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Parashat Pinchas 5780 — 07/11/2020

Bamidbar 25:10-30:1

The sons of Yissachar… (26:23)

In light of what we have previously learned, that Yissachar is a Torah scholar, the Torah indicates, by way of this name of “Yissachar” that specifically this [i.e. Torah study] offers reward. [Yissachar can be understood as Yesh sachar = “there is reward.”] As for everything other than that: What gain does a man have for all his toil? (Kohelet 1:3) This is what [the Sages] said in Berachot 28b (Talmudic tractate), that upon exiting the study hall one is required to recite the blessing “I thank You … for I toil [i.e. in Torah study] and they toil [i.e. in mundane or even frivolous matters], I toil and receive reward, they toil and do not receive reward, etc.” The rationale is that possessions of this world, which are imagined to be valuable, do not endure, and even if something does endure, it is ultimately meaningless.

Shelley’s 1818 sonnet, Ozymandias, captures the hubris and futility of thinking that anything in the material world is permanent. It speaks of a giant statue in the desert, of which only the legs remain:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

If we look into all physical matter, at every level we find that there is a subtler, more basic and abstract level that makes it up. The subtler the level, the more immutable it is. Molecules are more basic than, say, wood fibers, and there are a certain number of molecules that go into making up all the diverse kinds of wood fibers. Also, one can pull wood fibers apart mechanically (e.g. with one’s teeth, if one were a beaver), but to pull molecules apart takes a great deal larger concentration of energy, in the form of chemical energy. Likewise, all the diversity of molecules is made of the 92 naturally occurring types of atoms (92 elements), and to pull atoms apart requires even more energy (and can release more energy).

At the basis of physical creation lies the Unified Field, one field which remains silent and never changing, but whose internal, virtual vibrations appear to us as all the elementary particles of creation and their interactions. The entire physical creation, which is made up of the elementary particles, is therefore just a rich, complex and ever-changing pattern of vibration of this Unified Field, which itself is unchanging. It is clear, then, that anything created is in a constant state of flux, ephemeral, and of no lasting value. What is of eternal value is the Unified Field, the transcendent.

This analysis carries over to the spiritual realm as well. Gd, while remaining completely transcendental to creation, creates all the forms and phenomena of creation, physical as well as non-physical. Everything that is created is ephemeral, time-bound (even if it lasts for a very long time). The physical universe itself has a finite lifetime we believe. And while we do have to acquire the necessities of physical life, as long as we are attached to possessions in creation, so long will we be disappointed when they do not last. This includes our bodies of course.

Torah, on the other hand, is the blueprint of creation, and is therefore transcendental to creation. The “supernal Torah” is eternal, unchanging, with Gd. The beauty of Torah is that it can be known. I believe that “Torah study” in its deepest form means discovering Torah within us on the deepest level of our own consciousness, beyond thought and perception. When Torah becomes established as the nature of our own awareness, then we have latched on to something that is truly permanent, and have acquired a “possession” that can never be taken from us, nor will ever decay or change and leave us in the lurch.

To see what kind of difference this can make in our lives, we turn to the end of the parashah. In verse 27:13 Moshe is told that he will be “gathered unto your people, you, too, as Aharon your brother was gathered in.” Or haChaim explains based on a Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni §787) that Moshe asked Aharon to describe what it was like after death, to which Aharon replied, “… Had I known this, I would have wanted it earlier!” For someone who has eternity established as his own nature, the body is more of an impediment to the final, blissful union with Gd, than it is a source of pleasure. As we say in Yizkor, the body returns to the earth whence it came, and the soul returns to Gd Who gave it to us. “Free at last, free at last, great Gd in Heaven I’m free at last!”

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Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Pinchas

The central event in this parshah is Gd’s fulfilling Moses’ request to appoint someone to lead B’nei Israel into the Promised Land. Gd tells Moses to lay his hands on Joshua so that some of Moses’ spirit will enter Joshua and Joshua will be able to lead the people into the physical Promised Land. According to the Gemara the elders of the generation called this a “great embarrassment”, that Joshua was like the moon whereas Moses was like the sun.

If the Gemara is correct then the question arises, “Why did Gd appoint a leader who was less than Moses? who had only part of Moses’ spirit?”

Perhaps Moses did not need to enter the Promised Land to experience Teshuvah – he already had it, being soaked in Gd’s Presence as he was.

The Children of Israel, however, including Joshua, did need to enter the Promised Land in order to be fully aware of Gd’s Presence. If all of Moses’ spirit were given to Joshua, then he also would have no need to enter the Promised Land and the people would have no leader.

What can this mean in our lives?

The Promised Land is within us even when we are acting in the (relative) desert that is the ordinary life of human beings. The qualities of our awareness that are less than full – our thoughts, our feelings, our sensory awareness – lead us to the Wholeness, the Promised Land that transcends them and pervades them.

These thoughts, feelings, sensory awareness are like Joshua – they allow us, through use, through practice, to experience more and more refined levels of them and eventually (Dear Gd, Please! Now!) to experience the Promised Land, the Wholeness, the Oneness in which Torah and Gd and all we experience as our own Self, as One.

Now, please, Now!

Baruch HaShem