Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bo 5631 First Ma'amar

The Chiddushei HaRim asks why it was necessary for God to bring specifically ten plagues upon the Egyptians. God could have accomplished His purpose with any number of plagues or with no plagues at all. Why ten? The Chiddushei HaRim answers that the ten plagues removed God’s concealment from the ten commands with which the world was created and changed them from עֲשָׂרָה מַאֲמָרוֹת/ten commands to עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדִּבְּרוֹת/ten commandments.

The Sfas Emes explains this enigmatic answer. God created the world with עֲשָׂרָה מַאֲמָרוֹת/ten commands. These are stated clearly in the first chapter of Breishis. God constructed the Creation mechanism so that when He uttered the words of creation, the words themselves gave their creations existence. So, for example, when God said, “Let there be light,” (Breishis 1:3) those words gave existence to light. The life force behind everything in this world is those letters in the beginning of the Torah which describe the Creation. The letters are the means through which God extends His will to create and continue the existence of the entire creation. This is a crucial concept. The Creation was not a one time act. It is continuous.

Looking around us, though, it is not clear that the life force that gives everything existence is in the letters of these very commands. In fact, it is not obvious that there is a spiritual life force at all. The Godly life force in Creation is hidden. The purpose of the plagues that God wrought upon Egypt was to clearly reveal that the physical Creation owes its continuing existence to a Godly life force. It was to make it known that there is more to the world around us than our eyes perceive. Each plague revealed God in one aspect of the Creation. Each plague removed a barrier preventing us from being aware of God in that aspect of nature referred to in one Creation מַאֲמַר/command. This is why God brought ten plagues upon the Egyptians; one plague for each of the ten commands by which God created the world.

What does the Chiddushei HaRim mean, though, when he says that each מַאֲמַר/command changed to a דִבּוּר/utterance? The Chiddushei HaRim is using a play on words. Although in Hebrew the root דַבָר/DBR means speech, in Aramaic it means leader. The Zohar uses this same play on words when it explains, “וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם/You will speak about them.” The Zohar explains this as, “You will guide your actions according to the word of God.”[1] דִבּוּר/Leadership symbolizes the revelation of God in the world. In the exile God’s truth is hidden. The Zohar describes this as the aspect of דִבּוּר/leadership being in exile.[2] At the time the Torah was given the aspect of דִבּוּר/leadership was revealed. This is why right before the ten commandments we find, “וַיְדַבֵּר אֱ-לֹהִים אֵת כָּל־הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה .../God spoke all these words …” (Shmos 20:1) God’s leadership was no longer in exile. It was clear for all to see.

We find this concept regarding Moshe Rabbeinu’s speech impediment as well. When God asked Moshe Rabbeinu to return to Egypt to speak to Pharaoh and begin the redemption process, he responds, “לֹא אִישׁ דְּבָרִים אָנֹכִי/I am not a man of words.” (Shmos 4:10) After the Torah was given, however, the pasuk says, “אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר דִּבֵּר מִשֶׁה .../These are the words that Moshe spoke …” (Devarim 1:1) How did Moshe change from a man with a speech impediment to one who could speak and explain the entire Torah to the nation? The Midrash teaches us that after he merited receiving the Torah he was healed.[3] In the exile Moshe Rabbeinu was not a man of words. Moshe Rabbeinu understood that in the exile God’s influence was far from apparent. But at the giving of the Torah, God’s leadership was clear for all to see. It follows that Moshe Rabbeinu’s speech impediment, which symbolized God’s concealment, was healed.

As we’ve said, the ten plagues removed God’s concealment from theעֲשָׂרָה מַאֲמָרוֹת/ten commands with which the world was created. As we and the Egyptians became more aware of God with each plague, each aspect of nature represented by one of the ten commands was changed to an aspect of God’s דִבּוּר/leadership. Finally, they were aware of God in all aspects of nature. This is why the Chiddushei HaRim said that the ten commands which created the world changed toעֲשֶׂרֶת הַדִּבְּרוֹת/ten aspects of (God’s) leadership.

[1] Zohar 3:269a

[2] Zohar 2:25b

[3] Devarim R. 1:1

Friday, January 02, 2009

VaYigash 5631 Fourth Ma'amar

God commands us to remember the Shabbos, “זָכוֹר אֶת־יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשוֹ/Remember the Shabbos day to sanctify it.” (Shmos 20:8) Remembering requires no action. However, although there are a few mitzvos, such as believing in God, that require no action, Shabbos is not one of them. What action, then, is required of us to fulfill the mitzvah of remembering the Shabbos? Chazal explain that God is asking us to commemorate Shabbos through action. If we find a nice portion of food during the week and save it for Shabbos, we have fulfilled the mitzvah of remembering the Shabbos.

The Sfas Emes teaches that Shabbos represents the holiness in the physical world. Conventionally, we think of Shabbos as the holy part of the week. On a deeper level, everything in the world has a holy spiritual component. Just as the holy component of the week is called Shabbos, the holy part of every physical thing is an aspect of Shabbos. Metaphorically, a “nice portion” also pertains to this spiritual component within every physical thing. Accordingly, remembering the Shabbos by setting aside a nice portion means recognizing the aspect of Shabbos – the holiness – that exists within, and is the spiritual root of, everything in the physical world.

Yosef, too, represents the holiness within the physical world. The Zohar calls Yosef שׁוֹמֵר הַבְּרִית/keeper of the covenant. The plain meaning relates to his overcoming the temptations presented to him by the wife of Potiphar. The covenant that he kept was the covenant of the circumcision. The Zohar, though, is referring to something deeper. The holiness inherent in this world is hidden by gross physicality. The removal of the foreskin symbolizes unveiling the holiness that lies within the physical world. Yosef, as the keeper of the covenant, represents the holiness that is within the physical world.