פרשת פנחס

Just then one of the Israelites came and brought a Midianite woman over to his companions, in the sight of Moses and of the whole Israelite community who were weeping at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.
When Phinehas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, saw this, he left the assembly and, taking a spear in his hand,
He followed the Israelite into the chamber and stabbed both of them, the Israelite and the woman, through the belly…
The name of the Israelite who was killed, the one who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri son of Salu, chieftain of a Simeonite ancestral house.

Don’t think for a moment that Zimri was an adulterer, God forbid! God would not give such a person mention in the Torah. There must be a secret within…

There are ten levels of licentiousness. The first level is where one fancies himself up and sets out intentionally to sin, which essentially means he willingly follows his sexual urge. After this though, there are nine other levels, each one with progressively less free choice, and it becomes impossible for him to escape from doing the sin.
The tenth and final level is one who has distanced himself from his sexual urge entirely. With all his might he has guarded himself from sin until it is impossible for him to protect himself anymore. When his sexual desire overcomes him and he commits such an act, this certainly must be the will of God.

Look at Judah and Tamar. She was his soulmate. It is the same scenario here too. Zimri guarded himself completely from all wicked desires. And now he understands that [Cosbi] is his soulmate, because he can no longer resist her and from being with her.

However, Pinchas claims the opposite – that it is still in Zimri’s power to resist being with her. This is alluded to in the Talmud (BT Sanhedrin 72b), “Six miracles were done for Pinchas,” and we learn there that had Zimri killed Pinchas on that day, he would have been exempt from punishment. In reality, there was equal weight to both sides. One could argue, and many in fact did, that Pinchas was acting from a place of rage and anger. In a case that is equally strong on either side, Jewish law has a principle of Shuda D’Dina, where the judge is able to side with the party closest to him. It seems that Pinchas was found innocent because he is related to Moses.

This is why the text mentions the name of the slain Israelite. God wanted to make clear to Pinchas after his action just who he was fighting with, lest he think that he was killing someone who was purely an adulterer, God forbid!

Pinchas comes from the seed of Joseph, who strive to perfect themselves via asceticism and through trials just like these. Therefore, Zimri’s actions look devoid of any and all good. On this, the verse states (Hosea 11:1), “I fell in love with Israel when he was still a child,” which fully describes God’s relationship with Pinchas.
He judged Zimri to be an adulterer and nothing more, and ruled that any zealot who encountered him was justified in killing him. However, the depths of what was motivating Zimri were entirely hidden from him, which was that in the six days of creation it was decided that Cosbi was Zimri’s soulmate (as is explained by the Arizal). This action was so deep that not even Moses wanted to sentence him to death.

Pinchas acted like a child. He did not know the depths of Zimri’s action. He could only see what was on the surface and nothing more. Nevertheless, “[God] fell in love with [him] when he was still a child.” and agrees with him, for in his mind he did a great thing by acting with zeal and risking his own life.

 

 

This is by far the most famous Ishbitz torah, and not without good reason. Just look at what he is saying:

  • Zimri was justified in acting such a way, AND it was preordained since the time of creation.
  • Pinchas was wrong to have killed him.
  • And if it wasn’t scandalous enough, the Ishbitzer bases this on the principle that sometimes, when a urge to sin is so strong to the point that we can’t resist it any longer, it must be the will of God!

I don’t want to take away from the radical reading given here. It flies in the face of what we are traditionally taught about this story, and spells out what look like very precarious ideas if we are to take them seriously. But there is also such beauty and wisdom the Ishbitzer is giving us by shocking us and making us take notice, helping us open ourselves up to seeing things with new eyes.

This teaching is about Pinchas and not Zimri. About how he acted, and about how we are not to act. The Ishbitzer gives us the idea that a person can work so hard, do everything she can to resist acting a certain way, and yet she still goes through with it. In that case, when all those criteria are met, it is the Divine will. In such situations, we should always be fastidious in asking ourselves “have I actually done everything I can to resist?” and only we can know the answer. Which is entirely the point. Only the actor can know the truth of her actions. It is not for us to judge.

Or it is not for us to judge like a zealot, acting blindly and from a place of anger and rage.  Pinchas is acting like a child. He kills based only on what he sees without asking the deeper question of Why? Why would someone do this? Why would s/he act this way? Is there something I’m not taking into account, something I don’t know, and will that have an impact on how I deal with the situation?

What makes this case so remarkable, and why it is such a powerful teaching, is just how bad it looks on the surface. In our own lives, when we are confronted with those deplorable things that make us furious and our blood boil, even the gravest of injustices, we have to be willing to pause for a moment and see what’s going on within. Are we acting from a place of anger, or are we acting for the sake of peace? Are we open to being wrong about this person or situation and what they are doing? Are we capable of holding many truths at once that sometimes have undesirable outcomes? Can we erase rage from our hearts and work not for ourselves or just what we think is right, but for the sake of the whole world?

 

 

Link to originial Hebrew text

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פרשת ויקהל

Moses then convoked the whole Israelite community and said to them…
On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord…
Take from among you gifts to the Lord; everyone whose heart so moves him shall bring them—gifts for the Lord

The reason the Sabbath is mentioned first before the construction of the Tabernacle is that the construction of the Tabernacle connected the heart of every person in Israel to one another without even a hint of ego.

Initially, each skilled craftsperson made his or her specialized contribution, and it was apparent that every piece was truly remarkable. Afterwards, when all the individual twists and ties were joined together, they saw how each thing fit perfectly, as if it was all made by one person. They realized that everything they had done was not because of/for themselves – it was only the hand of God guiding their handiwork, and this is why there was a perfection of form in the completed building. How is it possible to feel superior over another when it was made only with the help of God?

The Talmud (BT Megillah 9a) relates the story of King Ptolemy gathering the 72 elders [to translate the Torah into Greek, independent of one another] who all acted as one mind and made the same emendations to the biblical text. It seemed to each one that he had uncovered a profound and deep wisdom in his changes. When it was revealed that they had unearthed the exact same insights, they understood it all had been God’s will.

This is why the Sabbath is placed in relation to the building of the Tabernacle, for the essential principle that connects them is the commandment of the Sabbath. The Sabbath underlies any commandment done with the intention of being for the sake of Heaven, as this intention is called “Sabbath.”

So too with the construction of the Tabernacle. All their work was to glorify Heaven to allow the Divine Presence to dwell with Israel. It was this that joined their hearts together, for the Divine Presence would not reside there if even one peg or rod is missing. Therefore, it wasn’t possible to feel superior to another at all, even the one who constructed the Holy Ark compared to the one who made the pegs of the outer courtyard, as it says in the Talmud (BT Sotah 40a), “What do you care? Through this and this the Most High is praised!”

And this is Moses then convoked the whole Israelite community.

 

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פורים

Raba said: A person is obligated to be fragrant/intoxicated [with wine] on Purim until he does not know the difference between ‘Cursed is Haman’ and ‘Blessed is Mordecai’

Until he does not know

Knowledge in this case is connected to acknowledging something and recognizing it with one’s eyes. Understanding, though, is in the heart. It resists being grasped visually and is only understood via the heart, which draws its knowledge from the very source of the thing.

Purim

This is reference to the lots drawn in the Book of Esther. These lots are determined by fate, which refers to understanding, and this is…

A person is obligated…until he does not know

One is obligated to not know by means of consciousness and visual recognition, but rather from the understanding of the heart one must know Cursed is Haman and Blessed is Mordechai.

This explains the custom of switching clothes on Purim.  Even without recognizing based on someone’s clothes, one can see the most base individual has the divine name manifest upon him, and thus one can truly peer into his untarnished soul.

פורים

His closest advisers were Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, etc (Esther 1:14).
R. Levi said: Every name in this verse contains a reference to the sacrifices. Thus, Carshena: the ministering angels said to the Holy One, blessed be He: Sovereign of the Universe, did they ever offer before You lambs of the first year [karim bene shanah] as Israel offered before You?

This discussion is connected to the death of Vashti, as the Baal Shem Tov elucidates on the request for her to appear naked and she did not come, that [the true] nakedness has yet to come.

God gave the Torah and commandments to Israel as vehicles, or garments, so they could grasp His blessed essence. In this reality, human consciousness cannot grasp His nature without it being clothed in materiality, such that everything we receive is robed completely in these garments.

And this is how it is and how it will be. When the divine influx descends from God, it influences by way of the Four Worlds, manifested through the Ten Emanations (עשר ספירות) in the particular way the world needs it at that time, until it arrives to this corporeal world in a way that can be grasped. This influx is attainable to all peoples of the world when clothed in these garments, but they can warp this influx into something abominable. Therefore, when the sages saw that King Achashverosh had decreed Vashti should come out naked, this indicated to them that God wanted to give Israel an unfiltered total revelation, as it will be in the future when He reveals the fullness of His light without any intermediaries. When they understood [the king’s request was mirroring a great divine yearning to be fully revealed], they were overcome with intense desire. It was at this time the sages tried to expel sexual desire from the world (B Talmud Yoma 69b).

The ministering angels cried out “How is it that the other nations are attuned to this Heavenly desire for full-frontal revelation?? Did they ever offer before You lambs of the first year…?” Israel, during the time the light was hidden from them, worked tirelessly in their sacrifices and devotion to draw the light as close to them as possible. Therefore, it is fitting that in the future God will reveal to them His light in its entirety without an intermediary, as is written in the songs of King David (Psalms 84:3), “I long, I yearn for the courts of the Lord; my body and soul shout for joy to the living God.

In this era, when it is necessary to experience divinity through the garments, I long, I yearn for the courts of the Lord – these are the garments surrounding His light. But my body and soul shout for the joy to the living God – this is my anticipation and hope for the unadulterated exposure of divine light in the future, a pure life that is The living God.

But why should the other nations, those that do not practice the devotions and do not want to commit themselves to work to bring the light of God closer, why should they have a connection to that pure revelation if they did not put in the work?

 

This teaching is more about the garments we do wear than the ones we don’t. It’s about really seeing the world as it presents itself and not trying to deny that.
There is a stirring from above that everybody feels. In the Purim story, King Achashverosh responds to this movement by calling on the queen to come out naked. To reveal everything about herself and leave nothing hidden. And the sages feel something too. They understand from Achashverosh that something is happening, that the light is ready to shine. But they are overcome with that desire and don’t know what to do with it, so they try and expel this desire for a revealing, for the divine presence to be naked before us. Both are reprehensible and both fail.
One approach tries to cover nothing and the other tries cover everything. But the way we are, the way we choose to clothe and present ourselves is so beautiful. It’s not about just getting to what’s underneath, to what’s more “essential” or “true”. Nor is it about being scared of how/what we really are, our dreams and yearings and imperfections and delicate splendor that we pile more and more coverings on top of.

 

Link to the original Hebrew text

פרשת תרומה

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts

This is what is meant by the verse (Isaiah 45:18), “For thus said the Lord, the Creator of heaven who alone is God, who formed the earth and made it, who alone established it — He did not create it a waste, but formed it for habitation,

In the weekly reading of Yitro, when the Israelites heard the Ten Commandments, it appeared easy to do them all because the commandments seemed to depended only on a person’s actions. When they heard all the subsequent rules in the reading of Mishpatim and grasped that God desire His holiness and devotion be manifest in the essence of the Israelites down to the very objects they owned, to the point that they would be unable to do anything contrary to the Law [as has been explained in the section on Mishpatim “Now these are the ordinances…”], they cried out within “How is it possible for a person to purify his heart in this way??”
So God gives the people the advice “bring me gifts…gold, silver, and copper.” The Zohar (Exodus 148a) teaches that these three types correspond to the foundations of a person. It is describing one who gives over all of his strength and support to the Divine and allows God to rule over him according to His will. If so, even his possessions will be good and upright and no harm will come from them!

The Zohar (Numbers 121b) expands this idea. On the verse (Psalms 32:2), “Happy the man whom the Lord does not hold guilty, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” this is one whose spirit/life force inclines only towards the Divine will. If he were to question how it is possible to purify his heart to such an extent, the response comes from the verse in Isaiah (ibid.) He did not create [the earth] a waste. God does not desire for a person to have fear in his heart.
This is how to understand the following verse (Isaiah 45:19),

I did not say to the stock of Jacob, ‘Seek Me out in a wasteland – I the Lord, who foretell reliably, who announce what is true.’

I did not say to the stock of Jacob, ‘Seek Me out in a wasteland – To this, the previous verse responds He…formed it for habitation לשבת, meaning that a person should have a settled mind ישוב הדעת.
I the Lord, who foretell reliably, Who announce what is true – Even though God desires a person to be righteous and blemish-free in all his ways, and to uphold the entirety of the commandments and the Law, nevertheless He refers to Himself as the Lord, who foretell reliably, who announce what is true, meaning He has uprightness and a generous heart towards a person, and gives him advice on how to come to all the words of the Torah with ease.

 

Imagine what it must have been like for the Israelites. They just experienced the revelation at Sinai, and as magnificent as it was, it did not ask SO much of them. Just do these ten essential things and everything will be fine. A week later though they are saddled under a mountain of rules and strictures that govern every aspect of their lives: courts, loans, damages, food. They doubted they could ever do it. It was so much so fast it made them want to scream.

Here is where the Ishbitzer steps in. He says “I know it’s a lot. It’s so much that you’re crying on the inside and afraid and wondering if you should just give up.

Yes. Just give up.

Stop fighting so much. Let your will drop away and live for something more. This work is not supposed to be hard. It only becomes crushing when we are always pushing against it. Trust that God wants you to be settled and at peace, and also believes you are capable of so much. More than you realize is possible. He doesn’t put us in a world that is too much for us, where every facet of our being isn’t singing out and we can’t give all of ourselves in abundance. Maybe the more we let go, the more we say yes to the world and just give of ourselves without always asking why or how much, the easier it all gets.

 

Link to original Hebrew text

פרשת מקץ

After two years’ time, Pharoah dreamed

In the Zohar (Genesis 193b):
Rabbi Elezar opened (Psalms 18:47),

The Lord lives!
Blessed is my Rock!
Exalted be God, my salvation.

The Lord lives! – this is one who has a pure heart and is cleansed of all earthly desires. She cleaves only to what is Eternal in this life.
Blessed is my Rock! – she recognizes that all good comes from God, and therefore is able to see the good in everything [since she understands the divine source of reality].
And thus, exalted be God, my salvation – she will achieve an even loftier kind of salvation, surpassing the limits of her comprehension.
Before a person has refined herself in these two ways, God is not able to provide her with salvation, for she has not yet made herself a vessel with the clarity to receive it.

After two years’ time, after Joseph had refined himself according to these two paths, only then did Pharoah dream, and Joseph immediately achieved salvation.
[Referring to Joseph, the Psalmist states (Psalms 105:19)], “Until his prediction came true, the decree of the Lord purged him.
On that night, Joseph’s crying out to God became so great, “Return, O Lord! How Long?” and immediately he was saved.
About this it is written (Psalms 88:2), “O Lord, God of my salvation, when I cry out in the night before you,” This is God’s way: Before He saves, He draws out this cry of desperation in a person’s heart so that when she cries out, it will be her own.

 

Why does the Torah go out of its way to mention these two years? Turns out Joseph was doing the necessary (TWO-tiered) soul-searching in order to get saved. What does this work look like? The Ishbitzer on the Zohar (on Psalms) lays out two preconditions for salvation.
The first is letting go of the pull of physical reality. The world is bigger than what you see, so do not get bogged down in how things present themselves (to you). But it is not about denying this world. The Ishbitzer makes the subtle turn back towards the goodness inherent in everything. When I let go of my “desire” towards something – my complex and muddled self-absorption in a thing – then I can begin to see the real beauty in it, the good behind it all that is separate from me, and comes from a much deeper place.
And then Boom. Salvation. Enlightenment. Which is entirely God’s doing. But if I cannot let go of the world so I can fall madly in love with the world, then God won’t (can’t?) do anything for me.

 

Link to original Hebrew text

פרשת וישב

But Er, Judah’s first-born, was displeasing to the Lord, and the Lord took his life

Rashi explains “Er’s sin was wasting his semen and not impregnating Tamar, and he did so lest he ruin her beauty.”
Er’s sin arose (as has been explained) from Jacob’s request to dwell in tranquility, ie. to avoid any potentially transgressive behavior. But this is not what God wants in the world. Therefore, God reveals to him “See that one of your progeny will also intentionally avoid actions that could cause a loss, only his will be from the loss of something physical. Open your eyes and mind to the importance of this!”
Jacob had this failure of character as well, only his was in his service of God. He did not want to ruin the beauty of his service. When this kind of internal flaw spreads and becomes actualized, it manifests as an explicit sin. So it is with all the thoughts of our forefathers. They put little stock in their own thoughts, but later God refines it and creates an entirely new soul/person to actualize that potential, and thus She clarifies the extent of this refining [and the incredible potential of their seemingly insignificant thoughts].

The sin of Er and Onan can be explained by the Mishnah (Avot 2:1),

Rabbi would say: Which is the right path for man to choose for himself? Whatever is
1) Harmonious for himself, and
2) Harmonious for humankind

Harmonious for himself – The action the person does finds favor in the eyes of others.
Harmonious for humankind – The action will be Good, down to his very core, such that it accords with the ideal of human existence.
A person has to look and make sure that all his actions line up with these two paths. If one is faced with a situation where there is not a synthesis of these two paths, then the disagreement between the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai is brought to life (Talmud Ketubot 17a):

Our Rabbis taught: What does one say when he dances in front of the bride? The House of Shammai say: Praise her as she is, and The House of Hillel say: The bride is pleasing and pious.

Shammai holds that what is essential is being harmonious for himself, for if he says that the bride is pleasing and pious, then he will not find favor in the eyes of others since the Torah tells us to stay far from lies.
Hillel says the bride is pleasing and pious. Even though there is no harmony for himself due to his lie, one does not have to live according to the normative standards of others, for he is doing what is harmonious for humankind, and one is obligated in this, [as it is written (Proverbs 3:4), “And you will find favor in the eyes of God and (only afterwards) man.”] And as we explained there (Talmud ibid.),

The House of Hillel said to the House of Shammai: According to your words, if one made a bad purchase in the market (and cannot replace it), should one praise it or denigrate it in his eyes? Surely one should praise it in his eyes!

Er governed himself according to the principle of harmonious for humankind.
It is known that new life cannot come to this world except through hiding and forgetting. Just like a planted seed cannot grow unless it first decays in the ground, so too with humankind. The Drop of Life that descends from the mind cannot be birthed into the world except through the process of thickening and materializing into semen. In this moment (of ejaculation) a person’s consciousness is suspended and forgotten, and if he were to always have God Consciousness, he would not be able to achieve this necessary forgetting that allows birth to occur.
Er was only in the state of harmonious to humankind. He always had clear insight into what God wanted of him and constantly stood in awareness of God. He never wanted to lose sight of this awareness. This is the meaning of Rashi’s explanation that he did not want to ruin her beauty, “her” being the harmony/beauty of Israel [which assumingly was achieved by his unwavering state of God Consciousness].
Onan took the second path. He saw that Judah wanted him to perform Levirate marriage with Tamar to preserve his brother’s name via his seed. This was wrong in his eyes, as it was only for his brother’s sake and he gained nothing from it, and so he bore a grudge. This way is characteristic even of great and righteous individuals, and this is referred to as harmonious for himself.

 

It is a sin to forget about God, but according to the Ishbitzer it is also a sin to never take any risks and not forget about God! This is big for the Ishbitzer. A sin for a higher purpose. It is still a sin, but it is built into the fabric of existence and necessitated by God. I’m going to posit though that this is not supposed to be some radical teaching all about holy sins (even though it is). It is about how we walk on our Path in this world. It is going to be mamash so hard. You may even have to lie to brides and your friends along the way. That’s just how it is. It is a character flaw to wish it wasn’t. By saying you have to forget about God sometimes, by allowing us to sin for God and make our divine service filthy and unattractive, the Ishbitzer is giving us one more tool to try and walk in this world. He is saying “Go for it, and don’t worry so much about how it is going to look. Just get started!” If we can forget about God, just for a second, it may allow for the I to come back into focus long enough to ask “What is it that I am supposed to be creating/bringing to the world?” Maybe that is why Er has to die, or put another way, why he is unable to exist in this world. There is simply no place here for a person who is so afraid to ruin something beautiful that he is paralyzed from doing anything at all. Of course God wants your absolute devotion! But when it gets to the point that you are not breathing new life into it, that you are unable to move from your current place to an unknown and potentially more difficult place of growth, what’s the point at all?

Link to the original Hebrew text (מ״ויהי ער״ עד ״אונן נקרא תפארת לעושיה״)