Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Beha'aloscha 5631 Second Ma'amar

If a person wants to grow in his service to God, should he deliberately place himself in a situation in which he will be tested or not? According to the Sfas Emes the answer to this question is in this week’s parsha.

After the nation left Mount Sinai they complained that there was no meat to eat. Rashi asks that in fact they did have plenty of meat. The pesukim relate that they left Egypt with cattle and sheep and they entered Israel with cattle and sheep. Why then did they complain? Rashi answers that they were looking for an excuse. The Sfas Emes asks that since they had meat this wasn’t even a lame excuse. It was no excuse at all. What, then, is the meaning of their complaint?

We find a clue at the beginning of the pasuk in which they complain. The pasuk says, “... התאוו תאוה .../… they caused themselves to crave …” We can infer that at first they had no desire yet they caused themselves to desire. How is it that they had no desire initially? Furthermore, since they had no desire, why did they deliberately bring it on? The Sfas Emes explains that they were on a very high spiritual level. They were on a level above nature, a level on which they were free from their evil inclination. Remember, they had spent the previous year, following the receiving of the Torah, in a highly spiritual environment. They were at the foot of Mount Sinai basking in God’s presence which was manifest in the Mishkan. All their physical needs were provided for them allowing them to focus completely on the spiritual.

They were above physical desire yet they caused themselves to crave meat. Why? The Sfas Emes explains that they wanted to reach an even higher spiritual level. They wanted to merit giving God even more satisfaction by eating something as physical as meat in holiness. Certainly being holy even while living a physically oriented life style is a higher level of service than while leading a completely spiritual life.

We even find this concept in a Midrash on the pasuk which required us to serve God, “בכל נפשכם/with all your soul.” The Midrash explains that the way to serve God “with all your soul” is by directing all the attributes and forces within the soul towards the serving God. This includes physical desires. When the nation complained, “נפשנו יבשה/our soul is dry,” they were complaining that because they were living is such highly spiritual environment, they did not have the opportunity to worship God with all the attributes of their souls. Their souls were dry, so to speak. They “rectified” the situation by causing themselves to crave meat.

God, though, did not agree with their approach. It is better for a person to be more concerned with violating the will of God by deliberately placing himself into a risky situation even if he might thereby reach a higher spiritual level. In fact, the Sfas Emes explains that one who does this is demonstrating an element of selfishness. Those who are truly concerned only about transgressing God’s will, will be content with a simpler approach and rely on God to provide him with tests.

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