The Arrow and the Bow

A teaching from Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, Kedushas Levi, Parshat Devarim.

These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on that side of the Jordan in the desert, in Aravah facing towards Sof, between Paran and Tofel… Deuteronomy 1:1

The root of Aravah is erev, “evening.” When the world was created, evening preceded morning (1), and so the beginning of a person’s life is called “evening.” This hints at the deeper meaning of “in Aravah, facing towards Sof” — that even in the early years of a person’s life, all his acts should be directed towards the Shekhinah, God Herself, Who is called Sof, for God is the sof, “the end,” of everything (2). The verse continues, “between Paran and Tofel.”  Our sages understood Paran to be a reference to priyah urviyah, “being fruitful and multiplying,” and Rashi points out that Tofel means “slander” (3). So everything in our lives, between “the Covenant of the Skin” and “the Covenant of the Tongue” (4), should be directed towards God, in holiness and restraint.


1) see Genesis 1:5   2) God is the end in the sense of being the Beginning and the End; the Shekhinah, the indwelling, feminine aspect of God present in Creation, is the end in the sense of being at the end of the sefirot, the spectrum of divine creation between Ayn Sof, the limitless and unknowable aspect of God, and the material world; also, as the Kedushas Levi uses the word here, God is (or should be) the end, the purpose, of all our actions.   3) The original command to “be fruitful and multiply” is from Genesis 9:6, but at the revelation at Sinai, God commands the Israelites to “return to their tents,” which is taken as a reference to marital relations. See Shabbat 89a-b. Tofel literally means slander; see Rashi on this verse.   4) “The Covenant of the Skin” is circumcision, which is understood as a way of sanctifying our sexual urges. “The Covenant of the Tongue” is keeping our speech pure: no slander, gossip, lying, hurtful words, etc.

Jeff says…

Our tradition sometimes uses the metaphor of divine service as aiming with a bow and arrow: if the arrow is a little bit off target when it’s still notched in the bow, it will be far off target by the time it lands. So it is with our actions: if we don’t begin them with the proper intention of serving God, then we can’t expect them to serve God in the end. Notice that the Kedushas Levi specifically mentions directing our acts towards the Shekhinah, God as found in Creation. This is not a call to withdraw from life and fix our eyes on heaven; rather, I read it as a call to seek out the divine in everything we do, from sex to casual conversation, just as the Kedushas Levi sought out the message on divine service in this apparently geographical bit of Torah.

Here is the original text (sorry if you can’t read Rashi script) and in PDF: KedushasLeviDevarim

This entry was posted in Concepts, Devarim, Divine Service, Hasidic Masters, Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev/Kedushas Levi, Parsha, Talmud. Bookmark the permalink.

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