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

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


"..You did not have enough faith in Me to sanctify Me…" (20:12)

The sin of Moses and Aaron in the [matter of the] waters of Merivah is not clearly expressed in Scripture.
Now Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra has already refuted many claims of the commentators in [their explanations of the nature of] this sin. But the secret to which he alludes is also incorrect (Ibn Ezra alludes to the Kabalistic concept that when a person's mind cleaves solely to G-d, he can accomplish miracles. Now G-d told Moses to speak to the rock, and had he done so with single-minded devotion to G-d, he would have been able thereby to bring forth water. But when he began rebuking the people for their complaints, he lost that complete concentration of mind which was required for invoking G-d's miraculous intervention to bring forth water, and he then proceeded to smite the rock, When this failed to produce any water, he smote it a second time, by which time he had regained his original complete concentration of mind on G-d, so that the water the came forth. Ramban rejects this interpretation). For if Moses lost his concentration of mind because of the strife of the people, and [therefore] did not speak to the rock, so that the water did not come forth [when he smote the rock] the first time, and only when he hit the rock again, a second time, with concentration of cleaving unto [the Creator of] all, did the water come forth [as Ibn Ezra explains] -they [indeed] sinned the first time, but it was not such [a sin] about which He would say: ye believed not in Me, to sanctify Me, since there was no lack of "faith" here at all.
(Ramban presents and refutes the explanations of Rashi and Rambam, and then…)

The Truth [Kabalistic explanation] is that this subject [i.e., the nature of Moses' sin in the incident of the waters of Meriva] is one of the great secrets amongst the mysteries of the Torah. For on the first [occasion with the rock] He said to Moses, Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Chorev; and thou shalt smite the rock, meaning to say: "My Great Name will be upon the rock in Chorev," which is the Glory of the Eternal, the devouring fire on the top of the mount. Therefore he only hit it there once, and a great amount of water came forth. But here He did not tell him so, and so both of them [Moses and Aaron] agreed that they would smite the rock twice - and that was their sin. Therefore He said lo he'emantem bi - "you did not put faith in My Name [when you should have known] that by faith [alone] the miracle will be done."
It states m'rithem pi - "you rebelled against My commandment", because they rebelled against His holy spirit, which is always called pi HaShem (the commandment of the Eternal). Therefore He said m'altem bi and the term me'ilah always denoted "untruth". Thus the sin [of Moses and Aaron] is clearly expressed in Scripture. And so did the Psalmist say. [Tremble thou earth…] at the presence of the G-d of Jacob; Who turneth the rock into a pool of water. And you can understand this from Moses' prayer, when he said O G-d Eternal, Thou hast begun, pleading before the Glorious Name to forgive him.
And in the opinion of our Rabbis who mention Moses' anger [as a factor in his sin], it is possible that he hit the rock but [only] a few drops came forth as a result of the diminution in his concentration because of his anger, and they both [Moses and Aaron] were astonished at this, and decided to hit the rock a second time, as I have mentioned, and that was the sin on both of them.


Rabbeinu Bachya

"Bring a completely red young cow" [19:2]

A kabbalistic approach to our verse. The red cow is an allusion to the oral Torah, the attribute of Justice in its most severe form. This attribute is the source of ritual impurity. The reason why this chore was given to Eleazar to perform was in order that he should address the attribute of Justice in its most concentrated form. Such thoughts should not be held against him (seeing the author had stated repeatedly that all offerings are addressed to Hashem, the attribute of Mercy, Ed.) as it was slaughtered outside holy precincts and was not considered as a sacrificial offering. This is also reason this legislation was prefaced with the words Zot Chukat HaTorah, as if to say: "this new kind of legislation that the Torah has seen fit to reveal here as something to be performed outside the precincts of the Temple is not meant to convey the impression that it is addressed to someone other than G-d, G-d forbid." Its is anchored, i.e. embedded, (nichkakas) in the Torah itself. However, its origin is the oral Torah, which is the sixth of the emanations (counting from Malchut upward). Even though a full comprehension of the mystical dimension of this statute is way beyond our ability to understand, it is important to understand that the concept of ritual impurity is allowed to spread no further (upward) than the sixth emanation, that of Gevurah. This is the emanation, attribute, which is characterized Yitzchak who lay on the altar bound by the attribute of Mercy on the outside. If the attribute of Mercy would not have been present and active and the attribute of Justice would be allowed full reign the world would face destruction immediately. This is why the Master of Mercy provided us through this procedure with a method of turning the attribute of Justice at its fiercest into milder form of itself. This is the meaning of the words: "they shall take to you a cow, one that is red, and unblemished specimen, an animal which has not been tainted by having been subservient to any (other) master such as the emanations (attributes) on the lower rungs of that diagram." We know that even the next lower emanation was not saved from having a "master" impose a yoke upon it as that emanation, Tiferet, harmony, has been associated with the Holy Temple which has been destroyed and therefore has been "mastered" by impure forces on earth. (compare Isaiah 64,10 Beit Kadshainu Vitifartainu, and Psalms 78, 61: Vayitain Lishvi Ozer Vitifarto Biyad Tzar, "He delivered into captivity His power and glory into the hand of the oppressor.") The cherubs (on the cover of the Holy Ark) were exiled together with the other furnishings of the Temple and we do not find that they had been hidden, as had the Holy Ark itself as well as the Menorah, the lampstand. The emanations which are "higher" than that of Tiferet, are described as Batai Gazni, the houses of my hidden (treasure) in Beytzah 16. I have already discussed this in connection with Genisis 6,6 (compare our translation page 163).

The reason that this red cow was slaughtered outside the holy precincts of the Temple was in order for it to be able to chase away, to diffuse the spirit of impurity. This is why the remains of the cow (ash) together with the water from an original source, Mayim Chaim, would effect purification by means of the vessel within which it was contained (verse 17). Purity is derived from an influence exerted by the attribute of Mercy, an emanation higher than that of Gevurah, i.e. the attribute (emanation) of Justice, the emanation responsible for every kind of impurity.

You will need to appreciate that some Kabbalists are in doubt whether the fact that the procedure involving the red cow was carried out completely outside the confines of the Temple meant that it represented a higher degree of sanctity than that which pervaded the Sanctuary. In other words, everything connected with the red cow would have represented "holy of holies", whereas only a small portion of the Sanctuary itself was designated as "holy of holies." If so, the level of sanctity represented by the red cow as well as its remains would have been superior to that of the sacrificial animals offered on the Altar inside the precincts of the Temple so that there was really no comparison between the red cow and its counterparts inside the Holy Temple.

On the other hand, some Kabbalists think that the reason the procedure of the red cow was conducted outside holy precincts points to the fact that its sanctity was below that of even the lowest level of sanctity inside the holy precincts and that this is the reason that no part of it was processed inside those confines. These people then raised the following question: assuming that the red cow was of such a high level of sanctity that the levels of sanctity in the Temple, how could it possibly confer impurity on its (uncontaminated) handlers? On the other hand, if it was of such inferior sanctity that it had to be slaughtered and its remains kept outside sacred ground, how was it capable of conferring purity on the previously impure?

Some Kabbalists answered these questions by saying that indeed the entire red cow was "holy of holies" and that the reason it conferred impurity on its handlers was that any pure person on earth will automatically become impure through contact with extraterrestrial purity i.e. celestial purity (or sanctity) we do not have a problem. This concept is reflected in the Torah writing (Exodus 29,37) "anyone touching the Altar will become holy," i.e. will be burnt (as had happened to the two sons of Aaron Nadav and Avihu). Total terrestrial sanctity is relegated when it confronts celestial sanctity. What applies to relative sanctity, i.e. terrestrial sanctity versus celestial sanctity, also applies to terrestrial purity as opposed to celestial purity. This may be the meaning of Yuma 21 that Eish Doche Eish, Eish Ochelet Eish, "one category of fire displaces, relegates, another category of fire." The "fire" of the Shechinah displaces or relegates terrestrial fires.

The Talmud there describes the penalty incurred by the angels who had opposed the creation of Adam by saying that he did not deserve G-d's consideration. G-d is reported as having stretched out His finger at these angels and burning them. If differences in the quality of fire exist among the angels in the celestial regions it is easy to understand why terrestrial fire should be inferior to even the lowest of the celestial fires.

We are told in a Midrash that when Moses ascended Mount Sinai he reached a certain spot where the angel Matniel barred his way. This angel instructed Moses to proceed further and meet the angel Sandalfon. Moses answered that he was afraid to do so as that angel (angel of fire) would likely burn him. Thus far the Midrash. (our author's point in quoting this excerpt is simply to draw our attention to "fires" in celestial regions, Ed.)

According to some Kabbalists the red cow was entirely in the category of holy of holies. Personally, I feel that in some respects it was holy whereas in other respects it was totally secular in status. Seeing that the red cow transmits a spirit of ritual impurity it contains a purely secular element. Seeing, however, that the Torah refers to it as Chatas, i.e. acting as a means to expiate, it must also contain an element of holiness. Because of the fact that it is composed of two opposite elements the Torah applied stricter rules to it than apply to the animals which serve as sacrificial offerings on the Altar, seeing no one is in doubt about their status.

The reason that the Torah writes here about the rules of purification for people contaminated by impurity conferred by contact with the bodies of human beings who have died, is that the ash of the red cow is so crucial in the purification process of such people. The root cause of living creatures contracting spiritual impurity dates back to the original cause of death, the serpent in Gan Eden. This root cause is known as Koach Hamoshel, or Har Hagadol, (compare Kohelet 10,4 and Zecharyah 4,7 respectively) Nachmanides writes that the bodies of people whose death is due to Neshikah, a "kiss" by G-d, do not become ritually impure. The prophet Zecharyah in that verse describes the elimination of death, the angel of death, etc., in the future. He employs the simile of the "great mountain which will be flattened at that time" as the simile describing the overcoming of the greatest obstacle in our lives on this earth prior to the coming of the Maschiach. This is what Maimonides had in mind when he stipulates that the red cow which will be burned by the Meshiach will be the tenth and final on as with the absence of death there will be no need for further such means of purification.

Selected from the seven-volume English edition of The Torah Commentary of Rebbeinu 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.



"...and you will speak to the rock and it will give forth its waters.." [20:8]
Midrash Tanchumah claims that Israel was prepared to accept the written Torah at Sinai, but not the oral Torah. Therefore, G-d had to exert pressure on them at that time. Since G-d wanted to give us life both in this world and in the hereafter, He gave us both a written and an oral Torah. This is so because there is a conceptual difficulty here. People could argue that either Torah is of this world, essentially, or of the hereafter, how could it be both? If the Torah is in essence of this world, how could it benefit us in the hereafter, if on the other hand, Torah is essentially other worldly, how could it help our body, our physical existence?

To illustrate that these things were possible, G-d provided Manna, heavenly food for the body. At the same time however, the Torah reminds us that "man does not live by bread alone" (Deut. 8:3) i.e., even if you have heavenly bread you still need water. The well accompanying Israel throughout 38 way stations in the desert, was obviously not earthly in essence. This water had possessed spiritual properties. Torah therefore is called both lechem and mayim, bread and water. The written Torah is the bread, the oral Torah the water. This demonstrates, that though spiritual in essence, the traveling well kept the body going. Similarly, Torah, i.e., oral Torah also helps to keep the body going, its spiritual essence notwithstanding. This is the meaning of "He afflicted you and starved you" (Deut. 8:3) so that you will learn that essentially earthly matter can sustain the spiritual part of man, his soul, and essentially spiritual matter can keep the body going. "....not only by bread alone", i.e., not only things whose function is merely that of bread made of wheat or barley, can man live physically, but all that emanates from the mouth of G-d, every spiritual utterance of G-d helps our physical existence.

Just as water is needed to digest food etc., so the written Torah without benefit of the oral Torah, could not accomplish its mission. The oral Torah makes the written Torah palatable, tasty, so to speak. In order for the people to understand this, G-d had to remove the people's water supply, i.e., the equivalent of the oral Torah. This brought home the point that survival without it is impossible. They would thirst for it, languish for it. This proved that even the heavenly Manna was not enough to sustain the people.

Once this was appreciated, the fact that the same well traveled with the people throughout their wanderings since Mt. Sinai, is hardly such a mind boggling matter. Also, the sages who describe that each tribal prince could draw water from that well to flow directly to his tribe's living quarters by simply scratching the earth, do not now sound so strange. Neither does the Midrash which describes this water as producing local vegetation during the time Israel remained in one location. This also puts into perspective the comments of our sages that the learning of a single halacha, precept, sufficed to achieve the miracle of accommodating all of Israel on 4 cubits square, as long as that halacha was studied in the presence of a rock. This is part of the message vedibbartem el ha-selah, talk to the rock! In other words, if you Moses and Aaron will discuss halacha amongst yourselves, the rock will respond.

Expressed differently, when Torah is our preoccupation, our needs will become the preoccupation of Heaven. G-d wanted to implant this faith in the Jewish people by giving them first hand evidence of the value of oral Torah and how it kept them alive. This missed opportunity to implant this faith, is what prompted G-d to say to Moses and Aron : 'You did not have enough faith to enable Me to carry out My purpose, therefore you will not lead this assembly into the land I have given them.' The quality of the land of Israel, and the quality of the well are of the same category. Our Kabbalists go so far as to say, that if Moses had not hit the rock, there never would have been a halachic disagreement in Jewish history.


Ohr HaChayim

"..and from Nachliel to Bamot." (21:17)

Due to the fact that we have become His inheritance He has turned us into bamot, someone on a high elevation, i.e. higher than the angels. The Torah goes on "and from Bamot to the valley which is in the field of Moav."
This whole line is a reminder that the principal reward for mitzvah performance is not in this world, "in the valley," but in a higher world and that in this world true spiritual wealth cannot be achieved.
As a result of the foregoing considerations it is essential that man must be removed from this earth in order for him to receive the full reward he is entitled to at the hands of G-d. When it appears to us that death has been caused by sin, this means that but for sin man would live on earth forever. If that were so, how could G-d pay man the reward due to him for his good deeds, etc.?
Kabbalists answer that had it not been for sin, man would have ascended to heaven and have been allocated appropriate accommodation there. The prophet Elijah is an example of someone who had not died and who ascended to heaven in order to receive the reward due to him. It is true that the body finds it impossible to survive in those regions even after it had been refined to the highest degree possible so that it had become comparable to something spiritual. Still, such spirituality is as nothing when compared to the higher degrees of spirituality.
Our sages in the Zohar, volume1, page 209 explain that as soon as Elijah had reached the domain (galaxy) of the sun (in his ascent) he was stripped of his body, leaving it behind in that domain. Whenever he has occasion to descent to earth to fulfill his various assignments, he picks up his body in the galgal chamah before completing his journey to earth.



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)

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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