Friday, October 28, 2011

Noach 5633 Second Ma'amar

At the end of this week's parsha the Torah relates the story of the tower of Bavel.  The generation that built the tower sinned and was punished by being scattered across the face of the earth.  It's not clear from the pesukim, though, exactly what their transgression was.
The Sfas Emes explains that the sin of the dor hapalaga/generation that was split, as Chazal call it, is closely connected with the very purpose of our existence.  We can learn about that purpose from the special Mussaf tefilla of Rosh Chodesh that falls on Shabbos as it does this week.  The middle bracha of the special Mussaf begins, "אתה יצרת עולמך מקדם/You have formed Your world in ancient times." The word מקדם comes from the root קודם/before.  So, this tefilla can also be translated as, "You have formed Your world beforehand."  God formed the world before what?  The Sfas Emes explains that the physical world that we live in has a spiritual counterpart that was formed first.  The tefilla is actually referring to the spiritual world that God formed before the physical one in which we live. 

The Sfas Emes teaches that the physical world is like a garment and a hint to the spiritual world much like clothes say something about the person who is wearing them.  On the first Shabbos, when the Creation was completed, the physical world became a vehicle for the revelation of God's will.  At the very least, the harmony of the physical world is a lasting testimony to the Creator. 

In fact, every Shabbos has this quality.  It is easier to connect with and experience the physical world's underlying spirituality on Shabbos.  We learn this from a pasuk in Yechezkel (46:1) referring to the third Beis HaMikdash, “... שַׁעַר הֶחָצֵר הַפְּנִימִית הַפֹּנֶה קָדִים יִהְיֶה סָגוּר שֵׁשֶׁת יְמֵי הַמַּעֲשֶׂה וּבְיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת יִפָּתֵחַ וּבְיוֹם הַחֹדֶשׁ יִפָּתֵחַ׃/The inner courtyard gate that faces east will be closed during the six workdays but on Shabbos it will be opened and on Rosh Chodesh it will be opened.”  The gates of the temple opening and closing connote spiritual gates opening and closing.  On Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh there is a spiritual revelation that we don’t find naturally during the week.

קדים/east also has the same root as קודם/before and therefore alludes to the spiritual that underlies the physical world.  Our job is to acknowledge the spiritual underpinnings of the physical world and to internalize the understanding that the spiritual is the main thing.  

How can we do this?  The Sfas Emes's advice is to identify strongly with the nation of Israel.  The Sfas Emes learns this from a Zohar that sheds light on the story of the tower of Bavel.  The Zohar infers from pesukim in the story that the generation that built the tower were rebelling against God.  The Sfas Emes understands this to mean that they only wanted to recognize and associate with the physical world.  They wanted to exclude the spiritual from their lives.  The Torah says, "בנסעם מקדם/as they travelled from the east."  As we've said, "מקדם/from the east" can also mean "from the spiritual that was created beforehand."  The Zohar tells us it means that they were trying to flee from God who existed before the Creation.  Either way, it's clear that they wanted nothing to do with the spiritual.

The Torah relates that they would have succeeded if God had not intervened.  Amazingly, they would have succeeded even though their goal was at odds with the purpose of the Creation.  Why is this?  Why would they have succeeded?  They would have succeeded because they were united in a singular purpose.  They spoke the same language – the holy language – and all struggled toward the same goal.  The Zohar concludes that the nation of Israel when united in serving God can certainly succeed and will receive God's help as well. 

God split the generation that tried to build the tower of Bavel.  However, to us He gave the Torah so that we would remain together with the singular purpose of internalizing the spirituality that underlies the physical world.  This is the meaning of the pasuk, "זכור ימות עולם ... בהפרידו בני אדם יצב גבולות עמים למספר בני ישראל כי חלק ה' עמו .../Remember the days of old ... when He separated the children of Adam.  He fixed the boundaries of the nations according to the number of the children of Israel.  For God's portion is His people …" (Devarim 32:7-9)  This pasuk is referring to the generation that was split.  God's portion is His people so He gave us the Torah and one language – the holy language – as vehicles for unification.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Yom Kippur 5640 First Ma'amar

It is a mitzvah to eat and drink on the day before Yom Kippur in preparation for the fast.  Chazal teach us that whoever eats and drinks on the ninth of Tishrei is considered to have fasted on both the ninth and tenth of Tishrei.[1]  It is certainly a good idea to eat before a fast.  But why is this not simply good advice?  Why is it actually a mitzvah, a biblical requirement?  A mitzvah implies that the activity has value in and of itself.  What value does the activity of eating on Erev Yom Kippur have aside from preparing for the fast?

Chassidic masters[2] write that eating on Erev Yom Kippur rectifies all the eating of the entire year.  The masters are not referring to eating non-kosher food.  Rather they are referring to eating kosher food.  Why does our eating need rectification?  Chazal tell us that this world is likened to a hallway leading to a hall.[3]  Chazal teach us that we need to prepare ourselves in the hallway of this world in order to merit entering the hall of the next world.  We need to use this world to prepare for entering the next world.  Eating and drinking are essentially neutral activities.  Our intent imbues the activity with meaning.  If we partake of the pleasures of this world represented by eating and drinking, for the sole purpose of preparing ourselves for the next world, we’ve performed a mitzvah.  If we partake of this world’s pleasures merely to satisfy our desires and lusts, we are using this world in an inappropriate way and we have sinned.

The Sfas Emes explains that this physical world enclothes the next world, which is spiritual, similar to the way our physical bodies enclothe our souls.  Just as our actions affect our souls, physical activity in this world has spiritual ramifications in the next.  We find, for example, a pasuk in Iyov (27:17), “יָכִין וְצַדִּיק יִלְבָּשׁ .../(The wicked) will prepare and the righteous will wear it …”  This refers to the gross physicality that enclothes the spirituality of the righteous.  Our sinful actions therefore require rectification.  They have caused damage that needs to be and can be fixed. 

Eating and drinking with improper intent require rectification.  In order to help our repentance on Yom Kippur we need to reenact the deed by eating and drinking on Erev Yom Kippur.  Why?  Chazal teach us that repentance is denied the one who sins rationalizing that he will eventually repent.[4]  The Sfas Emes explains that this is because the repentance is flawed.  The sin is in the repentance itself.  During the act of the sin, the sinner is thinking about the eventual repentance.  From this we learn that the opposite is the case as well.  Thinking about the act of the sin during the repentance rectifies that act.  We reenact the activity of the sin with proper intentions in order to remind us of the sinful act during repentance.   

Yom Kippur represents the next world.[5]  Just as in the next world so too on Yom Kippur there is no eating or drinking.[6]  Eating and drinking on Erev Yom Kippur in preparation for Yom Kippur reminds us that we are supposed to partake of this world’s pleasures to prepare for the next world.

The act of eating and drinking in preparation for the fast reminds us of the correct approach to eating and drinking during the entire year and in fact rectifies the eating and drinking that we did during the year merely to satisfy our desires.  Experiencing the proper approach to eating and drinking on Erev Yom Kippur is a powerful tool to ensure a complete repentance on Yom Kippur.  May we merit it!

[1] Yoma 81b
[2] Tiferes Shlomo 43a
[3] Avos 4:16
[4] Yoma Mishna 8:9
[5] Shelah Pesachim 110 in addendum
[6] Brachos 17a