Wednesday, July 17, 2013

temunas Hashem yabit

The local Young Israels joined forces yesterday to present a 9 Av afternoon program in which the Rabbis each took a turn to speak.  One thought from R’ Heshy Blumstein, Rabbi of the YI of Hewlett, still stands out in my mind:

Moshe Rabeinu is told in response to the nechashim ha’serafim, the plague of snakes that attacked Bnei Yisrael as a punishment for their complaints, to make a snake and place it on a staff and anyone who is bitten, “v’hibit el nechash hanechoshes v’chai,” should look at that snake and live (Bamidbar 21:9). 

The Torah has warning after warning about idolatry; we are prohibited from making graven images.  How can the Torah here command Moshe to make an image of a snake and davka have people look at that image to be healed?

R’ Blumstein quoted his rebbe, R’ Zweig from Miami, as suggesting an answer based on Rashi back in Parshas Lech Lecha (Braishis 15:5).  Avraham is lifted above the Heavens and is told to look down at the stars, “habet na ha’shamayma,” as his children will be as multitudinous as those innumerable constellations.  Rashi comments from the Midrash that Avraham was raised above the starts to show that Jewish destiny transcends mazal, it is above what astrology and natural forces dictate, and this is why the Torah there uses the term “habet,” as “lashon habara m’m’ma’alah l’matah,” Rashi explains that “habet” always means looking down from a higher perspective.

Returning to the parsha of the snakes, Moshe indeed made an image of a snake, but the whole point was to engender that response of “v’hibit el nechash ha’nechoshes,” the key word being "hibit," looking down at that snake, i.e. realizing that Klal Yisrael stood on a higher plane.  The whole point was that snakes, images, and other forces have no power.

So far so good, but here’s the part that R’ Blumstein said that if you only came to hear this, it was worth it, and I agree:

There is another place in the Torah where the same root as “hibit” is used and there this pshat doesn’t seem to fit at all.  When Miriam speaks against Moshe, Hashem comes and tells her and Aharon that Moshe is not like any other prophet.  Peh el peh adaber bo, b’mareh v’lo b’chidos, u’temunas Hashem yabit  (Bamidbar 12:8) If “yabit” means to look down on something else, like "hibit," then how does this pasuk make any sense?  How could Hashem defend Moshe by telling Aharon and Miriam that he chas v’shalom looks down on high on the “temunas Hashem?” 

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained that this pasuk is referring to a situation where Bnei Yisrael sin and fall to the lowest depths.  When a prophet then comes and stands over them, looking down at their errant behavior, what does that prophet see?  Undoubtedly, that prophet sees the worst in people and will come to give tochacha.  Not so Moshe Rabeinu, says Hashem.  Even though Moshe stood above the people, on a much higher spiritual plane, when he looked down on them, even when he saw all their foibles and misguided ways, for him it was still “temunas Hashem yabit,” he still saw the image of G-d in Klal Yisrael.  That’s what a true leader is.  That’s the perspective to take away from Tisha b’Av.


  1. I think it's a very big דוחק to say the errant ways of klal yisrael is metaphorically called תמונת יהו"ה. Beyond the fact that this pshat is literally a tautology. You could have said the exact same vort having chosen anything you wanted -- there's absolutely no reason to say it's referring to the sins of klal yisrael moreso then anything else...

  2. It's not that the errant ways are called temunas Hashem -- it's that Hashem is manifest within Klal Yisrael and that does not cease even when they sin; it just becomes harder to see.

    1. --"it's that Hashem is manifest within Klal Yisrael"--

      Maybe it's that Hashem is manifest in Andy Warhol toilet seats? where do you have any indication from the pasuk that it has anything to do with klal yisrael?

      In any event, if it's something you're open to, I believe the midrash is referring to the kabbalistic concept of Moshe being איש האלהים -- the word אלהים and תמונת יהו"ה being references to the 'female' sefirah of Malchut. Moshe then being 'the husband' of that darga would then be 'above' it -- hence אין הבטה אלא מלמעלה למטה.

      If it's any persuasion to you, I independently thought this even before seeing this post of yours (and it's subsequent pshat which i've already mentioned above that i truly dislike. It may be a nice idea, but it's a horrible way of learning torah).

  3. >>>Maybe it's that Hashem is manifest in Andy Warhol toilet seats?

    If you believe that is as plausible as G-d being manifest in Klal Yisrael, then this is not the blog for you.

    But I understand where you are coming from -- you don't like homiletics, but you do are tolerant of reading kabbalistic ideas into the text. Other people think readings like yours are crazy. Whatever floats your boat is fine by me.

  4. I think it would have shown a greater level of humility if you would have put the time into thinking how what i said is actually derived from the text rather than be so readily dismissive with someone who frankly -- is a greater talmid chacham than you. that and the sarcasm in the last line doesn't reflect well on you. blessings in your endeavors and your mishpacha,

  5. Given your choice of avatar, can we conclude that your self-aggrandizing statement is meant to be ironic?