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Parashat BeHa’alot’cha 5778 — 06/02/2018

Parashat BeHa’alot’cha 5778 — 06/02/2018

Bamidbar 8:1-12:16

Not so My servant Moshe; throughout My entire house he is the trusted one. With him I speak mouth to mouth, in a clear vision and not in riddles; at the image of Gd does he gaze. (12 7-8)
Never again has there arisen in Israel a prophet like Moshe, whom Hashem knew face to face. (Devarim 34:10)

Moshe Rabbeinu had the unique mission of teaching Torah to all Israel. For this he was equipped with special tools, spiritual tools, which other people did not have. A very interesting question is: were these tools a special gift from Hashem, or did Moshe develop them by his own efforts (aided by Hashem of course, as we all must be in our spiritual growth)? The practical upshot of this question is this: had Moshe developed to the level he reached by his own efforts, then there’s no theoretical reason why any one of us could not also reach that level. And if we could, why haven’t we?! Awkward question, isn’t it? But if these were special gifts given by Gd, then we can rest easy; the bar has been lowered and we are not expected to reach Moshe Rabbeinu’s level.

I will tell you up front that I am not going to answer this question. I will present some ideas and leave you with an exhortation.
There is certainly some evidence to suggest that Moshe’s level of development was a special gift. In the verses quoted Gd tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu had a unique status, that he knew Hashem “face to face.” Rashi to Devarim 34:10 comments that “he was familiar with Him.” The expression Rashi uses conveys intimacy, as in members of the same household who have lived together for a long time and are easy and not guarded around one another. Rashi goes on to state that Moshe could speak with Gd whenever he wanted, and indeed, two occasions are recorded (the men who were ritually impure and could not make the Pesach offering, and the daughters of Tzelophechad) where questions arose, and Moshe told the questioners, “Wait a minute, let me check” and Gd immediately responded. Furthermore, Gd testifies that His communication with Moshe is qualitatively different from that of other prophets. Other prophets do not receive their prophecy directly, but rather clothed in “riddles” that must be interpreted. Moshe, on the other hand, saw “through a clear lens.”

The question then becomes, is this difference one of degree or one of kind? To answer this, we must inquire into the nature of prophecy. Here is what Abarbanel has to say:

What Miriam and Aharon didn’t understand was that Moshe’s level of prophecy was fundamentally different from their own. From the time that Moshe spent forty days and forty nights on Mount Sinai, his rational soul was essentially separated from his body …

In other words, the rational soul, which is that uniquely human part of our consciousness that can perceive the transcendent, is constrained by its attachment to the physical body. To the extent that this attachment is strong, prophecy is clouded. When the attachment weakens, the prophecy becomes clearer, presumably because the lower levels of the soul are not clouding the perception of the rational soul. In Moshe Rabbeinu’s case, the clouding was minimal – he reached the highest level of prophecy that a human being can attain, at least while he is residing in a body.

Rambam similarly explains that prophecy is an experience of the transcendent, which by its very nature is infinite and beyond description. Nevertheless our imaginative faculty (i.e. that faculty that makes images in the mind) works on the experience and produces a sequence of images that can be described and transmitted. We have the writings of only a very few of the literally millions of prophets who flourished in Israel up until the Second Temple period. Our Sages explain that the “literary prophets” had messages that spanned the generations and were therefore recorded and canonized, while the others gave advice that was specific to their time and place, and often to the specific person who came to them with personal issues.

It appears, from the Bible’s brief description of “schools of prophets” that one could “learn” to be a prophet – it was not a random gift from Gd, given to a lucky, or even a worthy, few. That means there must have been specific techniques that were used for development of consciousness and perception, and perhaps to trigger particular experiences. Unfortunately, despite Moshe Rabbeinu’s remark that “would Gd that all Hashem’s people were prophets” (11:29), these techniques have not been widely taught, if knowledge of them still exists at all.

The soul is the transcendent reality at the basis of our individual existence. Gd is the transcendent Reality at the basis of all Creation. In general, we do not experience this transcendent reality because, our tradition tells us, of sin. Sin is action against Gd’s Will; bucking Gd’s Will is never a good idea – it just leads to stress and strain and frustration, making the body malfunction and stopping up our spiritual perception. To counteract this, we need to turn our attention inward, rather than outward through the senses. When we do this, we will naturally be drawn to our own innermost spiritual nature, our nature will be refined, our motivations will become purer, and our perceptions will become finer. We will begin to have those transcendental experiences that the prophets had. We may not ever be able to purify ourselves to the extent that Moshe did, but we can certainly do a better job of living than we are doing now. It behooves us all to use the time Gd has given us to get as close as we possibly can.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Gd commands Moses to tell Aaron, the High Priest, when he lights the seven lamps (of the menorah) he should light them turning toward the face, the middle lamp. The parshah also describes the form of the menorah and its material, supplementing (Exod. 37:17–24).

Symbolism of Light: Easy to see that this symbolizes the Light of Gd, which is not separate from Gd, but Gd’s Nature. The lamps symbolize not only the Light of Gd but also all the other uncountable attributes of Gd; for example, Love, Joy, Compassion, Justice, Purity, Totality, Perfection.

Lighting the lamps in the Temple symbolizes lighting the lights inside our own temple — our own personality and physiology

Symbolism of seven lamps: Can be the seven more concrete qualities given to the Sephirot, qualities of Gd; can be the qualities of the seven traditional planets; can be seven days of Creation, many sevens. Can also be, in essence, revealing the Many within the One: though Gd is One, Gd has detail, infinite detail, and seven just gives a sense of the Infinity that is Gd.
Symbolism of lighting toward the face of the menorah: Rashi comments that this is the middle lamp, the central lamp, not on a branch of the menorah but part of the central column. The symbolism can be that we always need to turn diversity toward the Center that Unifies.

Symbolism of raising the lights: The literal translation of “Behaalotecha” is not just “light” or “kindle” but “cause to ascend.” The idea is that one just warms the wick enough so it rises by itself. Symbolically, we move with devotion toward Love of Gd, Love of our neighbor, Love of our Self, and just a small move brings a large result — the Light of Gd, of One lights us up.
Symbolism of single piece: The Menorah was made of a single piece of gold symbolizing that All is One, though it appears as many.

Symbolism of gold: Gold symbolizes purity.

May we all experience today and always the Light of Gd, of One, fully lit within ourself, fully lit within our neighbors and all creation!
Baruch HaShem.