Friday, May 07, 2010

Behar 5632 Second Ma'amar

The preceding ma’amar establishes that we have the ability to reveal or hide the spiritual component that inheres in the physical world that we live in.  In this ma’amar the Sfas Emes teaches us that the very purpose of our existence is to reveal the spiritual.  The purpose of the Creation is for the spiritual to become revealed.

This is clear from the laws of Shmitta at the beginning of this week’s parsha.  There are hints in the parsha and Chazal say explicitly that the consequence of not observing the sabbatical year is exile.  Although we can contemplate a connection between allowing the land to rest and the privilege of living on the land, it seems like a rather harsh punishment.

In order to truly understand how the punishment fits the transgression, we must gain a deeper insight into the sabbatical year.  Is it simply good crop production practice to allow the land to lie fallow for a year in every seven or is there something more to it? 

The Torah compares the sabbatical year to Shabbos, “... כִּי תָבֹאוּ אֶל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לָכֶם וְשָׁבְתָה הָאָרֶץ שַׁבָּת לַה׳/… When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall rest as a Shabbos for God.”  The Sfas Emes teaches us elsewhere that rest implies no resistance.  When a system is at rest, all its parts are working smoothly.  There is no resistance within the system.  Rest on Shabbos implies that our physical bodies offer no resistance to the spiritual within us.  It is thus possible to “connect” to our spiritual roots on Shabbos, something that is much more difficult to do during the days of the week.

Just as we can more easily experience the spiritual in ourselves on Shabbos, the Torah is teaching us that through the sabbatical year we can reveal the spiritual in the physical that surrounds us.  There is nothing more physical than land.  Transgressing the laws of Shmittah is denying the spiritual roots of the physical world.  This is the reason for the harsh punishment of exile.  If we do not work to reveal the spirituality inherent in the land, it is taken from us.

The Torah makes a point of telling us that God told Moshe the laws of Shmitta on Mount Sinai.  God gave Moshe the entire Torah on Mount Sinai.  Why then does the Torah single out the mitzvah of Shmitta?  Shmitta, having to do with the very land itself, is the ultimate symbol of the physical world.  Saying that this mitzvah was given at Mount Sinai, the Torah is telling us that its strength, the strength of the spiritual, is in the physical world.  This represents the Written Torah.  The Written Law is engraved in stone, so to speak.  It is given and unchanging. 
The spiritual is here with us but hidden.  Our job to reveal it is represented by the Oral Law.  The Oral Law is dynamic.  The more we delve into the deeper meanings of the Torah, the more we reveal and expand the Oral Law, the Torah shebe’al peh.  The Sfas Emes broadens this concept and teaches that changing and influencing our environment is also an aspect of the Oral Law.  Therefore, revealing the spiritual is an aspect of our part in the Oral Law.

This concept is clearly indicated by the pasuk in Mishlei cited in the first ma’amar, “מָוֶת וְחַיִּים בְּיַד־לָשׁוֹן .../The tongue (i.e. speech) has the power of death and life …”  “Life”, a connection to the spiritual and ultimately to God, is always with us.  Life is not lacking in this world.  It is simply hidden.  The pasuk in Mishlei is teaching us that we have the ability to reveal “life” or to keep it hidden, represented by “death” in the pasuk.

The pasuk uses the tongue as the instrument for doing this because the tongue converts undifferentiated sound coming from the throat into unique and different sounds.  In the same way, we convert the undifferentiated spirituality that inheres in this world into different manifestations depending upon our ability to receive the spiritual.  Although the pasuk seems like it is an either/or proposition – life or death, in reality it is continuum from complete concealment of God to total revelation.  How we receive this spirituality, how much we reveal of it, how it affects us and how it manifests in the physical and in our lives, is totally dependent upon our spiritual level and ability to receive it.

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