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A Window Into Reality (Parshas Beha'aloscha)

parsha sefer bamidbar video May 27, 2021


A father set out one day to teach his young daughter a powerful lesson. When she woke up in the morning, he took her in front of a mirror and asked her, "What do you see?"

She smiled and answered, "I see myself!"

He then took her to the window, and asked her, "What do you see now?"

"I see houses, and trees, and grass, and a whole world outside" she said, this time with a sense of wonder and joy in her voice.

That night, before tucking his daughter into bed, the father again brought her to the mirror.

"What do you see?"

"I still see myself" she answered, a bit confused as to why they were doing this again.

He then took her back to the window. "What do you see now?" he asked.

"I see… me?" she answered, suddenly very confused. "Did the window turn into a mirror?"

"Be patient, stay focused, and keep on staring at the window. What do you see?"

After a long, silent moment, her eyes lit up. " I finally see it! I see houses and trees and the world outside!"

Her father smiled and explained to his daughter:

"Sometimes, we get so caught up in our own lives that we think everything in life revolves around us; instead of seeing the true nature of things, we see everything as a mirror of ourselves. As a result, we project our views onto everything we see and everything we hear. Instead, we each need to learn how to peer past the surface, past ourselves, and see the endless beauty, wisdom, and depth that lies beneath that surface. When we do so, we turn the mirror into a window, revealing a world of depth behind it.




Human beings are creative, intelligent, and powerful, but at the same time, we are incredibly limited:

  • Our experience of this spectacular physical universe is limited to our five senses.
  • We can only be in one place at any given point in time.
  • We have limited strength and energy.
  • There is a vast, almost infinite world of wisdom that we have no grasp of whatsoever.

But what if this wasn’t the case? Imagine a life beyond the one you currently experience - one with new senses and sensations, new colors added to your field of vision, new sounds to your range of hearing. What if you had abilities that far surpassed anything you can imagine? Consider a reality in which you had access to all wisdom and could experience and grasp it all instantaneously. It is so difficult to imagine this because it is nearly impossible to think about something that you have never experienced before- just try thinking of a color that doesn't exist.


Moshe's Prophecy


The Rambam[1] famously formulates thirteen principles of faith which he believes to be the absolute foundational pillars of Jewish belief, emphasizing that every Jew must believe in these principles. The sixth principle states that all the words of the nevi'im (prophets) are true. The seventh principle specifies that the prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu is true, and that he was greatest navi of all time, greater than both those that came before him and those that came after. The sixth principle is obviously crucial; the seventh seems redundant. If all of the nevi'im's words were true, of course Moshe's were true as well. What is so fundamentally important about the superiority of Moshe’s prophecy that the Rambam deemed it necessary to state it as a separate principle of faith?

More broadly, what does it mean that Moshe was the greatest prophet to ever live? In Parshas Beha’aloscha, Hashem Himself attests to the greatness of Moshe and his unique level of prophecy.[2] What was so unique about Moshe's prophecy? We know that Moshe received the Torah from Hashem and brought it down to the Jewish People, a role he seemed uniquely suited for. The Torah itself is even called "Toras Moshe",[3] indicating an intrinsic tie between Moshe and the Torah.[4] But what was the greatness of Moshe's prophecy that earned him this unique status? Why was Moshe's nevuah fundamentally different from all other nevi'im who came before and after him?

In order to understand Moshe's prophecy, we must first develop an understanding of nevuah in general.


The Nature of Prophecy


We live in a world devoid of prophecy[5]; therefore, attempting to understand it is like trying to understand a human sense by hearing someone describe it to you. However powerfully you can describe sight, it won't mean much to a person who has been blind from birth. Likewise, a deaf person could read about hearing, but he has no past experience or mental framework in which to place it. Similarly, in a world devoid of prophecy, it becomes exceedingly difficult to understand or even relate to the experience. However, we will try to paint as clear a picture as possible. 

Throughout the Middle Ages, there were various attacks against Judaism by secular and non-Jewish philosophers. One area commonly targeted was prophecy, resulting in many Jewish thinkers attempting to clearly describe their understanding of nevuah. While there is variance within their opinions, the basic consensus is as follows: A prophet must be a great tzaddik, spending his or her entire life building to the stage where he is worthy of receiving prophecy. This includes both a mastery of Torah knowledge and commitment to its observance, as well as complete command over one’s middos (character traits) and intellect. Once he achieves this exalted status, he is capable of receiving prophecy, and Hashem will choose whether or not to grant him prophecy. The prophetic experience itself was an other-worldly, transcendent experience. Hashem opened and expanded the navi’s consciousness, allowing him to connect to a higher dimension of existence, one that lies far beyond the limitations of time and space, far beyond the capacity of the regular human mind. In doing so, the navi became capable of experiencing lofty ideas and intellectual truths which he would otherwise have no access to.[6] These ideas and truths would then filter down through the navi's intellect and get translated by his imaginative faculties, resulting in his unique, subjective experience of these lofty objective truths. In a very deep sense, nevuah was a transcendent, angelic experience of the spiritual world that a navi experienced while still in this world.

Building off this general understanding of prophecy, we must now ask: What made Moshe's prophecy unique?


Clarity of Vision


The first unique characteristic of Moshe's prophecy was his level of clarity.[7] The Gemara[8] explains that while all other prophets saw through a clouded lens, Moshe saw through a clear lens.[9] We all perceive reality through our own unique lens. A tremendously developed and wise person will see the world through a much more sophisticated lens than an immature child. One of them sees many layers of depth behind every aspect of reality, while the others sees nothing more than the surface. One of them looks at the Torah and sees layers of wisdom, while the other looks at the same words and sees meaningless scribbles. As the child matures, he will have the ability to expand his understanding and develop a more sophisticated approach to life.

The same is true regarding prophecy: there were many different levels. As humans, our consciousness is limited in that we only see the physical, not the spiritual. Since prophecy is a window into the spiritual world, the metaphor Chazal use to describe the quality of the navi’s vision is an "aspaklaria", loosely translated as a window, lens, or mirror. The greater the prophet, the clearer his vision and the better his understanding; the lesser the prophet, the more opaque and cloudy his vision and the more hazy his understanding. While all other nevi'im’s vision had some measure of cloudiness, Moshe saw Hashem and the spiritual world with absolute clarity, or with as much clarity as possible for a human being. In other words, while other nevi'im saw a reflection of the spiritual world and its truths, Moshe saw the spiritual world itself, with no filters. As the Ramchal puts it in Derech Hashem, Moshe saw through a “glass window”; he saw the spiritual world as it is, with absolute clarity.

Rav Dessler beautifully explains that this is why the word "Aspaklaria" also means mirror. The prophet's experience was a reflection of himself, as the prophecy was filtered through his own consciousness. If there is even the slightest degree of ego involved, or the smallest distance between the navi and Hashem, the prophecy will be blurred accordingly. This is why[10] each navi had their own unique style of writing. Each prophecy was filtered through the navi’s unique mind and personality, then shared and written accordingly. The ideas were transmitted completely from Hashem, but were received according to how they flowed through the navi’s personal consciousness.[11]

Moshe, however, completely negated his ego. He was a transparent reflection of Hashem, and his nevuah was one hundred percent pure. He experienced his prophecy without any translation, filtration, or distortion; he received it exactly as it was given by Hashem. In other words, all other nevi'im saw an image of truth, but the words they transmitted were only a reflection of that truth, shaped by their own minds and personalities. Moshe, however, saw the objective truth, and was able to transmit that objective truth in its absolute purity and entirety. The words he wrote were the actual objective truth, not a filtered or watered-down reflection. Moshe added nothing of himself to Hashem’s words, he was purely the medium and vessel through which Hashem gave the Torah. This is what Chazal mean when they say that “Shechinah midaberes mitoch grono shel Moshe"- Hashem spoke from the throat of Moshe.[12] Moshe wasn't speaking, Hashem was. Moshe simply gave over what Hashem said, as opposed to other nevi'im - who received prophecy from Hashem and then expressed it in their own unique way.[13] 

As a result, Chumash and the rest of Nach are on two fundamentally different levels. Chumash is absolutely pure and reflects spiritual reality in its most potent and true form. All of spiritual truth is contained within the Torah. The rest of Nach is a manifestation of Torah on a lower level, in a more limited form, reflecting the lower level of the nevi'im who received and transmitted it.[14] This is why the Gemara teaches the principle that no halacha can be derived from Nach that wasn't already introduced in the Torah.[15] Torah is the root- the absolute truth, while Nach is its expression. There is nothing in the expression that cannot be found within the root, just like there is nothing in a tree that can't be traced back to its original seed. As such, all mitzvos much be sourced in the Torah.[16]


The Glow on Moshe’s Face


The uniqueness of Moshe’s prophecy and connection with Hashem manifested in other ways as well. When Moshe descended from Har Sinai, his face glowed, to the extent that he had to cover it when interacting with the rest of Klal Yisrael. As physical beings, our bodies are opaque; they do not reflect or reveal our spiritual souls.[17] All we see are each other’s physical exterior, no more. Moshe, however, uplifted himself and his physical body to such a level of spirituality that his face and body reflected his spiritual core. The Midrash explains that Moshe attained the same exalted level that Adam possessed before he ate from the eitz ha’da’as.[18] However, this was too much for Klal Yisrael to handle, and Moshe was forced to hide his face so as not to overwhelm them.[19]

In Sha'ar Ha'Gamul of Toras Ha'Adam, the Ramban explains that Moshe completely overcame his physical drives and became fully spiritual. As a result, he no longer saw with physical eyes, but with spiritual vision. This means that Moshe no longer saw the physical world, but saw everything as a reflection and manifestation of spirituality. His very perception was fundamentally altered. This is related to the opinion of the Meshech Chochmah,[20] who explains that Moshe completely overcame his free will and became a malach (angel) living in this world.


Awake Vs. Sleeping


The difference between Moshe’s and other nevi’im’s prophecy was also expressed in the different times that they received nevuah. While all other nevi'im received their prophecy at night, while sleeping, Moshe received his nevuah while awake and standing.[21] If another prophet received his prophecy while awake, he would immediately collapse and lose consciousness, receiving the prophecy in a trance-like state. This is why the Gemara[22] states that a dream is a taste of prophecy. Both occur while you are asleep, when the mind transcends the physical limitations of the body.[23] Nevuah is, in a sense, an immensely more elevated form of dreaming. 

The reason prophecy cannot occur while one is awake is simple. Nevuah is such a completely spiritual experience that the physical, conscious body cannot contain or sustain it. The navi therefore needs to let go of his physical senses if he wishes to experience this spiritual dimension. Moshe's body, however, was so pure and spiritual that it was able to sustain a direct experience with the spiritual world. This is how he was able to go forty days and nights atop Har Sinai without eating and drinking[24]; his physical body was able to exist in the spiritual world, almost as if he were an angel.[25] The Ramchal compares Moshe to Eliyahu Ha’Navi and Chanoch, both of whom were able to depart directly to the spiritual world without having to die and leave their physical bodies - because their bodies themselves became completely spiritual.


Voluntary and Constant


While other nevi'im had to wait to be called upon by Hashem, Moshe was able to call upon Hashem and initiate his prophecy at any point in time he wanted. In Parshas Behaaloscha, when a group of men asked Moshe about their missing out on Korban Pesach, he simply told them to wait while he asks Hashem.[26] He does the same in the case of the Bnos Tzlafchad, accessing his nevuah at will.[27] Moshe was able to speak with Hashem whenever he wanted; he was able to tap into the highest of spiritual levels with complete ease.  

This is connected to another key characteristic of Moshe's nevuah, namely, that it was constant. As a matter of fact, since Moshe would receive nevuah at any point in the day, he separated from his wife, Tzipporah, so that he could remain tahor at all times.[28]


The Content


Interestingly, while other nevi'im saw only that which Hashem chose to reveal to them, Moshe was allowed to experience whatever he wanted to see in the spiritual realm. When Moshe asks Hashem to reveal His "Goodness", Hashem agrees.[29] The Ramchal[30] and the Rambam[31] explain that Moshe wished to understand the nature and depth of all that exists in the created world. While there were still limits to Moshe's Nevuah, in that he could not see Hashem "Himself" [the “front” of Hashem's head] Hashem allowed Moshe to see His full expression into the physical world [the “back” of Hashem's head]. In other words, Hashem allowed Moshe to see as much as a human being could possibly comprehend.[32]


Moshe's Speech Impediment


This sheds new light on an oft-misunderstood topic. Moshe served as the leader of the Jewish People, yet he had a seemingly ironic flaw: a speech impediment. How can the leader of a nation, a person called upon to represent and guide them, possibly have a speech impediment? Some, like the Rashbam,[33] suggest that Moshe did not have a speech impediment, but was limited in his speech simply because he had forgotten the Egyptian language. The Ran[34] on the other hand suggests that while Moshe did indeed speak with a speech impediment,[35] this was to make it clear that Klal Yisrael accepted the Torah for its innate truth, not because Moshe swayed them with inspiring, persuasive speech.

The Maharal[36] suggests an even deeper explanation. He explains that Moshe's speech impediment was not a defect; rather, it was a reflection of his perfection. As we have previously discussed,[37] speech is the concretization of the infinite into finite packages of words and sentences. Speech takes that which is beyond words, that which is infinite, and limits it to the finite. Silence reflects the notion that something cannot be formulated or constricted into mere words. When you experience something truly deep and powerful, it is difficult to formulate it into concrete thoughts or words. This is because your mind experiences the idea as it is, in its pure, root state, while words only reveal a limited expression of that original perfection and clarity.[38] For mathematics, logic, and technical thinking, such as learning Gemara, if one can't formulate his thoughts in words, he doesn't understand it. For post-rational, deep spiritual wisdom, it is when one thinks that he can express it in words that he doesn't understand it.[39] Moshe could not speak because he lived in a dimension of such absolute clarity and truth. He simply could not bring such lofty and transcendent concepts down into the finite and limited dimensions of this physical world. His speech defect was actually a revelation of his perfection, a reflection of the lofty spiritual state he existed in perpetually.

This is the paradox of the Torah. Hashem took the infinite truth of reality, something far beyond words, and miraculously constricted that endless wisdom into the finite words of Torah, words that we have written in our own Sifrei Torah. Nevertheless, although the words of the Torah are finite and written down, they still loyally and completely reflect their eternal and infinite truth. And amazingly, once Hashem did this, expressing the eternal truths of Torah in finite form, Moshe gained the ability to speak as well. Why? Because Moshe was the voice of Torah, the shaliach (messenger) of Hashem. When Hashem committed the Torah to words, through the mechanism of speech, Moshe gained the ability to speak as well, to fully express the infinite within the confines and constructs of speech, without betraying the root source which transcends those words. Sefer Devarim begins with the words, "Eileh ha’devarim asher diber Moshe…".[40]Moshe now gained the ability to speak, to faithfully express the infinite within the finite.[41]


A Pillar of Faith


We can now explain why the Rambam separates between the sixth and seventh ikarim of emunah. The sixth ikar is our belief in nevuah itself, that nevuah is a message of spiritual truth from Hashem. Moshe's nevuah, however, was not only true, but of a fundamentally different category: a revelation of absolute truth. One could have easily mistaken Moshe's nevuah as being no different from any other navi's. As a result, if a navi claimed to receive a new Torah, perhaps he would be right, and we should replace Moshe's Torah. The Rambam is therefore clarifying that Moshe didn't just receive prophecy, he received the highest level of prophecy possible. This level of prophecy is Torah. Every other navi is on a lower level. Therefore, if a navi contradicts Moshe's Torah, we know he is a navi sheker- a false prophet.[42] This sheds new light onto why Korach's rebellion was so severe. By challenging Moshe, Korach attempted to uproot the entire foundation of Torah!


Moshe as a Source of Inspiration


To many, Moshe may not serve as a classic role model. He wasn't great, he was perfect; he didn't accomplish a lot, he accomplished everything.[43] To some, this may be more overwhelming than inspiring, more daunting than encouraging. But I believe that we can all connect to Moshe in a very deep way. Moshe shows us what humanity is capable of. Sometimes you need to see an example of human perfection before you can personalize that ideal to your unique mission in life. True, you can't be as great as Moshe, but that's not your job; your job is to be the greatest version of you possible. But perhaps Moshe can inspire us to challenge ourselves a bit more, to add one more layer to our self-expectations, to question our own limits, to genuinely ask ourselves if we're giving it everything we have.

Moshe was a complicated figure; when he separated from his wife, Miriam and Aharon didn't understand or even agree with it. He was not a man of this world. But that was not his role; he serves as an eternal model of transcendent perfection, a star in the night sky guiding each of us on our own unique journey through life. In moments of self-doubt, in moments of opportunity, in moments of fear, just think of Moshe and remember that in a very deep way, the sky is the limit… or is it?


[1] In his commentary on Sanhedrin, Perek Chelek.

[2] Bamidbar 12:6-8.

[3] Malacha 3:22

[4] Moshe was the sole person capable of receiving the Torah, to the extent that it is identified with him. See article on Parshas Devarim for more on Moshe’s unique connection with Torah and his role in Torah Sheba’al Peh.

[5] See article on Parshas Matos to understand why we no longer have prophecy.

[6] The prophetic experience is beyond space and time. This explains how a navi can become aware of future events that have not yet occurred. Within this transcendent realm of experience, time itself breaks down. Past, present, and future melt into one continuum. This raises the conflict between free will and foreknowledge, a question that is beyond the scope of this article.

[7] See Rambam’s introduction to Perek Chelek to see the Rambam’s description of the Moshe’s unique characteristics that are mentioned in this article. See also Hilchos Yesodei Ha’Torah 7:6 in the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah.

[8] Yevamos 49b.

[9] Another way of formulating this distinction is as follows: while all other nevi’im received their prophecy through an angel (intermediary), Moshe received prophecy directly from Hashem. See Shemos 33:11 and Bamidbar 12:8.

[10] As many commentators note.

[11] For example, there are different episodes in Nach which describe the Kisei Ha'Kavod (the Divine Throne), and each description is different. If you look at the descriptions in Yechezkel, Yeshayah, and Daniel, some descriptions are more detailed, some longer than others. One way to understand this is that they all saw the same prophecy, but each of them received and transmitted it according to their own unique style and level.

[12] See Ramban- Devarim 5:12. See also Zohar on Parshas Pinchas and Ein Yitzchok volume #2 section 7.

[13] See the introductory story for more on the analogy of the mirror and window.

[14] It is important to note that all of nach is still on a transcendent level. It is only in comparison to the Chumash that Nach is considered secondary.

[15] See, for example, Bava Kama 2b.

[16] For a similar example of Torah as the absolute root, see article on Parshas Vayikra, section: “Ha’Min Ha’Eitz: The Source of Haman.”

[17] This was not always the case. See article on Parshas Mikeitz for a deeper analysis of this topic and the relationship between body and soul and the unique nature of Adam Ha’Rishon’s original body.

[18] See article on Parshas Mikeitz, section “Adam Ha’Rishon”.

[19] It was the spiritual equivalent of not being able to look at the sun.

[20] Hakdamah to Sefer Shemos.

[21] See Bamidbar 7:89.

[22] Brachos 57b.

[23] This explains why people sometimes experience prophetic elements in their dreams; in a dream, one enters a state of consciousness that transcends the boundaries and rules of space and time. This also sheds light on the concept of déjà vu.

[24] Normally, food is what maintains the connection between body and soul. See article on Parshas Tzav, section: “Eating: Connecting Body and Soul.”

[25] Not only was Moshe able to go forty days and nights without eating and drinking, but he was able to literally ascend to the spiritual realm. When Moshe physically climbed Har Sinai, he also spiritually ascended to the transcendent, spiritual realm. See Shabbos 88b. (See also article on Parshas Masei, section: “Humanity as Journeyers” for more on this Gemara.)

[26] Bamidbar 9:8.

[27] Bamidbar 27:5.

[28] See Rashi- Bamidbar 12:1.

[29] Shemos 33:19.

[30] Da'as Tevunos.

[31] Moreh Nevuchim, 1:54.

[32] In essence, there are three main levels. 1- Hashem Himself (which no one can experience). 2- The highest form of spiritual experience that one can possibly experience (Moshe’s level). 3- Lower forms of spiritual experience (The level of other nevi’im).

[33] Shemos 4:11.

[34] Drashos Ha’Ran 3:6-10.

[35] Most probably a stammer or a lisp.

[36] Gevuras Hashem 28:1.

[37] See article on Parshas Tzav, section: “Speaking: Act of Connection.” See also article on Parshas Metzora, section: “Ideal Speech.”

[38] Silence is also powerful, in that it allows you to process your learning, think, and absorb ideas. Silence is also an essential part of the process of communicating deeper ideas. A great rabbi was once delivering a lecture, when one of his students positioned a recorder to record the shiur. It made a strange clicking sound whenever the rabbi stopped speaking. After the lecture, the rabbi asked his talmid, "Why did it make this clicking sound?"  His talmid answered, "This recorder is unique, as it only records when it receives sound. Every time the Rebbi was silent, the recorder stopped. The rabbi shook his head in dismay, "What a shame; silence is also fundamental to the teaching process. You are now missing this in the recording."

[39] See article on Parshas Chukas for relationship between rational and post-rational wisdom

[40] Devarim 1:1.

[41] See article on Parshas Devarim for more on the transition that occurred in Sefer Devarim, and how Moshe’s “speech” became the seed for our ability to engage in Torah Sheba’al Peh.

[42] For more on the topic of a navi sheker, see Devarim 18:15-22 and Devarim 13:2-6. See also Rambam- Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, Chapters 8-10.

[43] He was as perfect as a human being could possibly become.


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