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Shabbat Parashat Chukat 5775

Ein Ayah: The Essentially Greatest Must Come First

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 2:38)

Gemara: If a human king makes a decree, it is questionable whether people will adhere to it, and even if they do, it is only in his lifetime. In contrast, Moshe Rabbeinu made several decrees and enactments, and they are intact for all time. Is it not correct that which Shlomo said: “I praise the dead, who already died” (Kohelet 4:2)?!


Ein Ayah: It is a big question whether the essence of human beings is on the rise or the decline. Careful consideration shows that there is a difference between that which transpires to mankind and people’s essence.

People’s essence has not improved at all over time, even though many external things have occurred that have advanced mankind by providing us with much intelligence based on experience and accumulated knowledge. Any wise person will realize that essence is the more important matter. Since regarding essence, the great people of the later generations are on a lower level to that of earlier generations, we conclude that earlier generations are overall on a higher level.

It is the Divine Providence that creates a distinction between leadership in regard to essence and in regard to matters of occurrences. Occurrences change, and therefore the rules of divine leadership that affect them change as well. Therefore, one cannot relate to the overarching rules as definite matters but rather doubtful ones that rely upon external things.

Matters of essence do not change. This applies to the seven mitzvot given to gentiles according to their spiritual needs. Similarly, when Bnei Yisrael received a special essence along with their separation from the nations when they received the Torah, those laws of the Torah also do not change.

Kingdom relates to the elements of human existence that are related to changing occurrences. This leadership is expected to be fleeting along with the changing times to which it relates. That is why the gemara says that a king’s decrees are doubtfully fulfilled, and that since it relies upon external factors, it ends with his death.

The Torah of Moshe, which is built on the essence of Israel, has an independent eternal nature, like their essence itself. To facilitate this, Hashem chose to put in the earlier generations spiritual giants unparalleled in future generations who could pass on His unchanging word in the way necessary for eternal decrees. In that way, later generations are impacted by earlier generations, which makes the earlier generations greater. Hashem wanted for the Torah to be given in the first generation that the nation was granted its special essence and through the good agency of Moshe Rabbeinu. This would impact on all innate elements of our lives. This teaches us that matters of essence are greater than matters that rely upon occurrences.

Therefore, one should not be overly impressed with external matters for which the later generations have become proud. Rather, later generations should realize that they need to learn from the earlier ones. This is why Hashem had to make sure that the early generations had giants, starting with Moshe Rabbeinu and continuing with other prophets, who were so perfect in essence that they have not been replicated.

That is why the pasuk says that we are to praise the dead who have already died, because later generations indeed must look up to those who come from the past, especially Moshe Rabbeinu, the trustworthy shepherd, whose name will last for eternity. The Torah is called “the Torah of My servant Moshe” (Malachi 3:22), and this is what the gemara means by Moshe’s decrees and enactments. This teaches that the greatest level can come from early history, before all the great volume of occurrences and acquired experience began. This is different from what some people view as the elevation of the later generations who have, in external ways, grown from experience.

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