Friday, June 20, 2008

Shelach 5632 First Ma'amar

How is it possible to live a holy life in this very physical world? Looking around us, it is difficult to discern holiness. From what we see around it is eas to believe that there is nothing but the physical world and there is no possibility of living a holy life here, nor is there any point.

The Sfas Emes teaches us, though, that holiness is inherent in everything as the pasuk in Tehillim states, “מַלְכוּתְךָ מַלְכוּת כָּל־עֹלָמִים .../Your kingship is a kingship spanning all worlds …” If God’s kingship spans all worlds, He is present everywhere. He “runs” everything. Everything that happens is a fulfillment of His will. We do not notice because He is hidden in this world.

We see, though, that this world at least has the potential for holiness. How do we actualize this potential? The answer, the Sfas Emes advises, is by fulfilling the mitzvos. The mitzvos, we learn in Mishlei, are likened to lamps. Just as a lamp holds light, the mitzvos hold the light of the Torah. By fulfilling the mitzvos, we “activate” the light of the Torah – the holiness inherent in our actions and the physical world.

However, the Sfas Emes teaches us that it is not enough to perform the mitzvos. In order to draw out the holiness inherent in our actions we need to perform them as God’s agent solely to achieve God’s will. The Chiddushei HaRim used to say that we are all shlichei mitzvah/emissaries sent to perform mitzvos. The Midrash says that there is nothing more precious to God than a shli’ach mitzvah/one sent to do a mitzvah.

An emissary, though, is one whose sole motive is to fulfill the sender’s will. If he has other personal motives, he is no longer simply an emissary. He is on his own mission as well. An emissary who has no personal motives in the mission is called, in the words of the Midrash, one who puts his soul into the success of his mission. Therefore, it is not enough to simply perform mitzvos. In order to actualize the potential for holiness inherent in the mitzvos we must subordinate our own motives and desires to God’s and perform the mitzvos solely to fulfill His will.

The Sfas Emes takes this concept a step further and applies it to all our activities. The Midrash teaches us that God made mitzvos for every human activity. The Sfas Emes understands this to mean that every human activity is a potential mitzvah. The way to transform a mundane activity into a mitzvah is by intending to act as God’s emissary and to fulfill His will through the activity rather than for personal gain.

In addition to the benefit of drawing holiness into the physical world, the mitzvos protect us from the pitfalls and dangers of being drawn after the temptations of the physical world. By transforming all our mundane activities into mitzvos we protect ourselves and are able lead lives imbued with holiness.

With this concept we can understand the difference between the two version of the story of the twelve spies. In our parsha God instructs Moshe Rabbeinu to send the spies. In parshas Devarim, Moshe Rabbeinu says that the nation asked him to send the spies. How can these two accounts be reconciled?

The Sfas Emes answers that the nation first asked Moshe Rabbeinu to send spies. Looking at the land of Canaan from the perspective of people intending to invade and conquer, the situation looked bleak indeed. The indigenous population lived within walled cities. They were large and powerful. What chance did the nation of Israel have of actually succeeding?

This was what the spies were up against. God, in His kindness instructed Moshe to send the spies thus transforming a straightforward military mission into a mitzvah. The spies should have known that, notwithstanding Moshe Rabbeinu’s detailed instructions regarding the espionage, their true mission was to subordinate their own desires to the will of God who sent them. They knew that God’s will was for the nation to enter the land.

This is the reason that the Midrash praises shlichei mitzvah even more than the fulfillment of the mitzvah. The desire, preparation and yearning to fulfill the mitzvah is the main thing. It is the only way to be a successful emissary of God.

The lesson of the spies is for all time and applies to us today as well. By acknowledging that the physical is simply a screen that covers the glory of God that is inherent in it, a person can find the spiritual light everywhere he looks. The Zohar in this week’s parsha in fact states that the spying of this week’s parsha is a metaphor for spying out the good in this world. May we merit it!


A Simple Jew said...

Beautiful teaching and beautifully explained!

Long Beach Chasid said...

I learn the Sfas Emes's Maamers weekly with my Rav and with his help especially I am able to truly grasp the deep essence the Sfas Emes reveals. I have been reading for blog as well for awhile and thank you for the effort you put forth to bring Sfas Emes to english speaking Yidden. You always have a different angel in some way from my Rav when relaying the Maamer and with that I truly get a broad and deep picture of what the Sfas Emes is trying to tell me. Thank you Hatzlacha and Good Shabbos.

Anonymous said...

I could not have said it better than LBC above. I vist every Erev Shabbat. Thank you for your efforts and affording me with the opportunity to learn. Shabbat shalom.


Shalom Ash said...

i recently found your blog. I love it . thanks