Friday, July 04, 2008

Chukas 5632 First Ma'amar

This week’s parsha begins with the laws of the red heifer. The ashes of a red heifer are required as part of the procedure to purify one who has had contact with a corpse. Impurity is an actual spiritual state. How do the ashes of the red heifer wipe it away? Chazal were bothered by this question in the first Midrash of our parsha, “מִי־יִתֵּן טָהוֹר מִטָּמֵא לֹא אֶחָד/Who produces purity from impurity? No one!” The Midrash answers that it is a God-given decree and translates the pasuk, “Who produces purity from pure? Is it not the One?!” The Midrash Tanchuma quotes Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai who says explicitly that the red heifer does not purify. Rather God decreed that the corpse should produce impurity and that the red heifer should purify.

What is the nature of this decree? Another pasuk the Midrash quotes from Tehillim gives us a clue, “אִמְרוֹת ה' אֲמָרוֹת טְהֹרוֹת .../God’s sayings are pure sayings…” What is this pasuk teaching us? It obviously cannot be taken literally because “God is pure and His servants are pure.” (Nidah 31a)

The Sfas Emes explains that “אִמְרָה/Saying” in this pasuk alludes to the ten מַאֲמָרוֹת/sayings with which God created the world. The Sfas Emes explains that the saying is more than just the words God used to create. The saying itself is a spiritual power that gives existence to the Creation. The creating power of God, through the saying, is hidden within every part of the Creation. Thus, the source of purity is hidden within every part of the Creation. Every part of the physical world, then, has at least the potential for purity because of the spiritual force inherent in it. This is the meaning of the pasuk in Tehillim. God’s sayings – His presence within the Creation – are pure and therefore purify.

How can we actualize the potential for purity that is hidden within ourselves and the physical world? The Sfas Emes explains that the purity is revealed and affects us and our surroundings when we contemplate and acknowledge that it is there. Chazal tell us that Avraham Avinu first recognized that God must be in the world. God then revealed Himself to Avraham Avinu.

Regarding producing purity from impurity the Midrash says, “Who commanded thus? Who decreed thus? Is it not the One?!” The Sfas Emes explains the redundancy. The existence of the physical world contains two wonders. As we’ve said, God’s creative power is constantly working and is hidden within the Creation. Without it, the world would cease to exist. The first wonder is that God gives existence and strength to evil to resist the very “sayings” that are the source of its existence. Relative to this the Midrash says, “Who decreed thus?”

The second wonder is that God gave us the ability to draw His “sayings” into the physical world, to reveal spirituality and ultimately to experience God Himself even as we live in the physical world. Through the commandments we elevate ourselves and our surroundings to God. Regarding this the Midrash says, “Who commanded thus?” When we perform the mitzvos, the Sfas Emes explains, and contemplate that the physical has a spiritual source, we “connect” the physical to that source. The physical is affected by its spiritual source. The physical becomes pure.

Purity and impurity, and in fact, the entire Creation works according to the laws that are familiar to us because God decreed that it should be so. The same way that God decreed that the ashes of the red heifer change a person’s spiritual status, He decreed every aspect of the Creation.

We find this in the pasuk in Tehillim regarding the Creation, “... חָק־נָתַן וְלֹא יַעֲבוֹר/… He issued a decree that will not change.” The word חוֹק/decree has the same root as the word for engrave – חָקַק. This decree is engraved, as it were, within the Creation. It is the underlying force that is the source of the Creation’s existence.

In the same vein Chazal tell us that חָק suggests sustenance as we find in the pasuk, “... וְאָכְלוּ אֶת־חֻקָּם .../… they ate their allowance …” The underlying spiritual force sustains the entire Creation. It is constantly imbuing the Creation with life and abundance. The Sfas Emes teaches that the reason we were created is to reveal this spiritual life force in everything by contemplating that it exists within everything. May we merit it!

1 comment:

Melbournite said...

Could you post a day earlier in the week? Some parts of the globe are a bit ahead of you and it helps to have your post before Shabbas.