Friday, May 27, 2011

Bamdibar 5632 Third Ma'amar

The sixth chapter of Avos begins, "ר' מאיר אומר כל העוסק בתורה לשמה זוכה לדברים הרבה/Rebbi Meir says, 'Everyone who occupies himself with Torah for its own sake, merits many things."  What are these many things?  According to the Sfas Emes they include all the good that this physical world has to offer.

Why does a person who learns Torah for its own sake merit the bounty of the physical world?  What is the connection between the two?  To answer these questions we must understand what learning Torah for its own sake means.

The Zohar[1] teaches us that God created the world with the Torah.  He did not just look into the Torah as a builder might look at a blueprint to know how to build a building.  He actually used the Torah to create the world.  The Torah is much more than words on parchment.  The Torah is a powerful spiritual force. 

When God said, "Let there be light," light was created through the words themselves.  It follows that the power of the Torah permeates the physical world and that the physical world is actually the physical manifestation of the Torah.  This is akin to, "ה' אחד ושמו אחד/God is one and His name is one." (Zecharia 14:9))  God's name is the mechanism by which He is known and revealed.  The world, too, is the vehicle through which we can reveal the power of the Torah.

Learning Torah for its own sake means more than simply learning Torah without an ulterior motive.  In fact, the Sfas Emes takes a broader view of "learning Torah" in this context.  The Mishna does not state, "All who learn Torah …"  The Mishna states, "All who occupy themselves with Torah …"  The latter is broader and includes actions that we would not consider "learning Torah" per se.  

The purpose of learning Torah and for that matter, the purpose of the mitzvos is to reveal the power of the Torah that permeates the Creation.  We occupy ourselves with Torah for its own sake by revealing the Torah that underlies the physical world.  We do this simply by recognizing the truth of this. Then the Torah reciprocates and we merit experiencing the power of the Torah that is in everything.

The light of the Torah is a singular power but it manifests physically in the myriads of different and disparate entities that make up this world.  So, when we recognize the light of Torah in the world, we connect with and elevate the entire world.  By getting the Torah, we get everything.  In this way we merit "many things".

[1] Zohar 1:5a, Introduction

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bechukosai 5632 Second Ma'amar

This weeks parsha begins with, “אִם־בְּחֻקֹתַי תֵּלֵכוּ .../If you follow my statutes …” (VaYikra 26:3The pasuk cannot be taken literally because the very next words already enjoin us to keep the commandments, “... וְאֶת־מִצְוֹתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ .../… and you keep my commandments …”  Chazal understand, therefore, that the Torah is instructing us to toil at learning Torah.[1] 

What compelled Chazal to understand these words as referring to toiling at Torah?  The Sfas Emes explains in the previous ma'amar that toiling at Torah is not referring to working hard at understanding a difficult passage of Torah.  Rather toiling at Torah refers to a person's intent as he learns Torah.  Our intent should not be to gain knowledge and great heights.  Rather our intent should be to subordinate ourselves to God through our learning.  We learn until we reach a point at which we do not understand, a point at which we must perforce either accept the Torah as is even though understanding eludes us or reject Torah that flies in the face of our intellect.  Rejecting our own intellect in favor of Torah is true toil.

Chazal learn this specifically from the words, "אם בחוקותי תלכו/If you follow my statutes" because חוקים/statutes refer to those mitzvos which defy reason.  It is therefore appropriate that these words refer to accepting Torah even at the expense of our own logic and intellect.  This pasuk is therefore teaching us that to succeed at Torah we must subordinate our intellect to God.

The Midrash on this pasuk teaches this concept through a metaphor.  David HaMelech says that each day he calculates the path he will take.  Yet, his feet bring him to בתי כנסיות/houses of worship.  The literal translation of בתי כנסיות is houses of congregation.

The Chiddushei HaRim explains this Midrash according to a Mishna in Avos.  The Mishna states, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me.  But if I am only for myself what am I?"  The Chiddushei HaRim explains that every person is created to achieve a specific and unique rectification.  Only he can do it.  Further, there is a unique rectification that applies to each hour of every day.  So, if I am not for myself, if I do not achieve the rectification for which I was sent into this world, who will be for me?  No one else can achieve it but me.
However, if my intent is simply self actualization and self improvement then what am I?  The Tanna is teaching us that although we each have a unique mission, our primary intent should not be selfish rather our primary intent should be the benefit of the nation.  When David HaMelech said that his feet brought him to houses of congregation he meant that the intent underlying all his actions was identification with and inclusion in the nation of Israel.

And this ultimately is the point of אם בחוקותי תלכו/If I follow your statutes.  The Midrash is teaching us that the way to subordinate ourselves to God is by subordinating ourselves to the nation.

[1] Sifra BeChukosai 1:Introduction

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Behar 5632 Fourth Ma'amar

Note:  Due to a outage I was unfortunately unable to post this ma'amar before Shabbos.

"ובכל ארץ אחוזתכם גאולה תתנו לארץ/In all the land of your holdings, you must allow redemption of the land." (VaYikra 25:24)  The Sfas Emes understands this pasuk as a metaphor, teaching us how to reach personal redemption.  The Sfas Emes explains the different words in this pasuk and the concepts as follows:

·       The word  ארץ/land is closely associated with the word רצון/will or desire.  In fact the Midrash[1] makes this connection explaining that the reason the land is called ארץ is because it wants to do God's will – רצון.
·         אחוזתכם/your holdings refers to our spiritual source, that which holds us to the Source of life.
·         Finally, the Sfas Emes explains elsewhere that redemption is equivalent to God's revelation.  Exile is equivalent to God's concealment.
How can we experience personal redemption?  How can we experience God in our lives?  We can experience closeness to God by cultivating a strong desire to connect with Him.  The very act of pining for a personal relationship with God opens us up and redemption comes.
The pasuk can thus be interpreted as, "Pine for a connection with our spiritual source for redemption comes to those who cultivate this desire."

[1] Breishis R. 5:8

Friday, May 06, 2011

Emor 5635 Second Ma'amar

In this week's parsha we find the mitzvah of sanctifying God's name.  This mitzvah requires us to observe our religion even at the expense of our lives.  The exact details of this mitzvah, in which situations it applies and under what conditions are all clearly laid out in the Talmud and further clarified in the writings of the poskim.  

The source of this mitzvah is the following pesukim, "ושמרתם מצותי ... ולא תחללו את שם קדשי ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל אני ה' מקדשכם.  המוציא אתכם מארץ מצרים .../You shall observe my commandments … Do not profane My holy Name; I will be sanctified among the children of Israel; I am God Who sanctifies you.  Who takes you out of the land of Egypt …" (VaYikra 22:31-33)

Rashi quotes Chazal that the proper way to perform this mitzvah is to refrain from sinning come what may and not to rely on a miracle.  Paradoxically, not relying on a miracle brings it on.  Expecting a miracle is a sure way to prevent one from happening.  Chanania, Mishael and Azaria were thrown into a den a lions not expecting to be saved.[1]  They did not rely on a miracle and were saved.  Chazal[2] relate that Nimrod threw Avraham Avinu into a fiery furnace and he was saved.  His brother Haran when given the choice between idol worship and dying in the furnace opted for the furnace fully expecting to be saved like Avraham.  He perished.

The Sfas Emes notes that we are required to perform all the mitzvos altruistically "for the sake of Heaven" rather than to derive personal benefit.  That includes the mitzvah of sanctifying God's name.  We are required to sanctify God's name without any expectation of being saved.  Why then do Chazal not simply state that the mitzvah of sanctifying God's name must be done for the sake of Heaven and not with the intent of deriving personal benefit?  Why do Chazal make a point of addressing this issue separately for this mitzvah?

There is something paradoxical about this particular mitzvah.  What sanctifies God's name – being killed or being saved through a clear miracle?  Obviously God's name is sanctified when we are saved through a miracle.[3]  The hand of God is revealed as working in favor of the Jewish people.  How then, is God's name sanctified when we give our lives for Him?

The truth is that the main sanctification of God's name is when we are saved by a miracle.  The primary intent of this mitzvah is to cause this sanctification by following God without any concern for what may happen to us as a result.  This is why Chazal make a point of telling us that to fulfill this mitzvah properly we must refrain from sinning regardless of the consequences, even if we are threatened with death.  It is only then that God will reveal Himself by suspending nature in order to save us thus causing a clear sanctification of His name.  If we refrain from sinning expecting to be saved through a miracle we will not be saved and there will be no sanctification of His name.

With this concept we can understand why the Torah adds the last pasuk above to this mitzvah.  The last pasuk states that God took us out of Egypt.  What is the connection between the Exodus and the mitzvah of sanctifying God's name?  Of course the Exodus was an extreme sanctification of God's name.  Divine Providence suspended the laws of nature and all of Egypt recognized God.  The key point is that God performed these miracles in order that His name be sanctified.  Saving us was the vehicle. 

So too, the mitzvah of sanctifying God's name teaches us that God performs miracles not so much to save us per se, but rather to sanctify His name.  Our role is crucial.  God wants us to cause miracles because they are a way of making His name known amongst the nations.  And we cause miracles by subordinating our own nature for the sake of Heaven.

[1] Daniel 3:16-29
[2] Breishis R. 38:13
[3] When Jews are killed the nations say, "איה א-להיך/Where is your God?"  Is there a bigger profanation of God's name than this?!