Monday, June 18, 2007

Chukas 5631 First Ma'amar

“זאת חֻקת התורה .../This is the law of the Torah …” The Zohar at the beginning of this week’s parsha cites a similar pasuk, “וזאת התורה .../And this is the Torah …” What is the difference between these p’sukim? Why does the first add the word “חֻקת/law of”? Based on the Zohar the Sfas Emes explains that “וזאת התורה .../And this is the Torah …” alludes to the essence of the Torah whereas “חֻקת התורה/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. The Torah shebe’al peh 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, “וזאת התורה .../And this is the Torah …”, representing the essence of the Torah, is followed by, “... אשר שׂם משה לפני בני ישראל/… 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. “חֻקת/The law of” in fact, has the same root as the Hebrew word for engrave - חקק. Later in the parsha the Torah refers to Moshe Rabeinu as מחוקק/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. What do we mean when we say that the Torah should be our primary occupation? 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 activity 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, “... בתורת ה' חפצו ובתורתו יהגה יומם ולילה/… He wants God’s Torah and in his Torah he will meditate day and night …” 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, “החכם עיניו בראשו .../The wise person’s eyes are in his head …” The word for head has the same Hebrew root as the word for first - ראשון. 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, “שאו מרום עיניכם וראו מי ברא אלה .../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, “מי יתן טהור מטמא לא אחד/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.


Anonymous said...

Thank you!!

Jonathan Taitz said...

Hi Moshe
Thank you so much for your weekly contributions. I learnt the first Ma'amer from the text this week. I read your post afterwards and your explanations added richness and understanding.
Kol Tov
Jonathan Taitz

Moshe David Tokayer said...

Thank you so much for your feedback. It is important and encouraging. Hatzlacha!