'Speak to the children of Israel, and they shall take a completely
red heifer.' (Bamidbar* 19.2)
The Baal Shem Tov has taught that every mitzvah* is eternal. Even
though the actual action [of doing the mitzvah] may be tied in with a
specific time [which restricts when it may be done], the intellectual
concepts pertaining to the mitzvah are eternal. This is because the
divine Torah* is from HaShem* who is eternal [hence there is an
eternal aspect and relevance to all the Torah.] All of the talmidim*
of the Baal Shem Tov have related in his name that we need to find
how the Torah relates to all time periods through wisdom, and
understanding. From every mitzvah we need to find some remez*
[dealing with it's eternal relevance.]
The Baal Shem Tov was asked with regards to the red heifer [how it
relates to us] since even in the time of the Temple it was rarely
performed as the Mishnah* says in tractate Parah*. Also, what is the
meaning [for us now] of [what we were taught with regards to the
heifer that] 'it purifies those who are tumah [unclean] and it makes
tumah [unclean] those who are pure.'
The Baal Shem Tov answered that [the remez is that] it refers to the
midah* of conceit [which can be both bad and good.] When a person is
going in a way that is not good and he is far from haShem, the
beginning of his rectifying his situation is through 'conceit'.
Serving HaShem not for His Name's sake, but to glorify himself, or in
order that he should merit to have a place in the world to come
(which is a hidden type of conceit.) [Because of his actions] he
considers that he is worthy that HaShem should repay him for his
deeds, and he considers that he has done something for HaShem. The
truth is, however, without the strength of HaShem, what are we? How
can we [say that we are worthy to] get a reward [since we need
HaShem's strength to do anything.]
When one starts to serve HaShem it is not possible to achieve this
level [of understanding that he can do nothing without HaShem.] And
G-d forbid that he should remain on the outside [with those who are
not servicing HaShem.] Therefore they have allowed him to serve
HaShem with conceit. To glorify himself and to serve HaShem for
reasons other then His Name's sake in order that by serving him for
an ulterior reason he may come to serve HaShem for His Name's sake.
[Later when he has passed this stage,] when he is serving HaShem for
His Name's sake it has to be pure without any conceit whatsoever. For
if he mixes any conceit in his service then it will be invalid. From
this we see that conceit makes pure those who are tumah, i.e. those
who are far from HaShem [since it brings them later to serve HaShem
for His Name's sake] but it makes tumah those who are pure, i.e.
those who are already close to HaShem [since their service will be
invalid.] (p. 469 sefer Baal Shem Tov teachings of the Baal Shem
* * *
II. The nashama* and the body
2. 'These are the decrees of the Torah that HaShem commanded saying.'
In general the reasons for [what appears in] the Torah and the
mitzvos are hidden from all men [and he does not know what they are.]
Each person needs to do and to observe all the Torah only because
HaShem commanded him to do and observe it. That is the remez of the
verse, 'these are the decrees of the Torah.' All of the Torah and the
mitzvos are only decrees to us because their reasons have not been
revealed to us. The main way to perform the Torah and the mitzvos is
because 'HaShem commanded saying' Because of the command of HaShem to
us to do them we are required to do and observe them.
With this we can explain why we were commanded to make the heifer in
order to purify us from the uncleanliness that comes from contact
with the dead. The nashama and the life force that a person has
(which comes from under the throne of glory) always desires to serve
HaShem without any separation, even for a second. However one's body
[and physical nature] does not let him do this. There is a constant
war between the nashama and the body. If he is worthy the nashama
will overcome the body and he will do the will of his nashama.
The reason why the body does not want to uphold the Torah is that it
cannot comprehend the reasons for the Torah and the mitzvos. For if
the body would understand the reasons for the Torah and mitzvos, the
body would also desire to do them. However it doesn't understand the
The nashama which comes from under the throne of glory does
understand the reasons for the Torah and mitzvos. Therefore it
desires to uphold the Torah and mitzvos without any break. The person
who is worthy his soul overcomes his body and does the mitzvos.
A person who is dead, his nashama rises above and the body remains
here alone. [Because of this separation] the body becomes tumah
[unclean.] For this reason the graves of Tzaddikim* do not make one
tumah, since they have purified their bodies to the point that they
too desire to do the Torah and mitzvos. Therefore their bodies [which
have been purified so that they are like their neshamos] also do not
render anyone tumah.
This is the remez of 'this is the decree of the Torah.' Because the
Torah is a decree and the reasons for the Torah are not revealed, the
body does not desire to perform the Torah and mitzvos. Therefore the
body becomes tumah when it dies. Therefore HaShem commanded to make
the red heifer to purify from the tumah of the body which is what
becomes tumah when he dies. (p. 78 sefer Kedushas Levi teachings of
Rebbe* Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev.)
* * *
III. Proper actions
3. 'And Edom did not allow Israel to pass its borders, and Israel
turned away from near him.' (Bamidbar 20.21)
One time there came a number of people from a certain town before the
Rebbe of Rizhin ZY'A with a complaint against the shochet* of their
town. He was a very stingy person and would never take guests into
his house [even though he could afford to.]
The Rizhiner said to them, "Chazal* teach, 'The one who is born under
the sign of 'Edom' will be one who spills blood [Heb. Dam] of others.
Rav Ashi said he will be a doctor [who lets blood], or a shochet or a
mohel*.' We see that one who is born under that sign is born with the
nature to be cruel to others. If he will work with that bad midah,
and use if for holy purposes, to serve HaShem, and do mitzvos and
good deeds, then this bad midah will be removed from him. It will
become a good midah filled with holiness.
"This is the meaning of the verse 'And Edom did not allow Israel to
pass its borders.' If the person who is on the level of Edom, i.e. he
was born under the sign of 'Edom'. 'Will not allow Israel to pass his
borders', i.e. he will not allow them in his house to give them a
place to sleep. This is a sign that 'Israel turned away from near
him.' 'Israel' means those signs that have been given to recognize
and to know that he is a Jew. They are: Shy, compassionate, and does
deeds of mercy to others. However if he still does cruel deeds, the
name of 'Israel' has removed from him.
"We can also explain that 'Israel turned away from near him' means
that if he acts in this cruel manner it is allowed for Jews to
separate from him. To remove him from his post, and not eat of what
he has slaughtered." (p. 136 sefer Ner Yisroel teachings of Rebbe
Yisroel of Rizhin and his descendants.)
* * *
4. 'And Edom said to him you shall not pass through my land lest I
come out and meet you with my sword' (Bamidbar 20.18)
Rashi* explains, "You [Israel] praise yourself with your 'voice' [of
prayer] that you have inherited from your fathers. And you say that
you cry out and He hears your voice. We shall go out to you with what
we have inherited from our fathers, 'You shall live by your sword.'"
This is difficult to understand because it should be the opposite.
[Chazal have taught] when the 'voice is the voice of Yakov' [i.e.
they are praying and learning Torah] then there should not be 'the
hands are the hands of Esav.' Their sword should not have any effect
on them [Israel.] Here we see that they are coming with their power
[of prayer] as Rashi explains, with the blessing that their father
blessed them, 'the voice is the voice of Yakov.' We cry out and we
are heard. [Yet Esav answers them with the sword.]
However the idea is this. It is certainly true that the prayers of
the Jewish people are very great, and HaShem always hears their
prayers. Their enemies can never have any control over them. However
they should not be conceited because of this strength that they have
with their prayers [which they received] from the blessing that they
had from their ancestors. If they have some conceit, and then they
pray, that prayer is ignored and goes to waste. [In fact] the
opposite is the case. [Their conceit causes that their prayer] gives
strength to those that wish to do evil to them. That is what Rashi
said, 'You praise yourself with your voice...' (p. 32 sefer Toras
Shimon teachings of Rebbe Shimon of Yaroslav.)
* * *
V. Torah and purity.
5. 'And put upon it living water in a vessel' (Bamidbar 19.17)
We can explain it this way. Water is a remez for the Torah as Chazal
teach, 'Water always refers to Torah.' And 'the vessel' (which is an
earthen vessel) is a remez for the Yetzer HaRah*; the snake whose
food is earth. Also an earthen vessel becomes purified by destroying
Chazal tell us that HaShem says, 'I created the Yetzer HaRah and
I created the Torah as a spice [that overcomes the Yetzer HaRah.]
The Torah is called 'living', and the Yetzer Harah brings death and
Through the living water, which is the Torah that was given by Moshe,
they would not die through the Angel of Death. We find when the Torah
was given that they became free from the angel of death. They could
only die by a kiss [which is a special way of dying where the Angel
of Death is not involved.] Therefore there was no tumah. We also find
this with the Tzaddikim, who [when they die] do not make others
tumah. This is because they do not die from the Angel of Death, but
through a 'kiss' from HaShem.
That is the meaning of 'and put upon it living water in the vessel.'
By the 'spice' of the Torah one nullifies the Yetzer HaRah, and one
comes to purity. (p. 158 sefer Mordechai B'Shaar HaMelech teachings
of Rebbe Mordechai of Zavil.)
Arizal: Hebrew initials of the words: Adoni Rabbenu Yitzchok
Zechorono LeVaracha our master Rabbi Yitzchok. Better known as
Yitzchok Luria the great 16th century
Baal Tshuva (Baalei Tshuva): Hebrew for someone who is a repentant
Bamidbar: Fourth book of the Torah. Called in English Numbers
Chazal: Hebrew initials
for: Chochmenu Zichrona Levaracha (Our sages of Blessed
memory) Used to refer to Rabbis of the Talmud
Chesed: Hebrew word meaning acts of mercy
Drash: A method of Biblical interpretation ascribing moral or ethical
meaning to verses in the Torah.
HaShem: Noun used in place of G-d. Lit. The Name
Hebrew word referring to a ritual bath used for purification
Mishnah: An ancient Jewish work made of specific laws.
Moshe Rabbeinu: Hebrew for Moses our teacher. A common Jewish way of
referring to Moses.
Or HaChaim: Jewish Torah commentary
Rashi: The primary commentary on the Tenach.
Rebbe: Leader of a Chassidic group or a teacher
Rebbe Reb: A title added to a few special Rebbes as a sign of their
higher spiritual stature.
remez: A method of Biblical interpretation based on finding hints in
the Torah for various concepts.
Rov: An official rabbi who renders legal decisions. Many of the
Rebbes were both a Rebbe of Chasidim, and the Rov of the city in which they
Sanhedrin: 1. Tractate in the Talmud
2. Name of the highest level of the Jewish court system.
(seforim): A Jewish religious book.
Talmud: An ancient work of Jewish law.
Tehillim: Hebrew name for Psalms.
Torah: a. First 5 books of the Jewish Bible
b. Also refers to the whole of Jewish law
c. also common term for a chassidic teaching
Tshuva: Hebrew word for repentance
Copyright (c) 1997 by Moshe Shulman
All rights reserved.
Issur Hasugas Givilv