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A Near Way and a Far Way

Article No. 26, Tav-Shin-Mem-Vav, 1985-86

In the portion, Beshalach [When Pharaoh Sent], we find that the text tells us, “God did not lead them through the land of the Philistines, for it was near; lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” This means that a near way is not good. Regarding the second Passover, we see (Numbers, 9:10), “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘Should any man be impure for the soul, or on a far way for you, he should make a Passover for the Lord on the second month.” This means that if he is on a far way, he cannot do the Passover in its time.

We see that the portion, Beshalach, tells us that the near way is not good, as it is written there that He did not lead them for it was near, but that the far way is better. In the portion, Behaalotcha [When You Raise (the candles)], it is written that one who is on a far way is put off for a second Passover. This implies that the far way is worse than the near way.

First we must know that the ways to which the Torah relates surely imply a far way and a near way with respect to achieving the completion of the goal. Thus, it is difficult to understand how it can be said that the near way is not good. That is, the reason that the Torah gives us for this is that they will see war and return to Egypt. But near means close to the Creator. If he is close to the Creator, how can it be said that they will regret and return to Egypt? We understand the opposite—if the people had regretted on a way that is far from the Creator, it could be said, “lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.”

In the portion, Re’eh [See] (Deuteronomy, 14:24), the writing says, “If the distance is so great for you that you cannot carry it, since the place where the Lord your God chooses to set His name is too far from you.” Baal HaSulam gave an explanation about this and asked, “What is the reason that the text gives us the reason for ‘If the distance is so great for you that you cannot carry it’”? He said that since man must assume the burden of the kingdom of heaven and must be as an “ox to the burden and as a donkey to the load,” and man cannot carry it, meaning that it is hard for him to bear the load, which is the meaning of, “cannot carry it,” for this reason the road will be far for you.

This is not so if one did take upon oneself the burden of the kingdom of heaven. He would see that everything is near him. That is, a person sees that “the place where the Lord your God chooses to set His name,” meaning the place where God has chosen to set His name, is far from him. This is as it is written, “And let them make Me a Temple and I will dwell within them.” That place is far from the person, meaning from being able to make in his heart room for instilling the Shechina [Divinity]. He is far from understanding such a thing—that one will have the strength to make room for instilling the Shechina in his heart. This is so because he will not be able to carry it, meaning he will not want to take upon himself the accepted way, “as an ox to the burden and as a donkey to the load.”

It therefore follows that one should exert all of one’s energy only on this. That is, one should always seek advice how to take upon himself the abovementioned burden. One should focus all of one’s work, meaning in everything that one does in Torah and Mitzvot [commandments], one should desire that these works will bring him the assuming of the burden of the kingdom of heaven not in order to receive reward, and that this is where “the Lord your God has chosen to set His name.”

It is known that His name is called Malchut, who is called Shechina. This is as the holy Zohar writes,“He is Shochen [dweller]; she is Shechina [Divinity/where He dwells].” It is as Baal HaSulam says, that the place where the Creator is revealed is called Shechina, and the Creator is called Shochen. However, when is He called Shochen? When there is someone who attains the Shochen. At that time he says that Shochen and Shechina are not two things, but one. That is, the Shochen is called “light without a Kli [vessel],” and the Shechina is the place where the Creator is revealed. It follows that all that there is in the place where the Creator is revealed is the Creator, and nothing else. However, there is light and Kli, meaning there is a Kli that attains the light.

It therefore follows that the place where the Creator has chosen to set His name is as we learn, that we need to correct our vessels of reception to be in order to bestow contentment upon the Creator. This is the meaning of equivalence of form. Then, in that place, the name of the Creator appears.

Thus, how can it be said about a near way, “And God did not lead them, for it was near”? After all, a far way means as it is written concerning the second Passover, that one who was on a far way is put off for a second Passover. It is as it is written in the portion, Re’eh (Deuteronomy, 14:24): “If the distance is so great for you that you cannot carry it.” According to Baal HaSulam’s interpretation, remoteness of location stems from being unable to carry it, meaning to tolerate the burden of the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, how can it be that the far way is better than a near way?

In Masechet Iruvin (p 53b), he writes there in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Hananiah, who said, “Once I was walking along the road and saw an infant sitting at a crossroads. I said to him, ‘My son, which way leads to the city?’ He said to me, ‘This one is long and short, and this one is short and long.’ I followed the short and long. When I arrived at the city, it was surrounded by gardens and orchards. I went back and told him, ‘My son, did you not tell me, this one is short?’ He replied, ‘My Rav, did I not say ‘Short and long’?’’” This means that there is an issue of near and far, and far and near.

It is written in the portion, Nitzavim [Standing] (Deuteronomy, 30:11): “For this commandment which I command you today is not beyond you, nor is it far. For the matter is very near you—in your mouth and in your heart to do it.” This means that “near” is a good way, as it is written, “In your mouth and in your heart to do it,” and not as in the portion, Beshalach.

To understand the above we must interpret this with regard to the beginning of the work. There is a matter of work in practice, and there is a matter of working on the intention. That is, one should work on the intention, too. This means that while observing the Mitzvot [commandments], one should have a good intention, meaning with which intention he is performing the Mitzvot, namely the reason that causes him to keep the Mitzvot.

Since we should aim the actions to be not in order to receive reward, and since man is born with vessels of reception, which is that it is impossible to do anything without receiving reward for one’s work, for it is in our nature not to make any movement unless we see that it is worthwhile, that we will have more pleasure by relinquishing rest.

That is, we relinquish the state we are in, in order to receive more pleasure than we have now, before we leave the pleasure and go do something else. Thus, it is certainly important that through performing a new act he will receive more pleasure.

Thus, he must do and keep the Torah and Mitzvot not because the Creator wants us to keep them and we want to do His will so He will derive pleasure from our obedience to Him. Rather, since He promises us a great reward for listening to Him, we try to keep what He wants from us, since we are looking at the good reward that He will pay us for our work.

This is similar to people working for an owner at a factory. A usual workday lasts eight hours. By the workers working for him, the owner makes money. Therefore, the owner enjoys having workers who do his will.

Some of the workers approach the owner and tell him that since they see that he is troubled by the fact that he has promised someone to deliver products by a certain date, but they see that according to the pace of the work that the workers are producing in eight hours, he will not be able to meet the terms of the contract and provide all the merchandise on time. Therefore, they agree to work overtime for him. Although they must be home immediately after the eight hour workday, since they have children to tend to, and one of them has a wife who is a little sick, so they try to come home immediately after work, but because they see his distress, they are willing to work overtime for him.

Naturally, when the owner hears of his workers’ dedication to him, that they cannot stand his sorrow and therefore agree to work overtime because they know that he is stressed because he must meet the contract that he promised the buyer to provide a certain amount of merchandise by a certain date, but according to the pace of work in eight hours he will be unable to keep his promise.

Therefore, the feeling in their hearts toward the giver of the work does not let them rest without doing something for the owner, so they agree to labor more than they are able. That is, although it is passed the workday hours and have families with many children, and one of them has a wife who is a little sick and he must do the domestic chores, as well, their conscience does not let them leave the owner in distress.

Therefore, they approach him and tell him, “We have decided to work overtime for you.” When the owner hears his workers’ devotion, he sees a new thing: before these workers came to him to show him that they sympathize with his affliction, he thought that all the workers had no emotions or conscience. Rather, they worked for him and not for others only because he pays more than others, so they work for him. But now he sees otherwise—that he was wrong about the workers.

But afterwards they tell him: “However, you must know that for overtime, meaning to work at night, too, we want you to pay us for the overtime twice as much as you pay us for regular hours.” Then the owner begins to think again: “Is the reason why they want to work overtime really as they say, that they want to help me in my plight? Or is it the opposite, they see I’m in distress and therefore demand more money for overtime because they know I have no choice? They let me see that I need to give them what they want because they tell me of my dire state, so I will know that they know my situation, and so they want to pressure me to pay them for the overtime the money they are asking.”

From this we can take an example of our work in keeping Torah and Mitzvot, meaning to discern between action and intention. An action means that he intends to do the act that He has commanded us through Moses to keep Torah and Mitzvot in all its details, and that we should aim that the Mitzva [commandment] we are doing is in order to do His will, that He wanted us to keep Torah and Mitzvot.

It follows that the intention that a person should intend is that we should aim that the actions we do are to keep what He has commanded us. This is regarded as intending for the action to be fine, as He had told us through Moses. It is like the judgment concerning blowing the Shofar [special horn blown on special days], that “If he blows the Shofar in order to learn, or blows in order to sing, and not for the purpose of Mitzva, then he has no done his duty” (as it is written in Way of Life, Rules of Rosh Hashanah, item 589).

It therefore follows that when we say that Mitzvot require intention, it means that he should aim that the act he is performing will be because he wants to keep the commandment of the Creator. Certainly, the act should be according to the law that our sages determined the measures of Torah and Mitzvot—how and in what way it should be in the practice of Mitzvot.

For example, the Sukkah [the hut of the Tabernacle Festival] has several rules to it in terms of shape. Otherwise, the work is deficient. The same applies to studying Torah, and to the negative Mitzvot [commandments to avoid certain actions]. There are many rules concerning them. If he does not keep the laws concerning them then there is a deficiency in the work of Mitzvot. Even if he does everything according to the law, he should still intend that he is performing the Mitzva because the Creator has commanded us to do His will by keeping the Mitzvot that He has commanded us through Moses.

All this is regarded only as “the practice of Mitzvot,” but not the intention. This is so because everything he thinks about doing the act that the Creator has commanded us, and all the labors we labor in Torah and Mitzvot, are like all the people in the world, who work and labor to be rewarded, and nothing more.

Also, here we need additional attention because when we say that all the work is in the practice of Mitzvot, it means that the labor is in the practice, and it cannot be said here that there is work for the reward. Rather, in order to receive reward for the labor, we do not see that a person will need effort to receive reward, since the only reason we labor and relinquish many things is that we are considering the reward, for only the reward compels us to do hard work without minding the quality of the work or the time of the work, for the reward determines everything.

Thus, we should understand why we are saying that there is work on the intention, meaning work on the reward. After all, how can we speak of work here? However, the thing is that when a person engages in Torah and Mitzvot and wants his reward to be that the Creator will give him the thought and desire to work not in order to receive reward, the body does not agree to such a reward, since normally we receive reward for work. That is, the work is in concessions of needs that he enjoys, in return for which he will receive greater pleasures than he is conceding. For example, he relinquishes rest, and sometimes sleep, and so forth, and receives in return greater and more necessary pleasures.

This is not so when he relinquishes pleasures by coercion, when the body disagrees and wants reward in order to agree to relinquish all kinds of pleasures. It follows that the work is acts of bestowal, and the reward will be the intention only to bestow, without any reward of reception. For this intention, meaning for this reward, one must work a lot.

This is more difficult than working in practice, although he does not need to different things at a different time for the intention of the reward. Rather, the same work that he does, and at the same time when he is working, are enough for him, and he does not need other actions, but merely thought and intention. What is the intention? That his thought and desire will be like the act.

That is, as he does the work because the Creator has commanded him to do it, so the intention will be only that he wants to keep the commandments of the Creator only for the Creator, without any reward. The fact that all that is demanded of man while performing the act—when he is doing the Creator’s will—is to aim while performing the Mitzva, not because he is considering the reward, compels him to work day and night. That is, he keeps what is written, “And you shall contemplate Him day and night” not because he is considering the reward, and this makes him work day and night. Rather, his desire to bring contentment to the Creator is the reason why he exerts in the work.

This is similar to the abovementioned allegory about the workers who agreed to work overtime for the owner at night, but demanded that he pay them twice as much as they receive during regular hours. We see the difference between working in order to receive reward and working not in order to receive reward. No one can say that the workers are faithful to the owner, and this is why they agree to work for him day and night. Rather, they say the opposite about them, that since the owner needs their work they use him and want him to double their pay.

It is the same with work. Although LoLishma [not for Her sake] is work, and there is nothing to add in terms of actions, but there is the matter of intention here, meaning what the workers intend by working—whether it is to their benefit or to the benefit of the Creator.

It takes a lot of hard work for the body to agree to work for the Creator, meaning to tell the body what I hope for, what reward I want to receive from the Creator for forcing you to work so hard—so the Creator will give me the reward that you will not be able to obstruct me when I want to do everything in order to bestow.

Naturally, the body yells out loud and does all that it can to avoid losing its control. Therefore, it does not let them do the simplest tings because it is afraid that by merit of the act he will achieve Lishma, which is entirely for the Creator, and it will have no part that it will be able to receive for self-love.

Because of it, we see that for those who want to keep Torah and Mitzvot in order to bestow, every little thing is very difficult because the body is afraid in every action it performs that perhaps through the work he is doing the person will achieve Lishma, and all the control of the will to receive over the person will be revoked. This is regarded as having work on the reward, as well. It means that he has work to choose the reward he wants for his work in Torah and Mitzvot—whether it is reward that pertains to self-love or reward that is “for the Creator alone,” and he does not want to give self-love any part of his work, and always thinks, “When will I be granted with having a desire only to bestow contentment upon the Creator?”

Now we can understand what we asked, “How can there be a bad near way,” as it is written, “And God did not lead them, for it was near.” We can understand what the infant said to Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Hananiah, that “There is a far and short way, and a short and far one,” meaning near but far. This means that although it is near, it is far from the goal.

It is known that Maimonides says that we should not disclose the matter of Lishma, as he says (Hilchot Teshuva[Rules of Repentance], Chapter 10), “Sages said, ‘One should always engage in Torah, even LoLishma, because from LoLishma he will come to Lishma.’ Therefore, when teaching little ones, women, and ordinary people, they are taught only to work out of fear and to receive reward. Until they gain more knowledge and acquire much wisdom, they are told that secret bit-by-bit, and are accustomed to it calmly until they attain Him and serve Him out of love.’”

It implies from the words of Maimonides that there is a near way, meaning that it is near to man’s heart, meaning in order to receive reward. It follows that it is called “near” because it is close to man’s heart. But there is another interpretation of “near way,” which is that a person sees each time that he is coming closer to the goal, and for him the goal is called “reward,” and he hopes that when he has a certain amount of Torah and Mitzvot, he will promptly receive reward for his work, as it is known that being a hired worker pays only in the end (Baba Metzia, 65).

Therefore, he believes that when he finishes his work in this world he will receive his reward in the next world, besides having Mitzvot whose reward is in this world, too, as it is written, “These things that a man eats, their fruits are in this world, and the capital awaits him for the next world.”

It therefore follows that each day he feels that he has something in his hand, meaning the reward of a day’s work, and each day joins a year, and a year to a year. For example, a person who begins to observe Mitzvot at age thirteen, which is the time when Mitzvot become mandatory, by age twenty he is happy that thank God, he already has seven years of work written to his account. By age thirty he is extremely happy because he already has seventeen years of work written in his book. It follows that each time he works he can be happy that his reward is growing from day to day. This work is called “close to his heart,” since he is certain about his advancing reward.

This way is called “near way” because it is agreeable to the heart, since if one sees progress on his way, that way sits well with the heart because he has what to examine. In the work he does, he sees that each day he has a certain amount of work in Torah and Mitzvot, and everything is written in his book, as it is written (Avot, Chapter 3), “He would say, ‘All is in deposit, and a fortress spreads over all of life. The store is open and the shopkeeper sells by deferred payment; the book is open and the hand writes.” Therefore, he is certain that he has a great asset of reward that he has accumulated by working each day and from year to year. For this reason, this way is called “near way.” This is also called “a short way” for the above reason, since he does not need a long time for a person to understand that it is worthwhile to walk on this path because this path is close to his heart. This is why it is a short way.

However, it is a long way, meaning to achieve the truth, for the Torah and Mitzvot to bring him into having the intention only to bestow. It is very far because this way is the opposite of the path of Dvekut [adhesion] with the Creator, which is entirely to bestow. Here he begins to walk on a way that his intention will be only to receive reward. But the purpose one should achieve through his labor in Torah and Mitzvot is to bring him to work in order to bestow, as our sages said, “I have created the evil inclination, I have created the Torah as a spice.” He needs to see that through Torah and Mitzvot, the evil in him, called “receiving in order to receive,” will be corrected and he will be able to do everything for the sake of the Creator, and not for his own sake. Concerning his own sake, it is as our sages said about the verse, “If a man dies in a tent,” that the Torah exists only in one who puts himself to death over it,” and not for his own benefit.

This is called “near and far.” It is near to his heart for the two above reason, but far from the truth, as Maimonides says (Hilchot Teshuva, Chapter 10), “One who works from love, engages in Torah and Mitzvot, and walks in the paths of wisdom not because of anything in the world, and not because of fear of evil, and not in order to inherit abundance, but does the truth because it is the truth.”

It follows according to the words of Maimonides that the above near way is far from the truth. Accordingly, we can interpret, “God did not lead them through the land of the Philistines, for it was near; lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” The matter of “when they see war” should be interpreted to mean that by engaging Lo Lishma, the way is the one that illuminates illumination that one must achieve Lishma. And since the beginning of the work is in Lo Lishma, they will not want to go to war with the inclination because they will fear losing their degree of engaging in Torah and Mitzvot.

This is a far way. The Creator wanted to go with them right away to Mt. Sinai and give them the Torah. This is why He told them right away that they must go by the far way. That is, although this work is far from the heart, it is close to the truth, and by this they will be fit to receive the Torah at the foot of Mt. Sinai.

Therefore, it follows that we can interpret “long and short way” to mean short and near. Thus, the meaning will be “far from the heart,” meaning that it requires a long time to make the heart see until it can understand that it is worthwhile to work for the purpose of truth, meaning to keep Torah and Mitzvot in truth because the Creator has commanded us to keep the Torah and Mitzvot, and we want to keep it so that He will enjoy our doing His will.

It follows that the cause and reason for keeping His commandments is the Creator, and not the person. This means that the importance of the Creator compels him to have a desire and craving to serve Him and bring Him contentment. This is called a “far way,” which is because it is far from the heart, but close to the truth, where by being shown the truth, he is closer to touching the truth.

However, “near and far’ means “short and long.” This will mean “close to the heart,” for since the body craves pleasures, and he promises it that through his labor in Torah and Mitzvot it will receive reward, it follows that the body is the reason for keeping Torah and Mitzvot. That is, if he could receive greater pleasure elsewhere, why would he work where the salary is low? This is why this is called “near and short,” for it does not require a lot of time to make the body understand that it should assume the burden of Torah and Mitzvot.

It is as he says in the Sulam ([Ladder commentary on The Zohar] (“Introduction of the Book of Zohar,” item 191): “1) Fear of the Creator and keeping His Mitzvot so that his sons may live and he will be kept from bodily punishment or a punishment to one’s money. This is fear of punishments in this world. 2) When fearing punishments of Hell, as well. Those two are not real fear, for he does not keep the fear because of the commandment of the Creator, but because of his own benefit. It follows that his own benefit is the root, and fear is a derived branch of his own benefit.” It follows that this is called “long and short, far and near” because of what is written in the portion, Beshalach, “God did not lead them through the land of the Philistines, for it was near.”

However, in the portion, Behaalotcha, it is written regarding the second Passover, “or one who was on a far way is put off for a second Passover.” We asked, “This means that the far way is not good, and this is why he was put off for a second Passover?” We should interpret that when a person walks on the near way, meaning close to his heart, he feels that he is closer to Kedusha [holiness] than others, who are walking on the far way, since each day he feels that the Torah and Mitzvot he is performing are accumulating and increasing.

Thus, he has nothing to correct in himself in order to be close to Kedusha, for he can see with his own eyes and does not need to believe above reason that he is ascending on the levels of sanctity. After all, he is keeping the Torah and Mitzvot in every detail, so naturally his Kedusha is growing every day. He feels that he is a complete righteous, and wonders how he can keep what our sages said, “Be very, very humble.”

It follows that such a person, from the state he is in with respect to practice, is hopeless to ever be able to make a sacrifice to the Creator, meaning to come near Him with respect to equivalence of form because he does not feel that he is immersed in self-gratification.

However, if he feels that he is far from the Creator, meaning sees that he is still immersed in self-gratification, and yells to the Creator to let him out from self-benefit and into benefitting the Creator, then he can be corrected, meaning he is put off for a second Passover, and then he makes a sacrifice, meaning that then he comes near to the Creator.

It follows that we should discern two types in the work of the Creator: One type are those who still belong to LoLishma. The second type are those who already belong to Lishma. They are two types, and one cannot understand the other. This is called “long and short, far and near.”

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