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Kedushat Levi on the role of the spiritual leader (parashat Pinchas)

If you're coming to Shabbat morning services (and to the Torah study which follows) this week, you might want to skip this post -- or else, read and begin contemplating it now, so you'll have fully-formed thoughts to offer in our discussion! This is the Kedushat Levi text which David and I translated together this week; it arises out of part of the Torah portion which we'll be reading during services, specifically Numbers 27:15-23.



Kedushat Levi (Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev) on parashat Pinchas

Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740-1809) was one of the main disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch. He was known as “the defense attorney” for the Jewish people, because people believed that he could intercede for us before God.

Moshe spoke to Adonai, saying, "Let Adonai, source of the breath of all flesh [or: God of the spirits of all flesh] appoint a leader for the community who shall go out before them and come in before them, and who shall take them out and bring them in, so that Adonai's community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd." (Numbers 27:15-17)

The Blessed Creator causes shefa (abundance) to flow into the world of the serafim (angels) and into the realm of the cosmic creatures of the zodiac, and from there the shefa flows to us. The Blesed Creator sends that flow into the higher realms so that it can be received by us. It's as though the Blessed Creator were constricting God's-self into this stream of abundance, and sending forth this abundance so that we can receive it. And in receiving it, we find God. All of the chesed (lovingkindness) which flows into those higher realms is like a teaching or lesson which flows into the lower worlds to be received.

Moshe said, "God of the spirits of all flesh"—one might say, "God of spirituality, You who send forth flow from the higher realms into all flesh." It's like a lesson which a person is able to receive, that God appoints a person over the congregation to lead the congregation. "Appoint"—"to lead" us, as You are the leader in Your essence with us.

And this is what Torah means when we read "And Moshe spoke to God, saying..."— "saying" seems extraneous and redundant! But it conveys to us that Moshe was making this request of the Blessed God, that God should stand as a good leader for us. Moshe asked this not merely for his own generation, but also on behalf of all the generations to come. This is why the Torah text includes the word "saying"—that extra word is there to teach us that Moshe made this request for all the generations to come.


Questions for consideration:

What do you make of the idea that God constricts God's-self into a flow of abundance which streams into creation?

Reb Levi Yitzchak uses the metaphor of a "lesson" in this teaching—a lesson specifically tailored to what we can receive. How do you understand that?

What is the Torah text saying about what a spiritual leader is / should be? What is Kedushat Levi saying about what a spiritual leader is / should be? What do you think a spiritual leader is / should be?