Moses and Shem: A Matter Within the Matter
Rabbi David Katz
In this week’s Parsha Moses ascends the extraordinary mountain that would receive his perfected body, the same mountain that would receive Aaron and Miriam as well. What makes this mountain extraordinary is that the Midrash explains that it has four official titles [Mt. Nevo, Mt. Avarim, Mt. Hur, and Mt. Hapizga], with Mt. Nevo in particular as being perhaps the most revealing of the four, and being a mash up of: “Nachash – Bo” – “The snake is in it.” This is a reference to Miriam, Aaron, and Moses, all being buried within close proximity of this mountain strip to the East of the Jordan, and each as having died only due to the impurity of the Snake that got the best of Adam in the Garden of Eden; thus it was not by the sins of these three Holy Souls that they tasted death, but rather because of the lack of turning back the wrath of the Snake from this World that continues to get Man to sin, and thereby come to the grave. The direct consequence of this lack of vanquishing the Snake, a pull on the heart that we can all feel in the tone at the end of the Torah, is that they must remain outside the Land until the proper resurrection of the dead, which as the Rambam explains, is the pinnacle of one’s Faith. As Moses comes to meet his destiny and death makes its final approach upon him, one can’t help but notice allusions of Shem [the son of Noah] and the similar struggles that he went through and what Torah allusions are present here in a strikingly similar stream with Shem.
There are several layers of Torah that hint to the connection between Moses and Shem in this Parsha, all ranging from the various levels of Pardes [P’shat (simple meaning) R’emez (hint) D’rush (allegory) and S’od (secrets)], yet three distinct concepts resonate on a frequency that stands out more than others.
Moses ascends a Mountain to fulfill his death, much like Shem was gathered at Sinai for 1300 years before his moving on. This concept is in conjunction with a Midrash that states that Shem was actually released from Sinai by King Solomon by the power of his Torah. We will look at the dynamics of this Midrash and how it relates to the teachings of the Vilna Gaon (Rabbi of the 18th century), namely that the “Gaon” states that the entire Torah is made up within our Parsha, and that Moses’ mountain is allegorically synonymous with Sinai. The other concept is that of the verse 32:46: “Place on your hearts these words.” It should be noted that the word for “Place” is a derivative of “Shem” in Hebrew grammar and the gematria (numerical value) of the expression, “Place it on your hearts” is the same as “Shem son of Noah” .
The Vilna Gaon states that there are 614 words in this Parsha. In many ways [mostly Kabbalisticly] this number “614” encapsulates the concept of “the entire Torah.” The most basic source of this relationship here in our parsha, is that 614 is the same as 613 [in Torah / Gematria, two words being off by “1” is not seen as a problem; rather it maintains its support. This concept is called “kollel” – addition. The source for this is found in Genesis where Reuven and Shimon are “like” “Efraim and Menashe” – the difference between both sets of sons is 1, and the Torah identifies the relationship: 725 vs. 726.] in that this hints at the number of commandments of 613. This takes us right back to Shem and the Midrash where he stood at Sinai for 1300 years until King Solomon released him.
As Shem stood at Sinai for those long years [which again, note the Vilna Gaon identifies the similarities between Moses’ mountain and Shem’s mountain, i.e. Sinai], and went through Sinai and beyond, virtually guaranteeing and providing witness in the success of Torah and an eventual Redemption [namely there being a Messiah son of David] Shem needed to be released from Sinai, and be given access to ascend on High, to be a Priest to God Above. Like Moses, Shem would not be given access at this time to the Land of Israel [below]; rather he would occupy the Land of Israel Above, until the time of the Final Redemption, of which Shem takes part with his role as the “Righteous Priest.” [Sukkah 52b] Also like Moses, this would not be due to the nature of Sin, but rather the failure to remove the proverbial venom from the snake and its grip on the World. Just as Shem in his confrontation with Solomon, forced the young King to encapsulate the entire Torah on one foot [to the tune of what would become Solomon’s Three Books: Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes – all the synopsis of the Torah of David his father, to which is a lineage that Shem helped design through Tamar his daughter and her unique marriage/conception with Judah, David’s forefather] so too our Parsha that contains 614 words, is Moses’ way of imparting the entire Torah “on one foot.” It is said that if one learns out each word of Haazinu, he can actually relate to the entire Torah, and even the Torah on High, through divine faculties. With this Shem and Moses are quite parallel in their “last charge” to the people; Moses with the Jewish People and Shem to King Solomon, both would suggest an essential Torah that would live on through the Messianic age.
Lastly, the Torah mentions the “Placing of these words on your hearts.” The Gematria/Numerical Value of this expression is 450 – “Shem son of Noah” – which this may very well be Moses’ hidden charge for the people, to seek out the deeper levels of Torah, on an all inclusive level, otherwise known as “Pilpul” – the spice of Torah. The Torah of Shem is not listed by name anywhere in the Torah, yet the Midrashim, and even to garner a simple pshat in some places [simple meaning] requires one to insert the importance and knowledge of Shem. The reason why Shem’s Torah often does not stick out in one’s mind from reading the Torah, is that it comes from a revelation of Torah called “The Torah’s Modest Side” [Sifra D’Tzniusa]. It is from this level of Torah that one must literally “soften” his mind, to hear the Ancient voice of Torah speak loud and clear in the “today.” The Torah of Shem in many ways is the forerunner to the Torah of the Messiah, which tradition says the Torah as we know it will not change. This is exactly what happened at the exchange between Shem and Solomon, as the Essential Torah was expressed in the Torah as we know it and as Solomon knew it at that time – going back to Moses, and in the vessels of King David, who would be the archetype of the Messiah. When the prophet speaks about the circumcision of the heart [and to remove the hearts of stone], the Torah of Shem fits the bill, as when one hears the soft voice of Shem’s Torah embedded in the Torah of Moses, the heart is seen as circumcised, as a heart of stone perforce can’t claim the frequency. It should be noted then, that the Vilna Gaon states that 614 [as per the number of words in the Parsha] is that of Charut – 614 in Gematria [חרות], which means, “engraved.” The Vilna Gaon makes a connection to the Stone Tablets that contained the original 10 Commandments. The idea would be that when one has softened his heart, to encapsulate the entire Torah, from its softly spoken side, [the modest side of Shem] then the stone of the 10 Commandments ceases to remain an impediment to the scholar, for his heart has removed the stone as it would apply to this World.
Parashas Haazinu is one that is uniquely diverse, complex, and quite compelling. In this Parsha, Moses goes to his death, for reasons that ultimately belong only to Hashem. The same can be said about Shem, and all of the ambiguity that surrounds his name and his life. The Torah is a shroud of mystery for Shem, and now it is Moses, who as an incarnation of Shem is taking a similar trek, that like Shem will culminate only at the time of the Final Redemption. Moses and Shem have successfully delivered us the entire Torah, whether encoded in Haazinu or the books of Solomon, our job is to hear the voice of the Righteous in the Torah, and for that the Tanach reaches its conclusion in prophecy. The Prophet Malachi closes with his words, a prophecy for the Righteous Priest that “Rashi” identifies as Shem, “For the Lips of the Priest should safeguard Knowledge, and people should seek the Torah of his mouth, for he is an agent of Hashem Master of Legions. Such is Shem, who like Moses, they imparted with us the entire Torah encoded within their last moments, while in ascension upon similar mountains. If only we would listen and circumcise our hearts, perhaps then the Torah of Shem would come in the form of the Righteous Priest, who is destined to come in the End of Days – May it be soon.
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