ElulKi Teitzei

Purifying the Power of Speech

In the part of the Zohar called Ra’aya Meheimna, Moses’ soul root reveals Torah secrets to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his students. The Ra’aya Meheimna mainly discusses the inner mysteries of the Torah’s commandments.

Interestingly, of all the seventy-four mitzvot enumerated in Parashat Ki-Teitzei, the principal commandment that is discussed in Ra’aya Meheimna on this parashah is the sin of a man who falsely claims that his bride was not a virgin. The concluding phrase that appears in the Torah is “for he has defamed a virgin of Israel.”

The Zohar offers four examples to illustrate this sin, in each of which the “virgin of Israel” corresponds to a different metaphor.  The idea that unites these metaphors is that at her spiritual root, the “virgin of Israel” always retains her innate purity, which can never be sullied.

The first example relates to the spies who defamed the land of Israel. The spies were punished by death, an even more severe punishment than the man who defames his wife. In this example, the “virgin of Israel” is the land of Israel, which they claimed was so totally under control by non-Jewish forces that even God could not redeem it. Land is always treated as a feminine entity and to claim that the sanctity of the Holy Land was sullied by the non-Jewish nations who lived there is tantamount to the groom’s false claim against his wife. The Zohar thus teaches us that expressing the idea that the land of Israel cannot be freed from its foreign inhabitants, or from the hold other nations are trying to place upon it, defames the “virgin of Israel.” Obviously, this is as relevant in today’s circumstances as it ever was, perhaps even more so.

The second example relates to Queen Esther, who was taken against her will to become the wife of King Achashverosh. The Zohar reveals that although the verses state literally that Esther became Achashverosh’s wife, the claim that Esther was made impure by Achashverosh is also a defamation of the “virgin of Israel.” Instead, the Zohar reveals that Mordechai and Esther had the spiritual power to separate their “shadow” (i.e., their animal soul) from themselves and send it on a separate mission without being involved in the mission themselves.

By acting in this way, Esther, who reached the highest level of sanctity where she represents the Divine Presence, remained pure and in truth she never left her true soul-mate, the righteous Mordechai. Here, the Zohar emphasizes that even if it seems that an individual Jew has sinned, in essence this is not the case and it is only his or her animal soul that has been defiled, “Your nation, all of them are righteous.” This comes to teach us that there is a point of righteousness in every Jew that can never be violated, even if he sins.

The third example is defaming the holy Torah by saying that there is less sanctity in the second tablets than in the first tablets that were broken by Moses. A person who thinks this is defaming the Torah’s ability to retrieve its “virginity.” This idea can be applied to many pertinent examples: a yeshivah student who undergoes a crisis in his Torah study; a child whose initial and earnest literal understanding of the Torah has been lost; or even someone whose mind has been contaminated by academic Biblical criticism. All these can ultimately reveal that although it may appear that the first tablets were defiled, God forbid, at its source the Torah retains its pure, untouched state. Reaching this level brings with it a new revelation of the Torah in all its purity.

In Ra’aya Meheimna, after Moses has brought the above three examples of defaming the “virgin of Israel,” the Prophet Elijah requests permission to speak and he offers another example involving Moses himself. Elijah shows Moses that for a moment, following the worshipping of the Golden Calf, he had thought that the Jewish people as a whole had sinned, but in truth they had not. In fact, only the mixed multitude, whom Moses himself had insisted on taking out of Egypt together with the Jewish people, had sinned. Moses reaction to this accusation was to kiss Elijah and ask him to always accompany him when he teaches.

We can learn from Moses, who prayed with self sacrifice to save the Jewish people from their “sin” but was accused by Elijah of defaming the “virgin of Israel,” that even if it appears that the entire Jewish people has sinned, God forbid, this is not true at all. In fact, the mixed multitude who were the instigators of the sin, were actually pieces of Moses’ own soul and he thus accepted the blame for the situation.

The mazal (מזל) of the month of Elul is a virgin and we learn from the Zohar here that our mission during this month in particular is to completely refrain from false accusations against the “virgin of Israel”: the land of Israel, individual Jews and the righteous individual of the generation in particular, the Torah of Israel, and the people of Israel as a whole. In this way we too will rise to return to an unblemished state and all our sins will be forgiven to reveal that in truth, we have never sinned.


Photo by Pavan Trikutam on Unsplash

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