Thursday, April 26, 2007

Acharei 5632 First Ma'amar

“דבר אל בני ישראל ואמרת אליהם אני ה' א-לֹהיכם/Speak to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘I am God, your Lord.” This pasuk is an introduction to God’s admonition against the practices of the lands of Egypt and Canaan and illicit relations. Why? Rashi brings the Midrash on this pasuk that “אני ה' א-לֹהיכם/I am God, your Lord,” is a reference to the first pasuk of the ten commandments, “אנֹכי ה' א-לֹהיך .../I am God your Lord.” God is instructing Moshe to tell us that just as we accepted the yoke of heaven at Mount Sinai, we should now accept His decrees. Similarly, the Gemara states that the first parsha of Kri’as Shma precedes the second parsha because it contains within it the commandment to accept the yoke of heaven whereas the second parsha contains the yoke of mitzvos. The yoke of heaven must always precede the yoke of mitzvos.

The Sfas Emes explains that this is more than a platitude. This is, in fact, practical advice that can be applied to each individual mitzvah. The intent upon doing a mitzvah needs to be to accept the yoke of heaven. This is actually the purpose of the mitzvah. Regardless of the good reasons there may be to do a mitzvah, it is crucial that we do them because we want to achieve God’s will. The reasons may explain why God commanded us to do them. However, we do not do the mitzvos for the reasons. We always strive to do the mitzvos in order to do the will of God. This is why, when Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu were killed for bringing a “strange fire” on the altar, the Torah tells us that they were punished for bringing a strange fire that He had not commanded them to bring, implying that the critical lapse was their not being commanded. The reason – the strange fire – was secondary. We see that the main thing is achieving God’s will. The reasons are always secondary. When we contemplate subordinating ourselves to God before doing a mitzvah, the ramifications of doing that mitzvah are great.

Our actions have ramifications in the physical and spiritual realms. When we do a mitzvah, we positively affect the world. When we sin, the opposite is the case. This is because when we perform a mitzvah we are bringing the object of the mitzvah and ourselves closer to the source of life. The Sfas Emes points out that this applies not only to the obvious mitzvos with which we are familiar; the mitzvos that are mentioned explicitly in the Torah. The Sfas Emes says that every action is a potential mitzvah. If we intend to accomplish God’s will with our action then we’ve done a mitzvah. Since the mitzvos are the mechanism through which we draw life into this world and everything is a potential mitzvah, it follows that through mitzvos we draw life to everything. Chazal allude to this concept when they say that the wicked, even as they live, are considered dead. This is because they are without mitzvos. This concept is hinted to in another pasuk in our parsha as well, “ושמרתם את חקֹתי ואת משפטי אשר יעשה אֹתם האדם וחי בהם/You shall keep my decrees and my laws which a man shall do and live by them.” We live by them because through the mitzvos we draw life to us and to the physical world.

Significantly, the pasuk is in the future tense, “which a man shall do,” not, “which a man does.” The Torah is teaching us to be constantly prepared to do God’s will. To be “on call,” as it were, waiting, hoping for an opportunity to do God’s will is what this pasuk calls, “keeping my decrees and laws.” With this approach, when the opportunity arises, he will perform the mitzvah properly and it will have the greatest positive effect on himself and his surroundings. Following the beginning of the pasuk leads us to, “וחי בהם/and live by them.” Looking for the opportunities to do God’s will is the path to life and happiness.

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