Friday, May 30, 2008

Bamidbar 5632 First Ma'amar

This week’s parsha records the census of the nation of Israel that was conducted after the completion of the Mishkan. What was the purpose of this census? What was its significance? The Sfas Emes explains that the census teaches us that each person is unique and has a unique mission to accomplish for God. In fact, the Sfas Emes teaches us that this is a person’s raison d’être.

How can we know what our unique mission is? Although each person’s mission is unique, all the individual tasks lead to a common goal. There is a general purpose that guides us. The general meta-purpose is alluded to in the first Midrash on the parsha.

The Midrash quotes a pasuk in Tehillim, “צִדְקָתְךָ כְּהַרְרֵי־אֵל מִשְׁפָּטֶיךָ תְּהוֹם רַבָּה .../Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains; Your judgments are like the vast deep …” The Midrash says that this pasuk is a metaphor for the abodes of the righteous and the wicked. The righteous believe that God is with us even in this physical world. Their abode is revealed. The wicked do not believe that God sees their actions. Their abode is concealed.

The Chiddushei HaRim explains that the Midrash is teaching us that the entire world is in fact only a metaphor for a spiritual reality. How we, who are living in the metaphor – the physical world – experience the spiritual reality, is directly dependent upon our beliefs and consequent actions. To the extent that we internalize the belief that all existence is from God and desire to experience Him, essentially to reveal Him in everything, we experience Him and He is revealed to us.

This concept applies equally to the wicked who lack this faith. They believe they can do evil and no one sees as the prophet Yeshayah laments, “הוֹי הַמַּעֲמִיקִים מֵה׳ לַסְתִּר עֵצָה וְהָיָה בְמַחְשָךְ מַעֲשֵׂיהֶם וַיֹּאמְרוּ מִי רֹאֵנוּ וּמִי יֹדְעֵנוּ/Woe to those who try to hide deep down to conceal counsel from God, and their deeds are done in darkness; they say, ‘Who sees us, and who knows of us?” Correspondingly, God is not revealed to them. The truth is kept from them as we find in Iyov, “וְיִמָּנַע מֵרְשָׁעִים אוֹרָם .../Light is withheld from the wicked.”

A pasuk in Yeshayah bears out this concept, “אוֹ יַחֲזֵק בְּמָעוּזִּי יַעֲשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם לִי שָׁלוֹם יַעֲשֶׂה־לִּי/If (Israel) would grasp my stronghold, then he would make peace with Me, peace would he make with me.” Why the redundancy? The Sfas Emes understands that the word שָׁלוֹם/peace in this pasuk connotes שְׁלֵימוּת/completeness. The physical can be considered “complete” to the extent that its spiritual underpinnings are revealed. A metaphor is incomplete, meaningless really, unless it relates to the object that it describes. We relate the physical world to the spiritual by believing that it is there. This is a two step process whereby we first recognize the spiritual within the physical so that the physical is then elevated to be more spiritual. It is “completed.”

The idea of elevating the physical to its spiritual roots explains why the Torah mentions the date and place of God’s instruction to Moshe regarding the census. Time and space represent the physical world. Although Torah is beyond time, God’s primary desire is for us to draw the light of the Torah and holiness into time, into the physical thus elevating the physical to its spiritual roots.

This explains our meta-purpose in this world. From this definition, there is the danger of concluding that everyone should do exactly the same thing, that there is no room for individualism. The census taught us that although our general goal is the same, each person’s task leading to that goal is different. Each person had, and has today, a unique role that no one else can fill. We can each relate to God through our own unique actions.

How do we know, though, what our unique path and role is? The Sfas Emes explains that to the extent that we cultivate the belief that our individual actions are important and have ramifications that reach the highest spiritual realms to God Himself, as it were, we can merit understanding our place, role and unique mission. May we merit it!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

keep up the good work!