Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from this past Shabbos, parshas Beha'alosecha 5778. Rav Weinberger has reviewed this write-up and any corrections are incorporated herein. Enjoy!
Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Beha’aloscha 5778
The Torah says that “With the word of Hashem they camped, and with the word of Hashem they traveled” (Bamidbar 9:20). All of us are on a journey through life, and this journey must be undertaken with Hashem’s guidance. What does he want us to know to succeed in our trek through this world?
I would like to share a remarkable teaching from Rav Yaakov Abuchatzeira zt’l, found in the sefer Pituchei Chosam, explaining the deeper meaning of the dialogue between Moshe Rebbeinu and his father-in-law Yisro (ibid. 10:29-34). In this conversation, Moshe Rebbeinu is the soul, consisting of three parts, the nefesh, ruach, and neshama. Thus, Moshe’s side of the conversation uses the first-person plural – “we.” And Yisro is the body. Rav Abuchatzeira explains that “It is known that the body is made of course material. Its desire and longing is therefore to attach itself to the vanities of this world and its pleasures; while the soul’s desire and longing is only for Torah and good deeds, which are her primary purpose for coming [into the world] because she is a piece of G-d above.”
Because the body will eventually end up the grave, the soul tries to cause it to realize that pursuing physical pleasures to the exclusion of eternal, lasting goals is pointless. And because the soul is dependent on the body to fulfill its eternal purpose, it attempts to enlighten the body to focus on the supernal parts of life benefits the body as well as the soul.
When the passuk says, “And Moshe spoke,” it refers to the soul. “To Chovev [Yisro]” refers to the body because the word Chovev comes from the root word meaning “precious,” since the body can also recognize the preciousness of Torah and good deeds. And the Torah calls Yisro “ben Reuel,” which literally means “friend of G-d” – even the body is called Hashem’s friend when it works to learn Torah and do mitzvos. The passuk then describes Yisro as “chosein Moshe,” father-in-law of Moshe. But the word for father-in-law also means “chassan,” groom, because the body is the soul’s partner in their joint pursuit of Torah and mitzvos in this world.
The soul tells the body “We are travelling.” The soul is trying to deliver the message that no one knows how long he or she will be in the world such that he could think, “Because I have a long time still left to live, I can do teshuvah later.” Every day could be his last. Accordingly, she tells the body that “We are traveling” from this world today or tomorrow. We must live today with our eternal welfare in mind because we do not know how much more time we have.
Moshe continues that we are traveling “to the place,” meaning to the World to Come, “about which Hashem said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Go with us.” In other words, “Follow our advice and only devote yourself to good deeds.” If you do this, Moshe/the soul assures the body, “We will cause it to be good for you.” Meaning that through Torah and mitzvos, the body also gets tremendous benefit, because it is only through those good deeds that it merits to come alive again at the time of the resurrection of the dead. It will then have its soul returned to it and attain great and lofty spiritual levels.
The soul then clarifies that the body will also benefit because “Hashem has spoken good regarding the Jewish people.” Resurrection of the dead is only for the Jewish people. The soul tells the body, “Because we have a right to earn this eternal, why should we miss out by squandering our life here on earth with ephemeral and fleeting pursuits?”
At first, the body refuses: “And He [Yisro] said, ‘I will not go.’” Because its nature is part of the natural world, it responded that it would not follow the soul’s advice by nullifying the pleasures of this world. “Instead, I will go to my land and birthplace.” The body demurs, saying that it will follow its own earthly, physical nature and pursue the pleasures of this world.
Moshe/the neshamah therefore redoubles her efforts: “Do not abandon us!” The soul needs the body because it is only through the body that the soul can act in the physical world. “You know our encampments in the desert.” In other words, “You know that our only encampment in this world is within you.” The passuk hints at this because the word desert (מדבר) also means “one who speaks – מדבר – a human being. The body is the soul’s “spokesman” because only through the body can the soul engage with the world.
The soul then continues, “And it will be when you go with us…” As we know, the word meaning “And it will be” implies joy and happiness (Bereishis Raba 43:3). The soul is telling the body that, it can experience no greater joy than going with her and following her guidance. “You will receive that same good that G-d will do with us” In other words, “You will enjoy that same world of the resurrection of the dead that we will enjoy,”
The body then agrees, as the next passuk says, “And they traveled from the mountain of G-d.” Because the mountain hints at the evil inclination (see Sukkah 52a). The body, together with the soul, travels away from evil and the pursuit of ephemeral pleasures. The Torah then says that the newly unified team traveled “a three-day journey.” This hints at their devotion to the three parts of Torah to which a person dedicates himself – Tanach, Mishnah, and Gemara (Kiddushin 30a).
We find additional good advice in our journey through life from a sweet story of Rav Nachum Chernobyler zy’a, known as the Meor Einayim. One day it happened that the family panicked because one of the Meor Einayim’s young grandchildren, Yochanan, who was called Yochantche, was missing. The family could not find him, but they knew that the Chernobyler had special eyes, so they ran to the boy’s grandfather to see if he could tell them where to find little Yochanan. The Rebbe “looked” for his grandson and told the family, “I do not know where Yochantche is, but he is alright. You will see that he will return home soon on his own.”
When he came back, they brought him to his grandfather. The Meor Einayim sat his grandson on his lap and asked him to tell him where he had gone and what had happened. The boy answered,
I heard two Jews talking outside Zayde’s house and they said that Eliyahu HaNavi was in the marketplace. I got excited and so I went to the market. I looked around, walking past each of the stalls. I saw many of the Jewish merchants, but I did not see Eliyahu. When I reached the end of the market street, there was a square with horses in a pen available for sale. I stood on the side watching. And I noticed that there were two types of horses. When the potential buyers came to “test drive” each horse, I noticed that some of them were a pleasure to ride. When the driver indicated that the horse should turn right, it turned right. When they indicated that the horse should stop, go, slow down, or speed up, the horse would immediately do it. But I noticed a different type of horse. There were some who were always conflicted, going this way and that, and the people test driving those horses were constantly struggling with their horses and attempting to cause them to go in the right direction. After watching for a while, I noticed that the horses who were attentive to their drivers’ directions had all gone home with nice Jewish owners. But the rowdy, chaotic horses remained there still for sale at the end of the day.
The Meor Einayim told Yochantche that it seemed to him that he did see Eliyahu HaNavi in the lesson he learned from those horses. When the body, which is a Jew’s horse, listens to the soul’s guidance and advice, both of them are happy and both of them benefit in the long term. When one’s body remains conflicted and ignores the good advice of its rider, its soul, no one is better off in the end.
May all of us merit that our bodies and our souls work together in harmony harnessing the guidance of our souls and the power of our bodies to sanctify the physical world with the light of Hashem’s Presence throughout each of our journeys in life.
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