Thursday, July 24, 2008

Matos 5632 First Ma'amar

The beginning of this week’s parsha relates the laws of vows. Why would one take an oath? A Midrash learns from a pasuk in Tehillim (119:106), “נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי וָאֲקַּיֵמָה לִשְׁמֹר מִשְׁפְּטֵי צִדְקֶךָ/I have sworn and I will fulfill, to keep Your righteous judgments”, that we can take an oath to help us fulfill mitzvos.

While Chazal make it clear than one may take an oath to encourage the fulfillment of the mitzvos, the question arises, how does such an oath help? Is there any oath greater than the one the entire nation took at the receiving of the Torah? What is the point of a second oath? The decision to use an oath to encourage fulfilling mitzvos or not depends on the level of a person's faith. There is no reason to swear that the sun is shining during the day. The shining sun is not in doubt. There is a reason to take an oath when the object of the oath is not seen clearly; when it is a matter of faith.

Rashi at the beginning of the parsha cites Chazal who teach that the difference between seeing and believing is the difference between the prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu and that of all the other prophets. Moshe Rabbeinu and all the prophets commonly began their prophecies with the words, “כֹּה אָמַר ה׳/Thus said God.” Moshe Rabbeinu also began prophecies with the words, “זֶה הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה׳/This is the thing that God commanded.” The former has an intangible aspect. The prophet is relating what he heard God say. The latter has a tangible aspect. The word, “this”, is used when pointing to an object.

Certainly Moshe Rabbeinu’s prophecy was on a different level than all the other prophets. God Himself, told this to Aharon and Miryam.[1] Why then do Chazal tell us that Moshe Rabbeinu prophesied at the higher level in addition to the regular prophecy of all prophets? Prophecy is a revelation from God. If Moshe received revelation on the higher level, in what way could his prophecy be considered like the other prophets?

The Sfas Emes explains that the way a person experiences revelation depends upon his level of faith. Moshe Rabbeinu experienced God’s revelation in a tangible way because the physical world presented no barrier to him. He experienced God’s revelation directly from an other worldly stance. Everything in the physical world, though, alludes to a higher spiritual reality. Experiencing God’s revelation through the prism of the physical world of necessity is indirect and requires imagination, allusion and allegory.

For all the other prophets, indeed for everyone except Moshe Rabbeinu, this second way of receiving revelation is crucial since it is the only way we can experience God’s revelation while living in the physical world. We could therefore not experience Moshe Rabbeinu's prophecy the way Moshe Rabbeinu did. For us to experience God's revelation from Moshe necessitated a lower level. This is why Chazal teach us that Moshe Rabbeinu prophesied at the higher level represented by “זֶה הַדָּבָר/This is the thing” in addition to the lower level represented by, “כֹּה אָמַר ה'/Thus said God.” Although he experienced revelation on the higher level, he could convey his experience to us only on the lower level.

The exception was when we received the Torah at Mount Sinai.[2] At that time, the entire nation received prophecy on the same level as Moshe himself. Only after the sin of the golden calf did we lose this higher level. The loss of the special crowns we received at the giving of the Torah symbolized losing the higher level of prophecy. Significantly, the Arizal taught that on Shabbos, Moshe Rabbeinu returns the crowns to the nation. This is because on Shabbos there is an automatic higher level of revelation in the entire Creation. Shabbos, the Zohar says, is called “testimony” because the children of Israel, by keeping Shabbos, testify that God created everything and constantly gives life to everything.

The Sfas Emes says that Shabbos is therefore an aspect of the level of “זֶה הַדָּבָר/This is the thing” whereas the days of the week are an aspect of “כֹּה אָמַר ה'/Thus said God.” During the days of the week it is more difficult to recognize God in the Creation. Acting for the sake of Heaven during the week takes more faith than on Shabbos because the truth – the way the world really is – is more hidden during the week. However, although there is an automatic revelation of the truth on Shabbos, to experience it we need to sensitize ourselves during the week by cultivating our faith.

We can reach an aspect of the level of “זֶה הַדָּבָר/This is the thing” by desiring with our entire being to act only for God’s sake. This strong desire can be formalized and enhanced through the use of an oath. In fact, the Chidushei HaRim explains that the very definition of an oath is for a person to bring to bear all seven of his primary character traits upon a decision to act for the sake of God. Oath in Hebrew has the same root as the Hebrew word for seven.”

A person may feel inhibited to perform an act for the sake of Heaven as if he recognizes God when he actually does not. He may feel somewhat hypocritical. He may think that he is living a lie. The Sfas Emes explains that the opposite is the case. The truth is that every member of the nation of Israel has a true deep seated desire to act for God alone. Therefore, one who works hard to believe in that point of truth, that God is within everything, even if he does not experience it but merely imagines it, is being completely honest with himself and, in fact, is the way to reach the experience of it.

In this world, the way to reach the truth is to practice it even before experiencing it. Practicing the truth brings us to experience it. This is the meaning of the pasuk the Midrash above brought, “נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי וָאֲקַּיֵמָה .../I have sworn and I will fulfill …” As we’ve explained above, oaths are taken when the object of the oath is unclear and therefore requires faith. No one takes an oath that the sun is shining. It does not require faith. Taking the oath, in order to cultivate faith leads to fulfilling.

Nowadays, we do not take oaths. However, since an oath is simply a verbal expression of an inner desire, we can still fulfill this pasuk by desiring to fulfill God’s will in everything we do. The level of faith represented by, כֹּה אָמַר ה'/Thus says God,” leads inexorably to the level of experiencing represented by “זֶה הַדָּבָר/This is the thing.” May we merit it!

[1] Bamidbar 12:6-7

[2] See Meshech Chochma on Shmos 1:1 for an in depth discussion explaining why this had to be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just an Interesting Note for those doing Daf Yomi The Sfas Emes in Chayah Sarah Talks about the Gemara in Gittin About freeing a Slave. If it is good(zchus hu lo) for him or not. I was told By someone who is Reliable that he wrote it or said during the arguments about The Emancipation Proclamation.