Friday, June 29, 2012

Chukas 5631 Second Ma'amar

Note: Parshas Chukas is the anniversary of the weekly Sfas Emes blog.  With the help of the One above, I published the first blog six years ago in 5766, exactly 135 years after the Sfas Emes said the ma'amar.  Here's a link: First Post, Chukas, 5631, First Ma'amar.  Please share.  Thanks.

This week’s parsha begins with the laws of the red heifer.  The ashes of a red heifer are required as part of the procedure to purify one who has had contact with a corpse.  Together with the red heifer are burnt the wood of a cedar tree, hyssop and scarlet thread.  Why are these burnt, too?  Rashi[1] cites a Midrash explaining that metaphorically the entire procedure of the red heifer is a purification and atonement for the sin of the golden calf.  In this context the cedar tree which is very tall represents one whose haughtiness causes him to sin.  The hyssop grows low to the ground and the scarlet thread in Hebrew is synonymous with the Hebrew word for worm.  These represent humility.  The Midrash states that a haughty person who sinned should humble himself like a hyssop and a worm.  He will then be atoned. 

But isn’t repentance needed for atonement?  How does humbling oneself – ridding the haughtiness – atone for sin?  The Sfas Emes explains.  The primary source of sin is arrogance.  If we knew clearly that we continue to live each moment at God’s pleasure and that in reality, we are no more than “an axe in the hands of a mason,” we would not sin.  The only way we can come to sin is by removing the yoke of Heaven from upon us.  At the moment of sin, we are not aware of God.  This is why Chazal teach us that haughtiness is akin to idol worship.[2]  To prevent sin, then, it is crucial to monitor our arrogance level and replace it with humility.  The Sfas Emes teaches that the path to humility is paved with repentance.  Humility atones for sin because repentance is a part of the process of humbling ourselves before God.  Humility is only possible with proper repentance.

Humbling ourselves before God and submitting to Him leads directly to awe of Him.  We find in Maseches Shabbos (31a), that although a person’s actions may be judged favorably on the Day of Judgment, this is not enough.  He must also be found to have had awe of God as Yeshaya (33:6) said, “... יִרְאַת ה' הִיא אוֹצָרוֹ/Fear of God is his treasure.”  Awe of God is the vessel which holds all of our service to God.  It is the framework upon which everything hinges.  Elaborating this point, Chazal compare the relationship between serving God and fearing Him to filling a storehouse with wheat without adding a certain preservative.  Without the preservative the wheat will rot.  In fact, the halachah dictates that one may sell wheat with the preservative included at the price of wheat.  The buyer is paying for preservative as if he is buying wheat because without it the wheat is worthless.  It will rot.  So too, mitzvos without awe of God are not sustainable.   

Contemplating awe of God while doing a mitzvah, then, is a way of recognizing that this mitzvah that I am now doing  has God’s life-force in it.  This thought will help me to properly perform the mitzvah.  Contemplating awe of God, though, while performing a mitzvah, takes away from concentration on the mitzvah itself.  Would it not be better to concentrate fully on the mitzvah itself?  The Sfas Emes explains that this is the point of the analogy to the sale of wheat with preservatives included.  Even though the buyer is receiving less wheat, he willingly pays for the preservative because without it the wheat is worthless.  Chazal hint to this concept when they say that whether one does less or more, the main thing is to do it for the God.[3]  Chazal are teaching us that it is better to contemplate doing for the sake of Heaven even if this results in doing a little less.

[1] Rashi on Bamidbar 19:22, Eitz Erez
[2] Sotah 4b
[3] Brachos 5b

Friday, June 22, 2012

Korach 5636 First Ma'amar

This week's parsha relates the story of Korach's rebellion against Moshe Rabbeinu.  Korach felt that Moshe Rabbeinu was taking the leadership for himself and his family.  He also thought that the entire nation should serve in the Mishkan, not just the tribe of Levi.  He seems to have had valid points.  Why then was he and his cohorts destroyed?

Chazal[1] teach us that an argument – a machlokes – in which the sides have good intentions – for the sake of Heaven in the words of the Mishna – survives.  An argument that is not for the sake of Heaven does not survive.  The arguments of Hillel and Shamai are considered to have been for the sake of Heaven whereas Korach's argument is considered to have been not for the sake Heaven.

What exactly was Korach's mistake?  The Sfas Emes explains that there are two approaches to serving the Creator.  One approach is to serve God through justice – din.  A person can commit to rectifying all his deeds so that, on his own merits, he deserves closeness to God.  Another approach relies on the Creator's benevolence – chessed.  The one who relies on God's kindness is also held accountable for his actions.  He cannot do whatever he wants and expect God's kindness.  He also must rectify his deeds.  However, he has to rectify his deeds to the point at which he merits God's kindness even if he would not merit that closeness based on din.  He also must be able to accept God's chessed properly.  Many receive God's kindnesses and are ungrateful, become arrogant and in general do not pay homage to God.

God will relate benevolently to a person who rectifies his actions to the extent that he can merit chessed and is able to receive the chessed without becoming haughty and ungrateful.

According to Chazal[2] the first approach – through din – is only theoretical.  In practice, Chazal teach us that this world cannot exist with the pure justice approach.  "עולם חסד יבנה/The world is build upon kindness." (Tehillim 89:3)  The reason is that God created this world incomplete.  It needs outside help – help from God.

God completes the world.  That God completes the world is clearly seen through the institution of Shabbos.  Chazal[3] teach us that on Erev Shabbos at twilight the demons were created.  The demons represent the incompleteness of the world.  The demons wanted to rule the world.  Shabbos made that impossible.  Shabbos represents the spiritual aspect that completes the world.  The world is complete only by elevating all its components to their spiritual roots.  The completeness of the world made it impossible for the demons, representing incompleteness, to rule.

We see this idea in the last Mishna[4] in Shas.  The last Mishna states that the only vessel God found that would hold bracha is peace – shalom.  The Zohar tells us that Shabbos is called ShalomShalom has the same root as the word for complete – shalem.  The Sfas Emes understands that the vessel the Mishna is referring to is the world itself.  The world being incomplete cannot hold bracha.  Shabbos/Shalom completes the world and brings bracha into it.

We can now understand Korach's mistake.  Korach wanted to approach God through din.  He objected to Aharon's priesthood, which the Zohar tells us represents chessed.  He wanted the priesthood to be available to whoever merited it.  This cannot be.  Even the work of the Levites which he did merit through an aspect of din still needs chessed to survive.  The earth swallowed him up showing that din without chessed cannot exist in this world.

The arguments of Hillel and Shammai also relate to din and chessed.  Chazal[5] tell us that we rule in favor of Hillel because Shammai's rulings were based more on din whereas Hillel and his following showed more lenience.  Why then are the arguments of Shammai cited at all?  They should not survive either.  Chazal[6] teach us that even though the school of Shammai prohibited certain marriages, they permitted their children to marry the children of the school of Hillel.  This was an incredible concession and shows that Shammai, too, recognized the need to include chessed in their behavior and rulings.  This is the reason we still quote Shammai's rulings.

The Sfas Emes teaches that we must rely on the Creator's benevolence in order to approach and experience Him.  Still, we need to earn, in a manner of speaking, that benevolence through our actions and by knowing to appreciate it.

[1] Avos 5:17
[2] Cited in Rashi, Breishis 1:1 sv Bara E-lohim, also viz. Breishis R. 12:15
[3] Zohar 1:14a Introduction, 1:178a
[4] Uktzin 3:12
[5] Eiruvin 13b
[6] Yevamos 13b

Friday, June 15, 2012

Shelach 5633 Second Ma'amar

This week's Haftara tells the story of the two spies that Yehoshua sent to Jericho, "וישלח יהושע ... שנים אנשים מרגלים חרש לאמר לכו ראו את הארץ ואת יריחו .../Yehoshua … sent two men as spies secretly saying, 'Go observe the land and Jericho …" (Yehoshua 2:1)  Spies, by definition, are on a covert mission.  When Moshe sent the twelve spies, the pasuk does not say that they were sent secretly.  It's obvious.  Why then, does the pasuk tell us that Yehoshua's spies were sent secretly?

The Midrash[1], in a play on words, infers that they disguised themselves as potters.  (חרש/secretly, חרס/pottery)  Why is this significant?  The Midrash is teaching us something fundamental about the nature of spies specifically and messengers in general. 

The Chiddushei HaRim explains.  Clay vessels are unique in that they only become impure when an impure object is inside them.  If an impure object touches the outside of a clay vessel, it has no effect.  The reason, notes the Chiddushei HaRim, is that clay is the simplest material from which vessels can be made.  In and of itself, clay has very little value.  A clay vessel is only as valuable as its function.  The inside of the vessel represents its function.  The outside represents the material of the vessel.   Therefore if impurity touches the outside it has no effect.  The outside – the clay – is unimportant as a material.  If impurity is on the inside, though, the vessel becomes impure.  The inside – the functionality – is what gives the clay value.

Spies, too, are only "valuable" as messengers when they are totally devoted to the mission for which they were sent.  If they have their own agenda as well, they are no longer solely messengers of the one who sent them.  They are on their own mission.  In that case, they have "value" apart from their mission.

The Sfas Emes generalizes this principle and applies it to our lives.  We are all messengers in this world.  We are here on a mission.  In order to truly be messengers, we must be totally devoted to the mission to the exclusion of our own personal desires.  Our bodies are simply vessels that we can use to accomplish our mission.  

It is our tool for bringing holiness into the world and honor for God.  The main thing is the holiness within each of us that lasts forever.  "יבש חציר נבל ציץ ודבר א-להינו יקום לעולם/Grass withers and blossom wilts, but the word of our God stands forever." (Yeshaya 40:8)  Everything in this world contains a holy hidden spark.  Our physicality hides the spark.  When we view our bodies as simply vessels here to perform a function, then that function is revealed.  When we dedicate ourselves to achieve God's will, the spark – the word of God that stands forever – is revealed.

That the holy spark is hidden means that the physical world appears to have an autonomous existence.  The reality is that God is running the world.  "... מלכותו בכל משלה/… His kingdom reigns over all." (Tehillim 103:19)  We see this in the pasuk quoted earlier, "... ודבר א-להינו יקום לעולם/… and His word stands forever", as well, for the word דבר/word, also means "lead" in Aramaic.  "ידבר עמים תחתינו .../He shall subdue (lit. lead) nations under us." (Tehillim 47:4)  The pasuk can be understood as, "… Our God's leadership stands for ever."  To the extent that we subordinate our own desires in favor of God's, God's running of the world is revealed.  And this is our essential purpose.  May we merit it!

[1] Tanchuma Shelach, 1

Friday, June 08, 2012

BeHa'aloscha 5634 First Ma'amar

This week's parsha begins with the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah in the Mishkan and Beis HaMikdash.  What is the point of this mitzvah?  Certainly God has no need for our light.  The Midrash[1] makes this point citing a pasuk in Tehillim (139:12), "גם חושך לא יחשיך ממך ולילה כיום יאיר כחשיכה האורה/Even darkness is not dark for You; and night will shine like the day; darkness is like light." 

The Midrash answers with an allegory of a king and his friend who lives a simple life.  The king arranges to visit the friend and tells the friend to prepare for his arrival.  When the king arrives with his royal entourage the friend realizes how paltry his preparations are and hides everything he's prepared.  The king asks his friend why he prepared nothing.  The friend owns up and explains that he in fact prepared but hid everything out of embarrassment.  The king tells his friend that his friend's paltry preparations are more important to him that his own things because of their friendship.  Even though God is total light, he wants our Menorah because He loves us.

The Sfas Emes notes a discrepancy between the allegory and the lesson.  The pasuk in Tehillim teaches us that from God's perspective there is no darkness.  The pasuk is not referring only to physical darkness.  It is referring primarily to spiritual darkness.  God is total light and He is everywhere.  Even the spiritual light of the righteous is from God, "כי אתה תאיר נרי .../For you will light my candle …" (Tehillim 18:29)  We don't see His light because He hides it behind the façade of the physical world.  He hides it so that we have with what to honor Him.  We need at least the illusion of autonomy, of separateness.  We honor Him by doing things that reveal His light. 

The allegory, though, describes the king accepting his friend's offering.  Poor as they are, they are from the friend, not the king.  This is unlike reality in which everything is God's.  What then, is the Midrash really teaching us?

We can infer the answer to this question from Rashi[2] on the word, "be'ha'aloscha/when you elevate".  Why does the Torah use this word instead of "behadlakascha/when you light"?  The Torah is teaching us that the wicks in the Menorah must be lit until the flame rises up on its own without help.  The Sfas Emes explains that the flame rising from the wick represents the inner spirituality shining out of everything that is physical.  Lighting the Menorah represents revealing the inner spiritual essence that is in everything physical including in our own actions.  We do this by relating to this inner spirituality instead of just to external physicality. 

Although the light that shines out is not ours, we cause the light to shine out.  The allegory of the king and his friend's preparations match this lesson.  Just as the king wanted his friend's paltry preparations, God wants us to prepare for Him.

Reality, though, goes way beyond the allegory.  In reality, using the physical world to reveal God is not just a nice thing.  It is the only way that the spiritual can influence the physical world.  The same way that the light cannot exist without the lamp and the wick, the spiritual cannot needs the physical to "exist" in the physical world. 

The prophet Ovadya teaches us, "והיה בית יעקב אש ובית יוסף להבה ובית עשו לקש .../The house of Ya'akov will be fire; the house of Yosef flame and the house of Esav straw …" (Ovadya 1:18)  Rashi[3] explains that the fire of Ya'akov alone was not enough to cope with Esav.  The flame of Yosef was necessary.  This must be understood at a deeper level, otherwise how are we to understand that Ya'akov could not cope with Esav without Yosef?
The Sfas Emes explains that Ya'akov Avinu was on a level that was beyond the natural world.  Specifically because of his exalted level of spirituality, he could not have much of an influence on the physical world.  Yosef was on a lower level.  Yosef related well to the physical world.  Yosef brought Ya'akov's spirituality into the physical world.  The prophet is teaching us that in order for Ya'akov to have an effect on the physical world, he needed Yosef.  In the words of the metaphor, his fire needed Yosef's flame.

The fire of Ya'akov represents the fire of Torah.  Just as Ya'akov's level was beyond the spiritual world, so too, the Torah is totally spiritual.  As Ya'akov, it is also too far removed from the physicality of this world to have a direct influence.  In order for the spirituality of the Torah to influence the physical world, it needs to be enclothed inside the physical.  We can draw the spirituality of the Torah into the physical through our actions.  By recognizing that our actions have a spiritual dimension and intending to bring out that dimension, we bring the Torah's spirituality into the physical world.

The Sfas Emes elaborates.  There is a concept in Kabbala that God's glory fills all the worlds and at the same time surrounds the worlds.[4]  Certainly God is every where.  If he weren't, then we could not say that He is truly infinite.  However, His glory is not apparent.  In this sense He also surrounds all the worlds.  In a sense, surrounding all the worlds represents a higher level.  It is the level that is not here, that we cannot reach, that is unfathomable.  The level of filling all the worlds represents God's closeness to us, as it were.  It is within our ability to rectify our actions so that we actually experience that closeness, by recognizing God in our actions and in everything around us.

When we do this, we draw a bit of the Unfathomable that surrounds all the worlds into the physical world.  God structured the world so that His revelation is dependent upon our actions.

The Chiddushei HaRim as well, alludes to this concept when he explains the symbolism of the light of the Menorah needing the physical wick.  The spiritual can only influence this world through its connection to the physical.

May we merit it!!

See footnote 4 below  שפת אמת ליקוטים על ש"ס

ברכות (מ' א'):

בא וראה שאין מדותיו כו' מלא מחזיק כו' אם שמוע תשמע כו', והענין כי ברכותיו של הקב"ה ומידותיו הם האור שיש בכל הדברים והאור למעלה אחר שלימות גוף הדבר, ולכך אחר שלימות הדבר נתגלה האור שהם שורש הדבר וחיותו, והשוטה יוכל להקשות על מאמר זה שהרי גם בסיפורי הבלי עולם יאמר כן כשקיבל לשמוע התחלת הסיפור יוכל לשמוע השאר גם כן וכשאינו מתחיל לא יבא אל הסיום, אמנם המשכיל על דברי חז"ל שהם בחכמה נפלאה כי אין הפירוש שמוע תשמע שישמע דברים אחרים, אף שגם זה אמת, אבל העיקר הוא שישמע באותו דבר עצמו עומק אור הנצפון תוך הדבר הזה עצמו, וזה ההפרש, כי בסיפורים שהבלי עולם כל מה שישמע שלימות הסיפור אין לו שוב לשמוע, ובתורה הקדושה אדרבא כל מה שיורד בשכלו ושומע דברי תורה ומקבלם כדי לקיימם נפתח לו תמיד יותר ויותר לשמוע אור הצפון תוך דיבורי התורה והשמיעה תגדל הנשמע, ויהי' לו עוד יותר לשמוע, ועומק הדברים הם להורות כי כפי מה שהאדם מקבל דברי תורה וממשיך החכמה אל המעשה כן מתקרבת החכמה שהי' מקודם נסתרת שאי אפשר לשמוע ועתה נתגלה אליו שיוכל לשמוע, ואמרו חז"ל אל תאמר שאי אפשר לשמוע שסופו להשמע, והוא כנ"ל שעל ידי בחינה זו שנקראת רגל וסוף שהוא להמשיך הדברים בעומק הלב במקום הנסתר בחשיכי עולם הזה כמו כן יתגלה עומק הדבר בבחינת ראש, כי סוף מעשה במחשבה תחילה. ודבר זה צריך ביאור רחב כי הוא תכלית העבודה למבין, ונבאר מעט בעזה"י כפי אשר חנני כן יזכני לקיים דברים הללו ולשוב בתשובה לפניו להאיר עינינו בתורתו, עיין בדברי הרב רשנ"ז זצ"ל בשער חנוכה ותוכן דבריו, שכמו שני אנשים אחד למעלה על ההר ואחד למטה וכפי התקרבתם התחתון הולך למעלה ושלמעלה הולך למטה וכפי עליותו כן ירידתו כן ענין התגלות הקדושה אל האדם כפי מעשיו עיין שם, ולע"ד להוסיף על דבריו בקצת שינוי כי יש להקשות לפי זה מי שלא יעלה ממש כל עליות לא ימצא כלל, ואף כי מכל מקום יתגלה לו בבחינת קירוב יותר ויתוסף לו הארה בבחינת ההארה המאירה לחוץ אבל לעצם האור לא יתקרב כלל, והבן דברינו אלה, כי גם זה אמת בבחינת סובב כל עלמין והיינו בבחינה שהש"י נעלם אין סוף ורק ההארה שמבחוץ מתגלית כפי עליותו כנ"ל, אבל נבאר בעזה"י בחינה אחרת בענין ממלא כל עלמין, והיינו שהש"י מלא כל הארץ כבודו, ומצד זה אין חסרון העלי' רק התיקון כמו שהוא לתקן עצמו ויראה הקדושה ממש אצלו, וזה ענין שכתוב במדרש הכל בחזקת סומין כו' וכתבתי במקום אחר באורך, והבן איך בחינת מלא כל הארץ הוא קבלת עול מלכות שמים בחינת תורה שבעל פה עבודה שבלב לתקן עצמו בחינת סור מרע ולא העלי' בלבד, והוא בחינת יחודא תתאי וחכמה תתאי, ולפי זה נאמר המשל כי הש"י מלא כל הארץ כבודו מאין סוף עד אין תכלית, והאדם נקרא עולם קטן והיינו שראשו בשמים וכולל כל העולם מעליונים ועד תחתונים ויש בו מעומק טוב עד עומק רע בבחינת נפש רוח נשמה חי' יחידה כנודע, וכפי תיקון האדם כן מתגלה הקדושה אליו, וכשמתקן מקום הקרוב למשל בחי' יחודא, ואף כי יחוד לכאורה להיפוך, אבל כוונתנו שמתקן מקום שאינו מכוסה ונסתר כל כך בחשיכות עולם הזה ושם האור נגלה יותר וקרוב להקדושה, נגלה אליו אור הצפון שם כפי עבודתו, ואם האדם מתקן מדריגה שלמטה מזו שנסתרת יותר, כמו כן נגלה אליו בחינת אור שלמעלה יותר באופן שכשיתקן האדם מדריגה תחתונה מאוד יתגלה לו אור הגדול מאוד וגבוה יותר ויותר כי אור הגדול יותר מכוסה במדריגה תחתונה יותר בבחינת סוף מעשה במחשבה תחילה, וכלל הענין כמו שכתבתי לעיל כי האור שבא אחר השלימות הוא אור שלמעלה מכולן וכל מדריגה יותר תחתונה הוא תיקון השלימות וכפי התקרבות האדם אל הקדושה כן התקרבות הקדושה אליו, אם האדם מתקן למשל מה שהי' ערך פרסה מרוחק נגלה אליו אורך פרסה שלמעלה, כי האדם על הארץ ואלקים בשמים, ואל יתפוס המעיין על דברינו במה שהקדמנו בחינת ממלא כל עלמין, כי זה כוונתינו כי כפי תיקון בחינת ממלא כן מתגלה אליו בחינת סובב כי מתיחדין שתי הבחינות והם אחד ויחוד זה תלוי באדם כנ"ל, וכשזוכה לבחינת ממלא נגלה אליו מבחינת סובב, ודרך זה הוא בבחינת תיקון, ומה שכתב הרב הנ"ל הוא בבחינת העליות, וזהו שכתוב אם שמוע תשמע שכפי שהאדם שומע הנגלה אליו ויכול לשמוע כן נגלה אליו מה שהי' נסתר ולמעלה מהשמיעה ומתגלה אליו כנ"ל, שוב ראיתי בס' הקדוש אור החיים פרשת שמות כתב מעין מה שכתבתי עיין שם:

[1] Bamidbar R. 15:8
[2] Bamidbar 8:2, sv Beha'aloscha
[3] Breishis 30:28 sv "Ka'asheir yalda Rachel es Yosef"
[4] Zohar 3:225a.  The Sfas Emes here does not mention this concept explicitly.  Instead he quotes a more enigmatic idea from the Sefer Yetzira (1:4) – יש עומק רום ותחת.  God's depth is both high and low.  The Sfas Emes writes that this means that God is אין סוף/without end  and at the same time, אין תכלית/without end.  Sounds like the same thing, but elsewhere we find that the Sfas Emes uses the former when referring to God who surrounds all worlds and the latter when referring to God who fills all worlds.  The Sfas Emes writes at length on this concept in Likutim on Shas Brachos 40a.  For those who are interested, I've brought the entire discussion at the end of the ma'amar.