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Posted on June 7, 2002 (5762) By Rabbi Pinchas Winston | Series: | Level:

Friday Night:

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.

Shabbos Day:

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… (Bereishis 7:21-23)

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 teshuvah.

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.” (Bereishis 11:4)

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!” (Bereishis 11:6)

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, their Creator.

“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:
Installment #4

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 so late.

“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 chocolate bar!”

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 bar.”

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 worry?

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 exhausted.

After satisfying his tremendous hunger and regaining his strength, the Torah says Esau “…got up and left, and despised the birthright.”

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 us.

Have a great Shabbos,
Pinchas Winston