Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Matot – Long steps take away man’s eyesight

The Torah describes dividing the spoils of the war with Midianites, giving a full account of the numbers of human captives and animals, as well as the division. The account is almost thirty phrases long, and seemingly gives the numbers which will never be needed again.

First all of the spoils are divided in two. Then 1/500 is taken of the first half, and 1/50 of the second half. All the numbers of all groups of animals are spelled out, and it can serve as an exercise in integer division.

The Arizal, however, asks two sorts of questions. First, the practical ones: why were the numbers specified in this order and why the word “tax” is mentioned about the first one and not the second division. He answers that when they were anyway dividing by 500, they did not have to be so precise in counting, and only cared about the final tax outcome. With the division by 50 they counted every animal like for tithe and like mentioned on Rosh Hashana, when every one goes “under the rod.”

Second, there is a mystical hidden meaning, the key to which is the statement of the Talmud that “long steps take away 1/500 of man’s eyesight, but the Kiddush on Shabbat restores it.”

There are multiple connecting steps here: first, the secret of Bilam’s prophecy about the end of history, “I see it but not here, I perceive not, but it is not close,” which is related to the concept of stepping outside of time. This, in turn, talks about the Cosmic Female who was together with her Man (Zeir Anpin) in the womb of their mother (Supernal Mother). These are not physical bodies, however, but the letters of Hey and the Vav which is part of Hey in the name of God. This “coming out” is Judgment and Strength, and it is called “division of spoils” in our physical world. These division is represented by “those who went to war” and “the part of the congregation that stayed.”

Art: Balaam blessing Israel by William Brassey Hole