By Yanki Tauber
You are children to the L‑rd your G‑d.
The Zohar refers to Moshe as the raaya meheimna of Israel, a phrase that translates both as “faithful shepherd” and “shepherd of faith.” The latter sense implies that Moshe is Israel’s “faith provider,” a source and conduit of their faith in G‑d.
Indeed, when the Torah speaks of Israel’s faith in G‑d in the wake of the miracles of the Exodus, it says, “And they believed in G‑d and in Moshe His servant” (Sh’mos 14:31)—using the very same verb (“vaya’aminu,” “and they believed”) to connote Israel’s belief in Moshe and in the Al-mighty. In its commentary on this verse, the Midrash Mechilta goes so far as to derive from this that “one who believes in Moshe believes in G‑d”!
The Talmud goes even further, applying the same to the sages and Torah scholars of all generations. Citing the verse (Devarim 30:20) “To love the L‑rd your G‑d and to cleave to Him,” it asks, “Is it then possible to cleave to the Divine?” and replies, “But whoever attaches himself to a Torah scholar, the Torah considers it as if he had attached himself to G‑d” (Talmud, Kesubos 111b).
A fundamental principle of the Jewish faith is that there are no “intermediaries” between G‑d and His world; our relationship with Him is not facilitated by any “third party.” So what is the significance of the role of our leaders and Torah scholars in regard to our faith in and attachment to G‑d?
The Awareness Factor
The explanation, says Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi in his Tanya, lies in understanding the father–child metaphor employed by the Torah to describe our relationship with G‑d. “You are children to the L‑rd your G‑d,” say Moshe. While we were still in Egypt, G‑d speaks of us as “My firstborn child, Israel” (Sh’mos 4:22).
In what way is G‑d our “father”? There are, of course, the obvious parallels. Like a father, G‑d creates us and provides us with sustenance and direction. He loves us with the boundless, all-forgiving love of a father. Rabbi Schneur Zalman delves further into the metaphor, examining the biological and psychological dynamics of the father–child model and employing them to better understand our relationships to each other and to our Father in Heaven.
A microscopic bit of matter, originating in the father’s body, triggers the generation of life. In the mother’s womb, a single cell develops into a brain, heart, eyes, ears, arms, legs, toenails, etc.; soon it emerges into the world to function as a thinking, feeling, and achieving human being.
Physically, what has originated in the father’s body and psyche is now a separate, distinct, and (eventually) independent individual. On a deeper level, however, the child remains inseparable from his begetter. In the words of the Talmud, “A son is a limb of his father.” At the very heart of the child’s consciousness lies an inescapable truth: he is his father’s child, an extension of his being, a projection of his personality. In body, they have become two distinct entities; in essence they are one.
One may argue as follows: Perhaps in the child’s mind—the seat of his self-awareness and identity—the singularity of parent and offspring lives on. Here the child’s relationship with his father is sensed; here resides the recognition of their intrinsic oneness. But the brain is only one of the child’s many organs and limbs. The rest of him may indeed stem from its parental source, but is now a wholly separate entity.
Obviously, this is not the case, any more than it would be correct to say that the eyes alone see or that “just” the mouth speaks. The component parts of the human being are comprised in a single, integrated whole; it is the person who sees; the person who speaks; the person who is aware. The toenail of the child, by virtue of its interconnection with the brain, is no less one with the father than is the brain itself, the organ which facilitates this oneness.
But what if the toenail, or any other limb of the body, severs its connection with the brain? This would cut it off from its own center of vitality and consciousness, and, as a result, also from its parental origins. In other words, the unity of all the child’s limbs and organs with the father’s essence is dependent upon their maintaining their connection with their own mind, a connection that imbues them all with the awareness of this unity.
The Body Israel
Israel, too, comprises many “organs” and “limbs.” There are the great sages of each generation who devote their lives to the assimilation of the Divine essence of Torah, and whose entire being is permeated with the awareness of G‑d’s truth; these are the “mind” of the nation. Israel has a “heart”: individuals whose lives exemplify compassion and piety; and hands: its great builders and achievers. Each and every individual—from the “Moshe of the generation” (as each generation’s leader is called; see Midrash Rabbah, Bereishis 56:7, Tikkunei Zohar 114a, and Rashi’s commentary on Chulin 93a) to the ordinary “foot soldier”—forms an integral part of the body of G‑d’s firstborn; each is equally “the limb of the father.”
But as with the physical father–child relationship, it is the mind of the child that facilitates the bond with his father. As long as the many organs and limbs of his body remain a single integrated whole, they are all equally the father’s child. The mind is not serving as an “intermediary,” G‑d forbid—every part of the body, including the “toenail,” possesses the self-knowledge that makes the two ostensibly distinct “bodies” of the father and child a single entity. But it is only by virtue of their connection to their mind that this awareness resides within all the child’s “parts.”
The same applies to the “body” that is Israel. It is our life-bond with our “mind”—the sages and leaders of Israel—that both integrates us as single whole and imbues us with our connection to our Creator and Source.
True, a Jew cannot ever sever his or her bond with G‑d, any more than even the lowliest “toenail” of the child’s body can choose to go off on its own and undo its relationship with its father. But while we cannot change what we are, we can determine to what extent our identity as G‑d’s children will be expressed in our daily lives. We can choose, G‑d forbid, to dissociate ourselves from the leaders that G‑d has implanted in our midst, thus banishing our relationship with Him to the subconscious of our soul. Or, we can intensify our bond to the minds of Israel, thereby making our bond with the Al-mighty a tangible and vibrant reality in our lives. ϖ
Based on Tanya (Chapter 2) and the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Courtesy of MeaningfulLife.com via Chabad.org. Find more Torah articles for the whole family at www.chabad.org/parshah.