Parshios Bamidbar & Shavuos
Ah, It's Nothing... Really.
"G-d told Moshe in the Sinai desert, in the Appointed Tent, on the
first day of the second month, in the second year after leaving Egypt!"
Yaish Ma'Ayin. They are simple words that mean everything to a Jew. They
are often used to refer to the Creation process, which was "something from
nothing" creation ex nihilo. However, in a deeper sense, they refer to the
level of Hashgochah Pratit (Divine Providence) with which a Jew is
supposed to live.
Hence, the prominence of desert in the journey to freedom. In physical
terms, the desert represents "Ayin" - nothingness. In general, it is a
dead spot, referred to, Kabbalistically, as the domain of the Sitra Achra.
Yet, it is the place where the Jewish people came to life, where they
received Torah, and where they experienced the Garden of Eden when the
desert bloomed at the base of Mt. Sinai, and everywhere else they traveled
throughout the course of those 40 years.
We find that Israel themselves were very surprised, as it says in Shir
HaShirim Rabbah (2:8:2):
When Moshe came and told Israel that in this month you will be redeemed
they told him, "Moshe Rabbeinu, how can we be redeemed? All of Egypt is
steeped in our idol worship!" He answered them, "Since He wants you to be
redeemed He does not look at your idol worship but instead skips over
mountains"(Shir HaShirim 2:8).
This is because all redemptions are the result of a revelation of Arich
Anpin. He explained to Israel that The Holy One, Blessed is He, was
dealing with them on the level of the light of Arich Anpin called "Ayin,"
which works above any measure. In other words, it does not depend upon
merit or demerit. (Sha'arei Leshem, p. 113)
This was one of the most important lessons the Jewish people have ever
learned, and one of the hardest to integrate. Yetziat Mitzrayim was the
official introduction of the Jewish people to the highest level of Divine
Providence that man can know, that of Arich Anpin, or Ayin. Even Pharaoh
himself related to "Elokim," G-d working through Nature, camouflaging the
miracle of life through the regularity and subtleties of the natural
world. However, he could not fathom a level of Divine Providence so high
up in the system that even merit or demerit could not affect it, a level
of Hashgochah Pratit that has the right to break the rules of Creation
that G-d Himself set in motion.
And he wasn't the only one:
This is what they meant by, "Is Hashem amongst us or not (ayin)?"(Shemot
17:7) As we said at the beginning based upon the Zohar! Thus, even though
the Clouds of Glory surrounded them they could already begin to feel the
treachery of the Sitra Achra, and they worried that the revelation of the
light of Atika Kadisha would cease, as they said, "Is Hashem amongst us or
Ayin?" Moshe Rabbeinu knew quite well that this came about to test them,
and therefore he led them into the desert, into the place of the Sitra
Achra, as it says in [the Zohar in] Parashat Tetzaveh (184a): It is the
place of the Sitra Achra, etc. [and they were brought there] in order to
battle against his trickery so as to break his power and strength and to
smash his head and subjugate him, as we mentioned above in Section 3:5.
Had Israel constantly strengthened themselves so that their lives and
hearts were given over to G-d, He would have promised them that the
revelation of the great light of Atika Kadisha would not leave them even
while in the desert. And they would not have had to look at the Sitra
Achra and his schemes at all, because all of it was just a test. Indeed,
this is specifically the kind of action from below that would have drawn
down upon them the great light of Arich Anpin, continuously. Moshe
Rabbeinu knew that, at that time it was dependent upon their strengthening
themselves in trust in G-d, and for this the posuk faults them: "Because
you did not believe in G-d and did not trust in His salvation" (Tehillim
78:22), and it adds: "Nevertheless, they sinned further and had no faith
in His wonders" (Tehillim 78:32). (Sha'arei Leshem, p. 113)
We can assume that the Jewish people wanted to believe in this level of
Hashgochah Pratit, for it would only have worked to their advantage. It
would have saved them from all the things they feared most, including
thousands of years of exile that we are still living through. Had they
simply believed and lived as if they believed, that would have been enough
to complete the journey from Egypt, allow Moshe Rabbeinu to become
Moshiach, and begin the period of Yemosh HaMoshiach.
Indeed, the entire journey in the desert was just to concretize this
lesson, to make the reality real, that the Jewish people, in this world,
live in a desert! but a desert they can make bloom if they know how to
believe in G-d on the level of Ayin.
"You were shown to know that G-d is G-d; there is nothing but Him."
I wish I could fly (especially on the days that I am late for minyan), and
I'm not talking about by airplane either. I'm talking angel-style.
Actually, better yet, I would like to be able to perform "kevitzat
haderech", literally, a "shortening of the way," in which you simply will
to be someplace, and within a very short time, you're there. Some of the
great Kabbalists of the past could do that.
In science fiction movies they do it, and according to one article I saw
not too long ago, they know, at least theoretically at this point, how to
make fact match fiction. As physicists and theorists alike come to grasp
the fabric of physical reality better, it becomes increasingly easier to
manipulate it, or at least to take advantage of it.
Just imagine it, and that is all we will have to do. Seeing it will be
believing it. In the meantime, theory will remain theory, in spite of all
the mounting evidence in favor of the reality, and we will continue to
book flights to get from Point A to Point B when it is the only practical
way to get there in time.
There is something inherently strong and at the same time weak about
belief. On the one hand, it is a tremendous motivator that can make a
person's entire life meaningful. On the other hand, when a belief is not
correct, it can mislead a person causing tremendous destruction, and be
the hardest thing to change. Since most people identify with their
beliefs, the unraveling of the latter often feels like the undoing of the
We are not born with beliefs (babies think they can fly), but we grow into
them. We grow up in societies that have a built-up system of beliefs, and
as we continue to grow in that society, we tend to look at reality in the
same manner as our teachers. If we don't know that other beliefs exist in
the world, then we can easily come to accept the ones to which we are
subjugated to be absolute.
Adam HaRishon grew up in the world of Ayin. He was created right into it.
His world was so spiritual that it resembled Heaven almost more than
Heaven does. He was so spiritual that the angels had difficulty
distinguishing him from their true Master. His vision allowed him to see
from one end of the world until the other end, so to convince him that
miracles are more natural in G-d's world than Nature itself, was no
problem at all.
However, he made a mistake, and we were sent out of the world of Ayin into
the world of Yaish, a world that is much more physical and much more
limiting. In Gan Aiden, if you wanted to eat, you willed it. Post Gan
Aiden, when you want to eat, you will yourself to get up and find some
existing form of food, perhaps at the local supermarket. And, if you want
to buy it, you have to make sure you have the money.
You could stay home and will the food to come on its own. Either you will
go hungry, or a miracle will happen for you and the food will come, and
you'll have to pay G-d instead on the Day of Judgment for the miracle. In
the world of yaish mi'yaish (something from something), nothing is for
free. It is the world of Mitzrayim, and in that world, the motto is: "Me
Hashem?" or "Who is Hashem as in, if I can't see him, I can't believe in
That is, in the world that the Jewish people of Moshe's time lived in,
those fortunate enough to be educated in the ways of Avraham Avinu in the
way of Yaish Ma'Ayin "Something from Ayin," did so surrounded by a world
of yaish mi'yaish, and couldn't help but be affected by it on some level.
Then how much more so did the rest of the nation that wasn't as fortunate
to even be exposed to Yaish Ma'Ayin, at least on a theoretical level.
Hence, redemption from Egypt was the first class in the change of belief
from Yaish Mi'Yaish to Yaish Ma'Ayin, and therefore it was Ayin Who came
for the Jewish people. This is why all the plagues required very little to
have a big effect a huge effect! It wasn't just about performing miracles,
it was about learning how the most amazing effects can seemingly come out
of nowhere, or what seems like nowhere to the human eye.
Then, it was out into the desert, the place of Ayin. It wasn't about
magic; it was about accessing the Ayin that is inside everything that
exists, covered by layers of yaish. It was, and still is about learning
about the true essence of physical Creation, something that mankind has
come to learn the hard way after almost 6,000 years of existence, by
delving deeper and deeper into the physical world until they finally
discovered, that at the root of all physicality is something that is not
physical at all: Energy.
"The people complained to Moshe, âWhat will we drink?â He cried out
to G-d, and G-d showed him a piece of wood, and he threw it into the
waters, and the waters became sweet." (Shemot 15:24-25)
One might think that it is about invoking a higher, hidden light, to
descend into our world and turn everything into gold, or rocks into water.
It's not. It's not like an apartment building in which each floor is
different from the other, and one above the other. It is like the earth's
crust, which is layered, but each layer, as you go closer to the center of
the earth, is inside all the layers above it.
Likewise, the physical world that we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch,
is just clothing for another more spiritual world. And that world is just
clothing for the world inside of it, and the three of them are clothing
for the world inside of them, etc., until you get to the "center" of all
them: Ohr Ain Sof (the Light of Ain Sof), the light of Ayin.
However, like all clothing, it hides the soul inside. Likewise, all the
other worlds clothe and hide the light of Ayin inside the layers of
yaish. However, it is all one and the same light, and in fact, the lower,
more physical levels are really the product of Ohr Ain Sof, even though
the latter is completely sublime and spiritual, and the former are
increasingly more physical. It is really yaish ma'Ayin.
Mitzrayim, both physically and conceptually represented the most outer,
physical layer in Creation. As the name implies, it was the essence of
what it means to be in a physical prison, even if Jews had been free to
walk about. It was the center of black magic, as that is the ultimate
hiding of Ayin, because it gives the impression that miracles are possible
without G-d's help, as if the forces of Creation can be manipulated by man
without G-d's permission. In fact, G-d is doing it and giving the magician
the false impression that he is doing it on his own, all for the sake of
free-will. At the core of everything is Ayin, no matter how yaish it is.
Thus, the plagues were blasting through every layer of yaish possible in
Creation specifically because they happened in Egypt. In the place where
Ayin is usually the "weakest", it was the strongest, revealing to the
Jewish people that at the root of everything is the light of Ayin, and if
you know how to access it, then you can always survive, no matter what.
Not an easy sell when you see just how physical the physical world can get.
Going into the desert, the lair of the Sitra Achra, was to show the Jewish
people that even he takes his orders from G-d, and that his strength lies
in our giving it to him, in the form of falling for the belief that he has
power of his own. Knowing this and believing it completely neutralizes him
immediately, which is as easy to do as believing that we can neutralize
100,000,000 enemies storming our borders, G-d forbid, by simply believing
that they have no power of their own.
Tell that to a mind that has grown up in the Western world that is only
now coming to terms with the idea that the physical world is not as
concrete as we thought it was. Where is Ayin inside noisy and destructive
tanks? Where is Ayin inside supersonic jets, and the ready-to-kill people
who fly them? Where is Ayin inside a nuclear bomb that kills thousands of
people and spreads radiation? Where was Ayin inside that terrifying and
cruel Egyptian taskmaster?
It was there. It had to be there, otherwise none of it could have existed.
However, until a person can see it for himself, it is, at best, emunah
(faith). Until G-d took us out of Egypt with great miracles and led us
through the desert with even greater miracles, causing the desert to
bloom, showed us that Ayin is inside all of yaish. So why settle for
the "clothing" when you can have the "soul"?
"They said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up out of
Which literally brings us to Shavuot. Even though we celebrate Shavuot as
the holiday of the giving of the Torah, it was not really the holiday of
receiving it. First of all, Moshe Rabbeinu only went up to get the Torah
the next day, on the 7th of Sivan. The Torah that we were meant to receive
did not come down to us until the 17th of Tammuz, 40 days later. However,
thanks to the episode of the golden calf, we never actually received it.
The Torah we received was the second set of tablets, 80 days later.
If you want to sum up the concept of the golden calf in somewhat
Kabbalistic terms, it would be, the return to yaish mi'yaish. Without
Moshe Rabbeinu to guide us, the Jewish people had difficulty imagining how
to pull survival out of the desert, how to live yaish ma'Ayin, and
promptly built a yaish to replace the Ayin. This is what they meant
by, "These are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up out of Egypt!" as
if to say, this "yaish" is the source of your yaish.
So what, then, are we actually celebrating on Shavuot? On Shavuot, we walk
up to a spiritual door on which Ayin is written, so-to-speak, just on the
other side of the threshold from where we stand, in the world of yaish.
For some the door might be completely closed, but for others it might be
slightly ajar. But, it is there for every Jew, right in front of us,
reminding us that Torah is our map leading us from the world of yaish
mi'yaish to the world of yaish ma'Ayin, and Eretz Yisroel is the ultimate
representation of this. Thus the Torah says:
"I am G-d, your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, to give to
you the land of Canaan, to be G-d to you." (Vayikra 25:38)
For, in Eretz Yisroel, much of the yaish is missing. You either survive
directly from Ayin, or you don't survive at all.
Indeed, the Vilna Gaon explains that any poverty in Eretz Yisroel, in the
King's own palace, is not due to the lack of "yaish"; it is not about the
Jews of Eretz Yisroel per se. Rather, he says, it is for the sake of the
Jews in the Diaspora, who while living there, have no way to physically
participate in the building of Eretz Yisroel in advance of Moshiach's
arrival. Therefore, to give them a chance to participate, they are called
upon to offer financial assistance to their brothers in the Holy Land.
Thus, the day that all Jews come to Eretz Yisroel to actually participate
in the building of Malchut Shamayim on earth, poverty in the Holy Land
will cease, at least to the point that we no longer will need to look
beyond the borders of Eretz Yisroel to survive. Ironically, by supporting
the Jews of Eretz Yisroel, the Jews of the Diaspora are actually meriting
for themselves in ways they may only be able to appreciate in Yemot
Sounds like a good fundraising ploy, and many may still think that the
real reality is that G-d has abandoned His children living in His palace,
while blessing His children who live in someone else's palace. In a year,
when people come collecting for Shmittah farmers, they may think to
themselves, "They may seem to keep Shmittah, but it doesn't seem to
impress G-d," when in fact G-d is providing a chance for the Jews of the
Diaspora to have a portion in this great mitzvah and Kiddush Hashem even
while living away from the land.
It all comes down to which philosophy a Jew subscribes to more: yaish
mi'yaish or yaish ma'Ayin, that of the second, more physical set of
tablets, or that of the first. And as we have said before, if we are the
final generation in advance of Moshiach's arrival, then our souls are
those of the very Jews who first struggled with this issue, and their
tikun becomes our tikun, the tikun of once and for all learning how to be
real with the reality of Ayin.
Have a great Shabbat, and Chag Samayach,
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.