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From the Parashah: Shelach Lecha

שְׁלַח־לְךָ֣ אֲנָשִׁ֗ים וְיָתֻ֙רוּ֙ אֶת־אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן (שלח יג, ב)

“Send men to scout the Land of Canaan” (Numbers 13:2)

First Reading: Ruth and the Ministry of Tourism

Extending the Festivals

On each of the festivals we read one of the books of the Tanach known as a Megillah (literally, a scroll): Ruth on Shavu’ot, Ecclesiastes on Sukkot, and Song of Songs on Pesach. The melody with which we read these three books in public is identical.

In the Mussaf of the festivals we say, “Carry over for us the blessing of Your festivals for good life and peace, for joy and merriment” (וְהַשִּׂיאֵנוּ ה' אֱלֹקֵינוּ אֶת בִּרְכַּת מוֹעֲדֶיךָ. לְחַיִּים טוֹבִים וּלְשָׁלוֹם. לְשִׂמְחָה וּלְשָׂשׂוֹן) implying that the joy of each festival continues until the next one arrives so Shavu’ot extends to Sukkot. Accordingly, the reading of the book of Ruth and its relevance extends throughout the summer (likewise, Ecclesiastes extends until we read the Song of Songs, and Song of Songs until we read Ruth).

The Meaning of Ruth’s Name

There are several reasons why her name is Ruth. One is that she merited progeny, namely King David, who satisfied God, as in the phrase, “my cup overflows”[1] (כּוֹסִי רְוָיָה) through his service of and praise for the Almighty. Alternately, her name derives from the Hebrew word for “seeing” (רְאוּת), because she saw the verity of the words of her mother-in-law Naomi and followed her.

This second explanation fits perfectly with Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, whose sense is vision. In Sefer Yetzirah, the month of Tammuz is associated with vision and the month of Sivan with the sense of walking (i.e., progress). We have mentioned that the Gaon of Vilna reverses this association. This strengthens the association of Ruth, read in Sivan, with vision. We may add that during the Torah’s giving at Mt. Sinai, all the people “saw the sounds”[2] so there is a connection between the month of Sivan and sight too.

Apart from these two explanations of Ruth’s name, the Zohar interprets that Ruth is an inversion of the letters of “turtledove” (תּוֹר), based on the verse, “And the voice of the turtle dove is heard in our land,”[3] a verse associated with the redemption. According to this verse, Ruth is the herald of the redemption. The sound of the turtledove connects us with the sense of hearing, which is the sense of the month of Av, the month following Tammuz.

Ruth and the Rectification of the Sin of the Spies

But there is another significant point. The reversal of Ruth’s letters can also be pronounced “scout” (תּוּר), which connects her with the spies who were sent to scout the Land of Canaan, as mentioned in the first reading of Shelach. Though we read this parashah in the month of Sivan, the events occurred during the 40 days from Rosh Chodesh Tammuz until the ninth of Av.

Why did the Gaon of Vilna associate the month of Tammuz with the sense of walking? He connects it to the spies, who scouted the land in the month of Tammuz. Why did he associate seeing with the month of Sivan? Because of the verse “and all the people saw the voices,” the experience of seeing during the giving of the Torah. Nevertheless, the main principle is the opposite: Sivan primarily involves walking following halachah (הֲלָכָה), God’s commandments, which in Hebrew are cognate with walking (הֲלִיכָה). Tammuz is a month of rectifying sight. This too is connected to the spies who were sent to scout the Land, not for the sake of walking, but for the sake of seeing it. They needed to see and report what they saw—not to form an opinion or intervene—to verify how good the land is.

So, there is indeed significance in the month of Tammuz for seeing reality, for seeing the land. Their journey, forty days, ended on the ninth of Av. Though it is the lowest point of the Jewish calendar, the sages say that on this day the Mashiach is born, connecting us once again to “the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land” hinting to the birth of Mashiach and the redemption.

Ruth and the Land of Israel

Firstly, what is the initial hint that we have extracted so far? That there is a revealed power in the Book of Ruth to rectify the sin of the spies. How so? They traveled and scouted the entire Land and spread an evil report about it. Whereas Ruth dedicated herself to reaching the land, even from abroad, from Moab, with Naomi all with tremendous self-sacrifice.

There is another straightforward connection that has to do with the nature of birds in the Land of Israel—an important subject in itself. What is the difference between a turtledove (תּוֹר) and a pigeon (יוֹנָה)? Why is the turtledove associated with scouting? It is explicitly stated that the turtledove, more than the pigeon, is so named because it wanders, it is a migratory bird. The voice of the turtle dove being heard in our land suggests that earlier it was not heard and now it has arrived. When it returns to the land and its voice is heard, it is a good sign, a sign of awakening. It may traditionally be in the month of Nisan, the month of spring, but we are now learning that there is a specific turtledove that suddenly arrives in the land and is heard in the month of Av, on the ninth of Av. It turns out that our turtledove is a tourist.

In addition, whenever they are mentioned in the Torah the turtledoves, which are larger than the pigeons, are referred to as feminine. This itself hints that a turtledove is associated with a woman, with Ruth.

A Book for Every Tourist

Thus, not only is Ruth a rectification of the sin of the spies, but today she can serve as a rectification for the entire Ministry of Tourism. We have spoken many times about the rectifications needed in the Ministry of Tourism. There is an endless potential for spreading Judaism specifically there, perhaps more than in any other ministry.

According to what we have found, first of all, every tourist should receive the Book of Ruth—one of the smallest books in the Bible. There are many non-Jewish tourists who come here, but it is possible—and not just possible, but certain—that among the tourists, there are also many Ruths, sparks of Ruth. Therefore, every tourist, both male and female, should receive the Book of Ruth with our commentary. Perhaps we will merit this. Of course, it should be available in all languages to suit every tourist, from wherever they come.


(excerpted from a class given on Rosh Chodesh Tammuz 5776)


וְשָׁ֣ם רָאִ֗ינוּ אֶת־הַנְּפִילִ֛ים בְּנֵ֥י עֲנָ֖ק מִן־הַנְּפִלִ֑ים וַנְּהִ֤י בְעֵינֵ֙ינוּ֙ כַּֽחֲגָבִ֔ים וְכֵ֥ן הָיִ֖ינוּ בְּעֵינֵיהֶֽם (שלח יד, לג)

“We saw the Nephilim there, children of Anak of the Nephilim, and we were like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we were in their eyes.” (Numbers 14:33)

Second Reading: Are You a Grasshopper or an Ant?


Two Stages of Small-mindedness

In the teachings of the Arizal, it is explained that the complete process of development of every partzuf (spiritual persona) occurs generally in four stages known as: First Small-mindedness (katnut alef), First Great-mindedness (gadlut alef), Second Small-mindedness (katnut bet), and Second Great-mindedness (gadlut bet). In our reading we find a particularly beautiful illustration of what these stages mean when we apply them to our own human psychology.

When the spies gave their report, in an attempt to dishearten the people, they say, “And there we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak… and we were like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we were in their eyes.” Although this is a state of negative small-mindedness, a falsehood that caused weeping for generations and delayed the Israelites in the desert for forty years until the transition from a generation of small-mindedness to a generation of great-mindedness, one can learn from it about the experience of small-mindedness in the psyche.

The experience of “we were in our own eyes as grasshoppers" describes the smallness of the spies in their own eyes, but how did they know “and so we were in their eyes?” Rashi explains: “We heard them saying to each other: there are ants in the vineyards that look like people.” Why does Rashi substitute the grasshoppers mentioned in the verse with ants?

The idea is that Rashi is providing us with a description of two types of small-mindedness, which correspond to the two stages of small-mindedness. In the first stage one sees oneself like a grasshopper; in the second stage one imagines that others see him as an ant. Ants are obviously smaller than grasshoppers.

Two Types of Lowliness

So, what is the difference between the two stages of small-mindedness? Why did the spies compare themselves to grasshoppers and then to ants? We can use an analogy to better understand the situation they found themselves in when confronted by the Nephilim, the sons of Anak. Obviously, they felt small, but there are two perspectives to be considered.

A person standing next to a skyscraper and looking up feels how small he is compared to the height of the building beside him. He does not perceive himself as smaller than his normal size, but he is aware that in relation to the vast world around him, he is tiny and insignificant. About this experience, the spies say, “we were in our own eyes as grasshoppers.”

However, if someone else were at the top of the same skyscraper looking down, the people on the street would appear like scurrying ants. To his eyes, from his perspective, they actually look much smaller than their normal and natural size (not just in comparison to the buildings beside them). The person staring up at the skyscraper may suddenly realize this and assume the perspective of the observer at the top of the building. When he does this, he experiences a much deeper sense of smallness. It was this experience of seeing themselves from the giants’ perspective that made the spies say, “and so we were in their eyes.” Rashi is simply filling in the story detailing how they shifted perspective: “we heard them saying to each other: ‘there are ants in the vineyards that look like people.’”

Clearly there is a change of perspective between the two states of smallness which correspond to the two states of small-mindedness. These two perspectives are known in Chasidic thought as “lower consciousness” (דַּעַת תַּחְתּוֹן) and “higher consciousness” (דַּעַת עֶלְיוֹן). Lower consciousness reflects a view from below to above, like the person looking up at the skyscraper. From this perspective, the individual still perceives himself as “something” (small like a grasshopper), while there might be no awareness of the possibility that there is someone on top of the skyscraper, thus the skyscraper and its height are perceived as insignificant. Thus, in the first stage of small-mindedness (katnut alef) I perceive myself as something (albeit a ”small something,” but in my natural size) and what I am comparing myself to, the height of the skyscraper, which represents that which brings me into being (i.e., the Creator), as relatively “nothing.”

In contrast, if I could adopt a view from above to below, i.e., higher consciousness, I would feel that what is above is significant—it is “something,” while it is I here below that am tiny and insignificant. In other words, I would feel like I am “nothing” from the perspective of the skyscraper. Adopting the higher consciousness is how the Alter Rebbe explains the verse regarding Moses, “and the image of God he sees.”[4] Moses merited to see reality from God's perspective, to see it as it appears in God’s eyes.

The transition of one’s perspective between these two states parallels the transition from the stage of katnut alef (First Small-mindedness) and katnut beit (Second Small-mindedness). But it is important to stress that both are types of small-mindedness. In the first a person feels his existence in its own right—described as feeling like, “a separate and distinct entity in his own eyes”—but he is already aware of his smallness and lowliness.

Nullification of Self and Nullification of Being

“Lowliness and self-nullification are what constitute the essence of a rectified individual.” This quote from our seminal article on rectifying the ego provides us with a framework for extending the two stages of small-mindedness to the two stages of great-mindedness. Just as we explained the former two as two states of lowliness, perspective from below to above and perspective from above to below, it is fitting to explain the two stages of greatness as two stages of nullification, as explained in Chasidut:

The first stage of great-mindedness, or gadlut alef corresponds to what is known as the “nullification of [one’s feeling of] self” (בִּטּוּל הַיֵּשׁ). In this stage, the individual is no longer preoccupied with measuring themselves in relation to the higher power. Instead, they recognize the necessity of nullifying their own ego and desires in relation to the Higher Power, feeling how the Higher Power brings them into existence every moment ex nihilo (something from nothing). Although the Higher Power is not tangible to them to the extent that their own existence disappears, it is recognized through what is known as knowledge of its existence (יְדִיעַת הַמְּצִיאוּת). Thus, they nullify themselves in relation to it and dedicate themselves to it as much as possible.

The second stage of great-mindedness is known is Chasidic thought as “nullification of being” (בִּטּוּל בִּמְצִיאוּת). In this higher stage, the individual absolutely experiences the existence of the Higher Power through by “seeing the essence” (רְאִיַּת הַמַּהוּת) itself, to the point that they have no separate existence. The Higher Power is so palpable and real to them that their own independent reality completely vanishes.

Lowliness Together with Exaltation

The main innovation in our explanation is the second stage of small-mindedness, katnut beit, which provides the necessary transition between the first stage of great-mindedness and the second. As noted, we find Rashi’s commentary invaluable to describe this stage. The individual has attained a state of lowliness brought about by a higher consciousness perspective, allowing them to see themselves like an ant in hiding.

Thus, in the second stage of small-mindedness, the individual not only recognizes their insignificance but feels it deeply from the perspective of the Higher Power. This perspective shift is crucial as it leads to a more profound state of lowliness, preparing the individual for the ultimate nullification in the second stage of great-mindedness, where they experience absolute oneness with the Higher Power and reality. The recognition of being like ants indicates an even deeper level of lowliness and self-nullification compared to the earlier stage of feeling like a grasshopper. This stage bridges the gap between the initial recognition of the Divine’s transcendence and the ultimate experience of complete nullification in the Divine essence.

The first lowliness, the stage of first small-mindedness, is the type of lowliness emphasized in the books of Mussar (Jewish ethics). It is depicted as “the lowliness of man relative to God’s exaltedness.” This type of lowliness is necessary and essential as a foundation for spiritual work, serving as preparation for approaching God. As the sages state, “one should only approach prayer with of a sense of gravity,”[5] which Rashi explains refers to a sense of submission before God.

However, when engaged with God’s exaltedness during prayer, this type of lowliness would be misplaced. However, the second type of lowliness, the one associated with the second stage of small-mindedness, is the true innovation of Chasidic thought.

First small-mindedness serves as the groundwork, instilling a sense of modesty and self-awareness in preparation for Divine service. It is about recognizing one’s insignificance in the face of God's greatness, which is a necessary step before one can engage in genuine prayer and spiritual connection.

However, second small-mindedness goes deeper. It is the unique contribution of Chasidic thought, where humility is not just a preparatory step but an integral part of the spiritual experience itself. In this stage, the individual not only acknowledges their lowliness in relation to God’s greatness but fully internalizes this perspective to the point where it transforms their entire being. This deeper sense of lowliness (the lowliness of feeling like an ant rather than a grasshopper, with all we have elaborated about it) is not abandoned during prayer; rather, it becomes a part of the profound connection with the Divine, allowing for a complete nullification of the self in the presence of God’s infinite reality.

Therefore, on the one hand, even those accustomed to the lowliness taught in the Mussar literature find difficulty with this innovative concept of lowliness, which does not allow a person to retain their “natural” stature while comfortably reflecting on their smallness in relation to God who is infinitely greater. On the other hand, because this innovative second type of lowliness cannot settle for lower consciousness alone but incorporates the perspective of higher consciousness, not by identifying with the higher realms (as in nullification of being) but by being able to view oneself as seen from above, it has a place even during prayer and contemplation of God’s exaltedness.[6] The lowliness associated with the second stage of small-mindedness does not obscure or confuse us from attaining the next level of second great-mindedness, but allows for a transition from the first stage of great-mindedness to a much higher and incomparably greater such level.

Indeed, it is precisely this prayer, composed of both lowliness and exaltation, that finds favor in the eyes of God. The hint to this is that the numerical value of “humility-exaltation” (שִׁפְלוּת רוֹמְמוּת) is the product of “grace” (חֵן) and God’s essential Name, Havayah (יהוה), signifying the grace (חֵן) that arises from the combination of the lowliness derived from both “grasshoppers” (חֲגָבִים) and “ants” (נְמָלִים).

Image by Marc Pascual from Pixabay

[1]. Psalms 23:5.

[2]. Exodus 20:15.

[3]. Song of Songs 2:12.

[4]. Numbers 12:8.

[5]. Berachot 30b.

[6]. In Hebrew, the root of the word “prayer,” תפל is interchangeable with the root of the word “lowliness,” שפל, suggesting that this wondrous type of lowliness is especially suitable for prayer.

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