Friday, May 14, 2010

BaMidbar 5632 Second Ma'amar

In this week’s parsha a census is conducted that counts the entire nation of Israel. God tells Moshe Rabeinu to count the Levites separately for, “... וְהָיוּ לִי הַלְוִיִים/… the Levites shall be Mine.” Why did God single out the Levites? Why did He make them His? The Midrash, addressing this question, says that whoever brings God close, God, in turn, brings that person close to Him. After the sin of the golden calf, the Levites brought God close to them. In response to Moshe Rabbeinu’s call, “Whoever is for God, come to me!” “All the children of Levi gathered around him.” God, in turn, brought the Levites close to Him.

The Chiddushei HaRim points out, though, that the Levites were not the only ones who resisted the temptation to sin. In fact, most of the nation did not participate in the idol worship. Why, then, did God bring particularly the Levites close to Him?

The Chiddushei HaRim, based on a Midrash, answers that there is a significant difference between passively refraining from sin and actively declaring that you are for God.  A person can refrain from sin for any number of reasons.  In fact, it is common to have a plethora of motivations that influence us.  The Levites showed that they did not worship the golden calf only because they were for God and for no other reason.  They declared that they refrained from worshipping the golden calf in order to be close to God.

The Chiddushei HaRim notes that each one of us has an underlying desire to accomplish God’s will.  This underlying desire, the Maharal teaches, is a part of our very essence.  Actualizing it from its latent state within us is the reason we were created. 

Usually, though, this underlying desire to accomplish God’s will and experience Him, is covered over by other desires that are external to our essence.  Our work is to remove all our ulterior motives, to search deep within ourselves and find the holiness that is there.  This is the deeper meaning of the Chazal which teaches us that if we work hard at it, we will find success – יָגַעְתִּי וּמָצָאתִי תַּאֲמִין/(If a person claims,) “I worked hard and found (success),” believe it.

A related Midrash in the parsha states that by increasing God’s honor, we increase our own as well.  When one decreases God’s honor, the result is a decrease of his own honor whereas God’s honor remains unchanged.

What is the meaning of this Midrash?  What does decreasing God’s honor mean?  And if we decrease God’s honor, in what way does it remain unchanged?

The Sfas Emes explains that the Midrash is teaching us a lesson about attributing credit for our accomplishments.  When we decrease our own honor by crediting God for our accomplishments, we are essentially saying that our honor is really God’s.  We thus increase God’s honor in the world.

When a person credits himself for his accomplishments, he is attributing God’s honor to himself.  In the words of the Midrash, by not attributing his own accomplishments to God, he is belittling the honor of God.  However God’s honor was hidden to begin with so in absolute terms, nothing has changed.  God’s honor was hidden before and is still hidden.  The Midrash therefore says that God’s honor remains unchanged.

Practical Application

The Sfas Emes is teaching us two lessons.  First, we should emulate the Levites.  It is not enough to refrain from sinning.  Achieving the purpose of our existence requires that we remove all the ulterior motives that surround our innermost desire.  The innermost desire of every one of us is to do the will of God.  

By the way, the Rambam uses this logic to explain a halachah according to which a person who pledged a sacrifice to the Beis HaMikdash and subsequently refuses to make good on his pledge, Beis Din is beats that person until he says that he wants to bring the sacrifice.  The reason for this is that the sacrifice must be brought willingly and if a person says he wants to bring the sacrifice as a result of being beaten, that’s called, “willingly”.  The Rambam explains that our innermost desire is to do God’s will.  So, even though it appears as if the person is acquiescing in order to stop the pain, the fundamental truth is that his acquiescence is in total alignment with his innermost desire.

The second lesson the Sfas Emes teaches is to credit God for our accomplishments.  For some, this is a big test.  We take credit for all kinds of things in our daily lives, from how smart we are to how kind we are!  The truth is that it’s always God.  He gave us smarts, he gave us the strength and the wherewithal to be kind.  He gives us everything we need every moment of our lives.

No comments: