As we mentioned in the previous letter, we have begun our summer season of reflective renewal. During this period, we are to remember that we, the People of the Torah, are to have the courage to maintain our unique identity, beliefs, values, and path of mitzvos in order to develop an alternative society that can serve as a spiritual model of the life-giving Torah. Where, however, are we to find the strength to do this? After all, we are a small people, and we are only a tiny fraction of one percent of the world’s human population. In addition, there is the danger of assimilating into the dominant secular and western culture which is threatening to destroy traditional cultures all over the world. There are also powerful forces within the Christian world that are still seeking to “convert” us, and they raise huge sums of money for missionary work directed at the Jewish people. In fact, the media recently reported that the Pope has decided to revive a Latin prayer calling for the conversion of the Jewish people.
What makes our mission even more difficult is the sad fact that the majority of our people have not received a Torah education; moreover, many have absorbed the secular, western prejudices towards our spiritual tradition. Is there any hope that these lost brothers and sisters can find their way “home”?
The ancient mystical wisdom of our prophets and sages reveals that the Life-giving One Who gave the Torah to our people also gave us spiritual “vitamins” that can enable us to overcome all the challenges mentioned above. In this letter, we will discuss “Vitamin M.” This potent vitamin gives us the ability to renew ourselves, and the “M” stands for “memory” – a reference to the powerful memory which is implanted within our souls:
According to our tradition, all the souls of our people throughout the generations were present when the Torah was given at Mount Sinai. Our sages say that a source for this tradition is found in the following proclamation of Moses, our greatest prophet, to all the members of our people:
“Not with you alone do I seal this covenant and this oath, but with whoever is here standing with us today before Hashem, our God, and with whoever is not here with us today.” (Deuteronomy 29:13)
“And with whoever is not here with us today” – The Midrash Tanchuma, in its explanation of these words, states, “all the future generations that were destined to come were there at that hour” (Nitzavim 3). Regarding these future generations, the Midrash Tanchuma states in the name of Rabbi Abuhu, who said in the name of Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmoni: “Their souls were there.”
The above verse, however, was said when we renewed our covenant with the Torah before we entered the Promised Land; thus, this Midrashic teaching can be understood in the following manner: All the souls of the future generations were present at Sinai when the Torah was given, and they were also present when we renewed our covenant with the Torah (Sha’arei Aharon). As the Etz Yosef commentary on Midrash Rabbah points out, if these souls were present when we renewed the covenant with the Torah, then they were surely present when the Torah was given at Sinai! (Commentary on Exodus Rabbah 28:6)
There is another, related tradition: Just as the entire Torah was given to each of our souls; so too, each of our souls was given a personal portion within the Torah. A source for this tradition can be found in Midrash Exodus Rabbah (28:6). The Midrash cites the above words, “and with whoever is not here today,” and it explains that this phrase is referring to the souls of the future generations who were present at Mount Sinai, including the souls of all our prophets and sages. Regarding all the souls of the future generations who were present at Mount Sinai, the Midrash states: Each one received his portion.
“When we pray each day after the Shemoneh Esrei prayer, “Give us our portion in Your Torah,” we are expressing our yearning to rediscover our personal and unique share of the Divine wisdom that was implanted in our souls. In this spirit, the K'sav Sofer, a noted 19th century sage, states:
“Each Jew has his own unique portion in Torah and should strive to delve into its holy words and uncover new insights.” (Cited in “For Love of Torah” by Rabbi Shimon Finkelman, ArtScroll)
According to the Talmud, our souls reconnected to the Torah when we were within our mother’s womb. The Talmud explains that when we were within the womb, we were taught the entire Torah (Nidah 30b). The Talmud adds that when we were ready to leave the womb, an angel struck us on the mouth and caused us to forget what we had learned. The Torah that we study throughout life is therefore not a “new” study; it is a form of remembering. We are rediscovering the Torah that we studied in the womb of our mother.
The Etz Yosef commentary on the above teaching from the Talmud cites an another interpretation in the name of Rabbi Moshe Alshich, a 16th century biblical commentator and kabbalist who lived in the holy city of Tsfas (Safed), which is located in the northern part of the Land of Israel. According to Rabbi Moshe Alshich, the Torah that the baby learns in the mother’s womb is the personal portion of Torah that the soul of this baby received at Mount Sinai! The baby is therefore reviewing the entire Torah of the personal portion that the soul received at Sinai; however, this Torah is forgotten at birth. On our life journey, however, each of us can rediscover our own special portion through serious Torah study and contemplation.
On my own life’s journey, I have felt drawn to Torah teachings regarding the universal vision of the Torah, and I am especially attracted to Torah teachings regarding the universal role of our people. This attraction led me to speculate that my own personal Torah portion may be found among these universal teachings; thus, they may be the Torah teachings that I studied in the womb. If that is the case, then I was given a real challenge on the day I was born. The day of my birth was Shabbos, the 14th of Tamuz, and within the Torah portion of the Shabbos of my birth is the following proclamation of the Gentile Prophet, Balaam, regarding the role of our people:
“I see it from the summit of the rocks, and from the hills do I view it; this is a people that will dwell apart and not be reckoned among the nations.” (Numbers 23:9).
How does this verse – one which emphasizes our separation from the nations – fit into my own portion of Torah which focuses on the universal role of our people?
Last Shabbos was the anniversary of my birth, and this Shabbos – eight days later – is the anniversary of my bris, the covenant of circumcision. The Torah portion of this Shabbos mentions the seventy offerings that we are to bring during the Festival of Succos (Numbers 29:12-34). If the Torah portion of my Shabbos birthday reminds us of our separation from the nations, the Torah portion of my Shabbos bris reminds us that this separation has a universal goal, as the Talmud explains that these seventy offerings were on behalf of the seventy primary nations of the earth (Succos 55b). As we explained in previous letters of this series, we are a “rainbow” people that represent all the seventy nations; thus, it is fitting that we bring offerings on behalf of all these nations. These seventy offerings on behalf of the seventy nations can serve as one of many examples of how “a people that will dwell apart” can become a source of blessing for all humankind.
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Related Comments and Links:
1. Additional source for the tradition that all the souls of future generations were present when the Torah was given at Mount Sinai can be found in the Zohar (Genesis 91a), and in Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer (chapter 41).
2. The article, “Succos and the Seventy Nations,” appears in the archive of our current series, “My Firstborn Child.” The archive can be found on our website. This article discusses the significance of the seventy offerings; moreover it discusses the demise of separate and competing nation-states in the age when there will be unity and harmony among the seventy “families” of the earth that will join a renewed Israel in the service of the Compassionate One. The direct link to this article is:
3. In the archive of our current series, there is a three-part article on the Covenant of Circumcision titled, “The Tikun of Male Sexuality.”
4. The copies of the Hazon articles in my personal file have a larger print than those in the archive. If you prefer a copy with larger print, let me know, and I will forward it to you as a regular e-mail letter. Another alternative is to download the article from the archive and put it into your system with the lettering size that you prefer.