פרשת משפטים

The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and wait there,”

The mountain is the final revelation and insight on a person’s spiritual journey. Before reaching this point, one needs to intentionally pass through all the variant kinds of wisdom in the world until she arrives at authentic wisdom.
There indicates the pure place, the source of all life, as it says (Numbers 21:16), “And from there to Beer, which is the well where the Lord said to Moses, ‘Assemble the people that I may give them water.’”

You will need to engage with and pass through all the world’s wisdom, but the essence of your place, your essential point, will be the apex of all the stages and insights in your spiritual elevation, and this place will be called There.

 

God wants us to ascend our mountain and find Her there. The path up requires going deep into, but never resting at, all the manifold ways we gain insight into this world. How else will you know where you are going and what there is to see?
The Ishbitzer does something so sweet and subtle with this. He points out that the Torah is telling us when we get to the top to wait There. There and not Here. There isn’t where you are – It is pointing towards some other place.  A place we have yet to arrive at and thus cannot claim with certainty to be standing in that place. That would be so static. The moment would pass.  There is the source of all life, a wellspring of Divine flow, which is endless and unceasing in the vitality it provides.
You have There in you. It is that point past all your spiritual journeys, where you can wait and rest in it, and somehow it always remains just over There. That place is not an end but a beginning. It is the start of a relationship built not around the struggle up, but about seeing a divinity within that is just over There, constantly calling on us to stand a little closer and “rest” in a light that is without end.

 

Link to original Hebrew text

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פרשת יתרו

I the Lord am your God אנכי ה׳ אלהיך

It does not say I א-נ-י [rather I א-נ-כ-י], for if it was written I אני, this would indicate that God revealed to Israel the entirety of His light. They would not be able to further delve into His words, for He had already revealed everything. The letter kaf כ INDICATES that the revelation is not complete and is only a semblance of and reference to the light that God will reveal in the future.

All that a person further acquires and uncovers in her understanding of Torah highlights that what she understood until now is as if it was shrouded in darkness, as is seen with the day and the night. Day is God opening the Gates of Wisdom to a person, and the night is whatever knowledge she just acquired does not appear to her as complete or final. For all that one can grasp is like the night compared to the day that is to follow, and this back-and-forth never ends. Ultimately, everything is like the night compared to the light that God will OPEN in the future.

This is why the injunction to not make a carved and fixed image of God is linked to God’s incomplete exposure of self. As it says in the Zohar (Exodus 87b), “Because it is later written ‘Carve two tablets of stone’, therefore it is written here to not carve an image of stone or make any likeness of what is in the heavens or on earth, in order that you do not create a different Torah.” A carved image is cut according to specific dimensions. It is complete, lacking nothing. The only thing this is true of is the Torah of Moses.

However, it is beyond the scope of human consciousness to create something like this that is perfect and wholly without lack. As it is taught (Ruth Rabba 3.2) The Roman Caesar said to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chaninah, “I too am able to make a Torah like Moses.” He decreed that no fire be made for three days. During this time, the two of them saw smoke rising from one house. The Caesar explained that one of his generals was sick and he had exempt him from the decree, thus admitting that he could not create something entirely perfect like the Torah that did not require amending and conditionals.

Even though we have a similar explicit ruling from the Torah that the saving of a life overrides the laws of the Sabbath, this ruling does not stand in contrast to anything in the Torah, for the Torah commands that the saving of a life is paramount to the Sabbath [and thus is not an amendment to a previous ruling, but an independent concept altogether].

In every instance we are called upon to act for God in contrast to the Law עֵ֭ת לַעֲשׂ֣וֹת לַי-ה-וָ֑-ה הֵ֝פֵ֗רוּ תּוֹרָתֶֽךָ, we find hints of how to overturn the Torah. The Torah includes all possibilities and peregrinations that will come to pass, and its light surrounds and supports all ways and all life that is to be lived. It is beyond the scope of humankind to contain so much. This is why the Zohar explains that the carved or graven image is the positive commandments, and any likeness is the negative commandments.

Nothing is ever revealed to a person in its totality.

פרשת בשלח

Who is like You, O Lord, among the mighty;
Who is like You, majestic in holiness?

Who is like You, O Lord, among the mighty – God’s essential being is hidden from the eyes of all living creatures, and no one can grasp Him, as is explained in the Talmud (B. Gittin 56b),

Aba Chanan said (Psalms 89:9), Who is mighty like You, O Lord? [Rather it should be read] Who is like You, mighty in self-restraint? You heard the blasphemy and insults of that wicked man, and You kept silent!
In the school of Rabi Ishmael it was taught: Who is like You, O Lord, among the mighty באלם [Rather read] Who is like You among the mute באלמים!

Majestic in holiness – meaning explicitly revealed. Within everything one can recognize distinctly and with clarity that there is a Creator, for all that is created reveals there must be a Creator. Every time she encounters the world, the God-seeker will ask herself “Who created this?”

This is the interpretation of the liturgical hymn Majesty and Faithfulness are His who lives forever. Majesty refers to being explicitly revealed, and Faithfulness refers to being hidden and concealed. Something which is not hidden does not require faith, rather it is what is concealed that necessitates faith.
Conversely, the only thing [about God] which is “explicit” to a person is the radical wonder which engenders the question “Who created this?” These two things, the hidden and the revealed, are only able to coexist in God alone.

 

The Jewish people just crossed the sea and witnessed something beyond belief.  It was so miraculous that they were collectively and spontaneously moved to song, to give praise and thanks and expression to this overwhelming feeling inside.  And even there, at the climax of God’s entrance into the world, they resist the urge to make a statement, to solidify and concretize this ecstatic experience of the Divine, to try and make an absolute claim about God in world.  Instead they ask the question “Who is like You?”

Because a question, as the Ishbitzer points out, is all we have.  Not in a limiting way.  It is the only way.  A question allows the object of one’s questioning to never be tied down, to remain larger and greater than any answer we could provide.  Whether we are questioning if God is even here, silent in the face of injustice, or because we are so moved by a beauty in the world that transcends the boundaries of what we thought was possible, it is always a question.

 

Link to original Hebrew text

פרשת וארא

God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the Lord.”

After Moses spoke his words at God [questioning God’s judgment in sending Moses to petition on behalf of the Jewish people], God reprimanded him. This is seen from text’s use of the word spoke דבר, for this implies harsh language. Similarly, the divine name of God אלהי-ם is a reference to [harsh language and judgment].

Immediately afterwards, the text follows with And said to him. This is like a person who gets angry at his friend yet loves him dearly, and when he sees his friend standing in shock and fear, he intimates to him that all his anger was surface-deep and is fleeting.

This is the essence of And said to him, “I am the Lord,” for the word said אמר implies soft and gentle language. God whispered to Moses that He was not speaking out of anger, God forbid. This is also demonstrated by Him saying

I am the Lord י-ה-ו-ה. The blessed divine name abounds in compassion, and the rebuke I gave you was only for a moment, and you have nothing to fear at all.

 

There is a difference between how we speak to others and how we wish we spoke to others. We are always trying to express a deep part of ourselves and make that known to another, striving to say “This is who I am and this is how I so badly want to be and act in the world, and please see that.” Sometimes it can be harsh, but underneath it is this endlessly fertile ground of compassion.
So too with God. He starts out with a caustic rebuke of Moses’s doubt, but is able to be so quick in reassuring Moses of His love for him. God’s actions are remarkable here because He can do it in the same breath. Some of us take much longer to really see the impact of our words on the people we love, and only later can we bring compassion into the relationship.

These early chapters of Exodus are all about Moses and God getting to know each other, figuring out who the other is, and setting the groundwork for everything that will follow from this partnership. There is a lot of back and forth between them about who God is, what name to use when introducing Him, what kind of a deity will He be for the Jewish people. The Ishbitzer is showing us a beautiful moment early on in this courtship. God recognizes the power of His words and rushes to comfort Moses when He sees the frailty and vulnerability of human beings. He tells Moses not to be afraid, that everything they do that is lasting and eternal (leaving Egypt, receiving the Torah, their wanderings through the desert towards the Promised Land) will be rooted in and filled with compassion. This simultaneous acknowledgment of the other’s limitations and reassurance is the promise that God lovingly whispers to Moses. It is the foundation of everything they and we will do as partners with the Divine, as we relive these episodes over and over again, in the text and in our lives.

 

Link to original Hebrew text

פרשת שמות

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?”
And He said, “I will be with you; that shall be your sign that it was I who sent you.
And when you have freed the people from Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.”

Moses was asking two questions:

  1. Who am I – he was requesting that God reveal to him why he was chosen over all others to free the the Israelites
  2. And free the Israelites from Egypt – While it is true that the Egyptians were forcing the Israelites to do oppressive labor and obviously they should be freed, what will be when they leave? Certainly it is not God’s intention to improve their situation only on a physical level [accomplished by simply taking them out of Egypt].

And so God answered:

  1. To the question Who am I, God responds I will be with you – Because I know that you, Moses, are not drawn to anything for yourself, only what I send to you.
    Moses’s name actually indicates this, as it says (Exodus 2:10), “She named him Moses משה, explaining ‘I drew him משיתהו out of the water,’” meaning that he was stripped of all personal desire and pleasure, and felt no pride from that fact that the Divine Presence was speaking to him.
  2. To the question And free the Israelites from Egypt (and the concern about God merely providing physical respite), God responds I will be with you…you shall worship God at this mountain – I will bring all of you under my yoke of Torah, and I will be engaged with you in that which is alive and eternal.
    This is why God says to Moses That shall be your sign that it was I  אנכי who sent you, and not I  אני, for the letter כ refers to something eternal [and infinitely unfolding], as is known.

 

The work of becoming, of figuring out Who am I? is not about getting to a comfortable place where we are focused on satisfying anything and trying to definitively answer the question. It is about constantly touching and uncovering that infinite part within, that inexhaustible vitality which is so much bigger than we could ever imagine.
Moses is exemplary for a few reasons. His humility does not restrict or inhibit him. It puts him in dialogue with a God who sends him to repair a broken world. To elevate those around him, allowing them to tap into something so much greater, placing themselves under a yoke that is not oppressive and dehumanizing, but enlivening and endless. He can do this because it’s not about him. It’s about the divine will flowing unrestricted through him.
The Ishbitzer points us to something else about Moses. In his initial question Who am I
מי אנכי, he’s intuiting the sign that God will provide and placing it on himself, the כ that is infinite and everlasting and is always in a process of being revealed, but never being finale. He understands that this question, this work, is without end. Who we are can never fully be answered, because there is no end to who we can be. By living for something other than ourselves, by attaching ourselves to that infinite, we begin to reveal ourselves and surprise ourselves and gain the strength to go closer and deeper.

 

Link to originial Hebrew text

פרשת ויחי

And Jacob called to his sons

In the Midrash (Tanchuma Vayehi, 8), it is taught (Psalms 57:3),
I will call to God Most High,
to God who completes it for me.

When Jacob wanted to bless his sons, he was unsure if he really needed to bless them on account of all the distress they caused him (from the selling of Joseph), for it is taught (Talmud Yoma 22b), “Any scholar who is not vengeful and vindictive like a serpent is no [real] scholar.” Therefore, the text says called, meaning crying out and yearning with all his heart that Heaven should guide his heart and mind, and that God should place the right words [the blessings] on his tongue. This is the intention of Midrash in citing the verse from Psalms, that Jacob requests from God to complete the blessing for him.
This is why the text does not initially use the traditional blessing form, for Jacob was still not sure what he was going to say to them. However, Moses begins immediately when he says (Deuteronomy 33:1), “This is the blessing…” for the word This refers to all his words being clear the moment he starts speaking. It only became clear to Jacob after his blessings, when the text reads “This is what their father said to them,” that everything he said was from God, and not before.

At the start, God put words of annoyance in his mouth to goad his first three sons, for a scholar needs to be avenged and vindicated. When he gets to Judah, God reveals to him that he should overcome these spiteful qualities, for the name Judah יהודה contains the Blessed Divine Name י-ה-ו-ה. The dalet ד in his name hints at (Isaiah 66:2), “Yet to such a one I look: To the poor and brokenhearted, who trembles at my word.” meaning one who understands that nothing he does comes from him, as is taught in the Zohar that dalet ד takes [Jacob understands that everything Judah did was divinely inspired, so it would be inappropriate to employ the same vitriol that he used when blessing his first three sons].
That is why there is no room for any anger or fury at all. When the aspect of compassion opened up with the blessing of Judah, it overcame [all the negative words of Jacob’s previous “blessing”] and reincorporated all the tribes in this blessing.

Jacob is hurting. He has been put through so much, and even though everything turned out for the best, it does not mitigate the anguish and heal the deep scars within. And yet from that tormented place he is able to give blessings. It is because of that uncertainty that he calls out to God to just guide him to do the right thing, which he knows is bless his kids. He knows they need it and that he needs to be the one doing it, but he isn’t at the place (yet) where he can do what is required of him. So he asks God for help finding the words.

The Ishbitzer points out how we get to watch Jacob’s process unfold. He chastises and holds the first three accountable for the damage they caused. He isn’t over it yet. When he gets to Judah though, he sees how there was something bigger in the works, his heart breaks and opens, and compassion comes flooding in.

It is like we have seen over and over again with the Ishbitzer. Be real about where you are at and don’t pretend. AND work through it and with it to transcend your current state, to come to the place of being able to do what needs to be done. It is only from confronting the depth of your emotions, by bringing all of yourself, with all the pain and yearning and hope, that the divine will can begin to speak and act through you.

Link to original Hebrew text

פרשת תולדות

This is the story of Isaac, son of Abraham. Abraham begot Isaac

It is written (I Chronicles 28:9), “If you seek Him, He will be available to you,” Seeking refers to Abraham, being available/found refers to Isaac. Abraham’s essence was to be constantly yearning and burning for Torah, and that God’s sovereignty be proclaimed throughout the world. This is an attribute of love and expansiveness.
Isaac’s attribute is Gevurah – restraint. When the revelation of God in this world is made clear, it is referred to as Gevurah, as is taught (Talmud Megillah 31b), “Thus Moshe heard it from the mouth of Gevurah,” And Isaac was also known as God’s Gevurah in this world.
And this is the story of Isaac, son of Abraham…The story of Isaac is to proclaim God’s having been revealed in the world. Abraham begot Isaac means that it is Abraham who gives birth to this revelation of God via his burning passion, for passion is an attribute of Abraham.

All authentic torah can only be brought to the life after experiencing the great desire that draws a person to it. This is also expressed in the Talmud (Bava Metzia 44a), “In his youth, Rabi taught his son Rabbi Shimon – Silver acquires Gold, and in his old age taught – Gold acquires Silver.
In youth, there is an incredible passion and desire for Torah, and through this Silver acquires Gold, which is Torah, and the truth-seekers call [Torah] Gold, and Silver is the desire and yearning. But in one’s later years, one needs to pray that the desire for learning isn’t extinguished, for in one’s old age all sense of desire is dimmed. Therefore Rabi reversed the formulation, and Gold acquires Silver. This is his prayer to God that through [the learning/living of] Torah, the desire will arise in his heart to contribute new understanding of Torah.

Imagine a person who is satiated from eating. Nevertheless, If good food is placed before her, it sparks the very desire to eat more. And so it is with Torah. And this is what we pray everyday (Blessings over the Torah), “Please, Lord our God, make the words of your Torah sweet in our mouth and in the mouths of Your people.” That God should sweeten our Torah, that at every moment our desire for more torah is without end. This is what is meant by (Joel 2:26), “And you shall eat, and eat, and be satisfied,” The repetitive language hints at this idea, that by eating, one’s appetite increases. So too is it with Torah.

 

Abraham represents the unbridled passion to reveal the divine in everything down here.  Isaac is able to just sit in that knowledge and awareness of God being totally manifest in this world.  And both are great.  In fact, you can’t have one without the other.  Abraham begot Isaac – All of Abraham’s crazy journeys here and there for the sake of revealing the Oneness are finally realized in Isaac.  He is the fruit of that labor.  Isaac just gets IT.  Everything he does and says is an expression of that truth.
And that’s authentic Torah.  It’s what Torah is and could be when done right.  The revelation of God in everything, proclaimed to all (it’s also an act of love, so let’s not be too harsh with that proclamation).  It is the kind of Torah that Abraham and Isaac could learn and live before the giving of the written Torah.  It is a more expansive kind of Torah.  Even though it is so magnificent, sometimes we are just content to be with the little bits of divinity we already know.  The Torah we have already learned.  Sometimes you’re more Abraham, and sometimes you’re more Isaac.  And that’s OK.  It was meant to be.
Every morning we get to start all over again.  We pray the Torah should be so sweet that even when we have it, we are yearning for more.  We pray to be like Abraham and Isaac at once.  To have true Torah, to know the divine in all our ways, like Isaac who just lived it.  But also to be like Abraham.  To say “Maybe there are new places I haven’t even looked yet in myself and in the world where God is to be found.”