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


"Command the children of Israel, and say unto them: My offering, My bread for My fire offerings" [28:2]

By the way of the Truth, [the mystic teachings of the Kabbalah], the verse also hints to the following: It states "My offering, My bread l'ishai' - of 'ishai' (My Divine powers) - you shall keep and be careful to offer Me to My Name, in its due season. And you shall say to them further. This is the fire-offering which you shall offer unto the Eternal, so that the offering should bring about [the desired unity and harmony on high]". Now there is no sin-offering amongst the Additional Offerings of the Shabbat as there is in all the other Additional Offerings [i.e., those brought on the new Moon and the festivals], because the congregation of Israel is its partner [that of the Shabbat], and all is [therefore] peace [and harmony]. The student [learned in the teachings of the Kabbalah] will understand.


Rabbeinu Bachya

"On the eight day shall be a solemn (atzeret) assembly for you." [29:35]

According to the plain meaning of the text the word atzeret means: "to be prevented from performing one's regular work."

A kabbalistic approach: The word atzeret is a term describing the Knesset Yisrael, the spiritual concept known as 'Israel." The reason that this term is an apt description is that (in colloquial parlance: 'this people is where the buck stops.') In other words, were it not for the concept represented by the Jewish people the whole universe would lack meaning and purpose. It is also an expression denoting malchut, authority, dominion, such as in Samuel I 9:17 "this one will rule over My people" (G-d speaking). The word occurs in that meaning also in Rosh HaShana 16 meaning "crown-prince", i.e. the prince who will assume the authority of the king. For the above-mentioned reasons Shemini Atzeret is a festival all by itself. We may see reflected in this day the practice that among the four species of plants with which we praise the Lord on the festival of Sukkot it is the etrog which represents the Jewish people and which is held separately, not being bound up with the other species. The Shemini Atzeret festival is perceived as the festival of the giving of the Torah which the Talmud always refers to as atzeret, meaning the festival of Shavuot, the recurrence of the calendar date on which the Torah was received. We find that the name atzeret is also applied by the Torah to the seventh day of Passover (Deut. 16:6) although that day is an integral part of the festival. In other words, the term appears in connection with all three pilgrimage holidays.

What does all this mean? Just as the word Shabbat is applied by the Torah to the various festivals on various occasions to show that the Knesset Yisrael is the "bride" of the Shabbat, [and that without this "bride" the entire legislation would be devoid of meaning. Ed.] so the word atzeret when used in connection with the festival conveys the idea that the Jewish people, spiritually speaking, are the purpose of all these festivals. In kabbalistic terms, they are the yessod [borrowed from the emanation by that name] "foundation, without which the entire legislation of the festivals would lack meaning. David gave expression to this feeling when he composed the hymn of the Shabbat commencing with the words "a song to the Shabbat Day," Naturally, he did not mean to address the "day," [in fact this might have been idolatrous, Ed.] but he addressed the spiritual concept of Knesset Yisrael which represents this emanation yessod.



"..Go up on this mountain Avarim and behold the land" [27:12]

Moses is shown the land, whereas those who died in the desert, had not been granted that privilege as is stated in Numbers 14:23. 'Behold the land!' points out the contrast between Moses and Aharon and the rest of their generation. But there is also a spiritual dimension to the land of Israel. Therefore, the first reference was to the physical land of Israel, the second to the spiritual land of Israel. Moses was shown both. He would die only after having been granted a glimpse of this spiritual level of the land of Israel. (compare Zohar Parshat VeYechi on 'you will be gathered to your people')
The Zohar compares the immediacy of entry into a higher world by those whose physical death occurs in the land of Israel, with the delayed ascent by those who die outside of Eretz Yisrael. Those who die the kind of death that Moses died, even though outside the land of Israel, do not need to traverse the way stations reserved for ordinary people dying outside the land of Israel. Possibly, the letter heh at the end of the word ve-ra-ita in verse 13, (which is most unusual) is a hint to Moses that he will enter the hereafter without delay, that his soul would not need a cleansing process.



At the time of his momentous act of zealotry, Pinchas saw the letters of the Hebrew word "met", meaning "dead", in his mind's eye, and this inspired him to be a barrier of "death". How did he do this? The Zohar, commenting on the lance which Pinchas used to slay Zimri, describes Pinchas as "garbing" himself with this lance in order to mete out justice here on earth so that mercy could be invoked in the parallel regions of Heaven.

He saw his own name [which has a numerical value of 208] rise heavenwards, and realized that his name had the same numerical value as that of Isaac the patriarch, who personified the attribute of Justice on earth. He also saw the letter mem fly in the air. This letter is an allusion to death - in Hebrew, "mavet".

This allusion has already been commented on: "The woman saw that it was good…she took from its fruit, ate, and gave [to her husband]". (Genesis 3:6) We find here four words commencing with the letters vav tav, and in the middle of these words a word commencing with the letter mem. When you join this letter mem to the word to the four words which commence with the letters vav tav, you get the word "mavet", meaning "death", each time.

In other words "death" is present in all four compass directions. This is what the sages had in mind when they referred to Pinchas' mind's eye as seeing the letter mem "flying" in the air.


Ohr HaChayim

"Let the Lord, the G-d of the spirits appoint, etc," (27:16)

The fact that G-d has equipped all of us with both a free will and unequal levels of intelligence makes it an almost foregone conclusion that each one of us reacts, - i.e. uses this freedom of will - differently when confronted with identical data.
In other words, it is in the nature of things that no two people react identically to what happens around them.

In view of what we have just said it is clear that the 600,000 people Moses was in charge of comprised 600,000 personalities. How could they be expected to be fused into a uniform, like-minded congregation? The reason that Moses was able to find a common denominator with each one of them, i.e. "to tune in to the wavelength of each Israelite," was the fact that his soul was the root of all their soul (compare Tikkuney Hazohar chapter 69). This is the mystical dimension of Isaiah 63:11: "G-d remembered the days of old, Moses His people." (Compare what we have written on Numbers 11:12 in connection with the words: "Have I conceived them?") This was the reason that Moses was so concerned that no one but he would be able to truly understand these people and lead them.

For considerations such as these, Moses reacted to the news that he was about to die by asking G-d "Let the Lord, the G-d of the spirits appoint, etc." that G-d in His capacity of understanding the immense variety of spirits, i.e. personalities of the people, should appoint someone who could "tune in" to all these various spirits.
When Moses said that such a leader "should go out ahead of them and…lead them," he referred to the ability of the people to agree with the initiative of their leader.
At the same time, Moses said: "and who will come home with them," i.e. that the leader should also be able to align his thinking to their thinking. He must be capable of accepting suggestions by the people.

Moses' words to G-d could be summarized as follows: "I am prepared to do what You have told me; however, I cannot die with my mind at ease (as You promised me) unless I know that You have appointed a new leader who possesses the qualities I have mentioned. If not, the people will, for all practical purposes, be like a flock without a shepherd."



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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