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
century - "Ohr HaChayim" - Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar
did not have enough faith in Me to sanctify Me
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,
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
"Bring a completely red young
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).
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
"..and from Nachliel to Bamot."
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
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.
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.?
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.
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.
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)
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.