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Parashat BeHa’alot’cha 5775 — 06/03/2015

Parashat BeHa’alot’cha 5775 — 06/03/2015

The Torah doesn’t specify what Miriam and Aharon spoke “against Moshe.” The Rabbis fill in the back-story. Eldad and Medad were unexpectedly prophesying in the camp. Aharon, Miriam and Tziporah, Moshe’s wife were checking it out when Tziporah off-handedly comments that she feels sorry for their wives, because now their husbands will separate from them the way Moshe has separated himself from his family. The text picks up with Miriam and Aharon saying, “wait a minute, we’re prophets and we haven’t separated from our spouses.” Gd quickly disabuses them of the notion that their level of prophecy is comparable to Moshe’s level by calling them to come right away to the Tent of Meeting. Moshe is prepared – Moshe is always prepared to speak with Gd – while the other two are not.

The Talmud (Shabbat 87a) explains Moshe’s reasoning:

The Shechinah spoke with all of Israel only on one occasion and at a predetermined hour. Nevertheless, the Torah cautioned [the men]: “Do not go near a woman.” Certainly I, with whom the Shechinah speaks at all times and with no set hour, must do the same.

 Gd appears to agree, for after having Moshe send the Israelites “back to their tents” (i.e. to resume normal marital relations), Moshe himself is instructed to stay with Gd at the top of the mountain. That is, Moshe’s connection to the Divine was not intermittent, it was constant.

Rav Kook explains why separation from family life is necessary for prophecy:

Despite the innate greatness of the human soul, we are limited by our personal issues and concerns. Compared to the Shechinah‘s all-encompassing light – a brilliant light that illuminates all worlds and everything they contain – our private lives are like the feeble light of a candle before the blazing sun. The cosmos are brimming with holiness – in all of their minutiae, in their transformations and advances, in their physical and spiritual paths. All of their heights and depths are holy; all is Gd’s treasure.

In order to attain this higher perspective, a prophet must free himself from his own narrow viewpoint. The pristine dawn of lofty da’at (knowledge) must be guarded from those influences that induce the prophet to withdraw to the private circle of his own family.

Moses, the faithful shepherd, could not be confined to the limited framework of private life – not even momentarily. His entire world was Gd’s universe, where everything is holy.

Rav Kook goes on to say that this separation was something that Moshe had to figure out on his own. From Gd’s perspective, as we have just mentioned, everything is holy, and there really is no separation between Gd and creation. But from a human point of view, we live in the world of boundaries, which does appear to be separated from Gd, and consequently there is a path to tread in order to diminish this separation as much as possible.

I believe that Rav Kook’s formulation actually gives us a glimpse of the path to achieving prophecy, or as close to prophecy as we can come in modern times, where it appears that the general level of perception is much cloudier than in prior generations, such as when the Temple stood in Jerusalem. The key is separation from the individual and personal, and having the mind experience the infinite, universal, transcendent level that underlies all individuality. Our tradition uses mitzvot performance, prayer and Torah study, and if one studies the esoteric side, meditation as well, to achieve a transcendental experience with all parts of the personality – the organs of action and perception, the mind and the emotions.

The point of everything we do in the world is to experience the transcendental. Even those mundane activities like making a living or doing the laundry give us the opportunity to reflect on what is beyond the surface, and it this repeated reflecting on our experiences that allows us to detach ourselves from them. We begin to see ourselves as the infinite soul that we are in our essence, transcendental to and detached from all the manifest, bounded forms and phenomena of creation. This is really the ultimate “separation” of the prophet from his private life – while his individual mind and body continue to act in the physical world, he is sitting apart, unified with his Gd, observing the entire cosmic play from a front-row seat.

Our tradition tells us that other than Moshe Rabbeinu, all prophets needed a period of preparation before they could receive prophecy. This is presumably a period where they were able to station their awareness in the transcendent. During this period of preparation they had to withdraw within themselves and separate from the objects of the senses.

Moshe Rabbeinu, on the other hand, experienced prophecy continually. Apparently his connection to the transcendent was strong enough that it was not disturbed by interactions like teaching Torah, which was an extension of his universality in any rate. Getting involved in the nitty-gritty of individual life however was another story. In fact, it would have been a waste of his unique spiritual gift. Moshe Rabbeinu had to remain on the transcendental level to the maximum extent possible consistent with remaining in his body, in order to fulfill his mission. When the people clamored for meat, Moshe told Gd that he couldn’t feed them meat. He didn’t mean that there was no meat to be had – rather he was saying that his role was to connect the people to the transcendent, not to provide them crude food!

What is our role? We are told that prophecy ended shortly after the Second Temple was built, almost 2500 years ago. In the course of time the world has become a cruder, crasser place, more attached to the material world than ever. We, however, can follow our path and establish our awareness, to whatever degree possible, in the transcendent, and, having done so, act from that level with Divine love and compassion to everyone we meet. Imagine such a world!

Pirke Avot, Chapter 2

Mishnah 2

Rabban Gamliel, the son of Rabbi Yehuda haNasi says: The study of Torah combined with an occupation is an excellent thing, for the toil in both leaves no time for sin (lit: causes sin to be forgotten). Torah study without work ultimately becomes null and causes sin.

Torah study is one of our primary means of connecting with the Divine. But apparently connecting with the Divine is not enough. Human beings were built with a Divine soul encased in a physical body. The physical body’s job is to act within the world, governed by the Divine soul. The connection to the Divine is through Torah, and the actualization of the Divine is through our actions, governed by the Torah. If we don’t act, Torah is nullified in the world, and we haven’t completed our mission. We have to establish ourselves in Torah, and from that basis perform action.