A Messenger of…

I became convinced two disputes are related. I am not 100% sure of the nature of the relationship, but as it’s related to parashas Ki Sisa, I want to post what I have so far while it’s still this week’s parashah.

Machloqes #1: Do kohanim serve as sheluchei didan (our messengers), representing us in our service of the Creator? Or are they sheluchei diShmaya (messengers of [the One in] heaven), a conduit of His Message to the Jewish People?

This question is posed on Nedarim 35b. They raise a pragmatic difference. If a Jew swears off getting benefit from a given kohein, can the kohein offer his qorban for him? If the kohein is acting on the person’s behalf in giving the qorban, then this assistance would violate the oath. But if the kohein is acting on Hashem’s behalf in receiving the qorban, then he could perform this service. The discussion goes on for over a page, but without resolution.

Machloqes #2: This section of the Torah is understood two ways. The Ramban assumes the narrative is in chronological order. We receive the Torah, the laws of parshios MishpatimTerumah, and Tetzaveh at Har Sinai, and then after those laws but Moshe had not yet descended from the mountain, we make the Eigel haZahav (the Golden Calf).

Rashi writes that the sin actually occurred before Terumah and Tetzaveh, that we were commanded to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle), uniforms for the kohanim etc… as a consequence of the sin. This is why the kohanim and leviim, the people who fought against the sin, are the ones chosen for service. Similarly, Chur dies resisting the masses’ pressing him into service to make the Eigel, and his son Betzalel is in charge of the Mishkan. Then there is the heavy use of gold, the bull — an adult calf — offered by Aharon, who does choose to make the Eigel rather than add his own death to their list of sins, show a process of atonement for the sin. The order of the text was thematic, not chronological.

The Overlap: The Eigel was intended as a replacement for Moshe, who wasn’t descending when they expected him to.

וַיַּרְא הָעָם כִּי בֹשֵׁשׁ מֹשֶׁה לָרֶדֶת מִן הָהָר, וַיִּקָּהֵל הָעָם עַל אַהֲרֹן וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו: קוּם עֲשֵׂה לָנוּ אֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר יֵלְכוּ לְפָנֵינוּ, כִּי זֶה מֹשֶׁה הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלָנוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לֹא יָדַעְנוּ מֶה הָיָה לוֹ.

And the nation saw that Moshe delayed in coming down from the mountain, and the nation gathered against Aharon and said to him, “Get up and make for us gods who will go before us; for this man Moshe who took us out of the land of Egypt — we don’t know what happened to him.”

– Shemos 32:1

Moshe is described as a sheliach diShamaya to His People, not our messenger. In Shemos ch. 4, when Hashem appoints Moshe at the Burning Bush, He says “va’eshlachakha el Par’oh — and I will send you to Par’oh” (v. 10), “vezeh lekha ha’os ki Anokhi shelachtikha — and will be for you a sign that I am sending you” (v. 12) Moshe asks “ve’amari lahem, ‘E-lokei avoseikhem shelachani aleikhem — and when I say to them ‘the G-d of your ancestors sent me to you” they will ask for Your Name. (v. 13) And Hashem answers Moshe that he tell them, “This is what you should tell the Benei Yisrael, E-hyeh sent me to you.” (v. 14)

So, if the people were already told that there would be a Mishkan and kohanim before feeling they had to make the Eigel to fill the vacuum they thought was left by Moshe, then they had to believe that Moshe’s role was inherently different than that the kohanim would fill.

So, if they correctly understood that Moshe was Hashem’s messenger, then they clearly thought that kohanim were sheluchei didan.

But there is strong reason to believe that this it was exactly their error — they did not correctly understand the role of Moshe, and thought he was their messenger. After all, some kind of misunderstanding the role of Moshe had to underlie the idea that a teacher could be replaced by a Golden Calf. And after all, we already saw that the Eigel was in response to an appeal to “make for us gods to go before us.” Which would imply that they understood the kohanim as sheluchei deShmaya.

On the other hand, according to Rashi’s model that the Mishkan came after the Eigel and atones for it, then the two rules would have to be the same. But unlike in the Ramban’s case, where all we can deduce is how people would panic based on what they think is going on, here what is most relevant is how Hashem saw their actions, and how their sin impacted existence metaphysically.

Here two there are two possibilities:

The first would say that according to Rashi, since Moshe was a sheleiach diShmaya, the Eigel impinged on that level, and the Mishkan and kohanim would have to be a repair on the same level as well. And so, it would seem to me that the kohanim would have to be sheluchei diShmaya.

The other possibility (paralleling the second possible understanding in the Ramban) is that their whole sin was in misunderstanding Moshe’s role. And so even though their actions belied the role of  Hashem’s messenger, they mistakenly thought their own messenger needed replacing, and they sinned in how to appoint their sheliach didan. And so Hashem shows them the right way to do it, by showing us how to make the kohanim into sheluchei didan.

So, two disputes, and all four combinations are possible. But the reasoning in each of the four cases involves both:

 Kohanim as Sheluchei DidanKohanim as Sheluchei DiShmaya
Ramban: Historical SequenceMoshe is correctly seen as Hashem’s messenger, and so even with kohanim they feel a need to place him.Their whole error was that they thought Moshe was their messenger, so finding out Hashem was appointing His own messenger didn’t help their panic
Rashi: Mishkan as AtonementMoshe is mistakenly seen as sheliach didan, which Hashem corrected by teaching us about the Mishkan and kohanim. and constructively channeling that need. The Benei Yisrael demonstrate their panic about Hashem’s messenger being dead by making an idol to invest with His replacement. Therefore Hashem offers atonement through His true shelichim, the kohanim.

I explored the link between the eigel and the keruvim (via the Egptian cult of Apis the bull-god, the religion Yerav’am established for the Northern Kingdom, and the Chaldean bull-god Kirub, as well as the bull or keruv face on the chayos in Yechezqel’s vision) a few years back in “Angels and Idols“.

Temimus and Deveiqus

The mitzvah of Beris Milah is introduced with the words, “אֲנִי קֵל שַׁקַּי, הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי וֶהְיֵה תָמִים — I am Kel Shakai, walk yourself before Me, and be whole.”

To me, this pasuk addresses the focus of the most basic open question in Jewish philosophy. Clearly the attention of Yahadus is on keeping mitzvos. But what is the goal of following mitzvos? What is the goal of life, that mitzvos are to help us accomplish?

How are we supposed to read the quote? Is the walking before G-d that is primary, and being whole a side-effect? Or, is being whole the focus of the pasuq, and walking before G-d is a means to reach that temimus? On a deeper level, these two approaches are different aspects of the same idea. A person lives in tension between his spiritual and physical sides — neshamah vs. guf. To achieve wholeness, so that the entire person is working harmoniously, he would necessarily be serving his spiritual goal, and walking in Hashem’s path. In reverse, if one strives for deveiqus to a singular G-d, how could he be a chaotic battleground of warring urges? Cleaving to G-d forces His priorities to be yours, leaving temimus.

This is not to say that there is no distinction in approach. By stressing different elements, there are profound practical implications. For example, consider the debate between Chassidim and non-Chassidim on the importance of davening in the appointed times. We should be clear that the Chassidic position is that one must invest time to prepare for davening, even if this is at the expense of timeliness — it is not blanket permission to ignore the clock.

Chassidus is a deveiqus-based hashkafah. Therefore, when weighing the relative merits, it is more important to be able to invest time to prepare one’s mind and heart for the act of tephillah, for relating to Hashem, than when the tephillah actually begins.

To someone with a temimus orientation, however, zehirus, meticulousness, care in how each facet of the mitzvah is done, is the more important consideration. Zerizus, haste to do what’s right, is an important middah (personality trait). Both come into play when considering the timeliness of tefillah.

Both Mussar and Chassidus saw a predecessor in the Ramchal. I think this too is possible because the Ramchal appears to echo the Torah’s dialectic. For example, they have two contrasting ways of understanding the beginning of the first chapter of Mesilas Yesharim:

יסוד החסידות ושרש העבודה התמימה הוא שיתברר ויתאמת אצל האדם מה חובתו בעולמו ולמה צריך שישים מבטו ומגמתו בכל אשר הוא עמל כל ימי חייו. והנה מה שהורונו חכמינו זכרונם לברכה הוא, שהאדם לא נברא אלא להתענג על ה’ ולהנות מזיו שכינתו שזהו התענוג האמיתי והעידון הגדול מכל העידונים שיכולים להמצא. ומקום העידון הזה באמת הוא העולם הבא, כי הוא הנברא בהכנה המצטרכת לדבר הזה. אך הדרך כדי להגיע אל מחוז חפצנו זה, הוא זה העולם. והוא מה שאמרו זכרונם לברכה (אבות ד): העולם הזה דומה לפרוזדור בפני העולם הבא.


The foundation of saintliness and the root of perfect service [of G-d] is in a person obtaining clarity and realizing the truth of what is his duty in the world, and to what he has to set his sights and aspirations in all of his activities all the days of his life. This is what Chazal taught us, that a person was created for nothing but finding pleasure in God and enjoy the splendor of His Presence; for that is the true pleasure and greatest joy of all forms of enjoyment that can be found. The true place where this pleasure may be derived is the World to Come, which was expressly created to provide for it; but the path to the object of our desires is this world, as our Sages of blessed memory have said (Avos 4:21), “This world is like a corridor to the World to Come.”

So the question becomes what is the nature of this “corridor”? We cannot get the full pleasure of Hashem’s presence in this world. So, do we try our best to achieve deveiqus, connection to Him, in this world and thereby earn success in the world to come? Or is the purpose of this life to refine oneself to be capable of as much connection — and therefore as much enjoyment — in the next world, and that refinement is significantly different than connecting itself?

I would suggest that Chassidus sees itself in Mesilas Yesharim because they take the former stance, whereas Mussar sees itself because of the latter interpretation. This ambiguity is possible also because the middos listed in the beraisa of Pinechas ben Yair which the Ramchal uses as his list of topics for the rest of the text is on the one hand an exercise in self-refinement, but on the other hand framed as a latter up to holiness, Divine Inspiration (Ruach haQodesh) and the revival of the dead (Techiyas haMeisim).

As the Ramchal writes later in the chapter:

ואמנם ראוי לו שתהיה כל פנייתו רק לבורא יתברך, ושלא יהיה לו שום תכלית אחר בכל מעשה שיעשה אם קטן ואם גדול אלא להתקרב אליו יתברך ולשבור כל המחיצות המפסיקות בינו לבין קונו, הן הנה כל עניני החומריות והתלוי בהם, עד שימשך אחריו יתברך ממש כברזל אחר אבן השואבת. וכל מה שיוכל לחשוב שהוא אמצעי לקורבה הזאת, ירדוף אחריו ויאחז בו ולא ירפהו. וכל מה שיוכל לחשוב שהוא מניעה לזה, יברח ממנו כבורח מן האש.


It is indeed fitting that his every inclination be towards the Creator, may His Name be blessed, and that his every action, great or small, be motivated by no purpose other than that of drawing near to the Blessed One and breaking all the barriers (all the earthy elements and their concomitants) that stand between him and his Possessor, until he is pulled towards the Blessed One just as iron to a magnet. Anything that might possibly be a means to acquiring this closeness, he should pursue and clutch, and not let go of; and anything which might be considered a deterrent to it, he should flee as from a fire.

Deciding what is of value in this world in terms of what brings us closer or further from G-d became the centerpiece of Chassidic thought. Whereas the Mussarist would see a couple of sentences later:

…כיון שביאתו לעולם אינה אלא לתכלית הזה, דהיינו, להשיג את הקירבה הזאת במלטו נפשו מכל מונעיה ומפסידיה.


… Since our coming to [this] world is for nothing but this goal, which is to obtain this closeness by rescuing his soul from all the deterrents to and detractors from it.

And so they can conclude that no, the Ramchal is talking about dealing with those issues now, in the corridor, to enable true cleaving to G-d in the World to Come.

Perhaps this plurality is the whole point of the Torah’s doubled phraseology. Because there are two groups of approaches to the same ends, we don’t want to eliminate one in favor of the other. Each person can pick out a derekh that best suits him — as long as he aims for the proper goal.

Kosher, Tahor, Qadosh

The pasuq (still in parashas Re’eih) discusses the various species of kosher and non-kosher mammals (Devarim 14:3-8), marine animals (v. 9-10), and flying creatures (v. 11-20). And the terminology is that this species is tamei, whereas that is tahor.

Then, in the final pasuq (14:21):

לֹא תֹאכְלוּ כָל נְבֵלָה, לַגֵּר אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ תִּתְּנֶנָּה וַאֲכָלָהּ, אוֹ מָכֹר לְנָכְרִי, כִּי עַם קָדוֹשׁ אַתָּה, לַה’ אֱלֹקיךָ; לֹא תְבַשֵּׁל גְּדִי בַּחֲלֵב אִמּוֹ.  {פ}Do not eat from anything which died on its own; give it to the stranger who is in your gates, so that he can eat it, or you my sell it to a foreigner; because you are a holy  nation to Hashem your G-d; do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk.

There is a shift. When discussing which animals we may or may not eat, the Torah frames it in terms of tamei vs. tahor. But when describing the requirements of shechitah and separating meat and milk, the attribute in question is our qedushah.

As I wrote in a comment on the haqdamah to Shaarei Yosher:

When the Torah speaks of taharah,  the proposition is “mi-”, from, e.g. “vetiharo min hatzora’as”– and he [the kohein] purifies him from the [tum'ah associated with the spirito-somatic illness,] tzora’as“. What is taharah? While many object to translating it as “spiritual purity”, the word is used to describe the “pure gold” of the menorah, “zahav tahor”. Taharah is freeing the soul from a kind of adulteration, just as it describes gold that is free of impurities.  The tahor soul is one that is free from the habits and effects of living within an animal body.

On the other hand, qedushah is about pull. The golden tzitz on the kohein gadol’s forehead reads “qadesh Lashem”. Qedushah is being set aside for a given purpose. The wedding formula, “Hereby you are mequdeshes li…, committed to me…” uses the term where the “to” isn’t Hashem’ purpose. But in usual usage, if the “le-” is not provided, it means creation’s Ultimate Purpose, “for My Honor, lekhvodi, I have created it”.

(And then continued in R’ Shim’on’s vain that the Ultimate Purpose is to partner with HQBH to share His Good with the rest of creation.)

This dichotomy may explain the shift here as well. When the subject is what we eat, avoiding certain foods is staying away from what’s wrong, and thus is a path to taharah. But having rituals for how we eat, that elevates eating into a means of remembering our higher calling and serving him, and thus is part of striving for qedushah.

Earning one’s livelihood

The pasuq reads:

 וּבָא הַלֵּוִי כִּי אֵין לוֹ חֵלֶק וְנַחֲלָה עִמָּךְ, וְהַגֵּר וְהַיָּתוֹם וְהָאַלְמָנָה אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ, וְאָכְלוּ וְשָׂבֵעוּ, לְמַעַן יְבָרֶכְךָ ה אֱלֹקֶיךָ, בְּכָל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדְךָ אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשֶׂה.  {ס}And the Levi, because he doesn’t have a portion nor an inheritance with you, and the ger, and the orphan and the widow, who are within gates, shall come, eat and be satisfied; so that Hashem your G-d may bless you in all the work of your hands which you do.

As this is right at the end of shelishi of parashas Re’eih, the last phrase caught my attention. “All the work for your hands” describes it, what is added by “which you do”?

The line reminded me of a thought I had to answer a different question. The ninth berakhah of the Amidah is called “Birkhas haShanim — Blessing of the Years” (the following is Nusach haGra, but the point remains in all versions):

בָּרֵךְ עָלֵינוּ ה אֱלֹקֵינוּ אֶת הַשָּׁנָה הַזֹּאת וְאֶת כָּל מִינֵי תְבוּאָתָהּ לְטוֹבָה. וְתֵן [טַל וּמָטָר לִ]בְרָכָה עַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה, וְשַׂבְּעֵנוּ מִטּוּבָהּ, וּבָרֵךְ שְׁנָתֵנוּ כַּשָּׁנִים הַטּוֹבוֹת. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה, מְבָרֵךְ הַשָּׁנִים.Bless for us, Hashem our G-d, this year and all its kinds of crop for good. And give [dew and rain for] a blessing upon the face of the earth, satisfy us with its good, and bless our years like the good years. Blessed are You / You are the Source of Blessing, who blesses the years.

Why does this berakhah mix two ideas? Are we asking Hashem to bless all the crops and the land (and in the winter: the rain and dew) which provides them? Or are we asking Him to bless the year to be among the best ones? To understand the berakhah, I turned to my favorite source, Rav Shimon Shkop’s introduction to Shaarei Yosher (in what I called sec. 6: Refinement, part 4:

ותחלת קבלת התורה על ידי משה רבינו ע״ה היתה דמות ואות לכל בני ישראל מקבלי התורה, שכמו שאמר הקב״ה למשה רבינו ע״ה “פסל לך שני לוחות אבנים”, כל כך הוא רמז לכל מקבלי התורה, שיכין כל איש ישראל לוחות לעצמו, לכתוב עליהם דבר ה׳, וכפי הכשרתו בהכנת הלוחות, כן תהיה קבלתו, מתחילה וכן גם אחרי זה אם יתקלקלו אצלו הלוחות, אז לא תתקיים התורה, ועל ידי זה לא יהיה מצוי כל כך ענין פחד משה רבינו ע״ה, שלפי ערך מעלת האדם ביראת ה׳ ובמדות, שהוא לוח לבבו, לפי ערך זה ינתן לו מן השמים קנין התורה, ואם יפול אחר כך ממדרגתו, לפי ערך זה תשכח התורה ממנו, וכמו שאמרו חז״ל שכמה ענינים גורמים לשכחת התורה ר״ל, ועל דבר גדול זה אמרו חז״ל לפרש את הכתוב בסיומא של תורה, “ולכל היד החזקה שעשה משה לעיני כל ישראל”,The beginning of the receiving of the Torah through Moses was a symbol and sign for all of the Jewish people who receive the Torah [since]. Just as Hashem told Moses, “Carve for yourself two stone Tablets”, so too it is advice for all who receive the Torah. Each must prepare Tablets for himself, to write upon them the word of Hashem. According to his readiness in preparing the Tablets, so will be his ability to receive. If in the beginning or even any time after that his Tablets are ruined, then his Torah will not remain. This removes much of Moses’ fear, because according to the value and greatness of the person in Awe/Fear of Hashem and in middos, which are the Tablet of his heart, this will be the measure by which heaven will give him acquisition of Torah. And if he falls from his level, by that amount he will forget his Torah, just as our sages said of a number of things that cause Torah to be forgotten. About this great concept our sages told us to explain the text at the conclusion of the Torah, “and all the great Awe Inspiring acts which Moses wrought before the eyes of all of Israel.” (Devarim 34:12, the closing words of the Torah)

Hashem doesn’t just hand us our needs, He created the notion of having to work for them, because that’s the process by which we hone the middos necessary to embody the Torah. And so, we ask Hashem to bless us with good crops, but we don’t only mention the success at the end, but  ask for His berakhah on the year of process it takes to get those crops. Bless for us this year, that it not only be prosperous, but that we too grow and flourish.

And perhaps that’s what the Torah means here too. We give ma’aser to the Levi “so that Hashem your G-d may bless you in all the work of your hands” — that we have financial success, and blessing in “that you do” — that the activity itself is blessed in how it refines us.

Seeing and Listening

Thinking about the title word of yesterday’s parashah, I wondered about the two sensory metaphors we use for learning. Here our parashah opens “re’eih”– see. But usually the Torah uses “shema“, to listen. In fact, shemi’ah appears later in the very same paragraph.1

כורְאֵה, אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם בְּרָכָה וּקְלָלָה.26 Behold, I put before you today a blessing and a curse:
כז  אֶת-הַבְּרָכָה אֲשֶׁר תִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶל מִצְו‍ֹת ה אֱלֹקֵיכֶם, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם הַיּוֹם.27 the blessing: if you listen to the commandments of Hashem your G-d, which I command you to day;
כח  וְהַקְּלָלָה, אִם לֹא תִשְׁמְעוּ אֶל מִצְו‍ֹת ה אֱלֹקֵיכֶם, וְסַרְתֶּם מִן הַדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם הַיּוֹם,  לָלֶכֶת אַחֲרֵי אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים אֲשֶׁר לֹא יְדַעְתֶּם.  {ס}28 and the curse: if you do not listen to the commandments of the Hashem your G-d, but turn way from the way which I command you today, to go after other gods, which you have not known.

Notice that there are two differences between shemi’ah and re’iahYes, they refer to different senses. But also, whereas shemi’ah is an active process — it means to listen, not to hear, re’iyah is to see, not specifically to look.

I realized over Shabbos that the question of theodicy is consistently associated with vision. For example, after the Golden Calf, Moshe asks to see Hashem’s ways:

יג  וְעַתָּה אִם-נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ, הוֹדִעֵנִי נָא אֶת-דְּרָכֶךָ, וְאֵדָעֲךָ, לְמַעַן אֶמְצָא-חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ; וּרְאֵה, כִּי עַמְּךָ הַגּוֹי הַזֶּה.13 Now if I have found Grace in Your Sight, show me now Your Ways, that I could know You, to the end that I may find grace in Thy sight; and consider that this nation is Thy people.’
יד  וַיֹּאמַר:  פָּנַי יֵלֵכוּ, וַהֲנִחֹתִי לָךְ.14 And He said: ‘My Presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.’
כב  וְהָיָה בַּעֲבֹר כְּבֹדִי, וְשַׂמְתִּיךָ בְּנִקְרַת הַצּוּר וְשַׂכֹּתִי כַפִּי עָלֶיךָ עַד עָבְרִי.22 And it will have been that as My Glory passes by, that I will put you in a cleft of the rock and cover you with My “Hand” until I have passed by.
כג  וַהֲסִרֹתִי, אֶת-כַּפִּי וְרָאִיתָ אֶת-אֲחֹרָי, וּפָנַי לֹא יֵרָאוּ.  {פ}23 And I will take away My hand, and thou shalt see My back; but My face shall not be seen.’

And the Chasam Sofer explains in a thought that often gets quoted, that this is a deep truth about how Hashem runs the world. We can not see Hashem’s plan as events unfold. We can hope, someday, after the fact, to get some glimpse of it, “from behind”.

Similarly here. Hashem asks us to “listen” to the commandments and “see” His reward and punishment.

Moshe’s prophecy is “Vayedaber Hashem“, Hashem “speaks”. A prophet’s mind clothes his message in visions, as in “Chazon Yeshaiahu“. An earlier pasuq in Shemos makes this point:

ב  וַיְדַבֵּר אֱלֹקְים, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, אֲנִי ה.2 And G-d spoke to Moses, and said to him, “I am Hashem
ג  וָאֵרָא, אֶל-אַבְרָהָם אֶל-יִצְחָק וְאֶל-יַעֲקֹב–בְּקֵל שַׁקי; וּשְׁמִי ה, לֹא נוֹדַעְתִּי לָהֶם.3 and I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as G-d Who Sets Limits, but as My name Hashem I did not let them know Me.”

Which then made me think of a difference in language I noticed between the two Talmuds. In the Bavli, when a conclusion can be derived from something we “shema mina — we listen from this”. But in the Yerushalmi, such conclusions are more often “chamei” — “we see”.

At this point I think I saw a pattern. The Yerushalmi has a lot less confidence in deductions than the Bavli. To the extent that the word “ba’ei“, which means “to ask” in the sense of requesting someone to teach the halakhah in some case (as it does in the Bavli), is also used to introduce a proposed novellum. An amora requesting a ruling is the same language as if he were suggesting one from his own reasoning.

Moshe’s prophecy is more sure than that of other prophets, except when it comes to theodicy, understanding suffering or for that matter why there are wicked people who are enjoying their lives, for which there is never a sure answer. Again, sight being used as a metaphor for the less sure mode of learning.

Which is an interesting contrast to “seeing is believing”.

1 If you look at the wording, Hashem doesn’t say that there is a blessing that Hashem will give us if we listen to the mitzvos, and a curse if we do not and instead pursue idolatry. Rather, the listening to the mitzvos itself is the blessing. The Sifri makes a point of this. See “The Gift of Justice” in the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah Reader.)


My rebbe, Rav Dovid Lifshitz, passed away on 9 Tammuz 5753, 20 years ago today. I am posting a gemara that rebbe would often refer to in his shmuessin. Yuma 86a:

At Rabbi Yanai['s school] it was said: Anyone whose peers are embarassed by what is heard about him, that is a desecration of Hashem’s name.
Rav Nachman bar Yitzchaq said: For example, if people say [about him], “May the Lord forgive So-and-so.”

Abaye said: As the beraisa says, “‘And you shall love Hashem your G-d’ — that the Name of Heaven shall be beloved because of you.”

If someone studies Tanakh and Mishnah, and apprentices under the Sages, is trustworthy in business, and speaks pleasantly to people, what do people say about him? “Enriched is his father who taught him Torah! Enriched is his rebbe who taught him Torah! Woe for those who didn’t study Torah! For So-and-so who learned Torah, look how pleasant his ways are, how sweet his deeds!” The pasuq says of him “[Hashem] said to me: Yisrael, you are my servant that in you I will be glorified!” (Yeshaiah 49:3)
But, if someone studies Tanakh and Mishnah, and apprentices under the Sages, but is not trustworthy in business, and his words are unpleasant toward people, what do people say about him? “Woe for his father who taught him Torah! Woe for his rebbe who taught him Torah! So-and-so who learned Torah, look how accursed are his ways, how disgustinghis deeds!” The pasuq says of him, “About them people say: These are Hashem’s people, and they are gone from His land.” (Yechezqeil 36:20)


דבי ר’ ינאי אמר: כל שחביריו מתביישין מחמת שמועתו (היינו חילול השם).
אמר רב נחמן בר יצחק: כגון דקא אמרי אינשי שרא ליה מריה לפלניא.
אביי אמר כדתניא: (דברים ו, ה) וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת ה אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ — שיהא שם שמים מתאהב על ידך.
שיהא קורא ושונה ומשמש ת”ח ויהא משאו ומתנו בנחת עם הבריות מה הבריות אומרות עליו אשרי אביו שלמדו תורה אשרי רבו שלמדו תורה אוי להם לבריות שלא למדו תורה פלוני שלמדו תורה ראו כמה נאים דרכיו כמה מתוקנים מעשיו עליו הכתוב אומר (ישעיהו מט, ג) וַיֹּאמֶר לִי עַבְדִּי אָתָּה יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר בְּךָ אֶתְפָּאָר.
אבל מי שקורא ושונה ומשמש ת”ח ואין משאו ומתנו באמונה ואין דבורו בנחת עם הבריות מה הבריות אומרות עליו אוי לו לפלוני שלמד תורה אוי לו לאביו שלמדו תורה אוי לו לרבו שלמדו תורה פלוני שלמד תורה ראו כמה מקולקלין מעשיו וכמה מכוערין דרכיו ועליו הכתוב אומר (יחזקאל לו, כ) [וַיָּבוֹא אֶל הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר בָּאוּ שָׁם וַיְחַלְּלוּ אֶת שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי] בֶּאֱמֹר לָהֶם עַם ה אֵלֶּה וּמֵאַרְצוֹ יָצָאוּ.

Other posts related to Rav Dovid:

  • Rebbe – Bios and hespedim
  • Brisk and Telzh – on how his shiur differed from Brisker derekh (and why I am happy with my choice), published in Kol haMevaser
  • Shalom Rav – on peace and wholeness, and why they share the same root, another theme Rav Dovid often revisited

An amazing, wonderful and fundamental Tanchuma

H/T RYGB, who posted this Tanchuma under the same title (“An amazing, …”). I would like to add translation. Medrash Tanchuma, Tzav (#3 in Warsaw ed., #5 in Buber ed.):

This is the Torah of the praise-of-peace [offerings]…” (Vayiqra 7:11) This is what is written “Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.” (Mishlei 3:17). Everything that is written in the Torah is written for the sake of peace. Even though things about wars are written in the Torah, they were written for the sake of peace.

You find that the Holy One, blessed be He, annulled the decree for the sake of peace. When was this? When the Holy One told Moshe, “When you lay siege on a  city many days…” (Devarim 20:19) and that whole topic, Hashem said that you should destroy them, as it says “When you utterly destroy them” (v. 17)  But Moshe didn’t do this. Rather he said, “Now I will go and attack? I do not know who sinned and who did not sin! Rather, I will come to them in peace.” As it says, “And I will send messengers from the Qedeimos wilderness… words of peace, saying…” (Devarim 2:26) Once he saw that he didn’t come in peace, he attacked him. As it says, “And they struck him and his sons and his whole nation.” The Holy One said to him, “I said ‘If you lay siege…’ and you come to them in peace?! By your life! Just as you said, so shall I do.” As it says, “When you approach a city to wage war on it, you shall call out to it for peace.” (Devarim 20:10).

Therefore it says , “Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.”

וזאת תורת זבח השלמים” (ויקרא ז:יא). זש”ה “דרכיה דרכי נועם וכל נתיבותיה שלום” (משלי ג:יז), כל מה שכתוב בתורה, לשום שלום הוא נכתב. אעפ”י שכתוב בתורה מלחמות, לשם שלום נכתבו. את מוצא שביטל הקב”ה את הגזירה מפני השלום. אימתי? כשאמר הקב”ה למשה, “כי תצור אל עיר ימים רבים” וגו’ (דברים כ:יט), וכל אותו הענין, א”ל הקב”ה שיהא מחרים אותם, שנאמר “כי החרם תחרימם” (דברים כ:יז). ומשה לא עשה כן, אלא אמר עכשיו אני הולך ומכה, איני יודע מי חטא ומי לא חטא, אלא בשלום אבוא עליהם, שנאמר “ואשלח מלאכים ממדבר קדמות וגו’ דברי שלום לאמר” (דברים ב:כו), כיון שראה שלא בא בשלום הכה אותו, שנאמר “ויכו אותו ואת בניו ואת כל עמו” (במדבר כא:לה), אמר לו הקב”ה אני אמרתי “כי החרם תחרימם” וגו’, ואתה באתה עליהם בשלום?! חייך כשם שאמרת כך אני אעשה, שנאמר “כי תקרב אל עיר להלחם עליה וקראת אליה לשלום” (דברים כ:י), לכך נאמר “דרכיה דרכי נועם וכל נתיבותיה שלום.”

What’s the rush?

דְּבַשׁ מָצָאתָ אֱכֹל דַּיֶּךָּ פֶּן תִּשְׂבָּעֶנּוּ וַהֲקֵאתוֹ.

If you find honey, eat just enough; lest you get full and vomit it.

– Mishlei 25:16

(In the days of the geonim and earlier rishonim it was customary to start a derashah with a verse from Mishlei and then use its explanation to conclude with an explanation of something from the parashah. I’m happy to have once found a way to work within that structure.)

Mishlei is a collection of metaphors, as the name of the book itself is “The Parables of [Shelomo ben David, king of Israel.]” (1:1) In this vein, the Vilna Gaon explains our opening verse based on the notion that “devash” here is meant as an acronym of “de’iah, binah, seikhel — theoretical knowledge, reason, applying the knowledge”, to use the translations he gives in the introduction to the work.

Sidenote: This is the same triad found in Nusach Ashkenaz’s version of birkhas Da’as (the fourth berakhah of the Amidah, “Atah chonein…”)  but with a different conjugation: “dei’ah, binah, haskeil.” Perhaps because asking Hashem for help turning what we know into practice would be asking for Him to violate free will, so we instead ask to provide us with more skill at doing so, rather than help in the actual doing.

But intellect and spirituality are good things, so what would it mean to say “if you gain knowledge and the wherewithall to use it, apply just enough; lest you get full and vomit it”?

In Aesop’s “The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs”, he writes (tr. Harvard Classics 1909 ed.):

ONE day a countryman going to the nest of his Goose found there an egg all yellow and glittering. When he took it up it was as heavy as lead and he was going to throw it away, because he thought a trick had been played upon him. But he took it home on second thoughts, and soon found to his delight that it was an egg of pure gold. Every morning the same thing occurred, and he soon became rich by selling his eggs. As he grew rich he grew greedy; and thinking to get at once all the gold the Goose could give, he killed it and opened it only to find, —nothing.


In “real life” we have to balance our production with our capacity to produce. If we are overly short-sighted in our pursuit of immediate gains and accomplishments, we can kill the goose, and end up accomplishing less in our lives overall.

In the context of religious worship, this is the need to both perform mitzvos, and to develop within our selves the abilities necessary to do future mitzvos (including rest as needed), and the middos to make the right choices when opportunities arrive. As R’ Shimon writes (tr. mine):

וכמובן בכל הקדשות שהוא התיחדות למטרה נכבדה, והנה כשהאדם מישר הליכותיו ושואף שתמיד יהיו דרכי חייו מוקדשים להכלל, אז כל מה שעושה גם לעצמו להבראת גופו ונפשו הוא מתיחס גם כן אל מצות קדושה, שעל ידי זה יטיב גם לרבים, שבטובתו לעצמו הוא מטיב עם הרבים הצריכים לו.

And as understood, all holiness is being set apart for an honorable purpose – which is that a person straightens his path and strives constantly to make his lifestyle dedicated to the community. Then, anything he does even for himself, for the health of his body and soul he also associates to the mitzvah of being holy, for through this he can also do good for the masses. Through the good he does for himself he can do good for the many who rely on him.

And similarly the Gra says that Shelomo haMelekh is warning us not to try to exceed our grasp. That by trying for more da’as, binah and haskeil then one is ready for, one can end up burning out. (Sorry for what will be in retrospect a poor turn of phrase; check back when you get to the end of this post.)

Many of us have encountered the baal teshuvah who tries to take on too much too soon, and after a short while gives up on the whole enterprise. Or have ourselves set overly high expectations during the High Holidays, and all the resolutions unravel in the days (or day) after Yom Kippur — leaving us with no change.

Now to turn to the parashah… When one looks at Chazal and rishonim explaining the magnitude of Nadav and Avihu’s sin, to find why it was so grievous as to warrant their death, one finds numerous different suggestions. As I wrote last 10 Av in the post “No Answers“:

Eight different answers…, each made with the claim that it’s the sole reason for the destruction of Jerusalem.

Rabbi Jack Love, a rebbe-chaveir, would point to this very variety of answers, or of identification of the specific sin committed by Nadav and Avihu to warrant their death, or what Moshe did wrong when he struck the rock. The gemara is making a statement. This kind of question has no final answer. The gemara grapples with the problem, but doesn’t claim to have a final answer.

So then why ask the question, if we know it’s unanswerable?

Knowing there is no conclusive answer to finding the cause, and they would never even succeed to find a cause, they still needed to struggle with the question of causes in order to find motivations to change. And by framing the problem in terms of that sin, they inspire their students to repair it.

In that spirit, I would like to take a lesson by combining some of the statements Rashi quotes from the medrash as well as an idea from the Seforno on the sin of Nadav and Avihu.

Let’s assume that the opinion that says that it was Nadav and Avihu about whom Hashem said “biqrovai aqadeish — through those close to Me I will be stanctified” (Vayiqra 10:3) is consistent with the one that says that at Har Sinai Nadav said to Avihu, “When these elders [Moshe and Aharon] die, you and I will lead the generation.” It would mean that they had the purest motives in wanting to lead. Not out of a desire for personal importance, but out of an awareness that they are indeed close to Him and thus — in their opinion — make good leaders.

But they were impatient. And when bringing the qetores they decided how it should be done on their own rather than asking Moshe Rabbeinu. Without explicit permission (which is the point of today’s semichah), it is prohibited for a student to rule on a halachic matter when in the same region — even when the student reaches the same answer.

Another way in which they jumped the gun is the opinion that the qetores was in error because it was the kohein gadol‘s job. Not only did they presume on Moshe Rabbeinu’s role before their apprenticeship under him was complete, they did the same with Aharon’s.

An improper qetores caused the death of many kohanim gedolim during the second Beis haMiqdash. The Yerushalmi (Yuma 1:5, vilna daf 7b) contrasts those who punished with death by omitting one of the ingredients of the qetores with those who die by entering the holy of holies without adding a smoke-generating agent to the qetores or lights it outside. “That is a punishment… and that is a warning.” In the latter case, the death isn’t as much a punishment as the consequence of exposure to Hashem’s Presence without the obscuring cloud. Trying to get more spirituality than one is ready for.

The elders were criticized for drinking and celebrating at Mount Sinai (Shemos 24:11). Nadav and Avihu repeat this mistake now — the gemara suggests that their sin here was in serving while inebriated. The pursuit of true spirituality takes years of development, but using drink and parties to create a shallower but immediate experience is a common shortcut.

The Ramchal writes (Mesilas Yesharim ch. 4):

לשלמי הדעת, תהיה להם ההערה במה שיתברר להם כי רק השלימות הוא הדבר הראוי שיחמד מהם ולא זולת זה, ושאין רע גדול מחסרון השלמות וההרחקה ממנו. כי הנה אחר שיתבאר זה אצלם ויתבאר להם כמו כן היות האמצעים אליו המעשים הטובים והמדות הטובות, ודאי הוא שלא יתרצו מעולם להמעיט מאלה האמצעים או להקל בהם.

To those who are complete in knowledge [or, as per the Gra: abstract knowledge in particular?], will have the insight that will clarify for them that only Wholeness and nothing else is worthy of their desire and that there is no worse evil than the lack of and removal from perfection.

And yet a little later he writes:

וזה כי זה פשוט אצל כל בעל דעת, שאין המדריגות מתחלקות בעולם האמיתי שהוא העולם הבא, אלא לפי המעשים.

And this is simple to anyone with any knowledge that there only distinction in levels in the World of Truth which is the World to Come is according to actions.

Is it in the completion, or in the deed? I believe the reason for the Ramchal’s wording is exactly the lesson that Nadav and Avihu lacked. They were “those closest to Me” not because they were on a higher plane than Moshe and Aharon, but because they were processing the most. And similarly, someone born with a calmer disposition isn’t more whole who has more of a temper if that anger is still less than what he was born with. Wholeness is according to one’s actions, how much one has developed Himself, and not on an absoute standard. Thus a person’s actions, which anyone with intellect could prize, really is the wholeness that the more complete person values.

Nadav and Avihu, like the Boesian kohanim gedolim, exposed themselves to more of G-d than they had prepared themselves for. And so they died as a punishment — they remained biqrovai (those close to Me), but as a consequence.

In a generation slated to spend 40 years in the desert in a process that would get us ready for Eretz Yisrael, they couldn’t have leadership who wanted holiness now, rather than valuing the process. Nadav and Avihu could not be Moshe’s and Aharon’s successors.

Vayiqra 2

A second thought on the first / title word of parashas Vayiqra…

וַיִּקְרָא אֶל מֹשֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר ה אֵלָיו מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר.

And He called to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him from the Ohel Moeid, saying.

- Vayiqra 1:1


“וַיִּקְרָא אֶל מֹשֶׁה” – (יומא ד’ ת”כ) הקול הולך ומגיע לאזניו וכל ישראל לא שומעין יכול אף להפסקות היתה קריאה ת”ל וידבר לדבור היתה קריאה ולא להפסקות ומה היו הפסקות משמשות ליתן ריוח למשה להתבונן בין פרשה לפרשה ובין ענין לענין ק”ו להדיוט הלומד מן ההדיוט

“And He called to Moshe”: The voice went and reached his ears, and all [the rest] of Israel didn’t hear.

[You] could [have thought] that even for the pauses there was a calling. Therefore it says “vayidaber — spoke”. For speech there was a calling, but not for the pauses.

And what [purpose] did the pauses serve? To give Moshe time to contemplate between parashah [paragraph] and parashah and between topic and topic. All the more so [they are necessary] for a normal person learning from a[nother] normal person.

- Rashi ad loc, quoting Tr. Yuma

Notice that our sages’  default assumption is that the pause between topics, that whitespace between paragraphs of the chumash, would be that G-d would call Moshe when it was time to review, contemplate and work out the material He already taught, just as He did for the teaching itself.


Rav Reueven Leuchter, opens his series on Concentration (first va’ad) contrasting between using the mind to problem-solve, and using the mind to create and refine an idea. People think of thinking in terms of knowing how to solve problems. But an idiot savant can solve math problems well beyond the reach of normal people. Problem solving isn’t a measure of being an ideal human being. Where the mind is spiritual is in its ability to hold and create intangible entities, ideas.

Picture it as circling the idea, seeing it from every angle. For example (his example), assuming you’re exploring the verse, “Da lifnei Mi atah omeid — Know before Whom you stand.” Turn it around…. “DA lifnei Mi atah omeiad. Da LIFNEI Mi atah omeid… Know before WHOM you stand. Know before Whom YOU stand. Know before Whom you STAND.”

Polish each facet of the idea to a good shine. Make the idea real, massive. (Mass: someone who is contemplating a weighty thought can’t simply be pushed aside by the allure of a shiny object or other distraction around him.) Make it a fine brick in a palace you build in your mind. A piece of a whole world of spirituality.

I would like to suggest that Chazal assumed that the pauses would require Hashem’s calling because this kind of creating has such holiness. But instead the pasuq tells us to dismiss the idea. The beauty of each “stone” of the palace within the soul is very much that it is our creation, not gifted from the Almighty.

Vayiqra 1

וַיִּקְרָא אֶל מֹשֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר ה אֵלָיו מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר.

And He called to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him from the Ohel Moeid, saying.

- Vayiqra 1:1

“וַיִּקְרָא אֶל מֹשֶׁה” – לכל דברות ולכל אמירות ולכל צוויים קדמה קריאה לשון חבה (יומא ד:ויקרא רבה) לשון שמלאכי השרת משתמשים בו שנאמר (ישעי’ ו, ב) וקרא זה אל זה, אבל לנביאי האומות אומות העולם נגלה עליהן בלשון עראי וטומאה שנאמר ויקר א-לקים אל בלעם:

“And He called [vayiqra] to Moshe”: For all the declarations, statements and commandments, calling preceded them — a language of affection. (Yuma 4b; Vayiqra Rabbah). The language that angels use, as it says (Isaiah 6:2, [quoted in Qedushah]), “And they call, this one to that…”

But to the prophets of the nations of the world, He revealed to them in a language of transitoriness and impurity, as it says, “And G-d happened [vayiqar] upon Bil’am…”

- Rashi ad loc

אל”ף דויקרא זעירא. שמשה היה גדול ועניו לא רצה לכתוב אלא “ויקר” לשון מקרה כאילו לא דבר הקב”ה עמו אלא בחלום כדרך שנאמר בבלעם (במדבר כג:ד) כאילו לא נראה לו השם אלא במקרה (מדרש אותיות קטנות), ואמר לו הקב”ה לכתוב גם האל”ף ושוב אמר לו משה מחמת רוב ענוה שלא יכתבנה אלא קטנה יותר משאר אלפי”ן שבתורה וכתבה קטנה:

The alef of [the word] “vayiqra” is small. For Moshe was a great person and modest, and only wanted to write “vayiqar“, a term of happenstance [miqreh]. As though HQBH only spoke to him in a dream, as it says of Bil’am, as though Hashem only appeared to him by chance. (Midrash Osios Qetanos).

HQBH told him to write also the alef, and again Moshe told Him, because of his great modesty, that he would only write it smaller than other alef‘s in the Torah. And he wrote it in small.

- Ba’al haTurim ad loc

The book of Vayiqra opens with a contrast between “vayiqra“, being called by G-d, and “vayiqar“, serendipity. The Medrash Osios Qetanos, quoted by the Ba’al haTurim, says that this is the reason for the small alef — Hashem wanted to emphasize His closeness to Moshe, while Moshe had a hard time writing such a thing, and wanted instead to make the verse and the prophecy look more like happenstance than like a special relationship.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks enhances this contrast in a recent mailing, by noting one of the key words in the Tokhachah (chapter of rebuke) near the end of the book of Vayiqra. Hashem writes that if even after feeling the negative consequences of our actions we continue to act with Him in qeri, He will respond to us with qeri. Many translations are offered for the word “qeri“, and as for connotation — the word also denotes impure sexual emissions. But among them, the Rambam ties it to miqra, happenstance, and therefore would translate these lines something like this:

כא וְאִם-תֵּלְכוּ עִמִּי קֶרִי, וְלֹא תֹאבוּ לִשְׁמֹעַ לִי–וְיָסַפְתִּי עֲלֵיכֶם מַכָּה, שֶׁבַע כְּחַטֹּאתֵיכֶם. … כג וְאִם-בְּאֵלֶּה–לֹא תִוָּסְרוּ, לִי; וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי, קֶרִי. כד וְהָלַכְתִּי אַף-אֲנִי עִמָּכֶם, בְּקֶרִי; וְהִכֵּיתִי אֶתְכֶם גַּם-אָנִי, שֶׁבַע עַל-חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם. … כז וְאִם-בְּזֹאת–לֹא תִשְׁמְעוּ, לִי; וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי, בְּקֶרִי. כח וְהָלַכְתִּי עִמָּכֶם, בַּחֲמַת-קֶרִי; וְיִסַּרְתִּי אֶתְכֶם אַף-אָנִי, שֶׁבַע עַל-חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם. … מ וְהִתְוַדּוּ אֶת-עֲו‍ֹנָם וְאֶת-עֲו‍ֹן אֲבֹתָם, בְּמַעֲלָם אֲשֶׁר מָעֲלוּ-בִי, וְאַף, אֲשֶׁר-הָלְכוּ עִמִּי בְּקֶרִי. מא אַף-אֲנִי, אֵלֵךְ עִמָּם בְּקֶרִי, וְהֵבֵאתִי אֹתָם, בְּאֶרֶץ אֹיְבֵיהֶם; אוֹ-אָז יִכָּנַע, לְבָבָם הֶעָרֵל, וְאָז, יִרְצוּ אֶת-עֲו‍ֹנָם.

21 And if you walk with Me randomly, and do not come to listen to Me, I will add to you seven times more plagues, according to your sin. … 23 And if with these [plagues] you do not turn to Me, and you walk with Me randomly. 24 I too will walk with you randomly, and I — I too — will punish you sevenfold, according to your sin. … 27 And with this [additional punishment] you do not turn to Me, and you walk with Me randomly. 28 I will walk with you with the fury of randomnss, and I — I too — will give you trials, sevenfold, according to your sin. … 40 And they will confess their sin and their fathers’ sin, the embezzlement which they embezzled from Me, and also that they walked with Me randomly. 41 I too will walk randomly with them and I will bring them into the land of their enemies; only then their calloused hearts will be humbled, and they will have repaired their iniquity.

- Vayiqra 26:21,23-24,27-28,40-41

In retrospect the verses of rebuke clearly describe life in exile. G-d abandoning us to the forces of history. As a tiny nation with no political power, that alone is to guarantee punishment.

And yet, when we look at galus overall, our survival these 1943 years since the fall of the Beis haMiqdash speaks louder of Hashem’s Presence than reading all the narratives of Tanakh! As we will say next week, “Vehi she’amdah — This is what stands for our ancestors and us: that not one alone sought to destroy us. Rather, in every generation they rise up to destroy us. And Hashem saves us” — albeit too often with many many casualties — “from their hands”.

What divides vayiqar from vayiqra? A single letter, an inaudible letter, and yet also the letter that represents the start, and the unity of the Creator. What divides being called from happenstance? Hearing the “small still voice” of G-d within. Whether one chooses to look for Him or unfortunately chooses not to.

This thought from the Chief Rabbi reminded me of Rav Dessler’s approach to the line between nature and miracle. A topic I discussed in Mesukim MiDevash for Beshalach, pp 1-2:

Most of us live within a world in which the laws we call “teva” apply. R’ Chanina ben Dosa, however, lived in a world where the laws of neis applied. In this world, oil and vinegar are equally flammable…. Rav Eliyahu Dessler elaborates on this principle. Mekubalim speak of four olamos, each of a higher level than the previous: asiyah (action), yetzirah (formation), beri’ah (creation) and atzilus (emanation)….

People have two sources of information that they consider absolute. The first is their senses – sight, sound, and so on. The second is their self-awareness. The senses bring us information about the physical world. Self awareness brings us concepts like truth, freedom and oppression. Someone mired in the desires of the senses lives in the physical world. He focuses his attention on it, just as everyone focuses on that which is important to them. “Every tailor notices and looks at the clothing of the people in the street; and similarly every shoemaker, shoes…” The man of the senses therefore perceives it as more objective and more absolute than the world of the self…. This is olam ha’asiyah.

However, one can rise above that to the olam ha’yetzirah. This is not merely another level, but another world with its own laws, laws that do not conflict with free will. Those who focus on this world have no question that free will exists. To them, it is the ideals of this world that are more objective and absolute, and the senses, more subjective. Rav Dessler explains that this is how nissim can impact one person’s senses and not another’s. Yetzirah is the Maharal’s plane of nissim, and as the Maharal noted different people will perceive the miraculous differently, or not at all. And so the sea split in olam hayetzirah, but not in olam ha’asiyah.

According to Rav Dessler, someone who truly sees the world in terms of justice and kindness, freedom or oppression, to the extent that those laws are more objective and more absolute than gravity, conservation of energy, or electromagnetic force, then those laws actually do drive their reality. Such a person would live in a world of miracle rather than nature.

As long as we refuse to see Hashem’s “Hand” in the calamities of our exile, we see the events as random (Purim – Lots), qeri. When one seeks out the small alef, one’s experience is an entirely different reality; rather than being subject to happenstance or called by G-d.