Friday, August 27, 2010

Tavo 5632 First Ma'amar

The first Tanchuma in this week's parsha explains the pasuk, “הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ מְצַוְּךָ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת־הַחֻקִּים .../This day God, your Lord commands you to do these laws …” (Devarim 26:16)  This pasuk is written in the present tense in order to teach us to view the laws of the Torah as if they were given to us now in the present.  God wants us to relate to the Torah with the excitement of novelty.

The Sfas Emes learns from this Midrash that there is no novelty in the physical world.  All newness comes from outside the physical world as we pray each day that God, "מחדש בטובו בכל יום תמיד מעשה בראשית/in His goodness, renews the workings of the Creation continuously each day."  Being aware of renewal in the world is a way of becoming aware of God.  We can become aware of novelty by always harking back to the beginning of things.  It is at the beginning that novelty is most acutely perceived.

The Torah contains many examples encouraging us to remember beginnings.  The mitzvah of Bikurim, mentioned at the beginning of this week's parsha is one example.  We are enjoined to bring the first fruit of our fields to the Beis HaMikdash.

Another example is prayer.  In fact, the Midrash quoted above teaches us that there is a close connection between Bikurim and prayer.  The Midrash relates that Moshe Rabbeinu foresaw a time when there would be no Beis HaMikdash and we would not be able to observe the mitzvah of Bikurim.  To compensate, he instituted daily prayers.  What is the connection between Bikurim and the daily prayers?  How do daily prayers compensate for the mitzvah of Bikurim?

The Chiddushei HaRim explains that the fundamental aspect of the mitzvah of Bikurim is that we dedicate our first produce to God.  As well, when we pray in the morning, we dedicate our first activity of the day to God.

The mitzvah of remembering the Exodus is another example of remembering beginnings.  We are required to remember the Exodus each and every day.  In fact, when we declaim upon bringing our first fruit to the Beis HaMikdash, that God brought us to the land of Israel, we preface with a summary of the story of our sojourn in Egypt and salvation.  Remembering the beginning of our nationhood strengthens our connection with God who gives us existence on a continuous basis.
Chazal[1] teach us that as a way of preventing sin, we should remember our humble physical beginnings.

Another reason that we remember the Exodus daily is in order to remind us of our own personal salvations.  The Sfas Emes teaches that not only did we, as a nation, experience a national Yetzi'as Mitzrayim/Exodus from Egypt, each of us individually can and may have experienced a personal salvation.  The word for Egyptמצרים – in Hebrew has the same root as the word for narrow straits – מצרים.  When we are experiencing a crisis we may feel like we are inside a strait.  We may feel that our options are limited.  But then, God opens up new opportunities for us.  Suddenly, we have more options.  We are able to overcome the crisis.  We have experienced a personal Exodus.  Remembering personal Exoduses connects us to God.

The basis for these examples is the concept that all novelty, all renewal comes from outside the physical world.  Elsewhere the Sfas Emes learns this concept from a pasuk in Koheles, "אין כל חדש תחת השמש/There is nothing new under the sun."  The implication is that above the sun, outside the physical world, there is renewal.  All renewal comes from God and everything is being renewed constantly.  We acknowledge this, internalize it and can experience God, by remembering beginnings.

[1] Avos 3:1

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