An Accounting Issue
"Israel took all these cities, and Israel settled in all the Amorite
cities, in Cheshbon and all its suburbs. For Cheshbon — it was the city of
Sichon, king of the Amorite; and he had warred against the first king of
Moav and took all his land from his control, until Arnon. Regarding this
the poets would say: Come to Cheshbon — let it be built and established as
the city of Sichon..." (Bamidbar 21:25-27)
The above section is a little unusual as far as Torah accounts go, but
nothing to make one stop and scratch his head about, wondering, “What
deeper explanation is there for all of this?” Nevertheless, the Talmud saw
fit to provide such insight, playing on the meanings of the words from the
Rav Shmuel bar Nachman said in the name of Rebi Yochanan: “What is the
meaning of the verse, ‘the poets (hamoshelim) would say, etc.’? (Bamidbar
‘Hamoshelim’: those who rule over their evil inclinations.
‘Come to Cheshbon’: come, let us consider the account of the world; the
loss incurred by the fulfillment of a mitzvah against the reward received
for performing it, and the gain gotten by a transgression against the loss
‘Let it be built and established (Ibid. 28)’: If you do, you will be built
in this world and you will be established in the World-to-Come.
‘As the city of Sichon’ (Ibid.): If a man makes himself like a foal that
follows the gentle talk [of sin]; what comes next?
‘For a fire has come from Cheshbon’ (Ibid.): A fire will go out from those
who calculate [the account of the world] and consume those who do not
‘A flame from the city of Sichon (Ibid.): From the city of the righteous
who are called trees.
‘It consumed Ar of Mo'av’: This refers to one who follows his evil
inclination like a foal that follows gentle talk.
‘The masters of Arnon’s heights’: This refers to the arrogant; as it has
been said: ‘Whosoever is arrogant falls into Gihennom.
‘Their sovereignty’ (Ibid. 30): The wicked says, ‘There is no High One.’
‘Cheshbon was lost’ (Ibid.): The account of the world is lost.
‘From Divon’ (Ibid.): The Holy One, Blessed is He, said, 'Wait until
‘And we laid waste to Nophach’ (Ibid.): Until there comes a fire which
requires no fanning.
‘Which reaches up to Meidvah’ (Ibid.): Until it will melt their souls.
Others say: Until He had accomplished what he desired [to do to the
wicked]. (Bava Batra 78a)
That’s a lot of important information from a very unlikely source, and the
Pri Tzaddik asks why:
What is the connection between all of this and the war against Sichon?
Furthermore, regarding the war against Sichon and Og, who were called two
Amorite kings: Why was Moshe doubtful that he would conquer them, if they
were one of the seven nations? It seems that if Sichon would have allowed
the Jewish people to cross his border, they would not have conquered him
at all! Furthermore, it says in the Mishnah that, according to Rebi Yosi
HaGlili, someone is not obligated to bring first fruits from the east side
of the Jordan, implying that it does not have the same level of holiness
as Eretz Yisroel. (Pri Tzaddik, Chukat, 4)
In other words, there was a mitzvah for the Jewish people to completely
conquer the Canaanites, to which Sichon and Og belonged. Logically, Moshe
Rabbeinu should have assumed that he would be successful conquering them
as he was meant to be against the rest of the nations of Canaan. So what
concerned him at that time?
Furthermore, if they were part of the Canaanite nations, then the land
they occupied, and which was subsequently conquered by the Jewish people
was part of Canaan, and therefore should have had the same kedushah as the
rest of Eretz Yisroel. Hence, the laws of bikurim should have applied
equally to produce grown east of the Jordan as they did to produce from
Eretz Yisroel proper. Why didn’t they?
Because, the seven Canaanite nations corresponded to the seven impure
traits (middot), which are the opposite of the seven holy traits. In the
work “Divrei Emet” from the Rebi of Lublin, it says that the klipah of the
kingdom of the Amorites, the third of the Canaanite nations, corresponded
to the trait of Tifferet on the side of holiness, which alludes to, “You
have distinguished G-d... and G-d has distinguished you...” (Devarim
26:17, 18), as it says, “The Holy One, Blessed is He, sings the praises of
Israel” (Brochot 6a). Tifferet on the side of impurity, therefore, would
correspond to pride... and therefore, the Amorites represented pride and
honor, which incorporates jealousy and desire as well. Moshe Rabbeinu knew
that it was not yet time to completely conquer that klipah... (Ibid.)
"All that G-d made, this corresponds to this..." (Koheles)
The average person deals with reality on the surface level: what you see
is what you get and all there is to be gotten. Even if someone believes in
the soul, and knows that it is the engine driving the body, he still tends
to deal with the person on the level of the body, purely in terms of his
actions. He certainly does not think in terms of cosmic traits, or how
people, or entire nations can become the manifestation of a specific trait.
I remember reading one day how Nebuchadnetzar, the evil king of Babylonia
who destroyed the first Temple of the Jewish people, was Suddam Hussein’s
hero. Even though I knew Hussein hated the Jews, and given the
opportunity, he would do to them today what Nebuchadnetzar did in his
time. It still struck me as strange that he would be so out to lunch as to
choose such an evil dictator from the past as his hero. On some level, I
must have thought that Nebuchadnetzar was evil in the eyes of all men,
even those who were just as evil today.
I guess what struck me as unusual was how Hussein related to his past.
Most modern-day dictators and anti-Semites usually idolize themselves or
more recent role models, but few ever see themselves as the continuation
of an ancient leader, as Hussein did. He claimed to be the reincarnation
of Nebuchadnetzar, and though most of the world believed that to be the
raving of a dangerous lunatic, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was more
real with history than most people were/are.
For, whereas most people either believe or didn’t believe in
Nebuchadnetzar, or whether or not he actually destroyed the first Jewish
Temple as portrayed in Tanach and the Talmud, Hussein harbored no doubts.
Not only had the Babylonian king committed all the atrocities the Jewish
people claimed that he did, but Hussein applauded his every effort and saw
himself as the second act to finish the job that Act One left incomplete.
Well, yes and no. It might well have been wishful thinking on his part
that his presence in history was as important as that of Nebuchadnetzar,
but on the other hand, it may have been true on some level. For, though
there are billions of people in the world, and trillions over the
millennia until today, all of them are manifestations of the very few and
quite spiritual forces upon which Creation has been founded, some good and
some evil. Three to be exact, or six when one considers their opposites as
Though it is always nicer to start with the good traits, the negative
ones, perhaps, are more easily recognizable. They are: kinah, givah, and
tivah (jealousy, pride, and desire), respectively. Whatever evil a person
perpetrates, whether against G-d, another person, or even against himself,
one, if not all of them will somehow be involved, driving the person to
act as he does, even if this is not so clear on the surface.
The opposite of jealousy is taking pleasure from seeing others succeed.
Not only does the success of another not make you feel any sense of lack,
but it does just the opposite; his success makes you feel more complete,
which can only happen if you love your neighbor as you do yourself. Then
your neighbor’s success can feel like your own success. This was the
primary trait of Avraham Avinu.
The opposite of pride is humility. All of mankind was made in the image of
G-d, and for this reason, man is special. However, it is a specialness
that is unique to no one in particular, but to everyone in general, and it
is one that we are born with, not one that we create. Humility is not the
result of thinking that one is unimportant. Rather, it is the result of
realizing that one is important, indeed made in the image of G-d, but that
its importance is a gift, as is all of life.
Humility comes from realizing that we’re here for a reason, and making
that reason the basis of one’s meaning in life. Humility means
surrendering oneself to the ultimate cause, and knowing that, one truly
finds out who he or she really is. A humble person knows that a false
sense of pride and the abuse on G-d-given gifts only destroys one’s sense
of self, and blocks any attempt to sincerely enjoy life. This was Yitzchak
Desire usually translates into materialism and an obsession to have
enjoyable physical experiences. The opposite of this trait is not
necessarily reduced desire, but re-directed desire, that is, a desire for
spiritual pleasures. From Tehillim, we see that Dovid HaMelech was
obsessed with learning Torah, and with his relationship to G-d. However,
since G-d gave the Torah to help us know how to act morally in every
situation in life, such an intense love can only result in G-dly behavior,
which is the goal of life in this world. This was rooted in Ya’akov Avinu.
"These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Israel, on the other side
of the Jordan... After he had smitten Sichon, king of the Amorites, who
dwell in Cheshbon, and Og, king of Bashan, who dwell in Ashtarot...”"
(Devarim 1:1, 4)
The Pri Tzaddik further explains:
This is what it means when it says, “...After he had smitten Sichon, king
of the Amorite, who dwell in Cheshbon, and Og, king of Bashan, who dwell
in Ashtarot...” (Devarim 1:4). Really, it should have said “dwelled”, past-
tense, since it says “after he had smitten”, meaning that no one had
survived. Therefore, what it means is that the klipah of the Amorite was
not completely eradicated, and therefore it speaks in the present-tense,
as if it still dwells in Cheshbon. For this reason it helps to mention
that he was king of Cheshbon, as it does at the beginning of Parashat
Devarim, meaning that since his klipah incorporated the three klipot
mentioned before, he was the “king” of Cheshbon, the “calculation of the
world”, not allowing them to consider the “cheshbon” — the calculation.
(Pri Tzaddik, Chukat, 4)
It all comes down to a “cheshbon hanefesh”, literally, an “accounting of
one’s soul”. Evil people may sin because it has already become part of
their nature, but the average person sins out of thoughtlessness. In other
words, he doesn’t think enough about what he is doing, what the
consequences are and what they may be. He doesn’t consider how what he is
doing appears in the eyes of G-d, and what it may cost him in the long
run, either by capitulating to his yetzer hara to perform a sin, or to
avoid doing a mitzvah.
One of the most powerful weapons in the hands of the yetzer hara is this
very thoughtfulness, and therefore one of the most constructive defenses
against the yetzer hara is a cheshbon hanefesh, which compels the person
to weigh out his decisions from the past in order to make better decisions
in the future. When forced to consider the consequences of action or
inaction, it is amazing how fast a person wakes up to the reality of his
direction in life.
This klipah, this spiritual interposition that prevents a person from
taking the decisions and actions of his life seriously, which has led, and
continues to lead to all the wanton and immoral behavior of man throughout
history, emanates from Cheshbon, the king of which was Sichon, the
...For this reason Moshe Rabbeinu conquered him. However, his klipah
remained and was not conquered completely, and it still dwells in
Cheshbon, still capable of compelling people to not consider the
accounting of the world, as it says: During the time of the yetzer hara,
there is no memory of the yetzer tov (Nedarim 32b). (Ibid.)
Hence, what the Talmud is alluding to with its deeper explanation of the
words of the poets was the real battle that Moshe Rabbeinu and the Jewish
people began to fight. Yes, it was a physical battle against physical
nations of the world, but nations that embodied certain spiritual
characteristics that endanger mankind, in the past, and in the present as
When reading the Torah, we tend to view the battles of this week’s parshah
on the level of physical war, and that is all. However, from the Torah’s
perspective, which is G-d’s perspective, it is about light versus dark,
about pure versus impure, about good traits against bad ones. It is these
that are at war, and they simply wear the bodies of those people who can
be drawn in one direction or the other. And, whereas history may be ready
for the demise of a physical nation, it may not yet merit the complete
destruction of the evil trait that that nation embodied, which is why it
tends to surface over-and-over-again in other nations throughout history.
"In the end, both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father.
The elder gave birth to a son and called him “Moav”. He is the father of
Moav to this day." (Bereishit 19:36-37)
Regarding the nation of Moav, the Pri Tzaddik explains:
Moav was the root of the klipah of tivah (desire) as it says: Anyone who
crazes after illicit relationships will in the end eat his own flesh
(Bereishit Rabbah 51). The main embodiment of this klipah was Moav, which
means “from my father” (Nazir 23b). (Ibid.)
In other words, a symbol of obsession with passion is incest, that became
the case with Lot and his daughters, which resulted in the birth of a
child named “Moav”, to allude to the fact that his own father was his
mother’s father. Thus, he, and by extension his people, became the
embodiment of this very trait.
To consider the Talmud’s explanation of the words from the end of this
week’s parshah, and the Pri Tzaddik’s explanation of these, is to change
one’s approach to history, past and present. Today we see only nations,
new and old ones, but for the most part, none of which seem Biblical in
nature. True, everyone living today can trace their ancestry back to
ancient times, but so much has changed over the millennia that, for all
intents and purposes, it’s as if we spontaneously generated in recent
Physically, yes, but spiritually, no. In every generation, there is a
nation or nations that embody one or more of the three main klipot, and
the positive spiritual counterparts. All we have to ask is, “Which nations
best embody the passions of tivah, which is basically the drive for
materialism and sensual relationships? Which nations seem overly proud,
and which ones seem jealous of others?”
Or, which nations seem to be humble in nature, appreciative of the gift of
life, and which nations seem to be happy with the successes of others?
Which ones seem spiritual, and not so into the material? Are there any at
With respect to some nations, it may seem easier to answer the questions
than with respect to others, but no nation exists today that does not fall
into one of the positive or negative categories, and rarely does a nation
possess a positive and negative trait, at least not without resulting in
serious tension, and perhaps some form of civil war. It is too difficult
for a single people to manage spiritual opposites and remain intact, just
as it is difficult for an individual to live with spiritual hypocrisy.
All of this may seem somewhat existential, rarely coming up as an issue
when discussing, for example, the prospect of job relocation to another
country. However, that’s just the way it appears, because in truth, where
the Jewish people have lived has always determined the nature of the test
of a particular exile, and knowing this helps the Jew to survive that
test. Failure has usually resulted in horrific results.
However, no matter when or where the Jew lives, one thing always makes a
difference in terms of survival, and that is a cheshbon hanefesh. A few
minutes a day to contemplate the direction of one’s life and the
consequences of one’s decisions can result in a lot of Olam HaBah, and,
explains the Pri Tzaddik, tremendous tikun to this world as well.
Have a great Shabbat,
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.