From The Masters
Of Kabbalah and Chumash (5 Books of Moses)
century - "RambaN" - Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman
century - "Bachya" - Rabbi Bachya ben Asher
century - "Alsheich" - Rabbi Moshe Alshech of Tsfat
17th century - "Shelah" - Rabbi Yeshaiya
18th century - "Ohr HaChayim" - Rabbi Chaim
the Eternal said unto Moses: Gather unto Me the seventy men of the elders of Israel"
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
"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
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..."
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.
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.
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
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 "
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
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
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
"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.
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
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.]
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
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.
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)
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
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.