This week's parsha
Fusing Idealism and Realism
There are two types of people: the idealists and the realists. The idealistic folks dream of a world with social justice, body-soul synchrony, environmental conservation, and of living with higher consciousness. The realistic people invest in practical and obtainable goals like financial security, time management and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Personally, I resonate with both the idealist and the realist. I think we're probably all a composite of both, albeit a little more of one side than the other.
To be a true idealist you cannot consider the resistance that you may encounter while implementing your dreams. Pure idealism follows the dictates of truth alone, and doesn't bend to environmental or social constraints.
On the other hand, without realistic thinking my dreams would stay in the world of fantasy, never tested, never validated in the real world, and never helping anyone.
In 1940, when the sixth Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, was on the boat from war-torn Europe to America, he called over one of his aides, Rabbi Hodakov, and instructed him to take out pen and paper; the Rebbe would dictate, and he would write. The Rebbe then proceeded to outline his plan for creating a flourishing Judaism in America. He described how he would create three institutions upon his arrival in the new country – a publishing house, and an educational arm: one for children, another for adults – and he outlined the details of each institution.
After dictating his plans, the Rebbe said, "You would perhaps think that I would wait until getting to America to begin formulating my plans. Then, I could evaluate the needs of the American community and plan accordingly. No! Then I would be influenced by what I see, and my vision for America would be tainted. I want a European (uncompromised) Judaism, not an American (compromised) Judaism!"
Our life's work is to integrate our highest ideals into the most practical framework of life, say the kabbalists. And this merge requires integrity and lots of creative work.
What will the world be like in the Messianic Era? The kabbalists characterize it very simply: the fusion of the loftiest ideals for humanity with a pragmatic lifestyle; a fully expressed soul that lives comfortably in a physical body. That's what they call redemptive living.
G‑d didn't allow Moses to enter the Land of Israel. He begged and pleaded with G‑d to forgive him and allow him entrance. G‑d had forgiven the Jewish people when Moses pleaded on their behalf, but when it came to Moses' own mistake, G‑d did not budge.
G‑d didn't want him in Israel, sin or no sin. The sin seemed like a convenient pretext; bottom line, Moses wasn't going.
Which is hard to swallow in light of the fact that Moses never wanted the job of leader in the first place, and yet was an incredibly dedicated leader for over 40 years. And now, when the journey was about to culminate and the nation would finally settle in a land of their own, Moses was excluded.
The Talmud compares Moses to the light of the sun and Joshua to the light of the moon. Think about the sun's intensity. When it shines its rays, everything is entirely illuminated. The moon is more subtle. The sky stays black when it shines; the night retains its dark intrigue.
Moses' power was such that if he had led the Jews into Israel, things would have been simple. They would have conquered the land without great challenge. If Moses would have built the Holy Temple its holiness would have been so intense that it could have never been destroyed.
Which sounds great!
But G‑d didn't want it to be that simple. Yes Moses was dynamic, and could outshine darkness, but then the Jews would be passive and let Moses do the work for them. In order to take ownership of the land, they'd have to be active participants.
Joshua was a perfect candidate. He was a strong a leader, but not strong enough to banish darkness entirely. Together they would work to resolve the many challenges that confronted them and ultimately to settle the land.
The people had a vision -- to settle in the Promised Land. Practically, this vision was very hard to implement. Other people were living in the land. It would be hard for them to self-govern, to get along. Moses' leadership would have ironed out these problems. But G‑d didn't want them to miss out on the healthy process of planting seeds of vision into the rough soil of reality. And that they'd have to do without Moses.
As if to emphasize how sacred is the fusion of vision with real life living, in the fifth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy Moses repeats the Ten Commandments. In his rendition, however, the experience at Sinai seems so different. In the initial account, in the Book of Exodus, the Torah describes Sinai as filled with smoke while G‑d descended upon it in a fire. The whole nation trembled. Thunder and lightening preceded G‑d's words. After hearing G‑d speak to them directly, the people begged Moses that he should transmit G‑d's words, because every time He uttered a word, it knocked them out.
Yet here in the second rendition, Moses barely makes mention of all the fanfare. What he does describe is the impression that the experience at Sinai had on the nation. "You were shown to know that G‑d is your G‑d... On the earth G‑d showed His great fire and His words you heard... Face to face G‑d spoke to you."
The Ten Commandments in Exodus are all about G‑d; when they are repeated in Deuteronomy, they're about the impression they made here below. Together they create the charge to thread the lofty idealism of Torah into the reality of life.
This successful fusion is what the sages call the "Torah of Moshiach."