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Through The Eyes of a Woman

Shoftim: A Spiritual Refuge

Chassidus explains that there are two parallel realms, the physical and the spiritual. In other words, whatever objects exist in this world, whether they are human, animal, plant, or inanimate, have a counterpart in the spiritual realm. The same is true of the Torah. There is Torah in the physical realm and Torah in the spiritual realm.

Regarding the Torah of the spiritual realm, our Sages state that the Torah preceded the world by two thousand years. Of course, this is not meant literally, in terms of time, for time was created along with all the rest of physical creation. Rather, it means that the Torah is two thousand levels above the world. That is the spiritual aspect of the Torah. But the ultimate purpose of the Torah is to relate to this world, and not to the spiritual worlds: Lo bashamayim hi" -- "The Torah is not in Heaven." The Gemara relates an incident where there was a disagreement between the Sages of the Mishnah -- more specifically between the Chachamim and Rabbi Eliezer. A voice came out of heaven and declared that Rabbi Eliezer was right. But the Chachamim argued that they were not obliged to pay heed to a heavenly voice (a bas kol, as it is known) since "the Torah is not in Heaven." Similarly, when Moshe Rabbeinu was called by G-d to come and receive the Torah, the Gemara tells us that the angels brought an urgent request to G-d -- "Give Your glory (i.e., the Torah) in the heavens." Moshe Rabbeinu was told to reply to them, explaining why the Torah was needed specifically in the physical world.

Nevertheless, these two dimensions of the Torah -- the physical and the spiritual -- do exist. Thus, when the Torah talks about civil law, for example -- if an ox gores another ox or a person, or if two people both claim that they found a certain object, or the laws of adjacent fields, etc. -- this may be understood in two ways: In terms of the physical world, concerning the practical legal decision in such cases, and in terms of its spiritual content. What relevance can oxen, fields and lost objects have to angels? So each one of these concepts -- a field, a slave, an ox, a lost object, etc., all of these concepts have a spiritual counterpart which is applicable even when the actual laws do not apply because we do not have the Beis HaMikdash, or because the incident takes place outside of Israel, but the law in question applies only in Israel.

The Torah can therefore be studied in two ways -- in an earthly way, or in a heavenly way. Let us take, for example, the law of the Cities of Refuge -- the arei hamiklat, as they are called in the Torah. These were special cities which were set aside for a person to flee to if he killed another Jew unintentionally. There he could find refuge from the goel hadam, a relative of the dead person, who comes to avenge his blood.

What is the heavenly, mystical, spiritual counterpart of the City of Refuge? The Rebbe explains that the entire matter can be interpreted in a spiritual sense -- in terms of a person's soul. Who is the manslaughterer, and who is the victim, and who is the relative who comes to avenge the unintentional killing?

Each Jew comprises a body, an animal soul, and a G-dly soul. The latter is referred to in Tanya as "actually part of G-d Above." Briefly, when a person has the temptation to transgress (and this is something we are all familiar with -- doing G-d's Will or transgressing G-d's Will) and that person makes the choice of doing the aveirah (transgression) rather than the mitzvah, he has sort of sapped the life-force of the G-dly soul. He has robbed the G-dly soul of some of its vitality. Every time a person does a mitzvah it adds vitality to the G-dly soul, and every time he does an aveirah he weakens the manifestation of the G-dly soul within himself. Then the yetzer hara[18] comes before HaShem and says, "You know that guy there? He just did an aveirah." And he demands revenge. He is therefore the goel hadam.

When a person realizes that he's done something he shouldn't have done -- and I think many of us have experienced that moment of truth -- what must one do then? How does one run away and turn over a new leaf? How does one erase the past?

The solution given by the Torah is to flee to a City of Refuge. This is the Torah, of which our Sages state, "The words of Torah grant refuge." One can become absorbed into the world of Torah just as an unintentional murderer could flee to a City of Refuge. The moment a person realizes that the past was not perfect and that he can start a new life, he has obligated himself to do so. Age is irrelevant in this discussion. The important thing is this truth, this awareness, and the desire to come closer to HaShem. He should begin to study Torah; he should begin to study Chassidus. But he must throw himself into the "City of Refuge" completely. For, just as the goel hadam was liable to take revenge if he found the murderer outside of the City of Refuge, so too the yetzer hara is liable to take revenge if he finds the person outside of the refuge of Torah and mitzvos. In this way, a person can stop worrying about the past, and focus his energy and concentration on the present and on the future.

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) The Evil Inclination, the self-destructive impulse to evil.
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