The Nut Garden

לקוטים מזוהר (Gleanings of Zohar)

Tag: דְּבֵקוּת

Giving Torah by Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag (Ba’al ha-Sullam)

Ba'al ha-Sullam Portrait

Love your fellow as yourself

Our Sages, of blessed memory, say “This is a great כְּלָל (kelal), principle” [see Bereshit Rabbah 24:7 on Leviticus 19:18, in the name of Rabbi Akiva; cf. Sifra Qedoshim 4:12]. Such a claim demands explanation. Kelal means “entirety,” thus, when they say love your fellow as yourself is a great principle of Torah, we must understand that all 612 mitsvot of the Torah, including all its commentary, are embedded in that single mitsvah. This is quite perplexing, because you can say this regarding mitsvot between man and man, but how can that single mitsvah contain all the mitsvot between man and the Omnipresent, which are the essence and foundation of Torah?

Even if we were to strain ourselves and find some way to resolve the difficulty, there comes before us a second saying even more outstanding about a [would be] convert who came before Hillel and told him: “Teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.” And he replied: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: that is the whole Torah and the rest is its commentary. Go and learn” (BT Shabbat 31a). Here we have a clear rule that nothing has more importance, in all the 612 mitsvot and all the writings, than the mitsvah: love your fellow as yourself. All these come only to explain and enable us to fulfill the mitsvah of loving others properly, since he says specifically, “The rest is its commentary. Go and learn.” This means that the rest of the Torah is an elucidation of that single mitsvah—that love your fellow as yourself could not be fulfilled were it not for them.

Before we delve into the heart of the matter we must reflect on that mitsvah, since we are commanded: love your fellow as yourself. Yourself—love your fellow to the same extent you love yourself, not one bit less. In other words, you must constantly and vigilantly satisfy the needs of everyone in the nation of Israel no less than you are always vigilant to satisfy your own needs. Now this is utterly impossible, for not many can satisfy their own needs during their work day but how can you tell them to work to satisfy the wishes of the entire nation? But we cannot possibly think that Torah exaggerates, for it warns us not to add or subtract, indicating that these words and laws were given in utter precision [see Deuteronomy 4:2: You shall not add to the word that I charge you and you shall not subtract from it, to keep the commands of YHWH your God which I charge you].

As if this were not enough, I will tell you that the application of love your fellow as yourself is even more strict, for we must put the needs of our fellow before our own. Concerning this, Tosafot says in the name of the Jerusalem Talmud regarding a Hebrew slave: “[At times he has only one cushion,] if he lies on it himself and does not give it to the slave, he does not observe as it is good for him with you (Deuteronomy 15:16), since he is lying on a cushion and the slave on the ground. And if he does not lie on it and does not give it to the slave either, this is the behavior of Sodom.” We find that he must give it to his slave, while the master himself lies on the ground [see BT Qiddushin 20b: “As it is good for him with youwith you in food; with you in drink…. Whoever buys a Hebrew slave buys a master for himself!”].

We also find the same law in our verse about the measure of love your fellow as yourself, for here too, the text compares the satisfaction of the fellow’s needs to the satisfaction of one’s own needs, as with the example of as it is good for him with you regarding the Hebrew slave. Thus, here too, if he has only one chair and his fellow has not, the law is that if he sits on it and does not give it to his fellow, he transgresses love your fellow as yourself since he is not fulfilling the needs of his fellow as he fulfills his own. And if he does not sit on it and does not give it to his fellow either, it is like the wickedness of Sodom. Therefore, he must allow his fellow to sit on it while he himself sits on the ground or stands. Clearly, this is the law regarding all the needs that one has, and one’s fellow lacks. And now go and see whether this mitsvah is within the realm of possibility.

We must first understand why Torah was given specifically to the nation of Israel and not to all the peoples of the world equally. Is there, perish the thought, nationalism involved here? Of course, only an insane person would think so. In fact, our Sages have examined this question, and this is what they meant by their words “The blessed Holy One offered the Torah to every nation and every tongue, but none accepted it, [until He came to Israel who received it]” (BT Avodah Zarah 2b). But what they find bewildering is why, then, were we called “the chosen people,” as is written: You YHWH has chosen [to become for Him a treasured people among all the peoples that are on the face of the earth. Not because you are more numerous than all the peoples did YHWH desire you and choose you, for you are the fewest of all the peoples] (Deuteronomy 7:6), since there was no other nation that wanted it? Moreover, there is a basic question: Can it be that the blessed Holy One came with His law in His hand to negotiate with heathens? Such a thing has never been heard of and is totally unacceptable [cf. BT Beitsah 25b: “Why was the Torah given to Israel? Because they are impudent. The academy of Rabbi Yishma’el taught: From His right hand was a fiery law for them (Deuteronomy 33:2); the blessed Holy One said: These are worthy to be given a law of fire. Some say: The laws of these are like fire, for had not Torah been given to Israel no people or tongue could withstand them;” Zohar 3:20a: “The blessed Holy One invited the other nations to receive the Torah. Now, was it not revealed before Him that they did not want it? However, so that they would have no excuse: if only He had given them the Torah, they would have kept it”].

But when we fully understand the essence of Torah and mitsvot that were given to us, and their desired purpose, to the extent our Sages have instructed us, which is the purpose of the vast creation set before our eyes, then we shall understand everything. For the first axiom is that there is no act without a purpose. And there is no exception, except for the lowliest of humanity or infants. Therefore, it is certain that the Creator, whose exaltedness is beyond conception, would not act—be it a great or a small act—without a purpose.

Our Sages tell us about that, that the world had not been created but for the purpose of keeping Torah and mitsvot, meaning, as our Sages have explained, that the aim of the Creator from the time He created His creation is to reveal His godliness to others. This is because the revelation of His godliness reaches the creature as pleasant abundance that is ever growing until it reaches the desired measure. And by that, the lowly rise with true recognition and become a chariot for Him, and cleave to Him, until they reach their ultimate perfection: Neither has the eye seen, God beside You (Isaiah 64:3). And because of the greatness and glory of that perfection, Torah and the prophets too, refrain from uttering even a single word of exaggeration here, as our Sages said, “All the prophets made their prophecies only for the days of the Messiah, but for the next world, neither has the eye seen, God beside You” (BT Berakhot 34).

This perfection is expressed in the words of Torah, the prophets, and in the words of our Sages with the simple word, דְּבֵקוּת (devequt), cleaving. But for the widespread use of this word by the masses, it has lost almost all its content. But if you linger on that word for even an instant, you will be overwhelmed by its wondrous stature, for you will picture the exaltedness of the Creator and the lowliness of the creature. Then you will be able to perceive the value of cleaving, of one with the other, and you will understand why we ascribe that word the purpose of the whole creation. It turns out that the purpose of the whole creation is that the lowly creatures will be able, by keeping Torah and mitsvot, to rise ever upward, ever developing, until they are rewarded with cleaving to their Creator.

But here come the kabbalists and ask, why were we not created in this exalted stature of cleaving to begin with? What reason did He have to burden us with this toil of creation and Torah and mitsvot? And they replied: “One who eats from his friend’s food is ashamed to look at him” (JT Orlah 1:5, 61b). This means that one who eats and enjoys the labor of one’s fellow is afraid to look at his face since he becomes increasingly humiliated, until he loses all his dignity [lit., human appearance]. And since that which emanates from His perfection is never deficient, He gave us room to earn our own praise by our labor in Torah and mitsvot.

These words are most profound and I have already explained them in the first chapter of my book, Panim Me’irot u-Masbirot to Ets Ḥayyim, and in the book, Talmud Eser Sefirot (Histaqlut Penimit). Here I will explain them briefly to make them understandable for all. This matter is like a wealthy man who took a person from the market and fed him and gave him gold and silver and all desirables every day. And each day he showered him with more gifts than the day before. Finally, the wealthy man asked, “Do tell me, have all your wishes been fulfilled?” And he replied, “Not all of my wishes have been fulfilled, for how good and how pleasant it would be if all those possessions and precious things came to me through my own work, as they have come to you, and I would not be receiving the charity of your hand.” Then the wealthy man said: “In that case, never has there been born a person who can fulfill your wishes.”

This is quite natural, since on the one hand, he experiences greater and greater pleasure, the more he showers gifts upon him, but on the other hand, it is hard for him to tolerate the shame of the excessive goodness that the wealthy man showers upon him. This is because there is a natural law that the recipient feels shame and impatience upon receiving gifts from the one who gives mercy and pity. From this follows a second law, that never will anyone be able to satisfy the needs of his fellow to the fullest, because ultimately he will not be able to give him the nature and the form of self-possession, as only with this is the desired perfection attained.

But this relates only to the creatures, whereas regarding the Creator, it is impossible. And this is the reason He has prepared for us the toil and labor of Torah and mitsvot, to produce that exaltedness on our own, because then the delight and pleasure that comes to us from Him, meaning everything that is included in the cleaving with Him, will all be our own possession that has been attained through our own efforts. Then we will feel ourselves as the owners, without which there cannot be a sensation of wholeness [cf. Alienation].

Indeed, we need to examine the heart and the source of this natural law, and who it was that fathered the flaw of shame and impatience that we feel upon receiving charity from another. It is understood from a law that is known to scientists, that each branch bears the same nature as its root, and that the branch also desires, seeks, and craves, and benefits from all the conducts of the root. Conversely, all the conducts that are not in the root, its branch removes itself from them, cannot tolerate them, and is harmed by them. This law exists between each root and its branch and cannot be breached.

Now here opens before us a door to understand the source of all the pleasure and pain in our world. Since the Creator is the root of His creations, we feel all that exists in Him and emanates to us directly from Him as pleasant and delightful, because our nature is close to our Root. And everything that is not in Him, and does not emanate to us directly from Him, but contradicts creation itself, will be against our nature and difficult for us to tolerate. Thus, we love to rest and hate to move so much and do not make a single movement if not for the attainment of rest [cf. Pleasure Principle]. That is because our Root is immobile, at rest, and no motion exists in Him whatsoever. Therefore, it is against our nature and repugnant to us. By the same token, we love wisdom, strength, wealth, and so forth, because all of these exist in Him who is our Root. Hence, we loathe their opposites, such as foolishness, weakness, and poverty, since they do not exist in our Root at all. These stir in us a feeling of loathing and agony.

The foul taste of shame and impatience upon receiving from others by way of charity is because in the Creator there is no such thing as receiving favors, for from whom would He receive? And because this element does not exist in our Root, we feel it as repulsive and loathsome. On the other hand, we feel delight and pleasure every time we give to others, since that conduct exists in our Root, which He gives to all.

Now we have found an opening to glimpse the true face of the ultimate purpose of creation—cleaving. This exaltedness and cleaving which is guaranteed to come to us through our work in Torah and mitsvot, is no more and no less than the parity of the branches with their Root, may He be blessed. All the gentleness and pleasure and sublimity become a natural extension, as we have said above, that pleasure is only the parity of form with its Maker. And when we resemble, in all conduct, our Root we sense delight. Also, everything we encounter that is not in our Root becomes intolerable, disgusting, or considerably painful to us, as is necessitated by that concept. And we naturally find that our very hope depends on the extent of our parity of form with our Root. These were the words of our Sages when they asked, “What difference does it make to the blessed Holy One whether one slaughters an animal from the neck or from the throat [as the law dictates]? The mitsvot were given only to purify people” (Bereshit Rabbah 44:1)—purifying the defiled body which is the purpose that emerges from keeping all the Torah and mitsvot.

A wild ass is born a man (Job 11:12). The moment one emerges from the bosom of creation, he is in utter filth and lowliness, meaning a multitude of self-interest that permeates him, whose every movement revolves solely around himself, without a hint of giving to others. Here then one is at the furthest most distance from the Root, at the opposite extreme, since the Root is entirely giving without a hint of receiving, whereas the newborn is in a state of total self-reception without a hint of giving. Therefore, his situation is regarded as being at the lowest point of lowliness and filth in our human world.

The more he grows, the more he receives from his environment degrees of “giving to others,” depending on the values and development in that environment. And then one is initiated into keeping Torah and mitsvot for the purpose of self-interest, for reward in this world and in the next world, called “לֹא לִישְׁמָהּ (Lo lishmah), not for its own sake” (BT Pesaḥim 50b), since one cannot be accustomed any other way. As one grows, he is told how to keep Torah and mitsvot “לִישְׁמָהּ (Lishmah), for its own sake,” which is with an aim solely to bring contentment to his Maker. As Maimonides said, “Women and children should not be told of keeping Torah and mitsvot for its sake, because they will not be able to bear it. But when they grow and acquire knowledge and wisdom, they are taught to labor for its own sake” (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Teshuvah 10:5). It is as our Sages said, “From not for its own sake, one comes to for its own sake” (BT Pesaḥim 50b), which means to satisfy one’s Maker, and not for any reason of self-interest.

Through the natural remedy of engagement in Torah and mitsvot for its own sake, which the Giver of Torah knows, as our Sages wrote, “So did the blessed Holy One speak to Israel: ‘My children! I created the evil impulse and I created Torah as its spice’” (BT Qiddushin 30b). Thus, that creature develops and marches upward in rungs of the aforementioned exaltedness, until he loses all trace of self-interest and all the mitsvot in his body rise, and he performs all his deeds only in order to give, so that even the necessity that he receives flows in the direction of giving. This is why our Sages said, “The mitsvot were given only to purify people.”

There are two parts in Torah: firstly, mitsvot between man and the Omnipresent, may He be blessed, and secondly, mitsvot between man and man. And they both aim for the same thing, to bring the creature to the ultimate goal of cleaving to Him. Furthermore, even the practical aspect in both of them is really one and the same because when one performs an action for its own sake, without any admixture of self-interest, meaning without looking for any benefit to himself, then one does not feel any different about striving to love your fellow as yourself or the Omnipresent. This is so because it is a natural law for any being, that anything outside one’s own body is regarded as vain and empty. And any action that a person makes in order to love another is performed with אוֹר חוֹזֵר (or ḥozer), reflected light, i.e., some reward that will eventually return to him and serve him for his own good. Thus, such an act cannot be considered love of another since it is judged by its end—it is like rent that finally pays off, however, the act of renting is not considered love of another. But making any kind of movement only as a result of love for others, without any spark of reflected light, and no hope for any kind of self-gratification in return, is completely impossible by nature. Of this it is written with regard to the peoples of the world: “Every kindness that they do, they do for themselves” (Tiqqunei ha-Zohar 36, 22a) [cf. BT Bava Batra 10b: “Rabbi Eli’ezer said…: Righteousness raises a nation. But the kindness of peoples is an offense (Proverbs 14:34)—all the charity and kindness done by the peoples of the world is an offense, since they only do it to magnify themselves;” BT Shabbat 33b: “Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai said, ‘All that they made they made for themselves; they built marketplaces, to set whores in them; baths, to rejuvenate themselves; bridges, to levy tolls for them…”]. This means that all the good deeds that they do, either toward their fellow or toward their god, are not because of their love for others, but because of their love for themselves. And this is because it is completely unnatural.

Therefore, only those who keep Torah and mitsvot are qualified for it, because by accustoming themselves to keeping Torah and mitsvot in order to satisfy their Maker, they gradually leave the bosom of creation and acquire a second nature, namely love of others. This is what brought the Sages of the Zohar to exclude the peoples of the world from loving their fellow, when they said, “Every kindness that they do, they do for themselves,” because they are not involved in keeping Torah and mitsvot for its own sake, and the only reason they serve their gods is for reward and salvation in this world and in the next. Thus, their worship of their gods depends on self-interest too and they will never perform an action that is outside the boundaries of their own bodies, for which they will be able to lift themselves even a wisp above their basic nature.

Thus we can clearly see that toward those who keep Torah and mitsvot for its own sake there is no difference between the two parts of Torah, even in the practical aspect. This is because before one accomplishes it one is compelled to sense any act of giving, either toward another or toward the Creator, as unfathomable emptiness. But through great effort, one slowly rises and attains a second nature, and then one attains the ultimate purpose, which is cleaving to Him.

Since this is the case, it is reasonable to think that the part of Torah that deals with man’s relationship with his fellow is more capable of bringing one to the desired goal. This is because the labor in mitsvot between man and God is fixed and specific, and is not demanding, and one becomes easily accustomed to it, and everything that is done out of habit is no longer useful. But the mitsvot between man and man are changing and irregular and demands surround him wherever he may turn. Hence, their cure is much more certain and their aim is closer.

Now we can understand the words of Hillel ha-Nasi to the convert, that the essence of Torah is love your fellow as yourself, and the remaining 612 mitsvot are only its interpretation. And even the mitsvot between man and the Omnipresent are regarded as a qualification of that mitsvah, which is the ultimate purpose emerging from Torah and mitsvot, as our Sages said, “Torah and mitsvot were given only purify Israel.” This is the purifying of the body until one attains a second nature defined as love for others, meaning the one mitsvah: Love your fellow as yourself, which is the ultimate purpose of Torah, after which one immediately attains cleaving to Him.

But one should not wonder why it was not defined in the words: And you shall love YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your being and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6:5). It is because, indeed, with respect to a person who is still within the nature of creation, there is no difference between the love of God and the love of his fellow. This is because anything that is not him is unreal to him. And because that would be convert asked Hillel ha-Nasi to explain to him the desired outcome of Torah, so his goal would be near, and he would not have to walk a long way, as he said, “Teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.” Hence, he defined it for him as love of his fellow because its aim is nearer and is revealed faster, since it is error proof and demanding.

In the above words, we find a way to understand our concept from above about the contents of the mitsvah, love your fellow as yourself, how Torah compels us to do something that cannot be done. Indeed, know that for this reason, Torah was not given to our holy Patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—but rather, was withheld until the exodus from Egypt, when they came out and became a whole nation of 600,000 men of twenty years of age or more. For then, each member of the nation was asked if he agreed to that exalted work. And once each and every one in the nation agreed to it in heart and soul, and said We will do and we will heed (Exodus 24:7), it then became possible to keep the whole of Torah, and that which was previously impossible became possible.

This is because it is certain that if 600,000 men abandon their labor for the satisfaction of their own needs and concern themselves with nothing other than standing guard so their fellows will never lack a thing, and moreover, that they will keep it with a mighty love, with their very heart and soul, in the full meaning of the mitsvah, love your fellow as yourself, then it is beyond doubt that no man of the nation will need to worry about his own well being. Because of that, he becomes completely free of securing his own survival and can easily keep love your fellow as yourself, obeying all the conditions given above. After all, why would he worry about his own survival when 600,000 loyal companions stand by, ready with great care to make sure he lacks nothing of his needs?

Therefore, once all the members of the nation agreed, they were immediately given the Torah, because now they were capable of keeping it. But before they have multiplied into a whole nation, and certainly during the time of the Patriarchs, who were unique in the land, they were not qualified to truly keep Torah in its desirable form. This is because with a small number of people, it is impossible to even begin with engagement in mitsvot between man and man to the extent of love your fellow as yourself, as we have explained above. This is why they were not given Torah.

From all the above, we can understand one of the most perplexing phrases of our Sages: “All of Israel are responsible for one another” (BT Shavu’ot 39a). This seems to be completely unjust, for is it possible that if someone offends or commits a sin that upsets his Maker, and you have no acquaintance with him, the blessed Holy One will collect his debt from you? It is written, Fathers shall not be put to death over sons… each man shall be put to death for his own offense (Deuteronomy 24:16), so how can they say that you are responsible for the transgressions of even a complete stranger, of whom you know neither him nor his whereabouts?

And if that is not enough for you, see here: “Rabbi El’azar son of Rabbi Shim’on said: Because the world is judged by its majority, and an individual [too] is judged by his majority, if he performs one mitsvah, happy is he for turning the scale both of himself and of the whole world on the side of merit; if he commits one offence, woe to him for weighting himself and the whole world in the scale of liability, for it is said: yet a single offender [destroys much good] (Ecclesiastes 9:18)” (BT Qiddushin 40b).

And Rabbi El’azar son of Rabbi Shim’on, has made me responsible for the whole world, since he believes all the people in the world are responsible for one another, and each person brings merit or liability to the whole world with his deeds. This is twice as perplexing. However, according to what has been said we can understand their words very simply. We have shown that each of the 613 mitsvot of the Torah revolves around that single mitsvah: Love your fellow as yourself. However, we discover that such a state can only exist in a whole nation whose every member agrees to it.

The Pledge by Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag (Ba’al ha-Sullam)

Ba'al ha-Sullam Portrait

All of Israel are responsible for one another

And once the whole nation unanimously agreed and said, We will do and we will heed (Exodus 24:7), each member of Israel became responsible that nothing  be lacking from any other member of the nation. Only then did they become worthy of receiving the Torah, and not before. Because the Torah was not given to them before each and every one of Israel was asked if he agreed to take upon himself the mitsvah of loving others in the full measure, expressed with the words: love your fellow as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). This means that each and every one of Israel would take it upon himself to care and work for each member of the nation, and to satisfy their every need, no less than the measure embedded in him to care for his own needs.

With this collective responsibility, each member of the nation was liberated from worrying about the needs of his own body and was able to keep love your fellow as yourself in the fullest measure, and give all that he had to any needy person, since he no longer cared for the existence of his own body, as he knew for certain that he was surrounded by 600,000 loyal companions, who were standing by ready to provide for him.

For this reason, they were not ready to receive the Torah in the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but only when they came out of Egypt and became a whole nation. Only then was there the possibility to guarantee everyone’s needs without care or concern.

However, while they were still mingled with the Egyptians, a portion of their needs was necessarily given into the hands of these savages permeated with self-love. Thus, the measure that is given into the hands of foreigners will not be secured for any person of Israel because he will not be able to provide for those needs, as they will not be in possession of them. Consequently, as long as the individual is troubled with concerns for himself, he is unfit to even begin to keep love your fellow as yourself.

And evidently you discover that the giving of the Torah had to be delayed until they came out of Egypt and became a nation of their own, so that all their needs were provided for by themselves, without dependence on others. This qualifies them to receive the aforementioned עַרְבוּת (arvut), pledge, only then were they given the Torah [alternate vocalization: עֲרֵבוּת (arevut). Cf. Genesis 43:9: I will be אֶעֶרְבֶנּוּ (e’ervennu), his pledge, from my hand you may seek him; BT Sanhedrin 27b; Shevu’ot 39a: “All of Israel are עֲבִירוּת (avirut), responsible, for one another”]. It turns out that even after receiving the Torah, if a handful of Israel betray them and return to the filth of self-love, without concern for others, that same amount of need that is put into the hands of those few would burden Israel with the need to provide for it themselves.

This is because those few would not pity them at all; hence, the fulfillment of love your fellow as yourself would be withheld from the whole of Israel. Thus, these rebels would cause those who keep the Torah to remain in their filth of self-love, for they would be prevented from engaging in love your fellow as yourself and fulfilling their love for others without their help.

As a result, “All of Israel are responsible for one another,” both on the positive side and on the negative side. On the positive side, if they keep the pledge until each cares and satisfies the needs of his fellows, they can fully keep the Torah and mitsvot, meaning bring contentment to their Maker. And on the negative side, if a part of the nation does not want to keep the pledge, but rather chooses to wallow in self-love, they cause the rest of the nation to remain immersed in their filth and lowliness without ever finding a way out of their filth.

Therefore, the Tanna described the pledge as two people on a boat, when one of them began to drill a hole in the boat. His companion asked, “Why are you drilling?” He replied, “What business is it of yours? I am drilling under me, not under you.” So he replied, “Fool! We will both drown together!” [see Vayiqra Rabbah 4:6, cf. Zohar 3:122a].

From this we learn that since those rebels wallow in self-love, through their deeds they erect an iron wall preventing the keepers of Torah from even beginning to keep the Torah and mitsvot to the full degree of love your fellow as yourself, which is the ladder for attainment of cleaving with Him. And how right were the words of the proverb that said, “Fool, we will both drown together!”

Rabbi El’azar son of Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai, extends the pledge even further [see BT Qiddushin 40b]. It is not enough for him that all of Israel be responsible for one another, but the whole world is included in that pledge. Indeed, there is no dispute here, but everyone admits that to begin with, it is enough to start with one nation for the observance of the Torah for the beginning of the repair of the world. It was impossible to begin with all the nations at once, as they said that the blessed Holy One went with the Torah to all the peoples and tongues, but they did not want to receive it [see BT Avodah Zarah 2b–3a]. In other words, they were immersed in the filth of self-love up to their necks, some with adultery, some with robbery and murder and so on, until it was impossible to conceive, in those days, of even asking if they agreed to retire from self-love.

Therefore, the blessed Holy One did not find a people or a tongue capable of receiving the Torah, except for the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whose ancestral merit reflected upon them, as our Sages said, “The Patriarchs kept the whole Torah even before it was given” (M Qiddushin 4:14 on Genesis 26:5) [cf. Vayiqra Rabbah 2:10; Bahir §192; Zohar 3:277a (RM)]. This means that because of the loftiness of their souls, they had the ability to attain all the ways of the blessed Holy One with respect to the spirituality of the Torah, which stems from their cleaving, without first needing the ladder of the practical part of Torah, which they had no possibility of observing at all, as is written in Matan Torah (Giving Torah).

Undoubtedly, both the physical purity and the intellectual loftiness of our holy Patriarchs greatly influenced their sons and their sons’ sons, and their righteousness reflected upon that generation, whose members all assumed the sublime service, and each and every one said clearly, We will do and we will heed. Because of this, we were chosen, out of necessity, to be a chosen people from among all the peoples. Hence, only the members of Israel were admitted into the required pledge, and not the nations of the world at all, because they did not participate in it. This is simply the reality, and how could Rabbi El’azar disagree with it?

But the end of the repair of the world will only be realized by bringing all the people in the world under His service, as is written, And YHWH shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall YHWH be one, and His name One (Zechariah 14:9). In that day—and not before. And there are several more verses, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of YHWH, [as the waters cover the sea] (Isaiah 11:9); [And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of YHWH’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills;] and all nations shall flow unto it (ibid. 2:2).

But the role of Israel towards the rest of the world resembles the role of our holy Patriarchs towards the nation of Israel: Just as the righteousness of our Patriarchs helped us develop and purify until we became worthy of receiving the Torah, were it not for our Patriarchs, who kept the whole Torah before it was given, we would certainly not be any better than the rest of the nations.

Also, it is upon the nation of Israel to qualify [or: enable, prepare] itself and all the people of the world through Torah and mitsvot, to develop until they take upon themselves the sublime service, the love of others, which is the ladder to the purpose of creation: cleaving with Him.

Thus, each and every mitsvah that each man of Israel performs in order to bring contentment to his Maker, and not for any self satisfaction, helps, to some extent, with the development of all the peoples of the world. This is because it is not performed all at once, but rather by slow, gradual development, until it increases to such a degree that it can bring all the people in the world to the desired purity. And this is what our Sages call “weighting down the scale of merit,” meaning that the requisite weight of merit has been reached. And they compare it to weighing on a scale, where the shifting of the balance is the attainment of the desired weight [see BT Qiddushin 40b, cf. BT Sotah 3b; Midrash Tehillim 30:4; Zohar 3:111a (RM)].

These are the words of Rabbi El’azar son of Rabbi Shim’on who said that the world is judged by its majority. He was referring to the role of the nation of Israel to accrue to the world a certain measure of merit, until they are worthy of taking upon themselves His service, no less than Israel were worthy at the time they received the Torah. In the words of our Sages, it is regarded as if they had accrued enough merit to overcome the scale of liability, which is filthy self-love.

Of course, if the scale of merit, which is the sublime attainment of the benefit of loving others, overcomes the filthy scale of liability, they become qualified for the decision and the agreement to say, We will do and we shall heed, as Israel said. But before that, before they obtain sufficient merit, self-love certainly prevails and the sentence is their refusal to assume his burden.

Our Sages said, “If he performs one mitsvah, happy is he for turning the scale both of himself and of the whole world on the side of merit.” This means that an member of Israel finally adds his own part to the final reckoning, as one who weighs sesame seeds and adds them one by one to the scale, until the balance tips. Certainly, everyone takes part in this tipping, and without him, the sentencing would never be completed. Similarly, it is said about the acts of a member of Israel that he sentences the whole world to a scale of merit. This is because when the matter ends and the whole world has been sentenced to a scale of merit, each and every one will have a share in this tipping, for were it not for his deeds, the tipping would have been deficient.

Thus you find that Rabbi El’azar son of Rabbi Shim’on, does not dispute the words of our Sages that all of Israel is responsible for one another. Rather, Rabbi El’azar son of Rabbi Shim’on, speaks of the restoration of the whole world at the time of the end of the repair, whereas our Sages speak of the present, when only Israel has assumed the Torah.

And this is what Rabbi El’azar son of Rabbi Shim’on quotes from the Writings: yet a single offender destroys much good (Ecclesiastes 9:18). This is because it has already been explained that the impression that comes to a person when engaging in mitsvot between man and the Omnipresent is completely the same as the impression he gets when engaging in mitsvot between man and man. He is obliged to perform all the mitsvot for their own sake, without any hope of self-interest, meaning that no light returns to him through his trouble in the form of reward or honor, and so forth. Here, on this exalted point, the love of the Omnipresent and the love of his fellow unite and actually become one.

Thus he affects a certain measure of advancement on the ladder of love for others in all the people of the world in general. This is because that rung, which this individual caused by his deeds, whether large or small, ultimately joins the future in tipping the world to a scale of merit, since his share has been added and joins the tipping.

And one who commits one offence, meaning he cannot overcome and conquer his filthy self-love, and thus steals or something of the sort, weighs himself and the whole world down in the scale of liability. This is because with the revelation of the filth of self-love, the lowly nature of creation is bolstered. Thus, he withdraws a certain amount from the scale of merit. This is similar to a person removing from the scale a single sesame seed his fellow had placed there.

Thus, to that extent, he slightly tips the scale of liability. It turns out that he devalues the world, as they said, a single offender destroys much good. Because he could not overcome his petty lust, he thrust the spirituality of the whole world backwards.

With these words, we clearly understand what we said above, about the Torah being given specifically to the nation of Israel, because it is certain and unequivocal that the purpose of creation lies on the shoulders of the whole of the human race, black, white or yellow, without any essential difference.

However, because of the descent of human nature to the lowest rung, which is the self-love that rules over all of humanity without restraint, there was no way to negotiate with them and persuade them to agree to take upon themselves, even as an empty promise, to abandon their narrow world for the expansiveness of the love of others. The exception was the nation of Israel because they were enslaved in the savage kingdom of Egypt four hundred years in horrible torment.

Our Sages said, “As salt sweetens meat… so does suffering wash away all the iniquity of man” (BT Berakhot 5a). Meaning they bring great purification to the body [which constitutes all of humanity]. And in addition, the purification of their holy Patriarchs assisted them, which is the most important, as some verses of Torah attest to.

Owing to the experiences [of themselves and their ancestors] they were qualified for it [cf. Nietzsche, Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality, 205]. And this is why the text refers to them in singular form, as is written, and Israel camped there over against the mountain (Exodus 19:2), and our Sages interpret “as one man with one heart” [see Rashi: “And Israel camped there (Exodus 19:2). וַיִחַן (Va-yiḥan), and he camped [third-person masculine singular]—as one man with one heart.” See Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishma’el ad loc.].

This is because each and every member of the nation completely detached himself from self-love, and wanted only to benefit his fellow, as we have demonstrated already regarding the meaning of love your fellow as yourself. It turns out that all the members of the nation came together, becoming as one heart and one man, for only then were they qualified to receive the Torah.

Thus, because of the aforementioned necessity, the Torah was given specifically to the nation of Israel, solely to the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for it was inconceivable that any stranger would take part in it. Because of that, the nation of Israel had been established as a kind of gateway by which the sparks of merit would shine upon the whole of the human race the world over.

And these sparks multiply daily, like one who gives to a treasurer, until they are filled sufficiently, that is, until they develop to such an extent that they can understand the pleasantness and tranquility that are found in the kernel of love of others. For then they will know how to tip the balance to the right, and will place themselves under His burden, and the scale of liability will be eradicated from the world.

Now there remains to complete what we have said above about the reason why the Torah was not given to our Patriarchs, because love your fellow as yourself is the axis of the whole Torah around which all the mitsvot revolve, so as to clarify and interpret, it cannot be observed by an individual, but only through the consent of an entire nation.

And this is why it took until they came out of Egypt, when they became worthy of observing it. And then each and every one of the nation was first asked if they agreed to take that mitsvah upon himself. And once they agreed to it, they were given the Torah. However, there still remains to clarify where we find in the Torah that the children of Israel were asked that question, and that they all agreed to it prior to receiving the Torah.

Bear in mind that these things are evident to every educated person in the invitation that the blessed Holy One had sent to Israel through Moses, prior to receiving the Torah. As is written “And now, if you will truly heed My voice and keep My covenant, you will become for Me a treasure among all the peoples, for Mine is all the earth. And as for you, you will become for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.” And Moses came and he called to the elders of the people, and he set before them all these words that YHWH had charged him. And all the people answered together and said, “Everything that YHWH has spoken we shall do.” And Moses brought back the people’s words to YHWH (Exodus 19:5–8).

These words do not seem to fit since common sense dictates that if one offers one’s fellow to do some labor, and he wants him to agree, he should give him an example of the nature of that labor and its reward. Only then can he examine whether to decline or to accept.

But here, in these two verses, we seem to find neither an example of the labor nor its reward, because he says, And now, if you will truly heed My voice and keep My covenant and he does not interpret the voice or the covenant and what they apply to. And then he says, you will become for Me a treasure among all the peoples, for Mine is all the earth.

It is not clear whether He commands us to labor to be a treasure among all the peoples, or whether this is a promise of good to us.

We must also understand the connection to the end of the verse, כִּי (ki), for, Mine is all the earth. All three translators—Onqelos, Yonatan ben Uziel, and the Jerusalem Talmud, and all the commentators: Rashi, Naḥmanidies, etc.—try to emend its literal meaning. Ibn Ezra says, in the name of Rabbi Marinus [Rabbi Yonah ibn Yanaḥ], that כִּי (ki) means אַף עַל פִּי (af al pi), although, and he translates: you will become for Me a treasure among all the peoples, although Mine is all the earth. Ibn Ezra himself tends to agree, but this interpretation is not employed by our Sages, who said that ki serves four meanings: “אוֹ (O), if, דִּלְמָא (dilema), perhaps, אֶלָּא (ella), but, דְּהָא (deha), because” (BT Gittin 90a).

And he even adds a fifth meaning: אַף עַל פִּי כֵן (af al pi khen), even so. Afterwards the verse ends: and as for you, you will become for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. But here, too, it is not self-evident if this is a mitsvah and one must delve into it, or a promise of good. Also, the words a kingdom of priests are not repeated nor explained anywhere in the Bible.

The main thing here is we must discern between a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. For according to the ordinary meaning of priesthood, it is one aspect of holiness, and it is therefore obvious that a kingdom entirely of priests must be a holy nation, so a holy nation seems redundant.

However, according to all that we have explained from the beginning of the essay until now, we learn the true meaning of the words, to resemble a negotiation of offer and agreement. This means that with these words, He really does offer them the whole form and content of the labor in Torah and mitsvot, and its worthwhile reward.

The labor in Torah and mitsvot is expressed in the words, you will become for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. A kingdom of priests—all of you, from youngest to oldest, will be like priests. Just as priests have no land or any material possessions because YHWH is their domain, so will the entire nation be organized so that the whole earth and everything in it will only be dedicated to YHWH, may He be blessed. And no person should have any other involvement in it except to keep the mitsvot of YHWH, may He be blessed, and to satisfy the needs of his fellow. Thus he will lack none of his wishes, so that no person will need to have any worry about himself.

This way, even secular tasks such as harvesting, sowing, and so forth are regarded precisely as the service of the sacrifices performed by priests in the Temple. How is it different if I keep the mitsvah of making sacrifices to YHWH, which is a positive mitsvah, or if I can keep the positive mitsvah, love your fellow as yourself? It turns out that he who harvests his field in order to feed his fellow is the same as he who sacrifices to YHWH. Moreover, it seems that love your fellow as yourself, is more important than he who makes the sacrifice, as we have already shown.

Indeed, this is not yet the end of it, since the whole of the Torah and mitsvot were given for the sole purpose of purifying Israel, which is cleansing of the body, after which he will be granted the true reward: cleaving with Him, the purpose of creation. And that reward is expressed in the words a holy nation. Through cleaving with Him, we become holy, as is written, You shall be holy, for I YHWH your God am holy (Leviticus 19:2).

And you see that the words a kingdom of priests express the entire form of the service on the axis of love your fellow as yourself, meaning a kingdom entirely of priests, that YHWH is their inheritance, and they have no material personal property. And we should admit that this is the only definition by which we can understand the words, a kingdom of priests. For you cannot interpret it with regard to the sacrifices on the altar, for that could not have been said of the whole nation, for who would be making the sacrifices?

Also, with regard to taking the gifts of the priesthood, who would be the givers? And also, to interpret the holiness of the priests, it has already been said, a holy nation. Therefore, this must certainly mean that it is only that YHWH is their domain, that they lack any material possession for themselves, meaning love your fellow as yourself to the utmost degree, which encompasses the whole Torah. And the words a holy nation express the entire form of the reward, which is the cleaving.

Now we understand fully the aforementioned words And now, if you will truly heed My voice and keep My covenant—to make a covenant on what I am telling you here—you will become for Me a treasure among all the peoples. You will be My treasure, and sparks of purification and cleansing of the body shall pass through you onto all the peoples and the nations of the world, for the nations of the world are not yet ready for it. And at any rate, now I need one nation to begin with, so it will be as a remedy for all the nations. And therefore He ends, for Mine is all the earth; all the peoples of the earth belong to Me, as do you, and are destined to cleave to Me.

But now, while they are still incapable of performing that task, I need a treasured people. And if you agree to be the treasure of all the nations, I command you to become for Me a kingdom of priests, which is the love of others in its ultimate form: love your fellow as yourself. This is the axis of all the Torah and mitsvot. And a holy nation is the reward in its ultimate form of cleaving with Him, which encompasses all the rewards that can ever be imagined.

These are the words of our Sages in clarifying the ending, these are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites. They were precise regarding “These are the words—do not add and do not subtract” (Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishma’el, Baḥodesh 2) [cf. Rashi]. This is perplexing: How can you say that Moses would add or subtract from the words of YHWH to the point that YHWH, may He be blessed, had to warn him about it? And we find none like him in the entire Torah. On the contrary, the Torah says about him: In all My house he is trusted (Numbers 12:7).

And now we can fully understand that concerning the service in its final form, as understood by a kingdom of priests, the ultimate definition of love your fellow as yourself, it was indeed conceivable for Moses to delay and refrain from revealing the outline of the service all at once, lest Israel not want to detach themselves from all material possessions and give all their wealth and property to YHWH, as taught by a kingdom of priests.

Similarly Maimonides writes, that women and children should not be told of the pure service, which must for the sake of reward, and wait until they grow, become wise, and have the courage to execute it [see Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Teshuvah 10:5]. Therefore, YHWH, may He be blessed, gave him the aforementioned warning, “do not add,” but presented them with the true nature of the service, in all its sublimity, expressed in the words a kingdom of priests.

And regarding the reward that is understood in the words a holy nation, it was possible for Moses to contemplate interpreting and elaborating further about the pleasantness and the sublime subtleness that come with cleaving with Him, to persuade them to accept this extreme, to completely detach themselves from any worldly possessions, as do priests. Hence, he was warned, “do not add,” but be vague and do not elaborate about the entire reward included in a holy nation.

The reason for it is, had he told them about the wondrous things in the essence of the reward, they would necessarily use and assume His service in order to obtain that wonderful reward for themselves. This would be considered serving themselves, for self-interest. That, in turn, would falsify the whole purpose.

Thus we see that regarding the nature of the service expressed in the words a kingdom of priests, he was told, “do not subtract.” And about the undetermined extent of the reward, expressed by the words a holy nation, he was told, “do not add.”