Friday, February 05, 2016
At the time of the revelation on Mount Sinai, God instructs Moshe Rabbeinu regarding the nation’s upcoming journey to the land of Israel, “הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ מַלְאָךְ לְפָנֶיךָ לִשְׁמָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ ... אַל-תַּמֵּר בּוֹ ... כִּי שְׁמִי בְּקִרְבּוֹ ... וַעֲבַדְתֶּם אֶת ה' אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם וּבֵרַךְ אֶת-לַחְמְךָ ... וַהֲסִרֹתִי מַחֲלָה מִקִּרְבֶּךָ/Behold I am sending an angel before you to safeguard you on the way … Do not defy him … for My name is within him … You shall serve God your Lord and He will bless your bread … I will remove illness from your midst.” (Shmos 23:20)
The Sfas Emes understands this paragraph as a metaphor explaining the difference between serving God during the days of the week and on Shabbos. The Torah requires us to work during the week, “שֵׁשֶת יָמִים תַּעֲבֹד .../You shall work for six days …” (Shmos 20:8) During the week the Torah tells us, essentially, to immerse ourselves in the matters of this world. Should we not live a life of holiness? How can we immerse ourselves in the physical world and still live a holy life?
The Sfas Emes explains that holiness is latent in our weekday activities. We have the ability to transform our mundane activities into spiritual acts – into mitzvos – drawing out the hidden holiness. How? God gives life and existence to everything. Creation was not a one time event. Existence itself is a continuing act of creation. We and every other part of the Creation continue to exist so that we may do God’s will. Furthermore, since God enables every action we take, it follows that every action that we do is inherently part of His will. If we recognize it as such we turn the action into a mitzvah.
The pesukim mentioned above suggest this. The angel that God sent is the holy life force within every part of the Creation. We can recognize it by recognizing that we are doing God’s will with every action that we do even if that action seems to us to be mundane. Regarding this the pasuk says, “... אַל-תַּמֵּר בּוֹ ... כִּי שְׁמִי בְּקִרְבּוֹ/… Do not defy him … for My name is within him.” (Shmos 23:21) When we go to work, for example, without recognizing the angel within our work, without recognizing the potential holiness inherent in our work, we are defying the angel. Significantly, the Hebrew word for work – מְלָאכָה has the same root as the Hebrew for angel – מַלְאָךְ. The מְלָאכָה/work enclothes the מַלְאָךְ/angel.
During the week this applies to our weekday work. On Shabbos, though, there is no מְלָאכָה/work. We are prescribed from doing any work. This is because on Shabbos we can serve God without the outer shell of work. Chazal teach us that Shabbos is like the next world. Just like there is no work in the next world, so too, there is no work on Shabbos. This is alluded to in the pasuk, “וַעֲבַדְתֶּם אֶת ה' .../You shall serve God …” (Shmos 23:25) It implies that there are ways of serving God directly. We can experience God directly on Shabbos by being sensitive to the holiness of Shabbos.
The pasuk continues that God will remove illness from our midst. The automatic result of serving God on Shabbos is that He will remove all illness from our midst. According to the Sfas Emes, eating and the removal of illness is symbolic of all our activities and needs. This is why, on Shabbos we do not request things for ourselves in our prayers. There is no need to. Why does the pasuk speak specifically about eating? The reason is that there is a particular physical connection between eating and illness. The Zohar says that all of the body’s illnesses have dietary causes.
How does serving God on Shabbos result in His taking care of all our needs? The Sfas Emes explains. Directly following the requirement to serve God the pasuk states that God will bless our bread. The Hebrew word for bless – בַּרֵךְ has the same root as the Hebrew for a type of grafting – הַבְרָכָה. Grafting means that a branch from one tree attaches to and gains nourishment from a different tree. The pasuk is teaching us to “graft” our mundane activities, such as eating, to God by using them to serve Him. We then gain nourishment from Him and He removes illness from our midst and takes care of our needs.
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
In Tehillim (103:20) we find, “... גִבֹּרֵי כֹחַ עֹשֵׂי דְבָרוֹ לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקוֹל דְבָרוֹ/… strong warriors who do His bidding, in order to hearken to the sound of His word.” It would seem that this pasuk is worded backwards. One needs to hearken to God’s word and understand what He requires of us in order to do His bidding. The pasuk states in reverse order – strong warriors do His bidding in order to hearken to his word. What does this mean?
Chazal teach that the strong warriors in this pasuk refer to the malachei hashareis/ministering angels and yet we find the same construct when we accepted the Torah. Just as the angels first agree to do God’s bidding before knowing what that bidding is, Chazal praise the nation of Israel for learning from the angels. When offered the Torah we responded, “... נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע/… We will do and we will listen.” (Shmos 24:7) We were committed even before we knew what God required of us.
This needs an explanation, though. We certainly trusted in God and believed that He would not require us to do anything beyond our capabilities. We certainly knew that anything God would ask of us would be for our own benefit. Why the great praise, therefore, when we committed to comply with God’s commandments even before understanding them fully?
The Sfas Emes explains that while the simple meaning of listening to God’s word is understanding how to perform his commandments, it also implies something much deeper. God’s דִבּוּר/speech teaches us how to perform the commandments. However, the קוֹל דְבָרוֹ/sound of his word mentioned in the pasuk in Tehillim implies a deeper understanding. There is speech and there is the underlying sound that comprises speech. The underlying sound suggests the underlying spiritual meaning of the words. The Zohar makes this distinction between דִבּוּר/speech and קוֹל/sound as well when it refers to speech as components of sound (i.e. sound is the כְּלַל /general term; speech is the פְּרַט/specific term)
At Mount Sinai we committed to comply with God’s commandments and we accepted the yoke of Heaven upon ourselves in order to merit hearing the sound of God’s voice within the commandments, as it were, to experience the underlying spirituality that the manifests as speech. By committing to do whatever God required of us we would merit understanding that which would otherwise be impossible to attain. This is the reason we said, “נַעֲשֶה וְנִשְׁמָע /We will do and we will listen.” We committed to do in order to merit hearing (the underlying sound of God – understanding the inner meaning of the commandments and experiencing the underlying spirituality.) This is also the reason the pasuk in Tehillim states first, “עֹשֵי דְבָרוֹ/do His bidding” and only afterwards, “לִשְמֹעַ בְּקוֹל דְבָרוֹ/to hearken to the sound of His word.” Even the angels, by committing first to do, would merit hearing the sound within His words; they would merit understanding and experiencing the deeper meaning of their actions.
 Shabbos 88a
 For more detail on this Zohar and the relationship between קול/sound and דיבור/speech see the Sfas Emes on Shmos 5631 Second Ma'amar Shmos 5631 Second Ma’amarfrom "Undifferentiated sound". Also, for a fascinating exposition on this concept as it relates to the names of God, the Tetragrammaton and Adnus and the different sounds we are required to blow with the Shofar on Rosh HaShanah see Ya’aros Devash Chelek 1 Derush 6.
 Zohar 2:3a
Thursday, January 21, 2016
The Ultimate Purpose of Prayer
Synopsis – Coming close to God is the ultimate purpose of prayer. Once the level of closeness has been reached, there is a higher level of faith manifested by silence. This is the reason God told Moshe Rabbeinu not to pray when the nation was trapped at the Reed Sea. God had already heard his prayer even before he mouthed the words. The primary lesson is that striving, through prayer, to reach a level of preparedness to cry out to God is the main goal of prayer.
The nation of Israel was encamped on the shores of the Reed Sea. The Egyptian army was hard upon them. God says to Moshe, “מַה־תִּצְעַק אֵלָי דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִסָּעוּ/Why are you crying out to me? Speak to the children of Israel and they will move forward.” (Shmos 14:15) This is a difficult pasuk to understand because there is no prior indication that Moshe Rabbeinu cried out to God. Previous pesukim relate that the nation cried out to God but not Moshe. The Midrash addresses this question and says that God is not telling Moshe to stop crying out to Him. Rather God is telling Moshe not to cry out to Him.
Why, though? This seems like the best time to ask God for help. To answer this question, the Midrash, according to the Chiddushei HaRim, teaches us a fundamental principle of prayer. The Midrash says that God bequeathed prayer (lit. sound) to Ya'akov, “הַקֹּל קוֹל יַעֲקֹב ... .../… the voice is the voice of Ya’akov …” (Breishis 27:22) What does this mean? Is prayer reserved only for the descendants of Ya’akov? Cannot anyone pray? The Chiddushei HaRim explains that our prayer awakens the connection between us and our spiritual source. While anyone can and should turn to God for his needs, God specifically bequeathed to the descendants of Ya’akov the power to use prayer as a means for coming near to Him. In fact, coming close to God is the ultimate purpose of prayer. Once the connection is established and strengthened, the prayer has accomplished its purpose. Crying out to God has been used for its true purpose – to reach the higher level of faith manifested by silence.
This is the reason God told Moshe not to cry out to Him. On Moshe Rabbeinu’s level God already heard his prayer even though he had yet to mouth it as the Midrash ends, “… Why will you cry to Me? I have already heard your cry.” This concept is also apparent from the Midrash later that cites the pasuk, “וְהָיָה טֶרֶם יִקְרָאוּ וַאֲנִי אֶעֱנֶה .../It will be that even before they call out, I will answer …” (Yeshaya 65:24) to explain our pasuk. In certain instances, God answers prayers that have yet to be spoken.
We find this concept in another pasuk in Yeshaya (45:11) as well, “... הָאֹתִיּוֹת שְׁאָלוּנִי עַל־בָּנַי וְעַל־פֹּעַל יָדַי תְּצַוֻּנִי/… Ask me about the wonders (of the heavens). Do you command me regarding my children and the work of my hands?” God is telling us, through the prophet, that regarding His children, He has already created their salvation.
The Sfas Emes takes the concept a step further. He explains that reaching a level of preparedness to cry out to God is the main goal. Generally, this level is reached by actually praying, however, once it is reached the cries are no longer needed. Moshe Rabbeinu reached this aspect of crying out, hence God told Him that there was no need for the actual cries.
This concept is further embodied in a pasuk in Eicha (2:17), “צָעַק לִבָּם אֶל־ה' .../Their heart cried out to God …” and in a pasuk in Tehillim (34:18) cited by our Midrash, “צָעֲקוּ וַה' שָּמֵעַ .../They cried out and God hears …” The implication is that even if they cried out in their hearts – a cry that is not heard at all – still, God hears and there is no need to actually cry out with the mouth.