Three lines in spiritual work

kabbalah-tree-of-life.gifIf you take a closer look at the Tree of Life, you should notice that the tree branches out from Keter into three lines that connect Malchut (the last Sephira) to Keter . What does it mean, and why do we need these three lines?

The following paragraph from Baal-HaSulam explains it:

And it is deemed a correction, called “the left rejects and the right adducts, meaning that that which the left rejects is considered correction. This means that there are things in the world, which from the beginning aim to divert a person from the right way, and they reject him from holiness.”

From this paragraph we can understand that there are two conflicting forces that operate within us – force of the left line that tries to push a person away from his path to spirituality, and the force of the right line that brings the person closer to the divine.

What does it mean and why would a Creator create us in a such non-perfect state?

Imagine yourself a situation: you’re hungry, very hungry actually. You think about the food all the time. In fact, all you can think about is food, and there is nothing else that enters your mind. You finally get a chance to eat, and satisfy your hunger – your desire for food. At this very moment, in which you’re full with food and can’t consume anymore – would you have any desire for more? Of course not!

The same happens in spirituality. Our advancement is made of ascends and descents. Descent is when we find ourselves in the left line – detached from the Creator, from spirituality, from the group. Unable to connect to the Upper Force, to comprehend what we read in Kabbalistic books, not capable to even physically to get to the class. We found ourselves rapidly decline from our level to attainment. This is the power of left line.

It’s important to understand why it happens. Similar to the example with food – if we don’t have “chisaron” – deficit of something – we would never want it (when we’re full, we don’t crave for food). So for us to desire higher spiritual state, we must first of all find ourselves in much lower state –  in the state that would provoke us to desire more.

So all our advancement happens in three lines – in the left line that grows our desire, in the right line that helps us get closer to the spiritual, and in the middle line – where we actually advance and attain spirituality.

We can’t always exist in one line – we have to switch from one state to another – from up to down, from left to right – and the higher we descend, the higher stage we have the opportunity to attain.

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10 Responses to Three lines in spiritual work

  1. Maureen Poitras says:

    Just amazing! Right on target:}
    Kavana

  2. The work in three line should be understood very well, because it is the main path to spirituality. And I would like to explain some more details, on some more examples.

    When we speak about hunger it is not enough to satisfy the wish to eat something what matter, that when we are hungry, and the wish to consume the food is of course left line, we have to overcome our wish and check if this food we want is Kosher and if I am kosher to eat it-right line, I mean if it is ice-cream, which is Kosher, but I’ve just had a big steak. So only if I am able to overcome my wish to eat and first check the possibility if its satisfaction according to Hallakhot, and I act according to Hallakha and not according to my wish, I act in Middle line which is called Right line above the Left. And if G-d fobbid I am in situiation that I have to save my life, and the only food available is pork, I have to overcome my disgust to it, and by Emmuna Lemmala mihaDaat to make my self to eat it- and this eating will be middle line. if the same situition is in the contest of somebody knowing I am going to diemake me eat pork for me to show that I reject prohibition of Torah, I have to die,G-d help us to be corrected through Mitzvot and not through difficult expiriances, then the death will be middle line. So there is no spiritual work in three lines, and this is the only spiritual work available, without Halakhot, where Hallakha is right line, my wish is left line and my action according to Hallakha and not according to my wish is called middle line.

    if I work in this way little by little I make myself to act according to Hallakhot and I may beging to work on Kavvanah. Rabash explain that there are 4 different reasons for acting according Hallakhot, the fisrt two are very easly to understand ,and are not used by Kabbalaists at all, I mean when the person makes Mitzvot because another person makes him so or what he makes Mitzvot to be respected by other human beings.

    But next two reasons should be understood very well and here are a lof of inner work, which can promote us very much if we work on them all the time. Sometimes we perform Mitzvot because we want to serve the Creator ,but deep inside we hope that this work would protect our families, our wellbeing and so on, We try to work LeShma,but something inside us says- I wish the Creator took my work into consideration and the life wouldn’t be so hard on me or my family my countryand so on. And here write Rabash is all our work to be able to serve the CREATOR NO MATTER, what are the situitions in our own life.

    The fist to ways to serve the Creator are called LoLeShma, and the two last one are called LeShma. But when we still look for our own intersts within the work is called Katnut, and when we serve the Creator with the joy, no matter what are thr personal outcomes are is called Gadllut.In Hebrew the difference between Gllut-exall, and gadlut is in letter Dalet which is our Ego which should be invple and corrected for spiritual work to come out of Gallut and to shine in its complet Gadllut.

  3. Pino says:

    The strangest thing. I had a revelation while being posessed by a being who revealed himself as being an angel. He told me through me to my friend that the time was coming to be that my three lines would be in balance. One cutting the other two. I never know what was ment by this. After reading your blogroll I think your head-on.

    Thanks for (probably unwittingly) answering a big question I’ve been living with.

    Best in life and love,

    Pino.

  4. yehudith says:

    Important thing to remember, today the level of Tumma( impurity, evil) is so high that no “revealations”, dreams, intuition, imagination and your own speculations may be relied upon, whatever you think should be prouved by the sourses such as Torah, Talmud, Kabbalah books and the comments of Sages which have the aprouvel of Minnian( ten signuters of the Ravs).

    It is very important to find the reliable sourses and groups to study, because today anybody who has Huttzpa enough call himself Kabbalaist, Mekkubal or Rav.

    Any kind of “revealations” have the mixture of the true and false knowledge which sometimes very difficult to distinguish, so spent most of your time on study the Divine sourses Torah( the websites given by Felix on this site are all Kosher, impresting and reliable), Talmud Bavly and Yerushalmy( Alfa Society is a reliable sourse, they send Daf Yomi on your email, available in english also), Kabbalah( Rav Gottlieb, Rav Fanger) or to ask people you rely upon, that study with the lisenced Rav for sometimes.

    Rabash teaches that we should go 23 and a half hours in the right line and only half an hour in the left line, the same will be right to say for the spiritual development, spend 23 and a half hours for the Divine sourses study and half an our for your own understandings, revealations and you won’t regret it.

  5. Felix says:

    Since the loss of second temple we lost ability to connect on such high level. Any dream/revelation is only 1/60th of the true meaning and is mostly klipot

  6. yehudith says:

    As we mentioned already in the article on Reshimot, they come dressed into certain situation, and as we said ,the right answer to them is in choosing the right hallaka, so what the three lines are then coming from?

    The thing isthat if the life was as simple as Situation-Hallaka, it won’t be as challenging as it is, the thing is that when we are presented with the situation the real fight begins between our ego wishes ( left line) and our Hallakha duties( right line) and only if we are able by Immuna Mi’al haDa’at=the faith above the knowledge,(where the faith is the right line and the knowledge is the left line) to make our ego to let us act according to Hallakha, and not ego’s demands we get the Middle line, as we are explained by Sages the middle line is build by putting the right line=Hallaka Above the left line=knowledge, ego wishes.

    The strength of Will to get corrected and dayly study of Torah help us to convience our ego to choose the middle line the consious following Hallakha.

    The difference between the right line which is the action according to hallakah and the middle line= the action according to Hallakha is that in the right line the hallaka is a recomendation and in the middle line the Hallakh is implemented in action and thus creat a vessel for getting the Light of the Creator.

    Learn and use hallakhot and you will never regret it.

  7. Devarim(Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22)
    Assigning Blame
    by rav Nosson Weisz

    The Jewish calendar and the Shabbat Torah readings were arranged to intermesh. Parshat Devarim is always read on the Shabbat immediately prior to the 9th of Av. The reason for this is related to the special theme of the Parsha, “Tochacha,” commonly translated as reproof.

    ‘Tochacha’ is a difficult concept to translate into English. Reproof, reproach, rebuke, chastisement are all candidates, but none of them either individually or collectively fully suffices to convey the exact flavor of what is meant by ‘tochacha.’ We shall explore the subject of ‘tochacha’ in the context of this essay but before we do that let us attempt to comprehend the connection between ‘tochacha’ and the 9th of Av.

    THE 9TH OF AV CONNECTION

    We read Moses’ words of rebuke in public to remind ourselves that the tragedy we are about to commemorate on the 9th of Av, the destruction of both Temples, signifying the withdrawal of the physical manifestation of the Divine Presence from our midst, was a tragedy we suffered needlessly. God didn’t inflict it on us; we brought it on ourselves through the failure to correct our sins.

    But there must be some added significance to the fact that we read the ‘tochacha’ before the commemoration of the tragedy. Although sins are no doubt the ultimate cause of the destruction, and indeed of all tragedies, sins are never the immediate cause. The immediate cause of all tragedies is invariably the same: the failure to listen to words of ‘tochacha.’

    God never retaliates hastily against public sins committed by the Jewish people. Before He initiates concrete corrective measures He sends us messages of ‘tochacha.’ The destruction only arrives if we fail to react to the words of ‘tochacha’ and make no move to institute changes in our lives to mend the spiritual flaws that caused us to sin.

    SIN IS INEVITABLE

    Sin is an inevitable phenomenon in human affairs. As King Solomon stated, “for there is no man so wholly righteous on earth that he does good and never sins. (Kohelet 7,20)” Sin alone never brings on destruction. God is just; it is He who made us mortal and fallible and gave us free will. If He were to destroy us for the sins we commit, the destruction could be laid at His own doorstep. That is why he initially sends us ‘tochacha’, not destruction.

    If we pay attention to the ‘tochacha’ and put ourselves on the track of mending the flaws that led us to sin, even if we never fully manage to correct these faults, we are sheltered against destruction. God takes note of the fact that we have set out on the road to self-correction, and no matter how slowly we proceed, as long as our intent to reach the destination is sincere, that is enough for Him to keep our world going.

    When we reject ‘tochacha,’ our sins become an inherent part of our natures. If we do no work on ourselves our character flaws will never mend; by refusing to listen to words of ‘tochacha’ we condemn ourselves to remain in a state of sin. The conscious decision to reject ‘tochacha’ and the implicit choice to remain permanently flawed that lies in such rejection is the factor that kindles Divine anger and brings on the destruction.

    EVEN FLAWS HAVE A POINT

    God may have fashioned man with flaws that make it impossible for him to avoid sin, but there was a point to creating him this way. His built-in defects allow man the opportunity to perfect himself, so that he can be his own creator. When man rejects the ‘tochacha’ that impels him to self-improvement, he voluntarily embraces his structural defects and accepts them as permanent parts of his being. The existence of character flaws is neither a tragedy nor does it cause tragedy, but their establishment as permanent facets of one’s personality turns them into the sort of Shakespearean ‘tragic flaws’ that inevitably presage tragic events.

    It is therefore important for us to understand exactly what is meant by ‘tochacha’ and why it is so hard to accept.

    UNDERSTANDING ‘TOCHACHA’

    We can highlight the problem by examining the actual content of the speech of ‘tochacha’ that begins our Parsha. Rashi breaks down the words of the first verse and explains how each one serves as a marker that points to one of the places the Jews sinned in the desert. “These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel, on the other side of the Jordan, concerning the Wilderness, concerning the Araba, opposite the sea of reeds, between Paran and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth and Di-zahab.”

    Wilderness — a reference to Exodus (17,2-3); The people contended with Moses and they said, “Give us water that we may drink!” Moses said to them, “Why do you contend with me? Why do you test God?” The people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses, and it said, “Why is this that you have brought us up from Egypt to kill me and my children and my livestock with thirst?”

    Araba — a reference to the sin of harlotry with the daughters of Moab and the worship of Baal-peor (Bamidbar 25) — the locale was Arboth Moab — hence Araba.

    Sea of Reeds — when the Jewish people encamped next to the sea of reeds saw the Egyptian columns approaching them they said: “Were there no graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the wilderness? What is this that you have done to us to take us out of Egypt? Is this not the statement that we made to you in Egypt, saying, “Let us be and we will serve Egypt-for it is better that we should serve Egypt than that we should die in the Wilderness!” (Exodus 14,11-12)

    Paran — a reference to the sin of the spies who were dispatched from the wilderness of Paran — All the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron, and the entire assembly said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this Wilderness! Why is God bringing us to this land to die by the sword? Our wives and our children will be taken captive. Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?” (Bamidbar 14, 2-3)

    Tophel — the complaint against the Manna — and the spirit of the people grew short on the way. The people spoke against God and Moses: why did you bring us up from Egypt to die in this wilderness, for there is no food and no water, and our soul is disgusted with the insubstantial food. (Bamidbar 14,5)

    Hazeroth — a reference to the dissension with Korach which took place there-Is it not enough that you have brought us up from a land flowing with milk and honey to cause us to die in the wilderness, yet you seek to dominate us, to dominate further? (Bamidbar 16,13)

    Di-zahab — a reference to the golden calf [zahav means gold in Hebrew] — the background to this sin was Moses’ declaration that he would return at the end of forty days. When he was tardy according to the people’s calculations, they ran out of patience and fashioned the golden calf to replace him. There is an undercurrent strongly implying that the sin was Moses’ fault.

    How does a list of one’s past inequities constitute chastisement? All the incidents mentioned by Rashi were clearly recognized by everyone in the audience as sins. In most of the incidents referred to, people died at the time as a consequence. In the case of some we still suffer the consequences down to the very present.

    The most prominent examples — the 9th of Av — is the anniversary of the ‘night of tears,’ a consequence of the mass lamentation quoted above, the Jewish public’s response to the spies’ report. As retribution for shedding these pointless tears, we were condemned to shed tears on the anniversary of this event over genuine tragedies. The story of the Golden calf took place on the 17th of Tammuz. Some two thousand years later, the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem on the same calendar date.

    The three-week period between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av is referred to as ‘bein hamezarim’, the period of time between the two constrictions. This period has become a period of mourning; it is forbidden to celebrate weddings or listen to music etc. We are still caught up in the dire consequences of these events. It was clearly unnecessary to remind us of their existence. What then is ‘tochahca’?

    HOW WE RELATE TO TRAGEDY

    We can get a glimpse into what Moses was attempting to teach us by considering the way we typically react to tragedies. When we fall victim to cosmic events such as the Holocaust or when we are compelled to confront seemingly insoluble situations such as the phenomenon of suicide bombers, the shock and the horror we experience are invariably accompanied by a feeling of painful perplexity.

    We Jews are a nation of believers. Believers never accept events, especially tragic ones as being the result of chance. There must always be someone to blame.

    Reish Lakish taught: one who suspects the innocent will suffer bodily harm in retaliation, as it is written, Moses responded and he said, “But they will not believe me and they will not heed my voice for they will say, ‘God did not appear to you’.” But God knew that Jews are a nation of believers. God said to Moses, “They are believers who are the descendants of believers; whereas you will not believe in Me in the end. They are believers, as it written, And the people believed, and they heard that God had remembered the children of Israel and that He saw their affliction, and they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves. (Exodus 4,31) They are the children of believers, as it is written [about Abraham], and he trusted in God, and he reckoned it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15,6) Whereas you will not believe in the end, as it is written, God said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the Children of Israel…(Bamidbar 20,12) (Shabbat, 97a)

    One of the fundamentals of belief in God is that He is just. Although justice requires that actions have consequences, and therefore it is to be expected that sins will be punished, it also dictates that the punishment suffered must be in proportion to the crime committed. When tragedy strikes, the believer is tied up in knots by the contradiction between his ideology and the events taking place in the real world.

    JEWS ARE NOT EVIL

    Jews are not an evil people nor have they ever been such. If you compare them to the rest of humanity, they generally measure up quite favorably. Statistics show that they give charity out of all proportion to their collective share of the social pie. They tend to be idealistic and are to be found in the vanguard of movements for social justice out of all proportion to their numbers. The list of Jewish merit is quite extensive and everyone knows it; there is little need to spend time trumpeting our virtues.

    It is true that we all have faults, and no doubt every individual Jew can afford to tighten up, perhaps even considerably, but no way have we committed the sort of atrocities as a people that could reasonably make us liable to suffer horrors such as the Holocaust or suicide bombers. It is totally irrational to accept such tragedies as deserved acts of retribution for Jewish faults.

    This obvious fact accounts for our immediate reaction when such tragedies befall us; they cannot possibly be our fault. As we believe that God is just and tragedy must therefore be somehow proportional with blame, the horrendous tragedies of Jewish history must be someone else’s fault. If we sift through the list of sins mentioned by Moses in his speech of chastisement, the theme of shifting blame is a clear thread that runs through the list.

    SHIFTING BLAME

    Take the first one for example. The Jews find themselves in the desert without a source of potable water. Do they deserve to be in this situation? Clearly not. What caused them to face this difficulty, after all? They followed God’s instructions relayed to them through Moses, left their homes in Egypt and followed him into the desert. For having done this they deserve to die of thirst? Ridiculous! So how come they are in the situation that they have nothing to drink when they are innocent as a people of any major wrongdoing? It must be Moses’ fault. Somehow he must have misunderstood his instructions and they landed in the wrong place at the wrong time through his compounded errors.

    This feeling of being the innocent victim of circumstances is the theme that unites all the incidents listed by Rashi. In some, it is clearly stated, in others only implied, but the theme of innocent victim runs through them all. This is especially true of the major incidents, the golden calf and the sin of the spies.

    Let us attempt to place ourselves back at the scene to imagine how we as a people must have felt.

    The Golden calf: Moses, having promised to return, left us leaderless, stuck in the desert with no one to guide us out of it. We had said our final goodbye to Egypt four and a half months before, we had signed our historic covenant with God forty days prior, and here we were, left leaderless and rudderless with no idea where to go or what to do next. A tragic situation we clearly did not deserve to suffer; we were clearly the victims of irresponsible if not downright incompetent leadership. Weren’t we entitled to remedy a bad situation that was certainly not our fault? How could anyone think that we were not entitled to attempt to reestablish contact with God to obtain fresh instructions by employing the best means at our disposal? How could anyone judge such an attempt as a great sin, worthy of enormous punishment such as the immediate annihilation that God threatened?

    The spies: we left Egypt with the promise of being led to a land of milk and honey where we could live in safety and comfort. God didn’t tell us to follow him blindly, He promised through Moses that He was finally fulfilling the oath He made to our forefathers and leading us to the holy land. But when we dispatched our spies to see what would be involved in the conquest we discovered that it was an impossible dream. There was no way on earth we could drive out such powerful nations and settle the land in their place. God Himself had told us that wiping out everyone there was not an option. We did not have either the numbers or the expertise to immediately take full possession of such a large area and make everything work. The population would have to be subdued and enlisted to help us in our initial settlement effort.

    We had cut our Egyptian bridges behind us on the orders of God in the mouth of Moses; the land we were being taken to was unattainable; we were stuck in an impossible situation facing a national disaster of enormous proportions through no fault of our own. No wonder we rebelled! How could God possibly place us in such a predicament? It must be someone’s fault! How can anyone blame us for our justified resentment and consequent desire to rebel against the One who placed us so unjustly in such an impossible situation? Where is the great sin? How are we supposed to accept Moses’ chastisement? Why didn’t anyone respond to them with justified outrage?

    UNDERSTANDING EVIL

    To begin to understand, we must first learn to relate to the Torah concept of good and evil. We are accustomed to think of evil as something horrendous and gross; Nazis are evil, terrorists are evil, repressive tyrants are evil. Our neighbors are not evil and neither are we. But the Hebrew word Ra, which means evil, doesn’t mean evil in this sense. A rasha, one who does Ra, is not necessarily an evil person. Ra means temporary [see Nachmonedes, Genesis 1,4] and a rasha is a person who is entirely focused on the temporary.

    Thus said God: If not for my covenant, I would never have made the night and day (Jeremiah 33,25). This maxim is often repeated by the Sages in various ways [see Rashi, genesis 1,31]. The observance of Torah is a condition of creation. The repeated stressing of this idea is meant to reorient our attitude towards Torah observance. Whereas we understand the need to observe as a moral imperative, the sages are attempting to teach us that observance fits into reality in the same fashion as the laws of physics. Observance is like oxygen; a plentiful supply is needed to sustain human life. We can comprehend the implications of this message by focusing on purpose.

    Sins do not violate the plan of the universe; they fit into reality as God designed it. All people have free will and must inevitably fall into sin at times. But the universe was created with purpose. Reality is violated by human life lacking in purpose. People who are going nowhere and just getting through life without any goal except to survive in the most pleasant way they can are not evil people. Many of them are good people with nice characters; they fit into society and are often model citizens. But their lives have no purpose. They are not striving to perfect either themselves or the world. They give no thought to what will follow their earthly existence and do nothing to prepare themselves.

    Such people do not require this world at all and it was not designed to sustain them. What sense does it make to place human beings into the problematic circumstances of this earthly life whose only positive value is that it offers the potential for the exercise of free will when they are not at all interested? The answer: no sense at all. But if people do not need the world, God withdraws it. Whenever this happens tragedy strikes.

    THE NEED FOR TESTS

    A purposeful life must be seen as a series of tests. Moses’ chastisement was precisely this. He was not interested in reminding the Jewish people about its past sins. He was attempting to point out the flawed attitude that led them to commit these sins. Let us attempt to unravel what he might have been really saying. It may have sounded something like this:

    When you find yourself being pursued by the Egyptians through no fault of your own don’t disassociate yourself and say, “This obviously has nothing to do with me. I have done absolutely nothing to deserve being pursued and slaughtered. Obviously this tragedy cannot be justly addressed to me; I have to discover who is really to blame.” No, you are being tested.

    You are correct in thinking that you cannot be punished as long as you have done no wrong. But that doesn’t shelter you from the shocks of life. In the face of the threatening danger God expects you to say, “Look this cannot be accidental. Here I am, being threatened when I haven’t done anything. Something is clearly being demanded of me. What can it be? Perhaps God is trying to teach me not to take life for granted. I should turn to Him and say, ‘Look, I realize that You owe me nothing, and that there is no such thing as a right to life. But let me live so that I can accomplish something with my life. Let me raise my children to serve you, let me work on myself, let me attempt to raise the consciousness of mankind to the purpose of life.'” There can be no other reason why a loving, benevolent, God should confront the innocent with potential tragedies they have done nothing to deserve.

    Before he died, Moses was anxious to teach the Jewish people to coexist with God in an atmosphere of affectionate co-operation. The secret: neither holiness or purity but living with ambition and purpose; never satisfied with just continuing to be the people we are today but always setting goals to be a different, more noble people tomorrow.

    SPIRITUAL SHELTER

    A Jewish people who lives with spiritual goals is always safe. It matters not that they sin, it matters not that they are not so holy or observant right now; the future is all. A Jewish people marching down the highway of self-improvement is a Jewish people safely sheltered from national tragedy. As long as we are marching forward maintaining a purposeful existence, we need the universe for the purpose that God set for it. God is ready and willing to renew it for us with total grace. He is patient and ready to wait a thousand years for the process of self-perfection to reach completion. As long as there is movement forward and the Jewish people are free of apathy and moral stagnation we are safe in the palm of God’s Hand.

    But when we grow apathetic and fall into the rut of spiritual stagnation, God grows impatient with the world. When it has no purpose, He cannot renew it. He sends people to chastise us, and if there are no people available, He sends us little tragedies. If we pay attention, wake up and take some steps to change, the good times resume; God’s patience is reawakened no matter how much improvement is required and no matter how long it will take. But if we ignore the ‘tochacha’ there is no hope of progress. The stagnation is forecast into the future as continuing indefinitely. In this situation, even a Jewish people who is widely observant, finds little favor in His eyes. We were created to accomplish not to stagnate, at whatever level.

  8. yehudith says:

    Shoftim(Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)
    Shedding the Blinders of Faith
    by Rav Noson Weisz

    According to the teaching that they will teach you and according to the judgment they will say to you, shall you do, you shall not deviate from the word that they will tell you, right or left. (Deut. 17:11)

    Rashi in the name of the Sifri:

    Even if they tell you that what you think is the right is really the left or visa versa, and it goes without saying that you must listen if they inform you that this is right and this is left [and you do not know otherwise].

    Nachmanides elaborates:

    Even when you are convinced that they are in error, and the matter is as clear to you as the difference between your right hand and your left, do as they tell you. And do not say to yourself, “How can I eat this food when it is clearly fat [a forbidden substance], or how can I execute this clearly innocent person?” Rather say to yourself, “My Master who commanded me to observe His commandments, instructed me to observe them as the rabbis dictate.”

    Thus, according to this doctrine, we are commanded to follow what the rabbis tell us with blind faith, even if we know that what they are telling us is clearly wrong.

    But how can the Torah command us to do such a thing?

    LEAP OF FAITH

    The uniqueness of the Jewish religion as a religion is that it does not require its adherents to make what is called a “leap of faith.” Thus Christians have to believe in Jesus as the son of God and Moslems have to believe in Mohammed as the prophet of God. The entire foundation of their religions is the belief in the vision of a single individual. Their commitment to observance is therefore necessarily based on a leap of faith.

    Let us contrast this with Judaism.

    The children of Israel did not believe in Moses on the strength of the miracles he performed, for whoever believes through the power of miracles cannot help but retain some skepticism in his heart. It is always possible that the miracles were really some sort of magic trick or witchcraft [or, in our time, some sort of mental conditioning]. But all the miracles Moses performed were dictated by necessity and were not performed to verify the phenomenon of prophecy.

    What is the basis of our acceptance of the authenticity of Moses’ prophecy?

    So what then is the basis of our acceptance of the authenticity of Moses’ prophecy?

    It rests on the encounter at Sinai when the entire nation of Israel (not just Moses) had an encounter with God.

    How do we know that the encounter at Sinai demonstrates his prophecy beyond the shadow of a doubt? It is written:

    Behold! I come to you in the thickness of the cloud, so that the people will hear as I speak to you, and they will also believe in you forever. (Exodus 19:9)

    From this we understand that before this event they did not believe in Moses with an everlasting faith and only had a faith which was open to second thoughts. (Maimonides, the Basics of the Torah, Ch.8,1)

    It is clear that God Himself was not satisfied to rest the Jewish belief in prophecy on the insecure foundation of faith in a single individual, or in the miracles that he performed. As He created human beings, He was aware that this is not a solid underpinning on which to base an everlasting faith. Therefore, He engineered an event where the truth of prophecy in general and the authority of Moses’ prophecy in particular would be publicly established. He did so by raising the entire Jewish people to a level that allowed them to verify the truth of both these phenomena first hand.

    In fact, whereas most religious stories tend to crop up in all cultures with only minor variations, the story of the encounter at Sinai is unique to the Jewish religion. No religious document apart from the Torah recounts a tale of a mass meeting between God and man. Such an extravagant claim can only be put forth when it is the presentation of a verifiable truth. The false claim of such an incident is too vulnerable to outright rejection as a lie.

    Yet, Jews are hardly noted for their gullibility. If anything, Judaism is the religion of skeptics. The fact that the Torah dares to present the claim that such a public encounter indeed took place is the best measure of its veracity.

    TORAH STUDY

    What is more, this tendency to seek factual verification for religious dogma is perfectly in line with the culture of Judaism. The Western world only adopted the goal of establishing universal literacy two hundred years ago, and it is only since then that public education has been generally available. But universal literacy has been the bedrock of Judaism for over three thousand years. The learning of Torah outweighs all the other commandments combined in importance (Peah 1,1).

    After all, the major purpose of religion is the development of a relationship between humanity and its Creator. The Torah teaches us that the human being was created in God’s own image. How is it conceivable that an ignorant, uncultured human being could possibly be considered an image of God? How could God develop any relationship with such a creature? Without the attainment of literacy and a sound education, how is it possible to attain wisdom or culture?

    All Jews have always been expected to know the Biblical and Talmudic sources of their beliefs.

    Accordingly, all Jews have always been expected to know the Biblical (and later Talmudic) sources of their beliefs. They are required to think and to question as their religious duty.

    Before one can develop an actual relationship with God, one has to make oneself fit for God to relate to. The much-vaunted intellectual skills of the Jewish people grew out of this tradition and are more a consequence of nurture than nature.

    In fact, the Torah itself views the breakdown of faith among the Jewish people to which we bear witness in modern times as mainly attributable to the ignorance of these sources that is our most sacred duty to study. This idea is expressed repeatedly in rabbinic literature, but perhaps its clearest statement is in the following passage: (Yerushalmi Chagiga 1,7)

    Who is the wise man who will understand this? Who is he to whom the mouth of God speaks that he may explain this? For what reason did the land perish and become parched like the desert without a passerby? But God has said: “Because of their forsaking my Torah that I put before them.” (Jeremiah 9:11-12)

    Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught on the basis of this verse: “If you observe cities in the land of Israel that have been uprooted from their place, you should know it is because they failed to hire scribes and teachers of Torah.”

    Rabbi Yudan the Nasi [following Rabbi Shimon’s prescription] sent Rabbi Chiya, Rabbi Asi and Rabbi Ami around the land of Israel to arrange for the hiring of scribes and teachers. They came to a certain town and could not find a single scribe or teacher. They instructed the townsmen to introduce them to the guardians of the city. They brought the local police chief, and they said to them, “You think these people [the police force] are the guardians of your city? These are the destroyers of your city!” “Who then are the guardians of our city?” They told them, “Your scribes and teachers are your guardians, as it is written, if God will not build the house, in vain do its builders labor on it, if God will not guard the city, in vain is the watchman vigilant… (Psalms 127:1)

    We find that God overlooks the sins of idolatry, licentiousness and murder, but He does not overlook the sin of belittling the importance of Torah study. Why? Because of our verse which declares that the reason for the desolation of the land is the abandonment of Torah study.

    Rabbi Chiya bar Bo explained: “If they would have left Me but kept learning My Torah, I would have overlooked their sins because the light of My Torah would have brought them close to Me again.”

    As we have repeatedly emphasized in these essays, the Torah was not given to us to teach us what to believe. The Torah is a reality book. As such, whoever is familiar with its byways cannot escape the perception that he is walking around in the real world. The lack of necessity to make a leap of faith and to be able to accept Judaism does not end in the encounter at Sinai. The Torah was designed to replace the faith of the one who studies it with a solid intellectual awareness and understanding of a spiritual reality.

    REALITY

    For not all of reality is exposed to the naked eye. To be aware of the world of atoms you have to study physics. To know that all living organisms are arranged in cells surrounding nuclei which contain DNA and RNA you have to study biology. The person who never studied these subjects can only accept this information as a matter of faith. For the person who immerses himself in physics and biology it is obvious reality.

    The world of spirituality differs from science only in a single respect. Whereas the existence of atoms and the arrangement of living organisms into cells is verified even for the uninitiated by the existence of hydrogen bombs and blood tests, the world of spirituality cannot be observed in physical phenomena.

    Without Torah study, Judaism is a matter of pure belief only.

    Thus, although strictly speaking, anyone who has not studied physics or biology is nothing more than a believer in the existence of atoms or cells, belief is sufficient for him as it is verifiable by his everyday experience of the outside world. But all Jewish believers must study the Torah for their belief to survive, for without Torah study, Judaism is a matter of pure belief only, which cannot be verified by everyday experience of the outside world. The only way to transform Judaism into observable truth is immersion in Torah study.

    There is a remarkable demonstration of this theme in the works of Maimonides. In his book on the commandments, the “Sefer HaMitzvot,” Maimonides counts the commandment to have faith in God as the very first of the 613 commandments, and demonstrates from Talmudic sources that the obligation to accept the existence of God as a matter of faith is derivable from the first of the Ten Commandments:

    I am the Lord your God, Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt from the house of slavery. (Exodus 20:2)

    He begins his greatest work the “Yad HaChazaka” with a discussion of this same commandment but there he phrases it differently. The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of all wisdom is to know that there is a prior Existence that brought all subsequent existence into being, and that all things that exist — whether in the heavens or on the earth, or any other region in between — derive their existence from the truth of His essence. (The Fundamentals of the Torah, ch.1,1-6)

    The commandment to believe quoted in the “Sefer HaMitvot” becomes transformed into the commandment to know in the “Yad HaChazaka.”

    Belief in God is only the beginning. The Jew can only fulfill his obligation under this commandment if he manages to transform his faith into knowledge. The method of transformation at his disposal is the study of Torah.

    But even the development of such knowledge is not the end of the story.

    On the contrary, it is only the Jew who attains the level of transforming his pure faith into knowledge who is ready to face the test of faith. Such a Jew lives within a double reality, the reality of the physical world of his senses into which he is born, and the reality that is revealed to him through his knowledge of Torah.

    The pursuit of success in these two realities often involves following mutually exclusive strategies. The test of faith is to choose the reality one wants to live in.

    We are finally ready to return to the original question. God created two realities, the physical one that we are all aware of and the spiritual one that is revealed to us through the Torah.

    THE SANHEDRIN

    Each of these realities was created for man. God Himself is not in need of either of them. Just as the physical reality with which we are all familiar is within man’s power to shape according to the dictates of his intellect, so is the spiritual reality that is revealed by the Torah. When the Sanhedrin, the human body most expert in understanding the reality contained in the Torah, arrives at a determination of its shape, this reality will conform and adopt the shape determined by the human intellect. This is also man’s world.

    Nachmanides thus explains that the injunction to follow the rulings of the Sanhedrin even when it is clear to you that they are mistaken has no relation to blind faith. Mistaken or not, what the Sanhedrin decides determines the shape that the reality in the Torah adopts.

    Unfortunately, this inspiring thesis has the enormous downside pointed out by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people specifically as a place to implement the reality discovered through Torah knowledge. The commandment discussed in this essay (as others of Parshat Shoftim) apply when Jews inhabit the land of Israel. In fact all the commandments, even those totally unrelated to agriculture or the establishment of public institutions have a special relationship with the land of Israel.

    You shall place these words of mine upon your heart and upon your soul; you shall bind them for a sign upon your arm and let them be an ornament between your eyes (Deut. 11:18)

    Rashi quoting the Sifri:

    Even after you go into exile remain identifiable by your observance of the commandments: lay phylacteries, put mezuzot on your door posts; so that the commandments won’t be strange to you when you return from exile. As it is written make road markers for yourself, set up landmarks for yourself (Jeremiah 31:20)

    Explains Nachmanides:

    In exile the commandments are only obligations of the heart, but in Israel they are necessities of life.

    The Jewish people are back in their land once again. Once again observing the commandments is a necessity of life. Once again God is willing to overlook all violations as long as there are scribes and teachers in the cities of Israel. God does not demand or value blind faith. He is perfectly aware of the circumstances which brought about the situation that the majority of the Jewish people are lacking in blind faith through no fault of their own. As long as Jews are willing to expose themselves to the light of the reality He presented in His Torah, He is willing to wait patiently. He knows that the Torah will bring the Jewish people back.

  9. Parshas Ki Seitzei
    Sfas Emes, Zechuso Tagein Aleinu, Parshas Ki Seitzei, 5631

    The parsha opens: “Ki seitzei lamilchama al oiyvecha, unesana Hashem Elokecha beyadecha veshavisa shivyo”. (ArtScroll: “When you will go to war against your enemies, and HaShem, your God, will deliver them into your hand, and you will capture its captivity.”) The Sfas Emes’s reaction to this pasuk may come as a surprise. He observes that HaShem’s Presence pervades all creation. Why does this comment come as a surprise? Because the fact of HaShem’s Omnipresence is well known. Why, then, does the Sfas Emes find it necessary to repeat it?

    Upon reflection, an answer comes to mind. Recall that the Sfas Emes was also the Gerrer Rebbe. As such, the Sfas Emes knew a great deal about people’s inner and religious lives. On the basis of that knowledge, he apparently felt that many people — including many otherwise observant Jews — live their lives in ways inconsistent with an awareness that HaShem’s Presence pervades all creation. For this reason, the Sfas Emes found it worth allocating time to bring this point home (again) to his chassidim.

    Note the great difference between the Sfas Emes and mainstream Jewish thought on this key hashkafa (ideology) issue. For many ( most? almost all?) authorities, HaShem’s Presence is self-evident, indeed, HaShem’s Presence is so obvious that we barely need to exert ourselves to perceive it. Thus, we can fulfill the mitzva of knowing HaShem’s Presence with complete passivity.

    For the Sfas Emes, the situation is very different. Taking the parsha’s first pasuk (quoted above) as his text, the Sfas Emes tells us that to find HaShem during the week, we must take the initiative (“ki seitzei”). Indeed, we must be aggressive and take the offensive; even “go to war”. But then comes Shabbos. On Shabbos, HaShem reveals Himself as the Creator Whose word gives life — indeed, existence — to the whole world.

    At this point, skeptical (i.e., truth-seeking) fellow-learners may say: These thoughts are all very beautiful, and they also ring true. But how does the Sfas Emes see them in the pasuk? I suggest that the Sfas Emes sees these ideas in the following non-pshat reading of the text. For the Sfas Emes, the “war” of which the pasuk speaks is our primordial struggle against the yetzer hara (the dark forces of evil and self-destruction which lurk deep within us). During the week, we struggle with the yetzer hara — including with its denial of HaShem’s Presence.

    The forces of evil are both strong and clever And in fact, during the struggle, some of us become its captive – “shivyo”. But on Shabbos, we can more easily sense HaShem’s Presence in all creation. This heightened awareness enables us to recapture the fragments of ourselves that the yetzer hara has taken captive.

    This interpretation is buttressed (in a non-pshat way) if we take two non-pshat steps forward. The first step involves the root of the pasuk’s word “ve’shavisa”. The pshat reading sees the root as SH’V’H’ — “to take captive”. By contrast, a non-pshat reading sees the root as SH’U’V’ — ‘to return’. In the hif’il (“causative ” ) construction, that translation of the root gives us : “to take back”; i.e., “to recapture”.

    The second non-pshat step is easier. It simply involves recognizing that the pasuk’s word “ve’SHaViSa” can be read as an allusion to SHaBBos. With a connection thus established between the two, the idea that Shabbos enables us to recapture what we have lost to the yetzer ha’ra becomes more plausible.

    (I merely “suggest” this interpretation because it is not explicit in the Sfas Emes’s text. Why not? Perhaps because the Sfas Emes thought that this way of understanding the pasuk was totally self-evident.)

    The Sfas Emes is concerned lest we get a false picture of our life’s agenda. That inaccurate picture would be : kedusha (sanctity) on Shabbos, and chol (emptiness, devoid of kedusha) on the weekdays. To counter that erroneous perspective, the Sfas Emes points out that the quality of our Shabbos depends on the quality of our avoda ( service ) during the weekdays.

    The Sfas Emes points out in another way that it would be a mistake to see Shabbos and the weekdays as separated by a total break in kedusha. He does so by giving us a whole new perspective on erev Shabbos (the day before Shabbos; i.e., “Friday”). He reads the word “erev ” as related to the word “eiruv” — “a mixture” For, in fact, Erev Shabbos is a mixture, containing aspects both of Shabbos — e.g., the feeling of coming closer to one’s beloved, and of chol — e.g., the exertion of preparing for Shabbos. Thus, erev Shabbos serves as a bridge connecting kodesh and chol.

    The Sfas Emes concludes with still another reading of the words “ve’shaviso shiv’yo”. This time, he views both words as coming from the root SH’U’V’ — “to return”. Thus, he understands the phrase as saying:’ You shall return to HaShem what has been taken from Him.’ More specifically: “You shall return to HaShem the particle of kedusha that you received from Him”. What does this mean?

    The Sfas Emes views our performing mitzvos as carrying out a mission (a “shelichus”) that HaShem has assigned to us. And he considers it an essential part of a mission that the agent report back to the principal who sent him. This is what he wants us to return to HaShem — explicit recognition that we have performed the act of the mitzva for the sole purpose of doing HaShem’s will.

    The problem the Sfas Emes is addressing is serious. It is all too easy to live a life apparently brimming with Torah and mitzvos — and yet not have a relationship with HaShem. That is what the Sfas Emes is trying to help us avoid. Hence, “ve’shavisa shivyo”: “Return to HaShem what is truly His.” What is truly HaShem’s, but which–unless we make the effort to make it happen– can easily be forgotten? Our commitment to maintaining a meaningful relationship with Him.

    byNosson Chayim Leff

  10. Ki Tetzei(Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)
    Sleeping Beauty
    by Rav Noson Weisz

    There are many passages in the Torah that are difficult for the modern person to relate to.

    For some people these passages serve as a convenient rationale for rejecting strict observance with an untroubled conscience. But even for those who are genuinely interested in the Torah point of view, the understanding of these passages often requires a willingness to adjust to new ideas and new ways of looking at the world which fly in the face of standard modern attitudes and what is considered politically correct.

    We shall attempt to bring one of these seemingly bizarre passages down to earth in this essay. We advise the reader in advance that major readjustments in his or her thinking will be required.

    When you will go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord, your God, will deliver them into your hand, and you will capture its captivity; and you will see among its captivity a woman who is beautiful of form, and you will desire her, you may take her to yourself for a wife. (Deut. 21:10)

    The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh, basing himself on the Kabbalistic writings of the Ari, explains the passage on three different levels.

    Level One: The Surface Level

    On the surface level, the passage describes a concession to the evil inclination (Talmud Kidushin, 21b).

    It is a well-known phenomenon throughout history that soldiers, overcome by the blood lust of battle tend to go on the rampage. The Torah forbids the indulgence in this type of madness, but not entirely. Because of the irresistible strength of this human impulse, the Torah adopts a compromise position. Although the consent of the woman is not required, it is forbidden to simply rape her.

    The soldier who wants to take her must be willing to contemplate making her a permanent part of his household by taking her for his wife. Thus he must bring her to his house for at least a month, and then decide if he wants to keep her for his wife or let her go. At this point, her consent is required.

    Should she consent, and should he still want her, she is thereafter like every other Jewish wife with all the rights and privileges that pertain to this status. Should she not agree, or should he decide that he doesn’t want her after all, he must release her unconditionally. During the waiting period relations with her are strictly forbidden.

    This is the only case of an “irresistible impulse” legally recognized by the Torah.The law of Yefas Toar, as this passage is known, is the only case of an “irresistible impulse” legally recognized by the Torah. The Torah does not issue commandments which are beyond the capacity of ordinary human beings to carry out. God is man’s designer and knows exactly the degree of self-control that man is capable of. It is worthwhile to note that even in this case, the Torah informs us that while such an impulse is undeniable, its satisfaction is still subject to human control.

    You cannot tell the soldier full of the blood lust of battle that he must entirely stay away from the beautiful woman, but you can set up strict parameters within which he must satisfy his base desire.

    The elementary respect that is due a fellow human being would require obtaining the beautiful captive’s full consent, even in the case of this provocatively dressed woman who was specifically sent to the battle zone in order to distract invading Jewish soldiers (see Rashi 21,13). Under circumstances when requiring consent is considered an impossible demand to make, it is still forbidden to treat any human being as an object that you simply discard after indulging your passion.

    So much for the surface level of the law of Yefas Toar.

    Rules Of Warfare

    Before we can present deeper levels of understanding Yefas Toar, we must learn a few of the rules of warfare according to Jewish law. A detailed exposition of these laws can be found in the “Yad Hachazaka” of Maimonides (Laws of Kings ch.6)

    It is forbidden to make war against anyone at all, including against Amalekites [with the obvious exception of defending the Jewish people against attack] unless you first offer peace. The terms of the peace package are two: 1) that the enemy people accept the obligation to abide by the seven Noachide laws, and 2) that the enemy people agree to subject themselves to the administrative rule of Israel and the due process of Jewish law.

    If the enemy refuses to accept the peace package and elects to fight, Jewish law establishes a difference between a “mitzva war” and an “optional war.”

    (We are commanded to war against the Seven Nations of Cana’an, who inhabited the land of Israel at the time of the Exodus, and against the Amalekites. These are mitzva wars. All other wars are optional.)

    In mitzva wars, we are not allowed to take any prisoners. The laws of the Yefas Toar, therefore, apply only to optional wars, in the context of which it is permissible to take prisoners.

    This conclusion leads us directly to another. These laws are not addressed to ordinary soldiers, but only to ones who are real tzadikim. While all Jews without exception are commanded to partake in mitzva wars, only the greatest tzadikim among the Jewish people participate in optional wars.

    The Kohen that accompanies the Jewish army on its campaign in optional wars delivers a well-known speech before a battle is joined:

    Who is the man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, and let him not melt the heart of his fellows, like his heart (Deut. 20:8)

    The Talmud (Sotah 44a) interprets this speech to mean that people who have transgressed in any way and are burdened by even the tiniest sins (and are therefore justly afraid of facing the Divine attribute of Justice), should return home and not participate in the battle.

    The Ohr Hachaim therefore wonders how is it possible that people on such a lofty spiritual level should become subject to feeling such base desires? After all we are not speaking about ordinary human beings at all, but only tzadikim of the highest levels.

    He proceeds to take us down to the next level of depth on the basis of his question.

    Level Two: The Soul Level

    Adam had a composite soul. As the first man, he was the embodiment of the entire spiritual potential of mankind, as well as being its physical progenitor. When Adam sinned, this spiritual potential separated into two parts. One part was withdrawn back to God into the repository of souls, while another part fell with him. The withdrawn portion of the spiritual potential of mankind descends to the lower world as the spiritual component of the descendants of Abraham. The part that fell with Adam is distributed through all his descendants, the nations of the world.

    The spiritual potential of mankind descends as the spiritual component of the descendants of Abraham.Once again, we are in the realm of the politically incorrect. We are claiming a spiritual superiority for the Jewish people in the name of the Torah. Therefore, we need some background to better understand what is meant by mankind’s spiritual potential.

    Let us begin by looking at a few indisputable facts. While the archeological record demonstrates human habitation of our planet by homo sapiens for hundreds of thousands of years, it also shows that through all this time, man lived in the most primitive conditions. He did not fashion sophisticated pottery, there are no relics of developing architecture, there is no indication of systematic cultivation of the soil, there is no evidence of sophisticated political systems or large population centers of any kind. Homo sapiens lived in pretty much the same primitive conditions wherever we encounter any trace of him on the planet.

    This was the situation until 5,000 years ago when, exactly as the Torah would suggest, practically overnight the trappings of sophisticated civilization appeared out of nowhere. Their first known manifestation was in Mesopotamia and from this single location civilization spread out to the remainder of the planet. Henceforth, this region was regarded with good reason as the “cradle of civilization.”

    We have archeological records of sophisticated pottery and complex agriculture, we have writing, we have the appearance of large cities, records of complex laws and religions. Yet, the skeletal remains of homo sapiens appear no different than the remains from earlier eras. Man did not develop increased brain size or any other physiological change that can account for the sudden surge in development.

    In The Image Of God

    It is not man’s I.Q., or his “hardware,” that is responsible for the advances of civilization. Indeed, the Torah tells us that God injected “software” into man roughly 5,000 odd years ago, namely His breath. (Genesis 2:7) Civilization is clearly software, not hardware. [For a detailed discussion of this concept and the Biblical sources on which it is based, see “Genesis and the Big Bang” by Gerald Schroeder] In other words, when we look at civilization, we are not looking at the results of complex wiring in the human brain. It is “information” we are looking at. This application of information is spiritual potential actualized.

    What was the purpose of the injection of this spiritual potential into man? Was it to allow man to enjoy a better standard of living in this world?

    Jewish tradition teaches otherwise. God injected this software because He could only relate to man in His image. Only civilized man lives the type of moral, intellectually- directed, cultured life that could allow man to be regarded as a being cast in God’s image. This explains the division of man’s spiritual potential into two parts following Adam’s sin.

    After Adam’s fall and his severance from his relationship with God, part of his spiritual potential remained in the world to insure that man would organize himself into civilizations and thus retain the ability to re-establish his relationship with God. Another part was withdrawn, to be injected again only after the relationship was re-established.

    Thus, it is quite understandable that only after Abraham re-established the human relationship with God, as the Torah describes, did man’s spiritual potential begin to come down to the world once again in full measure.

    Another way to view the difference between these two spiritual potentials is through the window of the commandments. The Divine commandments which express the spiritual potential needed to establish civilization are the seven Noachide laws. Man’s full spiritual potential can only be expressed through the 613 mitzvot of the Torah.

    Spiritual Potential

    The Ohr Hachaim explains that the true beauty in the world is only to be found in this spiritual potential, not in the physical body. In the context of a war waged entirely by tzadikim, where God is present, the Jewish soldier is drawn to the beauty of this spiritual potential.

    As we have explained, a part of mankind’s spiritual potential was distributed among all civilized nations. At times, this potential guides people back to God all by themselves, and some even find their way to the Torah and convert. But in other instances, the spiritual potential is too weak. In these cases, it is considered to be in a state of captivity, and it seeks to escape to a place where it can once again participate in helping to lay the groundwork of a relationship with God.

    The spiritual potential is considered to be in a state of captivity.This is the second level of the Yefas Toar according to the Ohr Hachaim. Guided by the inspiration of God’s holy presence in their midst, the tzadikim who participate in the optional war experience an irresistable attraction to the beauty of the spiritual potential in the collective soul of the conquered nation which finds its expression in the captive woman.

    Sometimes the connection causes a transfer of the spiritual potential to the Jewish people leaving the captive woman an empty husk spiritually. In this case, the tzadik will lose his desire for her and will choose to let her go. If his feelings of attraction survive the thirty-day wait, this indicates that the spiritual potential remains an integral part of her being, and he should therefore marry her.

    The Ari explains that this phenomenon operates in the opposite direction as well. We find an example of this in the irresistible attraction felt by Shechem the son of Hamor for Dinah, Jacob’s daughter. (See Genesis 34.) In the speech delivered to persuade the inhabitants of Shechem to agree to a confederation with the Jewish tribes, Hamor and Shechem said the following:

    These people are peaceable with us; let them settle in the land and trade in it, for see, there is ample room in the land for them. Let us take their daughters for ourselves as wives… (Genesis 34:21)

    The Ari tells us that the spiritual potential for Rabbi Chanania ben Traddyon (one of the Ten Martyrs slaughtered by Titus) was buried in the soul of Shechem. Shechem himself could not have been induced to move towards the light, but this potential was trapped, imprisoned in the darkness of Shechem’s soul. When it saw a chance to escape it jumped on it. The result: Shechem’s irresistible impulse to mate with Dinah at all costs. It took 2,000 years of purification for this injection of spiritual potential transferred from Shechem to Dinah to produce this great tzadik, who was only born at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. But in matters of the spirit time is not of the essence. All the spiritual potential injected by God into man will eventually be used as intended ― to establish and to strengthen the connection between man and God. Human history will continue for as long as it takes to complete this process. The actualization of human spiritual potential is the material out of which time is fashioned.

    Level Three: Battle With Evil

    The third and deepest level of Yefas Toar is the internalization of the first two levels. On this level the phrase in our Torah passage ― when you will go out to war ― is a reference to being born, and the war is the battle with the evil inclination, the yetzer hara.

    Hebrew has two words for enemy, oyev, (the term employed by our Torah passage) and soneh.

    The soneh is an enemy who hates me because I have something he wants. Theoretically, it is possible to reach some sort of accommodation with a soneh. But the oyev hates me for who I am, not for what I have. With him it is never possible to arrive at a modus vivendi; the battle is joined till death. The Nazis were an oyev; they were interested in extermination of the Jewish people as an end in itself.

    The evil inclination is an oyev. The field of battle with him is this world of ours; it is only while we are alive that we are vulnerable to his attack. The war with this enemy which begins at birth is unceasing; it fills all the days of a human life and only ends with death.

    The spiritual potential is the Yefas Toar. Like the woman who was created as Adam’s helpmate (Genesis 2:18), this “captive woman” was injected into man as an extra dimension, a Divine image that enables him to form his relationship with God. Just like a woman, it is a helpmate that props up all existence, because without it, all existence is purposeless. Whoever gets a hold of it has a firm grip on life. In its absence, existence is transitory at best.

    The evil inclination also desires life; all its energies are focused on taking the “captive woman.”The evil inclination also desires life. All its energies are focused on taking the “captive woman.”

    In every drawn-out war, some battles are inevitably lost. Every human being has parts of his spiritual potential ― his Yefas Toar ― held captive in the grip of the evil inclination.

    If we manage to glimpse the beauty of our lost spiritual potential and desire to get it back, God gives us a guarantee that He will help us. We can rejoin the battle with the evil inclination and rescue our Yefas Toar from captivity. This special assistance God offers us is called teshuva.

    When we rescue the Yefas Toar, she once again becomes our helpmate and we regain control of our own bodies. Doing teshuva is thus described as bringing the Yefas Toar into our house.

    But the spiritual potential thus reclaimed is soiled by warped ideologies and burdened with the weight of wrong actions. After the initial victory of teshuva which is Divinely inspired, we now have to go through the painful process of cleaning up our act, referred to as “cutting the hair” and “clipping the nails.” But once again God assures us that he will help us to accomplish this in a single month. That month is the Jewish month of Elul, the month we are in now.

    Victory in the war of life is achieved when we manage to establish a marriage relationship with our Yefas Toar. Only when we achieve a loving intimacy with our own Yefas Toar do we fully actualize our spiritual potential.

    The word Elul is also an acrostic: Ani ledodi vedodi li “I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me” or “my beloved and I only exist for the sake of each other.” May we all succeed in reclaiming our Yefas Toar in the course of this Elul.

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