Moshe: Our Teacher

God Is Love

 

Celebrating our connection with the Creator, and the man who made it possible.

 

By: Dovid Samuels

On Shavuos we received the Torah, and, with it, the eternal connection to Hashem through His wisdom and His commandments. But along with the 613 mitzvos and the endless obligation to immerse ourselves in Hashem’s Torah, we also received two crucial beliefs: one being that the prophecy of Moshe Rabeinu is true, and that he is the only one, both before and after, to have such a prophecy; and the second is the belief that the Torah, as we have it today, was given to Moshe Rabeinu. These beliefs are fundamental to Jewish life, and the Rambam lists them as two of the 13 Principals of Faith, vital for even the most basic Jewish system of beliefs. Clearly, to understand and to internalise these two fundamental beliefs, we need to examine the nature of Moshe Rabeinu’s prophecy, and how his compares to all the other prophets.

The Torah teaches us a very strange thing: no other prophet will exist amongst the Jews like Moshe. [1] Chazal explain this verse to mean that, among the Jews, there will be no one like Moshe. But the nations of the world did have someone like Moshe: Bilaam ben Be’or! Bilaam, as we know, was a non-Jewish prophet who, at the behest of Balak, repeatedly tried to curse and destroy the Jewish people. In the end, he failed. But how can we compare such a wicked man to our teacher, Moshe, and why did Bilaam have to have such an esteemed level of prophecy?
Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin, ztz”l, explains by teaching us an important lesson in different types of prophecy. Chazal teach us[2] that no two prophets can teach the same thing in the same way. This is like two people hearing a lecture. They both hear the same words and understand everything fully, but neither will be able to say it over in exactly the same way as the other. Granted, they aren’t giving over their own information, but the lecture was processed, analysed, and reconstructed by their own minds, with their own feelings, experiences, and emotions. With all that, their reporting will never be the same.
This is the way prophecy was given to the rest of the nevi’im (prophets). Each one would receive a message, and he would receive the message with absolute clarity and understanding, but when he came to relate the message to others, it would be a product of his own mind and his own faculties. Moshe Rabeinu’s prophecy was altogether different. He received the message through what our Sages call an aspaklariah hame’irah, like a lens of clear glass. He was able to receive the message and relate it in exactly the same format. The message was imparted without being filtered by his mind or faculties like the other prophets. His was exact, from reception to transmission. It was the pure words of Hashem, exactly.

Rav Diskin explains that had Hashem given Bilaam a prophecy in the format of all other prophets, ie. relying on his personality to transmit the message, the prophecy would have been destroyed due to his wicked nature. His crooked character traits would have corrupted the message and would have interpreted the words of Hashem in a damaging way for the Jewish people. For this reason Hashem delivered him the prophecy in the most perfect and incorruptible format available, the aspaklariah hame’irah, just like Moshe. This is not to say, chas v’shalom, that Moshe and Bilaam were comparable. Rather, their strain of prophecy was of the same purity, impervious to corruption, or even subjective interpretation.

As an aside, this explains why we make the blessing for the haftora: “Who has chosen good prophets and was pleased with their words that were uttered with truth”. Hashem is excluding wicked prophets who distort and corrupt the word of G-d, and He favours the words of His good prophets said with truth, meaning their interpretations of the prophecy are true. This is said before reading from the Prophets, but not for Moshe Rabeinu’s prophecy, for when he spoke, the Divine Presence spoke from his throat[3].

With this difference between Moshe’s prophecy and that of all the other prophets, we need to ask: why did the Torah have to be given in such a fashion: clear and impervious to the physicality of the human messenger? The answer is simple. Our Torah is the word of G-d. If it had been delivered through the same channel as other prophecy, there would be several different versions of the message. All of them might be true, but there would be no one single version that would encapsulate and adequately report the message in the exact way it was given. If there were 100 prophets, there would be 100 narratives of the Torah, all different one from the other. This cannot be. Our Torah has to be the word of G-d, and it has to be exactly the way Hashem said it. For this, we needed a supreme level of prophecy, the aspaklaria hame’ira, the nevuah (prophecy) of Moshe Rabeinu. For this reason, we can believe with perfect belief that the Torah we have from Moshe Rabeinu is the pure word of Hashem.

Another important aspect to appreciating the prophecy of Moshe is based on a basic understanding of the purpose of creation. The greatness of a person is defined by his relationship with Hashem. Similarly, the greatness of Hashem is symbolised by His relationship with the lowest world: ours. It would not be a sign of a great king if he merely engaged with and related to his close advisors. If, however, he was able to relate to every member of his kingdom, even the lowest man, and support him in the most mundane areas of his life, that would be a great king. We are created far from Hashem, but our greatness is realising and capitalising off His greatness; that, despite the distance, we can still have a close relationship. Thus, the purpose of man was not to ignore his physicality, for in so doing he would remove the purpose of this world’s creation. Rather, from amidst the physicality, we reach out and bring Hashem into our lives, and purify ourselves as humans. For this lofty task, we need the Torah, and for this reason, Hashem gave it to us.

But how can a human being connect to the infinite word of Hashem? The answer is highlighted by the difference between Moshe and other prophets. When normal prophets received nevuah (prophecy), they had to leave their physicality and enter a realm where they could connect to spirituality and eternity. This left the body in a trance-like state and, to some degree, had to be left behind, so to speak, while the mind escaped to a higher plane. But this is an imperfect state on which to remain, since we are expected to connect to Hashem through our physicality, not without it. The prophecy was needed, but the novi (prophet) always needed to return to his human state. Moshe Rabeinu, however, was on such a level of physical purity that he could attach to the word of G-d with all of his physical faculties in place. He was an Ish Elokim, a man of G-d. He grasped Hashem’s commands like a person could grip something physical. This is the highest and most perfect human state, and is the ultimate connection with our Creator; a physical relationship with the non-physical. To see Hashem, even though He cannot be seen, to feel his Hand, even though He is not physical, and to love Him, even though we never felt His embrace.

After Moshe reached this lofty height and brought down the Torah to earth, he paved the way for us to relate to and connect with Hashem, despite us not being on the same perfect physical level. He brought down the word of G-d, and it was imprinted on the hearts of every Jew, forever. All we have to do is learn these words, and we reactivate that connection that was created at Har Sinai. How do we “see” Hashem? In His Torah. How do we “feel” Him? In His Torah. And that is how we love Him too, by tying His words to our hearts.

Another primary belief is that our Torah will never change. This belief gives us resolve against any religious or scientific persuasion against staunch belief in Hashem and His Torah. But this belief is also based on the greatness of our teacher, Moshe. The greatness of a teacher is in how much of his knowledge he is able to impart to his students. It is one thing knowing a piece of information; it’s another thing entirely to teach someone else that same thing. Try explaining directions to someone. Often it’s easier just to drive them there yourself! But one man in history was able to transmit everything he knew to his student: Moshe Rabeinu. Our Sages tell us[4] that Moshe, before he died, asked his main student, Yehoshua, if he had any questions he needed answering. Yehoshua replied that he never left him, and never left his tent of learning. Moshe had achieved the impossible: he had conveyed the entire Torah to Yehoshua. If the Torah had been handed over incomplete to Yehoshua, there would be a chance that tomorrow we would receive the rest, and change the meaning of many things we thought we knew. But being that we received the pure and uncompromised word of G-d, through the perfect communications of Moshe, we know that it is true, it is complete, and it will never change, just like Hashem Himself.

In a sense, Hashem gave Himself to us when he gave us his Torah, and it was only through the flawless personality of Moshe Rabeinu that we now have access to this knowledge; to be able to connect with G-d; and to achieve the purpose of all creation.

Adapted from a sicha by Rav Shimshon Pincus, ztz”l.

  1. Devorim 34:10
  2. Sanhedrin 89a
  3. Zohar, parshas Pinchas
  4. Temura 16a

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