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Blog - Torah Insights

Water From a Rock

Water From a Rock

We all heard the story. The Jews thirsted for water in the desert. G-d told Moses to speak to the rock and it would give its waters. Moses hit the rock instead of speaking to it and was therefore denied entry to the land of Israel .

There are many mysteries in this story. Why was G-d so offended by Moses hitting  the rock rather than speaking to it? If G-d was so upset with Moses for hitting the rock, why did he then perform a miracle, causing water to gush forth from a rock despite Moses hitting the rock? What lesson can we learn from this story?

If we believe that something is beyond our reach - that we can't master a particular wisdom, learn to play a particular instrument, or overcome a particular challenge - there are two ways that we can accomplish what we thought was beyond our reach. The first way is by force. If we are thrown into a pool we have no choice but to swim. We will be forced to achieve what we thought was impossible, however, the achievement occurs because of a force outside of ourselves.  The downside of this method is as follows: since the growth was forced upon us by external circumstances, once the circumstances change we may fall back to our previous thinking, questioning our ability to succeed if we lack an external push.

There is a second, more effective way to cause growth. If we are shown that deep within ourselves lies abundant potential; that in order to grow we need not look to a force outside of ourselves, but rather we  need to look inward; when the growth is not forced upon us, it will endure.

Sometimes, when we try to teach our child or student, we feel like we’ve hit a wall. He or she just does not get it. We begin to think that "we are wasting our time, there is no one home". We try the first option. We “hit the rock”. We try to force growth upon them, by applying the force of our charisma, the threat of consequence, or the promise of an award. Just like Moses did, we will probably manage to get water out of the rock, but like Moses, we will have missed an opportunity.

We will have missed an opportunity to demonstrate the second option, to “speak” to what appears to us like a rock. We think that our child cannot listen, understand, and identify with the message; but the Torah teaches that we are misjudging him. G-d says: “speak to the rock in their presence so that it will give forth its water”, what appears to us as a rock is, in truth, a fountain.

If we speak again and again, dig deeper and deeper, we will discover the water.

 


 

Moses was terribly disappointed. After more than thirty nine years of teaching Torah, after more than four decades of leadership, it seemed that the new generation of Israelites had not learned anything. As soon as they hit a slight bump on the road they (reverted back to old behavior) threw out everything that they had ever learned. As soon as they hit a difficulty, they dropped all that they had worked for, they were ready to head back to Egypt:

The congregation had no water; so they assembled against Moses and Aaron.

The people quarreled with Moses, and they said, "If only we had died with the death of our brothers before the Lord.

Why have you brought the congregation of the Lord to this desert so that we and our livestock should die there?

Why have you taken us out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place; it is not a place for seeds, or for fig trees, grape vines, or pomegranate trees, and there is no water to drink.

G-d told Moses "Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and speak to the rock in their presence so that it will give forth its water". G-d was doing more than giving Moses directions about how to get water from a rock. G-d was telling Moses how to deal with the Israelites. G-d was telling Moses to speak to them, to believe in them, to understand that with some effort he would be able to discover the faith deep inside their hearts.

Yet, Moses hits the rock. Consciously or subconsciously, Moses acknowledges that he can't find the key to their soul. Sure, he can "hit" some faith into them, but he can't find the words to unlock the faith buried in their hearts.

This is the moment of transition.

G-d says: "Since you did not have faith in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly to the Land which I have given them". This is not a story about an angry G-d punishing Moses. This is a terribly sad story about the transition from one generation to the next. It's a story about G-d acknowledging that the new generation needs a new leader who they can respond to. It's an acknowledgement that every generation needs a new leader who will speak to them, who will believe in them, and who will be able to discover the treasures hidden in them.

Please allow me to close on a personal note:

It is more than twenty years since the Rebbe's passing. And yet, I, as well as my fellow Chassidim, consider ourselves to be his students. He is our Moses and we are not looking for a Joshua. Why not?

One reason for this, is because his teachings talk to us. All these years after his words were spoken, we read his words, listen to the audio recordings and watch the videos of the words being spoken, and the words penetrate our hearts and stir our soul. He is our Moses because his words enter our hearts and reveal the waters beneath the surface of every soul.

He is our Moses, because his words speak to us.  

 

The Beauty of Darkness

The Beauty of Darkness

Korach’s philosophy was as provocative as it was fascinating.

Make no mistake. Korach did not start out as a jealous, power hungry man, who resented being overlooked for the position of leader and therefore chose to rebel against Moses and Aaron. In fact, argue the Kabbalists, Korach had a deep philosophical dispute with Aaron’s approach to spirituality.  

Korach was a great Kabbalist. He was also an absolutist. Combine the two and you come up with Korach’s strange but compelling claim: 

Light is a distraction, darkness is beautiful.

Korach’s argument goes something like this: spiritual light, with all its virtue, cannot capture the essence. Only when the light is swallowed up by the pull of the source of light (similar, perhaps, to a black hole), only when the light is submerged in its infinite source, only when it is dark, does one notice the infinite source of light. Only darkness expresses that there is an essence, a force far superior than anything light can capture. 

Light, argued Korach, is not only unable to reveal the essence, in fact, it actually obscures it. Only darkness, ironically perhaps, is a testament to the source of infinity that the light can never express. 

Korach resented Aaron, specifically because Aaron was in the light business. Aaron spent his days lighting the Menorah. His life’s mission was to light the physical Menorah that stood in the temple, as well as to light the metaphorical Menorah in the heart of every Jew. Aaron was all about inspiring people to ignite spiritual light in their life through the study of Torah and observance of Mitzvot, to focus time and energy on spiritual pursuits, and to illuminate their souls with a light-producing love and yearning for G-d. Aaron was the embodiment of the divine attribute of Chesed, kindness-sharing-light.     

Korach believed that Aaron’s approach to increasing spirituality missed a deeper truth. He believed that it was far better to help people understand materialism as a religious symbol and testament to G-d who cannot be defined by anything spirituality can capture. 

Korach said: give me the job of high priest and I will introduce a completely different model of spirituality. I will teach that no matter what the people are engaged in they are still holy: “the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst”[1]. No need for spiritual light. No need to inspire people to yearn to cleave to their source in heaven. No need to seek inspiration to escape the lure of the material and cleave to spiritual light. What I will preach, said Korach, is to celebrate the physical. For the very reason that the physical represents the absence of spiritual light it is capable of directing our attention to the essence, to the infinite source of both darkness and light.

Korach viewed light with disdain. In his view, the light, by definition, compromises the absolute truth of the infinite creator.

According to Korach’s plan the people would live a materialistic life, without the burden of seeking spiritual inspiration. Eventually more and more people would come around to appreciate what Korach himself understood. They would understand that they could be satisfied with materialism because it is a testament that the undefined G-d cannot be expressed in a limited measure of light.

Where did Korach go wrong?

Let’s begin by pointing out what he got right.

He was right that darkness has a higher source than light.

He was right that the material has a higher source than the spiritual.

Yet, his philosophy was completely wrong.

He was wrong because in order to  understand the truth of darkness, a person needs light. Yes, indeed, the material is the greatest manifestation of the essence. In the messianic era the material itself will express its source, as the prophet says “all flesh together shall see that the mouth of the Lord spoke”[2]. Yet, the only way a person can crack the shell of the material and connect to it’s source, is by subjugating the material to the spiritual.

Only when one allows Aaron to illuminate his life with spiritual light, with a yearning for holiness, will he be able to appreciate that the material is an expression of the essence of G-d. Only a soul inspired by Aaron can reveal and connect to the superior essence of the body. Only light can reconnect the darkness to it’s lofty source.

A soul illuminated with spiritual light can find G-d where ever it looks. Not only in the light but also in the darkness; not only in the holy but also in the mundane; not only in heaven but also on earth[3]

 


 

[1] Numbers 16:3.

[2] Isaiah 40:5.

[3] Based on Or Hatorah Bamidbar page 722, and “Hasam Nafsheynu Bachayim” 5718. 

The Leader's Faith

The Leader's Faith 

His daughter asked him if she should try out for the sports team. He thinks she is not up to the task. He wants to protect her from failure. He tells her not to try. He tells her that it will be too difficult. He tells her that the sport is not that much fun anyway. He tells her that she will be much happier if she would just do something else.

His employee approached him with a brilliant new idea. He loves the idea, but he does not believe his team could pull it off successfully. He tells them it’s too risky, too much work, and ultimately it is not a good idea to begin with.

He is acting like the Biblical spies.

In what was the most disastrous episode in their lifetime, the Jewish people traveling through the desert, requested of Moses that he should dispatch spies to the land of Canaan, to scout out the land and its inhabitants. Moses hand-picked twelve leaders, one per tribe, and sent them off. They return to Moses and the Children of Israel and report, that despite G-d’s assurances, conquering the land was impossible:

“We came to the land to which you sent us, and it is flowing with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who inhabit the land are mighty, and the cities are extremely huge and fortified, and there we saw even the offspring of the giant… We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.

They spread an [evil] report about the land which they had scouted, telling the children of Israel, "The land we passed through to explore is a land that consumes its inhabitants”.

Virtually all the commentators ask the same question: how is it possible that the spies have a complete loss of faith, despite all the miracles of the exodus which they experienced firsthand? How is it possible that great men, hand-picked by Moses, failed  to maintain their trust in G-d?

Perhaps we can suggest that the spies never lost faith in G-d, nor did they lose faith in his ability to perform miracles.

They trusted G-d, but they did not trust the people.

Sure, they thought,  G-d is perfectly capable of performing miracles if he wishes to do so. The problem, the spies thought to themselves, was that there was no chance the people would remain loyal to G-d and deserving of his protection. They therefore concluded that conquering Canaan is impossible, because the people were not up to the task.

Seeking to protect their beloved people from failure, the spies react like the father trying to discourage his daughter in order to protect her from failure. They say that the task is too difficult: “We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we”, and they tell the people that the land is not desirable in the first place: “The land we passed through to explore is a land that consumes its inhabitants”.

The spies may have acted out of love, but they failed both the mission and the people they were meant to serve. When someone is facing a challenging moment a leader must lift up, inspire, teach, encourage, and show him or her how to discover the reservoirs of faith, courage, and strength hidden within his soul.

Each of us are leaders in our circle of influence. Our family and friends look to us for guidance. We must remember never to underestimate and discourage as the spies did, for we must always be like Moses Joshua and Caleb, who believed in the people and sought to discover within the people the treasures which lay hidden deep within the people’s soul.   

       


 

In 1974, Rabbi Moshe Yitzchok Hecht, the Rebbe’s emissary to New Haven, CT, sent a letter to the Rebbe in which he described the difficult challenges he was facing, and asked the Rebbe to do something to help him, implying that he (Rabbi Hecht) felt that he was unable to carry out the mission successfully.

The Rebbe wrote back:

I preempted you and responded even before you made your request. I already did precisely as you advised. Rabbi Moshe Yitzchok Hecht was sent to your city. It appears from your letter (and from your previous one) that you are unfamiliar with Rabbi Hecht or the abilities and powers he has been granted. In any event, endeavor now to acquaint yourself with him, and immediately everything will change - your disposition, your trust in G-d, your everyday joy etc.

The portion of Shelach is read in proximity to the Rebbe’s Yahrtzeit on the third of Tamuz. Like Moses in his time, the Rebbe believed in every Jew. Like Moses in his time, the Rebbe taught us to believe in ourselves. The Rebbe taught  to never judge ourselves or others based on external appearances, but rather to believe in, and therefore work to discover, the spark of infinity within ourselves. The infinity of our soul.

 

Balancing Individual and Communal

Balancing Individual and Communal

The Passover offering, discussed in this weeks portion, is an anomaly, it does not fit comfortably into any of the categories of offerings. 

There are two categories of sacrificial offerings in the Torah. The first is the communal offering; it was offered at specific times on behalf of the entire community. The daily offerings as well as the additional offerings on Shabbat and holidays are examples of communal offerings. The second category is the personal offering, which did not have a specified time when it should be offered, and was brought by an individual on behalf of no one but him/her self. A thanksgiving offering and a sin offering are examples of the personal offering. 

The Passover offering defies categorization.

On one hand, the Passover offering had to be offered at a specific time, the afternoon of the fourteenth of the Hebrew month of Nisan; having a specific time is a feature of the public offering. On the other hand, every individual was commanded to join a group, and partake in offering and then the consumption of the Passover offering. This makes it similar to the personal offering.

We became a people at the exodus from Egypt. Thus the Passover offering suggests how we are to define ourselves as a  nation.

In general, there are nations whose system of government emphasizes the wellbeing of the collective, even at the expense of the individual citizen. There are other systems of government which emphasize the rights of the individual, even if the individual’s right will encroach on the wellbeing of the group.

The Passover offering teaches us that the Jew must view him/her self as both a member of the collective and as an individual. On the one hand, the Jew cannot only be concerned  with his/her own needs. Every individual must view themselves as a vital organ in the body of the collective Jewish people. Hence, the obligation to be a guarantor, for the material and spiritual well being of every Jew. On the other hand, the Jew cannot look around and say “I am just part of a collective, and as such, it is sufficient that the community as a whole is spiritually engaged, I as an individual, am not important”.

The Passover offering teaches us that, from the moment our nation was formed, embedded in our DNA is both an individual and a member of the collective. Yes, I am a member of the collective, just a part of a greater entity, yet, at the same time, I am an individual with qualities, responsibilities, and rights; imbued by G-d with a unique personality, unique gifts and a unique mission.

Balancing these truths is the secret to Jewish survival, the secret of the Passover sacrifice, and the key to Jewish life.

Crisis in Jerusalem 

The Talmud tells a story of a historic Passover, when the people had to determine which element of the Passover offering should prevail.

About 2000 years ago, the 14th of Nisan, the day on which we are commanded to bring the Pesach offering, happened to fall on Shabbat. The family who were the leaders of the Jewish people at the time, the children of Beteyra, could not decide whether or not the Pesach offering should be offered on the Shabbat.

The Talmud[1] relates that  Hillel, alone amongst the sages, knew the answer to the question. Hillel quoted the verse[2] “The children of Israel shall make the Passover sacrifice in its appointed time”, and taught that the word “in its appointed time” implies that the offering should be brought at it’s appointed time, even if the appointed time is Shabbat.

The Talmud continues to relate, that because he knew the answer, the children of Beteyra resigned from their post as leaders, and “they immediately set him (Hillel) at their head and appointed him leader over them”.

Why was the settling of this question so important, as to motivate the children of Beteyra to hand over the leadership to Hillel?

Only a communal offering is offered on the Shabbat. The question the children of Beteyra grappled with was, which aspect of the Pesach offering is the dominant one? If the personal aspect is dominant, then we should not offer it on Shabbat; if the communal aspect is the dominant one, then we should.

When Hillel proved that the Passover offering should be brought on Shabbat, he did more than answer a specific technical question. This question has ramifications for the  basis of the philosophy of what all the law should strive for. Hillel teaches that although we are both an individual and a part of the larger community, the communal aspect should be the more dominant one.

Hillel recognized that balancing both elements is the secret to a wholesome life. That is why he proclaimed, in the ethics of our fathers:

“If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I?”

 

Based on the teachings of the Rebbe[3]

 


   

[1] Talmud, Tractate Pesachim, 66a:

[2] Numbers 8:2.

[3] Lekutey Sichos, Volume 18, Behaalotcha Sicha 2. 

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