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Is “too perfect” a thing? Have you ever worried about being too perfect? Most of us worry that we aren’t perfect enough. But I know of at least one person who worried about being too perfect. Our collective grandfather, Abraham.
The Torah tells us that Abraham recovered from his circumcision in …

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Home » Passover, Vaeirah

Vaeirah: The Prophetic Experience

Submitted by on January 3, 2005 – 9:38 pmNo Comment | 2,715 views

Puzzles and Prophecies

Every once in a while my children ask me to help them with one of the many puzzles in the cupboard. The usual routine has us sit down on the floor where I examine the shape, color and picture fragment of a puzzle piece to determine where it belongs. Invariably my little daughter will grab the piece from my hand and place it exactly where it is meant to go, leaving me to conclude that it was my company she desired more than my skills.

The reason she is so much better at it than I am is that she knows the entire picture. When she looks at a puzzle piece she visualizes the complete puzzle and knows exactly where that fragment fits in. I must contend myself with examining the piece and deducing from it what the surrounding pieces must look like.

In other words, her knowledge flows from the picture to the fragment while my knowledge flows from the fragment to the picture. Where I see incomplete images she sees portions of a perfect picture.

This was precisely the difference between Moses and the many Jewish prophets who followed him. Moses was familiar with the divine master plan and saw each prophecy within the context of that plan. Later prophets struggled to understand the details of what they were given and from them they attempted to deduce the wider implications of the master plan. (1)

Humility – Key to Inspiration

Why was Moses accorded this distinction? The Torah informs us that Moses was not only the greatest prophet (2) but also the most humble man on earth. (3) These two qualities are interconnected. (1)

Moses did not view himself as a separate entity from G-d; he was completely detached from himself with no sense of independent ego. His entire consciousness was absorbed within G-d.

Pious as they were, the later prophets did not see themselves this way. They strove mightily to achieve full communion but try as they might they could not reach Moses’ level. In the end they and G-d remained, ostensibly, separate entities, G-d was the speaker and they were the listeners.

Because Moses was a veritable extension of G-d he was never overwhelmed by prophecy. He could easily relate to them and understand both the prophecies themselves and their wider context. Prophesying was natural to Moshe for he and his prophecy were fully one.

The later prophet was not fully one with his prophecy; prophecy came to him from a place beyond himself. The actual prophecy phase always overwhelmed him and upon its conclusion he would need to step back and examine the vision he had received. Once he stepped back and returned to his usual self, the transcendent vision would appear enigmatic. To decipher it he needed to apply himself intellectually.

Where Moses saw a perfect portion of a greater image, the prophetic experience - innerstreamthe later prophet he saw an incomplete fragment and struggled to make sense of it. (4)

An Ordinary Beginning

It was not always this way for Moses. When he first started he also struggled to understand his prophetic experiences. (5) The burning bush was the first image he was given to interpret. (6) From there he went on to receive further riddles that required unraveling such as the stick turning to a serpent, his hand becoming leprous and the water turning to blood. (7)

Moses’ defining moment came with the most enigmatic of all his prophecies, which appears in the end of last week’s Parsha. G-d instructed Moses to demand that Pharaoh set the Israelites free. In response Pharaoh defiantly increased the pressure on the people by refusing to provide building supplies yet demanding the same work quotas as before. (8)

Moses, yet unschooled in matters of the divine plan, couldn’t accept this development and turned to G-d in consternation, “Why have you harmed your people,” he asked. (9) Moses was saying that he couldn’t understand the logic of the mission. G-d’s seemingly unsatisfactory response is found in the beginning of this week’s Parsha. “I am G-d. I have revealed myself to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov and have not shown them my intimate name.” (10) How does this response satisfy Moses’ heart-rending demand?

Unprecedented and Unmitigated

G-d was telling Moses that he would now be permitted to see what no prophet ever did or would, namely, the divine essence. (11) When G-d’s essence is revealed, it absorbs everything. It is not possible to see G-d and remain detached. From here on Moses could no longer receive his prophecy as a separate entity, outside of G-d. (1)

He would now become fully absorbed within the divine, his senses would be fully attached to G-d, he would have no desire for anything but G-d and he would stand fully prepared for prophecy at all times. (12) He would be wholly and fully a vehicle of G-d. (13)

Once he transferred from a self-based allegiance to a G-d-based allegiance, Moses became a conduit for divine thought and was made privy to the master plan. He could now see the context of every detail and understand how it fits the divine master plan.

Like my daughter, who knows her puzzle, Moses would now know the full scope of G-d’s plan. Now he would clearly understand the reason for the harm his mission wrought. He now understood that in manipulating Pharaoh to issue this cruel decree, G-d sealed Egypt’s fate and triggered the onset of the Ten Plagues. (14) (15)

Footnotes

  1. This essay is largely based on a Chassidic discourse given in 5664 by the Shem Mishmuel, an important Chassidic work written by Rav Shmuel Salir, Rebbe of Sochaczev, 1855-1927.
  2. Deuteronomy 34, 10 and Numbers 12, 6-8.
  3. Numbers 12, 3 .
  4. See Peninim M’shulchan Ha’gra, beginning of Parshas Devarim. Later prophets transmitted their prophecy in their own words but Moses’ prophecy would become an instant live feed through which G-d’s words were broadcast to the Jewish people. As our sages have said, the Shechinah spoke from Moses’ throat. (R. Eliyahu Gaon of Vilna 1720 –1782).
  5. See Ramban on Exodus 3, 2.
  6. Exodus 3, 2. The commentaries offer various interpretations of the sign of the burning bush. One argument is that the bush symbolizes Israel and the flames symbolize its persecutors. Despite its many persecutors, Israel would not be consumed. Others argue that the bush is Egypt, and the flames are the Ten Plagues. Despite the severity of the first Plagues G-d saw to it that Egypt would survive to see all ten. Others argue that the bush was the Jewish nation brought low by suffering and the flames represent G-d. G-d stands shoulder to shoulder with his children at all times especially when they suffer.
  7. Exodus 4, 1-9. The serpent symbolizes the evil inclination within man. This inclination is powerful and can influence even Moses’ holy staff. Yet when we grasp it firmly, i.e. hold it in check, we can transform it back into a holy staff, i.e. channel it’s energies to holy causes. Alternatively, G-d showed Moses that he could turn the dead stick into a live snake and his live hand into leprosy – dead skin. Alternatively the serpent and leprosy are both indicative of slander and Moses was being reprimanded for slandering the Jewish nation. The sign of turning water into blood was meant to demonstrate that the Egyptian idol, the Nile, was powerless before G-d.
  8. Exodus 5, 1-10.
  9. Exodus 6, 1 .
  10. Exodus 6, 2.
  11. See Torah Or 56a (Rabbi Schneeur Zalman of Liadi,, founder of the Chabad Chassidic dynasty, 1745 – 1813).
  12. This transformation occurs between the end of last week’s Parsha and the beginning of this week’s Parsha. It is not described in the Torah, perhaps because this kind of humility is beyond description. For why the transformation occurs between these two Parshios, see footnote 14.
  13. Rabbi Akiva expounded upon the verse, “G-d is the ritual bath of Israel,” (Jeremiah 17) and said that just as the ritual bath cleanses the impure, so does G-d cleanse Israel. (Yuma ch. 8, 9) Shem Mishmuel sees this passage as a description of the relationship Moses shared with G-d. As one becomes fully absorbed in a bath, waters completely surrounding every part of one’s body, so was Moses literally absorbed within G-d. Once immersed, one surrenders one’s independence to exist solely within the context of the aquatic environment.
  14. This may be the inner meaning of the names of these two Torah portions. Last week’s portion is called “Shemos,” “names”. This week’s portion is called “Vaeira,” “and I have revealed myself.” Names are assigned to people for the benefit of others. If I want to draw your attention, I must call you by your name. Once you have turned and revealed yourself to me, your name is no longer necessary. In the last Portion Moses was still reaching out to G-d from the outside, hoping to gain understanding. In this portion G-d revealed himself. He invited Moses to enter and be absorbed within him, thus enabling full comprehension of G-d’s hidden plan.
  15. This was a vision that Moses had earlier refused. See “Empathy in the Face of Suffering.”
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