Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
by Rav Itamar Eldar
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Exile of the I: the sin of man, the nation,
and the land
this week's parasha, we read the tragic story of Mei Meriva, in the wake
of which, as Scripture testifies, Moshe and Aharon forfeit their right to enter
the land of Israel. In the wake of this incident,
God says to Moshe and Aharon as follows:
And the Lord
spoke to Moshe and Aharon, Because you did not believe in Me, to sanctify Me in
the eyes of the children of Israel,
therefore you shall not bring this congregation in to the land which I have
given them. It is the water of Meriva; because the children of Israel strove
with the Lord, and He was sanctified by them. (Bamidbar 20:12-13)
to these verses, Moshe and Aharon were punished because "they did not
believe in God, to sanctify Him in the eyes of the children of Israel." This
expression leaves a heavy cloud around the sin of Moshe and Aharon.
classical biblical commentators disagreed about this matter. Rashi writes as
sanctify Me" – For had you spoken to the rock and it had brought forth
water I would have been sanctified before the whole congregation, for they
would have said: What is the case with this rock which cannot speak and cannot
hear and needs no maintenance? It fulfills the bidding of the Omnipresent God!
How much more should we do so? (Rashi, ad loc., v. 12)
Ramban cites the position of Rashi and also the positions of other commentators
and thinkers, and then rejects them.
of the possibilities that he brings is the view of the Rambam:
(end of the fourth chapter of Shemone Perakim) proposed an explanation,
saying that Moshe Rabbenu, may peace be upon him, sinned by inclining toward
anger, when he said, "Hear now, you rebels." God, blessed be He, was
pedantic about him that a man like him should become angry before the
congregation of the people of Israel
in a situation where anger is inappropriate. Anything like that in such a
person involves a desecration of God's name, because people learned from all his
movements and words, through them hoping to achieve success in this world and
in the world-to-come. How then did anger appear in him, it being one of the
evil elements, coming only from an evil trait of the soul's traits? (Ramban, ad
loc., v. 8)
sin, according to Rashi, focuses on God and the manner in which Moshe
sanctified or failed to sanctify His name. In contrast, according to the Rambam
as cited by the Ramban, the sin focuses on the Jewish people and the manner in
which Moshe addressed them. The words, "Hear now, you rebels,"
contends the Rambam, express rage and anger, and as such they are unbefitting a
righteous leader like Moshe Rabbenu, and for that he was punished.
thought, in its usual manner, dealt with these questions, and through these
questions arrived at certain fundamental conclusions regarding the day-to-day
service of God on the part of the individual and the community.
"HEAR NOW, YOU REBELS," MOSHE WAS COMPELLED TO STRIKE THE ROCK
Yitzchak of Berditchev writes as follows:
shall speak unto the rock"… Because you did not believe in Me, to sanctify
Me in the eyes of the children of Israel." Rashi and the Ramban
disagree about Moshe's sin. One explains that he said to Israel,
"Hear now, etc.," and the other explains that he struck the rock. It
seems that they are saying the same thing, for the one was the cause of the
other. For there are two aspects of one who reproaches Israel that
they should do the will of the Creator, blessed be He. The one who reproaches
with positive words, that is to say, one who tells every man of Israel about
his elevated level and the place of the source of his soul, that the soul of
Israel is truly hewn from above the Throne of Glory, and the great pleasure that
the Creator, blessed be He, derives, as it were, from the mitzvot of
each man of Israel, and the great joy in all the worlds when a man of Israel
performs the bidding of the Creator in this world. With this reproach, he
inclines the heart of the people of Israel
to do the will of the Creator, blessed be He, each man of Israel
accepting upon himself the yoke of the heavenly kingdom. There is also one who
with harsh and humiliating words, to the point that they are compelled to do
the will of the Creator. The difference between them is that the one who
reproaches Israel with
positive [words] raises the soul of Israel
higher and higher, relating at all times the righteousness and greatness of Israel, how
great is their power above. He is fit to be a leader of Israel. And the
one who reproaches Israel
with harsh words is not of this aspect. Now when one reproaches Israel with
positive words and always tells of the greatness and righteousness of Israel,
then all the created things in the world must perform of their own accord the
will of Israel for which they had been created, namely for the sake of Israel.
But if he does not relate and elevate the righteousness of Israel, then he must
compel each created being with great force to do that for which it had been
created, that is, to do the will of Israel. Now, Moshe said here, "Hear
now, you rebels," reproaching Israel with harsh words, and thus
he was forced to strike the rock to do that for which it had been created. For
had he elevated Israel, as stated above, as had been the intention of the Holy
One, blessed be He, "And you shall speak unto the rock," then he
would have said to the rock: You who were created for the sake of Israel, and
they being at a high level, you must do that for which you had been created,
namely, to issue forth water for Israel. But now that he reproached Israel with harsh words, "Hear now, you
rebels," he had to strike the rock in order that it perform the will of Israel. Thus,
the one caused the other, and there is one explanation for it. This is alluded
to by "Because you did not believe in Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of
the children of Israel."
For one who reproaches Israel
with positive words can also cause the people to acquire this understanding.
And this is the allusion in the words: "To sanctify Me in the eyes of the
children of Israel."
As our Sages of blessed memory have said: "The eyes of the
congregation" – the sages of the congregation, for they too will reach
this understanding. (Kedushat Levi, Chukkat)
Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev combines the two explanations that we saw above,
but first he tries to distinguish between them.
first, the position of the Ramban (the view of the Rambam is cited by the
Ramban) relates to the reproach with which Moshe rebuked Israel.
second, according to Rashi, relates to the issue of the sanctification of God's
name and Moshe's decision to strike the rock, rather than talk to it.
among the Torah's commandments is the mitzva of giving reproach, but there
are various levels of fulfilling this mitzva. The simplest and perhaps
the best known is reproach with harsh words. The reproacher criticizes,
accuses, and sometimes even humiliates the one in need of reproach. The higher
manner of reproach, teaches us R. Levi Yitzchak, the defender of Israel,
involves reproaching with pleasantness, love and words of favor, emphasizing
the good and the positive in the person. R. Levi Yitzchak, however, wishes to
reach a deeper understanding of this distinction, starting with the spiritual
place of the sinner in need of reproach.
Levi Yitzchak's underlying assumption in his discussion of the issue of
reproach is that man's root is planted in the house of God, and his soul is hewn
from the Throne of Glory. This is the basic assumption and this is the
foundation. The trust that R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev places in man gives
sin (chet) its profound meaning – in the sense of hachta'a,
"missing the mark." Man's natural place is on the righteous path,
doing good and fulfilling the yearnings of his soul that was hewn from the
Throne of Glory and planted in the house of God. From the moment that a person
sins, he no longer fulfills his soul's desires; he misses the target, the objective,
the realization of his potential. When a person sins, he becomes alienated from
himself, his root and source. A person turns away from good, and adheres to
evil, and while he is immersed in evil, he does not feel the self-alienation,
the inner denial, the lack of self in his actions.
who reproaches another person with harsh words, with critical and humiliating
remarks, that is to say, who embarrasses him and causes him to feel bad with
respect to his sin, may perhaps force the person to cut himself off from the
sin, but this the sinner does by compulsion and against his will. He does not
internalize the change, but the words of the reproacher and the dark picture of
sin painted by him, do not allow him to rest. He recoils, he is embarrassed,
and perhaps he is even afraid to return to his sin.
process, teaches us R. Levi Yitzchak, is a type of coercion, and the
significance of this coercion is alienation. The person acts, but not out of an
inner drive, but rather out of forced external pressure. A deterring reproach
creates an experience of compulsion, in which a person may perhaps act in the
correct manner, but not out of the correct motivation. His actions do not
reflect himself, there existing a wide gap between what is happening inside and
outside. The outside forces dominate and the inside forces submit in shame and
fear of the reproacher's torrent.
Levi Yitzchak, with his infinite trust in the individual Jew, maintains that
there is no need whatsoever to "convince" a person to repent from
sin. All that is necessary, teaches us R. Levi Yitzchak, is once again to
remind him who he is. Once again to stir up within him those slumbering forces,
that love and yearning that is planted so deeply within him, and merely seeks
release from the kelipot in the midst of which they lie and are
concealed. All that is necessary is to remind a person who he is, and through
that reminder, that person will choose the good on his own. Sin and evil need
not be mentioned, they need not be condemned, and there is no reason to warn a
person about them. The full trust that R. Levi Yitzchak places in man, allows
him to pass over the action, and focus on restoring a person to himself, to his
potential, and to the root from which he was hewn, and in that way, the hearts
will not be drawn after the actions, but rather the actions will be drawn after
This is a
process that involves no coercion and no external pressure, but only inner
flowing and a clear expression of the essence that becomes more and more
revealed. Religious action, teaches us R. Levi Yitzchak incidentally, is not
compelled action – or in modern terms, there is no religious coercion. If a
person does not like his religious actions, it means that they do not flow from
within him. Pure and inner religious action is done with love, out of a natural
flowing, out of a desire to realize all of one's yearnings. Any remaining gap
between one's actions and one's inner identification attests to the fact that
there is still a stretch of road to be taken to the root of one's soul.
THEY WILL ALL PERFORM THE ACTION THAT IS APPROPRIATE FOR THEM
true leader, a distinguished educator, a sensitive parent does not reproach
with compulsion and anger, but rather he tries to direct his flock to its pure
and inner inclination. The concept of reproach changes and turns its inner
directing and assisted contemplation.
sin of the educator who follows the path of harsh reproach is twofold. First,
he does not exploit the opportunity to allow the sinner to return to himself,
and reveal his inner inclination from which he had become distant.
Additionally, he is guilty of the sin of creating a world of duality, in which
external occurrences do not correspond to the inner world, and more importantly
do not flow from it. One's heart and actions are strangers, and when this
strangeness is constant, the actions are like idolatry (avoda zara,
Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev teaches us, however, that this sin has another
far-reaching ramification, and that this error does not end in the realm of
teaching and guidance. Moshe Rabbenu's first sin was the sin of harsh reproach,
"Hear now, you rebels," and from this followed of necessity the
second sin, striking the rock instead of talking to it.
thus far we have spoken about R. Levi Yitzchak's absolute trust in man, now R.
Levi Yitzchak extends this trust to all of creation. In a perfect world there
is no coercion and no war. There is no need to strike rocks in order for water
to stream forth from them, and there is no need to take out bread from the
earth with the sweat of our brow. Everything, teaches us R. Levi Yitzchak, has
a purpose and an objective, and when the world is perfect, everything does what
it is supposed to do. R. Nachman of Breslov expresses the same idea in one of
his deep and complex stories, based on the famous legend about the son of the
king and the son of the maidservant who were exchanged. In the course of the
story, the real son of the king arrives in a special place, and there he
demands that the kingdom be returned to him. He must, however, meet certain
conditions, one of them being that he must enter a certain garden and repair
it. Thus relates R. Nachman inspired by his amazing imagination:
There is a
table near the bed, and on the table stands a lamp.
throne, well-trodden walled paths go forth… These paths extend throughout the
entire land. No one understands the meaning of the throne with all its details
and the paths. This, then, will be your test. See if you can understand the
significance of the throne and everything associated with it.
They showed him
the throne and he saw that it was extremely tall… He went over to the throne
and gazed at it. As he contemplated the throne, he realized that it was made of
the same type of wood as the box [or instrument, that the forest man had given
him.] He gazed further, and saw that a rose was missing from the top of the
throne. If the rose were in the throne, then the throne would have the same
power as the box, [which would produce music whenever it was placed on any
animal or bird].
Then he gazed
even more and noticed that the rose missing from the top of the throne was
lying at the bottom of the throne. He would have to take it and place it on
top, and then the throne would have the same power as the box. The late king
had devised each detail with such wisdom that no person could understand its
significance until an extraordinarily wise person came along, who would
understand the concept. He would then know how to exchange and arrange all
[He then saw
that] the same was true of the bed. He understood that it had to be moved
slightly from the place where it stood. The table also had to be moved
somewhat, and the lamp likewise had to have its position adjusted. The birds
and animals also had to be moved to different places. Thus, a bird would have
to be taken from one place and set in another place. The same was true of all
the animals. The king had cleverly disguised everything so that only a very wise
person would be able to contemplate it and then rearrange it correctly.
The same was
true of the lion which stood [where the path emerged]. It had to be stood in a
different place. This was true of all [the beasts on the paths].
[The son] gave instructions
that everything be rearranged properly; to take the rose from the bottom, and
insert it on top. Everything else was also rearranged in proper order.
animals and birds] then began to sing a very wonderful melody. Each one
[The son] was
then given the kingdom. (Sippurei R.
Nachman, The Exchanged Children)
Nachman teaches us that the garden is a wonderful place, but nothing works
because nothing is in its proper place. The real son of the king, who is on a
long and fundamental journey to inner understanding and revelation – inasmuch
as he is the son of a king, reveals that the world is stuck and is not
advancing, and that everything requires struggle and battle, and this is only
because nothing is in its proper place. When everything is moved around a
little and placed in proper order, everything begins to play a wonderful
wonderful melody is a recurring metaphor in R. Nachman's writings for a
harmonious world in which everyone, as in a philharmonic orchestra, knows his
place and his role, and wholeheartedly wishes to fill them with no deviation or
opposition. The conductor - in this case the son of the king, and in the case
of the real world, man - must learn how to bring all the musicians to play the
song that is appropriate for them, how to cause them to want to act in a manner
that is appropriate for them.
son of the king in R. Nachman's story used no coercion, he did not fight, he
did not struggle, he simply contemplated. R. Nachman teaches us that when the
world is stuck, and when there is a need to struggle, things are not in their
proper places, and they must be moved.
Levi Yitzchak teaches us another principle, namely, that a person's
consciousness in relation to himself, in relation to his inner life and in
relation to the source of his soul, radiates upon the world with which he comes
into contact. The ground rebels against man because of his sin and because of
his alienation from his inner self. The animal world struggles against him and
does not do what is appropriate for it to do because of man's struggle with
himself. The world of nature and the changing weather force man to fight
against them, and do not serve him as befits them, because man himself denies
his destiny and self.
we come to the role of the son of the king according to the school of R. Levi
Yitzchak of Berditchev. If falls upon him to return to himself, to his place,
and thus the world will also give of its strength. There is no need to strike
the rock in order for it to fulfill its role and provide water for the people
of Israel seeking to realize their destiny as they journey to the promised
land. Speech alone, which comes to remind and arouse the entire world including
the mighty rock standing before Moshe, has the power to stir up the
"desire" of the rock - to the extent that it is possible to speak
about desire with respect to the inanimate world - to realize its destiny and
provide water for Israel.
Yitzchak teaches us that when Moshe sinned with the sin of alienation in the
consciousness of Israel, and when Israel entered the world of coercion and
compulsion, the entire world played the same melody. The external world that
man wishes to harness on his behalf answers him in accordance with his identification
with the objective towards which he is striving. When he becomes alienated from
the objective, when it comes from the outside, when it does not flow from some
inner-natural point, the world around him also does not hurry to join and act
with the same naturalness.
within which we live does not submit itself to the son of the maidservant who
dons royal garments, even if those garments are comprised of shiningly white tzitziyot
and a long and flowing beard. God searches the heart, and so too the entire
world seeks out the heart. Only to the son of the king, whose inside is like
his outside, and who is driven by his inner inclination, will the world submit
itself with love and desire in order to realize the objective for which it had been
fashioned – to help the son of the king rule and to reveal the perfect kingdom.
Yitzchak of Berditchev and R. Nachman of Breslov provide us with a compass and
indicative tools regarding the level of correlation between our acts and our
inner selves. Coercion and compulsion, war and struggle, result from alienation
and externalization, and characterize the difficult situation of Mei Meriva.
Instead of song and harmony, the harsh notes of coercion and compulsion were
sounded – "Hear now, you rebels," as well as the noises of war and
struggle – striking the rock. In such a place there is duality and alienation
between inside and outside, between action and heart.
FOR THEY SHALL
ALL KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST OF THEM TO THE GREATEST OF THEM
Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev and R. Nachman of Breslov provide us - as leaders,
as teachers and even as parents - with important guidance how to rescue the
garden from the state in which it is stuck. How to redeem man, the nation and
the land from their exile, and from their alienation from their inner selves.
Not with external royal splendor, even if this splendor is the splendor of
holiness. Not with external objectives and goals, even if they are permeated
with words of holiness, like, one must draw near to God, one must observe Torah
and mitzvot, one must perfect character traits. Not with career-oriented
aspirations, even those directed to a place of holiness: to be a great rabbi,
to be a Torah scholar, to grow in Torah. All these, when they come from the
outside, when they do not flow from an inner and essential search, when they
lack the quest for the self, they are like vinegar for the thirsty.
writes also R. Kook in what may be described as the fundamental statement of
the world of education and leadership:
The I in exile,
the inner and essential I, of the individual and the collective, reveals its
inner self only in accordance with its holiness and purity, in accordance with
its supernal might, permeated with the pure light of heavenly splendor, that
burns within him. We sinned with our fathers, the sin of the first man, who
became alienated from himself, turning to the serpent, and losing himself. He
did not know how to give a clear answer to the question, "where are
you," because he did not know his own soul, because he had lost his true
self, through the sin of bowing down to a foreign god. Israel sinned by going
after a foreign God, abandoning its self, forsaking good. The earth sinned,
denying its self, restricting its strength, following objectives and goals, not
giving all its hidden strength so that the taste of the tree should be as the
taste of its fruit, raising its eye outward, to think about fates and careers.
The moon complained, lost its inner aspects, its joy with its lot, it dreamed
of external royal splendor. Thus the world goes and sinks in the loss of the
self of everyone, individual and collective. Learned teachers come, look at
externals, and even they distract themselves from the I, adding straw to the
fire, giving the thirsty vinegar to drink, fattening minds and hearts with
everything that is outside of them, and the I is forgotten. And since there is
no I, there is no He, and all the more so, no You. The breath of our nostrils
the anointed of God, this is his might, his great splendor, it is not outside
of us, it is the breath of our nostrils. We will seek the God of our fathers
and of King David, we will fear God and His goodness. Our I we will seek, we
will search for and find our selves, removing all foreign gods, everything that
is strange. And you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who took you out of
the land of Egypt to be for you a God, I am the Lord. (Shemone Kevatzim
Kook warns against idolatry, providing the concept with an exciting paraphrase.
When a person engages in service, even the service of God, that is alien to
him; when his God, even if He is the God of hosts, the God of Israel, is alien
to him - there is exile, exile of the self, and where there is no I, there is
no He, and all the more so, there is no You.
point of departure for this profound understanding, teaches us R. Levi Yitzchak
of Berditchev, is faith. When we believe that "the breath of our nostrils
the anointed of God" is not outside of us, as R. Kook writes, but rather
it flows from within us, and it is the inner I, we seek ourselves. And when we
believe that, we will also try to direct the sinners and those who have veered
from the path to their "I," to "the breath of our nostrils the
anointed of God," that reveals itself in every one of us. Then there will
be no need to become angry or to threaten, and certainly not to strike.
When we reveal
the I within us, the nation will also return to itself, and the land will once
again give its strength, and permit the full manifestation of the I. At that
time, "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters
cover the sea" (Yeshayahu 11:9).
Let us conclude with the words of the prophet Yirmiyahu, who brought
the world that wonderful vision, the manifestation of which R. Levi Yitzchak of
Berditchev, R. Nachman of Breslov, and R. Kook tried to direct:
are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of
Israel, and with the house of Yehuda: not according to the covenant that I made
with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of
the land of Egypt; which covenant of Mine they broke, although I was their
master, says the Lord; but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the
house of Israel after those days, says the Lord; I will put My Torah in their
inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they
shall be My people, and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and
every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord, for they shall all know me, from
the least of them to the greatest of them says the Lord, for I will forgive
their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more. (Yirmiyahu 31:30-33)
 The Ramban rejects Rashi's
opinion, arguing that the command to take the staff testifies to God's
intention that Moshe should strike the rock. And furthermore, causing the rock
to provide water through striking is no less miraculous than causing it to
provide water through speech.
 In order to fully understand
the meaning of the "moving" in R. Nachman's story, one must study the
entire story, and examine the specific context in which it appears.
(Translated by David Strauss)