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Parshas Naso

Getting A Handle on Purity


G-d told Moshe, "Speak to Aharon and his sons and tell them that this is how to bless the Children of Israel." (Bamidbar 6:2-23)
Otherwise known as 'Birchas Kohanim,' it is performed daily in Eretz Yisroel and on holidays outside of Israel. After the Leviim wash the hands of the kohanim who are present, the kohanim then ascend to the 'bima' where the Aron HaKodesh is located, and in unison, word-by-word, they bless the congregation.

For the duration of the 25-word blessing, the kohanim wear their talleisim pulled over their heads, covering their outstretched arms and hands that remain at shoulder height. It is said that the G-dly light that they draw down from the Upper World goes out through their fingers to the people, which is why they cover their hands and the congregation is strict about not looking at the kohanim during the blessing itself.

That would explain as we have noted on many occasions, why 25 is the number that alludes to the holy and supernal light of creation (the 25th word in the Torah is 'light'). This is also the reason why the 'Shema' has 25 letters, and just about every 25 that shows up in the Torah.

Why do the kohanim hold their hands out at shoulder height? It is a simple question with a very complicated answer, and if it didn't have practical applications elsewhere in daily life, we might have just passed it by. However...

Referring back to one of the most important Torah principles, we recall that everything in the physical world has a spiritual counterpart. In fact, G-d 'coupled' the spiritual and physical reality in this manner to allow us to understand on some level the nature of the invisible spiritual world by understanding the way things work in the visible physical world. Thus, the human body is said to be a physical replica of the spiritual world, on a smaller level.

Indeed, our souls which are much 'bigger' than our physical bodies, actually span the entire spiritual system from top to bottom, though our bodies represent very small points at the bottom of that system (Nefesh HaChaim, Shaar 1). Hence, whether we can see it or not, 'things' happen with and through our physical bodies that resemble what occurs in the spiritual 'body' of existence.

In the spiritual realm, it is about light and filters. The light is that of G-d's and it is responsible for all that exists and what maintains life on all levels. The 'filters' (for lack of better terminology) constantly adjust the light as per the will of G-d, depending upon the needs of creation in light of the ultimate plan for creation. It is such a filtering process that results in the phenomenally detailed and awesomely intricate universe in which we live - and we are only talking about the one we can see!

In the body, there is blood. After the blood is filtered by the proper organs, it is then pumped to the rest of the body by the heart. Arteries and veins are the highways and byways of the body that bring the blood to the furthest extremities of the body, without which they would die.

Likewise, in the spiritual world the light has to flow to all parts of the system, and if it doesn't, those things that do not receive the light cease to exist. If you think the body's system of arteries, veins, and capillaries is complicated, you should see the system of spiritual light movement! Understanding the system is the basis for many of the most holy and profound Kabbalistic works known to mankind.

That is the first point that we must understand to appreciate what exactly is going on when the kohanim bless us, even today.

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They will put My Name upon the Children of Israel, and I will bless them. (Bamidbar 6:27)
However, unlike the body, light can exit the system in ways that blood cannot leave the body without doing real harm. For example, if blood were to break forth from the ends of the ten fingers of a person he could bleed to death if the deluge is not halted quickly.

This is not the case when it comes to the light leaving the 'fingertips' of the spiritual system and our bodies. For the blood of the hands to reach the legs, it must do so internally. However, when it comes to the spiritual light that flows through us - and it really does- it can 'leap' from one part of the body to another part of the body without using the internal system of transfer and delivery.

For example, though the spiritual light usually travels from an upper section of our bodies to a lower section of our bodies, the light also has the capacity to move from the hands to the legs via the fingertips. This means without going through the body proper, as is usually the case.

There is a Kabbalistic reason for this, which has to do with maintaining the forces of evil so long as free-will remains necessary in creation. Since evil and impurity have no intrinsic life source of their own, they live off of the holiness that they can latch onto within creation. This is another way of saying that, even though evil seems to work against G-d, in the end it is G-d Himself who maintains them as part of the ultimate plan for mankind.

Thus, one such place in the body where the light is said to 'break forth' and therefore act as a conduit for the 'Kochos Hatuma' (Impure Forces), is the fingertips. Therefore, the finger tips are a place around which the Impure Forces 'circle,' waiting for their due like hungry dogs, so-to-speak, which is why we are so strict about washing 'Negel Vasser' (literally, 'Night Waters') upon waking, and other types of washing when emerging from a spiritual impure place (such as a bathroom) or before eating bread.

This is also the reason why we are strict about not growing fingernails past the flesh, at least those who are aware of such a tradition. Keeping the fingernails short has the same effect as washing the hands, that being to limit the amount of light that the Impure Forces are allowed to derive from us. For, when the fingernails extend past the flesh, the Arizal teaches, this increases the flow of holy light to the Impure Forces, strengthening them against us, and the world in general. This is also one of the reasons why we look at our fingernails during Havdalah on Motzei Shabbos.

Now you can appreciate why, when washing the hands before eating bread, upon saying G-d's Name in the blessing over the washing ('al netilas yadayim'), we raise our hands upwards to the level of the shoulders. In fact, this is one of the unique properties of the hands more than any other limb of the body: they can ascend and descend.

When we recite blessings, and particularly upon mentioning G-d's Name, we become conduits for His light to enter the world. We draw holy light down from the holy Upper World into the unholy Lower World in which we live. The positive aspect is that the light brings rectification to the world. The negative part is that, if we're not careful, that same light can end up falling into the hands of the 'enemy' and strengthen him against us.

Without going into detail here, this is the inherent problem with people learning Kabbalah before they are holding on the appropriate level of spiritual purity, which can only be achieved through the proper Torah channels and after much time and effort. Many may find it enjoyable unaware of the fact that, since they are very much a part of the world of impurity, they are simply sharing the light they are drawing down with the Forces of Impurity, contributing to the overall chaos of creation. It's that serious.

However, just as the Impure Forces are limited as to how far they can ascend in the spiritual world and 'suckle' light within the overall system of light and filters (called, in more Kabbalistic terms, 'Sefiros'), so too are they limited with respect to a human being regarding how high they can ascend to draw light. By shoulder height the 'K'lipos,' as they are also called, are left far behind and behind the spiritual boundaries that G-d has established for them, to make sure they can never come too close to the side of holiness.

Thus, we can now appreciate the need for the kohanim to keep their arms and hands at shoulder height while blessing the Jewish people. Birchas Kohanim has a special ability to draw down tremendous light into the world and to direct it towards those who are intending to be blessed. That is why one is supposed to stand free of any obstacles between them and the kohanim during the blessing, and to have intention to be blessed while focusing on the words of the kohanim.

To protect this light from the would-be impure 'sucklers,' the light is kept beyond their borders and thus remains in the realm of holiness.

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G-d told Moshe, "When either a man or a woman vows to become a nazir, abstaining in honor of G-d, he must abstain from wine, wine-brandy..." (Bamidbar 6:1-3)
Although we may be moving backwards in the parshah, we are in fact progressing forward, because the rest of the sections are really based upon what we have said in the previous divrei Torah. In a sense, Birchas Kohanim represents the summary of all that came before it in the parshah, especially with respect to the laws of the nazir.

There are two main identifying factors about the nazir: he does not cut his hair and he abstains from consuming wine and related products (such as grapes). What does one have to do with the other? The connection will become clear from what follows:

Why did Rebi Akiva have this ability (to make souls of converts) too? This is why he (Ben Azzai) called him "Korach" ("Bald One"), because Korach the son of Yitzhar also came from the root of Kayin. He was called "Korach" because all theLeviim had been completely shaven bald, because of the strong 'din' that was in them. (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Chapter 34)
Literally, the word 'din' means 'judgment,' but it refers to the light within creation that tends to constrict the light of G-d rather than reveal it, as does the light of Chesed. Hair, for specific reasons, represents this light and therefore by cutting it, the light of Gevuros is beening tempered somewhat and rectified. By growing his hair, the nazir is increasing his power of tzimtzum, that is, his power of constraint.

Regarding wine, it says:

Noach also entered into the same test (as Adam), and stumbled as well. He entered for altruistic reasons in order to correct the sin of Adam HaRishon, but because he entered without permission (from G-d), he was not protected and he fell instead. This is what it says, "Noach, a man of the soil began and planted a vineyard. He drank from the wine and became drunk." (Bereishis 9:20-21) The Holy Zohar says: Rebi Shimon said: There is mysterious wisdom in that verse, for when Noach committed the sin of Adam HaRishon, he only did so in order to rectify the world, though he was unable. He squeezed grapes to adhere to that 'vineyard.' For the Vineyard is theMalchus of Atzilus...the Crown of Gevurah... (Sha'arei Leshem, p. 371)
In other words, Kabbalistically-speaking, the vineyard also represents the light of Gevuros in the world, and according to Kabbalah that was the main aspect of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In fact, prior to Adam's sin it was the only aspect of creation to which Gevuros - the light that constricts the sense of G-d's Presence in the world - which Adam had to rectify. This is why wine is very often the symbol that leads to licentiousness and sin.

In fact, as the Talmud points out and Rashi mentions in this week's parshah, the nazir abstains from wine because he witnessed an episode of the sotah who sinned through wine. Perhaps since life is for free-will and Gevuros is what makes such free-will possible, the nazir is forced to let his hair grow to provide a counter-balance to what he is retracting from, to maintain his free-will capability.

In any case, the Gevuros are really what create the environment within which the Forces of Impurity can plant themselves and grow. If not properly managed, the Gevuros can withhold the light of G-d to such an extent that evil can thrive and prosper. Thenazir, therefore, is about keeping the Impure Forces at bay and protecting that which is holy, just like everything else in the rest of the parshah.

We do not become nazirim today without a Temple, as well as other mitzvos of the parshah that do not apply at this time. However, the underlying principle of the parshah remains to be as relevant as it has always been, and that is, a Jew has to work to keep the Impure Forces out of his or her life as much as possible. To the extent that we do this, we not only free ourselves of unnecessary spiritual risks, but we also protect the world from dangerous impurity.

This is not so easy to do in a world that barely has such a concept today, and when symbols of such a lifestyle are literally rammed down our spiritual throats. However, as the Talmud says, if someone tries to purify himself a little, then Heaven will purify him a lot. (Shabbos 104a)

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Trust and Faith In G-d, Part 7

Continuing with our previous discussion, the Leshem says:

In a similar fashion we can explain what is written in Midrash Shir HaShirim, Chapter 1: "Two Continual Offerings Israel used to offer daily, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. They would offer one in the morning [and atone] for sins from the previous night, and one in the afternoon [to atone] for sins performed during the day. There was not a single person who stayed in Yerushalayim who had a sin to his name." This creates a difficulty, for if they were free of any sins, then how was it possible for the Temple to be destroyed later on?"

It is a very good question. Seemingly, G-d gave the Jewish people a way to constantly atone for any sins they committed, day or night. Therefore, if the Jewish people had consistently offered the two daily Continual-Offerings, as we know they did, then how did G-d find any justification to pour out His wrath upon them in the form of destruction and exile? Why was He even angry at them in the first place?

Recalling the principle from the previous section, the Leshem explains:

"The answer is that the offering of the Continual-Offering was the reason for the sin. They relied upon it and became over-confident as a result, and this prevented them from atoning at all, because the Continual-Offerings were not given to be the cause of sin, as it says, 'G-d wants your Burnt-Offerings and sacrifices more than your listening to His voice. To listen is better than the best sacrifices?'" (Shmuel 1:15:22)
In other words, the undoing of the Jewish people at the time of the destruction of the Temple was that they felt secure in sinning because they always felt that as fast as they sinned, the Continual-Offering wiped the slate clean. Tragically, they had misunderstood this very central point about trust and faith in G-d, and it cost them and us, the Temple and four exiles from which we have yet to recover.

Thus, it remains to be true: when the sin is not based upon the promise of good from G-d, and how much more so when a person TRIES to do the right thing but falters from time-to-time, then trust in G-d can result in miraculous salvations, such as the following two stories:

During the Holocaust, a rabbi had been caught by a Nazi who was determined to put an end to another Jewish life right then and there. Undaunted and without flinching, the rabbi, who spoke perfect German told the Nazi soldier, "Do you think that it is you who determines whether or not I shall live? It is G-d Above Who decides the fate of my life, and you are merely His instrument to carry it out!" Why the rabbi decided to say this at that time is not known. All that IS known is that the Nazi could not carry out his desire and as a result, the rabbi survived the war.

The young Jew was being chased by two Nazi guards who were determined to capture the fleeing Jew. Not knowing where to hide, the young Jew turned down a street that unbeknownst to him at that crucial moment, was a dead end street. It was too late to turn back so he kept running towards an electrical box at the end of the street thinking to take refuge there with the hope that SOMEHOW he would remain undetected. However, his pursuers had seen him turn down the street and followed him. Looking around they saw very few exits and noticed the electrical box against the wall that blocked off the end of the street. Assuming that their Jewish prey had to be inside the box itself, they quickly moved towards it. In the meantime, inside the box the boy waited as he heard the sound of approaching boots and knew that it was just a matter of time when his life would change for the worst forever. His situation reminded him of the story in the Torah of the time that the people of Sodom had come for Lot and pinned him against his own door, ready to do away with him to get to the 'guests' he had hidden within his house. It was only a miracle that saved him from the angry mob, that being the blinding of the people of Sodom by the angel inside his house. Inspired and frightened, the young boy chanted to himself over and over again (in the original Hebrew), "They blinded the men at the entrance of the house, from the young to the old, who tried in vain to find the entrance." (Bereishis 19:11) Sure enough, the soldiers opened the box and looked inside of it while the heart of the boy dropped to his stomach in horror. However, to the boy's absolute surprise they promptly shut the door again and after searching every nook and cranny in the alley, they left their pursuit of the young Jew. The boy lived to become a man and to tell the tale many times over the decades that followed the war.

Obviously, these are just two of the countless stories of miracles that G-d has performed for His people over the millennia. May we merit to live through the redempton (may it be soon in our days) to and tell many more miracle stories.

Have a great Shabbos,

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