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Torah Attitude: Parashas Bamidbar / Shavuous: Restoring fire, wind (spirit), water and earth
The Torah was given to the Jewish people by fire and water in the wilderness. Man is formed from the four elements: fire, wind (spirit), water and earth. After the sin of Adam and Eve, the negative aspect of the elements became part of them. The negative aspect of water represents man's lust for worldly pleasures. The negative aspect of earth represents depression. The reference to the sixth day alludes to the sixth day of the month of Sivan. The Jewish people restored the aspect of laziness represented by the element of earth. With humbleness the Jewish people restored the element of fire. The Jewish people were united in their readiness to accept G'd's Torah and rectified their personal cravings for pleasure represented by the element of water. In order to merit getting the Torah, with which they could restore the element of wind (spirit), the Jewish people first had to restore the other three elements of fire, water and earth represented by the wilderness. We all have the ability to connect with the revelation at Mount Sinai and get closer to our personal purpose.
Fire, water and wilderness
In the beginning of this week's Parasha it says (Bamidbar 1:1): "And G'd spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting [Tabernacle]." The Midrash Rabbah (1:7) teaches that the Torah was given to the Jewish people by fire and water in the wilderness. The obvious question arises, what is the significance of this information? If we take a closer look at the words of the Midrash we may find a deeper message that the Midrash wants to share with us.
In order to understand the Midrash's message, we must go back to the beginning of creation. The great Kabbalist, Rabbi Chaim Vital (Gates of Holiness 1:1) writes that the entire creation, including man, is formed from the four elements: fire, wind (spirit), water and earth. In the human being, each of them represents a different aspect of our physical and spiritual makeup.
Negative aspects of fire and wind
When Adam and Eve were created, they had within them only the good of each of the elements. But after they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, their entire being became a mixture of good and evil. This has affected mankind ever since, both physically and spiritually. In a physical sense, it brought about that people could become sick and die from their sickness. In a spiritual sense, people would have to struggle with their negative character traits. Each of the elements representing a different negative side of a person's psyche. The negative aspect of fire, says Rabbi Vital, represents arrogance and haughtiness, as well as anger. The negative aspect of wind (spirit) represents negative talk, such as flattery, lies, and gossiping.
Negative aspects of water and earth
Rabbi Vital continues to explain that the negative aspect of water represents man's lust for worldly pleasures. And the negative aspect of earth represents depression, which in turn causes the person to become lazy and dysfunctional. This often leads to becoming slack in observing the commandments of the Torah as well.
Rashi (Bereishis 1:31) quotes from the Midrash that, unlike the other days of creation, the sixth day is referred to as the sixth day with a definite article. This indicates the specialness of that day. First of all, this day was special because Adam and Eve, the pinnacle of creation, were created on this day, thus bringing all of creation to its purpose
The Midrash continues and explains that this verse contains an additional profound message. The reference to the sixth day alludes to the sixth day of the month of Sivan in the year 2448 after creation. This is the day when G'd revealed Himself to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai and gave us His Torah. At this occasion, we were given the tool of Torah to help us reach our full potential that G'd intended on the sixth day of Creation, when Adam and Eve were created.
The Torah (Bereishis 2:7) concludes their creation with the words: "And the man became a living being." The Targum Onkelus translates this as: "And the man became a speaking spirit." The Talmud (Sanhedrin 99b) teaches that originally G'd gave us the ability to talk to enable us to study Torah. Once Adam and Eve sinned, G'd decided to wait 24 generations before giving the Torah. When the Jewish people arrived at Mount Sinai, G'd decided that the time was ripe to give us the Torah, and with this, the element of wind (spirit) was restored to its original state prior to the sin of Adam and Eve.
Restore three other elements
However, in order to be worthy to receive the Torah, the Jewish people had to restore the other three elements as well. In Parashas Yithro, prior to the revelation at Mount Sinai, it says (Shemos 19:1-2): "In the third month after the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt, on this day they came to the wilderness of Sinai. And they travelled from Refidim, and they came to the wilderness of Sinai. And they camped in the wilderness." The Or HaChaim asks why does it say that they travelled from Refidim after they had already arrived at Sinai. He further asks why does the Torah relate that they camped in the wilderness? Obviously, if this is the place where they arrived, this is where they camped?
The Or HaChaim answers that these verses carry a deeper message. The Torah actually hints to three requirements the Jewish people needed to receive the Torah. At the end of Parashas Beshalach, it says that the Jewish people were attacked by Amalek at Refidim. The Midrash Tanchuma (25) explains that this happened because they were lazy in their study of the Torah laws that they had been taught at Moroh (see Shemos 15:25). The actual name "Refidim", says the Midrash, can also be read as "Rafu yadam" which translates as "their hands were lax". The Torah now relates that they travelled from Refidim to teach that they travelled away from what the place of Refidim represented and distanced themselves from their laxness in Torah study. Later the Torah relates how they showed an eagerness to accept the complete Torah, as they said the famous words (Shemos 24:7): "We will do and we will listen." With this, the Jewish people restored the aspect of laziness represented by the element of earth. And at the same time, they no doubt felt very good about themselves and did not suffer from any form of depression.
Similarly, when it says that they camped in the wilderness, it is not just to let us know the place where they camped. Rather, it teaches something about their attitude at the time of camping. The aforementioned Midrash Rabbah explains that G'd spoke to Moses in the wilderness to teach us that to be worthy to acquire the wisdom of Torah, we must be ready to be humble like the sand of the wilderness. This humbleness, says the Or HaChaim, was the second prerequisite the Jewish people needed to receive the Torah. And with this they restored the element of fire. No one thought that he was better than his fellow Jews, and there was no feelings of arrogance or haughtiness.
The third preparation is hinted at in the words "and Israel camped" in the singular rather than the regular plural expression "and the children of Israel camped." Rashi quotes from the Mechilta that this teaches us that the Jewish people felt like one person with one heart. Everyone was united in their readiness to accept the Torah. With this they rectified their personal cravings for pleasure represented by the element of water. For a person who is interested in the lusts of this world finds it difficult to join and unite with others, and will always have his own interests in mind. As King Solomon writes (Mishlei 18:1): "The one who seeks lust sets himself apart."
Original level of Adam and Eve
With this insight we may be able to understand the deeper meaning of the above Midrash Rabbah. The Midrash said that G'd gave the Jewish people the Torah by fire and water in the wilderness. With this the Midrash hints to the fact that in order to merit to get the Torah, with which they could restore the element of wind (spirit), they first had to restore the other three elements of fire, water and earth (represented by the wilderness). This corresponds to the Talmud's statement (Shabbos 146a) that at the revelation at Mount Sinai the Jewish people returned to the original level of Adam and Eve before their sin. Only later when the Jewish people sinned at the golden calf did they lose this high spiritual level.
Every year on Shavuous, we refer to this festival in our prayers as the Time of the Giving of the Torah. This teaches us that we all have the ability to connect with the revelation at Mount Sinai and get closer to our personal purpose. In this way, we follow in the footsteps of our ancestors, as they stood at Mount Sinai. However, during the days leading up to Shavuous we must work on our personal character traits to try and restore them, so that we too will be worthy to receive our portion of G'd's Torah.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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