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Devarim – Living with the Torah’s Weekly Portion

Devarim: Sunday: Shechinah Speaking

“These are the things that Moses spoke to all Israel”. The entire book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ speech. Together with that, it is part of the Torah, the word of G-d. This is what is meant by the expression, “The Shechinah speaks from within the throat of Moses”.

Moses is completely unique – “And there never rose again a prophet like Moses in Israel.” Nonetheless, Moses’ soul returns in every generation. There is “one speaker/dabar in a generation” (in the words of our Sages), who is the Moses of the generation, from whose throat the Shechinah speaks. The concept of Shechinah (G-d’s indwelling Presence) is identical to the concept Knesset Yisrael/the Congregation of Israel, which is the root of all the souls of Israel. When the Moses of the generation speaks, we feel that he is speaking in the name of the entire Congregation of Israel.

How do we know how to identify the Moses of the generation? Our Sages gave us the following parameter: “If the Rabbi is like a מלאך /malach/angel of G-d, they should seek Torah from his mouth”. The Ba’al Shem Tov explained that the word malach/angel, is a permutation of the word כאִלֵּם/k’ilem/as a silent person. The true rabbi is silent before he speaks. This is what the Sages relate regarding the angels called חשמל/chashmal, which means: chash/silence and afterwards, mal/speaks. The moment when the rabbi is silent before he speaks is his nullification before G-d. Thus, he is silent before he speaks. And then, having nullified his own sense of self, his throat is clear for the Shechinah to enter and speak.

After we connect to the Moses of the generation, it becomes clear that inside each and every one of us, there is a ‘spark of Moses’. The revelation of this spark makes it possible for those who are connected to him to also be leaders, as Moses later describes, “And I took the heads of your tribes, wise and known people, and I made them heads over you”.

If so, there are two speakers/dabarim  of the generation – as is alluded to in the name of the Book of Deuteronomy – Devarim. The head speaker is Moses, and the second speaker is each and every one of us.  [From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s book, “Sha’ashu’im Yom Yom


Devarim: Monday: The Second Circle

Moses requested, “Bring wise and understanding and known people according to your tribes”, but in practice, the Torah says, “And I took the heads of your tribes, wise and known people”.  What happened to understanding people? Rashi explains, “But I did not find understanding people”!

Wise and understanding people are exactly parallel to the first two sefirot in the Ten Sefirot system, chochmah and binah, wisdom and understanding. In the description of Kabbalah, wisdom is the ‘first circle’, closely enwrapping the Divine light in the world, while understanding is the ‘second circle’ (and so forth).

The wise men are the first circle surrounding Moses. They are ‘Moses’ men’, who are the most devoted to him. They share with him the experience of wisdom, seeing the actual entity, similar to a ‘flash of lightening’ of intellectual light.

The understanding men are the second circle. Understanding perceives the point of wisdom in broad comprehension, turning it into a real structure (‘Binah’ is cognate to binyan/building) . On the one hand, understanding is more external than wisdom, but it has the advantage of reason that allows it to work in reality, similar to the expression about a person who is an expert, a ‘maven’ on a particular topic. The wise man knows the principle, while the understanding man knows the right timing, ‘the understanding of times’. This is the second circle that Moses was missing – understanding people who would appropriately turn his truth into reality.

[Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av 5774 gathering]

Devarim: Tuesday: Leadership Crisis

Moses rebukes Israel for the Sin of the Spies, ending with “G-d also was angry with me because of you, saying, you will also not come to there.” What is the connection between the two? Moses was barred from the Land of Israel because of the sin of hitting the rock, not because the Sin of the Spies! The commentators explain in various ways, but nonetheless, this is a clear hint that the Sin of the Spies also harmed Moses, and the decree that he would not enter the Land of Israel began at that point (at least in potential).

The spies did not believe that Moses could bring them into the Land of Israel. In their eyes, his leadership was fitting for the desert only, and was inappropriate for entering into a settled land.

The spies erred, and thus, Moses rightfully rebukes Israel. They erred in that they did not understand that Moses could metamorphose from desert leadership to Land of Israel leadership.

Nonetheless, Moses takes responsibility and says: In a certain way, I was not right. If the spies did not believe in me, perhaps it is because I did not sufficiently believe in them. A king has to believe that his people can be loyal emissaries. He has to believe in the inner, concealed point within them, and by doing so, extract that point from its concealment and turn it into a major ingredient of his being. Just as Moses hesitated when G-d directed him to be His emissary (“Send in the hands of whom You choose to send”) so he hesitated to send others, for every dispatch of an emissary is an exit from the safe source to unknown territory.

[From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s article, ‘The Sin of the Spies and its Teshuvah’]

Devarim: Wednesday: We will Go Up

After the rebuke for the Sin of the Spies, Moses rebukes Israel for the Sin of the Ma’apilim, who, following the Sin of the Spies and G-d’s decree that the generation would die in the desert, said, “We will go up and we will fight”. They tried and they failed.

The Sin of the Spies is a blemish in the trait of Chesed/Lovingkindness. The spies wanted to continue to be sustained in the desert, with free lovingkindness from the Hand of G-d. They were wary of employing might to conquer and settle the Land of Israel. With the Sin of the Ma’apilim, Israel turned in the opposite direction and blemished the trait of Gevurah/Might. They ascended the mountain despite the scare campaign executed by the spies and despite the fact that Moses warned them in G-d’s Name not to ascend, and that they would suffer a downfall.

Chesed and Gevurah are the main attributes of the heart. Their rectification is when they are ‘Concealed Lovingkindness and Might”. In other words, their rectification is when they are hidden under the upper layer of the brain, the intellect that channels the stormy emotional experience. When Lovingkindness and Might (love and fear) are present but concealed, their revealed expression is also rectified.

Moses merited understanding. If Israel had listened to him, their Chesed and Gevurah would have been ‘covered’ with Understanding. But they did not listen to Moses, and acted out of self-consciousness, out of their emotional experience. These outbursts of the traits of their hearts, in both cases, were negative and led to crisis.

We have been dealing with the Sin of the Ma’apilim a lot over the last generations. We rejected life in exile and wanted to ascend to the Land of Israel and fight. This is a positive inclination, but one has to know how to say “Let us go up” like Joshua and Calev, with faith in G-d – and not, “We will go up” like the Ma’apilim, who thought that they would succeed strictly with “my might and the power of my hand”.

[From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s book, Ma’ayan Ganim, Shelach]

Devarim: Thursday: Distant Brothers

“And the Nation command, saying, you are passing over the border of your brothers, the sons of Esau, who live in Se’ir, and they will fear you and you must be very vigilant. Do not arouse them for I will not give you from their land, not so much as the sole of a foot, for I gave Mount Se’ir as an inheritance for Esau…and we passed by from our brothers, the sons of Esau.”

Esau-Edom is a sworn enemy of Israel. Nonetheless, G-d emphasizes that he is our brother, as the Ramban explains: “That Israel’s lineage is from Abraham and all his descendants are brothers” (all the descendants of the Forefathers are our brothers, with the exception of Yishmael and the rest of the sons of the concubines, as the Ramban concludes). Thus, the Torah also says, “You shall not despise the Edomite, for he is your brother”.

In order to rectify the ‘husk of Esau’, we must be aware of the relationship between us, of our shared root in Abraham. As we approach the Days of Mashiach and the rectification of the nations of the world becomes an important task, a large portion of the nations (and of human culture) is considered to be the descendants of Esau. They are distant brothers who in the future will return to their roots and reveal the faith of Abraham.

This connection is alluded to in the word tzav/command that opens this directive. This word appears in the Torah seven times, and this is the seventh time. Besides meaning ‘command’, tzav is also cognate to tzavta, ‘connection’.

[From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s book, Sha’ashu’im Yom Yom, Tzav]

Devarim: Friday: Og the King of the Bashan

“And Og the king of the Bashan went out toward us…and G-d said to me, do not fear him.” Why did Moses fear Og the king of the Bashan? Our Sages say that Og had merit, for he was the person who notified Abraham that Lot had been taken into captivity. In the Zohar it is written that Og was among those people circumcised with Abraham and he had the merit of circumcision.

G-d says to Moses: “Do not fear the circumcision of Og. Externally, he has a circumcision, which is a covenant with G-d, but he does not guard that covenant. His circumcision is like an imitation of circumcision. You truly safeguard the covenant, and thus, you will be able to defeat Og.

Our Sages relate that Og uprooted a large mountain and wanted to throw it on the encampment of Israel, thus obliterating it at once. This means that Og threatens to blur our Jewish identity and to erase the uniqueness of the Nation of Israel. Not everyone understands this danger, but Moses fears it very much. He feels how the danger of loss of identity, the deceptive winds of assimilation, are like a mountain threatening to fall upon us.

Ultimately, it is Moses, himself, who kills Og with the power of the holiness of the covenant. But he does so in the name of all Israel. The Mount Sinai of Moses defeats the mountain of Og the king of the Bashan.

[From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s lecture, 4 Tamuz 5772]

Devarim: Shabbat: Shabbat Chazon

This week’s haftarah begins, “Chazon/The vision of Isaiah the son of Amotz who envisioned on Judea and Jerusalem”. This is a severe vision, a prophecy of rebuke and punishment. The tzaddik Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, however, said that on Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat that precedes the day of mourning over the destruction of the Temple,  G-d gives every Jew the power to see (in a vision) the Third Temple. In other words, in the depths of our mourning, we have the power “to see what will yet be born”, the comfort that grows from the destruction.

This inner vision of the Third Temple awakens within us a desire for the complete redemption and return to G-d, and this return to G-d itself brings the redemption.

Ultimately, Isaiah is the great prophet of comfort, whose prophecies of comfort we will  begin to read next Shabbat: “Nachamu, nachamu ami/Be comforted, be comforted, My Nation”. Inside the word חזון/chazon/vision is the word חן/chen/grace. The same word, חן /chen, is also part of the word נחמו (and of course, is the acronym of the first two letters of חזון/chazon and נחמו/nachamu). The chen of chazon is in ascending order, rising from the seemingly broken reality, as in the verse, “אמת מארץ תצמח/Truth will grow up from the earth (an acronym for אמת/truth). The chen of nachamu is in reverse order. It comes from Above, from G-d, who comforts us. These two types of chen come together as one, as in the verse, “חן חן לה /Chen, chen  to her” .

If Israel keeps two Shabbatot according to their laws, they will immediately be redeemed”. If they keep Shabbat Chazon and Shabbat Nachamu, if they succeed in seeing the comfort within the vision, they will immediately be redeemed.

[From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s book, Ma’ayan Ganim]

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