Friday, March 21, 2008

Purim 5361Third Ma'amar

The Torah teaches us that the nation of Israel was given and accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai 50 days after the Exodus. Chazal teach us that during the days of Achashveirosh, the Jewish people accepted the Torah again. Chazal understand this from the pasuk in the book of Esther, “קִיְּמוּ וְקִבְּלוּ הַיְּהוּדִים .../The Jews fulfilled (confirmed) and accepted …” Chazal read the pasuk, “They fulfilled (confirmed) what they had previously accepted.” At Mount Sinai, Chazal relate, God forced us to accept the Torah. At the time of Achashveirosh, Rashi explains we accepted it willingly out of love because of the miracle that God wrought to save us. We “fulfilled” willingly what we “accepted” earlier.

Elsewhere Chazal teach us that the book of Esther was written with divine inspiration. This is understood from this same pasuk. Here the pasuk is read, “In heaven they fulfilled (confirmed) what the Jews accepted.” There is a well known principle that the same words can be used for only one drasha (homiletical interpretation.) Tosfos therefore ask, how can Chazal learn two drashos from the same pasuk?

The Sfas Emes explains that although Chazal learned two drashos from this pasuk, they both stem from the same difficulty in the pasuk and are both based on the same fundamental understanding. What is the difficulty in the pasuk? Reviewing the pasuk carefully, we realize that the first two words of the pasuk, “קִיְּמוּ וְקִבְּלוּ/They fulfilled and accepted” are apparently in the wrong order. Do we fulfill before accepting? Shouldn’t we accept first and then fulfill?

Significantly, we find this out-of-order sequence at the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, too. There, the nation said, “נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע/We will do and we will listen.” Yet another similarly ordered pasuk appears in Tehillim, “... גִבֹּרֵי כֹחַ עֹשֵׂי דְבָרוֹ לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקוֹל דְבָרוֹ/… strong warriors who do His bidding, to listen to the sound of His word.” Shouldn’t the warriors first listen in order to know what to do?

Why are these pesukim structured this way? The Sfas Emes explains that every action has two components. One component is the physical action itself. The other component is the will to act. The physical action is limited by nature. A physical action is bound by time and place. Will, on the other hand, is not so constrained. We can desire to fulfill God’s will even if it is beyond nature. We, of course, cannot fulfill it because we ourselves are bound by nature. Therefore, when a person acts to fulfill God’s will, his action associates with God’s command. The act of prayer, for example, fulfills a direct commandment to pray. However, the desire to fulfill God’s will is not limited to the physical act of the commandment. Our desire to fulfill God’s will associates with God’s desire to command us.

Based on this, the Zohar explains that the, “גִבֹּרֵי כֹחַ/strong warriors” in the pasuk refer to the righteous of the nation of Israel. By crying out to God like lions that they desire to fulfill His will, they actually stimulate His will and transform it into a command. This is the meaning of, “... עֹשֵׂי דְבָרוֹ .../… doers of His bidding …” The word עֹשֶׂה/do also means “make.” The righteous, by expressing their desire to perform God’s will, actually cause His will to become a command. It is clear that the commandments listed in the Torah are God’s will. The Sfas Emes is teaching us, though, that even activities which are not apparent mitzvos listed in the Torah can also be mitzvos if we precede them with the desire to achieve God’s will through them.

With this understanding we can explain how the two drashos on the pasuk, “קִיְּמוּ וְקִבְּלוּ הַיְּהוּדִים .../The Jews fulfilled (confirmed) and accepted …” compliment each other. According to the first drasha, at the time of Achashveirosh we desired out of love to accept the Torah. קִיְּמוּ/They fulfilled” refers to our desire to fulfill God’s will, as we said, every action starts with a desire to do it. Our desire to fulfill God’s will stimulated, as it were, God’s will to command us. Thus, according to the second drasha, “קִיְּמוּ/They fulfilled” refers to God’s desire to command us. In the words of Chazal, “In heaven they fulfilled (confirmed)” our desire for His command thus turning His desire into actual commands to us which we then performed with physical actions.

Our acceptance of the Torah of our own free will is actually an aspect of Torah sheBe’al Peh/The Oral Law. A key aspect of Torah sheBe’al Peh, the Sfas Emes explains elsewhere, is the ability God gave us to create novelty (חִידוּשׁ) in the physical world. Thus, anything we do of ourselves is an aspect of Torah sheBe’al Peh. The Maharal therefore cites a Midrash which teaches that the Torah we accepted a second time on Purim was Torah sheBe’al Peh.

May HaShem help us strive to do His will. By desiring to achieve God’s will, He will make His will clear to us. May we merit emulating the Jews of Shushan by fulfilling and confirming our acceptance of the Torah this Purim just as they did so many years ago.

No comments: