Monday, August 11, 2008

"While You Stand Here With Me" - The Unattainable Ideal.

Rambam in Hil Yesodei Hatorah 7:12 writes -

יג כל הנביאים, אין מתנבאים בכל עת שירצו. ומשה רבנו, אינו

כן, אלא כל זמן שיחפוץ, רוח הקודש לובשתו ונבואה שורה עליו; ואינו צריך

לכוון דעתו ולהזדמן לה, שהרי הוא מכוון ומזומן ועומד כמלאכי השרת. לפיכך

מתנבא בכל עת, שנאמר "עמדו ואשמעה, מה יצווה ה' לכם

ובזה הבטיחו האל, שנאמר "לך, אמור להם: שובו לכם, לאוהליכם. ואתה, פה עמוד עימדי

הא למדת שכל הנביאים, כשהנבואה מסתלקת, חוזרין לאוהלם, שהוא צורכי הגוף

כולן כשאר העם;

לפיכך אינן פורשין מנשותיהן. ומשה רבנו, לא חזר לאוהלו

הראשון; לפיכך פירש מן האישה לעולם ומכל הדומה לה, ונקשרה דעתו בצור

העולמים, ולא נסתלק ההוד מעליו לעולם וקרן עור פניו, ונתקדש כמלאכים

“All prophets cannot prophesize at all times while Moshe Rabbeinu is not so; at any time that he wishes it, the spirit from the Holy surrounds him and prophecy is upon him. He does not have to prepare himself for it [prophecy] by focusing his mind for he is always ready and standing like the angels that serve [God]. That is why he prophesizes at all times as it says, “stand and I will listen to what God instructs you”. God promised him this when he was told, “go and tell them – return to your tents - while you, stand here with Me”. This teaches that all prophets returned to their tent, that is their material needs, just like everyone else, once the prophecy left them and therefore did not distance themselves from their wives. On the other hand, Moshe Rabbeinu did not return to his earlier tent. He distanced himself from a woman forever as well as from any such similar things, his mind became tied up in the Rock of the worlds, the grace never left and his face shone, becoming holy like the angels.”

I have highlighted the word “stand” and “standing”, a term that appears three times in this text all translation of the Hebrew עומד. In MN 1:13, Rambam explains that in this context the word means durable, stable and established.

Elsewhere it has the meaning: to be stable and durable… Whenever the term “standing” occurs with reference to God, it is used in the last sense… This meaning also occurs in the words of God to Moshe: While you stand here with Me…”

The problem that faces us with this particular verse ואתה, פה עמוד עימדי is how do we understand Moshe, a physical person, standing with God, a transcendental entity? It must therefore be referring to a mental state rather than a physical one. When God told the people all of whom had just experienced a modicum of prophecy, to return to their tent, He was releasing them from their mental and intellectual concentration in their effort to apprehend God. Moshe on the other hand remained focused on the subject “forever” or permanently. To do that he had to completely detach his intellect, the rational faculty, from all his other faculties and completely remove himself from any material and physical personal interests and needs. The importance of understanding Moshe’s prophecy this way has two components. The first is a belief that we must accept and is part of how we understand the immutability of Torah. As Moshe was unique amongst all other prophets that came before, after or during his lifetime, his prophecy is unique and cannot be challenged for eternity. But there is also an empirical component to this idea. It describes an ideal that all human beings have to strive to reach, even while knowing that it will never be reached. It is also the underlying goal and purpose of why we perform all the Mitzvot prescribed by the immutable Torah that Moshe transmitted to us.

We must bear in mind that all such religious acts as reading the Law, praying, and the performance of other precepts, serve exclusively as the means of causing us to occupy and fill our mind with the precepts of God, and free it from worldly business. For we are thus, as it were, in communication with God undisturbed by any other thing… When an individual has acquired a true knowledge of God, and rejoices in that knowledge in such a manner, that whilst speaking with others, or attending to our bodily wants, his mind is all that time with God; when he is with his heart constantly near God, even whilst his body is in the society of men; then he is in that state which the Song on the relation between God and man poetically describes in the following words: "I sleep, but my heart wakes: it is the voice of my beloved that knocks" (Song v. 2). I do not say that that this rank is that of all the prophets, but I do say that this is the rank of Moses, our Teacher, of whom Scripture relates: "And Moses alone shall come near before the Lord" (ibid. xxxiv. 28); " while you, stand here with Me” (Deut. V. 28).” (MN3:51)

The idea that a person can attain this level of development, even if only theoretically, is the foundation upon which Judaism stands. This is not only a theological and philosophical stand. It has tremendous practical implications for humanity. If we think about it, Moshe’s devotion to HKBH resulted in a Torah that impacts human society after 3000 years and will continue affecting it forever. The actions of a perfected individual, although he himself is detached from any personal material and physical interest, impacts society not only during his lifetime but also for generations to come.

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