Parshas Zos HaBrochah/Succos/Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah

A Time to Mourn and a Time to Celebrate


And this (v'zos) is the blessing that Moshe, the man of G-d, blessed the Children of Israel before his death ... (Devarim 33:1)
Like Ya'akov before him, Moshe blessed the tribes just before his death. There is nothing unusual about this statement, at least not on the surface. The Sifra, picking up on the emphasis on the nearness of Moshe's death, learns that Moshe said, "If not now, then when?" However, the Pri Tzaddik (Simchas Torah 48) asks about a different segment of the posuk: Why is Moshe called "man of G-d" specifically here, when blessing the tribes?

To answer this question, the Pri Tzaddik explains that Moshe began blessing the tribes from where Ya'akov left off blessing them. How do we know this? Because it says, "And this (v'zos) is the blessing" which adds to the first blessing that Ya'akov gave them because it says, "And this (v'zos) is what Ya'akov their father told them" (Bereishis 49:28). The word v'zos connects the two verses together.

However, says the Pri Tzaddik, we learn from the Zohar that the word "zos" alludes to a special trait necessary for spiritual perfection, to indicate that Ya'akov had to first bring his sons to do teshuvah before he could give them the blessing he wanted to impart to all of them. After those lacking in teshuvah did the necessary teshuvah, then they too became worthy of receiving the blessing.

This, too, is why Moshe is called "man of G-d" here. Moshe, by his very presence, inspired teshuvah in all those who saw him, especially at such a sad time as the arrival of the day of his death. He was able to draw out the millions of Jews surrounding him teshuvah from the depths of their souls, making them ready to receive his blessing. His godliness raised the nation to a new spiritual height in preparation to move on to the next level in life.

To Binyomin he said, "The beloved of Hashem shall dwell in safety by Him; He shall harbor him all day long (chofef alav kol hayom), and He shall dwell between his shoulders." (Devarim 33:12)

Rebi Levi bar Chama said in the name of Rebi Chama b'Rebi Chanina: A strip of land jetted out from the territory of Yehudah and went into the section of Binyomin, and the righteous Binyomin was constantly bothered about it and wanted to possess it, as it says, "chofef alav kol hayom." For this reason, Binyomin merited to be the host to The Holy One, Blessed is He, as it says, "He shall dwell between his shoulders." (Zevachim 53b)

When the land of Israel was divided among the Shevatim (tribes), the territories of Yehudah and Binyomin ended up converging by the location of the altar in the future altar. As a result, the south-eastern portion of the altar was in the territory of Yehudah, and the north-western part of the Temple was in the land of Binyomin. However, it was only around these two sides that a base of about two feet wide wrapped around the altar, called the Yesod, a merit that Binyomin earned because of his intense desire to be a host to the Divine Presence.

It is one's intense desire to create a place within which G-d can dwell that makes one a "beloved of Hashem." And becoming a beloved of Hashem is supposed to be the goal of every Jew, and in this way one merits to become a personal Mishkan to Hashem, as it says:

"Let them make Me a sanctuary, so I can dwell among them ..." (Shemos 25:8)
It doesn't say "dwell within it," but "among them," indicating that it is within every Jew that G-d chooses to dwell, if the person makes himself a fitting place for G-d.
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Moshe was 120 years old when he died. His eyes had not weakened, nor had his strength dissipated. The Children of Israel cried for Moshe in the plains of Moav for thirty days, after which the days of crying and mourningfor Moshe were completed. Yehoshua, the son of Nun was instilled with the spirit of wisdom, because Moshe had placed his hands upon him. The children of Israel listened to and obeyed him, and did as G-d had commanded Moshe. There never again arose a prophet in Israel like Moshe, whom G-d spoke to face-to-face, [and who could perform] all the signs and wonders which G-d sent him to do in the land of Egypt, against Paroah, all his servants and all his land, or any of the mighty acts and awesome sights that Moshe displayed before all the eyes of Israel. (Devarim 34:7-12)

Everything about Moshe Rabbeinu indicated a special relationship with the Ohr HaGanuz-the Hidden Light of Creation. As the Talmud points out (Chagigah 12a), this light was not a normal light, a natural light, but an extremely spiritual light--a very powerful light. So powerful was this light, in fact, says Rashi, that G-d actually hid it in the early days of creation, to keep it out of the hands of the evil people of history!

However, Moshe, according to the "Tradition," always had access to this light, which is why he was born thirty-six years after the slavery began--a number associated with this light (it shone for 36 hours in the Garden of Eden before being hidden). Furthermore, it says:

It is written here, "... And she saw that he was good ..." (Shemos 2:2) and there it is written [regarding the Hidden Light], "G-d saw the light, that it was good" (Bereishis 1:4). (Sotah 12a)
The Talmud seems to equate Moshe and the Light itself.

Why did Moshe have such access to this incredible light? Because, kabbalistically-speaking, Moshe had a very high level soul, which was actually "carved" from the Ohr HaGanuz itself. Therefore, the Torah was given through him, and all chidushei Torah (Torah novellae) that would ever be revealed throughout time was already known by to Moshe before his death. He was an extraordinary individual and leader, which is why it says,

Happy is the nation whose portion (shekachah) is Him ... (lo) (Tehillim 144:15)
The numerical value of the word "shekachah" (shin, choh, chof, heh) is equal to 345, the same gematria as Moshe. The word "lo" is equal to 36, an allusion to the Ohr HaGanuz-the Hidden Light. It is as Dovid HaMelech wrote: Happy is the nation whose Moshe is equated with the Hidden Light of Creation, whose leader was on the level of the Tree of Life, and who was the "channel" to the Worlds Above. This is why when he died, he went right to Gan Aiden (Temurah 16b).

Therefore, it is not surprising to hear that the place of his burial is not known to man, "even to this very day." For Moshe, the "Man of G-d," was also a man of another realm altogether, which makes the Torah he gave to us that much more special.

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The succah is compared to the body, and the person who enters it for a temporary stay, to the soul. Just like the succah goes up and functions for seven days only, a number that symbolizes physical creation, so too does the body live a temporary existence in This World. However, like the person who existed before the succah was built, and who will live on after the succah has been dismantled, so too does the soul live before its entry into the body, and long after the body has expired as well.

This is why we pray to G-d on Shabbosos and Yom Tovim:

"Spread Your succah of peace over us ..."
for it is only G-d's protection that is meaningful and eternal, one that can result in lasting peace.

Coming to this understand is the goal of Succos, which comes right after Yom Kippur when we ascended to the heights of angels. From that perspective, it should be easier to see what Succos comes to teach. And this is also another reason why Shemini Atzeres falls the day after Succos, though it is a holiday unto itself, and was supposed to have been in the month of Cheshvan instead (it was moved up in time to after Succos, according to the Midrash, to save the Jewish people from having to come up to the Temple during the rainy season).

For, all week long, during the week of Succos, the Jewish people brought a total of seventy sacrifices, one for each of the seventy nations. However, on Shemini Atzeres, the only sacrifice brought was on behalf of the Jewish nation. In fact, the seventy sacrifices were brought by starting off with thirteen young bulls on the first day of Succos, and ending off with seven young bulls on the last day to arrive at the total of seventy. Why work toward a smaller number, as opposed to building from seven bulls to thirteen?

Among other reasons, one more esoteric reason for this is to indicate that, as the time of Moshiach approaches, the Jewish people will become less dependent on the nations of the world, leading us to become more dependent upon G-d. Shemini Atzeres represents the completion of this process, which can happen either one of two ways: either we can intellectually realize that Hashem is Elokim, as we pronounced seven times at the end of Yom Kippur, and trust in G-d entirely, or, He will gradually "wean" us away from all false securities in a way that can be frightening to those going through the process--as happened in Egypt just before the redemption.

It is clear that over the last five years, the Jewish people have had fewer 'friends' to rely upon, and the trend seems to be in the direction of even fewer. Kabbalistically, we are at historical cross-roads, and one important Mekubel from the past predicted that 5760/2000 CE would be a big year, making our year a preparation for what may come. There may be more in store than simply solving the dilemma of making our computers respond to the year 2,000 properly. And the word on the Kabbalistic "street" is that this year has potential to be, well, an "intense" year.

Let's learn from the king of Nineveh about whom we read on Yom Kippur. When Yonah went out into the streets, and threatened destruction if the people didn't repent, the king didn't wait to see if Yonah was a true prophet or not. Instantaneously, he and the people of Nineveh changed their lifestyles to avert the decree against them. As a result, they were successful, in assuaging G-d's anger and bought themselves more time. It is a lesson worth repeating, so that our transition from dependency on the nations to complete dependency on G-d is a smooth one.

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A young, uninitiated, newly ba'al teshuvah was impressed by the Simchas Torah celebration he was watching for the first time. "Even the rabbis are dancing here!" he said to his friend. "At college, only the students celebrated the end of school. Rarely did a professor ever join in the celebrations ..."

"That's the difference," his friend replied, trying to make himself heard about the singing. "These rabbis aren't celebrating the end of the Torah ... They're celebrating the beginning of it!"

"Huh?" was all the new ba'al teshuvah could say. "What do you mean?"

"I also went to college," his friend explained, "When we celebrated at the end of the year, it was to mark the end of our studies ... as if we could leave behind all that we didn't enjoy. But when it comes to Torah, the only happy thing about finishing the previous cycle of any area of learning is that it means we can start all over again in order to go deeper, and gain a better understanding of what we missed the previous times. It's to go further into Pardes."

"Into what?"

"Pardes. You know, pshat, remez, drush, and sod."

"Now you have really lost me."

"Allow me to explain. As you have probably already seen, Torah is multi-leveled. This means even a simple idea in the Torah can be learned on different levels, each one going deeper into the essence of the concept."

"Go on. I follow you so far."

"Well, what you probably viewed as different areas of Torah learning are also different levels of approach."

"In other words ..."

"In other words, a verse from the Torah understood in its most obvious way represents the level called 'pshat.' But the Torah is from G-d, and in His infinite wisdom, He also encoded deeper messages that can be extracted when one knows how, according to the rules of our Tradition. Sometimes the Torah 'hints' to us that something deeper is being conveyed here, and hence the term 'remez,' which means hint."

"Very fascinating."

"Wait, it gets deeper."

"I didn't doubt that for a moment!"

"The word 'drush' means 'investigation,' implying a level understanding arrived at only after one has delved beyond the black and white letters and words. If you look into your siddur right before P'sukei D'Zimrei, you know, the Introductory Psalms, you'll find 'The Thirteen Exegetical Principles of Torah ...'"

"Yea, what are those exe ... exeg ... those principles for?"

"They are rules handed down to Moshe from G-d that allow the trained and authoritative scholar to derive halachic sources from the possukim though, from the obvious reading of the words, it is not clear that this is the source of any particular halachah. The Talmud spends a lot of time finding sources in the Written Torah for laws always known as part of the Oral Law, often relying on one of these principles to make the connection."

"And sod?"

"As the word implies, 'secret,' that is, Kabbalah. They say the Arizal, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the great Kabbalist, used to meditate on each verse until its Kabbalisitc interpretation came to him."

"Wow, that's fascinating. But how did he know if he was right?"

"I guess if you're on the level that Eliyahu the Prophet can come and learn with you, you know when you're right and when you're not."

"I guess that excludes me ..."

"Well, perhaps for now. You never know. The Talmud says that the Nun Sha'arei Binah are opened for the Ba'al Teshuvah ..."

"The 'Nun' what?"

"The Nun Sha'arei Binah ... The Fifty Gates of Understanding--a very high level of Torah knowledge. They are, in effect, the 'gate' to Paradise, or should I say, 'Pardes.'"

"You mean that 'Pardes' is the origin of the English word for 'Paradise.'"

"You're surprised? There are so many other examples ..."

"I guess that, for the Jew, there is no greater Paradise than Pardes."

"That's right. And that's why Simchas Torah is such a celebration, for everyone from the least to the most learned. It's all one journey for everyone, except that we all may be at different points along the way."

"I guess that's something to dance about. Look at the Rosh HaYeshivah ... look at the way he is holding that Sefer Torah, and singing, and dancing ..."

"Hey, they're pointing at you. Now's your own chance to dance with a Sefer Torah! Don't be nervous ..."


That ends this cycle of Parshah Sheets, B"H. G-d willing, Parashas Bereishis will be devoted to understanding the essence of the chet of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Have a wonderful and joyful Shabbos and Yom Tov,

Pinchas Winston

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