Friday, June 24, 2016
The Spies’ Mistake and How We Can Apply the Lesson to Our Own Life Challenges
“... וְלֹא־תָתוּרוּ אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם .../… and you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes …” (Bamidbar 15:39) Rashi on this pasuk explains that the word תָתוּרוּ/wander, comes from תּוּר/spy or scout. He writes that the heart and eyes are like the body’s spies. “The eyes see, the heart desires and the body does the sin.”
It is no coincidence that this pasuk appears in the same parsha as the story of the twelve spies. In fact, the Sfas Emes explains that there is an underlying similarity between these two seemingly disparate subjects. In order to understand this similarity, we need to first understand why the spies were sent and what they did wrong.
The Chiddushei HaRim explains. The nation in the desert lived with explicit miracles. They ate food that dropped from the sky every day. They saw the clouds of glory and the pillar of fire. Coming into Israel they would be living within nature. The challenge would be to maintain their high level of faith. The challenge would be to realize that just as God provided for them in the desert in an explicit way, He is within nature as well, albeit, implicitly. Success in this challenge would be to reach a level of understanding that nature is a bigger wonder than the miracles of the desert. As part of the transition to living within the bounds of nature, the spies were sent to scout the land. Their ultimate mission was to maintain the level of faith they had in the desert where they experienced open miracles on a daily basis. Their ultimate mission involved seeing the land and its inhabitants and realizing that even though the inhabitants were strong and live in fortified cities, and according to the laws of nature they were unable to enter the land, God is within everything. God would help them if they would only subordinate themselves to His will. In this, ten of the twelve spies failed. They did not maintain their high level of faith. They were fooled by what they saw. They realized that they did not have the physical strength to enter the land and overcome its inhabitants. And because of this, they in fact, did not enter the land.
According to the Sfas Emes, this is exactly the meaning of the admonition at the end of the parsha to not follow our eyes and heart. Our eyes and heart (i.e. our desires) see the external physical world. The Torah is admonishing us to recognize instead the Godliness that underlies the external physical world. This explains the next pasuk, “לְמַעַן תִּזְכְּרוּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוֹתָי .../So that you will remember and you will do all of my commandments …” (Bamidbar 15:40) The beginning of this pasuk seems awkward. The pasuk tells us to remember but does not tell us what we should remember. If the pasuk were telling us to remember the mitzvos in order to do them it would state, “So that you will remember my commandments …” The pasuk seems to be stating two separate things. Remember and then do the mitzvos. Remember what? The Sfas Emes explains that the word for “remember” in Hebrew means more than simply recalling. It is much deeper. It means to internalize something until it becomes a part of the person. At that point there is no possibility of forgetting. The beginning of this pasuk is really a continuation of the previous pasuk. The Torah is telling us, “Do not follow your physical eyes and desires so that you may internalize the underlying Godliness of everything physical. Through this internalization you will be able to do all My mitzvos – even the ones that according to your nature perspective you do not think you can do.”
The Sfas Emes teaches that this approach applies to any mitzvah and service to God. Viewing challenges solely according to the laws of nature, many times leads us to believe that we cannot succeed. According to the laws of nature, for example, Avraham Avinu was unable to have children. Avraham Avinu had children because he believed God’s promise to him, “וְהֶאֱמִין בַּה' .../and he had faith in God …” (Breishis 15:6)
When we imagine that we cannot succeed either because of previous sins or because of a general feeling of unworthiness, we have succumbed to the advice of the evil inclination. This way of viewing things considers only external physical circumstance rather than the underlying spiritual reality. Believing that we can accomplish and succeed at any mitzvah with God’s help will lead us inexorably to success in Avodas HaShem.
Friday, June 10, 2016
How We Transformed from the Deepest Impurity to Receiving the Torah in Fifty Days
Why We Eat Dairy Foods on Shavuos
When the nation of Israel left Egypt, we were in a state of deep impurity. In a period of a mere fifty days, we made a transformation from this low level to a state in which we were ready to participate in the greatest event in the history of mankind, the receiving of the Torah and direct communication from the Creator.
This transformation is one of the most optimistic and inspiring processes. It teaches us that regardless of the level of our impurity, we should not despair. This process of transformation is enshrined in the counting of the Omer.
How does the transformation work? How can the impure become pure? The answer to this question is based on the concept that everything both pure and impure was created by God and needs God’s constant and continuous attention to exist. Even though the Creation is a mixture of good and bad, of purity and impurity, at the spiritual source there is Unity. In the words of Chazal, there are forty-nine aspects or levels of impurity and purity. Levels implies that there is a mix. At the fiftieth level there is Unity. Of course, the unity, the Godliness is inherent even at the most impure level. It is simply revealed at the fiftieth level. Impurity is a barrier that hides Godliness. For impure to become pure, the barrier needs to be removed.
We find this concept in a Midrash explaining a pasuk in Iyov (14:4), “מִי יִתֵּן טָהוֹר מִטָמֵא לֹא אֶחָד/Who produces purity from impurity? No one!” The Midrash translates this pasuk, “Who produces purity from impurity? Is it not the One?” Producing purity from impurity seems impossible. However, it is only impossible if we believe that impurity has an autonomous existence. Once we recognize that impurity is simply God’s concealment, producing purity from impurity is a matter of removing that which conceals God.
We also find this concept in a Zohar explaining the pasuk, “... וְנִטְמֵתֶם בָּם/… and you will become defiled by them” (VaYikra 11:43) referring to one who eats forbidden foods. The usual spelling of “וְנִטְמֵתֶם/and you will become defiled” includes the letter א/alef - וְנִטְמֵאתֶם. Why is it spelled here without the alef? The Sfas Emes explains that the alef, meaning, “one”, alludes to the source – God. According to the Zohar the Torah spelled this word without the alef to teach us that one who has eaten forbidden foods and dies before having repented is so defiled that there is nothing that can heal his soul. He has lost his connection with the source, with God.
This, the Sfas Emes teaches us, is the significance of the forty-nine days of counting the Omer culminating in the holiday of Shavuos on the fiftieth day. Counting is a process of sorting and clarification. During the forty-nine days of the Omer the nation of Israel worked to separate the impure from the pure, the evil from the good. This process ended on Shavuos with the receiving of the Torah and the negation of the evil inclination. For this reason, the Zohar teaches, in addition to the regular holiday sacrifices, two loaves of leavened bread were brought as an offering. Almost all meal offerings are made from unleavened dough. Why is leavened bread brought on Shavuos. The Zohar explains that leavening represents the evil inclination. We offer specifically leavened bread to show that the evil inclination was nullified on the first Shavuos.
On Shavuos we reached the fiftieth level of purity and experienced God as the source of everything. To symbolize harking back to the source, the two loaves were made from the first wheat of the year. This wheat is the called the first fruit and Chazal teach us it is called, “רֵאשִׁית/first”, alluding to the Creation – בְּרֵאשִׁית – and ultimately to the source of the Creation – God. Shavuos, in fact, is called, “יוֹם הַבִּיכּוּרִים/Day of the First Fruit.” (Bamidbar 28:26)
The Kohanim offer the first wheat on behalf of the entire nation of Israel. In addition to this mitzvah, it is incumbent on each member of the nation to bring the first fruit produced by his field to the Beis Hamikdash, “רֵאשִׁית בִּכּוּרֵי אַדְמָתְךָ תָּבִיא בֵּית ה' אֱ-לָהֶיךָ ... /… You shall bring the first of the first fruits of your land to the house of God.” (Shmos 23:19) The Sfas Emes explains that, when we clarify for ourselves that God is the source of everything, evil no longer represents a barrier that hides Him. If this is true on an individual level, it is certainly true on the national level of the first wheat that is brought on Shavuos. The meal offering from the first wheat represents God’s revelation on Shavuos and provides the nation with protection for the entire year.
The second half of the pasuk instructing us to bring the first fruit to the Beis HaMikdash is, “... לֹא-תְבַשֵׁל גְדִי בַּחֲלֵב אִמּוֹ/… Do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk.” What is the connection between these two seemingly unrelated mitzvos? The Zohar explains that once the source is revealed, there is no longer any possibility of a mix of good and bad. The Sfas Emes explains elsewhere that milk represents a clarification of the good from the bad. Chazal teach us that God turns the mother’s blood, which is impure, into milk which is pure. Chazal learn this from the pasuk in Iyov brought earlier, “מִי יִתֵּן טָהוֹר מִטָמֵא לֹא אֶחָד/Who produces purity from impurity? Is it not the One?” Meat, on the other hand, represents a mix of good and bad. The Sfas Emes notes an allusion to this from the quail that God sent to the nation in the desert. The quail was sent specifically in the evening. The word for evening – עֶרֶב – has the same root as the word for mix – עָרֹב.
Since meat represents the mix whereas milk represents the clarification, milk should not be eaten with meat. For this reason, as well, it is appropriate to eat dairy foods on Shavuos since both dairy and Shavuos represent clarification and a revelation of the source – God.
 Zohar Chadash 39a states that the nation reached the 49th out of 50 levels of impurity
 Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 4:2; Shir HaShirim R. 2, 4:1
 Bamidbar R. 19:1
 Zohar 3:41b
 The gematria of the word טמא – is fifty (9+40+1=50). The gematria of טמ is forty-nine (9+40=49) representing the forty-nine levels of impurity. א/alef represents the fiftieth level on which there is Unity – God is revealed. Purity is only possible because God underlies the impurity. Therefore, if the alef is removed, reaching purity is impossible. This is the deeper meaning of the pasuk in Iyov, “מי יתן טהור מטמא הלא אחד/Who produces purity from impurity? Is it not the One (alluded to by the alef)?” (Nefesh David – commentary on the Zohar)
 Zohar 2:183b
 Breishis R. 1:4
 Tikunei Zohar 14:30:a