Likkutei Torah: Parshas Chukas
VaYa’as Moshe Part 1
Concept Background to the Ma’amer:
I. The verse: See for yourself in the preceding verse: Rashi writes that one had to gaze intently at the copper snake for the healing to work.
Rashi: Moshe Rabbeinu wasn’t told to make it out of copper, but since Hashem called it a “nochosh” (“snake,” in Hebrew) he made it out of “nechoshes” (“copper”). (Bereishis Rabbah 19:31:8)
II. Love and Fear. These are the two extremes in emotions; every other emotion falls somewhere on the spectrum. Love according to Chassidus is defined as attachment, passion, and yearning whereas fear is defined as the fear of breaking the relationship.
III. Internalized. This is a translation of the word p’nimius. To experience an idea or emotion (internally), the idea or emotion needs to have been filtered and translated for the sake of the recipient. For example, if a teacher has a big idea he wants to share with his students, he needs to find the right words, method, moment, etc., to explain it. It also depends on the capabilities of the student; whether or not the student is ready mentally or emotionally to receive the idea.
IV. Davening, or tefilla is the process by which one develops an intimate relationship with and ultimately becomes one with the Creator.
Translation and Explanation of the Ma’amer:
Part One: A Jew’s Relationship With G-d
וַיַּ֤עַשׂ משֶׁה֙ נְחַ֣שׁ נְח֔שֶׁת וַיְשִׂמֵ֖הוּ עַל־הַנֵּ֑ס וְהָיָ֗ה אִם־נָשַׁ֤ךְ הַנָּחָשׁ֙ אֶת־אִ֔ישׁ וְהִבִּ֛יט אֶל־נְחַ֥שׁ הַנְּח֖שֶׁת וָחָֽי
“And Moshe made a copper snake and put it on a pole: when a snake would bite a man, and he will gaze upon the copper snake and live.”
וְאִיתָא בְּמִשְׁנָה (סוֹף פֶּרֶק ג׳ דְרֹאשׁ הַשָׁנָה) עֲל זֹאת
It says in the Mishnah,
בְּזְמַן שֶׁיִשְׂרָאֵל מִסְתַּכְּלִין כְּלַפֵּי מַעֲלָה וּמְשַׁעֲבְּדִין אֶת לִבָּם לַאֲבִיהֶם שֶׁבַּשָמַיִם כוּלְהוּ.
“[Does the snake kill or heal?] When Yisroel would gaze upwards [at the snake] and subjugate their hearts to their Father in Heaven [they would be healed…”
וְקָשֶׁה, לְמָה לֵיהּ לְנָחָשׁ כְּלַל, אֶלָא ״וְהָיָה אִם נָשַׁךְ הַנָחָשׁ,״ יִסְתַּכֵּל כְּלַפֵּי מַעֲלָה. וְעוֹד, מַהוּ הַהִסְתַּכְּלוּת כְּלַפֵּי מַעֲלָה? הַלֹא מְבוּאָר בְּעִנְיָן תְּפִילָּה שֶׁיִהְיוּ עֵינָיו לְמַטָה וְלִבּוֹ לְמַעֲלָה?
This presents a difficulty, what need is there for a snake? Rather the verse should have said, “When a snake will bite a man, he should gaze heavenwards.” Furthermore, why should the person gaze heavenwards to the copper snake? Shouldn’t a person should daven with their eyes facing downwards and hearts (i.e. their concentration) facing upwards (i.e., towards G-d)?
As stated in the above quoted Mishnah, when the Jewish people would subjugate themselves to G-d, they would heal. How would gazing at a copper snake help subjugate themselves to G-d?
וּלְהָבִין זֶה, נַקְדִים לַחֲקוֹר בְּעִנְיָן יְרִידַת הַנְשָׁמָה בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶה. כִּי עִיקָר תַּכְלִיתוֹ לְדָבֵק בְּקוֹנוֹ בְּאַהֲבָה וְיִרְאָה. וְעִיקָר הַדְבֵיקוּת הוּא בְּתְּפִילָּה, שֶׁהַתֵּיבוֹת הֵם קְרוֹבִים לְהַבָנַת הָאָדָם. וּבְּוַדַאי, קוֹדֶם צֵאת הַנְשָׁמָה בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶה, וְגַם אַחֲר הִסְתַּלְקוּתוֹ מִן הַגוּף, הוּא מִתְדַבֵּק יוֹתֵר בְּאַהֲבָה וְיִרְאָה פְּנִימִיוּת, שֶׁהַגוּף אֵינוֹ מַנִיחוֹ לַעֲבוֹד אֶת ה׳, וְאַדְרַבָּה, מַחֲמַת חוּמְרוֹ, יַכְרִיחַ אֶת הַנְשָׁמָה לֵיהָנוֹת אַף בְּגוּפֲנִיוּת, וְאַף כִּי הַנְשָׁמָה אֵינָה רוֹצָה בָּזֶה, כִּי מְקוֹר חוּצְבָהּ חֵלֶק אֱלֹקהַ מִמַעֲל, וּרְצוֹנָה לִידָבֵּק בְּבּוֹרְאָה יוֹתֵר.
To understand all this, we have to understand the notion of a soul descending into this world. The purpose of the soul’s descent is to attach itself to its Owner with love and fear. The main way a soul accomplishes this is through prayer because verbalizing and thinking about the words of davening enables it to have a relationship with G-d involving its human intellectual consciousness. This is true of a soul before entering this world and for sure, upon the soul’s departure from its body; then it can become more deeply attached to G-d by internalizing love and fear. The body doesn’t allow the soul to serve G-d—on the contrary, the body’s coarseness and materiality force the soul to indulge in physical pleasure even though it doesn’t want to. The source of the soul is a piece of G-d from Above, and the soul wants only to be more attached to its Creator.
The purpose of the soul’s descent into this world from on high is to develop a relationship with G-d, that is motivated by love and fear. This can be achieved through davening. Developing this relationship can be challenging because although the body is here to house the soul, it also obstructs the soul from perceiving G-D.