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
ye therefore good heed unto yourselves" (4:15)
He warns them lest
they mistakenly follow the voice they heard and they commit the corruption of
"mutilating the shoots". He states first the likeness of male or female,
[lest they corrupt themselves by making a graven image in the likeness of male
or female] of the Being from Whom the voice came. Afterwards he mentioned all
that is on the earth of beast and of fowl, of those that creep on the ground,
and of the fish that are in the water, and then he reverts to the host of heaven.
Now I have already explained the expression, which the Eternal the G-d has allotted
unto all peoples, for every nation has a star and constellation, and, above them
the angels of the Supreme One, like those mentioned in the Book of Daniel, the
prince of the kingdom of Persia, and the prince of the kingdom of Greece - this
being the reason why they [the nations] make of them gods for themselves and worship
them. Scripture continues, And you the Eternal has taken, for you are the portion
of the Eternal. You are thus not to appoint a prince or helper over yourselves
except for Him, for it is He Who brought you forth out of the iron furnace when
you were in Egypt in the midst of a furnace of fire and wood [i.e., a furnace
of affliction] and He took you out from there in spite of their princes against
whom He executed judgments. Had He not brought about their downfall you would
not have gone out, for they were [so much] in their ascendancy that you would
not be able to leave. Thus He has done all this in order that you be "an
inheritance" to Him and be to His Great Name a treasure from among all peoples.
"Hear oh Israel
A kabbalistic approach: the words Shema Yisrael may be understood
as "bend your ear and listen." This verse comprises the subject of true
uniqueness, which is accepted by all the students of Kabbalah as the mystical
dimension of the ten emanations. It is man's task to unify these ten emanations
and to ensure they are joined together not only in a descending but also an ascending
direction [Kabbalists understand it as the task of man to transcend the physical
universe they find themselves in and to strive for a union with the source, HaShem
(G-d), by means of these emanations. Ed.]
The word shema is perceived
as an instruction to create such a bond, union. Psalms 18:45 is an example of
the word shema meaning something beyond merely hearing with a physical
organ of the body. It speaks about the assimilation of such "hearing,"
i.e., obedience, as a natural result of "digesting" what one's ear has
The word HaShem is also to be understood as similar to "it
is yours HaShem" (Chronicles I 29:11). That verse combines the three
highest spiritual attributes (emanations) hagedulah, elokeinu, hagevurah.
The second time the word HaShem occurs in our verse is a reference to the
emanation tiferet and the emanations below that until the lowest emanation,
"the completion of the structure."
The word echad at the
end of our verse comprises all the emanations. The letter alef in that
word refers to the One whom our mental capacities cannot define. The letter chet
refers to all the eight emanations which accompany Him; the letter dalet
refers to the tenth emanation, the crowning glory known as ateret zahav gedolah,
and the word echad, is not to be separated from the rest of the verse.
Here the Torah tells us that all the ten emanations are to be joined as if they
were not multiples but one. The reason it is appropriate for this process of joining
the emanations together to proceed from the bottom up, is because we have a principle
that in matters of sanctity we always proceed from a lower level to higher level,
never the reverse.
Concerning the letter dalet in the word echad
i.e. the lowest emanation known as malchut, Isaiah 63:12 says "Who
divided the waters before them to make Himself a name for all time." We refer
to this manifestation of G-d as the lowest of the emanations in our prayers every
day when we recite "Your manifestation Lord our G-d as the emanation malchut
Your children have witnessed when You split the sea before Moses and they answered;
'this is my G-d.'" [the version of this prayer quoted here is similar to
that in Machzor Vitri]
Seeing that the verse shema Yisrael does not
contain an explicit reference to the emanation malchut, our sages have
seen fit to append the line "may the name of His glorious emanation malchut
be blessed forever more." Even though Moses did not mention this attribute
explicitly we do find it alluded to in the letter dalet at the end of the
"At that time I pleaded...saying
'G-d, L-rd'..." [3:23-24]
Moses uses the terms elokim and
adnut, to teach us how to preface our prayers when we address G-d. This
has become the standard formula in our amidah prayer till this day. Similarly,
Moses recited the gevrurot/mighty deeds of G-d, as we do still today in
the second benediction of the amidah. By adding the words who is like G-d
in heaven or earth, Moses paraphrases the you are holy benediction in our amidah
prayer. In this manner, Moses teaches the need not to direct requests to G-d before
observing the proprieties and preface one's remarks with an appreciation of whom
"Hear Israel.." [6:4]
When our Sages say in Talmud, "Each Jew has a part in the World
to Come", (Sanhedrin 90) they mean that the soul of every Jew has
access to the Hereafter. When the sages use the expression that someone
is "invited", they refer to the future when the light of the
moon will become as brilliant as the light of the sun. This is the future
we have in mind when we add to the words of the Shema Yisrael (Hear
Israel..) the twenty-four letters (in Hebrew) of the formula, "May
the Majesty of His glorious kingdom be blessed forever".
and you should know
this day, etc." [4:39]
What is it that the people should know about
on this day rather than on any other day?
What knowledge were they to store
up in their hearts?
Perhaps Moses referred to the need to subdue the evil urge
which lurks within all of us. Moses may have referred to 10 such pieces of information
which the Israelites were to store up in their hearts.
He may have referred
to something we have been taught by the Zohar volume three page 178 that in order
to conduct oneself properly it is necessary to review every night what one has
done during the day so as to repair any spiritual damage one had become guilty
of by day. When a person keeps track of his deeds on a daily basis he will repent
all the inadvertently committed mistakes he has become guilty of, and he will
confess them. Unless he does this, his sins are liable to create within him a
lack of sensitivity to having made mistakes, even inadvertent mistakes.
is why Moses commanded the people to make sure they would become aware of their
actions on a daily basis, i.e. 'this very day;' do not wait until the Day of Atonement
to confess your sins and to rehabilitate yourselves. If you so this, "you
will bring it back to your heart" - you will ensure that your heart remains
conscious of and sensitive to your shortcomings.
Moses may also have alluded
to the day the soul was placed in the body of a person. According to Zohar volume
one page 233 on that day G-d exhorts the soul which has come from the celestial
regions to observe the commandments of the Torah while on earth, threatening with
a variety of penalties for non-observance, but also promising reward for observance.
When Moses said 'this day' in our verse, he referred to the day when the soul
began its journey on 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)
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.