Food For the Soul
Can 21st century people understand the concept of “prophecy”? We can, perhaps, understand “inspiration.” After all, poets and artists are inspired. But prophecy lies beyond our experience.
The last verse in this week’s Torah reading gives us a glimpse of the nature of the prophecy of Moses. The Holy of Holies in the Sanctuary constituted a concentration of divine power. The highest level of intensity was in the sapphire tablets, on which were engraved the ten commandments, which Moses had gotten from Mount Sinai.
These tablets were kept in the golden ark. On top of the ark were two golden winged figures, male and female, facing each other. The divine force was somehow focused at the point between them – and it was from that point that the divine voice spoke to Moses.
Described like that, it seems like a kind of spiritual technology. A further aspect of this is seen in a teaching from the sages. They explain that a stream of divine energy flows from Gd. One aspect of this energy is that it keeps the world in existence. Another is that it enters the mind of a prophet, such as Moses or Isaiah, and takes the form of words of Torah teachings.
Is this perspective on life any less credible than the mysterious findings of relativity theory and quantum mechanics? The aim of the Torah is to harness the most profound forces at the heart of existence in order to achieve the divine purpose of creation.
The mitzvot are instructions on how to live in such a way that the spiritual potential of the universe is realized. This will eventually – indeed, very soon – achieve the goal of attaining an epoch of universal peace and harmony, in which “the world will be filled with knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea.”
Dr. Tali Loewenthal
This Shabbat we continue to read from the Parsha “Nasso”, meaning “Count” (Numbers 4:22). Completing the headcount of the Children of Israel taken in the Sinai Desert, a total of 8,580 Levite men between the ages of 30 and 50 are counted in a tally of those who will be doing the actual work of transporting the Tabernacle.
G-d communicates to Moses the law of the sotah (the wayward wife). Also given is the law of the nazir, who forswears wine, lets his or her hair grow long, and is forbidden to become contaminated through contact with a dead body.
Aaron and his descendants, the kohanim, are instructed on how to bless the people of Israel. The leaders of twelve tribes of Israel each bring their offerings for the inauguration of the altar. Although their gifts are identical, each is brought on a different day and is individually described by the Torah.
Mind Over Matter
Fear of Joy
People are afraid of joy. They are afraid they’ll get out of hand and lose control.
These people haven’t experienced real joy—the joy that comes from doing a mitzvah with all your heart.
Where there is that joy, the Divine Presence can enter. Where there is that joy, there are no pits to fall into, and all obstacles evaporate into thin air.
The great Kabbalist, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, said that the gates of wisdom and divine inspiration were opened to him only as a reward for his joy in fulfilling a mitzvah.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“I await his coming every day”
The laws of a Nazirite teach us a most significant principle about our belief in the coming of Moshiach. Halachah (Torah-law) decrees: If one declares, “I undertake to become a Nazirite on the day that Moshiach will come,” then if he made this vow on a weekday he is forever bound by it from that very moment. If he made his vow on a Shabbat or Yom Tov (festival-day), it will become operative from the next day onwards, forever, but not on that day itself. For it is uncertain whether Moshiach will or
will not come on a Shabbat or Yom Tov, which, therefore, precludes making the vow operative on that day (Eruvin 43b; Hilchot Nezirut 4:11).
This demonstrates clearly the fact that “the day that Moshiach will come” is a possibility that applies to each day. Thus we say in our daily prayers, “every day (and all day long) we hope for Your salvation”; or in the version of the Thirteen Principles of the Faith: “I await his coming every day.”
Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
The Antidote to Stupidity
“Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped” —Elbert Hubbard
In the holy city of Safed, next to the old cemetery, sits a humble structure, known as the “Arizal’s mikvah.” The small building houses a ritual bath which, according to tradition, was used by the master kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534–1572, known as the “Arizal”), who would immerse himself in its waters before praying and studying.
The mikvah (ritual pool) is actually an underground stream; its waters are ice cold. But considering the mikvah’s illustrious history, many consider it a special privilege to brave the cold. In fact, tradition has it that anyone who dips in its waters will certainly repent before passing on.
So, the story is told of a father who takes his son before his bar mitzvah to dip in the frigid waters. The son enters the water and screams, “Ay! This is cold.”
He quickly immerses and jumps out, straight into the warm towel his father is holding in his extended hands. “Aaaah!” said the boy, “this feels good!”
Said the father to his about-to-become-a-man son: “May this be a lesson for the rest of your life. Whenever you do something, and the ‘ay’ comes before the ‘ah,’ you know that it is a good thing that you’ve done. When the ‘ah,’ however, comes before the ‘ay,’ then you know that you have done something wrong . . .”
I was reminded of this story when reading the section of the Torah that discusses the woman suspected of having been unfaithful to her husband—the sotah. The word the Torah chooses (Numbers 5:12) to describe her alleged disloyalty is tisteh, [a woman who has] “gone astray.” Tisteh can also translate as “becomes foolish.” Hence the Talmudic axiom: “A person does not sin unless overcome by a spirit of folly.”
Sin is foolish. We all know it. No one ever feels good after a sin (psycho-maniacs aside), and no one feels bad after doing a mitzvah. But we sin anyway. Then we feel guilty, then we sin again, then we go to the synagogue on Yom Kippur and promise to better ourselves. Then we sin again.
No, I am not writing a book titled 10 Ideas How to Never Sin Again, nor have I discovered the magic pill that kills the evil inclination within. And if anyone claims to have found the vaccine against temptation, lock him up in an asylum—before he proclaims himself a god and goes off to build a cult and exploit a bunch of misguided people.
Until Moshiach comes, when evil will be eradicated from the world for good, we will continue to be tempted by sin. Hey, just another reason to ask Gd to send Moshiach.
But maybe, just maybe, if we take the story of the mikvah to heart, and next time we are about to say “ah” before the “ay,” we think ahead—we might refrain from sin that one time. And that is a very big deal. Or, as our sages succinctly put it: “Who is a wise one? One who foresees the outcome [of his actions].”
Rabbi Levi Avtzon