Because of Us, not Through Us
These are the things Moshe told to all of the Jewish people on the east
side of the Jordan in the desert, in the plain opposite the Red Sea, between
Paran, Tofel, Lavan, Chatzerot, and Di-Zahav-11 days journey from Chorev by
way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-Barnea.
It is always amazing how some of the most important lessons about Jewish
history are taught, in the Torah, in the subtlest of ways. In fact,
sometimes, the most important pieces of information seem, in the Torah, to
be the most incidental of facts, which is why they are so easily missed.
This is not without reason, for just as there are four levels on which Torah
can be learned: Pshat, Remez, Drush, and Sod, there are four levels on which
messages can be learned from the Torah. Hence, any message that can only be
fully understood on the level of Sod can at least be partially understood on
the level of Pshat. Indeed, the Pshat level is really just an invitation to
go deeper into the concept, from the level of Remez to the level of Drush
and ultimately, to the level of Sod.
When we reject that invitation, we damage ourselves. When we get stuck on
the lower levels of a message, then eventually, we are forced to witness
catastrophes such as the destruction of the temples, and the exiles of the
Jewish people. For, the deeper we understand the mechanics of Jewish
history, the better we are able to respond to the Heavenly messages that are
sent to direct us, to tell us when we are on track or off it.
For example, hinted to in the above verses is the reason why everything goes
wrong in history. EVERYTHING. Now, having said that, don't you want to go
back and review the words of the above verses in search of what it might be
that you missed the first time because, like most of us, you just assumed
that what you see is what you get? Which word, or words, do you think
provides such an incredibly profound message about Creation and history?
The question might first be asked: Why does the Torah play such a game? Do
doctors do the same thing with patients who are critically ill, expecting
them to correctly read into their words and instructions to figure out how
to properly nurse themselves back to health? Do lawyers go to court,
purposely using ambiguity to rescue their clients from jail or financial
loss? So, why does the Torah teach in such a seemingly ambiguous manner if
its messages are so crucial for living a correct and meaningful life?
This is because for answers to work for you, you have to buy into them. When
it comes to Torah, it is not just about learning, but about learning how to
learn as well. When learning is the result of a process, and a solution is
the product of personal investment, then it becomes part of one's
consciousness, a facet of one's outlook on life. This is how a person takes
a concept from the realm of the theoretical to the realm of reality.
As one of my friends once said, "Some people bronze a child's first pair of
shoes. The Jewish people bronze a child's first question." Hence, the Seder
is designed to provoke questions, because we are not just interested in
giving over the importance of the evening, we are more interested in the
children absorbing the importance of the evening for themselves, so that
when it is over, they too will have personally experienced the reality of
Likewise, the above verse begs the question: It took 40 years to reach a
point that was only 11 days away? True, the extra decades of wandering were
the punishment for the Spies and their evil report. But why did they fail?
What were they fighting against, spiritually-speaking?
The answer is in the number 11, which in the above verse, seems so
insignificant and incidental. But it is not, far from it. Rather, it is what
life in this world is all about. It is the reason for all evil in Creation,
and the path to rectify all of it as well. And, the starting point to
understanding how and why is the following:
There is a deep reason why the cycle-length of the sun and moon are not
equal, but rather, the sun's extends beyond the moon's by 11 days. The
Arizal wrote in Likutei Shas that this issue is part of the sod of the
Nitzotzei Kedushah-Holy Sparks-that fell from the kings of the B"N in 11
portions: seven kings and four Achorayim of Abba and Imma, and Yisroel Sabba
and Tevunah ... Thus, the Malchus is missing 11 lights, which are from the
myriad of sparks ... and which are continuously being rectified until the
arrival of Moshiach. Hence, because of these 11 lights that are missing from
the Malchus, there are 11 days missing from the lunar calendar with respect
to the solar one. (Drushei Olam HaTohu 2:4:24:9)
Kabbalistic terminology and ideas aside, the answer is still clear: 11 is
the number of non-rectified lights in Creation, left over for man, through
this actions, to complete. It is the absence of these 11 lights that makes
evil possible, and all the heresy that has existed throughout history,
Hence, 11 curses were uttered at Mt. Eival, to warn the Jewish people about
the damage that can result when they cease giving the Malchus-the last of
the 10 Sefiros, and which corresponds to our world-its missing lights. And,
where did Moshe Rabbeinu and the Jewish People record these
11 curses? In Shechem, where the reality of negative 11 was quite
pronounced, evident by the following:
Shechem is a place set aside for punishment; the Shevatim were damaged
there (i.e., Yosef was sold there); Dinah was violated there, and there the
Kingdom of David was divided. (Sotah 11a)
Thus, 11 verses from two paragraphs of Hallel- the prayer of praise and
thanks to God-are not recited on Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the new
lunar month. It is a monthly reminder of the work to be done in the upcoming
month, and of how failure results in spiritual darkness, and an opening for
Amalek to wreak havoc on the most important 11 of all.
For, the gematria of the Vav-Heh-the second half of God's Ineffable Name-is
11. This is the part of the Name that Amalek constantly tries to separate
from the Yud-Heh, by making man blind to the hand of God in history. Cut off
from the Yud-Heh, the Vav-Heh becomes almost nonexistent in the minds of
men, making them heretics.
This is why the Generation of the Flood was punished with 11:
And, while the ark, the world of man, was submerged in the water 11 amos,
the waters themselves rose above the highest mountain, in the direction of
Heaven, 15 amos, the gematria of Yud-Heh. Measure-for-measure, for acting as
if the Vav-Heh was detached from the Yud-Heh, the ark was submerged 11 amos,
while the waters ascended 15 amos.
But, Noach survived the Flood because he found chayn in the eyes of God, the
very same trait for which Yosef is also known. For, like Yosef after him, he
understood that life is about unifying Vav-Heh with Yud-Heh, about
sanctifying the Name of God, and about revealing the hand of God in every
aspect of life. To do this is to exude chayn.
However, though Noach was good at this, Yosef excelled at it. Being the
11th son of Ya'akov Avinu, he was a natural at being able to implement the
power of Vav-Heh against the 11 klipos. He knew how to rectify the missing
11 lights, in order to bring them into Creation and use them to rectify the
Malchus. He was the perfect conduit for the light of God.
This is what made him the prime opposition of Eisav, who in every generation
draws his strength from the 11 klipos, which result from the absence of the
11 primordial lights. And this is what the Jewish people had to overcome in
the desert in order to travel directly to Eretz Yisroel, and acquire it:
Eleven days journey from Chorev to Kadesh Barnea by way of Mt. Seir.
It says in the Sifri: Had the Jewish people merited the 11 days they would
have entered the land, because the 11 days would have overcome the
11 klipos, which are the 11 chiefs of Eisav. (Drushei Olam HaTorah
But, as Rashi points out, the Spies left with bad intentions, because
turning their backs on Moshe Rabbeinu, they lost their guide through the 11
klipos, and instead became subject to them. As the name implies, for klipos
means "peels," they became enveloped by them, which blinded them to the
truth of what they saw, causing them to speak loshon hara about Eretz Yisroel.
Hence, as the Talmud points out, Eichah, which is read on Tisha B'Av and is
an acrostic, places the Peh before the Ayin, to indicate that they spoke
about which they did not actually see (Sanhedrin 104b). A world in which the
11 klipos go unrectified is one in which people cannot see clearly, for the
klipos act as spiritual cataracts over the mind's eye of people. Tisha B'Av,
a direct result of the Spies is the direct result of this.
Then, and now. On one hand, the world today is still relatively peaceful,
thank God. On the other hand, so much is going today that can destroy that
peace in a major way, and make the Jews pay for all of it. More than ever,
people, even Jews living far from the action and in "safe" places in the
Diaspora, sense that the situation in the world can change quickly, and not
to the benefit of the Jewish people.
Yet, they cannot move past that stage. That part of Judaism and Jewish
history is far more theoretical than actual, thanks to the 11 klipos and the
spiritual blindness they create. Some very important priorities are not in
order, and if we don't see that soon, we will be in serious danger, because
we will make decisions that will seem as if they are to our benefit, when in
fact, they are detrimental to us.
History is about rectifying the 11 lights and ridding the world of the 11
klipos. One way or another it will happen, either because of us, or through
us. Tisha B'Av says choose the former, so that we do not have to go through
the suffering that previous generations had to endure, but often did not
Text Copyright © 2010 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.