New Stage, Old Actors
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
These are the generations of Noach. Noach was a perfect and
righteous man in his generation; Noach walked with G-d. Noach
fathered three sons: Shem, Cham and Yefes. (Bereishis 6:9-10)
The story of Kayin and Hevel is one that was closed at the beginning
of Parashas Bereishis, not too longer after Adam and his family were
expelled from Gan Aiden. Parashas Noach begins some eight
generations, and over 1,000 years later after Kayin committed the
first murder and was punished for it. What more is there to say
about these two brothers?
Of course, everything. It turns out that, for the most part,
everyone who has been born since then has had a piece of either Kayin
or Hevel to rectify. In fact, the Arizal says:
For, holiness is the life that results from separating from the
spiritual waste called "death," and they (spiritual impurities) will
no longer have any life, and will dissipate like smoke, as it says,
"Death will be absorbed forever" (Yeshayahu 25:8). For, it will not
will be "absorbed" forever until all of the souls are separated out.
Thus, taking the first letter of each word (of the posuk), combined
they spell the word "Hevel." This is to hint that only when all the
gilgulim of Hevel are complete, which is Moshe Rabbeinu who
reincarnates into every generation to separate out the souls from
amongst the spiritual waste, will Moshiach come, and death will be
absorbed forever. (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Chapter 20)
Tracing the lineage of Hevel, the Arizal revealed (parenthetical
comments are mine):
As we already know, a Ruach (the second lowest level of the five
souls) cannot reincarnate until the Nefesh (the lowest level of soul)
has done so and has become rectified. Once the Ruach itself has been
rectified, then the Neshamah (the third lowest level) will do so
after. In Hevel's case, the Nefesh and Ruach were damaged (from his
sin) and mixed together with evil, though his Neshamah remained
completely good. Thus, when his Nefesh reincarnated, it first went
to Shais, the son of Adam HaRishon. This caused the evil to be
separated out, which was later given to Bilaam the Evil. Both of
these levels, the good and the evil of the Nefesh, had previously
been included in Hevel, as his name alludes. For, the "heh" of Hevel
alludes to the good, which was given to Shais. This is the deeper
meaning of the posuk, "Everything You placed (shattah) under his
feet" (Tehillim 8:7), which has the letters "shin-tav" (Shais) and
"heh" (of Hevel). We have already explained that this psalm is about
Moshe, and thus it says, "Yet, You have made him only slightly less
than angels" (Tehillim 8:6); he (Moshe) is Shais himself, as we will
soon explain. The evil of Hevel's Nefesh is represented by the
letters "bais-lamed," which is the deeper meaning of the posuk, "Such
judgments, they know not (bais-lamed)" (Tehillim 147:20). For, these
two letters refer to the spiritual impurities, and were thus the
"bais-lamed" of Bilaam (Bais-lamed-ayin-mem). We have already spoken
about how even the level of evil that was separated from the good
must, by necessity, contain an element of Holy Sparks. This is the
esoteric explanation of Bilaam, who was a prophet because of these
sparks, and the deeper meaning of what Chazal say, that he was equal
to Moshe (Bamidbar Rabbah, 20), for Moshe was from the good of Shais,
as we will explain. The little amount of good that was in Bilaam
reincarnated into Naval HaCarmelli (of King David's time), which was
the beginning of the rectification. Bilaam's only power was in his
mouth by speaking loshon hara and cursing, and therefore, when
Pinchas killed him, he reincarnated into a rock that could not speak,
to rectify the loshon hara that came from his mouth. However, when
Naval followed in his ways and spoke loshon hara about Dovid
HaMelech, by saying, "Who is Dovid and who is Ben Yishai?" (I Shmuel
25:10), he reversed the rectification, and not only did he not
rectify the previous sin, but he added to the damage. Therefore, it
says, "and he was a rock" (I Shmuel 25:37), for his Mazel saw how
previously he had reincarnated into a silent stone, and then "His
heart died within him." Thus, the good Nefesh of Hevel was given to
Shais, who completely rectified it. The evil Nefesh of Hevel, which
still had some Holy Sparks in it, reincarnated into Bilaam, and then
into Naval, and thus, the letters bais-lamed are in Naval
(nun-bais-lamed) as well . . . The Ruach reincarnated into Noach
HaTzaddik . . . After, when he fathered three sons, the Ruach . . .
reincarnated into them, with Yafes corresponding to Chesed, Cham
corresponding to Gevurah, and Shem corresponding to Tifferes . . .
However, the Ruach was not rectified, the evil within it not being
completely separated out, as happened to the Nefesh through Shais.
Since there remained a combination of good and evil, Tevi, the
servant of Rabban Gamliel, was born to Cham, son of Noach. This is
why he is called "Tevi," because he was from the level of good (tov)
that was still mixed together with evil, and it was given to him.
Later, the Neshamah reincarnated into Moshe Rabbeinu, since it never
contained an element of evil. Thus it says regarding him, "She saw
that he was good" (Shemos 2:2), unlike the Nefesh and Ruach which had
evil mixed into them . . . Since the Neshamah of Moshe was already
rectified, the Nefesh and the Ruach which had already achieved tikun
were able to return in him. This is hinted to in his name, with the
"shin" of "Shais" being part of "Moshe" (mem-shin-heh), as well as
the two letters of "Shem" (shin-mem). As well, there is the "heh" of
Hevel. This is the meaning of the posuk, "See, You say to me, . . .
and You said, 'I shall know you by name (shem)' . . ." (Shemos
33:12), for we don't find this conversation mentioned anywhere in a
posuk. Rather, it is an allusion to the fact that Shem reincarnated
into Moshe, from the words, "I shall know you by (as) shem." Noach
also reincarnated into Moshe, alluded to in the words, "and you have
found favor (ches-nun) in My eyes" (ibid.), which is the reverse
spelling of "Noach." Since "Shem" is revealed in the letters of
"Moshe," the language of "knowing" is employed, as it says, "know you
by name," since it is known and revealed. However, since "Noach" is
not hinted to in the name "Moshe," "knowing" is not mentioned, but
"finding" instead: and you have found favor as if something "hidden"
was found. This is why Moshe responds, "If I have indeed found favor
in Your eyes, then make Your way known to me" (Shemos 33:13), but
not, "If You have come to know me by name, if I have found favor,"
for the level of "Shem" was already known to him, since it was
already revealed in his name. However, (Moshe was really saying,)
the level of Noach I had not known was in me since it was not
included in my name, and therefore, if Noach is also included in me,
and as a result, "I have found favor in Your eyes," in exchange for
Noach, "make Your way known to me, that I may know You, so that I may
find favor in Your eyes." For, also with respect to Noach it is now
clearly known, since "I found favor in Your eyes," in order that he
should be included in me. (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Chapter 29)
We could do the same thing for the line of Kayin, and the Arizal
does. You can't believe how many great people are empowered by
sparks of Kayin's soul, some for good, some for evil. From the side
of good, there is the great Rebi Akiva and many others like him.
From the side of evil, there are all kinds of evil emperors from the
past, and even the present.
New conflicts, old actors. It's always been that way. It is today.
All flesh perished from upon the earth: flying creatures, livestock,
animals, creeping things that creep on the land, and all of mankind.
Everything on dry land that breathed died; everything that existed on
the face of the earth was eradicated, from man to animal...
As I sat in my succah here in Israel, calmly having a meal with
relatives from America, my son came in to inform us that the U.S. had
just begun its first waves of aerial attacks on Afghanistan.
I was amazed. After weeks of deliberation and preparation, everyone
wondered when the day would come, and it finally did. And, when it
finally did come, it happened just after the sixth day of Succos
officially gave way to the seventh day, and Hoshanah Rabbah.
Hoshanah Rabbah is a day of judgment. This is why it is treated
partially like a Yom Tov, and why the Chazzan wears a kittel (white
garment) for the prayer service as he does on Yom Kippur. We offer
special prayers to also attain atonement for our sins, even though we
did the same thing on Yom Kippur. The final seal on our judgment
comes to a close at this time, according to the Arizal, official by
Mussaf of Shemini Atzeres.
However, Hoshanah Rabbah is not only a day of judgment for the Jewish
people; it is a day of judgment for ALL people. The WHOLE world is
judged on this day, whether they know it or not. Thus, the fact that
George Bush should officially launch his "Enduring Justice" war on
this ominous day sent shivers up and down my spine given the
historical context of this military engagement.
At present, the war though financially expensive is militarily
simple. The Americans and their partners out gun the enemy that it
is basically a joke, or would be if it weren't real. It is like
killing a fly with cruise missile. That may be the questionable
part, but it is not the scary part.
What makes all thinking people nervous is what this will lead to.
Will it simply accomplish its goal and stamp out the worst roots of
terrorist activities (read: anti-America activities), or will it
embolden the enemy and awakening a "sleeping giant?" Will it
re-instill fear of the last remaining superpower in the hearts of all
nations, or stir up pro-Islamic loyalties/anti-West sentiments and
transform Bin Laden into a martyr and unofficial king of the
fundamentalist Moslem world?
If the former, then the world will have permission to return to
former, even more peaceful times, for a while at least. If the
latter, then as many suspect, the world could be headed for another
world-wide conflict, more than likely, the last one of all.
That it just "happened" to begin on Hoshanah Rabbah after the
accurate signs of the previous two years could be taken as a sign
from Heaven that G-d is DIRECTLY involved in this one. That and the
fact that Syria was put on to the Security Council of the United
Nations. It's just all so biblical!
Therein lies the clue AND the hidden-ness of it all. It's TOO
biblical. I mean, it all just follows the script so closely and has
now for some time. The present is beginning to resemble the past in
such uncanny ways that it becomes hard to accept them as being
intentional. So people don't, and instead they just go about their
lives a little less normal for security reasons, but beyond that,
it's life in the present, the here-and-now, and nothing more.
The Generation of the Flood made the same mistake. Every generation
sins and has its great misgivings. However, G-d is a merciful G-d,
and He likes to give time for teshuvah. As we read in Selichos and
the Machzor: G-d would rather the evil repent from their erring ways
rather than to destroy them. To this end, G-d gives warnings, hints,
clues - whatever - just to catch mankind's attention and inspire
Had the Generation of the Flood had the time and the presence of mind
to say so, they would have said, "You know, Noach was right. It
happened just as he said it would, the way he said G-d said it would.
The clouds moved in, and it rained, and rained, and rained. Then the
waters surged from below the surface, and the flood waters just kept
rising, just like Noach prophesied. To bad we didn't listen."
Yup, in the end G-d may say to them, "That you sinned is one thing.
But, that you didn't pay attention to My warnings to repent as I sent
them to you is unforgivable."
What will be with us? What will they say to OUR generation?
Then they said, "Let's build a city, with a tower whose top will
reach into Heaven. We'll make ourselves famous [to prevent
ourselves] from being scattered over the face of the earth."
Like most things in life, the tower meant different things to
different people. To some it meant building a support for Heaven
which burst open with flooding waters once every 1656 years. For
others, it represented the flag around which mankind could unite and
create a human universe. For others, it was a challenge to G-d, a
distortion of the Divine image within which man had been created.
At least that is what the Midrash reveals. However, as we have said
before, the Torah doesn't always report what was obvious to the eye
of the person at the time. Rather, the Torah slices through all the
facades that men create and goes right to the point. Migdal Bavel,
in the end, was both a source of human pride and man-made security,
and that's what made its existence so all-important.
As such, it has become an important symbol of mankind gone astray.
The Tower of Bavel, created to bring order from mankind's point of
view, brought chaos from Heaven's point of view, for rather than
bring man back to G-d, it pushed man away further from his Creator.
G-d said, "They are one nation with one language, and they do this!"
Says G-d in every generation, "I give them ideas and materials to
fulfill those ideas, and what do they do with it? They just create
more materialism, more distractions away from spirituality!"
"Now nothing will stop them from what they set out to do."
For, their confidence will carry them to the four corners of the
earth, and once they have gone there, they will look beyond their
immediate world and reach out to the furthest places of the universe.
But all of it will only serve to distract them away from simply
looking inside and seeing their own souls, the true reflection of Me,
"Come, let us go down and confound their language, so that one person
will not be able to understand the language of the other."
Hence, we have arrived at today. One person's terrorism is another
person's political struggle, and vice-versa. After the World Trade
Center affair, Israelis mourned with their American friends and felt
vindicated in light of what just happened. The Palestinians took to
the streets to celebrate the attack against the American people, and
went on public radio and said, "Now the world will understand what it
means to suffer at the hands of the Israeli terrorists."
What language are they speaking?
And, the Americans are spending all this time and effort to fight a
war against evil terrorism. In the meanwhile, the so-called evil
terrorists are calling for a holy way against the evil west. Talk
about different world views! A day doesn't go by now that something
doesn't happen that stretches one's sense of sensibility.
How we get this way is the message of the posuk. Why we get this way
is also there as well - human pride. It's what gets us into trouble
each time, even when we think we have the best intentions for what we
plan to do. While we wage our wars against the forces of evil, we
ought to wage a major one against human pride as well. For, wherever
you find human pride, you will have a hard time finding the Divine
Presence, and that is a situation that can only go on for so long
before G-d Himself comes down to right our wrongs.
Changes That Last Forever:
CHAPTER FOUR: Insensitivity
The stranger bent over and asked the young man to do him a favor,
"Would you mind carrying my groceries home for me?" The young boy
sighed and sheepishly told the elderly man that his mother was
expecting him home, and that he had to hurry off. He then ran to
meet his friends at the basketball court instead.
However, his friend did not run off to the basketball game. Feeling
sympathy for the elderly gentleman, he accepted the responsibility,
and helped to carry the man's groceries home. Once the second boy
finally arrived at the game, he was asked by his friends why he was
"I helped an old man carry his groceries home."
"You did what?"
"Yea, and it was worth it," the boy added, catching the ear of the
first boy. "When we got to his house, he gave me five dollars and a
The first boy frowned and quietly said to himself, "I saved myself
the hassle, but in the end, it cost me five dollars and a chocolate
How often does this pattern repeat itself throughout life, and cost
people far more than small amounts of money and sweets? How often do
people turn their backs on the opportunity of a lifetime, seeing it
as nothing more than another option in life?
Then there's the story of the European gentleman, whose poor
understanding of the English language cost him a good paying job. He
thought the boss told him to bring the car into the shop, but was
only told to turn the engine off. It cost the boss hundreds of
dollars (for servicing the car that was not necessary) and the
employee his job (for ignorance of a foreign language)!
"What you don't know won't hurt you," is a familiar saying, but an
incorrect one. What you don't know can hurt you, and most likely
will hurt you, at some point in the future. Ignorance is not bliss,
it is missed opportunities and lost life.
People who love to travel buy all kinds of guides in advance of a
trip for fear that they will not visit every site worth seeing. They
read up in advance of their trips to make sure that they take
advantage of every available opportunity.
People who love to make money act likewise, reading every major
financial newspaper and magazine available. Maybe there's a business
opportunity out there that will go unnoticed if not pursued.
Clearly, in the world of finance, ignorance is missed opportunity.
Yet, when it comes to life, ignorance, for many people, is something
with which one can live. The difference is very simple: a trip
costs money and may be an once-in-a-lifetime venture. The same thing
is true of business, a world in which one is considered fortunate if
opportunity knocks at all.
However, life in general appears to be full of opportunity. Fail
today and you can start again tomorrow. Fail again tomorrow, and you
can begin fresh the next day, and so on. A life with unlimited
tomorrows is a life of unlimited opportunity, seemingly. So why
There's a story in the Torah that is known by just about everyone.
It is about two brothers, twins, who make the deal of a lifetime.
The story is of Eisav and his younger brother, Ya'akov.
As the firstborn son, Eisav was entitled to the spiritual legacy
bequeathed by his father Isaac, and his grandfather, Avraham.
However, to Eisav, a man of the world, this mattered little. As a
result, one day he bartered that right for some food he needed while
After satisfying his tremendous hunger and regaining his strength,
the Torah says Esau "...got up and left, and despised the
However, the time would come when Eisav would become aware of what he
gave away for some food, and he would greatly, and eternally, regret
his previous decision. That time was 48 years later, when Yitzchak,
Ya'akov's and Eisav's father, was prepared to hand over the blessings
that came along with the birthright. Yitzchak assumed that Eisav was
still the firstborn, and Eisav assumed that no longer owning the
right of the first born had little to do with receiving the blessings.
However, Eisav was wrong, and when Divine Providence arranged for
Ya'akov to take the blessings intended for Esau, Esau let out a great
cry. For some food, Eisav had traded away eternity.
It is hard for many of us to laugh because we have traded away
important opportunities for less. In fact, the challenge in life is
to discover the hidden opportunity in every moment, in every moment
of life, and to capitalize on it.
The ability to be able to do this relies upon sensitivity, and
sensitivity comes from the understanding of what to be sensitive to,
and why to be sensitive to it. This is the role of Torah, of its
stories, narratives, commandments, and commentaries, to provide the
understanding that leads to such levels of sensitivity.
Mistake, therefore, is the result of insensitivity, specifically
spiritual insensitivity. It is this that leads to a lower quality of
life, as even some in the secular world are beginning to acknowledge.
Pounding our chests on Yom Kippur, saying the words... "For the
sin we committed by..." what we really mean to say is:
For the sin we committed by... missing an opportunity to grow... for being spiritually insensitive to the opportunity to grow...
for not learning about the opportunity of life to become sensitive,
that resulted in an incorrect response to the opportunity You gave to