Torah of Souls
PurimBurst, 2003 / תשס”ג
Sarah Yehudit Schneider
Then the King conferred with His sages (חכמים), experts in reading the times, for such was the King’s practice, to consult with the masters of law and judgment…Memuchan declared before the King…let it be written…and never revoked…that Vashti never again appear before King Ahashverosh and let the King transfer her queen-ship to another who is better than she” (Esther 1:13-19).
Everyone knows that whenever the word, King, appears in the Book of Esther it is a double-entendre that applies both to Ahashverosh and to the heavenly King, the King of Kings, the Blessed Holy One.[i]
And so, says the Zohar:[ii] HaShem does not pass judgment upon wrongdoers without first consulting His tsadikim. Their role is to expound the virtues of the accused and plead for acquittal. The Zohar is clear: A tsadik is either defending or silent. One who accuses is rotten somewhere and guilty of corruption. After all, says the Zohar, if someone had called down justice upon Terach for his idolatry (which carries the death penalty), Avraham would not have appeared, the twelve tribes would never have been, the Torah would not have descended, King David would never have lived, and Mashiach would never be born.
These sages חכמים)) with whom the King consults, are called the eyes of the people.[iii] This is because HaShem views the nation through their peepholes. This is a holy burden, and a deadly serious one. According to the Baal Shem Tov, if HaShem brings harsh decrees upon the Jewish nation it is because the chakhamim[iv] have lapsed in their duty and impugned guilt upon the people, even if only a sector of them.[v]
We are told that, “this opposite this HaShem created the world.”[vi] Everything holy has a dark counterpart somewhere in the universe. And so, in the Purim story every character has its alter-ego from the other side. Mordecai has Haman, Esther has Vashti. And even HaShem has Ahashverosh. And now, we see that the chakhamim have their shadow side as well, represented by the King’s inner council that passed a harsh judgment on Vashti, the accused. They showed the king their allegiance by imposing death for even a minor affront to his pride. For one who serves the shadow king that is the way to curry favor. Yet the opposite is true for ministers of the heavenly King’s court.[vii] HaShem loves His people far more than his glory (i.e. His Torah),[viii] and seeks any pretext to be lenient. In his own words:
The way of mankind is to ascribe a higher status to love of Torah than love of each other …I [HaShem] say that love of My people is the priority (Tanna deBe Eliyahu Rabba, 14).
The task of His legal team is to devise ways to reframe the offense that minimizes its guilt, or even gives it a positive spin.[ix] R. Levi Yitzchok of Berditchiv was a master of this stratagem.
What distinguishes a true sage (חכם) from a shadow imposter? Heichal HaBrocha[x] explains that the former’s expertise in defending the people comes from reading the Torah of souls as well as the Torah of ink on parchment. Just as there are 600,000 letters of the Torah, so are there 600,000 root souls in the spiritual community of Israel. Each individual that comes into the world embodies some unique piece of one of these sixty myriad letters. And so, says R. Tsadok,[xi] just as there is a scroll of ink on parchment, so is there a scroll of souls that includes the entire unfolding of generations. The sum-total of the soul-sparks of Israel comprise a single and complete Torah…the real Torah…the one that HaShem studies on His side of the mechitza.[xii] Yet this scroll of souls is virtually impossible to read. Its lights are too bright and too complex for the human mind to fathom, at least at its earlier stages of development. And so, the Torah of ink on parchment serves as its commentary, presenting the same teachings in a more condensed and readable format. In our immaturity we don’t see that the commentary is only an aid to enable our access to the real Torah, the Torah of souls. But, as we grow and mature and move toward perfection, we come to see things more from HaShem’s perspective which assigns priority to the people whose souls are actually the inner lights of the Torah now manifest to us as ink on parchment. From HaShem’s perspective, love of the people Israel is actually love of Torah. The whole point is to learn to read the living Torah that shines through each person as he or she dances out the teaching of the letter that is the root of his or her soul.
And so, Heichal HaBrocha adds a beautiful twist to his interpretation of the verse:[xiii]
גל עיני ואביטה נפלאות מתורתך:
Open my eyes and I will behold the wonders of your Torah.[xiv]
He splits the word for wonders (נפלאות) in half so that it reads as two words, נפל אות, which means, literally, fallen letter. The translation of the verse now becomes:
Open my eyes, that I will behold the fallen letters of your Torah [that are concealed within every moment, thing and person around me].
There is no question that every letter of the written Torah is a treasure. And just as we break our teeth and lose sleep and even risk our lives, generation after generation, to drink from its living waters, so must we cherish the scroll of souls, for each one of its letters is also a wellsprings of blessed light.
And there is no question that every sentence of our written Torah is bursting with holy teachings. Even the verses spoken by evil men, like Lavan and Billam and Essav.[xv] Even Pharaoh’s audacity: “Who is HaShem that I should heed His voice…I do not know HaShem and I will not let Israel go.” Even that irreverence is holy writ no less than the Shema or Ten Commandments.
But what does that mean for a Jew whose soul is rooted in that outrageous verse (or another of its kind). What can those words possibly look like embodied as a Jewish life? What contradictions must such a person bear? What a strange role. Yet someone has to play it. No letter can be missing from either Torah scroll. The Talmud declares, wherever there is Torah, there is truth,”[xvi] which means that even the most wayward, self-hating Jew has some chidush they are teaching the world. The work of a talmid chakham of the Torah of souls is to find that truth, and bless it.
HaShem says in no uncertain terms, :עמך כולם צדיקים[xvii] Every one of the nation of Israel is a tsadik in training. And since nothing is ever all or nothing it must be that some part of us is already there. That means that our voice also gets counted when HaShem consults His tsadikim before passing a decree upon His people. We are His “experts in law and judgment.” He adds up all of our “advices” (which are the judgments we constantly make about each other) and formulates a verdict for the nation as a whole. In this way HaShem sees the world through our eyes, yet how many people a day do each one of us sentence to Siberia, or worse? This is no way to bring redemption. We pray for mashiach and yet “counsel” against it when we find no redeeming value in the very people that must merit the redemption for which we yearn. As ministers to the heavenly King, we must learn to love each letter of the scroll of souls as much as we love each letter of our written Torah.
Memuchan was a master of harsh judgment, a chakham of the shadow side. Mordecai was a master of compassionate judgment, a chakham of the Torah of souls, as the Megilla declares: “Mordecai…sought the good of his people, and spoke words that brought peace [to each and every one of them, as if they were] his own seed.”[xviii]
Let it be that when the consciousness-altering lights of Purim stream through the world, that for that day, and those hours, we rise to the occasion and judge every single Jew for good, praying and laboring to find the truth that is the teaching of their particular letter in the scroll of souls. The resounding consensus of that positive judgment from the King’s advisory council should compel the heavenly court to rule, that it’s finally time for mashiach NOW.
גל עיני ואביטה נפל-אות מתורתך
[i] ספר הפליאה – ד”ה טצ”ץ ט תשעה, צ תשעים, ץ ט. ;מדרש אבא גוריון פרשה א
[ii] Zohar (Midrash Ne’elam) I:104b.
[iii] SHS Rabba 1:64; 4:2; 5:16; Ari, Etz Chayim 8:11; etc.
[iv]Chakham (chakhamim, plural), is the transliteration of חכם ,the Hebrew word for sage, or scholar.
[v] The following story illustrates that not only do the condemnations of tsadikim draw down harsh judgments, but even their insincere praises: Students of the Baal Shem Tov [BShT] had risen for their midnight prayers and lingered afterwards to speak praises about the people, Israel. The Baal Shem Tov was in his home and saw through Ruach HaKodesh that these praises were not truly whole-hearted. They were spoken to fulfill the mitzvah of loving one’s neighbor, and because they knew it was what HaShem wanted to hear, and they wanted to please Him. The Baal Shem Tov appeared at the door agitated, and rebuked his students, and said, “You sit and praise Israel like a woman who praises her step children to their father. She does it to make her husband happy, but in truth she doesn’t really love his children, and really would rather they disappear. The insincerity of your praises actually draws judgment upon the community of Israel. I, Israel [for that was the BShT’s name] declare that the people Israel are a holy nation. They are good, good, good. They are filled with kindness and Torah and all manner of good traits.” The BShT continued to praise the people like this for some time, until, in truth, the heavens were moved by the sincerity of his words, and he turned the severities that his students had provoked into blessings.
[vi] Kohellet 7:14.
[vii] Pesikta Rabotai, 41:4.
[viii] The equation of HaShem’s “glory” to Torah, comes from: פרדס לרמ”ק שער כ”ז ערכי הכנויים, ראה כבו”ד ותור”ה.
[ix] ר’ יצחק אייזק יודה יהיאל סאפרין, נתיב מצוותך ו,י ו מגילת אסתר, א:יג.
[x] ר’ יצחק אייזק יודה יהיאל סאפרין, היכל הברכה, מגילת אסתר, א:א.
[xi] ר’ צדק הכהן, צדקת הצדיק אות קצ”ו (סוף).
[xii] ר, שלמה עליאשאוו, ספר הכללים, כלל ח”י ענף י’ סימן ג’ אות י”ב.
[xiii] היכל הברכה, מגילת אסתר, א:א.
[xiv] Psalms 119:18.
[xv] ר, שלמה עליאשאוו, חלק הבאורים, שער העקודים א:ז.
[xvi] TY RH 3:8.
[xvii] Isaiah 60:21.
[xviii] Esther 10:3.