Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Behalotcha Numbers 8:1-12:16
Efrat Israel - Towards the end of our Biblical reading, we find a very strange dialogue between Miriam and Aaron, the elder brother and sister of Moses: “And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite (Midianite) woman he had taken to wife (and divorced - Rashi)… And they said, ‘Did the Lord speak only to Moses? Did He not also speak to us’?!” (Numbers 12:1,2). What are his siblings criticizing Moses for, and what do they mean by insisting that G-d spoke to them as well as to their younger brother?
I believe that this text can become clarified if we properly understand the general name for the study of our Mystical tradition, the “Kabbalah.” The Hebrew term kabbalah means acceptance, and for our great mystical teachers, everything upon our ability to properly accept. Rav David Aaron, the founder and director of Israelite, tells of the first time he came into a class given by a well-known mystical thinker in Jerusalem. The teacher summoned Rav David, and held out an apple - presumably for him to take. Rav David put his hand over the apple, only to find that the teacher removed his hand with the apple. This procedure repeated itself a number of times, with Rav David attempting to lift the apple from the mystic’s hand, and the mystic almost “teasing” him by removing his hand again and again. The other students began to laugh; one of them whispered to David not to grab or take the apple, but rather to accept it in his open and cupped hand just as one accepts the Kiddush goblet, filled with wine, right before the blessing of sanctification. That’s what David did, and the mystic - teacher immediately placed the apple in his cupped hand and smiled. So he learned the first lesson of Jewish mysticism: it all depends on one’s ability to properly accept. And whatever proper acceptance means, it begins with the understanding that one dare never grasp only for oneself, but one’s hand must always be ready to receive, and must remain open and ready to share one’s bounty with anyone else who may wish to partake of it.
In the Biblical portion of Balak, we shall read of Balaam’s talking donkey, who teaches him a crucially important lesson (Numbers 22:21-35). Rabbenu Zadok of Lubin( known as the P’ri Zaddik) explains that the Bible is attempting to teach us that G-d is constantly sending out “Divine Rays of Splendor” which are waiting for human beings to receive them; we must merely have the properly attuned antennae to receive the electric waves of transmissions which are in the very atmosphere all around us.
Rabbenu Zadok proves his point by recounting how he was once walking along a desolate road when he saw a peasant farmer walking towards him carrying a large bale-full of hay; the bale turned over, the hay fell to the ground, and the hapless farmer asked the Rabbi to help him lift his produce. “I’m sorry but I can’t ,” answered Rabbenu Zadok, already feeling weak and thirsty from his travels. “No, you mean you won’t,” responded the peasant farmer. Rabbenu Zadok immediately began helping the Gentile, all the time thanking him for the invaluable message he had taught him. Whenever we say that we can’t, we really mean that we won’t; if there is a strong enough will, virtually anything becomes possible. Apparently, G-d speaks through donkeys, through farmers, through children… We must really develop within ourselves the finely honed antennae to receive the Divine transmissions.
This is the deep meaning of the Biblical verse, “These words the Lord spoke unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice which never ceased (Targum)” (Deut 5:19). The Divine Voice heard at Sinai constantly continues to communicate; it is up to us to develop our minds and our souls sufficiently to be able to accept the Divine waves or rays.
Let us now return to Moses’ siblings, who couldn’t understand how this great prophet could have divorced his Midianite wife Zipporah. The great philosopher - legalist of the 12th Century, Maimonides, explains it as follows (Laws of the Foundations of Torah, 6): The Almighty, in an attempt to raise the spiritual level of the Israelites and prepare them for the Revelation at Sinai, instructed them to separate from their spouse for three days prior to the Appearance of the Almighty atop the Mount. At the conclusion of the Revelation, G-d instructs His prophet, “go now and tell them to return to their tents (and their wives)” (Deut 5: 27,28). Miriam therefore tells Aaron that Moses, too, should have returned to his wife Zipporah. After all, was not the commandment to return to the natural familial situation after the Revelation given to everyone - including Moses !?
What Miriam did not understand was that Moses was sui generis, unique and different “in kind” from everyone else, and even from every subsequent prophet. G-d specifically singled out Moses and separated him from the general return to the family tents when He said to him, “But you stand here with Me and I shall (constantly) speak to you….” (Deut. 5:28). “All other prophets had their ‘prophetic moments of Divine communication,’ either in a dream or in a vision; Moses prophesized when awake and standing … the holy spirit garbed and enveloped him, whenever he desired it… He was constantly prepared and ready for Divine communication, just like a heavenly angel. Therefore the other prophets would return to their homes and to their bodily, physical needs once the spirit of prophecy departed from them, whereas Moses could not return to his wife, but had to separate himself from her forever, because his mind was constantly bound up with the “mind” of the Rock of Eternity, whose Divine glory never left him…” (Maimonides, ibid).
Moses was in a continuous state of prophecy, always attuned to the Divine signals of emission; he was an eternal “receiving” (Kabbalah) station, a receptor of the Divine rays of splendor. He was the mekabel, mekubal, par excellence.