Heavenly Bread and Amalek
To more deeply understand the connection between the Fifty Gates of Understanding, Purim, wine, and da'as, we have to go back to when Amalek first entered history, or more specifically, Jewish history.
The first attack by Amalek occurred just prior to the Jewish people's arrival at Har Sinai, in a place called Refidim. But, as we know from tradition, many of the names given to the camps during the forty years in the desert had more to do with what occurred there spiritually, than physically.
Rebi Chanina said, "I asked Rebi Eliezer in the big Bais Medrash ... `What does Refidim mean?' He answered me, `That was its name.' ... Rebi Yehoshua said, "[It means] they became weak (reefu) in Torah." (Bechoros 5b)
And that is why Amalek attacked them. (Rashi)
As one would expect, if Amalek is equated with doubt,1 then he only can exist in a Torah-less environment. Amalek is like a spiritual "bacteria." Bacteria does not grow in a sterile environment, such as in a hospital, but in one that has become unclean. As long as an effort is made to keep the environment clean (and it does require constant effort because of entropy), bacteria is kept in check. However, should the hospital cleaning crew fail to maintain the sterility for but one day, and allow nature to takes its course, then the bacteria will grow and spread-like wildfire!
The same idea is true in the spiritual realm as well. As long as the Jewish people make the effort to stay connected to Torah, to maintain its "freshness," then the world remains spiritually "sterile," and Amalek is kept at bay. However, as the Talmud makes clear, should the Jewish people relinquish their hold on Torah but for a moment, and just treat it with less respect, then Amalek also grows like "wildfire," the likes of his damage we have already witnessed.
This was exactly what happened in the desert, as the Talmud explains:
The point of Torah is to raise a person to the level of intellectual and spiritual clarity-God's clarity-and Amalek is the antithesis of this. That is why, more than any other nation that has ever caused the Jewish people to suffer, it is only Amalek against whom God has waged war:
... God will be at war with Amalek for all generations." (Shemos 17:15)
The nation was heavily criticized for their complaint, and was accused of testing Hashem. They even questioned the presence of God among them, in spite of all they had witnessed, and, the next verse indicates God's response:
Amalek came and did battle against Yisroel in Refidim.
The question is, was Refidim the cause, or a symptom? Did the Jewish people begin to "unravel" when they arrived at Refidim, or did matters take a turn for the worse before arriving in Refidim?
If we reverse in the parsha a little, we find that the episode before this incident of complaining was that of the munn, the heavenly bread that fell each day for the Jewish people throughout their forty years in the desert:2
B'nei Yisroel ate the munn (ha-munn; heh, mem, nun) for forty years in the desert until they came to an inhabited land ... (Shemos 16:35)
Interestingly enough, the word ha-munn (the munn) and Haman share the same Hebrew spelling: heh, mem, nun. It wouldn't take too great a stretch of the imagination to find a connection between the two, considering that Amalek, the tribal ancestor of Haman, attacked in the very next parsha. The question is, what is that connection, and what does it have to do with da'as?3
The correlation is subtle, but central, and comes down to the difference between two words that, on the surface, mean the exact same thing. In fact, if the Talmud hadn't pointed out the dramatic difference between the two words, more than likely we would not have taken notice of their usage.
God told Moshe, "I am going to rain bread for you from heaven, and the people will go out each day and collect it, so that I can test you, to see if you'll keep My Torah or not. On (ve-hayah) the sixth day they should prepare that which they will bring; there will be twice the amount they collect daily." (Shemos 16:4)
As we learn from the Torah, the munn fell each day in the quantity of one omer (about two quarts) per person. The Jewish people were commanded to collect no more and no less than the specified omer. If a person collected more than an omer, the surplus rotted; if a person took less than an omer, then the balance appeared on its own.
The exception to the rule, as mentioned above, was Friday. Since God did not allow the munn to fall on Shabbos in order to honor it, the Shabbos portion had to be collected erev Shabbos, on Friday. Thus, on this day, the second omer of munn did not rot, and the Torah describes the nation's reaction to this miracle:
On (va-yehi) the sixth day they collected the double portion of bread, two omers; the leaders of the peo-ple reported it to Moshe. He said to them, "This is what God said ... It is a Shabbos, a holy Shabbos to God ... " (Shemos 16:22)
From the above possukim, we can see that the miracle of the double portion had caught the Jewish people and their leaders by surprise. This prompted them to come before Moshe and ask, "What's going on here? Why hasn't the surplus of munn rotted like every other day?" to which Moshe responded, "This is what God said ..."
Apparently the discovery of the miracle preceded the foretelling of it, and for this reason, there is a nuance of difference between the two possukim cited above. In the first possuk in which God tells Moshe of the impending miracle, it begins: ve-hayah. However, in the second possuk about their collecting the Shabbos portion, it begins: va-yehi.
The Talmud explains the difference between these two words as follows: ve-hayah alludes to joy and va-yehi indicates sadness.4 Hence, the possuk of when Moshe learns of the double portion begins on a happy note, whereas the possuk that records the realization of the miracle begins on a sad note.
But why this difference? The following alludes to the reason why:
God said to Moshe: How long will you not believe in Me and not keep My mitzvos and Torah? (Shemos 16:28)
Rashi: A common parable states: With the thorn the cabbage is also stricken; the righteous are disgraced through the evil.
The above criticism of God was leveled at the Jewish people and Moshe Rabbeinu for trying to collect munn on Shabbos, in spite of the fact they had been told that none would fall that day. However, is it possible to imagine for a moment that Moshe tried to collect munn on Shabbos, God forbid? Of course not, and this is why Rashi adds that unfortunately, since Moshe found himself among the rebellious, he had to bear the brunt of their trangressions as well.
However, it's not so obvious that Moshe was an innocent bystander in the profanation of Shabbos by the people. Perhaps Moshe was meant to be included in the criticism for his role in the whole episode. For, had Moshe informed the Jewish people of the miracle of the double portion of munn in advance, then everything could have, would have been different-not just then, but throughout all of Jewish history.
This is because there were two ways to bring about the double portion of munn. The most obvious way was to physically collect two omers; the miracle would have been that the second omer didn't rot as it normally did. The second way is far more dramatic: as you collect the first omer, say the words lechovod Shabbos Kodesh-this is for the honor of Shabbos-and watch one omer of munn become two omers on its own.5
This is what Moshe was supposed to have told them before they collected the munn on erev Shabbos.
A miracle such as this, one totally outside the realm of natural phenomena, would have transformed the entire nation; no one would have gone looking for munn on Shabbos. Such an experience would have definitely brought greater joy than physically collecting the two omers of munn, for it would have elevated the Jewish people out of the realm of physicality and into the realm of the supernatural. For, each and every Jew would have accomplished a physical task (creating the extra omer) through a spiritual means (i.e., speech) alone!
Instead, not knowing the miraculous power of speech they possessed, the collectors of munn erev Shabbos had worked only through the physical world. As a result, the double portion of munn could only be a phenomenon in the eyes of the nation, as opposed to a clear example of direct Divine Providence as it ought to have been. And, as the Torah makes clear, even a minimal reduction of such clarity can leave the Jewish people vulnerable to an attack from Amalek-and doubt.
Is it any wonder then, that the same nation that had decimated the most powerful nation on earth at that time, Egypt, without even lifting a finger, now had to fight a smaller nation by lifting up conventional arms to do battle? And is it any wonder then, that the mighty leader, who had been the vehicle to destroy that powerful nation, and who had done so by merely raising his staff into the air, now had to trudge up the mountain, and remain with his arms in the air to defeat Amalek, and with the assistance of others, yet?!
The message is very clear: cross the spiritual threshhold into the world above nature, and you are untouchable by Amalek. Remain in the physical world of Amalek, and know that you will be subject to doubt, and an onslaught from Amalek. The Shabbos munn had represented such an opportunity to cross that threshhold, perhaps forever. However, it was an opportunity not taken by the Dor HaDayah-the Generation of Knowledge-and Amalek was the result. It was this that led to the lack of water, that is, the lack of Torah and the resulting doubt, and war with Amalek.6
A similar opportunity occurred later in the desert (thirty-nine years later), for the next generation of Jews, this time in the Tzin Desert. The circumstance had also involved a squabble over the lack of water, and again, Moshe was held accountable for what was not achieved.7 In fact, it was this episode that cost Moshe the chance to enter Eretz Yisroel. And again, it was an event during which a physical result was supposed to be achieved through a spiritual means: speech.
As the story goes, immediately after the death of Miriam, Moshe's sister, the Jewish people were without water once again. This, the Talmud tells us, teaches us that the special well of water that followed the Jewish people around in the desert for forty years, had been in Miriam's merit.8 Hence, it was called, B'era shel Miriam-Miriam's well.9
Remembering that any allusion to water is really a reference to Torah, it is understandable that Miriam's well was no ordinary well. The Mechilta says that, just like the munn could taste like any food, the water from Miriam's well could taste like any drink. More importantly, anytime be'er is written in the masculine form, it alludes to Torah Sh'b'k'sav; when it is written b'era, in its feminine form, it alludes to Torah Sh'b'al Peh.10 Thus, B'era shel Miriam alludes to Torah Sh'b'al Peh.
Without water again, the Jewish people confronted Moshe and registered their complaint:
"We wish that we had died together with out brothers before God!" they said. "Why did you bring God's congregation to this desert? So that we and our livestock should die?" (BaMidbar 20:3)
This time God did not respond with anger, but rather, told Moshe to approach a rock and speak to it, and tell it to bring forth water. However, in the end, Moshe hit the rock and only then did it gush water.11 It had been a great miracle, and the nation had been duly impressed; another confrontation had ended peacefully-except for Moshe and his brother, Aharon:
God said to Moshe and Aharon: You did not have enough faith in Me to sanctify Me in the presence of B'nei Yisroel. Therefore, you will not bring this congregation to the land that I have given you! (BaMidbar 20:12)
Had the Torah said nothing at all, we would have barely raised an eyebrow. We would have asked why Moshe hit the rock instead of speaking to it, but the fact that the rock responded might have been read as Divine approval. After all, wasn't it Moshe who unilaterally decided to smash the Luchos (the Tablets) after seeing the golden calf, of which God approved?12 So why doubt Moshe's judgement here?
It is only because of the severity of Moshe's punishment that we're forced to scramble to understand just how profound a profanation of God's Name hitting the rock, instead of speaking to the rock, was.
After all, what difference did it make how the water came out? Were the Jewish people not indelibly impressed? Speak to the rock, hit the rock, what difference does it make, as long as everyone went back to their tents impressed and quenched?
It was a case of dèja vu, thirty-nine years later. The audience was different, the location was different, but the message was the same:
Jews can live above nature, and bring about physical results through spiritual means, if they believe they can, if they choose to, and if they merit it.13
Therefore, if this episode is a duplication of the one at the time the Shabbos munn first fell, then, it comes as no surprise to find an allusion to Haman here as well:
Moshe took his staff from before God as commanded. Moshe and Aharon gathered the community before the rock and said to them, "From this (ha-min; heh, mem, nun) rock (ha-selah) should water come out!" (BaMidbar 20:9)
Not only is "Haman" found in this possuk, but the word ha-selah (the rock) is equal in gematria to the word ha-aitz:
ha-aitz (heh, ayin, tzaddik) = ha-selah (heh, samech, lamed, ayin)
5+70+90 = 5+60+30+70
Ha'aitz is the next word after the first allusion to Haman, after Adam ate from the Aitz HaDa'as Tov v'Rah:
ha-min ha-aitz ... acholtoh?14
No wonder Amalek attacks the Jewish people, again, after this episode:
The Canaanite, the king of Arad ... fought against Israel ... (BaMidbar 21:1) ... This is Amalek ... (Rashi)
Hence, this episode at Mei Merivah ("Waters of Dispute" as they are called) was not simply a fight about water; it was another battle in the long war against nature, doubt, and Amalek. The drying up of Miriam's well had created another opportunity to teach the Jewish people what is supposed to distinguish them from the nations of the world: their potential to rise above nature, especially through the usage of speech.
The truth is, it is a message that Ya'akov Avinu tried to imbue within his own children, long in advance of the Dor HaDayah. After Shimon and Levi wreaked revenge upon Shechem and its inhabitants for the violation and kidnapping of Dinah,15 Ya'akov's daughter, Ya'akov later criticized his sons for their actions, and quite harshly too:
Shimon and Levi are brothers; instruments of violence are their swords ... (Bereishis 49:5)
This business of murdering is not rightly theirs; it is part of the blessing conferred upon Eisav, and they have usurped it from him. (Rashi)
In other words, physically overcoming our enemies is not the option of choice for B'nei Yisroel-sons of Ya'akov. Our role is to work through spiritual means to change the physical reality, and when we're forced to do so otherwise, it is a Divine sign that we are living in the wrong world, the world of Amalek.16
However, what is important to point here is that, if the waters were the cause of the dispute, and the waters allude to Torah Sh'b'al Peh, then it would follow that Torah Sh'b'al Peh is also the cause of doubt and dispute! Indeed:
Why does the possuk say, "Therefore it is mentioned in the Book of God's Wars." (BaMidbar 21;14), and what is the connection to Nachalei Arnon (Rivers of Arnon). However, we can understand this according to the idea that water alludes to Torah Sh'b'al Peh-just like a river (nachal) requires two sides, between which the water flows, so too does Torah Sh'b'al Peh have a "right" side and a "left" side-49 faces of purity and 49 faces of impurity;17 this is the root of argument and the "Wars of God" referred to above.18 (Pri Tzadik, Chukas, 15)
Does this make sense?
We can understand that the da'as of the Aitz HaDa'as Tov v'Rah leads to dissension, and that it is Amalek's mission to sow seeds of doubt, and to fan the flame of contention. However, Torah Sh'b'al Peh is supposed to lead to clarity! Is it not written:
The people who walk in darkness see the Great Light'. (Yishiyahu 9:1): These are the masters of Talmud who see the `Great Light'19 because The Holy One, Blessed is He, illuminates their eyes. (Tanchuma Noach 9)
Furthermore, Purim celebrates the victory of Torah Sh'b'al Peh over Haman; we sing of how the Jewish people achieved great light:
For the Jews, there was light ... (Megillas Esther 8:16)
Was this a victory of darkness? It was a subjugation of the forces of evil, and Torah Sh'b'al Peh played a key role in our triumph over the sinister Haman.
Perhaps, though, the deeper understanding of this lies in the fact that Haman built his aitz (gallows) fifty amos high, and not forty-nine amos high. For, if it had been Haman's goal to merely counteract Torah Sh'b'al Peh, a gallows forty-nine amos high would have sufficed.
Obviously, Haman understood that it is not Torah Sh'b'al Peh itself that unites the Jewish people with Torah, and ultimately, with God Himself, anymore than did the Aitz HaDa'as Tov v'Rah bring Adam closer to God. On the contrary, eating from the Aitz HaDa'as Tov v'Rah destroyed Adam and his relationship with God, and brought exile and death upon mankind
Haman understood, as did Balak and Bilaam,20 that it is what Torah Sh'b'aal Peh leads to that transforms the Jew into a malach-Elokim-an angel of God. To remain immersed in the forty-nine levels of purity and impurity is to remain sunken in the world of doubt, which, as our exiles have proven, take their toll on the Jew and his consciousness; epicorsus21 is born out of intellectual and spiritual doubt.
Perhaps this is why the midrash above concludes:
... The "darkness" (referred to by Yishiyahu) is Torah Sh'b'al Peh, which is difficult to learn and causes great pain; this is why it is com-pared to darkness.
And what forty-nine faces of purity and impurity are supposed to lead to is the Fifty Gates of Understanding; what the Aitz HaDa'as is supposed to lead to is the Aitz HaChaim, the Tree of Life. What the forty-nine days of the omer lead to is the fiftieth day: Shavuos and the giving of Torah; what the forty-nine years of the Shemitah are supposed to lead to is the fiftieth year, the Yovel year -all of which allude to a departure from nature, the realm of sod, the soul of Torah.
This is also indicated by the summation of the letters of the two possukim, Shema Yisroel ... (twenty-five letters) and Boruch Shem Kavod ... (twenty-four letters) recited twice daily, which total forty-nine. These two possukim have a tremendous amount to do with Purim and its geulah (redemption).22
It is this threshhold that Amalek stands before, and which Haman tried to block to the Jewish people forever. And he was willing to pay handsomely for the right to do so, Megillos Esther records, ten thousand kikar kesef in total.
How much money was that equal to: one-half shekel per male Jew above the age of twenty who left Egypt.23 However, what Haman hadn't counted on was that the half-shekel given in the desert was what the Talmud refers to as "the cure before the sickness,"24 which explains the following numerical connection:
ha-aitz = ha-selah = ha-kesef
(heh, ayin, tzaddik = heh, samech, lamed, ayin = heh, chof, samech, peh)
The tree that overcame Adam, and the rock that "smote" Moshe, and the money that was meant to annihilate the Jewish people, all emanated from the same source: doubt. However, as we learn from the story of Purim, each can also be turned around against doubt, against Amalek, and used to draw down the Divine light to dispel the dreadful darkness of an apparently Godless world.
It was the merit of giving the half-shekel that pre-empted Haman's strike against the Jews of his time. For, inherent in the concept of the chetzi-shekel is the da'as necessary to counteract the da'as of Haman, since the word shekel, from the word that means "to weigh," indicates the resolution of contrary sides, alluded to by the waters of Nachalei Arnon, and the munn that fell between two layers of dew. Buried within the concept of shekel is the da'as of the Fifty Gates of Understanding.
It also hints at the unity of k'ish echad b'leiv echad that Haman tried to uproot, as the rabbis point out, since every Jew can only give one-half shekel, no matter how rich or how poor. This emphasizes the fact that a single Jew is always only part of a whole. This is the philosophical basis for the halachic reality that "every Jew is a guarantor for his brother."25
And all of this is also alluded to in the number seventy.
From Redemption to Redemption - Copyright © 1998 Rabbi Pinchas Winston
1 As mentioned earlier, the Hebrew work for doubt (sufek) and Amalek share the same gematria, 240.
2 Forty is also a number associated with Torah and da'as. It was over the course of forty days that Moshe received the Torah on Har Sinai. He subsequently spent two more sets of forty days on Har Sinai to achieve forgiveness and atonement for the incident of the golden calf. Moshe himself, who is considered "rooted" in da'as, live for 120 years, or three sets of forty years. Also, it rained for forty days and forty nights during the Flood; the Pri Tzadik says this was because Noach's generation could have received Torah in their time, had they been fitting.
3 Other than the fact that it fell in the merit of Moshe Rabbeinu (Ta'anis 9a), who was the greatest human source of da'as?
4 Megillah 10b
5 Ze'ev Yitareif, Krias Shabbos Oneg. This is born out from the difference of translation of the word "ve-hechinu" by Targum Onkelos and Targum Yonason. There is even a halacha (S.A. 250:1; M.A.) to say these words before purchasing or preparing anything for Shabbos, or prior to engaging in any activity that enhances one's enjoyment on Shabbos.
6 Haman can also be read "heim-nun"-they are fifty-perhaps referring to the Jewish people that they are rooted in the Fifty Gates of Understanding, the absence of which leads to Amalek and Haman.
7 BaMidbar 20:2.
8 Ta'anis 9a.
9 Shabbos 35a.
10 Pri Tzadik, Parashas Chukas, 15.
11 According to the midrashim, Moshe did at first speak to the rock, but the promised water did not flow. Something had gone wrong on the way to the rock, and the merit to bring forth the water by way of speech was lost (Michtav M'Eliyahu, Parashas Chukas).
12 Shemos 32:19; Shabbos 87a.
13 Shabbos 156a; the Talmud conludes that a Jew can live above mazel if his actions warrant it.
14 Bereishis 3:11.
15 Bereishis 34:25.
16 See the book, Chovos Levovos (Duties of the Heart), Gate of Trust.
17 In Egypt, the people sank down to the forty-ninth level of spiritual impurity before God began to redeem them.
18 Interestingly enough, the munn also fell between two layers of dew, perhaps alluding to the da'as of Torah (Shemos 16:13; Rashi).
19 That is, the Hidden Light of creation (Ohr HaGanuz) that shone for 36 hours during the seven days of creation, before God hid it for the righteous in the Time-to-Come (Chagigah 12a).
20 Pri Tzadik, Parashas Balak, 14.
21 A rebeller against God and Torah from the Greek word "epicurian."
22 This will be the subject of Chapter Five.
23 Megillah 16a, Tosfos.
24 Megillah 13b.
25 Sanhedrin 27b.