I call Heaven and earth today to witness that I have placed before
you life and death, blessing and curse; choose life so that you and your
seed shall live. (Devarim 30:19)
Since this year, a leap year, Nitzavim is a stand-alone parsha, it gives us
a good opportunity to discuss what should be an obvious concept to all of
us, and that which is the basis of our judgment on Rosh Hashanah, the
choosing of life. However, the Torah is obviously not trying to convince us
to not jump from the roof of a high building, because for anyone, for whom
that is an option, God forbid, more help would be required than a verse
from the Torah. We’re talking about choosing to live on higher levels of
Like what, for example?
Imagine a room filled with four sets of study partners (which we will call
SP1, SP2, SP3, and SP4 respectively), each one learning a different area of
Torah. SP1 is learning Chumash with Rashi, and they are only interested in
knowing the simplest explanation of the verses. There may be a lot more to
what the Torah is saying, but for the time being, they aren’t interested in
SP2, on the other hand, has decided to learn Mishnah. They too are only
interested in learning “Pshat” — the simplest explanation. However, the
terse wording of the Mishnah, as well as what seem to be certain
inconsistencies, has forced them to engage in discussions that take them
beyond the simple words of the teaching. As they do, their discussions
become more lively than those of SP1, which is wondering what all the
excitement is about.
Still, their discussions do not compare to those of SP3, which is learning
Talmud. The discussion of their section of learning is not only lively, it
seems to have put them into a world of their own. They seem somewhat
oblivious to the world around them, as they get up and pace back and forth,
contemplative, and yet full of energy and the need to explain themselves.
However, SP4 is learning Kabbalah. No one seems to notice them, because
they are learning quietly and off to themselves. They are not only
enthralled by their learning, they seem entranced by it. Indeed, they seem
to be there, and yet, not there. In fact, they seem other-worldy, as the
expressions on their faces seem to indicate.
These are, of course, the four levels of Torah referred to as “Pardes,” a
word which means “orchard,” but which also stands for the four levels of
Torah learning: Pshat, Remez, Drush, and Sod, literally: Simple, Hint,
Exegesis, and Secret, or Mikrah, Mishnah, Talmud, and Kabbalah.
There are four levels [of Torah understanding] and the pneumonic is
Pardes: Pshat, Remez, Drush, and Sod. A person needs to toil in all of
them to the extent that he can, and seek out a teacher to teach them to
him. If a person lacks one of these four levels relative to what he could
have achieved then he will have to reincarnate. (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, Ch.
They are the four levels on which a single Torah concept can be understood,
and as one probes from level to level, he also moves from a lower
level of consciousness to a higher one:
The rabbis taught: Four entered Pardes: Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher,
and Rebi Akiva. Rebi Akiva told them, “When you arrive at the Stones of
Pure Marble, don’t say, ‘Water, water,’ because it says, ‘He who speaks
falsehood will not be established before My eyes’ (Tehillim 101:7).” Ben
Azzai gazed at the Divine Presence and died, and with respect to him it
says, “Difficult in the eyes of God is the death of His pious ones”
(Tehillim 116:15). Ben Zoma gazed and went mad — to him the following
verse may be applied: “Have you found honey? Eat as much as is sufficient
for you, so that you do not consume too much and have to vomit”
(Mishlei 25:16). Acher “cut off his plantings” (i.e., he became a heretic).
Rebi Akiva entered in peace and departed in peace. (Chagigah 14b)
As Tosfos explains, their journey had not been a physical one, but rather,
an intellectual one, as the Leshem further explains:
It says in the Zohar HaKodesh further regarding the four who entered
Pardes, that it had been their intention to rectify the sin of Adam
HaRishon, as it was said previously: to meditate and ascend from level to
level until the Torah of Atzilus at the root of all Positive and Negative
mitzvos. (Sha’arei Leshem, p. 454)
For, just as there are four levels on which Torah can be learned, there
are four levels of consciousness, and they correspond: Pshat-Asiyah, Remez-
Yetzirah, Drush-Beriyah, and Sod-Atzilus. Therefore, as a person moves from
a lower level of Torah understanding to a higher one, he is, in fact,
entering a higher level of consciousness, and coming closer to God. It is
a process that begins in the mind, but one which eventually spreads to the
body as well, since the four levels also correspond to the four lower
levels of one’s soul: Pshat-Nefesh, Remez-Ruach, Drush-Neshama, and Sod-
What this essentially means is that, if one only learns Torah on the
Pshatlevel, he will only access the level of Nefesh, which will limit the
amount of Godly light that will make it to the level of the body, also
limiting the impact on the body. Elevated he will feel, but not beyond the
reality of everyday life. He will feel holier, but not enough to take him
beyond mundane matters.
To learn on the level of Remez is to access the light of Ruach, and to
elevate the body significantly higher. While learning it, the person will
remain aware of the world around him, but he will also feel above it, to
some degree. He will feel a greater sense of identification with the
material he is learning than he did when he only learned Chumash.
Learning Talmud, as Talmud is meant to be learned, will draw the mind
of the person to the level of Neshama, which will have a profound impact
on the body of the person as well. Though the physical appearance of a
person learning Talmud may not change, he will feel quite different. He
will become more spiritual, which is why many students who previously had
difficulty learning Chumash and Mishnah for long periods of time, can
become “hooked” on the learning of Talmud.
It is also one of the reasons why entry into the world of Talmud can be
so difficult for many, even after they have learned Aramaic, the language
of the Talmud. It is not merely a matter of simply opening a larger and
longer book than that of Mishnah. It is a matter of going to a higher
level of consciousness to relate to the words inside, which can be read by
just about anyone, but which are related to only by those who make the
jump to the level of Neshama.
If this is true of the level of Talmud-Neshama, then it is even truer about
the level of Sod-Chiyah. The leap from the first level of learning to the
second level, or from the second level of learning to the third one, is
not nearly as great as the quantum leap from the third level of Drush to
that of Sod. To make such a leap is to never turn back again, for on the
level of Sod, one is so close to God (as much as possible in this world),
that it would be tantamount to spiritual suicide to do so.
Again, this is only true if the person learning Sod is doing far more than
simply reading the words and repeating them as they appear. On each level,
the body must line up with the light that is coming to it, or the Torah
will not have its desired impact. Sod is the level of Neshama, an
extremely high level of Ohr Ain Sof, and if the body is not a fitting
container for such a holy level of light, it won’t even try to enter it.
In essence, this is what Rosh Hashanah evaluates, and this is the basis of
the teshuva we are expected to do. On Rosh Hashanah, the question is: did
we reach the level of consciousness that we were capable of achieving? And
if yes, did we work to maintain it? The evidence to answer these questions
is, for the most part, how we spent our time and resources the previous
year, and what we hope to achieve in the upcoming year, and the rest of our
lives, for that matter.
Therefore, when the Torah admonishes us to choose life, it is really
telling us to choose higher levels of consciousness, whenever it is
possible to do so. For, to live on a lesser level of consciousness than we
are capable of is a level or death, one that can even result in physical
death, either as afunction of Divine response to our waste of life, or, as
a result of our lack of ability to rise to a level of consciousness that
affords us a clearer picture of the hand of God, and where history is
This discussion becomes especially pertinent in our present generation,
for the Arizal has revealed:
Since these ten colleagues [of Rebi Shimon bar Yochai’s time] … are
from the level of the Chassadim of the Upper Zivug [in the Sefiros] …
that is Yisroel with Rachel, all the secrets of Torah were revealed and
explained to them without any suffering. This will not occur again until
the Generation of Moshiach as mentioned in the Zohar in many places.
(Sha’ar HaGilgulim, p. 26)
If you want to know what all these terms mean, you’ll have to start
studying Kabbalah. However, in the meantime, on a simple level, it means
that the generation in advance of Moshiach’s arrival will have an easier
time accessing higher levels of light and consciousness than previous
generations.And, as we have already seen, this not something that is
optional, but obligatory, and something, history has proven, that can only
enhance one’s quality of life and his closeness to God.
L’Shannah Tova u’Metuka. Kesiva v’Chasima Tova.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.