“YHWH, God of the spirits for all flesh (Numbers 27:16)—the verse tells us that all spirits go out only from Him. Rabbi Eli’ezer son of Rabbi Yose the Galilean says: Let this sign always be in your hand, that all during a man’s given life span נַפְשׁוֺ (nafsho), his life, is held in the hand of his Maker, as is written, In whose hand is נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh), the breath, of each living thing, [and רוּחַ (ruaḥ), the spirit, of all human flesh] (Job 12:10). When he dies, it is given to the אוֹצָר (otsar), treasury, as is written, My lord’s soul will be bound in צְרוֹר הַחַיִּים (tseror ha-ḥayyim), the bundle of the living (1 Samuel 25:29) [see Targum Yonatan ad loc.: My lord’s soul will be bound in the גְּנַז חַיֵי (genaz ḥayei), treasury of the living; tseror ha-ḥayyim may be rendered as purse of the living, see for example Genesis 42:35; Proverbs 7:20]. I might think both the righteous and the wicked, thus it is written, The souls of your enemies He will sling from the hollow of a sling (ibid.).
Appoint a man over the community (Numbers 27:16)—Joshua [for whom the manna descended over and against all of Israel], as is written, [And He charged the skies above, and the doors of the heavens He opened, and rained on them manna to eat and the grain of the heavens He gave to them.] Princely bread a man did eat, provisions He sent them to sate them (Psalms 78:25) [cf. BT Ḥagigah 12b ad loc.]. And why did Scripture not specify [Joshua]? So as not to stir up controversy [over the appointment of Joshua] among [Moses’s] sons and the sons of his brother.
Who will go out before them and come in before them [and who will lead them in and out on the march so that YHWH’s community will not be like a flock that has no shepherd] (Numbers 27:16)—not in the manner of others who send troops [to the vanguard] while they come out towards the end [i.e., escape to the rear]. Rather as Moses did: And YHWH said to Moses, ‘Do not fear him, for into your hand I have given him (Numbers 21:34). And as Joshua did: And Joshua went toward him and said to him, Are you ours or our foes’? (Joshua 5:13). And as Phinehas did: And Moses sent them out, a thousand for the tribe to the army—them and Phinehas (ibid. 31:6).
Who will go out before them and come in before them—as chief: [And David said, ‘Whoever strikes down the Jebusite first shall be chief and commander.’] And Joab son of Zeruiah went up first and became chief (1 Chronicles 11:6). Who will go out before them—in a troop; and come in before them—in a troop. Who will go out before them—on the way; and come in before them—on the way. Who will go out before them—with his merits; and come in before them—with his merits. Who will go out before them—in counting; and come in before them—in counting, as is written, And they said to Moses, ‘Your servants have counted the heads of the men of war who are in our hands, and not a man of them is missing. [And we would offer up YHWH’s offering, each man what he found of gold ornaments, armband and bracelet, ring, earring, and pendant, to atone for our lives before YHWH] (Numbers 31:49). Now, why did they need atonement? Because they feasted their eyes on nakedness [i.e., on the Midianite women, see ibid., 16].
So that YHWH’s community will not be like a flock that has no shepherd (ibid. 27:17). Concerning this, [see] the interpretation of קַבָּלָה (qabbalah), tradition: Tell me, whom I love so, [where you pasture your flock at noon, lest I be כְּעֹטְיָה (ke’oteyah), as one that covers up, by the flocks of your companions] (Song of Songs 1:7)—corresponding to what is said, [And he shall set fire to the houses of the gods of Egypt, and he shall burn them and take them captive] and wrap round the land of Egypt as a shepherd יַעְטֶה (ya’eteh), wraps himself, in his garment (Jeremiah 43:12). By the flocks of your companions (Song of Songs ibid.)—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Go out and see: The blessed Holy One answers, Loveliest of women, if you lose your way, go follow in the עִקְבֵי (iqvei), tracks, of the sheep (Song of Songs 1:8)—what I am destined to do for them in עֲקֵבִים (aqevim), the end. And graze your goats by the shepherd’s shelters (ibid.)—how is it you say that YHWH showed Moses all the leaders who were destined to serve Israel from the day they left the wilderness until the revival of the dead? As is said, Go follow in the tracks of the sheep” (Sifrei Numbers 139).
“Our Rabbis taught: The spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7)—give it back to Him as He gave it to you, in a state of purity. This may be compared to a mortal king who distributed royal robes to his slaves. The wise among them folded them up and put them away in a chest, while the fools among them went and worked in them. After some time, the king wanted his garments. The wise returned them clean, while the fools returned them soiled. The king was pleased with the wise; but he was angry with the fools. Concerning the wise he said, ‘Let the garments be returned to אוֹצָר (otsar), the storehouse, and they return to their homes in peace.’ Concerning the fools he said, ‘Let the garments be given to the laundry, while they be confined in jail.’ Similarly, the blessed Holy One. Concerning the bodies of the righteous He says, Yet he shall come in peace, they shall rest on their couches (Isaiah 57:2), and concerning their souls He says, My lord’s soul will be bound in the bundle of the living (1 Samuel 25:29). Concerning the bodies of the wicked He says, There is no well-being, said YHWH, for the wicked (Isaiah 48:22), and concerning their souls He says, The souls of your enemies He will sling from the hollow of the sling (1 Samuel 25:29).
It was taught, Rabbi Eli’ezer said: The souls of the righteous are treasured away under the כִּסֵּא (kisse), Throne, of Glory, as is said, My lord’s soul will be bound in the purse of the living (ibid.) [see BT Sanhedrin 97a: ‘Son of David will not come until the (last) coin goes out from כִּיס (kis), the purse’]. But those of the wicked continue to be bound, while one angel stands at one end of the world and a second stands at the other end, and they sling their souls to each other, as is said, The souls of Your enemies he will sling from the hollow of a sling” (BT Shabbat 152b).
They will perish and You will yet stand. They will all wear away like a garment. Like clothing You change them, and they pass away. But You—Your years never end (Psalms 102:26–27).
“Rabbi Me’ir said: YHWH shall reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations (Psalm 146:10)—what is for all generations? Rabbi Papias said: A generation goes and a generation comes (Ecclesiastes 1:4). Rabbi Akiva said: The generation already came.
A parable: To what can the matter be compared? A king had slaves, and clothed them in garments of silk and embroidery in accordance with his wealth. They went astray, so he stripped them of their garments, and flung them from him. They went on their way. He took the garments and washed them well, until no stain remained, and he kept them with him, ready. He then bought other slaves and dressed them in those garments. Not knowing whether these slaves were good or not, they were worthy of garments that had already come into the world, and that others had worn before them. [A generation goes and a generation comes.] But the earth endures forever (Ecclesiastes 1:4)—the same as And dust returns to the earth as it was, and the רוּחַ (ruaḥ), life-breath, returns to God who gave it (ibid. 12:6)” (Bahir §§121–122).
“[Of the ten sefirot] seventh is east of the world, whence comes the seed of Israel. For the spinal cord draws from the brain of man and reaches to the ‘middle finger’ whence comes seed, as is written, From the east I will bring your seed (Isaiah 43:5) [cf. BT Bava Batra 25a: ‘Rabbi Abbahu said, Shekhinah (receives) in the west’]. When Israel is good before the Omnipresent: I will bring your seed and you will have new seed. But when Israel is bad, the seed is from that which has already come into the world, as is written, A generation goes and a generation comes (Ecclesiastes 1:4)—teaching it has already come” (Bahir §155).
“He is All, and in His hand is אוֹצַר הַנְּשָׁמוֹת (otsar ha-neshamot), the Treasury of Souls. And when Israel is good, souls are worthy to go out and come in (Deuteronomy 31:2)—to this world. But if they are not good, they do not go out. Therefore, we say, ‘Son of David will not come until all souls in the body have been consumed’ (BT Yevamot 62a)—they will be worthy that new ones go out. And then Son of David succeeds in being born. How so? Since his soul will go out anew with all the others.
A parable: To what can the matter be compared? A king had an army. He sent them an abundance of food and bread, [but] they were sluggardly and did not eat it they did not even keep it—the bread became moldy and went to waste. [Now, the king] came to inquire and to take a census whether they had enough to eat. He found moldy bread and that they were ashamed to ask [of him] other bread, to say: We did not keep it, now we must ask for another. The king became angry, took the moldy bread and ordered that it be dried and improved as much as possible and swore, ‘I will not give these people any other bread until they have consumed all of this moldy bread.’ He sent it to them anew. What did they do? They settled to apportion it. Each one divided and took on his share. The nimble one put his share out in the air, kept it and ate well. The [sluggardly] one took and fed from it greedily, but left the rest and neglected to keep it. Now it became even worse and so moldy he could not eat of it at all—until he starved to death.
The crime of his body was counted against him [at the court on high]. [They said to him,] ‘Why did you kill yourself, was it not enough that you ruined the bread before? I returned it improved for you, you apportioned it, but you ruined your share and neglected to keep it, and not only that you killed yourself!’ And he replied, ‘My lords what was I to do?’ They answered him, ‘It was for you to keep. And if you say you could not it was for you to watch your companions and your neighbors who shared the bread with you. And you would have seen what they did with it, how they kept it, and tried to keep like them.’ And they questioned him further, ‘Why did you kill yourself, was it not enough that you ruined the bread? But in addition you destroyed חוֹמֶר גּוּפְךָ (ḥomer gufkha), your body of clay [cf. Jeremiah 18:6; Zohar 1:178a], and shortened your days, or [at least] you caused [it unintentionally]. And perhaps a flawless building was to result from you and rescue you and your ruin and others and their ruin [see BT Sanhedrin 104a; Ibn Ezra on Genesis 16:2. Cf. The Tanna and the Restless Dead (Zohar Ḥadash 49a–b)]. Therefore, judgment will overtake you from all sides.’
He became frightened and answered, ‘But what was I to do after there was no bread for me, what could I have lived on?’ They said to him, ‘If you had toiled and strained in Torah you would not answer foolishly and impudently like this. [Indeed,] from the words of your answer it is evident that you did not toil and strain in Torah. And is it not written in Torah, [And He afflicted you and made you hunger and fed you the manna, which you did not know nor did your fathers know, in order to make you know that] not on bread alone does the human live but on all going out from YHVH’s mouth does the human live (Deuteronomy 8:3). Now how is it you [dare] ask and inquire and probe what it is on which man lives?’
And what is all motsa, going out, from YHVH’s mouth (Deuteronomy 8:3)? It was said: He will live by Torah—every motsa, utterance, of YHVH’s mouth. Therefore, they said, ‘An ignoramus cannot be devout’ (M Avot 2:5). And if a person does not act with חֶסֶד (ḥesed), kindness, toward himself, he cannot be called חָסִיד (ḥasid), devout [on not disparaging bread, see BT Pesaḥim 111b; Ḥullin 105b; Zohar 1:14b; 3:244b–245b, 273a–b (both RM). Cf. BT Berakhot 52b]. How can one act with kindness towards his Maker? Torah study. All Torah study renders kindness toward one’s Maker, as is written, Riding through heavens with your help (Deuteronomy 33:26)—’Alas, when you study Torah for her own sake, then you help Me and I ride through heavens.’ Then, In His triumph through the skies (ibid.) [cf. BT Ḥagigah 12b–13a; BT Avodah Zarah 3b; Rabbi El’azar of Worms, Sodei Razaya 89]. And what is שְׁחָקִים (sheḥaqim), skies? Say בְּחַדְרֵי חֲדָרִים (be-ḥadrei ḥadarim), in chambers of chambers, as the Targum renders it: His command בִּשְׁמֵי שְׁמַיָּא (bi-shemei shemayya), in heavens of heavens. Therefore, Not on bread alone does the human live but on all going out from YHVH’s mouth does the human live. Yet, a fool answers impudently (Proverbs 18:23)—abandon impudence, do not answer in this manner! Therefore, he is punished. And what is his punishment? I have already explained” (Bahir §§184–185).
There are righteous to whom it befalls as though they did wickedly, and there are wicked to whom it befalls as though they did righteously (Ecclesiastes 8:14).
“Why are there wicked to whom there is good and righteous to whom there is evil? Because the righteous was already wicked and is now punished [cf. BT Mo’ed Qatan 28a]. But [is there] punishment for [one’s] days of youth? Rabbi Simon said there is no punishment until the age of twenty and up. I am not speaking about the [same] life, I am saying that he already was in the past. His companions said to him, ‘How much longer will you conceal your words?’ He replied, ‘Go and see. This is like a person who has planted a vineyard in his garden to bring forth grapes, but it brought forth wild grapes. He saw that he was not succeeding, so he replanted it, placed a fence around it, repaired the breaches, pruned the wild grapes, and planted it a second time. He saw that he was not succeeding—he again fenced it off, and again replanted it after pruning.’ How many times? He said to them, ‘Until a thousand generations, as is written: The word He ordained for a thousand generations (Psalms 105:8).’ It is in relation to this that they said: 974 generations were lacking [since the Torah was not given until the twenty-sixth generation]. ‘The blessed Holy One stood up and planted them in each generation’ (BT Ḥagigah 14a)” (Bahir §195).
“Inflicting the guilt of the fathers upon sons, upon the third and fourth generation (Exodus 20:5)—a single tree, planted once, twice, three times, and four times, and punished for its initial sins. Father, son, third, and fourth are one—when not mended and not caring to be mended [i.e., for My foes (ibid.)]. Correspondingly, the opposite of this, for a tree restored fittingly and standing firm” (Zohar 2:91b).
And he shall be like a tree planted by streams of water, that bears its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither—and in all that he does he prospers (Psalms 1:3).
“Since we have begun to reveal, now is the time to reveal all. Souls, issue from a grand and mighty tree of that river issuing from Eden, and all spirits issue from another, small tree. נְשָׁמָה (Neshamah), soul, from above; רוּחַ (ruaḥ), spirit, from below—joining as one, like male and female…. When joining as one, they shine supernal radiance, and in the joining of the two of them, they are called, נֵר (ner), lamp, of YHWH (Proverbs 20:27)” (Zohar 2:99b).