In our previous article, we began exploring the five spiritual stages of the creative process. As the Vilna Gaon explains, everything in the universe is comprised of five stages or parts. To briefly review:
The initial stage of every thought is a flash of inspiration, the instant when an idea enters the mind, but remains ethereal, undefined, and still somewhat elusive.
The second stage of the creative process is where the flash of inspiration becomes more expressed and further defined as a general idea or concept.
The third stage is where the general idea of the second stage begins to take on detail, becoming a full-fledged, defined thought-process.
The fourth stage is where the concrete thoughts within your mind become expressed outwards into the physical world.
The fifth stage is the final, expressed form of that original flash of inspiration, now a fully expressed entity in the physical world.
Fascinatingly, the Vilna Gaon explains the structure and layout of the Chumash in accordance with this five-step template. The Torah is not split into five parts for convenience or practical organization. The five books represent the five spiritual stages of the Torah.
B’reishis is the inception of the physical world, as well as the seed of the Jewish People. The ultimate purpose of creation is for humanity to reach its perfection and achieve absolute oneness with Hashem. Adam was initially entrusted with this mission, and when he failed, the opportunity and responsibility to accept this mission was passed down through each generation: from Noach, to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and finally to Yaakov, from whom klal Yisrael emerges.
Thus, B’reishis is the initial flash of inspiration, the spark of conception, the initial stage of humanity’s mission and evolutionary story.
Sh’mos is the second stage of this process, where the flash of inspiration develops into a more fully formed, tangible idea. In Sefer Sh’mos, the Jewish People are born as they leave Mitzrayim. Y’tzias Mitzrayim was not simply a physical process, by which the Jewish People departed from the land of Egypt and headed toward a new location. It was a spiritual metamorphosis, an existential transition, the birth of a people. Prior to leaving Mitzrayim, the Jewish People were a collective of individuals; but upon leaving, we became a nation, a single people, a unified whole.
Klal Yisrael then received their identity and idealistic mission at Matan Torah, collectively accepting the responsibility to fulfill the original goal of creation: to help humanity reach its perfection and achieve absolute oneness with Hashem. We became destined to bridge the gap between the infinite and finite, the spiritual and physical. Klal Yisrael built the Mishkan, which would serve as the focal point of connection between the spiritual and the physical, as well as the medium of connection between Hashem and klal Yisrael.
Once the general plan was set in place, the details must come next.
Vayikra is the third stage in the process, where the general principles of Sefer Sh’mos become expressed and manifest in full detail. In Sh’mos, we received our mission on Har Sinai and accepted our responsibility to devote our lives toward connecting with Hashem, as well as the task of building the Mishkan, the focal point of this connection. In Vayikra, we are shown the extensive details regarding how to achieve this connection with Hashem. Vayikra thus includes all the halachos of the Mishkan, korbanos, and k’hunah. This allows us to translate the general ideas set forth in Sh’mos into a concrete, expressed reality.
BaMidbar is the fourth stage, where the theoretical, conceptual plan transitions into action; where the expression begins to unfold within time and space; and where the implementation of the ideas and ideals are attempted. This is the stage of dibur, speech, the process of taking thoughts and ideas and expressing them into the world. This is why the shoresh (root) of the word “BaMidbar” is dibur, which means “speech.”
However, BaMidbar is also where everything goes wrong, where problems begin to arise. In the transition from thought to speech and action, challenges emerge. Sefer BaMidbar features many of the sins of klal Yisrael, most of which relate to the misuse of speech, representing the inability to transition from higher to lower, from ideal to practice, from idea to speech.
Miriam is reprimanded for speaking lashon ha’ra about Moshe (BaMidbar, perek 12). The M’raglim fail to learn from her mistake and speak lashon ha’ra, as well (Rashi, BaMidbar 13:2). Korach misuses speech to create machlokes and chaos within klal Yisrael (BaMidbar, perek 16). Moshe strikes the rock, using action when words were appropriate (BaMidbar 20:11-12). Bil’am attempts to use speech to curse the Jewish People (BaMidbar, perek 24). The mis’onenim (complainers) use their speech to complain and criticize Hashem (BaMidbar, perek 11.
This is why the sefer is called “BaMidbar,” which refers to the misuse of speech. The word “midbar” literally means “from speech” (mi-dibur), representing a breakdown and departure from proper speech. The word “midbar” also refers to a desert, a place that represents the breakdown of speech. The desert represents the concept of spiritual emptiness; it is the place where the process of life breaks down, and spiritual direction erodes. A road provides a path toward a clear destination; but in the desert, there are no roads, no paths, and therefore no clarity of purpose or direction. It is a place of wilderness and chaos without growth, water, or life.
Fascinatingly, this is why mirages appear specifically in the desert. Mirages are a mysterious phenomenon, and while there are scientific explanations for them, it is still astonishing that people in the desert sometimes see water, structures, or even whole cities when there is actually nothing there. The fact, though, that mirages occur specifically in the desert reflects a deep spiritual concept. The desert is a place of illusion, where our perception of reality breaks down. The Midrash explains that the Mal’ach HaMaves (Angel of Death) showed the Jewish People an illusion of Moshe’s death while they were in the midbar to convince them of their helplessness (Rashi, Sh’mos 32:1). This breakdown led to the Cheit HaEigel, the most terrible sin in Jewish history. The midbar is the place of illusion, where we lose the ability to correctly translate what we see, where the process of communication shatters. Speech, intelligible pathways, and life itself cannot exist in the desert.
[This is why the Torah was given in the midbar; it is the only place where truth can be heard. The Maharal (Tiferes Yisrael 26) explains that just as the timing of Matan Torah was fundamental, the physical location was fundamental as well. When there is noise and distraction, truth cannot be properly heard or internalized. Only when there is silence, and the complete absence of ego, can the truth be heard, understood, and accepted. The Torah is the absolute and whole truth and can therefore only be given when there is absolutely nothing else competing against it. If one thinks that the Torah is “one” of many truths, that Moshe was “one” of the many prophets, then it will not be possible to arrive at the truth. Torah is not just one of the options; it is the absolute truth, the definition of reality. As such, it was given in a place where nothing else speaks to show that Torah stands alone as the holistic and absolute truth.]
There is, however, an obvious problem: Why is Sefer BaMidbar full of misuses of speech? Why is the fourth stage of the Torah, the stage that is supposed to represent the spiritual concept of speech, replete with corruptions of speech?
The answer is profound: The best way to learn a principle is to see the principle and its opposite. As the Maharal and Ramchal explain, human beings learn from comparison and contrast. We understand the concept of wisdom by seeing foolishness, goodness from witnessing evil, and wealth from seeing poverty. The Torah includes countless examples of proper and ideal speech, but only by seeing the misuse of speech can we truly understand the essence of proper speech. Only by seeing the corruption of speech can we learn and strive to perfect our own speech.
The purpose of the Torah is to uplift a darkened, shattered world to connect the physical to its spiritual source. The fourth stage is where we struggle to achieve our goal, where we must push through the roadblocks as we build and actualize that original flash of inspiration. Our job in this world is to build the road in the wasteland of this world, to express Hashem’s will into a world that has lost its direction. In Sefer BaMidbar, the Jews travel through the midbar, struggling to express Hashem’s will into the world, struggling to live up to their lofty mission as Hashem’s chosen nation. Finding direction in the midbar was a true journey of creating light in the darkness, creating clarity amidst chaos and confusion.
D’varim is the fifth stage of the Torah, where the process of Y’tzias Mitzrayim and our journey in the midbar result in Moshe’s actual words, where the journey to Eretz Yisrael is completed, and where the goal is achieved. For this reason, it is called D’varim (words), as Moshe speaks the words of D’varim himself, representing the culmination of the process, the final expression. This is also why the content of Sefer D’varim is mostly a repetition of the previous s’farim. As the Vilna Gaon and Maharal explain, D’varim does not represent a new sefer; it is a revelation and reformulation of all that preceded it.
Order Within the Chaos
This five-stage pattern exists within every process in life. Everything in this world, even that which appears chaotic, scattered, and disorganized, shares this underlying pattern. Everything in life begins with a spark; every creative process begins with a big idea. Then comes the rigorous journey of bringing that spark to fruition, turning that idea into something tangible, and expressing the spiritual creation into the physical world. May we be inspired to grab hold of the initial stage of inspiration and follow through with our commitment to actualize it, bringing our spiritual greatness into full expression in this world. May we also, both individually and collectively, continue to accept the responsibility of fulfilling the original goal of creation: to help humanity reach its perfection and achieve absolute oneness with Hashem.
Rabbi Shmuel Reichman is the author of the bestselling book, The Journey to Your Ultimate Self, which serves as an inspiring gateway into deeper Jewish thought. He is an international speaker, educator, and the CEO of Self-Mastery Academy. After obtaining his BA from Yeshiva University, he received s’micha from RIETS, a master’s degree in education, a master’s degree in Jewish Thought, and then spent a year studying at Harvard. He is currently pursuing a PhD at UChicago. To invite Rabbi Reichman to speak in your community or to enjoy more of his deep and inspiring content, visit his website: www.ShmuelReichman.com.