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Parashat Chukat 5777 — 07/01/2017

Parashat Chukat 5777 — 07/01/2017

Bamidbar 19:1-22:1

The bulk of our parashah takes place in the last year of the 40-year sojourn in the desert.  From this point on until the end of Sefer Bamidbar, Moshe Rabbeinu is essentially wrapping up his tenure as leader of the journey to the Land of Israel.  The account of the boundaries of the Land, the procedure for its division and a recap of the journeys and way stations of the past 40 years close out the Book.  We then begin Moshe’s final oration and charge to the people with the beginning of Sefer Devarim / Deuteronomy.

There were three constant miracles that accompanied the nation through the desert.  In Miriam’s merit a well, which supplied all their water needs, traveled with them.  In Aharon’s merit they were protected by the clouds of glory that hovered over them as they journeyed and when they encamped.  In Moshe’s merit they ate manna.  The Rabbis derived these associations from a very simple piece of logic – when each of Israel’s great leaders died, the corresponding benefit was removed.  Thus, immediately after Miriam’s death, the people complain of a lack of water – we have not heard this since Moshe Rabbeinu was instructed to hit the rock (the first time).  After Aharon’s death (also in this parashah), all of a sudden there is an attack by the king of Arad – we have not seen this kind of vulnerability since the attack by Amalek after the drowning of the Egyptians in the sea.  And finally, the manna stops falling right after Moshe’s death, when they are about to enter the Land.  In the first case, the water is restored through the merit (and the sacrifice) of Moshe and Aharon.  In the second case, the protection is restored through Moshe’s merit alone.  In the last case, there was nobody with sufficient merit to restore the manna; alternatively we could say that since the nation was about to enter its Land and live a “natural” existence, these miracles were no longer needed.

What does it mean that a miracle is produced “in the merit of” some great person?  Ramchal gives us a hint:

When Miriam died the well was suddenly gone and B’nei Yisrael were left without water.  We find an allusion to this in the word mayim [mem-yod-mem] meaning water.  The letters of the name Miriam [mem-reish-yod-mem] are the letters of the word mayim plus a letter reish which may be said to allude to ribui – abundance.  In the merit of Miriam there was an abundance of water which disappeared the moment Miriam left this world.

Miriam’s death caused pain to her spiritual root represented in the physical realm by the rock.  The great pain resulted in the water which represents chesed being withheld leaving the people in dire thirst.  To rectify this, the pain caused to Miriam’s spiritual root would need to be removed to enable the chesed, the water, to once again flow through this channel.

Note that normally the female side represents the attribute of din, that is, the attribute that gives boundaries to the flow of chesed.  Perhaps this is why her root is represented by a rock, which is certainly indicative of boundaries.  Nevertheless, water flows from this rock – and water represents chesed.  Perhaps Miriam’s great saintliness is expressed as a harmonization of these two seemingly opposing attributes.

In any event, I think that Ramchal has identified two prerequisites for Gd’s blessings to come into the world through the merit of a particular person.  First, the person’s “spiritual root” has to correspond with that particular blessing.  Second, the person must be a tzaddik, a righteous person.

The first prerequisite seems almost obvious.  Gd has created each of us as individuals, with different constellations of talents and abilities.  Each of us has the ability to express a unique aspect of Gd’s perfection, and to contribute something unique to the Divine tapestry of life.  If this is the case, it is natural that the blessings that flow into the world through us will be those that fit us most closely – in Ramchal’s terms, that come from our spiritual root.

The second prerequisite gives us an insight into the entire process of creativity.  We know from physics that creation is structured in layers.  There is the surface layer of macroscopic objects.  Deeper than that are the molecular and atomic layers and the layers of elementary particles.  We believe that at the basis of all these layers is a single unified field, and that all the elementary particles and forces are nothing other than excitations or vibrations of this one field.  From the basic impulses of intelligence inherent in this field, and their combinations, all the diversity of structure all the way up to the surface layer of creation is manifested.

We can experience this layered structure in our own mind as well.  When the body is well rested and the mind is settled, we experience that we can pick up thoughts at subtler levels than just the surface thinking level.  At the end of the day, when we’re tired from the activity of the day, it seems that thoughts need to be “louder” if you will, before we can pick them up.  And some people describe an experience where the mind completely settles down and there are no thoughts at all, yet they are awake inside.  And some describe the perception of the process of thoughts arising from that deeply quiet and settled state of awareness.  I think that this deepest state of awareness is actually our spiritual root – the deepest layer of our personality, and that if we can learn to think at that level, then our thoughts, and therefore our actions, will be almost infinitely powerful – just as if we could manipulate nature from the level of the unified field, we could produce anything.

What keeps us from perceiving and acting from this level?  I think the answer is impurities in our system – our bodies and our spirits.  When we act incorrectly, it leaves a stain, an imperfection inside us, and that prevents us from completely settling down and thinking and acting from the level of our spiritual root.  Furthermore, these imperfections act to distort the thoughts that arise from our spiritual root, so they have an admixture of blessing and the opposite.  The good news is that we can correct this problem.  Through t’shuvah, return to Gd and to doing Gd’s Will, we can actually “turn willful sins into mitzvot.”  We can purify ourselves, and the more we do so, the more support we get from Heaven to continue the process, as our Sages tell us in the Zohar: Whoever comes to purify himself, they purify [from Above].  It is up to us – we can all become tzaddikim and bring all the blessings of Heaven to earth for all to enjoy!

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Reflections on This Week’s Torah Portion

by Steve Sufian

Parashat Chukat

In this parshah, Miriam dies, the well that follows her dries up, the people complain, Gd tell Moses to speak to a rock and water will come out of it, Moses instead strikes the rock instead and Gd denies him entrance to the Promised Land for his disobedience.

Does that mean that Moses has lost his chance for teshuvah, return to primordial Oneness?

Put it another way: when Moses is denied entry to the physical land of Canaan, Eretz Israel, does that mean he’s also denied entrance to the spiritual Promised Land, the land of fully developed awareness?

I think not. Let us see what we can find in Torah and in this parshah that supports this view, not only for Moses but for every generation, including our own and all future generations.

*Be Thou holy: Gd has many times said, “Be thou Holy, for I Am Holy” and giving many directions that suggest what this means: for example, “Love Gd with all thy heart and all thy soul”. This Love is something Moses clearly has: even when he pleads with Gd to give forgiveness to wrongdoers, Moses is loving Gd with all his heart and soul, pleading for the life of people who are Expressions of Gd, even though Gd is seeming to hide within them, even though they seem to be unaware that they are the Whole hidden in Its Expressions. “Loving Gd” is something that clearly doesn’t depend on entering the physical Promised Land.

*Gd earlier in Torah describes Moses as someone with whom Gd speaks mouth to mouth, not in visions, not in dreams. What will make the physical Promised Land a spiritual place will be the ease with which people can perceive Gd’s Presence in it: since Moses is already in Gd’s Presence (and serves as the physical body through whom Gd’s Voice speaks to the people) Moses is already living in the spiritual Promised Land even though he cannot enter the physical Promised Land.

Teshuvah, return to Oneness, requires going beyond the struggle between opposites; for example, seeing that Gd is within Egypt (restrictions), within the wilderness/desert (freedom) and within the Promised Land. Experiencing that All is One requires perceiving Gd in All. When Gd denies Moses entrance into the physical Promised Land, He is forcing Moses to experience freedom within restrictions: to accept the restriction of not entering the physical Promised Land and to find freedom within that restriction. Gd is the Restrictor and the Restriction is Filled with Gd’s Presence. Gd is setting up the condition in which Gd playing the role of Moses, begins to reveal Himself as Unlimited, and his Moses role begins no longer to be lost in weeping over the lost, exulting over gain, but begins to perceive itself as the Wholeness that flows in Streams of Loss and Gain, of Weeping and Exulting.

The same thing happens to us: Gd hides within each of us, playing the role of the limited people that we are and he may sometimes gives us restrictions that force us to open to Gd within our self, as Gd – always Gd, always Whole, always One – begins to soften the limits and to reveal that we are what we always are: One!

Baruch HaShem