Shaya Cohen -


Creative Conundrums

Simchas Torah

Where is Moses Buried?

So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. And He buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-Peor; but no man knows his grave till this day. (D 34:5-6)

Isn’t this a contradiction? Either Moses is buried opposite Beth-Peor, or we don’t know where he is buried. How can they both be true?

What if Peor is not a place but an idea?

What is Peor?

And Israel stayed in Shittim (“twisted”), and the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people to the sacrifices of their gods; and the people ate, and bowed down to their gods. And Israel attached himself to Baal-Peor; and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. (Num 25)

G-d gets angriest after Peor is mentioned. Is the Torah telling us that Peor is worse than harlotry, worse than sacrificing to idols and even worshipping them?

We have from other sources the idea that Peor is about acting in as base and animalistic manner as possible: instead of using our souls to elevate our bodies, we use our bodies to defile our souls.

If this is true, then might Moses have been symbolically buried opposite Peor? In other words, even in death, Moses was contradistinct from the notions of vile nature worship and praising bodily functions?

Might this be connected to the choice of the word for “opposite”: mul?

The Torah tells us no less than three times that we are mul Peor.

Mul is different from k’neged, which means some kind of paired mirror relationship (like a woman being an ezer k’negdo). But a mul, by contrast, might be more like the separation created in a bris milah. Might a mul be an irrevocable disconnection? If this is right, does it mean that the text might be understood as follows:

We do not know where Moses’ grave is, but we know that, even in death, he opposes mankind making our basest desires the purpose of our existence.

Might this be a mission statement for Judaism as a whole: Judaism is the opposite of Peor?

The First Onomatopoeia?

וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ

And the earth was without form and void

So-hoo va-vohoo…. Soft words without borders or hard consonants. Is the description itself an acoustic representation of what the world was like when it was merely primordial stew?

What is Not Good About Creation?

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

Why does G-d judge light before He separates light from darkness?

Indeed, G-d does not seem to view everything done in the days of creation as “good!”

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide water from water. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

But there is no judgment at all?!

Yet – and by all means check this for yourself — G-d judges everything else he does after this, and calls everything “good” or even “very good.”

Why? What is different about separating light from darkness, and dividing the waters? Why are these the only things G-d does that He does not call “good”?

Could it be the Torah is telling us that the divisions, in themselves, are actually not good?

Is it possible that the things G-d does after he separates light from darkness and the waters above and below are there specifically to provide a way to rejoin the things that have been separated?

After all, aren’t Jews supposed to bring light into darkness (the Menorah)? And are we not supposed to elevate the physical world toward the spiritual world through every action we take, every word we speak, even every bite we eat? Do we not seek to elevate the waters below to reconnect with the waters above?

Is it possible to read the creation in this light: that G-d makes some things that he judges to be NOT good, and that plants and animals and people are there to provide a way to bridge the gaps, the divisions, that G-d had not seen fit to judge as “good”?

Are we here to bridge the divisions that are not deemed “good” by G-d?

Is the World “Real”?

(best pondered after alcohol)

Philosophers have asked the question whether or not we are merely a simulation, a video game in the mind of a computer – or even a deity.

The conclusion is generally that there is no way to know, because we are limited by what we can sense or deduce, and all of these things could be devoid of any underlying physicality.

I wonder if the Torah also supports this idea. After all, look at the first word of the text:

בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלkִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃

IN THE BEGINNING God created …

We know it can be reasonably translated any number of ways. “Rosh” can mean “beginning.” Or it could refer to a head, both literally and symbolically. So in that case, might the first verse also be read as:

In the mind, G-d created….

Is there anything else in the Torah that suggests this cannot be correct?

If we cannot tell the difference, does it make any difference?

This parsha question sheet takes the approach of reading the Chumash very closely. It is assumed that every letter and word has meaning, and all questions can be answered (at least every one we have come up so far!) So you’ll find the questions offered every week are deeply textual, seeking relevance to our lives today from the foundational document for Judaism and indeed all of Western Civilization.

This sheet is distributed with the general approval of Rabbi Rose.

Our answers can be found at (use the search tool). Or email me at

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