book is providing Shimon with some benefit. More specifically, the Taz writes,

Because the Torah certainly rejoices the heart… therefore this mitzvah is unlike other mitzvot about which it is said that, “mitzvot were not given for one’s benefit” because an individual does receive pleasure from this.

This point is beautifully expounded upon by one of the greatest chassidim, the author of Avnei Nezer. He writes,

The principal element of the mitzvah of learning Torah is that one should be joyful and happy and enjoy his learning. Then the Torah’s words are absorbed into his blood, and since he enjoys learning Torah, he clings to the Torah… Learning [Torah] because it is a mitzvah and taking pleasure in the learning is considered learning lishmah (without ulterior motive) and is all consecrated, because pleasure is part of the mitzvah.

From the deeper perspective of the Torah’s inner dimension, the Torah and the individual learning it actually unite: God’s wisdom, which is the Torah, is simultaneously both contained in the mind of the person learning and surrounds his mind, as explained in Tanya (see Tanya chs. 5 and 23), a unification with the Divine that cannot occur even in the spiritual worlds. Therefore, the enjoyment and pleasure experienced in Torah study are not an incidental, confusing factor, and cannot be considered an ulterior motive. Quite the opposite: the consummate fulfillment of the mitzvah of Torah study occurs only when the individual experiences pleasure in his learning; then, even his pleasure is part and parcel of the mitzvah. Obviously, as the Avnei Nezer emphasizes, this does not apply to an individual who studies Torah for intellectual pleasure alone (there are people who are distant from Torah observance, but still enjoy the intellectual challenge in studying Talmud). But, when an individual learns in order to follow God’s command with earnest obedience, the Torah permeates his blood and soul so much that he enjoys the learning.

Joyfully receiving the gift

Having seen this novel notion regarding Torah study—that intellectual pleasure is positive and can become an integral part of the mitzvah—we can now understand that the same is true regarding the land of Israel. In fact, the benefits gained from living in the land of Israel are even more an integral part of the mitzvah because the land of Israel is a material gift from God, given to us so that we may, “eat from its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness.” The land of Israel was given to us so that we enjoy it and benefit from it.

Just as the Torah is our life, without which we would be like fish out of water, so the land of Israel is our “land of the living.” Just as the individual learning Torah unites with it and therefore his pleasure and enjoyment from the learning become a part of the mitzvah, so too a Jew who enters the land of Israel unites with the land. The connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel is indeed compared to the union of a groom with his bride (Isaiah 62:5): “As a young man marries a virgin, so your sons will marry you.” It follows then that the preparations before entering the land of Israel are similar to those before learning Torah. Every day, before learning Torah, we bless God for having given us the Torah, and make a request that we will find it pleasantly palatable, “May You sweeten the words of Torah in our mouths.” Likewise, before entering the land of Israel, it was necessary that the Jewish people’s hearts be motivated to enter it joyfully and with high spirits. As God commanded Abraham, Lech lecha—Go to this land, for your own enjoyment and benefit.

Pleasure as a result of selflessness

However, this very point—that the settling of the land of Israel is beneficial and pleasurable—introduces a certain hazard. To perform any other mitzvah, an individual must set aside his self and perform it solely for Heaven’s sake, without regard for his own personal pleasure and benefit. As a consequence, ideally, there is little need to worry that personal bias, self-interest, or other ulterior motives will taint our minds, or lead us into the trap of self-aggrandizement.

But, entering the land of Israel requires our total personal involvement. We should savor the pleasant tastes of the “land flowing with milk and honey,” enjoying it and rejoicing in it. Therefore, in this case, there is a definite danger that we will place our self in the center, declaring that it is, “My power and the strength of my hand that has made me successful.” Personal involvement leaves room for mistakes in judgment. This is readily apparent in the report given by the ten spies. The spies were asked to relate their impression of the land, “Whether it is good or bad… fat or lean.” Could they help it if their impression was that, “the land consumes its inhabitants” and what could they have done about feeling like insects in comparison to the giants that dwelt in it? Where indeed did their sin begin? How could they have guarded their judgment?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains in Likutei Sichot (v.23, pp. 92ff.) that the spies’ sin stems from their lack of nullification to Moses who had given them their mission. Absolute devotion and dedication to Moses would have united their consciousness with his. When receiving pleasure or benefit is part of an experience, we should suspect that they might play off our unrefined ego. In fact, the Hebrew words for “benefit” (???????) and “ego” (?????) share the same numerical value, 61. This is exactly what happened to the ten spies. Their judgment was tainted by their egos. This helps explain the opinion that Joshua and Caleb did not carry any fruit back (the fruit representing the benefits of the land), even though Moses had commanded it, because they understood that by doing so they would in fact act against Moses’ implicit intentions.

The spies should have nullified themselves completely before Moses, “the humblest of all men” (as we read in the previous parashah) who himself was absolutely nullified before God. Had the ten spies been totally faithful to Moses (as Joshua and Caleb were) they would have been able to experience the benefit and great joy associated with entering the land of Israel, while simultaneously remaining selflessly connected to Moses and the Almighty.

To this day, the spies’ sin has not yet been completely rectified. In order to inherit the land of Israel, we must learn to hold onto both ideas: enjoy the “precious land that is good and wide” and at the same time, nullify ourselves before Moses—Moshe Rabbeinu; every generation has its own Moshe Rabbeinu. In this way we will merit to “eat from its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness.”

Every Jewish individual should cherish the land of Israel and come to it from the ends of the world with great desire, like a child running to its mother’s embrace… All those living outside the land, be it near or far, should yearn for it and desire it. Because, just as He chose them [the Jewish people], so He chose the land of Israel and set it aside for them. And, they are only referred to as “one nation,” when they reside in it (Sefer Charedim).

from a farbrengen from Shabbat Parashat Shelach, 23rd Sivan 5770, Elon Moreh

Parashat Shelach begins with the words, treatment “Send yourself men to survey the land of Canaan….” What was the purpose of this assignment? There is obviously no doubt that the Jewish people were intent on entering the land of Israel, as God had promised Abraham, and had told Moses at the Burning Bush (where Moses received his own mission: serving as the Jewish people’s redeemer). There is also no doubt that the land is good, “A land flowing with milk and honey” (as Moses was told on that same occasion), and that it is the most fitting place for the Jewish people to live. Why then, was it necessary to send men to examine the land’s quality?

Some commentaries explain that nonetheless, the main purpose of the spies’ assignment was to see that the land was good, and by doing so to increase the people’s motivation and joyfully raise their spirits as they came into the land. The Ramban (Nachmanides) writes,

Moses—knowing that the land was fertile and good, as he was told that it was “a good and expansive land”—told the spies to pay attention to this point so that they could convey it to the people. The people would then rejoice, regain their strength, and enter the land joyfully. This is why Moses told the spies, “Be strong and take of the land’s fruit,” so that they would see the land’s worth with their own eyes .

Moses himself did not need this, because he fully believed in God’s promise and could envision the goodly land in his mind’s eye, but not everyone was on such a high level; the people required a visual confirmation of the land’s fruitfulness for it to make an impression on them.

Joy and pleasure in the land

This answers our first question concerning Moses objective in sending the spies, but it leaves us with another. Why was it so important to enter the land of Israel joyfully? Obviously, we are commanded to, “Serve God with joy,” but, usually this refers to joy while actually performing a mitzvah. However, in this case, the joy stems from the land of Israel’s physical goodness, and from the benefits we gain from the land.

Moreover, a general principle regarding all the mitzvot is that someone who performs a mitzvah for personal fulfillment is missing the point of what a mitzvah is. The emphasis should be on obediently performing the mitzvah solely because the Almighty commanded us to do so, thereby accepting the yoke of Heaven. In halachah, there is an iron rule, that “mitzvot were not given for one’s benefit.” The performance of a mitzvah is not meant to benefit us. Therefore, for example, if Reuben vowed to not receive any benefit from Shimon, Shimon is still able to fulfill Reuben’s obligation regarding a particular mitzvah by performing it on his behalf. In spite of Shimon having performed Reuben’s duty for him, Reuben is not considered to have received any benefit from Shimon. Of course mitzvot should be performed with joy. The joy accompanying a mitzvah is what adorns our observance of God’s commandments (so much so, that the reason for the exile is, “Because you did not serve Havayah your God with joy and good heartedly”). But this joy is spiritual in nature. In contrast, performing a mitzvah for personal gain might blemish the act, categorizing it as a mitzvah performed shelo lishmah (out of ulterior motives).

It follows then that the mitzvah of settling the land of Israel is unlike other mitzvot. Even if inheriting the land is considered one of the 613 mitzvot—an opinion held by a number of great poskim (first and foremost, by the Ramban)—it is unique in that its performance certainly includes the benefit and joy gained from living in the land. This is already apparent from the language God used to command the first Jew, Abraham, “Go for yourself from your land… to the land that I will show you.” As Rashi explains, the use of the uncommon word “for yourself” indicates that fulfilling God’s command will be for Abraham’s own benefit and pleasure. The form of the command given Abraham, “Go for yourself” (???? ????) is identical to the one given Moses at the beginning of our parashah, “Send for yourself” (?????? ????), suggesting once again that entering the land of Israel inherently involves the benefit and pleasure the land will give the Jewish people.

One illustration of the difference between the mitzvah to inherit the land of Israel and all other mitzvot can be seen in the words of the greatest posek, the Rambam. Even though the Rambam does not enumerate conquering the land of Israel among the 613 mitzvot, in his legal work (which is usually relatively dry) he does include halachot that refer to loving the land and cherishing it. For example, he writes,

The greatest of the sages would kiss the borders of the land of Israel and kiss its stones and roll in its dust, as it says, “For Your servants desire its stones and they favor its dust.”

As if to say that a true Jew, without a doubt, loves the Holy land. Surely, you enjoy being in the land of Israel, and when you deplane at the airport, you will naturally kiss the ground.

Torah and mitzvah

To better understand the unique place held by the land of Israel among other mitzvot, let us consider the how the commandment to learn Torah differs from other mitzvot. Although learning Torah is one of the 613 mitzvot (according to all opinions), it is special in regard to the issue of receiving benefit from it. Above, we mentioned the halachic rule that “mitzvot were not given for one’s benefit.” However, the Taz glosses on the Shulchan Aruch states that this rule is not at all applicable to learning Torah. Therefore, if Reuben forbade Shimon from receiving benefit from his book, it is forbidden for Shimon to learn Torah from that book, indicating that without question, learning Torah with this book is providing Shimon with some benefit. More specifically, the Taz writes,

Because the Torah certainly rejoices the heart… therefore this mitzvah is unlike other mitzvot about which it is said that, “mitzvot were not given for one’s benefit” because an individual does receive pleasure from this.

This point is beautifully expounded upon by one of the greatest chassidim, the author of Avnei Nezer. He writes,

The principal element of the mitzvah of learning Torah is that one should be joyful and happy and enjoy his learning. Then the Torah’s words are absorbed into his blood, and since he enjoys learning Torah, he clings to the Torah… Learning [Torah] because it is a mitzvah and taking pleasure in the learning is considered learning lishmah (without ulterior motive) and is all consecrated, because pleasure is part of the mitzvah.

From the deeper perspective of the Torah’s inner dimension, the Torah and the individual learning it actually unite: God’s wisdom, which is the Torah, is simultaneously both contained in the mind of the person learning and surrounds his mind, as explained in Tanya (see Tanya chs. 5 and 23), a unification with the Divine that cannot occur even in the spiritual worlds. Therefore, the enjoyment and pleasure experienced in Torah study are not an incidental, confusing factor, and cannot be considered an ulterior motive. Quite the opposite: the consummate fulfillment of the mitzvah of Torah study occurs only when the individual experiences pleasure in his learning; then, even his pleasure is part and parcel of the mitzvah. Obviously, as the Avnei Nezer emphasizes, this does not apply to an individual who studies Torah for intellectual pleasure alone (there are people who are distant from Torah observance, but still enjoy the intellectual challenge in studying Talmud). But, when an individual learns in order to follow God’s command with earnest obedience, the Torah permeates his blood and soul so much that he enjoys the learning.

Joyfully receiving the gift

Having seen this novel notion regarding Torah study—that intellectual pleasure is positive and can become an integral part of the mitzvah—we can now understand that the same is true regarding the land of Israel. In fact, the benefits gained from living in the land of Israel are even more an integral part of the mitzvah because the land of Israel is a material gift from God, given to us so that we may, “eat from its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness.” The land of Israel was given to us so that we enjoy it and benefit from it.

Just as the Torah is our life, without which we would be like fish out of water, so the land of Israel is our “land of the living.” Just as the individual learning Torah unites with it and therefore his pleasure and enjoyment from the learning become a part of the mitzvah, so too a Jew who enters the land of Israel unites with the land. The connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel is indeed compared to the union of a groom with his bride (Isaiah 62:5): “As a young man marries a virgin, so your sons will marry you.” It follows then that the preparations before entering the land of Israel are similar to those before learning Torah. Every day, before learning Torah, we bless God for having given us the Torah, and make a request that we will find it pleasantly palatable, “May You sweeten the words of Torah in our mouths.” Likewise, before entering the land of Israel, it was necessary that the Jewish people’s hearts be motivated to enter it joyfully and with high spirits. As God commanded Abraham, Lech lecha—Go to this land, for your own enjoyment and benefit.

Pleasure as a result of selflessness

However, this very point—that the settling of the land of Israel is beneficial and pleasurable—introduces a certain hazard. To perform any other mitzvah, an individual must set aside his self and perform it solely for Heaven’s sake, without regard for his own personal pleasure and benefit. As a consequence, ideally, there is little need to worry that personal bias, self-interest, or other ulterior motives will taint our minds, or lead us into the trap of self-aggrandizement.

But, entering the land of Israel requires our total personal involvement. We should savor the pleasant tastes of the “land flowing with milk and honey,” enjoying it and rejoicing in it. Therefore, in this case, there is a definite danger that we will place our self in the center, declaring that it is, “My power and the strength of my hand that has made me successful.” Personal involvement leaves room for mistakes in judgment. This is readily apparent in the report given by the ten spies. The spies were asked to relate their impression of the land, “Whether it is good or bad… fat or lean.” Could they help it if their impression was that, “the land consumes its inhabitants” and what could they have done about feeling like insects in comparison to the giants that dwelt in it? Where indeed did their sin begin? How could they have guarded their judgment?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains in Likutei Sichot (v.23, pp. 92ff.) that the spies’ sin stems from their lack of nullification to Moses who had given them their mission. Absolute devotion and dedication to Moses would have united their consciousness with his. When receiving pleasure or benefit is part of an experience, we should suspect that they might play off our unrefined ego. In fact, the Hebrew words for “benefit” (???????) and “ego” (?????) share the same numerical value, 61. This is exactly what happened to the ten spies. Their judgment was tainted by their egos. This helps explain the opinion that Joshua and Caleb did not carry any fruit back (the fruit representing the benefits of the land), even though Moses had commanded it, because they understood that by doing so they would in fact act against Moses’ implicit intentions.

The spies should have nullified themselves completely before Moses, “the humblest of all men” (as we read in the previous parashah) who himself was absolutely nullified before God. Had the ten spies been totally faithful to Moses (as Joshua and Caleb were) they would have been able to experience the benefit and great joy associated with entering the land of Israel, while simultaneously remaining selflessly connected to Moses and the Almighty.

To this day, the spies’ sin has not yet been completely rectified. In order to inherit the land of Israel, we must learn to hold onto both ideas: enjoy the “precious land that is good and wide” and at the same time, nullify ourselves before Moses—Moshe Rabbeinu; every generation has its own Moshe Rabbeinu. In this way we will merit to “eat from its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness.”

Every Jewish individual should cherish the land of Israel and come to it from the ends of the world with great desire, like a child running to its mother’s embrace… All those living outside the land, be it near or far, should yearn for it and desire it. Because, just as He chose them [the Jewish people], so He chose the land of Israel and set it aside for them. And, they are only referred to as “one nation,” when they reside in it (Sefer Charedim).

excerpted from a farbrengen from Shabbat Parashat Shelach, 23rd Sivan 5770, Elon Moreh

Parashat Shelach begins with the words, thumb “Send yourself men to survey the land of Canaan….” What was the purpose of this assignment? There is obviously no doubt that the Jewish people were intent on entering the land of Israel, recipe as God had promised Abraham, drugstore and had told Moses at the Burning Bush (where Moses received his own mission: serving as the Jewish people’s redeemer). There is also no doubt that the land is good, “A land flowing with milk and honey” (as Moses was told on that same occasion), and that it is the most fitting place for the Jewish people to live. Why then, was it necessary to send men to examine the land’s quality?

Some commentaries explain that nonetheless, the main purpose of the spies’ assignment was to see that the land was good, and by doing so to increase the people’s motivation and joyfully raise their spirits as they came into the land. The Ramban (Nachmanides) writes,

Moses—knowing that the land was fertile and good, as he was told that it was “a good and expansive land”—told the spies to pay attention to this point so that they could convey it to the people. The people would then rejoice, regain their strength, and enter the land joyfully. This is why Moses told the spies, “Be strong and take of the land’s fruit,” so that they would see the land’s worth with their own eyes .

Moses himself did not need this, because he fully believed in God’s promise and could envision the goodly land in his mind’s eye, but not everyone was on such a high level; the people required a visual confirmation of the land’s fruitfulness for it to make an impression on them.

Joy and pleasure in the land

This answers our first question concerning Moses objective in sending the spies, but it leaves us with another. Why was it so important to enter the land of Israel joyfully? Obviously, we are commanded to, “Serve God with joy,” but, usually this refers to joy while actually performing a mitzvah. However, in this case, the joy stems from the land of Israel’s physical goodness, and from the benefits we gain from the land.

Moreover, a general principle regarding all the mitzvot is that someone who performs a mitzvah for personal fulfillment is missing the point of what a mitzvah is. The emphasis should be on obediently performing the mitzvah solely because the Almighty commanded us to do so, thereby accepting the yoke of Heaven. In halachah, there is an iron rule, that “mitzvot were not given for one’s benefit.” The performance of a mitzvah is not meant to benefit us. Therefore, for example, if Reuben vowed to not receive any benefit from Shimon, Shimon is still able to fulfill Reuben’s obligation regarding a particular mitzvah by performing it on his behalf. In spite of Shimon having performed Reuben’s duty for him, Reuben is not considered to have received any benefit from Shimon. Of course mitzvot should be performed with joy. The joy accompanying a mitzvah is what adorns our observance of God’s commandments (so much so, that the reason for the exile is, “Because you did not serve Havayah your God with joy and good heartedly”). But this joy is spiritual in nature. In contrast, performing a mitzvah for personal gain might blemish the act, categorizing it as a mitzvah performed shelo lishmah (out of ulterior motives).

It follows then that the mitzvah of settling the land of Israel is unlike other mitzvot. Even if inheriting the land is considered one of the 613 mitzvot—an opinion held by a number of great poskim (first and foremost, by the Ramban)—it is unique in that its performance certainly includes the benefit and joy gained from living in the land. This is already apparent from the language God used to command the first Jew, Abraham, “Go for yourself from your land… to the land that I will show you.” As Rashi explains, the use of the uncommon word “for yourself” indicates that fulfilling God’s command will be for Abraham’s own benefit and pleasure. The form of the command given Abraham, “Go for yourself” (???? ????) is identical to the one given Moses at the beginning of our parashah, “Send for yourself” (?????? ????), suggesting once again that entering the land of Israel inherently involves the benefit and pleasure the land will give the Jewish people.

One illustration of the difference between the mitzvah to inherit the land of Israel and all other mitzvot can be seen in the words of the greatest posek, the Rambam. Even though the Rambam does not enumerate conquering the land of Israel among the 613 mitzvot, in his legal work (which is usually relatively dry) he does include halachot that refer to loving the land and cherishing it. For example, he writes,

The greatest of the sages would kiss the borders of the land of Israel and kiss its stones and roll in its dust, as it says, “For Your servants desire its stones and they favor its dust.”

As if to say that a true Jew, without a doubt, loves the Holy land. Surely, you enjoy being in the land of Israel, and when you deplane at the airport, you will naturally kiss the ground.

Torah and mitzvah

To better understand the unique place held by the land of Israel among other mitzvot, let us consider the how the commandment to learn Torah differs from other mitzvot. Although learning Torah is one of the 613 mitzvot (according to all opinions), it is special in regard to the issue of receiving benefit from it. Above, we mentioned the halachic rule that “mitzvot were not given for one’s benefit.” However, the Taz glosses on the Shulchan Aruch states that this rule is not at all applicable to learning Torah. Therefore, if Reuben forbade Shimon from receiving benefit from his book, it is forbidden for Shimon to learn Torah from that book, indicating that without question, learning Torah with this book is providing Shimon with some benefit. More specifically, the Taz writes,

Because the Torah certainly rejoices the heart… therefore this mitzvah is unlike other mitzvot about which it is said that, “mitzvot were not given for one’s benefit” because an individual does receive pleasure from this.

This point is beautifully expounded upon by one of the greatest chassidim, the author of Avnei Nezer. He writes,

The principal element of the mitzvah of learning Torah is that one should be joyful and happy and enjoy his learning. Then the Torah’s words are absorbed into his blood, and since he enjoys learning Torah, he clings to the Torah… Learning [Torah] because it is a mitzvah and taking pleasure in the learning is considered learning lishmah (without ulterior motive) and is all consecrated, because pleasure is part of the mitzvah.

From the deeper perspective of the Torah’s inner dimension, the Torah and the individual learning it actually unite: God’s wisdom, which is the Torah, is simultaneously both contained in the mind of the person learning and surrounds his mind, as explained in Tanya (see Tanya chs. 5 and 23), a unification with the Divine that cannot occur even in the spiritual worlds. Therefore, the enjoyment and pleasure experienced in Torah study are not an incidental, confusing factor, and cannot be considered an ulterior motive. Quite the opposite: the consummate fulfillment of the mitzvah of Torah study occurs only when the individual experiences pleasure in his learning; then, even his pleasure is part and parcel of the mitzvah. Obviously, as the Avnei Nezer emphasizes, this does not apply to an individual who studies Torah for intellectual pleasure alone (there are people who are distant from Torah observance, but still enjoy the intellectual challenge in studying Talmud). But, when an individual learns in order to follow God’s command with earnest obedience, the Torah permeates his blood and soul so much that he enjoys the learning.

Joyfully receiving the gift

Having seen this novel notion regarding Torah study—that intellectual pleasure is positive and can become an integral part of the mitzvah—we can now understand that the same is true regarding the land of Israel. In fact, the benefits gained from living in the land of Israel are even more an integral part of the mitzvah because the land of Israel is a material gift from God, given to us so that we may, “eat from its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness.” The land of Israel was given to us so that we enjoy it and benefit from it.

Just as the Torah is our life, without which we would be like fish out of water, so the land of Israel is our “land of the living.” Just as the individual learning Torah unites with it and therefore his pleasure and enjoyment from the learning become a part of the mitzvah, so too a Jew who enters the land of Israel unites with the land. The connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel is indeed compared to the union of a groom with his bride (Isaiah 62:5): “As a young man marries a virgin, so your sons will marry you.” It follows then that the preparations before entering the land of Israel are similar to those before learning Torah. Every day, before learning Torah, we bless God for having given us the Torah, and make a request that we will find it pleasantly palatable, “May You sweeten the words of Torah in our mouths.” Likewise, before entering the land of Israel, it was necessary that the Jewish people’s hearts be motivated to enter it joyfully and with high spirits. As God commanded Abraham, Lech lecha—Go to this land, for your own enjoyment and benefit.

Pleasure as a result of selflessness

However, this very point—that the settling of the land of Israel is beneficial and pleasurable—introduces a certain hazard. To perform any other mitzvah, an individual must set aside his self and perform it solely for Heaven’s sake, without regard for his own personal pleasure and benefit. As a consequence, ideally, there is little need to worry that personal bias, self-interest, or other ulterior motives will taint our minds, or lead us into the trap of self-aggrandizement.

But, entering the land of Israel requires our total personal involvement. We should savor the pleasant tastes of the “land flowing with milk and honey,” enjoying it and rejoicing in it. Therefore, in this case, there is a definite danger that we will place our self in the center, declaring that it is, “My power and the strength of my hand that has made me successful.” Personal involvement leaves room for mistakes in judgment. This is readily apparent in the report given by the ten spies. The spies were asked to relate their impression of the land, “Whether it is good or bad… fat or lean.” Could they help it if their impression was that, “the land consumes its inhabitants” and what could they have done about feeling like insects in comparison to the giants that dwelt in it? Where indeed did their sin begin? How could they have guarded their judgment?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains in Likutei Sichot (v.23, pp. 92ff.) that the spies’ sin stems from their lack of nullification to Moses who had given them their mission. Absolute devotion and dedication to Moses would have united their consciousness with his. When receiving pleasure or benefit is part of an experience, we should suspect that they might play off our unrefined ego. In fact, the Hebrew words for “benefit” (???????) and “ego” (?????) share the same numerical value, 61. This is exactly what happened to the ten spies. Their judgment was tainted by their egos. This helps explain the opinion that Joshua and Caleb did not carry any fruit back (the fruit representing the benefits of the land), even though Moses had commanded it, because they understood that by doing so they would in fact act against Moses’ implicit intentions.

The spies should have nullified themselves completely before Moses, “the humblest of all men” (as we read in the previous parashah) who himself was absolutely nullified before God. Had the ten spies been totally faithful to Moses (as Joshua and Caleb were) they would have been able to experience the benefit and great joy associated with entering the land of Israel, while simultaneously remaining selflessly connected to Moses and the Almighty.

To this day, the spies’ sin has not yet been completely rectified. In order to inherit the land of Israel, we must learn to hold onto both ideas: enjoy the “precious land that is good and wide” and at the same time, nullify ourselves before Moses—Moshe Rabbeinu; every generation has its own Moshe Rabbeinu. In this way we will merit to “eat from its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness.”

Every Jewish individual should cherish the land of Israel and come to it from the ends of the world with great desire, like a child running to its mother’s embrace… All those living outside the land, be it near or far, should yearn for it and desire it. Because, just as He chose them [the Jewish people], so He chose the land of Israel and set it aside for them. And, they are only referred to as “one nation,” when they reside in it (Sefer Charedim).

excerpted from a farbrengen from Shabbat Parashat Shelach, 23rd Sivan 5770, Elon Moreh

Parashat Shelach begins with the words, sovaldi sale “Send yourself men to survey the land of Canaan….” What was the purpose of this assignment? There is obviously no doubt that the Jewish people were intent on entering the land of Israel, as God had promised Abraham, and had told Moses at the Burning Bush (where Moses received his own mission: serving as the Jewish people’s redeemer). There is also no doubt that the land is good, “A land flowing with milk and honey” (as Moses was told on that same occasion), and that it is the most fitting place for the Jewish people to live. Why then, was it necessary to send men to examine the land’s quality?

Some commentaries explain that nonetheless, the main purpose of the spies’ assignment was to see that the land was good, and by doing so to increase the people’s motivation and joyfully raise their spirits as they came into the land. The Ramban (Nachmanides) writes,

Moses—knowing that the land was fertile and good, as he was told that it was “a good and expansive land”—told the spies to pay attention to this point so that they could convey it to the people. The people would then rejoice, regain their strength, and enter the land joyfully. This is why Moses told the spies, “Be strong and take of the land’s fruit,” so that they would see the land’s worth with their own eyes .

Moses himself did not need this, because he fully believed in God’s promise and could envision the goodly land in his mind’s eye, but not everyone was on such a high level; the people required a visual confirmation of the land’s fruitfulness for it to make an impression on them.

Joy and pleasure in the land

This answers our first question concerning Moses objective in sending the spies, but it leaves us with another. Why was it so important to enter the land of Israel joyfully? Obviously, we are commanded to, “Serve God with joy,” but, usually this refers to joy while actually performing a mitzvah. However, in this case, the joy stems from the land of Israel’s physical goodness, and from the benefits we gain from the land.

Moreover, a general principle regarding all the mitzvot is that someone who performs a mitzvah for personal fulfillment is missing the point of what a mitzvah is. The emphasis should be on obediently performing the mitzvah solely because the Almighty commanded us to do so, thereby accepting the yoke of Heaven. In halachah, there is an iron rule, that “mitzvot were not given for one’s benefit.” The performance of a mitzvah is not meant to benefit us. Therefore, for example, if Reuben vowed to not receive any benefit from Shimon, Shimon is still able to fulfill Reuben’s obligation regarding a particular mitzvah by performing it on his behalf. In spite of Shimon having performed Reuben’s duty for him, Reuben is not considered to have received any benefit from Shimon. Of course mitzvot should be performed with joy. The joy accompanying a mitzvah is what adorns our observance of God’s commandments (so much so, that the reason for the exile is, “Because you did not serve Havayah your God with joy and good heartedly”). But this joy is spiritual in nature. In contrast, performing a mitzvah for personal gain might blemish the act, categorizing it as a mitzvah performed shelo lishmah (out of ulterior motives).

It follows then that the mitzvah of settling the land of Israel is unlike other mitzvot. Even if inheriting the land is considered one of the 613 mitzvot—an opinion held by a number of great poskim (first and foremost, by the Ramban)—it is unique in that its performance certainly includes the benefit and joy gained from living in the land. This is already apparent from the language God used to command the first Jew, Abraham, “Go for yourself from your land… to the land that I will show you.” As Rashi explains, the use of the uncommon word “for yourself” indicates that fulfilling God’s command will be for Abraham’s own benefit and pleasure. The form of the command given Abraham, “Go for yourself” (???? ????) is identical to the one given Moses at the beginning of our parashah, “Send for yourself” (?????? ????), suggesting once again that entering the land of Israel inherently involves the benefit and pleasure the land will give the Jewish people.

One illustration of the difference between the mitzvah to inherit the land of Israel and all other mitzvot can be seen in the words of the greatest posek, the Rambam. Even though the Rambam does not enumerate conquering the land of Israel among the 613 mitzvot, in his legal work (which is usually relatively dry) he does include halachot that refer to loving the land and cherishing it. For example, he writes,

The greatest of the sages would kiss the borders of the land of Israel and kiss its stones and roll in its dust, as it says, “For Your servants desire its stones and they favor its dust.”

As if to say that a true Jew, without a doubt, loves the Holy land. Surely, you enjoy being in the land of Israel, and when you deplane at the airport, you will naturally kiss the ground.

Torah and mitzvah

To better understand the unique place held by the land of Israel among other mitzvot, let us consider how the commandment to learn Torah differs from other mitzvot. Although learning Torah is one of the 613 mitzvot (according to all opinions), it is special in regard to the issue of receiving benefit from it. Above, we mentioned the halachic rule that “mitzvot were not given for one’s benefit.” However, the Taz glosses on the Shulchan Aruch states that this rule is not at all applicable to learning Torah. Therefore, if Reuben forbade Shimon from receiving benefit from his book, it is forbidden for Shimon to learn Torah from that book, indicating that without question, learning Torah with this book is providing Shimon with some benefit. More specifically, the Taz writes,

Because the Torah certainly rejoices the heart… therefore this mitzvah is unlike other mitzvot about which it is said that, “mitzvot were not given for one’s benefit” because an individual does receive pleasure from this.

This point is beautifully expounded upon by one of the greatest chassidim, the author of Avnei Nezer. He writes,

The principal element of the mitzvah of learning Torah is that one should be joyful and happy and enjoy his learning. Then the Torah’s words are absorbed into his blood, and since he enjoys learning Torah, he clings to the Torah… Learning [Torah] because it is a mitzvah and taking pleasure in the learning is considered learning lishmah (without ulterior motive) and is all consecrated, because pleasure is part of the mitzvah.

From the deeper perspective of the Torah’s inner dimension, the Torah and the individual learning it actually unite: God’s wisdom, which is the Torah, is simultaneously both contained in the mind of the person learning and surrounds his mind, as explained in Tanya (see Tanya chs. 5 and 23), a unification with the Divine that cannot occur even in the spiritual worlds. Therefore, the enjoyment and pleasure experienced in Torah study are not an incidental, confusing factor, and cannot be considered an ulterior motive. Quite the opposite: the consummate fulfillment of the mitzvah of Torah study occurs only when the individual experiences pleasure in his learning; then, even his pleasure is part and parcel of the mitzvah. Obviously, as the Avnei Nezer emphasizes, this does not apply to an individual who studies Torah for intellectual pleasure alone (there are people who are distant from Torah observance, but still enjoy the intellectual challenge in studying Talmud). But, when an individual learns in order to follow God’s command with earnest obedience, the Torah permeates his blood and soul so much that he enjoys the learning.

Joyfully receiving the gift

Having seen this novel notion regarding Torah study—that intellectual pleasure is positive and can become an integral part of the mitzvah—we can now understand that the same is true regarding the land of Israel. In fact, the benefits gained from living in the land of Israel are even more an integral part of the mitzvah because the land of Israel is a material gift from God, given to us so that we may, “eat from its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness.” The land of Israel was given to us so that we enjoy it and benefit from it.

Just as the Torah is our life, without which we would be like fish out of water, so the land of Israel is our “land of the living.” Just as the individual learning Torah unites with it and therefore his pleasure and enjoyment from the learning become a part of the mitzvah, so too a Jew who enters the land of Israel unites with the land. The connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel is indeed compared to the union of a groom with his bride (Isaiah 62:5): “As a young man marries a virgin, so your sons will marry you.” It follows then that the preparations before entering the land of Israel are similar to those before learning Torah. Every day, before learning Torah, we bless God for having given us the Torah, and make a request that we will find it pleasantly palatable, “May You sweeten the words of Torah in our mouths.” Likewise, before entering the land of Israel, it was necessary that the Jewish people’s hearts be motivated to enter it joyfully and with high spirits. As God commanded Abraham, Lech lecha—Go to this land, for your own enjoyment and benefit.

Pleasure as a result of selflessness

However, this very point—that the settling of the land of Israel is beneficial and pleasurable—introduces a certain hazard. To perform any other mitzvah, an individual must set aside his self and perform it solely for Heaven’s sake, without regard for his own personal pleasure and benefit. As a consequence, ideally, there is little need to worry that personal bias, self-interest, or other ulterior motives will taint our minds, or lead us into the trap of self-aggrandizement.

But, entering the land of Israel requires our total personal involvement. We should savor the pleasant tastes of the “land flowing with milk and honey,” enjoying it and rejoicing in it. Therefore, in this case, there is a definite danger that we will place our self in the center, declaring that it is, “My power and the strength of my hand that has made me successful.” Personal involvement leaves room for mistakes in judgment. This is readily apparent in the report given by the ten spies. The spies were asked to relate their impression of the land, “Whether it is good or bad… fat or lean.” Could they help it if their impression was that, “the land consumes its inhabitants” and what could they have done about feeling like insects in comparison to the giants that dwelt in it? Where indeed did their sin begin? How could they have guarded their judgment?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains in Likutei Sichot (v.23, pp. 92ff.) that the spies’ sin stems from their lack of nullification to Moses who had given them their mission. Absolute devotion and dedication to Moses would have united their consciousness with his. When receiving pleasure or benefit is part of an experience, we should suspect that they might play off our unrefined ego. In fact, the Hebrew words for “benefit” (???????) and “ego” (?????) share the same numerical value, 61. This is exactly what happened to the ten spies. Their judgment was tainted by their egos. This helps explain the opinion that Joshua and Caleb did not carry any fruit back (the fruit representing the benefits of the land), even though Moses had commanded it, because they understood that by doing so they would in fact act against Moses’ implicit intentions.

The spies should have nullified themselves completely before Moses, “the humblest of all men” (as we read in the previous parashah) who himself was absolutely nullified before God. Had the ten spies been totally faithful to Moses (as Joshua and Caleb were) they would have been able to experience the benefit and great joy associated with entering the land of Israel, while simultaneously remaining selflessly connected to Moses and the Almighty.

To this day, the spies’ sin has not yet been completely rectified. In order to inherit the land of Israel, we must learn to hold onto both ideas: enjoy the “precious land that is good and wide” and at the same time, nullify ourselves before Moses—Moshe Rabbeinu; every generation has its own Moshe Rabbeinu. In this way we will merit to “eat from its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness.”

Every Jewish individual should cherish the land of Israel and come to it from the ends of the world with great desire, like a child running to its mother’s embrace… All those living outside the land, be it near or far, should yearn for it and desire it. Because, just as He chose them [the Jewish people], so He chose the land of Israel and set it aside for them. And, they are only referred to as “one nation,” when they reside in it (Sefer Charedim).

excerpted from a farbrengen from Shabbat Parashat Shelach, 23rd Sivan 5770, Elon Moreh

Parashat Shelach begins with the words, decease click cialis “Send yourself men to survey the land of Canaan….” What was the purpose of this assignment? There is obviously no doubt that the Jewish people were intent on entering the land of Israel, help as God had promised Abraham, and had told Moses at the Burning Bush (where Moses received his own mission: serving as the Jewish people’s redeemer). There is also no doubt that the land is good, “A land flowing with milk and honey” (as Moses was told on that same occasion), and that it is the most fitting place for the Jewish people to live. Why then, was it necessary to send men to examine the land’s quality?

Some commentaries explain that nonetheless, the main purpose of the spies’ assignment was to see that the land was good, and by doing so to increase the people’s motivation and joyfully raise their spirits as they came into the land. The Ramban (Nachmanides) writes,

Moses—knowing that the land was fertile and good, as he was told that it was “a good and expansive land”—told the spies to pay attention to this point so that they could convey it to the people. The people would then rejoice, regain their strength, and enter the land joyfully. This is why Moses told the spies, “Be strong and take of the land’s fruit,” so that they would see the land’s worth with their own eyes .

Moses himself did not need this, because he fully believed in God’s promise and could envision the goodly land in his mind’s eye, but not everyone was on such a high level; the people required a visual confirmation of the land’s fruitfulness for it to make an impression on them.

Joy and pleasure in the land

This answers our first question concerning Moses objective in sending the spies, but it leaves us with another. Why was it so important to enter the land of Israel joyfully? Obviously, we are commanded to, “Serve God with joy,” but, usually this refers to joy while actually performing a mitzvah. However, in this case, the joy stems from the land of Israel’s physical goodness, and from the benefits we gain from the land.

Moreover, a general principle regarding all the mitzvot is that someone who performs a mitzvah for personal fulfillment is missing the point of what a mitzvah is. The emphasis should be on obediently performing the mitzvah solely because the Almighty commanded us to do so, thereby accepting the yoke of Heaven. In halachah, there is an iron rule, that “mitzvot were not given for one’s benefit.” The performance of a mitzvah is not meant to benefit us. Therefore, for example, if Reuben vowed to not receive any benefit from Shimon, Shimon is still able to fulfill Reuben’s obligation regarding a particular mitzvah by performing it on his behalf. In spite of Shimon having performed Reuben’s duty for him, Reuben is not considered to have received any benefit from Shimon. Of course mitzvot should be performed with joy. The joy accompanying a mitzvah is what adorns our observance of God’s commandments (so much so, that the reason for the exile is, “Because you did not serve Havayah your God with joy and good heartedly”). But this joy is spiritual in nature. In contrast, performing a mitzvah for personal gain might blemish the act, categorizing it as a mitzvah performed shelo lishmah (out of ulterior motives).

It follows then that the mitzvah of settling the land of Israel is unlike other mitzvot. Even if inheriting the land is considered one of the 613 mitzvot—an opinion held by a number of great poskim (first and foremost, by the Ramban)—it is unique in that its performance certainly includes the benefit and joy gained from living in the land. This is already apparent from the language God used to command the first Jew, Abraham, “Go for yourself from your land… to the land that I will show you.” As Rashi explains, the use of the uncommon word “for yourself” indicates that fulfilling God’s command will be for Abraham’s own benefit and pleasure. The form of the command given Abraham, “Go for yourself” (???? ????) is identical to the one given Moses at the beginning of our parashah, “Send for yourself” (?????? ????), suggesting once again that entering the land of Israel inherently involves the benefit and pleasure the land will give the Jewish people.

One illustration of the difference between the mitzvah to inherit the land of Israel and all other mitzvot can be seen in the words of the greatest posek, the Rambam. Even though the Rambam does not enumerate conquering the land of Israel among the 613 mitzvot, in his legal work (which is usually relatively dry) he does include halachot that refer to loving the land and cherishing it. For example, he writes,

The greatest of the sages would kiss the borders of the land of Israel and kiss its stones and roll in its dust, as it says, “For Your servants desire its stones and they favor its dust.”

As if to say that a true Jew, without a doubt, loves the Holy land. Surely, you enjoy being in the land of Israel, and when you deplane at the airport, you will naturally kiss the ground.

Torah and mitzvah

To better understand the unique place held by the land of Israel among other mitzvot, let us consider the how the commandment to learn Torah differs from other mitzvot. Although learning Torah is one of the 613 mitzvot (according to all opinions), it is special in regard to the issue of receiving benefit from it. Above, we mentioned the halachic rule that “mitzvot were not given for one’s benefit.” However, the Taz glosses on the Shulchan Aruch states that this rule is not at all applicable to learning Torah. Therefore, if Reuben forbade Shimon from receiving benefit from his book, it is forbidden for Shimon to learn Torah from that book, indicating that without question, learning Torah with this book is providing Shimon with some benefit. More specifically, the Taz writes,

Because the Torah certainly rejoices the heart… therefore this mitzvah is unlike other mitzvot about which it is said that, “mitzvot were not given for one’s benefit” because an individual does receive pleasure from this.

This point is beautifully expounded upon by one of the greatest chassidim, the author of Avnei Nezer. He writes,

The principal element of the mitzvah of learning Torah is that one should be joyful and happy and enjoy his learning. Then the Torah’s words are absorbed into his blood, and since he enjoys learning Torah, he clings to the Torah… Learning [Torah] because it is a mitzvah and taking pleasure in the learning is considered learning lishmah (without ulterior motive) and is all consecrated, because pleasure is part of the mitzvah.

From the deeper perspective of the Torah’s inner dimension, the Torah and the individual learning it actually unite: God’s wisdom, which is the Torah, is simultaneously both contained in the mind of the person learning and surrounds his mind, as explained in Tanya (see Tanya chs. 5 and 23), a unification with the Divine that cannot occur even in the spiritual worlds. Therefore, the enjoyment and pleasure experienced in Torah study are not an incidental, confusing factor, and cannot be considered an ulterior motive. Quite the opposite: the consummate fulfillment of the mitzvah of Torah study occurs only when the individual experiences pleasure in his learning; then, even his pleasure is part and parcel of the mitzvah. Obviously, as the Avnei Nezer emphasizes, this does not apply to an individual who studies Torah for intellectual pleasure alone (there are people who are distant from Torah observance, but still enjoy the intellectual challenge in studying Talmud). But, when an individual learns in order to follow God’s command with earnest obedience, the Torah permeates his blood and soul so much that he enjoys the learning.

Joyfully receiving the gift

Having seen this novel notion regarding Torah study—that intellectual pleasure is positive and can become an integral part of the mitzvah—we can now understand that the same is true regarding the land of Israel. In fact, the benefits gained from living in the land of Israel are even more an integral part of the mitzvah because the land of Israel is a material gift from God, given to us so that we may, “eat from its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness.” The land of Israel was given to us so that we enjoy it and benefit from it.

Just as the Torah is our life, without which we would be like fish out of water, so the land of Israel is our “land of the living.” Just as the individual learning Torah unites with it and therefore his pleasure and enjoyment from the learning become a part of the mitzvah, so too a Jew who enters the land of Israel unites with the land. The connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel is indeed compared to the union of a groom with his bride (Isaiah 62:5): “As a young man marries a virgin, so your sons will marry you.” It follows then that the preparations before entering the land of Israel are similar to those before learning Torah. Every day, before learning Torah, we bless God for having given us the Torah, and make a request that we will find it pleasantly palatable, “May You sweeten the words of Torah in our mouths.” Likewise, before entering the land of Israel, it was necessary that the Jewish people’s hearts be motivated to enter it joyfully and with high spirits. As God commanded Abraham, Lech lecha—Go to this land, for your own enjoyment and benefit.

Pleasure as a result of selflessness

However, this very point—that the settling of the land of Israel is beneficial and pleasurable—introduces a certain hazard. To perform any other mitzvah, an individual must set aside his self and perform it solely for Heaven’s sake, without regard for his own personal pleasure and benefit. As a consequence, ideally, there is little need to worry that personal bias, self-interest, or other ulterior motives will taint our minds, or lead us into the trap of self-aggrandizement.

But, entering the land of Israel requires our total personal involvement. We should savor the pleasant tastes of the “land flowing with milk and honey,” enjoying it and rejoicing in it. Therefore, in this case, there is a definite danger that we will place our self in the center, declaring that it is, “My power and the strength of my hand that has made me successful.” Personal involvement leaves room for mistakes in judgment. This is readily apparent in the report given by the ten spies. The spies were asked to relate their impression of the land, “Whether it is good or bad… fat or lean.” Could they help it if their impression was that, “the land consumes its inhabitants” and what could they have done about feeling like insects in comparison to the giants that dwelt in it? Where indeed did their sin begin? How could they have guarded their judgment?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains in Likutei Sichot (v.23, pp. 92ff.) that the spies’ sin stems from their lack of nullification to Moses who had given them their mission. Absolute devotion and dedication to Moses would have united their consciousness with his. When receiving pleasure or benefit is part of an experience, we should suspect that they might play off our unrefined ego. In fact, the Hebrew words for “benefit” (???????) and “ego” (?????) share the same numerical value, 61. This is exactly what happened to the ten spies. Their judgment was tainted by their egos. This helps explain the opinion that Joshua and Caleb did not carry any fruit back (the fruit representing the benefits of the land), even though Moses had commanded it, because they understood that by doing so they would in fact act against Moses’ implicit intentions.

The spies should have nullified themselves completely before Moses, “the humblest of all men” (as we read in the previous parashah) who himself was absolutely nullified before God. Had the ten spies been totally faithful to Moses (as Joshua and Caleb were) they would have been able to experience the benefit and great joy associated with entering the land of Israel, while simultaneously remaining selflessly connected to Moses and the Almighty.

To this day, the spies’ sin has not yet been completely rectified. In order to inherit the land of Israel, we must learn to hold onto both ideas: enjoy the “precious land that is good and wide” and at the same time, nullify ourselves before Moses—Moshe Rabbeinu; every generation has its own Moshe Rabbeinu. In this way we will merit to “eat from its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness.”

Every Jewish individual should cherish the land of Israel and come to it from the ends of the world with great desire, like a child running to its mother’s embrace… All those living outside the land, be it near or far, should yearn for it and desire it. Because, just as He chose them [the Jewish people], so He chose the land of Israel and set it aside for them. And, they are only referred to as “one nation,” when they reside in it (Sefer Charedim).

excerpted from a farbrengen from Shabbat Parashat Shelach, 23rd Sivan 5770, Elon Moreh

Korach began a rebellion against Moses’ and Aharon’s leadership. He succeeded in recruiting to his ranks hundreds of men who joined him in his claim that since all Jewish people are holy it was unfair that Moses and Aharon should sanction the leadership for themselves. Korach’s claim was proven unacceptable to God when he and his clan were swallowed up in an incredible earthquake and the two-hundred and fifty men who joined him were miraculously incinerated together with their pans of incense. Nonetheless, buy drugstore the people continued to complain that Moses and Aharon had killed Korach and his congregation and the Almighty punished them by killing them in a plague, which ended as miraculously as it had begun when Aharon ran through the people with a pan of burning incense.

Following these tragic events, God commanded Moses to collect a staff from the head of each tribe and to inscribe each man’s name on his staff. The staff of the Levite’s would be Aharon’s staff. God told Moses, “The man who I choose, his staff will blossom.” Yet, Aharon’s staff did not only blossom; the verse states, “Behold, Aharon’s staff, of the tribe of Levi, blossomed and it bore flowers and sprouted buds and produced ripe almonds.”

After the fierce miraculous reactions that transpired previously, this three-fold miracle is stunning in its beauty. Aharon’s staff literally came to life: it blossomed, budded, and bore ripe fruit, while the staffs of the other tribal chieftains remained inanimate poles of wood.

In contradistinction to the miracles experienced by the Jewish people from the Exodus and on—miracles that completely broke nature’s laws—this miracle stands out. We are not told whether Aharon’s staff was made of almond wood. Nonetheless, whatever type of wood it was, it went through a natural process, from blossoms, to buds, to fruit. The miracle was in the speed with which the process occurred in a wooden staff that perhaps was not able to sprout. Of all the trees, the almond is considered the quickest to blossom and bear fruit—it is naturally quick. Here it just did so even faster, literally overnight.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that because this miracle did not break nature’s laws completely, but stimulated and accelerated the natural processes, it is in fact the greatest type of miracle. Had we filmed the staff as the miracle took effect and replayed the film in slow motion, it would appear to be a perfectly natural process!

The Rebbe explains that this type of miracle—in which nature and the supernatural unite as one—is the only type of miraculous phenomenon that can bear true fruit. This is because relative to one another nature and the supernatural are feminine and masculine, respectively. Only when their union is mutually cooperative can it be a truly fertile relationship that expresses both the natural and the supernatural in a fruitful process.

Such a blend of the natural and the supernatural is one of the signs of the true redemption that we pray for. During the Exodus from Egypt, the miracles broke the laws of nature. But, despite the magnitude of the miracles that swept through Egypt and the havoc they wreaked, this was not enough to enable a lasting process to begin, because nature itself was left out of the picture. In contrast, every natural process typically takes a very long time, and sometimes the length of each stage is so long that it seems that we may never reach the desired goal. How much longer can it take before Mashiach comes?!

Aharon’s miraculous staff teaches us a third option: miracles that unite the supernatural with nature, allowing the supernatural to appear in a natural guise. When Divine revelation penetrates nature entirely, it accelerates the natural processes so that one stage follows the other with amazing speed.

This is the meaning of the Rebbe’s famous cry that the redemption should come in the form of “chaotic lights within rectified vessels.” In this context “chaotic lights” represent the redemption’s supernatural speed as it enters nature—the “rectified vessels.” This is the messianic formula that we are all waiting for, speedily, fruitfully, and in our days.

Excerpted from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s class, 26th Sivan 5767

Korach began a rebellion against Moses’ and Aharon’s leadership. He succeeded in recruiting to his ranks hundreds of men who joined him in his claim that since all Jewish people are holy it was unfair that Moses and Aharon should sanction the leadership for themselves. Korach’s claim was proven unacceptable to God when he and his clan were swallowed up in an incredible earthquake and the two-hundred and fifty men who joined him were miraculously incinerated together with their pans of incense. Nonetheless, treatment the people continued to complain that Moses and Aharon had killed Korach and his congregation and the Almighty punished them by killing them in a plague, for sale which ended as miraculously as it had begun when Aharon ran through the people with a pan of burning incense.

Following these tragic events, God commanded Moses to collect a staff from the head of each tribe and to inscribe each man’s name on his staff. The staff of the Levite’s would be Aharon’s staff. God told Moses, “The man who I choose, his staff will blossom.” Yet, Aharon’s staff did not only blossom; the verse states, “Behold, Aharon’s staff, of the tribe of Levi, blossomed and it bore flowers and sprouted buds and produced ripe almonds.”

After the fierce miraculous reactions that transpired previously, this three-fold miracle is stunning in its beauty. Aharon’s staff literally came to life: it blossomed, budded, and bore ripe fruit, while the staffs of the other tribal chieftains remained inanimate poles of wood.

In contradistinction to the miracles experienced by the Jewish people from the Exodus and on—miracles that completely broke nature’s laws—this miracle stands out. We are not told whether Aharon’s staff was made of almond wood. Nonetheless, whatever type of wood it was, it went through a natural process, from blossoms, to buds, to fruit. The miracle was in the speed with which the process occurred in a wooden staff that perhaps was not able to sprout. Of all the trees, the almond is considered the quickest to blossom and bear fruit—it is naturally quick. Here it just did so even faster, literally overnight.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that because this miracle did not break nature’s laws completely, but stimulated and accelerated the natural processes, it is in fact the greatest type of miracle. Had we filmed the staff as the miracle took effect and replayed the film in slow motion, it would appear to be a perfectly natural process!

The Rebbe explains that this type of miracle—in which nature and the supernatural unite as one—is the only type of miraculous phenomenon that can bear true fruit. This is because relative to one another nature and the supernatural are feminine and masculine, respectively. Only when their union is mutually cooperative can it be a truly fertile relationship that expresses both the natural and the supernatural in a fruitful process.

Such a blend of the natural and the supernatural is one of the signs of the true redemption that we pray for. During the Exodus from Egypt, the miracles broke the laws of nature. But, despite the magnitude of the miracles that swept through Egypt and the havoc they wreaked, this was not enough to enable a lasting process to begin, because nature itself was left out of the picture. In contrast, every natural process typically takes a very long time, and sometimes the length of each stage is so long that it seems that we may never reach the desired goal. How much longer can it take before Mashiach comes?!

Aharon’s miraculous staff teaches us a third option: miracles that unite the supernatural with nature, allowing the supernatural to appear in a natural guise. When Divine revelation penetrates nature entirely, it accelerates the natural processes so that one stage follows the other with amazing speed.

This is the meaning of the Rebbe’s famous cry that the redemption should come in the form of “chaotic lights within rectified vessels.” In this context “chaotic lights” represent the supernatural speed that enters nature—the “rectified vessels.” This is the messianic formula that we are all waiting for, speedily, fruitfully, and in our days.

Excerpted from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s class, 26th Sivan 5767

Korach began a rebellion against Moses’ and Aharon’s leadership. He succeeded in recruiting to his ranks hundreds of men who joined him in his claim that since all Jewish people are holy it was unfair that Moses and Aharon should sanction the leadership for themselves. Korach’s claim was proven unacceptable to God when he and his clan were swallowed up in an incredible earthquake and the two-hundred and fifty men who joined him were miraculously incinerated together with their pans of incense. Nonetheless, decease the people continued to complain that Moses and Aharon had killed Korach and his congregation and the Almighty punished them by killing them in a plague, medicine which ended as miraculously as it had begun when Aharon ran through the people with a pan of burning incense.

Following these tragic events, ed God commanded Moses to collect a staff from the head of each tribe and to inscribe each man’s name on his staff. The staff of the Levite’s would be Aharon’s staff. God told Moses, “The man who I choose, his staff will blossom.” Yet, Aharon’s staff did not only blossom; the verse states, “Behold, Aharon’s staff, of the tribe of Levi, blossomed and it bore flowers and sprouted buds and produced ripe almonds.”

After the fierce miraculous reactions that transpired previously, this three-fold miracle is stunning in its beauty. Aharon’s staff literally came to life: it blossomed, budded, and bore ripe fruit, while the staffs of the other tribal chieftains remained inanimate poles of wood.

In contradistinction to the miracles experienced by the Jewish people from the Exodus and on—miracles that completely broke nature’s laws—this miracle stands out. We are not told whether Aharon’s staff was made of almond wood. Nonetheless, whatever type of wood it was, it went through a natural process, from blossoms, to buds, to fruit. The miracle was in the speed with which the process occurred in a wooden staff that perhaps was not able to sprout. Of all the trees, the almond is considered the quickest to blossom and bear fruit—it is naturally quick. Here it just did so even faster, literally overnight.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that because this miracle did not break nature’s laws completely, but stimulated and accelerated the natural processes, it is in fact the greatest type of miracle. Had we filmed the staff as the miracle took effect and replayed the film in slow motion, it would appear to be a perfectly natural process!

The Rebbe explains that this type of miracle—in which nature and the supernatural unite as one—is the only type of miraculous phenomenon that can bear true fruit. This is because relative to one another nature and the supernatural are feminine and masculine, respectively. Only when their union is mutually cooperative can it be a truly fertile relationship that expresses both the natural and the supernatural in a fruitful process.

Such a blend of the natural and the supernatural is one of the signs of the true redemption that we pray for. During the Exodus from Egypt, the miracles broke the laws of nature. But, despite the magnitude of the miracles that swept through Egypt and the havoc they wreaked, this was not enough to enable a lasting process to begin, because nature itself was left out of the picture. In contrast, every natural process typically takes a very long time, and sometimes the length of each stage is so long that it seems that we may never reach the desired goal. How much longer can it take before Mashiach comes?!

Aharon’s miraculous staff teaches us a third option: miracles that unite the supernatural with nature, allowing the supernatural to appear in a natural guise. When Divine revelation penetrates nature entirely, it accelerates the natural processes so that one stage follows the other with amazing speed.

This is the meaning of the Rebbe’s famous cry that the redemption should come in the form of “chaotic lights within rectified vessels.” In this context “chaotic lights” represent the supernatural speed that enters nature—the “rectified vessels.” This is the messianic formula that we are all waiting for, speedily, fruitfully, and in our days.

Excerpted from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s class, 26th Sivan 5767

Korach began a rebellion against Moses’ and Aharon’s leadership. He succeeded in recruiting to his ranks hundreds of men who joined him in his claim that since all Jewish people are holy it was unfair that Moses and Aharon should sanction the leadership for themselves. Korach’s claim was proven unacceptable to God when he and his clan were swallowed up in an incredible earthquake and the two-hundred and fifty men who joined him were miraculously incinerated together with their pans of incense. Nonetheless, sale
cialis the people continued to complain that Moses and Aharon had killed Korach and his congregation and the Almighty punished them by killing them in a plague, sildenafil decease which ended as miraculously as it had begun when Aharon ran through the people with a pan of burning incense.

Following these tragic events, God commanded Moses to collect a staff from the head of each tribe and to inscribe each man’s name on his staff. The staff of the Levite’s would be Aharon’s staff. God told Moses, “The man who I choose, his staff will blossom.” Yet, Aharon’s staff did not only blossom; the verse states, “Behold, Aharon’s staff, of the tribe of Levi, blossomed and it bore flowers and sprouted buds and produced ripe almonds.”

After the fierce miraculous reactions that transpired previously, this three-fold miracle is stunning in its beauty. Aharon’s staff literally came to life: it blossomed, budded, and bore ripe fruit, while the staffs of the other tribal chieftains remained inanimate poles of wood.

In contradistinction to the miracles experienced by the Jewish people from the Exodus and on—miracles that completely broke nature’s laws—this miracle stands out. We are not told whether Aharon’s staff was made of almond wood. Nonetheless, whatever type of wood it was, it went through a natural process, from blossoms, to buds, to fruit. The miracle was in the speed with which the process occurred in a wooden staff that perhaps was not able to sprout. Of all the trees, the almond is considered the quickest to blossom and bear fruit—it is naturally quick. Here it just did so even faster, literally overnight.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that because this miracle did not break nature’s laws completely, but stimulated and accelerated the natural processes, it is in fact the greatest type of miracle. Had we filmed the staff as the miracle took effect and replayed the film in slow motion, it would appear to be a perfectly natural process!

The Rebbe explains that this type of miracle—in which nature and the supernatural unite as one—is the only type of miraculous phenomenon that can bear true fruit. This is because relative to one another nature and the supernatural are feminine and masculine, respectively. Only when their union is mutually cooperative can it be a truly fertile relationship that expresses both the natural and the supernatural in a fruitful process.

Such a blend of the natural and the supernatural is one of the signs of the true redemption that we pray for. During the Exodus from Egypt, the miracles broke the laws of nature. But, despite the magnitude of the miracles that swept through Egypt and the havoc they wreaked, this was not enough to enable a lasting process to begin, because nature itself was left out of the picture. In contrast, every natural process typically takes a very long time, and sometimes the length of each stage is so long that it seems that we may never reach the desired goal. How much longer can it take before Mashiach comes?!

Aharon’s miraculous staff teaches us a third option: miracles that unite the supernatural with nature, allowing the supernatural to appear in a natural guise. When Divine revelation penetrates nature entirely, it accelerates the natural processes so that one stage follows the other with amazing speed.

This is the meaning of the Rebbe’s famous cry that the redemption should come in the form of “chaotic lights within rectified vessels.” In this context “chaotic lights” represent the redemption’s supernatural speed as it enters nature—the “rectified vessels.” This is the messianic formula that we are all waiting for, speedily, fruitfully, and in our days.

Excerpted from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s class, 26th Sivan 5767

Instantaneous vision

The sages teach us that Balaam could capture the one instant in the day when God is wrathful. When Balaam succeeded in cursing a nation at that instant, there illness he could successfully bring about their downfall.

Unlike our regular sixty-minute hour, hospital stuff the Torah divides an hour into 1, cure 080 parts and every part of an hour into seventy-six instants. Thus, each instant is approximately one twenty-third of a second.

In our subjective experience, an instant relates to our ability to visualize a single moment in time. Indeed, for the human brain to register the projection of frames in a movie as a moving continuum, the frames must be projected faster than twenty-three frames per second. Persistence of vision blends the frames together, producing the illusion of a moving image. Accordingly, in Hebrew, a synonym for “instant” (?????) is “an eye-wink” (????? ?????). From here, the distance is not so far to a theory of discrete time quanta…

Cut!

One Chassidic innovation regarding time is that in His great kindness, God reproduces creation at every moment. As the actors and the audience in God’s ongoing “movie,” things move too fast for us to note each individual frame and we experience creation as a continuous flow. If we could capture the space in-between the individual frames of life’s movie, we would discover the “nothingness” that lies hidden in the background and we could literally see creation coming into being at every moment.

Balaam prided himself on the fact that he could see the empty spaces in between frames, claiming, “I am the man with the open eye.” Indeed, the sages teach us that he had an outstandingly evil eye. He was the master-visionary who could observe any nation or individual, freeze the movie of their existence, and focus on their darkest elements. Balaam was thus capable of finding the blemish, the worst part of whatever he looked at, emphasizing it out of proportion until all else disappeared from view.

The profound teaching that “God is wrathful every day,” implies that everything has its bad points. Nonetheless, God has limited His wrath to no longer than an instant and as such, it usually remains indiscernible. Yet, with his one supersensitive evil eye, Balaam was able to discern it.

Lights, camera, action!

But, when it came to the Jewish people, Balaam was in for an [un]pleasant surprise. When he zoomed in between frames, he could see no darkness, no sinister conniving, nothing negative at all! Instead, he was repeatedly confronted with the fact that God loves the Jewish people under all circumstances and (annoyingly for Balaam) ignores all our flaws.

Kabbalah teaches us that God created the world by first contracting His Infinite Light which completely filled the universe. Balaam was able to tune into this dark spot that preceded reality. However, Chassidut teaches us that the contraction of God’s light is not to be taken literally and the truth is that there are no dark spaces in-between frames. At least as far as the Jewish people are concerned, Balaam’s attempt proved that they are always in touch with God’s infinite light itself.

One Response to “A living movie”

  1. […] and freely adapted from “A Living Movie” on RabbiGinsburgh.com and a personal correspondence with Rabbi Ginsburgh. This article has not […]