"…the sons of Gershon" (Num. 4:22)

There are two steps in preparing a palace for a king. First, the rooms are scrubbed clean, and then they are decorated with beautiful furniture and art objects. The first step logically precedes the second.

The same two steps apply to how we make our lives and ourselves into a home or sanctuary for G‑d. We refrain from what is wrong and actively do good. The names and respective missions of the families of Gershon and Kehot reflect these two steps.

The name "Gershon" is derived from the verb "to banish" [in Hebrew, "le-garesh"], signifying the necessity to banish evil. Their main load was the outer coverings of the Tabernacle, which protected it from undesirable elements. This corresponds to our job of avoiding harmful activities and influences.

Kehot…embodied the task of actively pursuing positive energy….

The name "Kehot", on the other hand, signifies "gathering" or "collection" [in Hebrew, "yika"]. Their mission was carrying the vessels of the Tabernacle, each of which corresponds to a particular positive endeavor. This family thus embodied the task of actively pursuing positive energy.

Just as Gershon was born before Kehot, it is necessary to first remove oneself from evil in order to be able to properly pursue good. Nonetheless, Kehot was counted before Gershon, for removing oneself from evil is only a preparation for the true work, that of pursuing good.

In this week's Torah reading are the passages regarding a wife suspected of adultery (Num. 5:11-29). The particulars of the rite of the suspected adulteress have their correlations in the cosmic marriage of G‑d and the Jewish people. The equivalent of the husband's warning is G‑d's command "Do not have any other G‑ds before Me." This, however, is problematic, because G‑d's presence is everywhere; how can it be said that one has secluded oneself, or hidden, from G‑d?

The arrogant person, full of himself, has no room for G‑d in his life….

The arrogant person, full of himself, has no room for G‑d in his life, so G‑d obligingly withdraws. Thus, arrogance - the root of all sin - causes us to be "hidden" from G‑d.

Nevertheless, this concealment is not "real", but rather artificially imposed by G‑d because He abhors conceit (see Proverbs 16:5). Therefore, just as a husband can annul his wife's implication in crime when her "sin", so to speak, is of his own making, so can G‑d always forgive our implication in sin, without the need for pursuing the trial of the bitter waters any further.

If, however, "the scroll has already been erased", i.e. it becomes clear that when we sinned our connection to G‑d was like that between ink and the parchment it is written on, the two of which can be separated from each other, then we have the status of a suspected adulteress. We must therefore bring an offering of barley, animal feed. This means that we have to realize that our approach to life until now has been lacking both qualitatively and quantitatively: we have not been thinking about life enough, and whatever thinking we have been doing has been based on self-awareness and self-orientation; we have been focused on our animal needs.

Bringing this "offering" serves to subdue our arrogance, making us once again proper vessels for divine consciousness and G‑d's attendant blessings.

Following the metaphor of the suspected adulteress as one who has strayed from G‑d, these verses can be explained as follows:

"The man must bring [his wife] to the priest…" (Num. 5:15): When a person sins, he must bring his animal soul to the priest. The "priest" is not necessarily a kohen, but anyone whose life is devoted to G‑d and His Torah. And just as we are taught that we should ask a man of G‑d to intercede on behalf of a sick person, so are we taught that we should approach a man of G‑d to seek healing for someone who is spiritually sick. (Mishneh Torah, Deiot 2:1)

These opposing characteristics coexist in the inner dimension of Torah….

"The priest shall take sacred waters…" (ibid. 5:17): In order to rehabilitate the spiritually sick, the priest takes "sacred water", for water is often a metaphor for the Torah - and "sacred" water connotes the inner dimension of Torah. The nature of water is to descend, whereas "sacred" describes something detached and aloof, something that does not descend. These opposing characteristics coexist in the inner dimension of Torah. On the one hand, the secrets of the Torah are too sublime to be grasped by the human mind; on the other hand, the inner dimension of the Torah can reach, inspire, touch, and move people more than the exoteric aspect of Torah can. Therefore, a person is encouraged to study the Torah even for selfish reasons, since we are sure that the inner dimension of the Torah will ultimately inspire him to learn for the proper motives.

The priest must take these "sacred waters" and place them "…in an earthen vessel and, taking some of the earth that is on the floor of the Tabernacle, the priest shall put it into the water" (ibid.): An earthen vessel is the least prestigious type of vessel. Furthermore, earth, which is not even a vessel, is added to the water, making the water dirty and repulsive.This signifies that the "priest" must ensure that the inner dimension of Torah be expressed in such a way that it reaches the lowest aspects of reality, in order that it raise and purify the fallen soul.

[Based on Likutei Sichot, Likutei Sichot, vol. 13, p. 19; vol. 4, p. 1032 ff, p. 1311-2]

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