Thursday, November 16, 2006

Chayei Sarah 5631 First Ma'amar

וַיִּהְיוּ חַיֵּי שָׂרָה מֵאָה שָׁנָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים .../And the life of Sarah was 100 years and 20 years and 7 years …” (Breishis 23:1) In every other instance that the Torah tells us the length of an individual’s life, the language is clear and straightforward. For example, “These are the days that Adam lived, 900 years and 30 years.” Another example from the end of this week’s parsha is, “And these are the years of Yishma’el’s life, 100 years and 30 years and 7 years.” Stating that the life of Sarah was 127 years seems awkward. The pasuk is apparently teaching us something in addition to the number of years that Sarah lived.

The first Midrash of the parsha sheds light on this pasuk. The Midrash mentions an enigmatic pasuk in Tehillim, "יוֹדֵעַ ה' יְמֵי תְמִימִים .../God knows the days of the complete ... " (Tehillim 37:18) What does this mean? After all, God knows everything. What is David HaMelech teaching us?

The Sfas Emes explains each word in this pasuk. יוֹדֵעַ/Know, connotes connection. We find, for example, “And Adam knew his wife Chava …” (Breishis 4:1) He connected with her. Another example from last week’s parsha is when God says, referring to Avraham Avinu, “For I have known him …” (Breishis 18:19) Rashi explains that this is an expression of God's love for Avraham Avinu because loving implies drawing someone near and knowing that person.

"יְמֵי/The days of" suggests nature - the physical world - since time was created together with the physical world and only applies in the physical world. The life force that underlies everything in the Creation is outside of time. The righteous, though, through their actions, brings the entire Creation closer to its life giving source. How? What is special about the actions of the righteous? The righteous, after all, also live in the physical world. Their days are also filled with many mundane activities that make up our lives just like everyone else. The difference is the intent behind their actions. The righteous understand that spirituality underlies everything physical. Physical actions, even mundane actions can have spiritual purpose. We are here to uncover the spiritual purpose that underlies everything. The righteous connect to the spiritual purpose of all their physical activities.

Finally, the word תְּמִימִים/complete in the pasuk also has this connotation. A person who connects the physical and spiritual in his actions is performing “complete” actions. His actions make him complete as well. The Midrash on this pasuk in Tehillim conveys this point. The Midrash says that just as the righteous are complete, so too, their years are complete. What is the Midrash teaching us when it says that their years are complete? The actions of the righteous elevate the natural world to a level on which the connection between the physical world and its spiritual underpinnings is revealed. During their years, the Creation is complete.

This is the meaning of a pasuk in Mishlei (13:16), כָּל-עָרוּם יַעֲשֶׂה בְדָעַת וּכְסִיל יִפְרֹשׂ אִוֶּלֶת/Every cunning man acts with knowledge, but a fool spreads stupidity." The Sfas Emes understands that a cunning man in this pasuk refers to one who is righteous. As we've noted, knowledge connotes connection. When Shlomo HaMelech says that the righteous act with knowledge he is essentially saying that they connect their physical actions to their underlying spiritual purpose. Ultimately, physical activity is a tool for connecting to the Source. The fool, on the other hand, separates his physical activities from their spiritual purpose (The Hebrew word in this pasuk for spread – יִפְרֹשׂ – has the same letters as the Hebrew word for separate – יִפְרֹשׁ.) The pasuk in Tehillim, "God knows the days of the complete" is thus understood as, "God connects with the physical world through the actions of the righteous.”

With this understanding we can explain the first pasuk in this week's parsha. The pasuk is teaching us more than just the number of years that Sarah lived. The pasuk is teaching us that during her years, because of her actions through which God connected to the physical world, the physical world was elevated. The word for life in the pasuk is not referring to her own life but rather to the life/existence of the Creation. The pasuk is saying that the existence/life of the Creation was "hers" as Chazal teach us in Maseches Avos that the righteous sustain the world which was created with ten commands. The ten commands represent the Godly force that underlies the Creation. Chazal are saying that the righteous sustain the world by elevating the physical to the spiritual force that is the foundation of the physical world.

As a result of her actions, God bestowed bounty and blessing on the world. This is hinted at by the end of the pasuk in Tehillim mentioned earlier, יוֹדֵעַ ה' יְמֵי תְמִימִים וְנַחֲלָתָם לְעוֹלָם תִּהְיֶה/God knows the days of the complete and their inheritance is forever.” The word for inheritance has the same root as the word for river – נַחַל . When, because of the actions of the righteous, God connects to the physical world, the result is a river of bounty to the world.

Our challenge is to emulate the righteous, to elevate the physical world to a level of completeness. We can do this by performing complete actions, physical actions whose purpose is to connect to God.


maks said...

Yasher Koach to you for providing these wonderful translations of the Sfas Emes. Every week I pick up the sefer and try to understand some of his torah's, but as you mention in your blog header they are "written in a very pithy style. They are not easy to understand."
This blog is a great help!!

Anonymous said...

I taught one or two teachings from the weekly parsha this past summer. I found it very valuable for the group to study his sources first and then go to the Sefas Emes. It also helped that the group were sensitive readers, all had advanced degrees, and one in particular knew Levinas.

Thank you for this blog

Moshe David Tokayer said...

Thank you both for your encouraging words. They are much appreciated.