Seeing the Big Picture
Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: Should any man's wife go
astray and deal treacherously with him . . . (Bamidbar 5:12)
It is a known fact that so much of the English language was derived from
Hebrew, at least in the beginning. Sometimes it takes some digging to find
the ancient Hebrew root of a modern English word, but sometimes it is still
quite obvious. For example, clearly the word “fruit” is derived from the
Hebrew word for fruit, “payrot,” since without vowelization
Peh-Raish-Vav-Tav would be read “fruit.”
Another great example is the word “pardes,” which means “orchard.” It does
not take a great stretch of imagination to derive “paradise” from “pardes,”
especially since the original paradise was a garden. The only question is,
what kind of garden was it?
That may seem like a silly question until you factor in Kabbalah, which adds
a whole different dimension to the discussion. For example, prior to the sin
of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the skin of Adam was
made of light. He was so holy that the angels confused him for, well, for
God. The world did not become so physical until after the sin, when it
descended to the depths of Creation within which we still exist.
Hence the world in which he lived was also vastly different, existing on a
much higher spiritual plane. So, though the Garden of Eden was actually a
garden, an actual garden at that time was not like one you might imagine in
our time. In fact, it might have been closely associated with another
version of “pardes,” which it will be seen is the real path to the true
The Arizal says:
There are four levels [of Torah] interpretation, and their sign is
Pardes: Pshat, Remez, Drush, and Sod. He must work hard in all of them to
the extent that he can, and seek a teacher who can teach them to him. If he
lacks one of the four of them relative to what he could have grasped, he
will have to reincarnate because of this. (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, Ch. 11)
Torah is a multi-layered dialogue between God and man. A single Hebrew word,
even a single Hebrew letter can be a prism for the simplest level of
understanding of an idea to its most sublime level. It’s just a question of
how much a person is willing to spend the time and effort to reach levels of
vision and comprehension.
When a child goes to Cheder he is taught Pshat (Chumash), perhaps even Remez
(Mishnah). When he graduates to Yeshivah Ketanah he will be taught Drush in
the form of Talmud, that he will continue to learn in Yeshivah Gedolah as he
plumbs the depths of its many commentaries and halachic ramifications. Some
may even eventually, make the leap to Kabbalah, which of course is Sod.
Why bother? To go from Pshat to Drush is necessary since it is really hard
to live the life of a committed Jew without doing so. And when I say from
Pshat to Drush I do not only mean going from Chumash to Talmud, because not
everyone merits to do that. I also refer to an approach to life, one that
obligates a person to make a point of understanding what he is doing and why.
What about from Drush to Sod? Aside from being obligatory, as the Arizal
seems to be saying above, what life value is there in knowing the secrets of
I once saw a documentary on sleep which of course, included a discussion
about dreaming. Why do we dream? What benefit is there in dreaming and what
happens to a person who doesn’t dream, like some who is sleep deprived?
Surprisingly we’re not so sure. We have been able to develop an
understanding of the smallest particles in Creation that we can’t even see
with the best microscopes, and we have been able to peer back in time by
looking at the farthest reaches of the galaxy. Dreaming, however, remains a
big mystery and therefore still subject to guesswork.
Part of the problem is that the brain itself is still a big mystery.
Furthermore, we can’t ask the person who is dreaming questions to know what
he or she is experiencing. The most scientists can do is monitor the brain’s
activity during sleep and piece together bits of data. Something that is so
much a part of human life is more out of reach than galaxies light years away.
But there are theories. In fact, one of the ways they discovered what
dreaming may contribute to a person’s well-being was by purposely depriving
a person of sleep for days on end. They found that being dream-deprived for
three straight days resulted in extreme hallucination to the point that the
person began to lose the ability to distinguish between real life and dream
One thing we do know is that the average human brain is unable to process,
at least in realtime, all the information it receives on a daily basis from
all of the senses. Rather, the brain seems to be wired to make assumptions
about the overall experience. This is in order to provide quick feedback so
that we can make somewhat accurate decisions about what to do next. Whatever
it cannot process “in time” it seems to store for future reference or “dump”
at nighttime while dreaming.
At least that is the theory. In other words, though sleep may replenish the
brain’s energy within an hour or so, hours of dreaming allow the brain to
purge itself of excess information that it did not or cannot process. This
is usually because the information does not make sense to us at the time, or
is simply beyond our experience to date.
That is something that can be very subjective. In other words, the more one
understands about life the less questions he will have about life. The more
profound his understanding of Creation is the less he becomes confused by
the anomalies of history. He may not always like them but he won’t become
confused because of them. His brain will more readily process the input from
his senses and will not need to dispose of them while he dreams.
Torah is called the “blueprint” of Creation (Bereishis Rabba 1:4). It is the
master plan for history and the most eloquent and elegant expression of
Divine Will known to man. Everything is found within it if you know where
and how to look for it. Nothing in existence, no how bizarre or how profane
can exist outside of Torah. If it exists it does so because of a potential
that was built into Torah “thousands of years” before the world was even
created (Pirkei Avos 5:26).
As one ascends from level to level in Pardes it is as if he penetrates the
mind of God, so-to-speak. His vision of life and its purpose comes to
resemble his Creator’s more and more as he moves from level of Torah to
level of Torah. Intellectual confusion fades, the questions about life
We are told that when the Jewish people crossed the sea that even a simple
handmaiden “saw” more than even some of the most famous prophets of history.
It says that God “tore” open all seven levels of Heaven and the Jews of that
time saw all the way up. This is beyond human comprehension since both
Yeshayahu and Yechezkel had a vision of the “Chariot,” the inner workings of
Creation and the basis of the deepest Kabbalistic secrets.
Whatever it means and whatever they saw one thing is certain. From that
point onward they were a different people, evident by the fact that they
were able to reach the level of k’ish echad b’leiv echad:
They traveled from Refidim and came to the Sinai Desert, and they
camped in the desert; they (read: he) camped opposite the mountain. (Shemos
He camped opposite the mountain: k’ish echad, b’leiv echad—like a
single person with a single heart. (Rashi)
Sod will do that to a person. It has the power to elevate a person out of
his everyday mundane, and often petty reality onto a higher plane of
intellectual and spiritual existence:
Four entered Pardes: Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher, and Rebi Akiva . . .
For example, by way of [meditating on] a [Divine] Name. They didn’t
actually [physically] ascend, rather it appeared to them as if they
Kabbalah explains that the further one is from the Original Source of light
the more separate he becomes from the rest of Creation. Likewise, the more
he reverses the trend the more unified he becomes with God, Creation, and
all that exists. This is the entire purpose of “entering” and “ascending”
through Pardes, the intellectual one.
The result ultimately is a leiv tov—a good heart. Thus, Lag B’Omer, the day
on which Rebi Shimon bar Yochai revealed the secrets of Creation to his
students, which became the basis of the Zohar and all Kabbalah that has
since been published, is the threshold between a “simple” heart and a “good”
Simple hearts can become corrupted.
Good ones cannot.
This brings us to this week’s parshah and its role in our preparation for
the holiday and opportunity of Shavuos. After continuing on with the
discussion about the responsibilities of the Levi’im the Torah turns to the
topic of the adulteress woman, the very symbol of a selfish and perverted
heart. This is followed by the laws of the Nazir, the very symbol of a
selfless and upright heart, as the following story portrays:
Shimon HaTzaddik said: “Only once in my life have I eaten of the
trespass-offering brought by a defiled nazir. On one occasion a nazir came
from the south country and I saw that he had beautiful eyes, was handsome,
and had thick locks of hair symmetrically arranged. I said to him: ‘My son,
what [reason] did you see to destroy this beautiful hair of yours?’
He answered: ‘I was a shepherd for my father in my town. [Once] I went to
draw water from a well, gazed upon my reflection in the water, and my evil
inclination rushed upon me and sought to drive me from the world [through
sin]. But I said to it: “Evil One! Why do you take pride in yourself in a
world that is not yours, with one who is destined to become worms and dust?
I swear that I will shave you off for the sake of Heaven!” ’
I immediately arose and kissed his head and said: ‘My son, may there be
many nazirites like you amongst the Jewish people!’ ” (Nedarim 9b)
This shepherd had the big picture. His life may have been simple but his
world view was sophisticated. His knowledge of Torah may have been basic but
his understanding of it was profound. As such, he was blessed with a good
heart and eventually a tremendous portion in the World-to-Come.
Text Copyright © 2014 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.