THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THIRTY-SIX

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Chapter Seven

Moshe and the Jewish Nation

A man from the house of Levi married a daughter of Levi. The woman conceived and gave birth to a son. She saw that he was good and hid him for three months. Shemos 2:1

When Moshe was born, the house was filled with light. It is written here, "... And she saw that he was good ..." and there it is written, "God saw the light, that it was good ... " Sota 12a

The fact that the same word describing the Hidden Light of creation ("good") is also used to describe Moshe himself, may, on the surface, seem insignificant. However, the rabbis saw in this a connection between the Supernal light and Moshe Rabbeinu, the future leader of the Jewish people.

What makes this connection even more significant is the date of Moshe’s birth: 2368 from creation, thirty-six years after Egyptian bondage actually began. (According to the Torah, Paroah did not feel free to enslave the Jewish people until after all of Yosef’s brothers died. The last brother to die was Levi, in the year 2332 from creation.) Furthermore, just as the light of creation was hidden after shining for thirty-six hours, the light that was revealed through the birth of Moshe after thirty-six years of enslavement was also hidden.

From an early age, the Torah reveals, Moshe had access to the light of Chanukah. Though he grew up in the house of Paroah, free of the problems of his brothers in the fields, he still chose to go out among them and empathize with them. It was on one such excursion that he saw an Egyptian beating a Jew.

He saw an Egyptian hitting a fellow Jew. He looked there and there, and when he saw that no one else was around, he smote the Egyptian and buried him in the sand. Shemos 2:12

He looked there and there ... He saw what he [the Egyptian] did in the house, and what he did in the field ... He saw that no one else was around ... That no one would come from him who would convert. - Rashi

According to Rashi, Moshe’s vision extended to beyond what the eye could see. The midrash states that the reason why the Egyptian beat the Jew is because he had been with the Jew’s wife and now wished to do away with him. Moshe, through prophetic vision, was able to see this.

According to Jewish law, this was reason enough to kill the Egyptian, and any Jewish judge would have had no second thoughts about carrying out such a punishment had he been in a position to do so. However, Moshe hesitated: Though a normal "judge only has what his eyes can see," (Baba Basra 131a) Moshe was able to see into the past and future while standing in the present.

Moshe saw with the Chanukah-vision, as the verse states, "He looked there and there - ko va’ko," each word equals twenty-five, alluding to the twenty-five of Chanukah. For this is exactly what the Hidden Light provides, a view beyond the immediate, physical appearance of situations and things. In this way, the true, hidden potential is revealed.

The darkness of exile achieves one thing specifically: distance between the Jew and God. The longer the exile, the greater the distance between the two, until the closeness becomes all but a faded memory. The more painful the exile, the more doubt infects the mind of the Jew regarding the special relationship between God and the Jewish people, symbolized by the menorah. (Shabbos 22b: The entire 40 years the children of Israel traveled in the desert, they did so by the light of the menorah; it testified to all that the Divine Presence dwelled among Israel.)

Chanukah comes every year and proclaims: Look not only at the present moment, at the surface of events and things. Look beyond what the eye perceives: Look at what was once in the past and what is promised for the future, and use this to buoy yourself through the rough waters of the present. This is the basis of the longevity of Jewish faith, a faith that for any other people with a similar history would have long ago disappeared.

It is through a historical perspective that incorporates all relevant issues - past, present, and future - that the Hidden Light of creation comes alive, through the thirty-six ner shel Chanukah. And this was the message that Moshe was hand-picked by God Himself to reveal. In fact, according to tradition, Moshe taught the entire Torah to the Jewish people within thirty-six days! (Seder Olam Rabbah 10)

The menorah, the symbol of Chanukah, represents the understanding that lies below the surface. When God would teach Moshe a new law, He would speak to him from on top of the kapores over the Holy Ark, within which the Written Law had been placed. However, for the explanation of the law, Moshe turned southward towards the menorah. (HaEmek Davar)

The menorah was not the only implement of the priestly service that contained the message of thirty-six. For example, the robe worn by the high priest while serving in the Tabernacle (Shemos 28:31) contained thirty-six bells sewn onto its hem. (Zevachim 88b) These bells, says the Talmud, atoned for loshon hora, derogatory speech about others, a sin of very serious proportions and one for which a person can lose his portion in the World-to-Come.

Considering that it is speech that distinguishes man from animals, it is not surprising to find such a strong connection between speech and the light of creation. Speech is the measurement of godliness of an individual. (See Targum Onkelos on Bereishis 2:7.) This is especially understood when one learns that speech specifically distinguishes the Jew from the nations of the world:

Moav said to the Elders of Midyan (BaMidbar 22:4) ... What did Moav see that made them seek the advice of Midyan? When they saw that Israel was victorious in a supernatural way, they said, "Their leader [Moshe] came from Midyan. Let us ask them what is his trait." They [Midyan] told them, "His strength is only in his mouth." They [Moav] said, "We will attack them with someone whose strength is in his mouth too." - Rashi
The account of Moshe, Balak and Bilaam is recounted in the fourth book of the Torah, BaMidbar. The word midbar means "desert," but with a slight vowel change, it is transformed into the word medaber, which means "speaking." Perhaps when the Talmud teaches that one, in order to receive Torah should make himself into a midbar, (Eiruvin 54a: If a person makes himself like a desert (midbar) upon which everyone treads, his learning will endure; Nedarim 55a: Since he makes himself like a desert, ownerless to all, the Torah will be given to him as a gift.) it alludes also to the concept of medaber.

This is why the holiday that celebrates our freedom from Egyptian slavery is called Pesach, which can be divided into two words, peh sach - the "mouth that spoke." (Maharal) Our redemption from Egyptian bondage had to do with our level of spirituality regarding speech, which was refined through the Pesach Seder.

Perhaps this is even why the book that deals with Jewish preparation to live in the land of Israel, Sefer BaMidbar, is focused on incidents that deal with speech. For example, Parshas Ba-Midbar involves the counting of the Jewish people, a concept that is associated with speech. (As well, the parsha discusses the seder (order) of the camp, regarding the location of each of the tribes.)

Then there is Parshas Naso. Naso, among other matters, deals with the suspected adulteress, the Nazir, and the Priestly Blessing.

Shlomo HaMelech, when describing the adulteress remarked,

Thus it is the way of the adulteress to eat and wipe her mouth and say, ‘I have done nothing. ’ Mishlei 30:20
The cleverness of the above metaphor becomes clear through Sefer BaMidbar. As we will see, the difference between one who succeeds in achieving Elokus with the wisdom of thirty-six and one who does not, depends on how one uses the mouth. A medaber - a speaker, in the ultimate sense - is one who strives for Elokus; an "ingestor" is one who flees from it. (Speech emanates from within a person and impacts the world outside of him; ingesting is the result of taking and consuming from the outside world. The former act is one of chesed, while the latter one is an act of selfishness. Whenever one acts or speaks for selfish reasons, it is called "ingestion." Whenever one eats for selfless reasons, it is compared to pure speech.)

The sota, the suspected adulteress, we learn, is ensnared through her mouth:

The son of an Israelite woman and an Egyptian man went out among the Israelites and the Israelite woman’s son had a quarrel with an Israelite in the camp. The Israelite woman’s son then blasphemed God’s name ... His mother’s name was Shelomit, the daughter of Divri, from the tribe of Dan. VaYikrah 24:10

The son of an ... Egyptian man ... It was the Egyptian whom Moshe had killed [in Egypt] ... His mother’s name was Shelomit, the daughter of Divri, from the tribe of Dan ... The verse publicly mentions her name to tell you how properly Israel acted, telling us implicitly that of all the Jewish women, she alone was a harlot; Shelomit ... She was called this because she was always babbling: ‘Peace (shalom) be upon you. Peace be upon you.’ She used to continually babble with many words. - Rashi

Perhaps this is why the sota is made to swallow the bitter waters to determine her innocence or guilt. For having improperly used her mouth and for lowering herself to the level of an animal, (which is why her sin-offering is only barley, the food of a donkey,) she is as such.

From a man’s mouth you can tell what he is (Zohar BaMidbar 193).

The nazir, the gemora in Talmud Sota points out, is the response to the sota. By verbally proclaiming to be a nazir, the nazir avoids that which caused the sota to stumble. And as wine (which is consumed) also caused her lewdness, the nazir abstains from wine.

The priestly blessing is one of the best examples of the ultimate use of the power of speech. Through it the priests invoked the name of God, something which can only be done in an ultimate state of purity, to bless the nation. This is mankind exhibiting the highest form of speech.

After Parshas Naso comes Parshas BeHa’alosecha. BeHa’alosecha, says the Ramban, contains an allusion to the future rededication of the menorah in the time of the Chanukah victory. (Which, interestingly enough is found in Chapter Eight.) In this parsha (the thirty-sixth parsha in the Torah!), complaints by the people led to Divine punishment. And at the end of the parsha, Miriam is punished for speaking loshon hora about Moshe.

Parshas Sh’lach recounts how the spies spoke loshon hora about the Land of Israel, which led to the additional 38 years of wandering in the desert.

Parshas Korach details the rebellion Korach led against Moshe. Korach himself was incited with loshon hora about Moshe, and he incited others through subtle coaxing. Korach was punished "measure-for-measure" for improper use of speech: The mouth of the earth swallowed him and his followers.

Chukas contains the episode that cost Moshe the chance to enter Israel. Instead of bringing forth water by speaking to the rock, he did so by hitting the rock. Living in Eretz Yisroel successfully is measured by how well the Jewish people maintain their level of Elokus, which is measured by how dependent they are on nature to survive.

In a land that is also above nature, (Devarim 11:10) a descendant of Avraham should strive to live above nature. Israel is a place where the rains fall because God decrees it, regardless of seasons and cloud formations. A Jew’s mouth is where the "key" lies to unlock the door to physical and spiritual survival. The Jew must integrate this most important message into his life.

... It is not by bread alone that man lives, but by all that comes of God’s mouth. Devarim 8:3
This point was clearly made when Moshe was denied access to Israel for physically bringing forth the water, as opposed to doing it spiritually, through speech.

Parshas Balak clearly illustrates the importance of speech. Bilaam, the non-Jewish prophet whose "strength was in his mouth" and who kept claiming that he could only say that which God placed in his mouth, insisted on using his mouth for unholy purposes. The result was self-destruction, but only after a humiliating episode. While on his way to meet with Balak, the king of Moav, Bilaam’s donkey spoke, leaving Bilaam quite speechless. The message: use your mouth improperly, and you are no better than a donkey, perhaps even worse. Is it a coincidence that Bilaam’s name comes from the root which means "swallow" (bolei-ah)?

The truth is, this message was not a new one, just a forgotten one. For, after Adam ate from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, he was also reduced to the level of a donkey:

When The Holy One, Blessed is He, told Adam, ‘Thorns and thistles you will plant ... (Bereishis 3:18)’ tears formed in his eyes. He said before Him, ‘Master of the Universe! Shall I and my donkey eat from the same trough?!’ Pesachim 118a
Toward the end of Parshas Balak, the Jewish people, through the advice of Bilaam, are drawn into sin. Divine retribution was swift and harsh. Someone named Pinchas acted zealously on behalf of God, killing the conspirators. Among the many rewards Pinchas received, there was an additional letter added to his name: a yud. (His name went from Pnchas to Pinchas.) This addition transformed his name, which now meant, "my mouth urged me to do it." (Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Parshas Pinchas.)

Pinchas, through his act of zealousness, became the very embodiment of all the Jewish nation stands for, "saying little, doing a lot," and using the mouth as a vehicle to understand and interpret the will of God. For behaving in this fashion, he returned himself back to the state of mankind prior to the consumption of the forbidden fruit: He became immortal (he became Eliyahu HaNavi, who ascended to Heaven in a fiery chariot and never died).

A fitting end to Sefer BaMidbar is the list of laws of oaths and conditional statements, both of which are used to gain control over physical desire. These are the final laws before beginning Sefer Devarim, which also means "words." Having completed the book of "speaking," the Jewish people were ready to enter Eretz Yisroel.

An allusion to Chanukah in Sefer Bereishis, among others, is the name of the twenty-fifth camp where the Jewish people stopped during the forty years in the desert: Chashmonai. Chashmonai was the name of the priestly family that led the rebellion against the Greeks, which led to the miracle of Chanukah on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev. Interestingly, BaMidbar is a book which, contains exactly thirty-six chapters.

The people who would later be called a "light unto the nations" had to first gain access the source of that light, the source of the hidden truth, in order to exemplify it for the rest of mankind to see.

This is the goal of the bris (covenant; whose mispar katan is that of thirty-six, i.e., nine), and the Torah (whose mispar katan is also equal to nine). (Torah = 400 + 6 + 200 + 5 = 611 + 1 (the kollel) = 612 ... 6 + 1 + 2 = 9.) Bris Milah is a covenant between God and the Jewish people, representing our commitment to use our creative powers to reveal the light of creation that is hidden within Torah. (See the Pri Tzadik, Parshas Balak.) We do this primarily through speech. Hence, bris milah means, the "Covenant of the Word."

The ultimate level a person can reach is:

... God said, ‘My spirit that is upon you and My words that I have placed in your mouth ... ’ Yishayahu 59:20
This is the level of d’var Hashem - the word of God, which comes from Above but through the mouth of man. It was this level that Pinchas reached (indicated by the yud added to his name), which made him a vehicle through which God was able to act, a mouth through which God was able to speak:
God said to Moshe, ‘Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the kohen returned my anger ...’ BaMidbar 25:10
How is this level achieved? The midrash provides the answer:
‘The people that walk in the darkness saw the Great Light ... ’ (Yishayahu 9:1) ... The masters of the Talmud (Oral Law) are those who see the Great Light, for the Holy One, Blessed is He, enlightens their eyes ...

Torah Sh’b’al Peh (Oral Law) is compared to darkness, because it is difficult to learn and involves hardship... Tanchuma, Noach 9

The Talmud explains the principles laid down by the Written Law, probing deep into its concepts to better grasp the message of God and the responsibility of man. If one thing can be said about the Talmud, it is that it does not take ideas for granted. In a talmudic discussion one must keep in mind that, very little is what it seems to be on the surface. (The Torah alludes to this idea on many levels. Thus, it is fitting that the half-way point of total words contained in the Torah is, darosh dorash (VaYikrah 10:16), which also mean "investigate," as if to say, what has come before this point and what comes after it must not be taken only at face value if it is to be truly understood.)
... You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few ... Prayer for Chanukah
It is the Chanukah-vision, the message that shines from the lights of the menorah, that symbolizes that which the Talmud teaches. In a very real sense, each section of the Talmud corresponds to one light from the menorah kindled throughout the eight days. Perhaps this why it contains thirty-six tractates, consisting of the Torah that was taught over in thirty-six days, by the man born thirty-six years after the darkness of exile began.

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