Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Shavuos 5631 First Night

The proper performance of mitzvos requires preparation.  This is such an important concept that God built it right into the Creation.  In Tehillim we find, “מִשָּׁמַיִם הִשְׁמַעְתָּ דִּין אֶרֶץ יָרְאָה וְשָׁקָטָה/From Heaven You made judgment heard; the earth feared and subsided.”  This pasuk contains an apparent contradiction.  How can the earth be both fearful and calm at the same time?  Chazal[1] tell us that first the earth was fearful.  Afterwards it was calm.  Rashi[2] explains that it was fearful before we accepted the Torah.  After we accepted the Torah it was calm.  Why did the earth care whether we accepted the Torah or not?  Reish Lakish explains that God created the world on the condition that the nation of Israel accept the Torah.  If we had not accepted the Torah, the Creation would have lost it raison d’être and would have ceased to exist.  So, before we accepted the Torah, the earth was understandably fearful. 

The Sfas Emes points out that Chazal are teaching us that fear before and calm after go hand in hand.  The fear is a prerequisite which leads to the calm. The universe was apprehensive because its very existence depended upon Israel accepting the Torah.  By making the existence of the world dependent upon our accepting the Torah, God had built into nature, at the time of Creation, a tension that naturally produced conditions which were conducive to accepting the Torah.  This tension can be seen as a preparation for accepting the Torah.

The Sfas Emes teaches us that what was true for nature at the giving of the Torah is true for us with regard to each and every mitzvah.  Ideally, mitzvos are performed with love.  In order to reach the ideal, we need to be concerned about doing them.  We need to care.  One who is concerned about performing a mitzvah makes sure that he is in a state of readiness for when the opportunity presents itself. 

This can be understood from the pasuk, “וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם וַעֲשִׂיתֶם .../You will keep and you will do …” (Devarim 4:6)  Chazal tell us that “וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם/You will keep” refers to negative commandments.  Negative commandments are generally associated with fear or awe whereas positive commands are associated with love.  The feeling of fear or awe which prevents us from transgressing negative commandments corresponds to the concern which keeps us in a state of preparedness for performing mitzvos with love.  Through this state of preparedness we merit “וַעֲשִׂיתֶם/and you will do”, referring to the positive commandments.  We find this concept in a pasuk in Tehillim as well, “סוּר מֵרָע וַעֲשֵׂה־טוֹב/Turn from evil and do good.” (Tehilim 34:15)  Turning from evil prepares us to do good.
The pasuk in Tehillim mentioned earlier uses an earth metaphor to teach us that by being concerned about performing mitzvos and then performing them with love, following the dictum we learn from “... אֶרֶץ יָרְאָה וְשָׁקָטָה/… the earth feared and subsided,” we elevate the physical world as well.

This is the concept of “זָכוֹר וְשָׁמוֹר/Remember and keep.”  The first time the Ten Commandments are mentioned in the Torah at the giving of the Torah, we find, “זָכוֹר אֶת־יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת .../Remember the Shabbos day …” (Shmos 20:7)  Forty years later, when Moshe repeats the story of the acceptance of the Torah he says, “שָׁמוֹר אֶת־יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת .../Keep the Shabbos day …” (Devarim 5:12)  Why the change from זָכוֹר/Remember to שָׁמוֹר/Keep? 

Moshe Rabbeinu certainly did not change what God said.  Chazal tell us that God said, and we heard, both זָכוֹר/Remember and שָׁמוֹר/Keep simultaneously.  The mitzvah of keeping Shabbos actually comprises both a positive and negative commandment.  זָכוֹר/Remember, refers to observing the positive commandment of Shabbos.  שָׁמוֹר/Keep, refers to the negative commandment of Shabbos. 

On a deeper level זָכוֹר/Remember on its highest level is not really remembering at all.  Rather it is a connection to something at such a deep level that it becomes a part of us to the extent that there is no possibility of forgetting.  This is a very high level that not everyone merits reaching.  However, Chazal are teaching us that a person who is careful about שָׁמוֹר/Keep – a person who keeps himself in a constant state of preparedness, whose primary concern is to do mitzvos – God’s will – is included in זָכוֹר/Remember on its highest level as well.   That person will merit achieving God’s will.

This is the deeper meaning of the principle Chazal[3] learn with regard to keeping Shabbos, “מִי שֶׁיֶשְׁנוֹ בִּשְׁמִירָה יֶשְׁנוֹ בִּזְכִירָה/Whoever is in the category of keeping, is also in the category of remembering.”  Chazal use this principal to explain why women are required to keep the positive commandment of Shabbos even though ordinarily they are exempt from those positive commandments that we are obligated to perform only at specific times.  The Sfas Emes explains that there is a deeper meaning as well to this principle.  To reach the highest level of remembering, a level at which one identifies completely with the mitzvos, one needs to nurture a sense of care and concern keeping himself in a state of readiness for those very mitzvos.

[1] Shabbos 88a
[2] Ad loc.
[3] Brachos 20a

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