Thursday, January 07, 2010

Shemos 5631 First Ma'amar - Practical Application


This post is based on Shemos 5631 First Ma'amar (opens in a new window.)

The Sfas Emes teaches us the significance of שְׁמוֹת/names at the beginning of this week’s parsha and why the pasuk states that the tribes descended to Egypt with Ya’akov, a seemingly extraneous clause.  A person’s name represents his reputation, his personal achievements.  “טוֹב שֵׁם מִשֶׁמֶן טוֹב/A good name is better than good (anointing) oil.”  For the children of Israel, it represented their relationship with the material world.  Under Ya’akov’s tutelage they reached a high level of faith that the world around them contained a spiritual component, holiness.

The Sfas Emes taught us in parshas VaYechi that Ya’akov was unaffected by his surroundings.  He was completely above them and was therefore able to “live” in the ultimate sense even in Egypt.  His children, though, were not on this level.  They needed to work on strengthening their faith that their physical surroundings had no autonomous existence but were simply a screen that hid God.

They therefore descended to Egypt maintaining a relationship with and being very much in the material world while, at the same time recognizing its underlying spiritual component represented by Ya’akov.  Thus, “These are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt with Ya’akov.

Many times we find ourselves in situations that are less than ideal in terms of holiness.  We may be obligated to attend an affair at which people will not be dressed according to our standards of modesty or where there may be mixed dancing.  We may find ourselves on a business trip away from minyanim and  our daily shiur.  Or our work environment may be spiritually below our standards.  There are myriad common situations like these and we need to know how to prepare for them.

In fact the most common situation, one that the Sfas Emes mentions specifically in this ma’amar and one that most of us don’t even recognize, is the transition from Shabbos to the weekdays.  The holiness of Shabbos can be palpable.  It is relatively easy to experience holiness on Shabbos.  Transitioning to the days of the week with all its distractions is difficult for those of us who are serious about maintaining a level of holiness that can be  or is usually incongruent with our surroundings.  What to do?

The Sfas Emes in this ma’amar is teaching us exactly this.  The tribes went down to Egypt only with their names, their external relationship with their surroundings.  On a penimiyus level they remained attached to Ya’akov.  They strengthened their faith that their surroundings are a screen that hides God but that God is there always.  This was their preparation.

We, too, can learn from them.  By strengthening our own faith that God is with us always and that our surroundings are built to hide Him, we can be in places that would ordinarily be detrimental to our spiritual health and not be affected or at least minimize the effect by maintaining a spiritual attachment to the holiness represented by Ya’akov.

The key is to keep it in mind.  I know that I tend to get involved in whatever it is I happen to be doing and lose sight of this.  A good thing to do then, is to have set stops during your day, during which you learn something.  The stops do not have to be long.  Even five minutes is enough.  The main thing is the stopping itself to gain perspective.

If, as an example, you work from 9 to 12, take an hour lunch break and then work from 1 to 5, a five minute break at the end of each of your work hours (i.e. at 10, 11, 12, 2, 3, 4 and 5), 7 five minute breaks in all is extremely effective in keeping your surroundings in perspective.  To boot, you get 35 minutes of learning during the day.  The main thing though is stopping what you are doing to “get spiritual” for a few minutes to help you “remember God”,  so to speak, in order not to be affected by less than optimum surroundings.

This is just an example.  Adapt this idea to whatever your specific situation is and please provide feedback here.  I (and other readers) would love to hear how this works for you.

If this sounds daunting, realize that any time we try to grow in our avodas Hashem the yetzer hara is working overtime to prevent that growth.  Chazal already said that all beginnings are difficult.  In absolute terms it’s not as difficult as it may seem at first.  The main thing is to start.  Hatzlacha to us all!

1 comment:

N said...

Perfect!