Question: In regards to the Shelakh-Lekha parsha, it opens with, “The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Send men to scout the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people; send one man from each of their ancestral tribes, each one a chieftain among them.’ So Moses, by the LORD’s command, sent them out from the wilderness of Paran, all the men being leaders of the Israelites. And these were their names…” (Be-Midbar, 13:1-4). It then goes directly into the names and the tribal relevance, the list of which is part of the beginning of this parsha. I intuit there is information here with how we may relate to this on another level, perhaps even with how we may navigate through the sefirot with this list. It appears that these names and the related tribes are symbols and keys, but what are they symbols of, if that is even the case? How do we relate to this teaching that is coming through here as hasidim? Please clarify.
Answer, Reb Moshe Aharon: This is a good question.
One thing I would want to say as an important principle is there are a lot of sources for decoding but, one thing I would say as a general principle is there is a way in which the microcosm and the macrocosm are related. And so, a lot of the things that we get in Tanakh and in the Torah are the map of the macrocosm and the kind of information that we need to get is how that map applies to each person as a microcosm. The land of Israel is a kind of model for understanding the disparate parts of both the macrocosm and the microcosm. So, one of the things that we have to do is first of all take a look at the map and see where each tribe is located.
Question: How do you mean? Which map are we looking at?
Answer, Reb Moshe Aharon: The map of how the land of Israel was physically divided. That’s the macrocosm. And so the principle is first you have to have a map, a model of the totality and, even beyond that, there is more than one level because the land of Israel itself represents the model of conscious energy that is working to accomplish the Ge’ulah, the redemption, which is ultimately a macrocosmic redemption, meaning that its interest is in the entire world although it is expressed kiveyachol, locally. I’m reminded of Reb Zalman who loves to say, “Act locally and think globally,” and in a way that is what kind of map this is: locally this is sort of where you work in these places and there is a different energy in each part of the land of Israel that’s apportioned to a particular tribe.
So let’s say there are three levels, the first of which is the macro-macrocosm, for which, there are actually more levels than this. We’re just looking at three as a way of simplifying the example. For example, someone like Gurdjieff tried to map out these levels with the various octaves and different planets. The point being these maps and models can be made to be universal and global, galactic even; these models can go out and out and out, but the main focus for us is Gaia, is the Earth.
Question: So the micro-macrocosm would be the first level, so to speak? This being the physical land of Israel and then the macrocosm of the land of Israel is Gaia, our manifest world…?
Answer, Reb Moshe Aharon: Right. And there’s a macro even for that map of the land of Israel, to be even more specific. The land of Israel can be a micro in relation to an even bigger macro and all of these levels of micro and macro are analogous to a particular relationship to a related macro and micro sphere, which can be extended out infinitely
Question: So these maps of micro in relation to a macro is reflective of the way the Etz Chayim works? We’re talking about a model quite similar to the Etz Chayim?
Answer, Reb Moshe Aharon: That’s right. The thing that a lot of people don’t understand is that the maps are just like a yardstick: the yardstick gives you markings that are dynamic and relative that is a usable range, but we can’t measure the whole macro-world with a yardstick. But, you can move the yardstick, for example, when you get to the end of what appears measurable, you can bump up or adjust the yardstick to measure further out, so to speak. But if you have a yardstick, you then have a way to measure what appears from one’s distinct perspective top and bottom, the left and the right, and all the six directions the Sefer Yetzirah talk about. But people often think that the yardstick is the totality whereas in actuality it’s only a movable and relative means to measure where one is in the various worlds as we do not know what the limits are.
Question: The yardstick, then, implies that we’re measuring something we recognize and, the fact of the matter is that this yardstick grows, so to speak, as we grow and further explore the dimensions the Sefer Yetzirah teaches about, all the while further increasing the size of our map?
Answer, Reb Moshe Aharon: Yes, that’s right. This process extends and can expand infinitely.
Question: And so this relates to our ancestral tribes…
Answer, Reb Moshe Aharon: …because they are part of the map. Each tribe is given a spot, a particular domain within the land of Israel. So, to be able to decode the information, the first thing you need to do is get a map of the land of Israel, of where the tribes are within the land of Israel. You can get such a map, for example, in Aryeh Kaplan’s Chumash translation, “The Living Torah.” Then you can clearly see where each tribe is located and everything has meaning in terms of the model. So once you have the clarity of the map, then you can transfer the information from the macro of the land of Israel to the micro of the individual human being.
Let’s say that as an individual human being, you are an analogue of the land of Israel if you are engaged in the Jewish tradition. By engaging the tradition you are in effect saying you’re using this particular map and this model in order to understand yourself in the universe. So first you have to see where it is in the land of Israel to understand what part of your person, what part of your body, and what part of your neshamah is governed by which particular tribe. This is called K’lal Yisrael, being a complete Israel, Israel in totality and some of the secrets in the decoding. If we’re going to look into the decoding, we can find it in the blessings that Yaakov, that Jacob gives to each of the tribes. Before his death he calls all of the tribes in and each one receives a specific blessing. There’s the information relevant to what the function is of how each one is different from another and what their function is and so forth.
The Nesi’im is one of the terms used…there is the Nasi, which is usually translated, “the prince,” or “chieftain” or something like that, but what it really means is something like what we saw in the parsha from two weeks ago, which is parshat Naso’, it means “lifting up.” What is the active agent that lifts up the function of each tribe? Then, to understand that you have to go to the specific names, for example, the Nesi’im of this particular tribe is so and so and so and so. And generally, because of the letters in Hebrew all represent specific building blocks or types of energy, according to the Sefer Yetzirah, there is an encoded message in the very name, for example, of each of these tribes. Further, for example in Naso’ last week, a lot of the parsha talks about the Gershuney, the sub-tribe whose name comes from Gershon, which is an aspect of the Levites. The name Gershon has within it the root Gimel-Reish-Shen, which means Geyrush, “driven out,” or “separated.” So this is a particular family in the macro of the people of Israel. To complete this example of a specific name, this name represents that element within us which has a tendency to fall out and which has to be lifted up. So in the torah of Naso’, one aspect is that it’s about raising up the name of Gershon, this being the element which gets separated. What is the element that gets separated? It is the heart, it’s what comes in the middle as when we generally get stuck, very often we’re in binary form.
Binary form for us means we’re somewhat split between a mind and a body and we have trouble keeping the two integrated together and this is really what dualism is: when we function as a conscious mind separate from a body, when the body appears to be doing one thing and the mind is somewhere else. But then there is the piece that comes between.
The Torah is basically dialectical and the dialectical principle is basically in threes, it’s in triads. There’s a version, for example, of this that also appears in Gurdjieff’s work. He talks very specifically about triads. Gurdjieff didn’t get this out of the blue! The Torah is really based on triads; there’s a whole midrash that says, ‘the three-part Torah (Torah, Nevi’im, Ketuvim) was given to the three-part people (Kohen, Levi, Yisrael) by the Third Born (Moshe) on the third day of the third month,’ to get across to us that we need triads. Dyads are good but if we don’t have the piece in the middle then they pull each other apart. The middle is where the Gershuneys function; the part that has to be lifted up is the heart that connects the head—that integrates the head—with the body.
Question: In looking deeper into this parsha, can we apply the concept of triads and the reminder to go back and explore the macrocosm of Israel? And as we explore the macrocosm and then are led to the microcosm that is us as individuals, but also globally…what is the triad that is being formed here? How do we increasingly stay connected with our tribes of Israel as taught in the Torah, both as individuals and communities?
Answer, Reb Moshe Aharon: As you said, the tribe is very important here because, even though the yardstick could be extended infinitely, for us there are basically three main levels that we need to be cognizant of, which is our own individual self as the micro-microcosm. But we, as the micro-microcosm, in order to have power, in order to have meaning, we have to have the macrocosm that gives the micro its relative map and it is this map that gives meaning. The map that is giving us meaning is K’lal Yisrael. So we’re participating both as an analogue of the land of Israel and its divisions and also as an analogue to the tribes of Israel, which is like body and neshamah. But in order for this practice to have power, then we have to see that our map is itself amicro and its power comes from and is vested in its analogue, which is something much greater. And this is why it’s important for us to keep, stay with, and use our tradition, to relate to it and to draw power from it but also to draw the power from beyond our macro, because power is ultimately infinite, but practically speaking it gets exhausted if it’s not renewed. So every macro is a micro in relation to something else and we need a macro for our macro and that’s the triad for us. So it becomes the mediating point between something that is bigger and higher than it is and by doing so it can pass on to us, through its unique model, the energies that will be conducive to transformation on our personal, micro-level.