Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Heart of the Matter

Parshas Mishpatim
5758 / 1998
Dovid Sears

“And [upon] the nobles of the Children of Israel He did not send forth His hand, and they beheld G-d, and they ate and drank” (Exodus 24:1).

Moshe and Aharon, Nadav and Avihu and the seventy elders of Israel ascended Mount Sinai and experienced a divine vision. However, something went wrong. Picking up on the mention that G-d “did not stretch forth His hand” in the verse above, Rashi cites the Midrash Tanchuma that all present besides Moshe and Aharon deserved divine punishment— which they later received.

What did they do wrong? Again, Rashi cites the Tanchuma that they “gazed at the Shekhinah (Divine Presence) with a lev gass”—which may be translated as a “coarse heart” or an “insensitive heart”—“while eating and drinking.” What was the nature of this coarseness or insensitivity that they should be so severely judged?

This elite group ascended Mount Sinai on the day before the Giving of the Torah. Moshe had just taught the people the Torah from Genesis until that point historically, and they all declared “naaseh vi-nishma,” “we will do and we will hear” (Rashi on Exodus 24:7). What was the purpose of this ascent? Wasn’t the entire Torah about to be revealed to the entire nation on the very next day? Why was it necessary for the leaders, particularly and exclusively, to have this “preview”?

A possible answer is that the hispashtus ha-nevua, the proliferation of prophecy, had to come about through hiskashrus, through the creation of a spiritual bond between the other leaders and Moshe Rabbenu. This is borne out by what happened the next day. Chazal state that the Children of Israel, overwhelmed by the Divine Voice, heard the last eight of the Ten Commandments through Moshe’s voice (Rashi, citing Mekhilta on Exodus 19:19). They were forced to demure, for only Moshe was capable of a direct prophetic relationship with G-d,  “panim el panim (face to face),” as the Torah attests. Therefore, only through Moshe could the rest of the nation share this most lofty experience.

“There is an extension of Moshe to every generation and every tzaddik” (Tikkuney Zohar, Tikkun 69, 112a). Just as the Jewish people, as a whole and throughout all of time, must receive from Moshe, so the hamone am, the “masses,” must receive from the leaders of each generation, who to some degree are an “extension of Moshe.” Therefore, the other leaders were invited to ascend Mount Sinai along with Moshe prior to the Giving of the Torah; they were destined to serve an extension of Moshe. At the same time, this was a nisayon, a grave test for them. They too needed to realize their unworthiness to gaze upon the Shekhinah, but rather that they had to connect themselves to Moshe. Only Aharon succeeded in passing this test.

This lack of bittul (self-nullification) to Moshe produced the lev gass, the “coarse heart” to which Rashi attributes their guilt. If the other leaders had bound themselves to Moshe, whom the Torah deems “the humblest of all men on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:13), they would have acquired a lev basar, a sensitive heart. They would have experienced the Shekhinah with the same humility and lack of ego as their teacher. The inner core of the nation would have attained its tikkun, and as a result, the rest of the nation would have remained “ki-ish echad bi-lev echad,” in a state of perfect unity, even after the Giving of the Torah. Bound to Moshe Rabbeinu, the would have been spared all the trials of their subsequent forty-two journeys in the desert.

This idea is supported by the nature of the incidents through which the leaders were punished after their spiritual failure on Mount Sinai: Nadav and Avihu were punished during the dedication of the Mishkan because (according to one view) they made a legal ruling in the presence of their teacher. This indicated a lack of hiskashrus to Moshe. And the original seventy elders were destroyed by fire along with those who had complained against Moshe (Rashi citing Tanchuma on Exodus 24:10).

This flaw in our collective emunas chakhomim persisted for nearly one thousand years until Purim, when the nation accepted and upheld the Torah anew, and Mordechai, the Nasi of the Sanhedrin and Moshe Rabbeinu-figure of his day, was “ratzui le-rov echav,” “favored by the majority of his brothers” (Megillas Esther, end). However, to this verse, Chazal add “vi-lo le-khol echav,” “but not by all of his brothers.”

In truth, this tikkun is still incomplete. As Rebbe Nachman teaches in Likutey Moharan I, 61, If we would attain emunas chakhomim in the true tzaddikim, those who are in the category of Moshe, all the reversals of our exile would be turned around to the good, and Moshiach would surely come.

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