Friday, November 14, 2008

VaYeira 5633 First Ma'amar

Iyov said, “וְאַחַר עוֹרִי נִקְּפוּ זֹאת וּמִבְּשָׂרִי אֶחֱזֶה אֱ-לוֹהַּ/After my skin was stricken they pierced this, and from my flesh I perceive God.” (Iyov 19:26) The Midrash in this week’s parsha attributes these words to Avraham Avinu as well. Avraham Avinu continues, “If I had not circumcised myself how would God have been revealed to me?” (Breishis R. 48:2)

Why is God’s revelation to Avraham Avinu dependent upon his circumcision? Furthermore, God spoke to Avraham several times before he was circumcised. What, then, is the meaning of Avraham Avinu’s statement that he received revelation only after the circumcision?

The Sfas Emes explains. The basis of Avraham Avinu’s statement is the understanding that the Creation was not a one time act. The act of creation is constant and continuing. There is a spiritual force emanating from God which gives continued existence to every facet of the Creation. Revealing this point of spirituality – by believing it is there – is in essence revealing God’s presence in the world.

Avraham Avinu first realized this when he was commanded to circumcise himself. The removal of the foreskin represents the removal of the outer physical shell hiding God’s presence. When it is removed, God’s presence is automatically revealed. This realization prompted him to declare, “... וּמִבְּשָׂרִי אֶחֱזֶה אֱ-לוֹהַּ/… from my flesh I perceive God.” Avraham Avinu is not referring only to God’s revelation in his immediate prophecy. He is rather referring to his perception of God’s revelation in the entire Creation.

This is why the first pasuk of the parsha states, “וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו .../He appeared to him …” (Breishis 18:1) instead of “וַיֵּרָא ה' אֶל־אַבְרָם .../God appeared to Avrum” (Breishis 12:7) as the pasuk states when God spoke to him earlier before the circumcision. “וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו .../He appeared to him …” is more general. The pasuk is telling us that God’s presence concealed in every part of Creation, giving life to every part of Creation, was now revealed to him.

The Sfas Emes teaches that, like Avraham Avinu before us, our mission in this world is to testify that God gives life to all. This is the reason we were created. In this, we are stronger than angels. According to halachah, testimony of family member is invalid because the close relationship is likely to skew the testimony. A close family member cannot be expected to be impartial. Angels, because they see the truth, know that fulfilling God’s will is always to their benefit. When an angel fulfills God’s will, his own will is completely aligned with God’s. For an angel to testify that it behooves us to fulfill God’s will because He is the source of all life is like a father’s testimony on behalf of his son. Neither testimony can be considered impartial.

We, though, live in the physical world where God is not apparent. Our senses tell us that we and the things around us have an autonomous existence. We have a will of our own. To us, fulfilling God’s will does not always appear to benefit us. Many times we need to suppress our own desires to do so. When we accept God’s rule thus sacrificing our own desires, we are offering a complete and valid testimony. We cannot be accused of partiality. The concept that we testify about God is found in a Midrash as well. The Midrash states that the children of Israel, God and Shabbos testify about each other. We testify that God is One.[1]

Chazal allude to the concept of our testimony regarding Shabbos. They said, “כָּל הַמְּעַנֵג אֶת הַשַּׁבָּת נוֹתְנִין לוֹ נַחֲלָה בְּלִי מָצִרים/Whosoever gives enjoyment to the Shabbos is given an unbounded inheritance.” (Shabbos 118a) The Chiddushei HaRim points out that Chazal do not say, “Whosoever enjoys himself on Shabbos …”, rather, “Whosoever gives enjoyment to the Shabbos …” a strange concept. How can we give enjoyment to the Shabbos? The Chiddushei HaRim explains that whoever is happy when Shabbos comes because on that day God rested from His work and that happiness causes him to forget his troubles has given enjoyment to the Shabbos. In this way, the children of Israel testify that Shabbos is a day of rest.

May we merit that, like Avraham Avinu, our lives be a living testimony to God in this world thus justifying our existence. Amen.

[1] Quoted in Tosfos Chagigah 3b starting, “U’Mi

1 comment:

D'n said...

Moishe Dovid--

I usually express בני ישראל
as "members of Israel" rather than "children" -- though for this Parsha, I guess we're all Avrohom's kids ;)

A gut Shabbos