Tuesday, March 04, 2008

"Born With The Inclination To Be Totally Wicked"

(Painting by Leonard Baskin)

Excerpt from Degel Machaneh Ephraim:

"And when Moshe heard it, he fell upon his face." (Bamidbar 16:4)

What did he hear? Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani said in the name of Rabbi Yonatan, he heard that they suspected him of adultery.

I heard from my grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, an explanation of the Talmud's statement: "Your rabbi, Moshe, was either a thief or a swindler," and of the verse: "And it came to pass, when Moshe went out to the Tent, that all the people rose up and stood, every man at his tent door, and looked after Moshe." (Shemos 33:8) And especially, that they suspected him of adultery.

He explained it as follows. Moshe was born with the inclination to be totally wicked, with every possible vice. However, he transformed and broke all of these bad character traits, and worked to acquire only good ones.

This is all that the Baal Shem Tov said, yet his holy words can be explained as follows. It is known from the mystical intentions of the incense offering that the letters mem (מ) hey (ה) shin (ש) , when spelled out in full (מ-מ ה-א ש-'-ן) , have the numerical value of "death" (מות). But when they are rectified they become "the truth"
(האמת) - Moshe [משה] embodied both aspects - goodness, which is the truth, and complete evil, which is death. However, the people did not grasp or perceive the truth. They saw only his aspect of evil; that is, the letter combination alluded to in his name that spelled out death. This is why "they looked after Moshe." They looked only at the aspect of his back, and thus they suspected him of adultery, for he was indeed born with all the worse character traits.

Translation by Baal Shem Tov.com


At March 4, 2008 at 6:16:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are two contradictory Midrashim: One claims that Moshe was born perfect and without any Yetzer Hara, while and the other states that Moshe was born with the worst Yetzer Hara ever known to man. There is much written from the point of view of each of these opposing Midrashim, but I recall that in Chassidishe seforim they are not viewed as truly contradictory -- as highest and lowest, or best and worst, they are closely related.

(Another analogy: in moving along the course of a circle, opposite paths meet.)

Here is the midrash about the artist commissioned to paint a portrait of Moshe and his unflattering portrait showing the Moshe appeared to be a mass murderer.

At March 4, 2008 at 12:17:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The late Leonard Baskin who did the painting ASJ picked for this posting was one of the great Jewish-American painters, printmakers, and sculptors of the 20th century. I'm glad to see his work appear on a frum website. He was not a shomer Torah u-mitzvos, but was nevertheless a proud Jew who dealt with Jewish issues in his art throughout his life.

At March 4, 2008 at 3:31:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where is this story from originally?

At March 4, 2008 at 5:18:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon: It's a Medrash...

Over the years I've seen it discussed, but it's been a while. Some have dealt with it along the lines of:

1. Moshe personified the all-inclusive "nivdal (transcendent)" point of Klal Yisrael, and as such he was suspected of committing adultery with ALL the women. That is, his neshamah or inner being was connected to all, but the people misunderstood the true nature of this.

2. People see their own chisronos in the perfect tzaddik - who functions not unlike a mirror.

And there are other approaches to this question that escape me at the moment...

At March 4, 2008 at 7:06:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

do you happen to know the particular medrash?

At March 5, 2008 at 3:09:00 PM EST, Blogger Cosmic X said...

The story is mentioned in the Tifferet Yisrael(Rabbi Yisrael Lipschutz) commentary on the Mishnah, as per the link Morris Ayin's comment. I do not think that this story is a midrash in the classic sense, i.e. it's not from Midrash Rabbah, Tanchuma, etc.


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