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Parashat Beshalach: Aliyah by Aliyah


וְאָמַ֤ר פַּרְעֹה֙ לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל נְבֻכִ֥ים הֵ֖ם בָּאָ֑רֶץ סָגַ֥ר עֲלֵיהֶ֖ם הַמִּדְבָּֽר (בשלח יג, ג)

First Reading: A Guide for the Perplexed

“Pharaoh said to the Israelites: They are perplexed in the land, the wilderness has closed around them”


There is a root that does not appear many times in the Bible, but does appear several times, particularly in one famous verse, “they are perplexed in the land, the wilderness has closed upon them”[1] (נְבֻכִים הֵם בָּאָרֶץ סָגַר עֲלֵיהֶם הַמִּדְבָּר). In this verse, the word “perplexed” (נְבֻכִים) stems from the root בוך. This is not an easy grammatical derivation to make, but this is the root.

When we left Egypt, Pharaoh saw that we were apparently lost on the way, and then said that probably we are perplexed.

The title of the Rambam’s philosophical work is known as The Guide for the Perplexed (מוֹרֶה הַנְּבֻכִים).[2] Other Jewish authors used similar names for books written after the Rambam, for instance, The Guide for the Perplexed by Time [i.e., history] (מוֹרֶה נְבוֹכֵי הַזְּמַן) as well as For the Perplexed of the Generation (לִנְבוֹכֵי הַדּוֹר).[3] We too deserve a contemporary Guide for the Perplexed of our own generation because in every generation we are perplexed and need someone to guide us. This continual need for a new “guide” (מוֹרֶה) is alluded to in the verse, “The guide [lit., the first rain] shall cover it with blessing”[4] (גַּם בְּרָכוֹת יַעְטֶה מוֹרֶה).

As mentioned, the root of the word “perplexed” (נָבוֹךְ) is בוך. The noun form is “perplexity” (מְבוּכָה). From the phrase, “they are perplexed in the land,” we may conclude that the issue that causes our generation more perplexity or bewilderment than any other is “the land”—i.e., the Land of Israel. Our generation, one might say, is perplexed in the land—concerning the issues related to the Land of Israel.

Why is it so perplexed? Because “the wilderness has closed upon them”—the wilderness is the media, which surrounds and bombards the mind from every side. Besides referring to the media, the wilderness, a type of Wild West where anything goes, also refers to the different opinions expressed by different rabbis. In principle, these opinions should be heard in private conversations between the rabbis, who should then come out with a single voice that they can all agree on, especially in matters related to the Land of Israel. But when each voices his opinion separately, sometimes even through the media itself, then the people become perplexed. It is our duty to help the people out of their confusion.

The Perplexed Ocean

The root of the word “perplexed” also appears at the end of the Book of Job in a similar word, “Have you arrived at the depths of the ocean”[5] (הֲבָאתָ עַד נִבְכֵי יָם). This is one of the fifty rhetorical questions that God asks Job, and which corresponds to the Fifty Gates of Understanding.[6] These “depths” (נִבְכֵי) of the ocean also stem from the root בוך.

The answer to all the questions God asks is, of course, “no.” Neither Job nor any other creature knows can answer in the affirmative. But by asking, God opens a gate of understanding for Job. Some explain that the “depths” referred to here should be rendered as the “perplexed,” as if to say that the ocean itself is perplexed. If so, this word comes from the same root, בוך. Thus, one can be perplexed both on land and at sea. What could this mean? One way of explaining this is regarding Torah. The Torah has two dimensions often described as the revealed dimension and the concealed dimension. The former is described as “the land,” and the latter is described as “the ocean.” The revealed dimension is mostly Halachah. The concealed dimension is mostly Kabbalah and Chasidut, and a person can be perplexed by either one of the other, or both.

However, some grammarians say this word does not stem from the same root as “perplexed.” They argue that it has a singular meaning; that it is a root that appears only once in the entire Bible and its only instance is in this word. Now, there is a logical question that presents: If this root appears only once in the Bible, how can we know its meaning and interpretation? The answer is that its meaning must be understood in context. They argue that the context here demonstrates that נִבְכֵי יָם refers to the origin and source of the sea, the hidden root. One might think that the root of the ocean would be referred to as the “abyss” (תְּהוֹם), but here we find a synonym for the origin and source of the ocean.

To connect the two meanings—“perplexed” and “origin”—we must surmise that there is something specifically in the root or origin of the ocean, in the root of the “concealed world” (), the concealed dimension of Torah, that is connected with being perplexed. In other words, the source of the Torah’s concealed dimension can be found in the bewilderment or perplexity of the soul.


(from a class given on the 7th of Tevet 5772)


כִּי אֲשֶׁר רְאִיתֶם אֶת־מִצְרַיִם הַיּוֹם לֹא תֹסִיפוּ לִרְאֹתָם עוֹד עַד־עוֹלָם (בשלח יד, יג)

Second Reading: Marriage and Rectifying Eyesight

“Just as you have seen Egypt today, you shall never see them again, forever”


Four Idioms of Redemption; Four Levels of Love

Based on the verse, “God sets the solitary in a home, He frees those who are bound with chains,”[7] the sages draw a parallel between marriage (“sets the solitary in a home”) and the Exodus from Egypt (“frees those who are bound with chains”). Before being married and joined with his or her spouse, every individual is likened to a person imprisoned within himself and in his environment. They are unable to reveal the infinite power within them (expressed through the fulfillment of the commandment to “Be fruitful and multiply”[8]). Only through married life can the individual be released from the limitations imposed on him or her by their situation.

Before the Exodus from Egypt, God mentions four idioms of redemption,

I will therefore free you from the burdens of Egypt, and I will save you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments. I will take you to me for a people, and I will be your God.[9]

Corresponding to these four expressions, we drink four cups on the Seder night.

Just as the Exodus from Egypt involved these four idioms of redemption so, in married life, there are four levels of connection between the spouses. These four levels are alluded to in the four terms of endearment the groom uses to describe his bride, “My sister, my beloved, my dove, my perfect one”[10] (אֲחֹתִי רַעְיָתִי יוֹנָתִי תַמָּתִי). We can thus draw a correspondence between the groom’s endearments for his bride and the four idioms of redemption found in the Exodus.

A Natural Bond

“My sister” refers to the natural bond between the couple and to the fulfillment of “I will bring you out from under the burdens of Egypt,” which describes an escape from enslavement to the limiting view of Nature held by the Egyptians to a more rectified conception of Nature. “The burdens of Egypt” represent the difficulties of exile, also described as “the seething waters”[11] that threaten to drown us and disrupt and interfere with the individual’s natural and rectified flow of life.

By escaping these waters of strife, one merits the natural level of love flowing between a man and his wife. This type of love is described in Chasidut as “love that resembles water.” It can be compared to the natural and constant affinity and chemistry that exists between siblings. At this level, love remains an experience confined to Nature and the natural aspects of the soul, but of course, without the limitations and difficulties experienced when Nature is viewed from an Egyptian perspective. Thus, it is explained that the idiom, “I will therefore free you from the burdens of Egypt” refers to the annulment of the enslavement to limitations even before the plagues are brought upon Egypt and before the actual Exodus from Egypt.

An Emotional Bond

When ascending to the emotional connection of “my beloved,” the corresponding idiom of redemption “I will save you from their bondage” is also fulfilled. When a person is enslaved to the Egyptian mentality, all his work and actions are devoted to himself and satisfying his own egotistic needs. This is what it means to be trapped within the boundaries of one’s own self. Only in marriage are we saved from such purposeless labor, and we are privileged to work for a worthy purpose, to feed and sustain another person whose needs we are happy to fulfill.

The practical goal of the Exodus from Egypt was to set free the relationship between the Congregation of Israel and the Almighty, a relationship in which through the service of God, the Congregation of Israel becomes “My spouse” who, as it were, sustains God. Similarly, when it comes to a wedded couple, only once the foundation of natural affinity is in place can they escape from the limitations of nature and advance towards a more worthy purpose of developing a relationship based on giving to each other.

The emotional connection provides the couple with “love that is likened to fire.” When we attain the holy fire of rectified love, we are saved from the danger of foreign fires or cravings such as anger and lust, which stem from pride and being preoccupied solely with one’s own needs and satisfaction.

An Intellectual Bond

At the level of the intellectual bond, we find the expression “my dove” and the idiom of redemption, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments.” The first part of the idiom of redemption, “I will redeem you” refers to the God saving the Israelites from the Egyptians when they were pursuing them into the Red Sea. It is there that the Israelites attained perfection in God’s eyes, which is described as, “your eyes are as [the eyes of] doves.”

Indeed, the rectification of our eyesight is the direct result of the Splitting of the Red Sea. The sages tell us that “a maidservant saw [through prophecy] what Ezekiel and all the other prophets could not see.” So, on the one hand, we gained a prophetic eye at the Red Sea. In addition, the Splitting of the Red Sea promises us protection from improper use of our eyesight. It was there that Moses promised us, “Just as you have seen Egypt today, you shall never see them again, forever.”[12]

The infinite love that manifests through the feeling of “your eyes are as [the eyes of] doves,” and the insatiable urge that a couple have to look at one another, is akin to the inspired outlook that can save a person from being enslaved to the limited egotistic scheme of life (the Egyptian-centered mind). Incidentally, freedom from the egotistic mindset also frees the mind from the larger scope of sciences and knowledge that highlight the limited, present, and perishable aspects of Nature, but remain unable to see “eye to eye” with the Divine that is hidden within Nature.

In the language of Kabbalah, redemption is referred to as “the World of Freedom” (עלמא דחירו). This is a reality associated with the sefirah of understanding, the world of the Supernal Mother. It is in this state that the Supernal Mother looks eye to eye at her husband, the Supernal Father, to see the revelation of “the true One,” which shines in the latter’s eyes because of his state of nullification before God. When we translate this state of the World of Freedom to the relationship between a husband and wife, it becomes the ability to rise above merely contemplating the virtues and uniqueness of one’s spouse and being able to see the Divine “nothingness” (אין) that lies at their core. Contemplating the virtues of the spouse arouses love that resembles fire, which was discussed in the previous level known as “my spouse.” But seeing the Divine nothingness within one’s spouse allows us to see in them a constant renewal, and thereby experience an unceasing and ever-fresh love towards him or her.

[Indeed, of all the stages of the Exodus from Egypt, the sages specifically compared matchmaking to the splitting of the Red Sea (“I will redeem you”), explaining that the first time a person gets married, the matchmaking is relatively easy, as it relies on the foreshadowing voice that went out forty days before the creation of a child. The statement that “matchmaking is as difficult as the splitting of the Red Sea” applies specifically to the matchmaking needed for a second marriage. In light of what has been explained here, we can say that the “first match” unites the levels of “my sister” and “my spouse” (corresponding to the unification of the final two letters of God’s essential Name, Havayah, the vav and the hei), which is based on natural love and a good life based on shared values and goals. In contrast, the “second match” reflects a higher unification within the level referred to as “my dove,” which represents an ascent to the concealed level also referred to as the sea of the soul, the concealed world, which was revealed with the splitting of the Red Sea and its transformation into dry land.]

The Superconscious Bond

The ultimate purpose of the Exodus from Egypt was, “I will take you to me for a people,” which was fulfilled at the Giving of the Torah. In marriage, we achieve this when we reach the level of “my perfect one” (תַמָּתִי). The redemptive idiom, “I will take you” is distinct and does not appear in the same verse as the other three idioms. Similarly, “my perfect one” represents a level of bond and love that is set apart from the three levels that precede it. “My sister, my spouse, my dove” all belong to the conscious and inner realms of the soul (known as nefesh-ruach-neshamah), whereas “my perfect one” refers to a supra-rational connection between husband and wife belonging to the superconscious realm of the soul (the soul of the soul). The Giving of the Torah occurred in the month of Sivan, whose astrological sign is Gemini, meaning “twins,” which was expressed in the twin Tablets of the Covenant, and of course, in marriage, in the feeling that husband and wife are like twins—two halves that fit together perfectly. Indeed, the Hebrew word for “my perfect one” (תַמָּתִי) can be rendered as “my twin” (תְּאוֹמָתִי).

With the stage of redemption described as, “I will take you to me for a people,” the equal stature of the souls of Israel and God is revealed, as described by the sages, “my twin, as it were, because I am not greater than her, nor is she greater than Me.” This expression of this equal stature is found in God’s consulting with the souls of Israel regarding the entire process of Creation, even asking them, as it were, whether to create the world in the first place as found in the statement of the sages on the verse, “It is they who are the potters who dwelt in Neta’im and Gederah [alternately: It is they who are the creators who presided over the gardening], who were together with the king in his toil.”[13] The sages interpret this as: “Who did He [God] consult with? With the souls of the righteous,”[14] and all Jewish souls are righteous, as the verse states, “And your people are all righteous.”[15]

This is the level of the marital bond where the couple is united in their will and their thoughts, i.e., they share the mission to which their lives are dedicated as one, which generically is, “rectifying reality with the kingdom of the Almighty.”

The numerical allusion that consummately captures the entire correspondence we have made between these two 4-part models is that, the sum of their elements: “my sister, my spouse, my dove, my perfect one” (אֲחֹתִי רַעְיָתִי יוֹנָתִי תַמָּתִי) and “I will free you, I will save you, I will redeem you, I will take you” (וְהוֹצֵאתִי וְהִצַּלְתִּי וְגָאַלְתִּי וְלָקַחְתִּי) is 4498, which is the product of “love” (אַהֲבָה), 13 and “will” (רָצוֹן), 346.


(from Yayin Mesame’ach vol. 4, pp. 62-66)



וַיִּסַּ֞ע מַלְאַ֣ךְ הָאֱ-לֹהִ֗ים הַהֹלֵךְ֙ לִפְנֵי֙ מַחֲנֵ֣ה יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ מֵאַחֲרֵיהֶ֑ם וַיִּסַּ֞ע עַמּ֤וּד הֶֽעָנָן֙ מִפְּנֵיהֶ֔ם וַיַּֽעֲמֹ֖ד מֵאַחֲרֵיהֶֽם׃ וַיָּבֹ֞א בֵּ֣ין ׀ מַחֲנֵ֣ה מִצְרַ֗יִם וּבֵין֙ מַחֲנֵ֣ה יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וַיְהִ֤י הֶֽעָנָן֙ וְהַחֹ֔שֶׁךְ וַיָּ֖אֶר אֶת־הַלָּ֑יְלָה וְלֹא־קָרַ֥ב זֶ֛ה אֶל־זֶ֖ה כָּל־הַלָּֽיְלָה׃ וַיֵּ֨ט מֹשֶׁ֣ה אֶת־יָדוֹ֮ עַל־הַיָּם֒ וַיּ֣וֹלֶךְ י-הו֣ה ׀ אֶת־הַ֠יָּם בְּר֨וּחַ קָדִ֤ים עַזָּה֙ כָּל־הַלַּ֔יְלָה וַיָּ֥שֶׂם אֶת־הַיָּ֖ם לֶחָרָבָ֑ה וַיִּבָּקְע֖וּ הַמָּֽיִם׃ (בשלח יד, יט-כא)

Third Reading: Life and Death

“The angel traveled… It came between… Moses cast his hand”


The 72 three-letter mystical Names of God are derived from the three consecutive verses in our reading,[16] each containing 72 letters.[17] The first of the 72 Names is formed by combining the first letter of the first verse, the last letter of the second verse, and the first letter of the third verse; the second is formed by combining the second letter of the first verse, the second to the last letter of the second verse, and the second letter of the third verse; and so on. The full array of these 72 Names is as follows:

והו ילי סיט עלם מהש ללה אכא כהת
הזי אלד לאו העע יזל מבה הרי הקם
לאו כלי לוו פהל נלך ייי מלה ההו
נתה האא ירת שאה ריי אום לכב ושר
יחו להח כוק מגד אני חעם רהע ייז
ההה מיכ וול ילה סאל ערי אשל מיה
והו דני החש עמם ננא נית מבה פוי
נמם ייל הרח מצר ומב יהה ענו מחי
דמב מנק איע חבו ראה יבמ היי מום


Let us focus on the 45th three-letter Name: סאל (samech-alef-lamed). 45 is the numerical value of the word for “man” (אָדָם). The three letters in this Name are an acronym for the Talmudic adage, “The end of man is to die” (סוֹף אָדָם לָמוּת). 45 is also the numerical value of the word for “naught” (מָה), the word that Moses used to express his (and his brother, Aaron’s) state of selflessness, “And we are naught”[18] (וְנַחְנוּ מָה). The sages tell us that “Moses did not die”[19] because of his true selflessness, which is the inner experience of the sefirah of wisdom, about which it is said that “they will die, but not in wisdom.”[20] In fact, Moses attained his sense of true selflessness by contemplating this 45th Name which stands for “the end of man is to die.” This same idea is found in the Talmud.[21] When Alexander the Great met the sages, he asked them, “What shall a man do to not die?” And they replied, “He shall [figuratively] kill himself.”

In addition, the Arizal teaches that when, three times a day, we say the verse, “You open Your hand and satisfy the needs of every living being”[22] (פּוֹתֵחַ אֶת יָדֶךָ וּמַשְׂבִּיעַ לְכָל חַי רָצוֹן), we are to bear in mind that the final letters of the first three words in this verse, “You open your hand” (פּוֹתֵחַ אֶת יָדֶךָ) also form a holy Name, חתך, known as “the Name of Livelihood.” When this Name, חתך is transposed using the Atbash (אתב"ש) transformation of letters, it becomes סאל (samech-alef-lamed). And so we find once again that an awareness that human mortality is indeed a Divine phenomenon connects us to the Source of Life and the Source of Livelihood. In addition, when treated as a word, the letters of the Name חתך mean “to cut,” as in the phrase, “[God] cuts [i.e., apportions] life for all that is alive.”[23]

(from Body, Mind, and Soul, pp. 249-250)


וַיֹּאמֶר֩ אִם־שָׁמ֨וֹעַ תִּשְׁמַ֜ע לְק֣וֹל ׀ י-הו֣ה אֱ-לֹהֶ֗יךָ וְהַיָּשָׁ֤ר בְּעֵינָיו֙ תַּעֲשֶׂ֔ה וְהַֽאֲזַנְתָּ֙ לְמִצְוֺתָ֔יו וְשָׁמַרְתָּ֖ כָּל־חֻקָּ֑יו כָּֽל־הַמַּֽחֲלָ֞ה אֲשֶׁר־שַׂ֤מְתִּי בְמִצְרַ֙יִם֙ לֹא־אָשִׂ֣ים עָלֶ֔יךָ כִּ֛י אֲנִ֥י י-הו֖ה רֹפְאֶֽךָ: (בשלח טו, כו)

Fourth Reading: Healing

“For I am Havayah your healer”


Sweetening the Waters

Following the Splitting of the Sea, the Children of Israel reached a place called Marah—literally, “bitter,” in Hebrew—and complained about the bitter water. God showed Moses a tree that Moses threw into the water, “and the waters were sweetened” (וַיִּמְתְּקוּ הַמָּיִם).[24] Immediately after this episode, the Torah says,

And He said, “If you listen to the voice of Havayah your God and do what is right in His eyes and listen to His commandments and safeguard all of His laws, all the disease that I have put on Egypt, I will not put upon you, for I am Havayah, your healer.”[25]

What this very important episode contains is the one and only instance of sweetness found in the entire Pentateuch. It is also the first and one of the most central references to the word for “healing” (רְפוּאָה) in the Torah, thus creating a special link between healing and sweetening.

True healing is capable of sweetening the bitterness in reality. In fact, the Hebrew word for “healing” is used in the sense of sweetening water in a parallel episode found in the book of Kings, where the prophet Elisha sweetened the bad waters of Jericho, “Thus says God, ‘I heal this water; no longer shall death and bereavement come from it!’”[26] In that instance, Elisha sweetened the waters by throwing salt into them, but the tree that Moses threw into the bitter waters of Marah was bitter, itself. The sages[27] describe using the bitter to sweeten the bitter as the type of healing that is Divine. Healing “like with like” in this manner is even considered a medical principle by certain healing methods such as homeopathy.

Two Types of Healing

God’s promise at Marah ends with the words, “All the disease that I have put on Egypt, I will not put upon you, for I am Havayah, your healer.” The commentaries ask a simple question: If He promises there will be no disease, why does God need to heal us?

Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Peshischa answered this question in the following manner. We find that the plagues upon Egypt are described in Isaiah as, “God will afflict Egypt, afflict and heal”[28] (וְנָגַף הוי' אֶת מִצְרַיִם נָגֹף וְרָפוֹא). The Zohar[29] explains that the words, “afflict and heal” should not be understood as happening sequentially. It is not that the plagues afflicted the Egyptians and subsequently, God healed the Children of Israel. Rather, each of the plagues that smote Egypt was concurrently a source of healing for Israel. Each plague simultaneously afflicted Egypt and freed the Children of Israel from the impurity of Egypt. Though this is formidable healing, says Rebbe Simcha Bunim, it is not yet perfect. At the end of this process, though the evil (Egypt) and the good (Israel) have been separated, they still stand side by side. That was the situation until God said, “All the disease that I have put on Egypt, I will not put upon you,” meaning that I will no longer heal you by employing the affliction or disease that I bring upon Egypt. Instead, from now on, “I am Havayah, your healer.” I will heal you completely with the infinite loving-kindness that the essential Name, Havayah, represents.

Initially, the focus was on separating the good from the evil. The evil still exists, but we can and must separate from it. After the Splitting of the Red Sea and the Song of the Sea, however, we can rise to a loftier level of sweetening, whereby the bitter reality is completely healed and sweetened and there is no further need for afflictions.

Complete sweetening is the Messianic destiny, which the Zohar[30] describes as “transforming darkness into light and the bitter taste into sweetness.” This state is allegorically described by the prophet[31] as waters that will emerge from the Temple Mount and sweeten the bad and bitter waters.




וּבֹ֗קֶר וּרְאִיתֶם֙ אֶת־כְּב֣וֹד יְהוָ֔ה בְּשָׁמְע֥וֹ אֶת־תְּלֻנֹּתֵיכֶ֖ם עַל־י-הו֑ה וְנַ֣חְנוּ מָ֔ה כִּ֥י תַלִּ֖ינוּ עָלֵֽינוּ׃ (בשלח טו, כו)

Fifth Reading: Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

“We are naught; why would you complain to us?”


One of the most seminal articles written by HaRav Ginsburgh is titled, “A Chapter in Divine Service” (פֶּרֶק בַּעֲבוֹדַת ה'). It is taught in length in his Torat Hanefesh School of Jewish Psychology in Israel and online (in English) through the Nefesh Academy of Jewish Psychology ( The article is based on the tenet that the most important pair of psychological faculties we have our self-nullification or selflessness (בִּטּוּל) and lowliness (שִׁפְלוּת). The development and strengthening of these two balancing faculties in our psyche make up the rectified being of every individual. In the opening words of the article,

Lowliness, as in the verse, “I am lowly in my own eyes”[32] and Selflessness, as in the verse, “And we are naught”[33] are what comprise the being of a rectified individual.

Selflessness is exhibited in many ways in our psychology, but as the article continues, it is most clearly present if,

When you do a good deed, it is not your own doing, for as our sages have taught: “Give Him [i.e., G-d] His own, for you and yours are His.”[34]

Selflessness is the experiential form of the sefirah of wisdom, meaning that the more a person’s wisdom is expressed, the less he experiences his ego. As the intensity of the feeling of one’s own ego diminishes it is replaced by an acute awareness of the omnipresence of the Almighty.

The verse quoted “And we are naught,” was said by Moses when faced with the unfounded criticism that the Israelites directed towards him and his brother, Aaron. By criticizing Moses, the Israelites were incorrectly identifying him (and Aaron) as the ones who had taken them out of Egypt and were the ones who were responsible for providing them with sustenance in the wilderness (when the provisions they had taken out of Egypt had run out). Any other person in Moses’ place might have been quick to take the credit for having performed the greatest single act in human history—the Exodus from Egypt—topped with what is perhaps the greatest miracle—the Splitting of the Red Sea—while making some excuse for why they had not yet found a source of alternate sustenance in the wilderness. However, Moses’ response reveals his own inner experience of selflessness before God. Neither he nor Aaron could take credit for these awesome feats, they were, in his language, “but naught,” nothing before God. They were merely God’s messengers; thus, the credit could only be given to the Almighty and not to them. At the same time, Moses did take responsibility for feeding the hungry Israelites, but that is a matter for another discussion.

A person who truly attains selflessness emanates an awareness of the Almighty to everyone around him. It is almost as if he or she has become a placeholder, a symbolic pointer, to the omnipresent holiness of the Almighty.

Selflessness is prone to misdirection by imagination. It is easy for a person to imagine that he is selfless, to imagine that he is aware of the omnipresence of the Almighty while understanding his own true role. In fact, false images of God, in this sense, lead to the aggrandizement of one’s ego with all the negative effects that it entails. The power of imagination is what man shares with the brute and indeed is initially identified as a faculty of the animal soul. Only after much refinement can the imagination correctly envision the presence of the Almighty.

The envisioning of God both internally (within every Jew) and externally, in the world, is directly connected to the Divine commandment to build Him a sanctuary. This connection appears in the verse: “They shall make Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell within them.”1 The first time this commandment was performed was by Moses who instructed the Children of Israel in the desert to construct the Mishkan, the desert Tabernacle. The second, more complete instance was performed by King David and his son, King Solomon with the construction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Like the sanctuary, lowliness (King David’s special quality) and selflessness (Moses’ special quality) function together to create a dwelling place for God within our hearts. But the revelation of God is different in each case. Moses’ desert Tabernacle revealed the Almighty’s singular and unique unity. David and Solomon’s Temple served to reveal that there is no God—no object of worship—other than the Almighty. Indeed, because it begins from the fallen state of sensing and aggrandizing the ego, lowliness focuses our Divine service on how to properly view and rectify the ego. Selflessness though, by completely nullifying any sense of self, any sense of our ego, focuses our consciousness on God as unique and singular, with no reality existing but Him.





וַיִּרְא֣וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וַיֹּ֨אמְר֜וּ אִ֤ישׁ אֶל־אָחִיו֙ מָ֣ן ה֔וּא כִּ֛י לֹ֥א יָדְע֖וּ מַה־ה֑וּא וַיֹּ֤אמֶר מֹשֶׁה֙ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם ה֣וּא הַלֶּ֔חֶם אֲשֶׁ֨ר נָתַ֧ן יְהוָ֛ה לָכֶ֖ם לְאָכְלָֽה׃ (בשלח טו, כו)

Sixth Reading: Integrating Faith

“They said to one another, ‘What is it,’ for they did not know what it was”


The essence of faith is unknown, yet it is rooted in the simple, hidden pleasure within the Divine soul, which is “an actual part of God above.” The secret of faith is hinted at in our reading which tells of the manna, specifically in the verse, “They said to one another, ‘It is manna,’ for they did not know what it was.”[35] The letters of the words, “It is manna” (מָן הוּא) permute to spell “faith” (אֱמוּנָה). It is clear that the fact that the Israelites “did not know what it [the manna] was,” refers to the highest aspect of the sefirah of crown, the Unknowable Head.

It was by virtue of the faith inherited from our holy patriarchs that we were redeemed from Egypt. This original faith of the patriarchs was captured (and internalized) in the matzah that was eaten on the night of the Exodus, which is known as “the food of faith” (מֵיכְלָא דְּמֵהֵימָנוּתָא). The matzah’s (מַצָּה) inner essence can be found in its middle letter, the tzaddik (צ), whose value is 90, the value of manna (מָן). Its external essence, captured in its first and last letters, mem and hei (מה), spells the word “what” (מָה) appearing in the Israelites' bewilderment at the manna, “for they did not know what it was” (מָה הוּא). The faith found in the matzah was subsequently strengthened and deepened by Moses, our teacher, in whose merit the manna descended for Israel.

The word “manna,” according to Rashi means “preparation of food.”[36] Just as food that has been prepared and made ready-to-serve, which is easily digested and integrated into the body, so the manna drew faith into the individual, and made it easy to integrate into the person’s being. Indeed, the sages tell us that, “the Torah was given only to those who ate manna”[37] revealing that being awarded the crown of Torah requires faith (corresponding to the crown of priesthood).[38]

(from Panim El Panim, p. 60)

Image by Elias from Pixabay

[1]. Exodus 14:3.

[2]. By Rabbi Nachman Krochmal.

[3]. By Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook.

[4]. Psalms 84:7.

[5]. Job 38:16.

[6]. Ra’avad’s introduction to Sefer Yetzirah.

[7]. Psalms 68:7.

[8]. Genesis 1:28.

[9]. Exodus 6:6-7.

[10]. Song of Songs 5:2.

[11]. Psalms 144:5.

[12]. Exodus 14:13.

[13]. 1 Chronicles 4:23.

[14]. Bereishit Rabbah 8:7.


[16]. Exodus 14:19-21.

[17]. There is only one other instance of three consecutive verses with an identical number of letters. They are found in Genesis 36:32-34. Each verse has 31 letters.

[18]. Ibid. 16:7-8.

[19]. Sotah 13b.

[20]. Job 4:21.

[21]. Tamid 32a.

[22]. Psalms 145:16.

[23]. Liturgical poem for the High Holy Days.

[24]. Exodus 15:25.

[25]. Ibid. v. 26.

[26]. 2 Kings 2:21.

[27]. Mechilta on the verse, in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel.

[28]. Isaiah 19:22.

[29]. Zohar 2:36a.

[30]. Ibid. 1:4a.

[31]. Ezekiel 47:8.

[32]. 2 Samuel 6:22.

[33]. Exodus 16:7.

[34]. Avot 3:7.

[35]. Exodus 16:15.

[36]. Rashi on ibid.

[37]. Mechilta Beshalach 17.

[38]. Avot 4:13.

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