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The Possibility To Err, The Possibility To Reach The Sublime

Sichos in English

Shabbos Parshas Sh’lach, 23rd Day of Sivan, 5750

1. This is the final Shabbos of the month of Sivan, the third month, the month associated with the giving of the Torah. (Although the following Shabbos is the 30th day of Sivan, it is Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, which indicates that it is associated with a different quality.) The Shalo explains that the festivals share an intrinsic connection to the Torah portions read during that time of year. Thus, it follows that there is a link between Parshas Sh’lach and “the season of the giving of our Torah.” On the surface, however, the association of the two is difficult to comprehend.

Firstly, as Rashi comments, the words “Sh’lach lecha” (send for you) indicate that G-d did not command Moshe to send spies; rather, He left the choice to Moshe’s discretion (“for you”). This, however, appears to run contrary to the giving of the Torah, which involves the communication of the mitzvos (commandments) which G-d requires us to fulfill.

Secondly, Parshas Sh’lach relates the narrative of the spies and their transgression of G-d’s will, which ultimately resulted in the Jewish people being forced to remain in the desert for forty years. These concepts of sin and exile run contrary to the giving of the Torah. At that time, the impurity associated with the sin of the Tree of Knowledge departed from the Jewish people. They had the opportunity to attain the ultimate freedom, as our Sages declared, “Had the first tablets not been broken...no nation or creed could have had dominion over [the Jewish people.]” Exile and sin are connected with the sin of the Golden Calf, which took place in the month of Tammuz. The month of Sivan, in contrast, is associated with positive qualities, the giving of the Torah.

These difficulties can be resolved based on the explanation of the application of the concepts taught by Parshas Sh’lach in our service of G-d. To explain: In principle, the sending of the spies was surely desirable, for it was the decision of Moshe Rabbeinu himself. Similarly, the individuals Moshe chose were leaders of the people, capable of carrying out the mission on which they had been sent. The positive nature of such a mission is further emphasized by the Haftora, which describes Yehoshua’s sending of spies and the favorable results brought about by their mission.

These positive factors exist because the mission associated with Sh’lach is symbolic of the soul’s descent into this material world. Each Jewish soul is “a part of G-d from Above.” It descends to this material world and clothes itself in a body to carry out the mission of creating a dwelling for G-d in the lower worlds.

To carry out this mission, it is necessary to “explore the land,” to survey the nature of the service that must be carried out, discovering what conflicts and difficulties will arise and what is the best possible way to transform the land into a dwelling for G-d.

This mission is left to man’s discretion, as was the sending of the spies. Indeed, as Rashi emphasizes in his commentary on the opening verse of the parsha, G-d allows the possibility of error. For in order to create a dwelling for G-d in the lower worlds, man must act on his own initiative, based on his own (inherently limited and fallible) choice and decision.

This intent is associated with the giving of the Torah. Our Sages explain that the giving of the Torah represents the nullification of the decree separating the physical from the spiritual planes. In particular, there were two dimensions to the nullification of that decree — that the spiritual descend to the physical, as it is written, “and G-d descended upon Mount Sinai,” and that the physical be elevated to the spiritual, as it is written, “and to Moshe He said ascend to G-d.”

Although the giving of the Torah is connected with both these aspects, of the two, the elevation of the physical, the transformation of the material aspects of the world into a dwelling for G-d, is the ultimate purpose (the descent of the spiritual being necessary, however, to make this elevation possible). This is reflected in the service of a person on his own initiative, or to use a Kabbalistic phrase, “an arousal from below.”

This concept, the importance of service on one’s own initiative as expressed through a person’s positive choice despite the possibility for error, is also reflected in the events connected with the giving of the Torah: After the revelation of Mount Sinai, Moshe Rabbeinu ascended the mountain for forty days to receive the Torah. At the conclusion of these forty days, however, G-d allowed the possibility for error — as the Torah relates, “And the people saw that Moshe delayed in descending from the mountain” — a possibility which ultimately resulted in the sin of the Golden Calf and the destruction of the tablets.

Why did G-d allow for such a possibility? Because this is the ultimate purpose of man’s service, to exist in an environment where there is a possibility for error and, nevertheless, to rise above that possibility and to serve G-d through one’s own choice and initiative.

Although this intent was not realized immediately and instead, the Jewish people sinned, that error was corrected through the Jewish people’s service of teshuva. Accordingly, they merited to receive the second tablets, whose level surpassed that of the first. Nevertheless, there was no need for this process of descent and ascent. On the contrary, had the Jewish people overcome the possibility for error and not sinned, they would have received the first tablets, which then would have included the dimension of teshuva as well. The very fact that they had the possibility to sin — although they actually would not have sinned — would have enabled them to attain the advantage of the service of teshuva. Had they overcome this challenge, all the heights reached in the entire 120-day cycle, would have been realized within the initial forty days.

The advantage that can be attained through service within the lower levels of existence is also expressed in the narrative of the revelation of Mount Sinai. Our Sages explain that after hearing each of the Ten Commandments, the souls of the Jewish people expired. Their existence, however, was maintained because G-d revived them, using the dew with which He will resurrect the dead in the World to Come.

Why did their souls expire? Because their bodies could not contain the sublime pleasure experienced when hearing G-d’s word. When G-d returned their souls after each commandment, the same process was repeated at the revelation of the following commandment. Each time, the Jewish people experienced a deeper and more encompassing revelation causing their souls to expire again.

This explanation, however, is somewhat problematic: Why after hearing the first commandment, “I am the L-rd, your G-d…,” did the Jewish people experience such powerful feelings after the second commandment, “You shall have no other gods”? Seemingly, it is merely a restatement — in negative terms — of the first commandment. Similarly, with regard to the final commandments. They are basic standards of human behavior. Why did their revelation cause the Jewish people’s souls to expire?

These difficulties can be resolved within the context of the above explanation. Since the second commandment applies in a place where the possibility for error exists, it represents a greater expression of G-d’s oneness than the first. Similarly, the latter five commandments, represent an even further descent, extending into the realm of interpersonal relations. This suggests an even higher and greater revelation.

Based on the above, we can appreciate why Parshas Sh’lach is read on the last Shabbos in the month associated with the giving of the Torah. As mentioned, the giving of the Torah emphasizes service within a realm where the possibility for error exists, the same theme as Parshas Sh’lach, which centers upon the importance of service on one’s own initiative. In this manner, when despite the possibility for error, one perseveres and remains steadfast in one’s commitment to G-d, one reaches the highest levels.

The above is relevant at present, when we are in the midst of the forty days after the giving of the Torah. This is an opportunity to reach the highest levels, to combine the great spiritual heights that accompanied the first tablets with the advantage of service on one’s own initiative.

These concepts are also reflected in the Torah portion we begin to read at Mincha, Parshas Korach. When noting that the Torah does not mention Korach’s descent from Yaakov Avinu, Rashi states that this came as a direct result of Yaakov’s prayer, “Let my honor not be associated with their community,” but Korach is associated with Yaakov in the Book of Chronicles, as it states, “the son of Aviasef, the son of Korach, the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kehos, the son of Levi, the son of Yisroel.” Korach had a great potential. He was “the son of Yisroel” and a clever man. Furthermore, his desire — to be the High Priest — was fundamentally spiritual in nature.

To express these qualities in the fullest degree possible, however, there had to be a possibility for error and challenge. The intent was not for Korach to err, but to feel a challenge and overcome it. Unfortunately, Korach was not able to overcome this challenge and, therefore, entered into a dispute with Moshe Rabbeinu. His error, however, was corrected by his sons, who repented and merited to recite songs of praise to G-d.

2. This week’s chapter of Pirkei Avos contains the teaching (3:14): “He [Rabbi Akiva] would say: Beloved is man, for he was created in G-d’s image... Beloved are the people Israel, for they are called children of G-d... Beloved are the people Israel, because they were given a precious article...”

The first clause refers to the gift of knowledge which was granted to all mankind, even gentiles; the second, to the unique potential possessed by the Jewish people, and the third, to the heights a Jew can reach through Torah study.

These three clauses reflect three phases in Rabbi Akiva’s own life. His parents were converts and, “for several generations, the descendents of converts are considered as converts.” Also, for the first forty years of his life, he was unlearned. Though, even then, he was “modest and productive,” as obvious by the fact that Kalba Savua’s daughter desired to marry him. Afterwards, when he was inspired by the sight of how drops of water can penetrate stone, he dedicated himself to Torah study, and reached the third level, to the point that “Everything (the entire Torah) is taught according to Rabbi Akiva.”

The teachings that follow in Pirkei Avos relate to the concepts explained above. The following Mishna states: “Everything is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is granted.” This relates to the conversion where, in the most complete sense, “freedom of choice is granted.” There is no command to convert and thus, conversion represents an expression of service on one’s own initiative.

Rabbi Akiva teaches that this quality of service can also be experienced by a native-born Jew because “freedom of choice is granted.” Although “everything is foreseen,” within the context of a person’s activities in this world, he is given free choice — and thus, the possibility to err — regarding his behavior.

Rabbi Akiva concludes these teachings with the statement, “Everything is prepared for the feast,” emphasizing that whether one overcomes the challenge of the possibility of error, ultimately, one can merit “the feast” by correcting one’s error through teshuva. Furthermore, this statement can be interpreted, “Everything” — even the challenge that presents the possibility for sin — is “prepared for the feast.” The negative and challenging factors were created only to bring about the ultimate reward received through service on one’s own initiative.

3. The above concepts must affect our behavior, bringing about an increase of positive activity. In general, the mission of each Jew is connected with the Torah. Every time, a Jew studies Torah, the words he recites are the words of G-d, as the verse relates, “My tongue will repeat Your statements.” The “statements,” the words of Torah, are G-d’s, and the person is merely repeating them.

Furthermore, each Jew has the potential to bring about the giving of the Torah anew. This is reflected in the verse that precedes the Ten Commandments: “And G-d spoke these words, saying...” Generally, the word “saying” (leimor) implies that the words spoken should be related to others. To point this out, however, regarding the giving of the Torah is unnecessary, for every Jew (including the souls of the future generations) was present. Accordingly, in this context, the world “leimor” means that, by giving the Torah, G-d granted the potential that whenever a Jew studies Torah, G-d will join him and repeat the words of Torah which the Jew is studying.

In this context, it is worthy to mention the campaign which is a matter of immediate necessity, the establishment of public Torah shiurim (study sessions), and for each man, woman, and child to play a contributory role, heading a shiur himself. These shiurim should preferably include ten students, or, at the very least, three.

Each Jew’s involvement in his personal shlichus will hasten the coming of Moshiach. Adding the number ten (symbolic of the ten powers of the soul) to the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word “shliach” produces the numerical equivalent of “Moshiach.” May we not have to wait any longer for Moshiach’s coming, but rather see how he comes immediately, not in forty days, nor even forty minutes; rather, may this very moment be the last moment of exile and the first moment of Redemption.



G-d allows the possibility of error. For in order to create a dwelling for G-d in the lower worlds, man must act on his own choice and decision.




Challenge was created only to bring about the ultimate reward.


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