Friday, February 15, 2013
Two pesukim in Tehillim apparently contradict each other. The first pasuk states, “... לַה' הָאָרֶץ וּמְלֹואָה תֵּבֵל וְיֹשְׁבֵי בָהּ׃/The earth and its contents are God’s, the inhabited land and those who dwell in it.” (24:1) Everything obviously belongs to God. That David HaMelech makes a point of mentioning it implies that we cannot use the world for our own benefit without permission. Another pasuk however states, “הַשָּׁמַיִם שָׁמַיִם לַה' וְהָאָרֶץ נָתַן לִבְנֵיֽ־אָדָֽם׃/As for the heavens, the heavens are God’s, but He has given the earth to mankind.” (115:16) This pasuk seems to be teaching us that God gave us the earth to use as we see fit, a clear contradiction to the first pasuk.
Chazal learn from this contradiction that before benefitting from this world, we must say a blessing. Before we say a blessing, the earth belongs to God and we may not benefit from it. It is not ours. When we say a blessing, God gives it to us. It becomes ours and we may benefit from it. What is the significance of the blessing? By what mechanism does saying a blessing transfer ownership, as it were, from God to us?
We can glean an understanding of the significance of blessings from the continuation of this ma’amar Chazal. Chazal say that deriving benefit from this world without saying a blessing is like receiving personal benefit from sacred items of the Beis HaMikdash. We can clearly understand that we must ask permission to use something that is not ours. Why, though, do Chazal compare deriving unauthorized benefit from the physical world to deriving unauthorized benefit from sanctified items of the Beis HaMikdash? Chazal are teaching us that there is holiness in the entire world. Every creation is imbued with holiness.
When we think about it, we realize that it must be this way because God is everywhere giving life to everything. How, then, can we derive personal pleasure from anything? The answer, the Sfas Emes explains, is by accepting the holiness, the Godliness, in everything. When we acknowledge that the apple we are about to eat is imbued with holiness, we connect with that holiness when we eat it even as we derive physical pleasure from it. The mechanism for recognizing this holiness is the blessings that Chazal established before benefiting from this world.
God wants us to use the physical world to do His will. By accepting the holiness in the physical, God gives us the physical to use. The Sfas Emes explained this in the first ma’amar on this week’s parsha. There he explained the pasuk in our parsha, “וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָֽׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָֽם׃/You shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them.” (Shmos 25:8) The Sfas Emes explains that this pasuk is not just a command to make a physical sanctuary, a building, for God. It is a command to recognize that God is in everything, every creation and every action. By recognizing this, we are making everything in the world a sanctuary for God. When we do this, God reveals Himself as the end of the pasuk implies, “וְשָֽׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָֽם/I will dwell among them.” God is here whether we recognize Him or not. Dwelling among them, though, implies that we will feel His presence.
The key point is that in order to benefit from the world in a way that connects us to God, it must be given to us. We cannot take it. This is why the pasuk states, “וְהָאָרֶץ נָתַן לִבְנֵיֽ־אָדָם/and He gave the earth to mankind.” We find this concept in an interesting law regarding divorce. If a man tells his wife, “Take your get (divorce certificate),” the divorce is invalid. He must give her the get. The pasuk says clearly, “וְנָתַן בְּיָדָהּ/he shall give it into her hand.” (Devarim 24:1) Freedom cannot be taken. It must be given. May we merit using the world that God has given us to fulfill His will thereby basking in His presence in this world.
Friday, February 08, 2013
"ואלה המשפטים אשר תשים לפניהם/And these are the laws that you shall place before them." (Shmos 21:1) Why does God instruct Moshe to place the laws before them? In fact, the entire pasuk seems extraneous. Why does the Torah not state simply, as it does elsewhere, "God spoke to Moshe. Tell the children of
The Chiddushei HaRim said in the name of the Rav from Parshischa z"l, that the Torah is teaching us that we must put the laws of the Torah before our very lives. We committed to this when we said, "... כל אשר דבר ה' נעשה ונשמע/… everything that God said, we will do and accept (lit. hear)" (Shmos 24:7) We committed to doing everything God had commanded even though we did not necessarily understand it all. It was more important to us to perform God's will than to understand the reasons underlying His will. Because of this approach, we merited understanding as well.
This is why the Ten Commandments – simply commands – were given first followed by the laws representing understanding. This concept is clear in the pasuk, "מגיד דבריו ליעקב חוקיו ומשפטיו לישראל/He tells His words to Ya'akov, His statutes and laws to Yisrael." (Tehillim 147:19) His words represent His will without understanding the reasons. Only afterwards, does He relate the reasons represented by His laws. This is true for every mitzvah. By cultivating a strong desire to accomplish God's will by performing His mitzvos we will, in the end, merit understanding as well.
This idea is the answer to a question on a Rashi in the beginning of our parsha. Rashi explains the words, "אשר תשים לפניהם/that you shall place before them, answering the question that we asked earlier. He says, "God told Moshe, 'Don't think to teach them the laws a few times and be done with it. You must teach them the reasons as well.' This is why the pasuk says, 'that you shall place before them'; place the mitzvos before them like a set table that is ready for eating at."
The Sfas Emes asks, does anyone think that Moshe Rabbeinu would not teach the nation the reasons for the mitzvos? Why does God have to make a point of instructing Moshe that he must teach them the reasons? The answer is our concept. Our intent when we perform mitzvos needs to be achieving the will of God, without necessarily understanding their reasons. God, however, said that the nation merited understanding because we said, נעשה ונשמע/we will do and we will listen, thus committing to the mitzvos even before understanding them. So he instructed Moshe to explain the reasons to us.
This idea refers to those mitzvos which confound us. What of mitzvos which seem logical? Most of our parsha is filled with civil laws. Any ordered society would abide by them. The Sfas Emes teaches that we must perform these mitzvos, too, only because God commanded us and not because of their logic. Why? Logic itself, the Sfas Emes teaches us, is a creation and cannot therefore be taken for granted.
He learns this from the first Rashi in our parsha. Our parsha starts with the letter vav/and, connecting it to the previous parsha and the giving of the Torah at
Mount Sinai. Rashi, quoting Chazal, infers from this
connecting vav that the logical laws in our parsha were also given on Mount Sinai. Why
do Chazal need a pasuk to teach us that the laws in our parsha were given at Mount Sinai? The
entire Torah was given at . Mount
The answer is that Chazal are in fact, not teaching us that these laws were also given at
That is obvious. When Chazal say that these mitzvos were also
given at Mount Sinai they are teaching us that
the logic of these mitzvos comes from God. Logic itself is a creation. We find this concept in the following pasuk,
כוננת מישרים משפט וצדקה ביעקב אתה עשית/… You founded fairness; You have made the justice and
righteousness of Ya'akov." (Tehillim 99:4) Even our concept of fairness was created by
Friday, February 01, 2013
"אנכי ה' א-להיך .../I am God your Lord …" (Shmos 20:2) Thus begins the Ten Commandments. Even though there is a debate among the commentaries as to whether this statement is counted as one of the mitzvos, it clearly is not written as a command like the commandments that follow. It is written as declaration. God declares that He is the God of Israel.
This declaration lends added gravity to the next commandment, "לא יהיה לך אלהים אחרים על פני/You shall not have other gods before Me." (Shmos 20:3) Similarly God says through the prophet, "העם המכעיסים אותי על פני .../The nation that angers Me, before Me." (Yeshaya 65:3) The nation did not simply anger God. They angered God before Him. We are judged more harshly because He is our God and we are His subjects.
As His subjects, we are charged with spreading His kingdom. How? We need not go out and proselytize. All we need to do is accept His kingship upon ourselves. To the extent that we accept God's rule, His kingship is revealed to the rest of the world. The pasuk tells us that God wants us to be a, "ממלכת כהנים/kingdom of priests." (Shmos 19:6) In this context, the word "priests" means the officers who surround the king and sustain him before his nation. We too, by accepting the yoke of Heaven at
Mount Sinai, spread God's kingship, as it were, to the
entire world. We are thus God's
"officers". Chazal as
well state that the nations of the world recognized God.
The world was rectified when we accepted the Torah. This is because our accepting God's kingship caused God's kingship to be revealed to the entire world.
The sole exception was the nation of Amalek. Amalek recognized our greatness and God's kingship and rebelled. If it were not for Amalek, the rectification that resulted from our accepting the Torah would have been complete as it will be at the final redemption. Because of Amalek's rebellion, God declared that His throne is not complete. This means that His revelation was not complete. Amalek represented an alternative to recognizing God's kingship. We are therefore required to hate Amalek.
In order for the rectification to be complete God will blot out Amalek's name. Then, there will be no alternative to God's kingship and His throne, representing His revelation, will be complete. This is why all the nations will have a part in the future redemption except for Amalek, "אחריתו עדי אובד/His end will be everlasting destruction." (Bamidbar 24:20)
May we merit being a kingdom of "priests" - the King's officers.
Friday, January 25, 2013
“דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיָשֻׁבוּ ויחנו לפני פי החירות/Speak to the children of Israel and they will return and encamp before the mouth of Chiros (lit. Freedom)” (Shmos 14:2) The children of
Israel had left Egypt three days earlier. God commands Moshe Rabbeinu to instruct the nation to turn around and head back towards the Egyptians. Pharaoh will think that the
nation has lost its way in the desert and will be goaded into pursuing
them. When he confronts the nation of Israel,
God will destroy him and the Egyptians.
The obvious question as we read these p’sukim is, “Why?” What was to be gained by returning? If God wanted to destroy the Egyptian army,
He certainly had ample opportunity to do so before.
The Sfas Emes answers that God wanted us in a situation that would require His direct intervention to save us so that we would then sing praise to God. The Exodus was not enough for this. The Exodus was the fulfillment of God's promise to our forefathers. While we, of course, would be thankful, we would not feel the need to burst out in spontaneous song upon our leaving in
and in fact, we did not do so. The
splitting of the sea and the destruction of the Egypt army before our very eyes in
what can only be described as a clear miracle was something else. This was totally unexpected.
However, this begs the question. Why did God want us in a situation in which we would sing His praise? To answer this question we need to understand what was accomplished through the Exodus. The primary purpose of the Exodus, the Sfas Emes teaches, was to rectify a flaw in the Creation. The physical world hides God. At least once in the history of mankind, God needed to reveal Himself so that mankind would know that He created the world. This He did at the Exodus through a direct and unambiguous intervention in history and events.
This is the reason first commandment of the Ten Commandments describes God as the One who took us out of Egypt and not as the One who created the world. His direct intervention in the events leading up to our leaving
Egypt, events that our entire nation as well as
the entire nation of Egypt
experienced, is the proof that He created the world.
What then was the purpose of the splitting of the sea? The splitting of the sea teaches us that we can have a higher level interaction with God. God split the sea in response to our prayers to teach us that as a result of our good deeds, God will relate to us in a way that is totally not bound by nature. Conventionally, we view miracles as a suspension of the natural order that happen in an unpredictable manner. However, the Maharal establishes that just as there is an order and laws in nature, there is an order and laws in miracles. The splitting of the sea teaches us that we have the ability live in a way that is not be bound by the order of nature.
Friday, December 28, 2012
After Ya'akov requests of his son Yosef to bury him at the burial site of his forefathers he asks him to take an oath, "ויאמר השבעה לי וישבע לו וישתחו ישראל על ראש המטה/(Ya'akov) said, 'Swear to me.' (Yosef) swore to him and Yisrael bowed at the head of the bed." (Breishis 47:31) Two questions arise. Why did Ya'akov find it necessary for Yosef to take an oath? Surely Ya'akov trusted that Yosef would do everything in his power to fulfill his father's request. Secondly, what is the connection between the oath and bowing at the head of the bed? Why are these two events in the same pasuk? This leads to an additional question. Why did Ya'akov bow at the head of the bed?
Rashi on this pasuk explains the head of the bed represents the fact that all of Ya'akov's children remained true to their upbringing. Even Yosef who was a king (the head of Ya'akov's bed) in
Egypt and was even previously
captured and lived among gentiles remained true to his forefathers and his
How did Ya'akov know that Yosef was able to internalize the traditions and pass them on to his own progeny even as he led a life as king in the house of Pharaoh?
Ya'akov knew this from the oath. How so? What is the significance of an oath? Is it simply a verbal commitment? The Chiddushei HaRim teaches us that an oath is much more than that. Oath in Hebrew – שבועה – has the same root as the word for seven – שבעה. We each have seven primary character traits. An oath implies bringing all of the seven primary character traits – ones entire being – to bear upon a decision, a commitment. An oath is therefore a very serious matter in Jewish tradition. Both Ya'akov and Yosef understood this and took it very seriously.
Ya'akov Avinu wanted to know that his descendents would remain true to his traditions and deserve the redemption. The oath was the mechanism that Ya'akov used both for understanding Yosef's essence and for passing on to him his own spiritual essence that allowed him to remain true to God even in
Egypt. Through the oath Yosef revealed his total
essence to Ya'akov.
Chazal teach us that Yosef inherited Ya'akov and that it was in his merit that we were redeemed from
teach us that because Yosef resisted the temptation of Potiphar's wife, he
influenced the entire nation to refrain from illicit relations. Chazal continue that in the merit of this we
were redeemed. Furthermore, Chazal
explain the pasuk, "הים
ראה וינס .../The sea saw and
fled …" What did the sea see? Chazal teach us that the sea saw the bones of
Yosef. Yosef fled from Potiphar's wife
so the sea fled from his bones.
The Zohar states that when God foretold to Ya'akov that, "ויוסף ישית ידו על עיניך/and Yosef will place his hand upon your eyes," He was telling him that Yosef would be his heir. The Sfas Emes explains that this is referring to inheriting Ya'akov spiritually. The mechanism for this inheritance was the oath. Through the oath Yosef opened his entire essence before Ya'akov. He was able to cleave to Ya'akov with his whole being. He was thus able to receive the aspect of Ya'akov which enabled him to live in
Egypt without being affected by
When Ya'akov understood that he had a spiritual heir who would be able to influence the nation for good even as they lived in decadent
Egypt, he realized that his bed was
complete – his progeny would continue his traditions – and he bowed "at
the head of the bed".