Friday, June 17, 2011

Shelach 5633 First Ma'amar

The Midrash[1] in this week's parsha cites a halacha that one may embark on an ocean voyage within three days of Shabbos only if its purpose is a mitzvah.  If it is not a mitzvah then one may embark on such a voyage only during the first half of the week.

The Chiddushei HaRim explains that the three days preceding Shabbos should be dedicated to preparations for Shabbos.  The beginning of an ocean voyage is anathema to preparing for Shabbos since it takes a while to become oriented on a ship.  However, if the purpose of the journey is the performance of a mitzvah one may travel even on Friday because troubling oneself with a mitzvah is also a way of preparing for Shabbos.

How so?  How is being occupied with the performance of a mitzvah preparation for Shabbos?  The Sfas Emes answers that the Chiddushei HaRim can be understood if we explain this halacha allegorically.  A person embarking on an ocean voyage represents our sojourn in this world.

Chazal[2] teach us that everything that God created in this world and everything that occurs are for the purpose of eventually bringing attention to His glory as part of a Divine plan.  At some point in the future there will be a fulfillment of the prophesy, "ביום ההוא יהיה ה' אחד ושמו אחד/On that day God will be one and His name will be one." (Zecharya 14:9)  This means that at that time God will be revealed through every part of the Creation.  Nothing will hide Him.

We are here in order to prepare ourselves and the world for that great day.  We prepare by sensitizing ourselves to recognize God in the world now even though He is hidden.  To the extent that we recognize God in the world, God is revealed.  As such we are agents of God.

The relationship between this world and the next parallels the relationship between the days of the week and Shabbos.  To the extent that we sensitize ourselves to spirituality during the week, we will experience it on Shabbos.  This is the way God created the world.  The entire rectification leading to revelation comes about through our preparations.

How do we sensitize ourselves during the week so that we can experience the spiritual on Shabbos?  The Chiddushei HaRim answers that when we do mitzvos during the week we prepare ourselves for Shabbos.  This applies both to Shabbos at the end of the week and to the great Shabbos that is the next world.  

A person whose entire life is spent occupied with Torah like the generation that sojourned in the desert for forty years is preparing in the best way possible for the spirituality of the next world.  He is completely occupied with the spiritual even as he lives in this physical world.

What of the vast majority for whom a good portion of their lives is taken up with matters of this world?  How can we, the majority, prepare for the next world?  We are like the ocean voyager who may not embark on a pleasure trip within three days of Shabbos.  However for a mitzvah we can begin a trip even on erev Shabbos because the mitzvah itself is a preparation for Shabbos.  We need to prepare by doing mitzvos as the Chiddushei HaRim explained.

The Sfas Emes explains that we have the power to turn all our activities into mitzvos that will protect us in the sea of the physical world.  We do this by recognizing that everything is created to bring glory to God.  This includes all a person's deeds since nothing at all can happen without God's implicit consent.  To the extent that we remember this and act only so that God's will manifests, to the extent that we subordinate our own desires and will to God's, we become messengers sent to perform mitzvos and are protected.  In this way we can live spiritual and holy lives even as we are immersed in the physical world.

This concept explains an enigma in the beginning of our parsha.  The parsha begins with an account of the twelve spies who Moshe sent to bring back information about the land of Israel.  God tells Moshe, "שלח לך אנשים ויתורו את ארץ כנען .../Send for yourself men who will spy out the land of Canaan …" (Bamidbar 13:2)  Yet at the end of the nation's forty year sojourn in the desert when Moshe relates this story to the generation that will be entering the land of Israel, he says that the nation came to him with the request to send spies.[3]  Which was it?  Did the initiative come from the nation or from God?

The Sfas Emes answers that ideally there was no need for spies.  The nation could have entered the land upon God's instructions and would have succeeded in conquering it.  However, the nation was not up to this.  We needed spies and thus Moshe, who realized this, was forced to agree.  But here was a quandary.  Agreeing to the demand for spies opened up the possibility that the spies may come back with demoralizing news.  After all, the land was not an easy one to conquer.  Moshe Rabbeinu himself said as much to the generation that finally entered the land.  What if the spies themselves were affected badly by what they saw?

The beginning of our parsha teaches us that in order to provide protection for the spies God turned this natural preparation for war into a mitzvah.  All the spies had to do was to approach their mission as a mitzvah, subordinate themselves to God's will and strive to succeed in performing the mitzvah.  If they had done this, as in fact Yehoshua and Calev did, they would have succeeded and the nation would have entered the land forthwith.

This concept applies to the full range of our activities in the physical world, from the daily mundane to the extraordinary.  God has no integral desire for our physical acts in and of themselves.  He agrees to them so that all our actions can become mitzvos, vehicles to accomplish His will.  Then by subordinating our desires and acting only to achieve His will we are protected from our physical surroundings and can succeed in living the holy life even in the midst of the physical world.

[1] Tanchuma Shelach 1
[2] Avos 6:14
[3] Devarim 1:22

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