Friday, January 25, 2008

Yisro 5634 First Ma'amar

The nation of Israel accepted the Torah by saying, “... כָּל אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֵּר ה' נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע/… we will fulfill and listen to all that God said.” Generally, we listen first and then fulfill afterwards. Why did we say that we will first fulfill and then listen to the word of God? We find this idea of fulfilling first and then listening afterwards in Tehillim, as well, regarding the angels, “בָּרְכוּ ה' מַלְאָכָיו גִּבֹּרֵי כֹחַ עֹשֵׂי דְבָרוֹ לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקוֹל דְּבָרוֹ/Bless God, His angels; those mighty in strength, who fulfill His bidding, to hear the sound of His word.” Chazal teach us that doing before listening is a secret of the workings of the Creation that the angels understand and that was revealed to the nation of Israel as well. What is this secret?

To understand this we need to understand what is meant by God’s word and the sound of His word. We need to go back to the Creation event itself. God created the universe with His word, by issuing ten commands. The act of creation was not a one time event, though, it is a continuous event. If God stopped supporting the universe for a moment, it would disappear. Therefore, God’s word permeates the Creation. God tells us in this week’s parsha, “... שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי .../… listen constantly to my voice …” implying that God’s voice/sound can be heard constantly.

God is really not separate from His word, of course. When we say that God’s word permeates the Creation, we are also saying that God Himself permeates the entire Creation. When the pasuk mentions, “קוֹל דְּבָרוֹ/the sound of His word,” it is referring to the revelation of God in the Creation. Hearing the sound of His word then, means being aware of God.

How can we become aware of God? The pasuk in Tehillim tells us the secret of the angels. We become of aware of God in the Creation by doing His will. By “fulfilling His bidding,” we can “hear the sound of His word.” This is what was meant when the nation said, “נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע/We will fulfill and we will listen.” By first fulfilling the will of God, we will merit hearing Him. We will merit being aware of Him.

This revelation of God’s word/sound permeating the Creation happened after the Exodus. Egypt in Hebrew – מִצְרַיִם – has the same letters as the word for boundaries – מֵצָרִים. When God took us out of Egypt, He brought us close to Him essentially removing the barriers which hid Him and prevented us from being aware of Him. This process of revelation culminated at Mount Sinai with the giving of the Torah.

Shabbos is also a day on which barriers are removed and it is easier to experience a connection with God. When we refrain from performing work that changes the physical world on Shabbos we are testifying that God created the world. Significantly, Chazal teach us that the Torah was given on Shabbos.

In addition to a connection between Torah and Shabbos, there is a connection between the Exodus and Shabbos. In Kiddush we say that Shabbos reminds us of the Exodus. At first glance, the connection between Shabbos and the Exodus is not clear. However, when we understand that leaving Egypt symbolizes breaking through the barriers that separate us from God, the connection becomes very clear. In fact Chazal teach us, “כָּל הַמְעַנֵג אֶת הַשַׁבָּת נוֹתְנִין לוֹ נַחֲלָה בְּלִי מְצָרִים/Whoever takes pleasure in the Shabbos is given an inheritance with no boundaries – an unlimited inheritance.” Notice that the last word in this saying מְצָרִים/boundaries has the same letters as מִצְרַיִם/Egypt.

The sound of God in the Creation became revealed to the nation of Israel and the entire world at Mount Sinai specifically on Shabbos. This is the reason, Chazal teach us, that even though the two crowns each of us received at the giving of the Torah – one for “we will fulfill” and one for “we will listen” – were taken from us after the sin of the golden calf, Moshe Rabbeinu returned them to us each Shabbos. On Shabbos we can hear the sound of God in the Creation. Significantly, the Sfas Emes points out that the first letters of “שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי/Listen constantly to my voice” spell out שַׁבָּת/Shabbos. It is on Shabbos when we can more easily hear God and be aware of Him. May we merit it!

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