Sunday, July 02, 2006

First Post, Chukas, 5631, First Ma'amar

This is my first blog. I created this blog so that more people could have access to my work on the Sfas Emes. I have been distributing one ma'amar a week, usually the first one on the parsha. Perhaps a brief bio on the Sfas Emes would be appropriate:

The Sfas Emes (1847-1905) was the 2nd Rebbe of the Gerer Chassidim and the grandson of the Chiddushei HaRim. He was orphaned at the age of one and raised by his grandfather.He was a child prodigy and studied without interruption for eighteen hours at a time. When he was nineteen, his grandfather, the Chiddushei HaRim passed away and pressure was exerted on Reb Yehudah Leib to assume the mantle of leadership of the Gerer Chassidim. He felt unworthy however, and instead went to Alexander to study under Rebbe Chanoch Henoch.After only four years, Rebbe Chanoch Henoch passed away, and then Reb Yehudah Leib was left with no choice but to comply with the wishes of the Chassidim to become the leader of the Ger. Under his guidance and leadership Ger became the largest Chassidic group in Poland. The Sfas Emes, named after his magnum opus, was a proponent of expanding the Chassidic community in Israel, and greatly supported activities to that end. His son, the Emrei Emes, escaped the Nazis, came to Israel and rebuilt Ger, restoring it to its former glory.
(Taken from the OU website Judaism 101)

Following is the first ma'amar on parshas Chukas from the year 5631:

(Note: The Sfas Emes was written in an extremely concise manner. A straight translation would be as cryptic as the original Hebrew. Instead of translating, I’ve expanded some of the ideas found in the Sfas Emes. I pray that I am being faithful to the intent of the Sfas Emes.)

Zos chukas HaTorah …/This is the law of the Torah …” The Zohar at the beginning of this week’s parsha cites a similar pasuk, “VeZos HaTorah …/And this is the Torah …” What is the difference between these p’sukim? Why does the first add the word “chukas/law of”? “VeZos HaTorah …/And this is the Torah …” alludes to the essence of the Torah whereas “chukas HaTorah/the law of the Torah” is a reference to Torah shebe’al peh/the oral law.

Chazal tell us that God looked into the Torah and created the world. The essence of the Torah is inherent in the world. It is that force which radiates out of the Torah and into every part of the Creation. It is through the Torah that the Creation continues to exist.

Even though the light of the Torah inheres in every part of the Creation it is not apparent. It is hidden. Our mission is to draw out the Torah’s light, to make it apparent. This task, the Sfas Emes explains, is represented by Torah shebe’al peh/oral law. The Torah shebe’al peh/oral law is much more than an explanation of the written Torah. It represents our work. It is the avenue through which we can add chidush/novelty whether in deeper understanding of the Torah or by acting according to God’s will.

As opposed to the Torah shebe’al peh/oral law, the essence of the Torah is beyond our comprehension. This is why, “VeZos HaTorah …/And this is the Torah …” is followed by, “… asher sam Moshe lifnei b’nei Yisrael/… that Moshe placed before the children of Israel.” When the Torah was given, we were all connected to the essence of the Torah through Moshe Rabeinu. This is not a level we could attain on our own, through our own labors.

The Torah shebe’al peh/oral law, on the other hand, represents the Torah we attain and reveal through our labor in this world. This Torah becomes a part of us. In the words of the Chiddushei HaRim it becomes engraved in us. “Chukas/the law of” in fact, has the same root as the Hebrew word for engrave. Later in the parsha the Torah refers to Moshe Rabeinu as mechokeik/lawgiver. Here too, it suggests the Torah being engraved in us.

What must we do for the Torah to become engraved in us, to become a part of us? How do we draw out the light of the Torah inherent in everything? The Sfas Emes explains according to the following Chazal. Chazal tell us that we must make our Torah our primary occupation. Chazal say that earlier generations made their Torah their main occupation and their labor transient. They saw success in both. We’ve said that the light of the Torah is hidden in everything. Making the Torah our primary occupation means, in addition to studying it, looking for the light of the Torah in everything that we do. The spiritual aspect of our actions becomes our primary occupation. The physical action is only a means to reveal the light of the Torah. In this sense our labor, our physical activity, is transient whereas Torah becomes our main occupation. In order to succeed, though, it is crucial that we take a thoughtful approach to every activity. A person who does everything for the sake of God will realize God’s will in everything he does. When we do this, the Torah that we reveal becomes a part of us. It becomes engraved in us.

This is why Chazal call it “their Torah.” It became theirs when they made it their primary occupation. We find this idea clearly in Rashi’s explanation of the second pasuk in Tehillim, “… BeSoras HaShem cheftzo UVeSoraso yehgeh …/… He wants God’s Torah and he will study his Torah …” Why is the Torah first referred to as God’s and then referred to as belonging to the one who studies it? Rashi explains that by working at it he makes it his.

We find this concept in the pasuk in Koheles, “HeChacham einav berosho …/The wise person’s eyes are in his head.” The word for head has the same Hebrew root as the word for first. The wise person always connects to the root, the source, the beginning of every action and thing. The source is of course the life force of God. By attempting to do God’s will in all of our daily activities, we are connecting to the source of our actions.

We find this idea also in Yeshaya, “Se’u marom eineichem ur’u mi vara eileh/Lift up your eyes and see Who created these.” The life force of God is not apparent in the physical world. In fact a lot of what happens in the physical world is antithetical to Godliness, to holiness. Yeshaya points out that this is only a concealment of God. In reality God is in everything.

This is the meaning of the first Midrash in this week’s parsha explaining a pasuk in Iyov, “Mi yitein tahor mitamei, lo echad/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. Actually, impurity is simply God’s concealment. Producing purity from impurity is a matter of removing that which conceals God. Intent before we act is crucial. When we subordinate ourselves to the Source of life, God’s concealment is removed. The impurity is removed. This is the essence of teshuva/repentance – returning to the Source.

Whether we come close to God through our actions or not, is completely dependent on our intent. If our intent is to do His will, the Godliness inherent in the action becomes revealed, we come closer to God and we become purified. This is our main occupation in this world. It is our Torah shebe’al peh.

Any comments and/or suggestion would be appreciated.

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