1. ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and they shall take a completely red heifer.’ (Bamidbar* 19.2) The Baal Shem Tov has taught that every mitzvah* is eternal. Even though the actual action [of doing the mitzvah] may be tied in with a specific time [which restricts when it may be done], the intellectual concepts pertaining to the mitzvah are eternal. This is because the divine Torah* is from HaShem* who is eternal [hence there is an eternal aspect and relevance to all the Torah.] All of the talmidim* of the Baal Shem Tov have related in his name that we need to find how the Torah relates to all time periods through wisdom, and understanding. From every mitzvah we need to find some remez* [dealing with it’s eternal relevance.] The Baal Shem Tov was asked with regards to the red heifer [how it relates to us] since even in the time of the Temple it was rarely performed as the Mishnah* says in tractate Parah*. Also, what is the meaning [for us now] of [what we were taught with regards to the heifer that] ‘it purifies those who are tumah [unclean] and it makes tumah [unclean] those who are pure.’ The Baal Shem Tov answered that [the remez is that] it refers to the midah* of conceit [which can be both bad and good.] When a person is going in a way that is not good and he is far from haShem, the beginning of his rectifying his situation is through ‘conceit’. Serving HaShem not for His Name’s sake, but to glorify himself, or in order that he should merit to have a place in the world to come (which is a hidden type of conceit.) [Because of his actions] he considers that he is worthy that HaShem should repay him for his deeds, and he considers that he has done something for HaShem. The truth is, however, without the strength of HaShem, what are we? How can we [say that we are worthy to] get a reward [since we need HaShem’s strength to do anything.] When one starts to serve HaShem it is not possible to achieve this level [of understanding that he can do nothing without HaShem.] And G-d forbid that he should remain on the outside [with those who are not servicing HaShem.] Therefore they have allowed him to serve HaShem with conceit. To glorify himself and to serve HaShem for reasons other then His Name’s sake in order that by serving him for an ulterior reason he may come to serve HaShem for His Name’s sake. [Later when he has passed this stage,] when he is serving HaShem for His Name’s sake it has to be pure without any conceit whatsoever. For if he mixes any conceit in his service then it will be invalid. From this we see that conceit makes pure those who are tumah, i.e. those who are far from HaShem [since it brings them later to serve HaShem for His Name’s sake] but it makes tumah those who are pure, i.e. those who are already close to HaShem [since their service will be invalid.] (p. 469 sefer Baal Shem Tov teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.) * * * II. The nashama* and the body 2. ‘These are the decrees of the Torah that HaShem commanded saying.’ (Bamidbar 19.2) In general the reasons for [what appears in] the Torah and the mitzvos are hidden from all men [and he does not know what they are.] Each person needs to do and to observe all the Torah only because HaShem commanded him to do and observe it. That is the remez of the verse, ‘these are the decrees of the Torah.’ All of the Torah and the mitzvos are only decrees to us because their reasons have not been revealed to us. The main way to perform the Torah and the mitzvos is because ‘HaShem commanded saying’ Because of the command of HaShem to us to do them we are required to do and observe them. With this we can explain why we were commanded to make the heifer in order to purify us from the uncleanliness that comes from contact with the dead. The nashama and the life force that a person has (which comes from under the throne of glory) always desires to serve HaShem without any separation, even for a second. However one’s body [and physical nature] does not let him do this. There is a constant war between the nashama and the body. If he is worthy the nashama will overcome the body and he will do the will of his nashama. The reason why the body does not want to uphold the Torah is that it cannot comprehend the reasons for the Torah and the mitzvos. For if the body would understand the reasons for the Torah and mitzvos, the body would also desire to do them. However it doesn’t understand the reasons. The nashama which comes from under the throne of glory does understand the reasons for the Torah and mitzvos. Therefore it desires to uphold the Torah and mitzvos without any break. The person who is worthy his soul overcomes his body and does the mitzvos. A person who is dead, his nashama rises above and the body remains here alone. [Because of this separation] the body becomes tumah [unclean.] For this reason the graves of Tzaddikim* do not make one tumah, since they have purified their bodies to the point that they too desire to do the Torah and mitzvos. Therefore their bodies [which have been purified so that they are like their neshamos] also do not render anyone tumah. This is the remez of ‘this is the decree of the Torah.’ Because the Torah is a decree and the reasons for the Torah are not revealed, the body does not desire to perform the Torah and mitzvos. Therefore the body becomes tumah when it dies. Therefore HaShem commanded to make the red heifer to purify from the tumah of the body which is what becomes tumah when he dies. (p. 78 sefer Kedushas Levi teachings of Rebbe* Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev.) * * * III. Proper actions 3. ‘And Edom did not allow Israel to pass its borders, and Israel turned away from near him.’ (Bamidbar 20.21) One time there came a number of people from a certain town before the Rebbe of Rizhin ZY’A with a complaint against the shochet* of their town. He was a very stingy person and would never take guests into his house [even though he could afford to.] The Rizhiner said to them, “Chazal* teach, ‘The one who is born under the sign of ‘Edom’ will be one who spills blood [Heb. Dam] of others. Rav Ashi said he will be a doctor [who lets blood], or a shochet or a mohel*.’ We see that one who is born under that sign is born with the nature to be cruel to others. If he will work with that bad midah, and use if for holy purposes, to serve HaShem, and do mitzvos and good deeds, then this bad midah will be removed from him. It will become a good midah filled with holiness. “This is the meaning of the verse ‘And Edom did not allow Israel to pass its borders.’ If the person who is on the level of Edom, i.e. he was born under the sign of ‘Edom’. ‘Will not allow Israel to pass his borders’, i.e. he will not allow them in his house to give them a place to sleep. This is a sign that ‘Israel turned away from near him.’ ‘Israel’ means those signs that have been given to recognize and to know that he is a Jew. They are: Shy, compassionate, and does deeds of mercy to others. However if he still does cruel deeds, the name of ‘Israel’ has removed from him. “We can also explain that ‘Israel turned away from near him’ means that if he acts in this cruel manner it is allowed for Jews to separate from him. To remove him from his post, and not eat of what he has slaughtered.” (p. 136 sefer Ner Yisroel teachings of Rebbe Yisroel of Rizhin and his descendants.) * * * IV. Prayer 4. ‘And Edom said to him you shall not pass through my land lest I come out and meet you with my sword’ (Bamidbar 20.18) Rashi* explains, “You [Israel] praise yourself with your ‘voice’ [of prayer] that you have inherited from your fathers. And you say that you cry out and He hears your voice. We shall go out to you with what we have inherited from our fathers, ‘You shall live by your sword.'” This is difficult to understand because it should be the opposite. [Chazal have taught] when the ‘voice is the voice of Yakov’ [i.e. they are praying and learning Torah] then there should not be ‘the hands are the hands of Esav.’ Their sword should not have any effect on them [Israel.] Here we see that they are coming with their power [of prayer] as Rashi explains, with the blessing that their father blessed them, ‘the voice is the voice of Yakov.’ We cry out and we are heard. [Yet Esav answers them with the sword.] However the idea is this. It is certainly true that the prayers of the Jewish people are very great, and HaShem always hears their prayers. Their enemies can never have any control over them. However they should not be conceited because of this strength that they have with their prayers [which they received] from the blessing that they had from their ancestors. If they have some conceit, and then they pray, that prayer is ignored and goes to waste. [In fact] the opposite is the case. [Their conceit causes that their prayer] gives strength to those that wish to do evil to them. That is what Rashi said, ‘You praise yourself with your voice…’ (p. 32 sefer Toras Shimon teachings of Rebbe Shimon of Yaroslav.) * * * V. Torah and purity. 5. ‘And put upon it living water in a vessel’ (Bamidbar 19.17) We can explain it this way. Water is a remez for the Torah as Chazal teach, ‘Water always refers to Torah.’ And ‘the vessel’ (which is an earthen vessel) is a remez for the Yetzer HaRah*; the snake whose food is earth. Also an earthen vessel becomes purified by destroying it. Chazal tell us that HaShem says, ‘I created the Yetzer HaRah and I created the Torah as a spice [that overcomes the Yetzer HaRah.] The Torah is called ‘living’, and the Yetzer Harah brings death and uncleanliness. Through the living water, which is the Torah that was given by Moshe, they would not die through the Angel of Death. We find when the Torah was given that they became free from the angel of death. They could only die by a kiss [which is a special way of dying where the Angel of Death is not involved.] Therefore there was no tumah. We also find this with the Tzaddikim, who [when they die] do not make others tumah. This is because they do not die from the Angel of Death, but through a ‘kiss’ from HaShem. That is the meaning of ‘and put upon it living water in the vessel.’ By the ‘spice’ of the Torah one nullifies the Yetzer HaRah, and one comes to purity. (p. 158 sefer Mordechai B’Shaar HaMelech teachings
of Rebbe Mordechai of Zavil.)
Arizal: Hebrew initials of the words: Adoni Rabbenu Yitzchok Zechorono LeVaracha our master Rabbi Yitzchok. Better known as Yitzchok Luria the great 16th century Kabbalist
Baal Tshuva (Baalei Tshuva): Hebrew for someone who is a repentant sinner.
Bamidbar: Fourth book of the Torah. Called in English Numbers
Chazal: Hebrew initials for: Chochmenu Zichrona Levaracha (Our sages of Blessed memory) Used to refer to Rabbis of the Talmud
Chesed: Hebrew word meaning acts of mercy
Drash: A method of Biblical interpretation ascribing moral or ethical meaning to verses in the Torah.
HaShem: Noun used in place of G-d. Lit. The Name
mikvah: Hebrew word referring to a ritual bath used for purification
Mishnah: An ancient Jewish work made of specific laws.
Moshe Rabbeinu: Hebrew for Moses our teacher. A common Jewish way of referring to Moses.
Or HaChaim: Jewish Torah commentary
Rashi: The primary commentary on the Tenach.
Rebbe: Leader of a Chassidic group or a teacher
Rebbe Reb: A title added to a few special Rebbes as a sign of their higher spiritual stature.
remez: A method of Biblical interpretation based on finding hints in the Torah for various concepts.
Rov: An official rabbi who renders legal decisions. Many of the Rebbes were both a Rebbe of Chasidim, and the Rov of the city in which they lived.
Sanhedrin: 1. Tractate in the Talmud 2. Name of the highest level of the Jewish court system.
sefer (seforim): A Jewish religious book.
Talmud: An ancient work of Jewish law.
Tehillim: Hebrew name for Psalms.
Torah: a. First 5 books of the Jewish Bible b. Also refers to the whole of Jewish law c. also common term for a chassidic teaching
Tshuva: Hebrew word for repentance
Copyright (c) 1997 by Moshe Shulman ([email protected]) All rights reserved.
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