Friday, June 18, 2010

Chukas 5632 Third Ma'amar

The first part of our parsha describes the mitzvah of the red heifer.  The ashes of a red heifer are mixed with water and sprinkled on one who is spiritually impure through contact with a corpse.  Because this mitzvah seems to have no apparent logic, Rashi[1] quotes a Midrash that states that this is one of the mitzvos about which the nations of the world and the satan chide the nation of Israel.  Our answer to them is that this mitzvah is a divine decree which we must adhere to even though it has no apparent reason.  For this reason the pasuk introduces the mitzvah with, “זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה .../This is the decree of the Torah …” (Bamidbar 19:2)

The Sfas Emes asks that this answer does not seem to be an answer at all.  The nations of the world tell us that our religion contains elements of illogic and we answer that our religion contains elements of illogic!

In order to understand this we must know that every decree in the Torah is based on a good, valid reason.  There is no such thing as a decree for its own sake.  What then is the meaning of the Midrash?  The Midrash is teaching us that decrees represent a category of mitzvos whose underlying reasons cannot be attained directly.  The only way to attain an understanding of the decrees in the Torah is by embracing them even without understanding.

This is so because the reasons for these mitzvos are spiritual in nature.  They can only be approached by distancing ourselves from the physical.  A mitzvah, like the entire Creation, has a physical component – the act of the mitzvah – and a spiritual component.  The performance of a mitzvah creates spiritual effects.  The mitzvah’s reason is part of its spiritual component. 

By living spiritual lives, we prepare ourselves to understand even the decrees of the Torah.  This concept is born out by Chazal[2] who teach us that during the time of David HaMelech, the children who had not yet tasted sin, were able to understand the reasons behind even the most esoteric laws of purity and impurity.

In the poem that the Arizal composed for recital before Kiddush on Shabbos morning we find, “יְגַלֵּה לָן טַעֲמֵי דְבִתְרֵיסַר נַהֲמֵי/reveal to us the reasons behind the twelve loaves (of showbread).  There are reasons even though they are not apparent to us.  We ask God to reveal them to us.

In fact, the Sfas Emes teaches that our purpose is to reveal the reasons.  By revealing the spiritual, we reveal the reasons as well.

As the Sfas Emes states in many ma’amarim, the spiritual component of the Creation is more revealed on Shabbos than during the week.  As such, on Shabbos we are closer to understanding the reasons underlying the existence of the entire Creation.  We find a hint to this idea in the musaf of Shabbos, “טוֹעֲמֶיהָ חַיִּים זָכוּ/Those who savor it will merit life.”  The Hebrew for “savor” is the same as for “reason”.  So, this can be understood as, “Those who receive the reasons (having prepared themselves) merit life.  In fact, our work during the days of the week should be geared towards preparing ourselves so that we can reach higher levels of spirituality on Shabbos.

Practical Application

The Sfas Emes elsewhere explains how to prepare for Shabbos.  He teaches that during the week we must strengthen our faith that there in fact is a spiritual component to the world around us, even though it is difficult to actually experience for a variety of reasons.  On the simplest level, during the week we are distracted.  Experiencing the spiritual requires a certain peace of mind that is difficult to attain during the week.  Also, as we’ve seen, metaphysically, Shabbos is more conducive to experiencing the spiritual than the weekdays.  However, if we cultivate our belief in the spiritual component during the week, then we will merit experiencing it on Shabbos.

The Sfas Emes teaches that the way to cultivate this belief is by contemplating it before any activity.  Saying to ourselves that the activity of work contains an underlying spiritual component that is a representation of God’s will, changes our approach to work in a very significant way.  We become conscious agents of God’s will.  Doing this before every activity will completely change the way we experience Shabbos.

[1] Rashi on Bamidbar 19:2
[2] Tanchuma Chukas 4

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