Friday, February 08, 2008

Terumah 5631 Third Ma'amar

Two pesukim in Tehillim apparently contradict each other. The first pasuk states, “לַה' הָאָרֶץ וּמְלֹואָה תֵּבֵל וְיֹשְׁבֵי בָהּ׃ .../The earth and its contents are God’s, the inhabited land and those who dwell in it.” Everything obviously belongs to God. That David HaMelech makes a point of mentioning it implies that we cannot use the world for our own benefit without permission. Another pasuk however states, “הַשָּׁמַיִם שָׁמַיִם לַה' וְהָאָרֶץ נָתַן לִבְנֵיֽ־אָדָֽם׃/As for the heavens, the heavens are God’s, but He has given the earth to mankind.” This pasuk seems to be teaching us that God gave us the earth to use as we see fit, a clear contradiction to the first pasuk.

Chazal learn from this contradiction that before incurring material benefit from this world, we must say a blessing. Before we say a blessing, the earth belongs to God and we may not benefit from it. It is not ours. When we say a blessing, God gives it to us. It becomes ours and we may benefit from it. What is the significance of the blessing? By what mechanism does saying a blessing transfer ownership, as it were, from God to us?

We can glean an understanding of the significance of blessings from the continuation of this ma’amar Chazal. Chazal say that deriving benefit from this world without saying a blessing is like receiving personal benefit from sacred items of the Beis HaMikdash. We can clearly understand that we must ask permission to use something that is not ours. Why, though, do Chazal compare deriving unauthorized benefit from the physical world to deriving unauthorized benefit from sanctified items of the Beis HaMikdash? Chazal are teaching us that there is holiness in the entire world. Every creation is imbued with holiness. When we think about it, we realize that it must be this way because God is everywhere giving life to everything. How, then, can we derive personal pleasure from anything? The answer, the Sfas Emes explains, is by acknowledging the holiness, the Godliness, in everything. When we acknowledge that the apple we are about to eat is imbued with holiness, we are connect with that holiness when we eat it even as we derive physical pleasure from it. Chazal established this acknowledgment in the form of the blessings we say before benefiting from the material world.

God wants us to use the physical world do His will. By acknowledging the holiness in the physical, God gives us the physical to use. The Sfas Emes explained this in the first ma’amar on this week’s parsha. There he explained the pasuk in our parsha, “וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָֽׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָֽם׃/You shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them.” The Sfas Emes explains that this pasuk is not just a command to make a physical sanctuary, a building, for God. It is a command to recognize that God is in everything, every creation and every action. By recognizing this, we are making everything in the world a sanctuary for God. When we do this, God reveals Himself as the end of the pasuk implies, “וְשָֽׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָֽם/I will dwell among them.” God is here whether we recognize Him or not. Dwelling among them, though, means that we will feel His presence.

The point is that in order to benefit from the world in a way that connects us to God, it must be given to us. We cannot take it. This is why the pasuk states, “וְהָאָרֶץ נָתַן לִבְנֵיֽ־אָדָם/and He gave the earth to mankind.” We find this concept in an interesting law regarding divorce. If a man tells his wife, “Take your get (divorce certificate),” the divorce is invalid. He must give her the get. The pasuk says clearly, “וְנָתַן בְּיָדָהּ/he shall give it into her hand.” Freedom cannot be taken. It must be given. May we merit using the world that God has given us to fulfill His will thereby basking in His presence in this world.

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