Weekly Reading Insights: 



From The Masters Of Kabbalah and Chumash (5 Books of Moses)

13th century - "RambaN" - Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman

14th century - "Bachya" - Rabbi Bachya ben Asher

16th century - "Alsheich" - Rabbi Moshe Alshech of Tsfat

17th century - "Shelah" - Rabbi Yeshaiya Horowitz

18th century - "Ohr HaChayim" - Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar


"And the Eternal said unto Moses: Gather unto Me the seventy men of the elders of Israel" [11:16]

Our Rabbis have already mentioned that there are seventy nations with seventy languages, each one having a constellation in the heavens with a prince above it, as is said in the Book of Daniel, "and the Prince of the kingdom in Persia", and it is [further] written with reference to the kings of Greece, "lo, the prince of Greece shall come", and it is about this that Scripture states "And the Eternal will punish the host of the high heaven on high". The Rabbis have also said that the [seventy] bullocks [brought as offerings on the seven days] of the Festival of Tabernacles allude to them. [A similar reference to the seventy princes we find, in connection with the Tower of Babel] in the Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer: "Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to the seventy kings that surround the throne of His Glory: 'Let us come and confound their language.' It was for this reason that the number of those who went down to Egypt was seventy, and that He commanded that there should be this number of judges in Israel [as is stated in the verse before us], for this number includes all opinions [that are possible in a given case] since it comprises all powers, and there will not be anything too hard for them. Similarly at the Giving of the Torah [special prominence was given to] seventy elders of Israel, and it is fitting that the Glory of the Divine Presence should rest upon [a group of] this perfect number, since it is [comparable to] the camp on high, for Israel are the hosts of the Eternal on earth, just as the ark and its cover and the Tabernacle were all made in the likeness of those that minister [before Him] on high. So also were the [four] standards made in the image of the Divine Chariot that Ezekiel saw, in order that the Divine Presence should rest upon them on earth as it is present in the heavens.

Moses was above the seventy elders [in authority], thus alluding to Israel, a nation one in the earth. And our Rabbis have received by tradition that every Sanhedrin (Great Court) that sits in G-d's House in the place which He shall choose on which to rest His Presence, should consist of this number, seventy, with the head [of the Court] above them [in authority] like Moses our teacher, and thus they comprise [a Court] of seventy-one judges. And with the Divine Presence in their midst they are seventy-two. Similarly the letters in the Great Ineffable Divine Name are seventy-two, corresponding to the seventy princes [of the seventy nations, together with Israel, making seventy-one nations], and the One G-d who is the sole Master over all. It is to this that Scripture hints in saying, "G-d stands in the congregation of G-d; in the midst of the judges He judges", for the Divene Presence is with them to assent to their judgment.


Rabbeinu Bachya

"Make for yourself two silver trumpets, etc." [10:2]

A kabbalistic approach: the two trumpets symbolized the tekiah and teruah, i.e. the attribute of Mercy and the attribute of Justice. When G-d said to Moses, "These shall be for you an instrument to call the congregation to journey," this is equivalent to His saying to Moses: "they shall be for you as either tekiah or teruah." If so, this is clear proof that the journeys and campings of the Israelites were subject to the two attributes mentioned, i.e. that the words, "Thus they camped at G-d's word and they moved at G-d's word," which are written adjoining the paragraph instructing Moses to make the trumpets, are conceptually closely connected, and that the words at G-d's word refer to both attributes, as the case may be.
If we consider that Moses was entrusted with these two trumpets and what they symbolized you can appreciate his elevated status, i.e. that he could call upon either the attribute of Justice or the attribute of Mercy at will, so to speak. This proves his status as king.



"And G-d spoke to Moshe saying..." [8:1]

The Torah does not spell out its secrets, but merely hints at the fact that it contains truths beyond those which meet the eye and are spelled out for all its readers to see. Moreover, we know that what is done on earth at the behest of G-d leaves an impact on its celestial counterparts of our universe.
Since the tabernacle was a replica of the macrocosm, there is a spiritual Menorah also in the heavenly regions. Lighting the Menorah down here, has an effect i.e., el mul penei hamenorah, on the Menorah opposite, in heaven.
When G-d says dabber, speak to Aaron, he hints at this additional effect of Aaron kindling the Menorah. When He says veamarta, and say, He goes on to instruct Aaron in the procedure to be followed when he kindles the lights here on earth. The fact that the Torah talks about the seven lights, instead of about seven lights, indicates the effect Aaron's actions have on the heavenly unit of 7 lights .i.e., the Menorah in heaven. Aaron's actions down on earth produce a unity, i.e., shivat hanerot up in the celestial spheres. The penei hamenorah, the face of the Menorah, is a reference to the celestial Menorah, which the Menorah in the tabernacle is mul, i.e., a counterpart of, opposite to, in this world.



"…G-d has spoken of good for Israel." (Num. 10:29)

The Talmud (Berachot 5) tells us in the name of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai that G-d gave three precious gifts to Israel, but that the acquisition of each one of them involved painful experiences. The three gifts referred to are Torah, the Land of Israel, and the World to Come. This statement is difficult in itself, since we perceive that anyone who gives something away is motivated by a generous impulse, i.e. the idiom "He who gives, gives generously". Why, then should these gifts be attainable only through suffering?

This is not really a difficulty, since the very sufferings a person experiences refine his body and enable him to achieve closeness to G-d. When acquiring the above, the type of painful experiences experienced make us appreciate the gift even more after we have endured the suffering leading up to it. The slavery of the Israelites in Egypt was such a prelude. Once having endured this bondage they would find the yoke of Torah so much easier to bear by comparison that they would welcome it as a gift.

This is the reason the Torah is replete with statements such as "…Who has taken you out of the house of bondage". Similarly, before Israel received the gift of the Holy Land, they underwent a period of tiresome wandering in the desert, dependent on the largesse of G-d on a daily basis. The desert experience was a sample of the sanctity of the Land of Israel. Our sages said that the Tabernacle itself was also called "Mikdash/Temple". (Eruvin 2) This may account for the fact that whenever the Israelites sinned, punishment followed at once.

In line with this is the statement that no one was allowed to spend the night in Jerusalem while in a state of sin, i.e. his sin had to be atoned for before nightfall through immediate affliction of some kind. (Bamidbar Rabba, 21) It is said of Jerusalem: "Righteousness would spend the night there". (Isaiah 1:21) What is meant is that "justice and righteousness" should prevail there, but G-d collected His debt only in installments, a little at a time in order to fulfill His promise of "Only you I have singled out from all the families of the earth; therefore I will call you to account for all your iniquities". (Amos 3:2)

G-d will subject us to the four exiles in order to save us the experience of Purgatory, and in order for us to merit life in the World to Come. The suffering during exile will refine us, and those people who will not need much refining will be shown what is in store for them already in This World.

The difficulty in the statement of our sages concerning all this is why they said, "All of them (those gifts) can be attained only through suffering". The statement should have read as follows: "G-d has given Israel three gifts which are attained by way of suffering". The truth is that in this case our sages "said one thing but wanted us to hear two things", as per Psalms (62:12). Each one of those gifts is really composed of multiple gifts.

First of all let me explain that there is a difference between the meaning of the word "tov" (meaning "good") when it is spelled with the vowel cholam and when it is spelled with the vowel shuruk. The former spelling is employed when only the visible "good" is revealed. When the word is spelled with the vowel shuruk (pronounced "toov"), however, the good that is referred to is also the intrinsic good, that which is not necessarily visible.

We observe this principle when checking the spellings of these three "gifts". When referring to Torah, we have: "The Torah of Your mouth I prefer to thousands of pieces of gold and silver." (Psalms 119:72) The word "tov" in this case is spelled with the vowel cholam. On the other hand, six verses earlier (Ibid. 119:66) we find, "teach me good sense and knowledge", where the word "tov" is spelled with the vowel shuruk. Similarly we find the Land of Israel described as "Eretz Tova", with the vowel cholam, on occasion, (Ex. 3:8) whereas in Isaiah (1:19) we read, "If you agree and listen, you will eat of the good of the land"; in this case the word "tov" is again spelled with the vowel shuruk.

Concerning this verse (Isaiah 1:19) our Sages have said that Isaiah speaks of "the world which is totally good", since they could not understand what other justification there could be for the different spellings. They concluded that in that distant future there will no longer be a difference between the hidden aspects of "tov" and the part which is visible to all. At that time, a blessing will no longer contains also those elements that are not good.

A reference to something intrinsic is appropriate only if the same gift contains both external and internal features. This is why they described that future as one that is "totally good", Concerning this future, Psalms (31:20) says: "How abundant is the good that You have in store (have hidden away) for those who revere You…." The verse continues: "You do this in full view of men, for those who take refuge in You". The meaning is that in This World the "good" is concealed, i.e. spelled with the vowel shuruk, since it is only internal, a hidden light, and the elite have to keep searching for it. However, in the future, this "good" will be clearly revealed before all of mankind, since the world of the future is one in which everything is "good".

"Tov", when applied to Torah, when spelled with the regular cholam, refers to the commandments, the revealed "good" of the Torah, that which helps us in our lives in this world. When we find it spelled the other way, it is a reference to knowledge of the "hidden" aspects of Torah. Since in the world of the future everything will be spiritual and totally "good", the word "tov" has to be spelled with the vowel shuruk.

"Tov" when applied to the Land of Israel follows the same rule. When "tov" is spelled with the cholam, the terrestrial aspects of the land are referred to, the Holy Temple, etc, When it is spelled the other way the reference is to the Supernal Land of Israel. We know that there is a sanctuary in the Celestial Spheres opposite the Sanctuary on earth. In the future everything will be spiritual and everything will be "good", since G-d will bring "down" this Celestial Sanctuary to earth, and He will build the third Temple.

In the world of this future, there is a Paradise on earth, as well as a Paradise in the Celestial Spheres, which is more spiritual in nature. When describing that future as "tov", both spellings are used interchangeably. I have elaborated on this further elsewhere.

We are now in a position to explain what Moses meant when he said to his father-in-law Chovav, "We are about to journey to the place of which G-d has said, 'I shall give it to you'. Go with us, and we shall treat you well, for G-d has spoken of good for Israel". (Num. 10:29) He hinted to him that there are two categories of "tov", good, depending on the way this word is spelled. He hinted that G-d would not only bring the Jewish people to the Holy Land, a land that was visibly good, but that He would eventually bring the Jewish people to the place of which G-d had said in parashat Mishpatim, "…and to bring you to the Place which I have prepared." (Ex. 23:20) On this verse, Rashi says that the word "place" is an allusion to the Sanctuary in the Celestial Spheres, which is "opposite" the Sanctuary on earth


Ohr HaChayim

"Please listen to My word, if there be a prophet among you...etc." [12:6]

When G-d speaks about appearing to prophets "in a dream," this does not mean that they actually dream; rather, it describes the impact of G-d's communications to such prophets being similar to that of people who experience a dream while asleep. But G-d always communicated with His prophets while the latter were awake. Only Moses was able to maintain his regular posture when G-d communicated with him; he did not prostrate himself or go into convulsions as did other prophets. Neither did he receive such communications in the form of a riddle or parable. Every communication Moses received from G-d was crystal clear, requiring no further elaboration. This is what the Torah means when it describes such communication as "I speak with him mouth to mouth."

All the Israelites saw that all the 53 times the Torah reports that G-d spoke to Moses (to communicate what He said to them) the message was crystal clear and could be understood by anyone with a command of the Hebrew language. The same applies to all the wealth of wisdom contained in the written Torah. Anyone who immerses himself in that part of the Torah will find that he can understand it.

This is in contrast with the writings of Isaiah and Jeremiah, many of which are extremely obscure, full of parables and enigmas. The prophecies of the so-called minor prophets such as Zachariah are even harder to unravel, so that none of us can be certain of the events to which these prophecies relate.

We need to examine why the prophecies given to Moses were all so clear whereas those granted to the afore-mentioned prophets appear so confused.

Kabbalists explain that the phenomenon of man being a composite of body and spirit is bound to prevent him from being able to receive undiluted spiritual input. Any attempt to subject man to such additional spiritual input upsets the fragile equilibrium between the forces of body and spirit which constitute a human being. It is only natural, therefore, that when a human being is called upon by G-d his body will tremble, be subject to convulsions, etc.

The only human being able to retain his composure when thus addressed by G-d is one who has succeeded in transforming the material part of himself into a tsurah, into the perfect state G-d has created it in. Once man has achieved this, his body is no longer a hindrance to his receiving communications from G-d and he will be able to do so as a matter of course.

When there are no people around who meet these specifications and G-d has found Israel worthy to receive prophetic communications, He has no choice but to choose someone to whom He transmits His word in a manner which upsets the body and mind of the recipient. As a result the world abounded with prophets who had to receive their messages in the form of parables and riddles so that the equilibrium of their bodies and minds would not be permanently upset.

The reason that we find that Zachariah's prophecies were even more enigmatic than those of his predecessors is that he was the last of the prophets. Subsequent generations did not create an environment in which G-d saw fit to communicate His word to prophets anymore.

When G-d spoke about His communications to Moses being "mouth to mouth," He meant that His word did not have to travel through the airwaves or some other part of the atmosphere which diluted it (and therefore made it unclear) is order to make it accessible to less than perfect man. When G-d emphasizes that His word did appear to Moses as a mareh, a clear vision, this means that Moses did not have to go into convulsions, etc., when he received communications from G-d. He, G-d, could show Moses a clear vision and Moses could behold it and understand it, without it being distorted.

When the Torah adds: "not by means of riddles," this is an elaboration of how G-d's word reaches Moses. The Torah is careful not to say that G-d's word traveled from G-d's mouth to Moses' ear, but "mouth to mouth."

Solomon (King I 3:9) asked G-d to grant him "a listening heart" to enable him to divine the truth behind the claims of litigants, etc. He aspired to the highest level of prophecy. The Torah speaks of G-d communicating with Moses as "I speak within him" instead of the customary "I speak with him." This formulation also means that no one else was privy to the fact that G-d spoke to Moses. [This is in contrast to our tradition that all prophets who lived at a particular time received the same communication at the same time as the prophet whom G-d commanded to transmit the prophecy to the people or to the king. --E.M.]



Ramban - credits
Adapted from the 13th century classic by the illustrious scholar, philosopher and defender of the faith, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman-known as 'RAMBAN' or 'Nachmanides', a master kabbalist in his own right and a major link in the transmission of Jewish mysticism-based on the excellent annotated English translation, Nachmanides on the Torah, by Rabbi Dr. Charles B. Chavel

Bachya - credits
Selected with permission from the seven-volume English edition of The Torah Commentary of Rabbeinu Bachya, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk. Rabbi Bachya ben Asher [1255-1340] of Saragosa, Spain, was the outstanding pupil of Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet (the "Rashba"), a main disciple of Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (the "Ramban"). Several books have been written about the Kabballah-based portions of R. Bachya's commentary.

Alsheich - credits
Adapted from Torat Moshe - the 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alshech, the "Preacher of Zefat" on the Torah, as translated and condensed in the English version of Eliyahu Munk)

Shelah - credits
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz was born in Prague around the year 1565. He served as Rabbi of Cracow and other congregations before he was appointed as the Rabbi of the community of Frankfurt on Main in the year 1610. In 1916, Rabbi Horowitz moved to Prague where he became the Chief Rabbi of the city. He moved to Eretz Yisrael about 1621. He was rabbi in Jerusalem and in Tiberias, where he died in or about 1630. In addition to his magnus opus, Shenei Luchot HaBrit, he also compiled an edition of the prayer-book with a comprehensive commentary. Many of his innovations, including his formulation of the Kol Nidrei prayer, have become part and parcel of the Ashkenazi Siddur.

Ohr HaChayim - credits
Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
The holy Rabbi Chayim ben Moses Attar was born in Sale, Western Morocco, on the Atlantic in 1696. His immortal commentary on the Five Books Of Moses, Or Hachayim, was printed in Venice in 1741, while the author was on his way to the Holy Land. He acquired a reputation as a miracle worker, hence his title "the holy," although some apply this title only to his Torah commentary.

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