Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Elul 5632 First Ma'amar

Every morning we say the following pasuk, "דְעוּ כִּי־ה׳ הוּא אֱ־לֹהִים הוּא־עָשָׂנוּ וְלֹא כתיב (וְלוֹ קרי) אֲנַחְנוּ עַמּוֹ וְצֹאן מַרְעִיתוֹ/Know that God is the Lord; He made us and we are His, His people and sheep of His pasture." (Tehillim 100:3)  The word לֹא/no in the pasuk is read as if it were written לוֹ/His.  The Chiddushei HaRim points out that לֹא and לוֹ when placed together spell אֶלוּל.  The Sfas Emes explains the significance of this.

לֹא אֲנַחְנוּ/We are not for ourselves, and לוֹ אֲנַחְנוּ/We are His, is essentially saying the same thing.  To the extent that we are not for ourselves, that we are not egocentric we are able to be for God.  Conversely, the more self centered we are, the less we can be devoted to God.  Chazal said clearly as a metaphor that God, referring to the arrogant, says, "He and I cannot live in the same world." (Sotah 5a)

The end of the pasuk also alludes to this concept.  The pasuk refers to us as "sheep of His pasture."  Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi wrote that our souls have an animalistic component that draws us to the gross physical pleasures of this world.[1]  Significantly Chazal[2] established Rosh HaShanah as the new year for tithing animals.  Every tenth animal must be given to a priest but animals need to be grouped and counted according to the year within which they were born.  The cutoff date is the 1st of Tishrei, Rosh HaShanah.

To the extent that we realize the futility of satisfying our physical lusts and instead desire to become close to God, God reveals Himself to us and we become close to Him much like a mirror as we find, "כְּמַּיִם הַפָּנִים לַפָּנִים כֵּן לֵב־הָאָדָם לָאָדָם/As water reflects a face back to a face, so one's heart is reflected back to him by another. 

The Sfas Emes teaches that by refraining from indulging our physical desires, we serve God with our physical nature as well, thus raising up our physical nature to a holy level.  Chazal actually learn this from the pasuk, "וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת ה׳ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ .../Love God, your Lord, with all your heart …" (Devarim 6:5)  The word for heart is spelled with two letters "ב" when it could have been spelled with one.  Chazal[3] teach us that this alludes to the two inclinations in a person's heart, the inclination towards good and the inclination towards evil and teach that we should love God with both our inclinations.  How can we love God with our evil inclination?  The answer is the Sfas Emes's teaching.  When we control our physical nature in favor of a desire to come close to God, we are loving God with our inclination towards the physical as well.

The allusion of the word Elul to becoming close to God by negating our lust for physical pleasure indicates that Elul is the perfect time to work on this.

[1] Tanya, 7th and 9th chapters
[2] Rosh HaShana 1:1
[3] Brachos 9:5

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