Friday, February 15, 2013
Two pesukim in Tehillim apparently contradict each other. The first pasuk states, “... לַה' הָאָרֶץ וּמְלֹואָה תֵּבֵל וְיֹשְׁבֵי בָהּ׃/The earth and its contents are God’s, the inhabited land and those who dwell in it.” (24:1) Everything obviously belongs to God. That David HaMelech makes a point of mentioning it implies that we cannot use the world for our own benefit without permission. Another pasuk however states, “הַשָּׁמַיִם שָׁמַיִם לַה' וְהָאָרֶץ נָתַן לִבְנֵיֽ־אָדָֽם׃/As for the heavens, the heavens are God’s, but He has given the earth to mankind.” (115:16) This pasuk seems to be teaching us that God gave us the earth to use as we see fit, a clear contradiction to the first pasuk.
Chazal learn from this contradiction that before benefitting from this world, we must say a blessing. Before we say a blessing, the earth belongs to God and we may not benefit from it. It is not ours. When we say a blessing, God gives it to us. It becomes ours and we may benefit from it. What is the significance of the blessing? By what mechanism does saying a blessing transfer ownership, as it were, from God to us?
We can glean an understanding of the significance of blessings from the continuation of this ma’amar Chazal. Chazal say that deriving benefit from this world without saying a blessing is like receiving personal benefit from sacred items of the Beis HaMikdash. We can clearly understand that we must ask permission to use something that is not ours. Why, though, do Chazal compare deriving unauthorized benefit from the physical world to deriving unauthorized benefit from sanctified items of the Beis HaMikdash? Chazal are teaching us that there is holiness in the entire world. Every creation is imbued with holiness.
When we think about it, we realize that it must be this way because God is everywhere giving life to everything. How, then, can we derive personal pleasure from anything? The answer, the Sfas Emes explains, is by accepting the holiness, the Godliness, in everything. When we acknowledge that the apple we are about to eat is imbued with holiness, we connect with that holiness when we eat it even as we derive physical pleasure from it. The mechanism for recognizing this holiness is the blessings that Chazal established before benefiting from this world.
God wants us to use the physical world to do His will. By accepting the holiness in the physical, God gives us the physical to use. The Sfas Emes explained this in the first ma’amar on this week’s parsha. There he explained the pasuk in our parsha, “וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָֽׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָֽם׃/You shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them.” (Shmos 25:8) The Sfas Emes explains that this pasuk is not just a command to make a physical sanctuary, a building, for God. It is a command to recognize that God is in everything, every creation and every action. By recognizing this, we are making everything in the world a sanctuary for God. When we do this, God reveals Himself as the end of the pasuk implies, “וְשָֽׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָֽם/I will dwell among them.” God is here whether we recognize Him or not. Dwelling among them, though, implies that we will feel His presence.
The key point is that in order to benefit from the world in a way that connects us to God, it must be given to us. We cannot take it. This is why the pasuk states, “וְהָאָרֶץ נָתַן לִבְנֵיֽ־אָדָם/and He gave the earth to mankind.” We find this concept in an interesting law regarding divorce. If a man tells his wife, “Take your get (divorce certificate),” the divorce is invalid. He must give her the get. The pasuk says clearly, “וְנָתַן בְּיָדָהּ/he shall give it into her hand.” (Devarim 24:1) Freedom cannot be taken. It must be given. May we merit using the world that God has given us to fulfill His will thereby basking in His presence in this world.
Friday, February 08, 2013
"ואלה המשפטים אשר תשים לפניהם/And these are the laws that you shall place before them." (Shmos 21:1) Why does God instruct Moshe to place the laws before them? In fact, the entire pasuk seems extraneous. Why does the Torah not state simply, as it does elsewhere, "God spoke to Moshe. Tell the children of
The Chiddushei HaRim said in the name of the Rav from Parshischa z"l, that the Torah is teaching us that we must put the laws of the Torah before our very lives. We committed to this when we said, "... כל אשר דבר ה' נעשה ונשמע/… everything that God said, we will do and accept (lit. hear)" (Shmos 24:7) We committed to doing everything God had commanded even though we did not necessarily understand it all. It was more important to us to perform God's will than to understand the reasons underlying His will. Because of this approach, we merited understanding as well.
This is why the Ten Commandments – simply commands – were given first followed by the laws representing understanding. This concept is clear in the pasuk, "מגיד דבריו ליעקב חוקיו ומשפטיו לישראל/He tells His words to Ya'akov, His statutes and laws to Yisrael." (Tehillim 147:19) His words represent His will without understanding the reasons. Only afterwards, does He relate the reasons represented by His laws. This is true for every mitzvah. By cultivating a strong desire to accomplish God's will by performing His mitzvos we will, in the end, merit understanding as well.
This idea is the answer to a question on a Rashi in the beginning of our parsha. Rashi explains the words, "אשר תשים לפניהם/that you shall place before them, answering the question that we asked earlier. He says, "God told Moshe, 'Don't think to teach them the laws a few times and be done with it. You must teach them the reasons as well.' This is why the pasuk says, 'that you shall place before them'; place the mitzvos before them like a set table that is ready for eating at."
The Sfas Emes asks, does anyone think that Moshe Rabbeinu would not teach the nation the reasons for the mitzvos? Why does God have to make a point of instructing Moshe that he must teach them the reasons? The answer is our concept. Our intent when we perform mitzvos needs to be achieving the will of God, without necessarily understanding their reasons. God, however, said that the nation merited understanding because we said, נעשה ונשמע/we will do and we will listen, thus committing to the mitzvos even before understanding them. So he instructed Moshe to explain the reasons to us.
This idea refers to those mitzvos which confound us. What of mitzvos which seem logical? Most of our parsha is filled with civil laws. Any ordered society would abide by them. The Sfas Emes teaches that we must perform these mitzvos, too, only because God commanded us and not because of their logic. Why? Logic itself, the Sfas Emes teaches us, is a creation and cannot therefore be taken for granted.
He learns this from the first Rashi in our parsha. Our parsha starts with the letter vav/and, connecting it to the previous parsha and the giving of the Torah at
Mount Sinai. Rashi, quoting Chazal, infers from this
connecting vav that the logical laws in our parsha were also given on Mount Sinai. Why
do Chazal need a pasuk to teach us that the laws in our parsha were given at Mount Sinai? The
entire Torah was given at . Mount
The answer is that Chazal are in fact, not teaching us that these laws were also given at
That is obvious. When Chazal say that these mitzvos were also
given at Mount Sinai they are teaching us that
the logic of these mitzvos comes from God. Logic itself is a creation. We find this concept in the following pasuk,
כוננת מישרים משפט וצדקה ביעקב אתה עשית/… You founded fairness; You have made the justice and
righteousness of Ya'akov." (Tehillim 99:4) Even our concept of fairness was created by
Friday, February 01, 2013
"אנכי ה' א-להיך .../I am God your Lord …" (Shmos 20:2) Thus begins the Ten Commandments. Even though there is a debate among the commentaries as to whether this statement is counted as one of the mitzvos, it clearly is not written as a command like the commandments that follow. It is written as declaration. God declares that He is the God of Israel.
This declaration lends added gravity to the next commandment, "לא יהיה לך אלהים אחרים על פני/You shall not have other gods before Me." (Shmos 20:3) Similarly God says through the prophet, "העם המכעיסים אותי על פני .../The nation that angers Me, before Me." (Yeshaya 65:3) The nation did not simply anger God. They angered God before Him. We are judged more harshly because He is our God and we are His subjects.
As His subjects, we are charged with spreading His kingdom. How? We need not go out and proselytize. All we need to do is accept His kingship upon ourselves. To the extent that we accept God's rule, His kingship is revealed to the rest of the world. The pasuk tells us that God wants us to be a, "ממלכת כהנים/kingdom of priests." (Shmos 19:6) In this context, the word "priests" means the officers who surround the king and sustain him before his nation. We too, by accepting the yoke of Heaven at
Mount Sinai, spread God's kingship, as it were, to the
entire world. We are thus God's
"officers". Chazal as
well state that the nations of the world recognized God.
The world was rectified when we accepted the Torah. This is because our accepting God's kingship caused God's kingship to be revealed to the entire world.
The sole exception was the nation of Amalek. Amalek recognized our greatness and God's kingship and rebelled. If it were not for Amalek, the rectification that resulted from our accepting the Torah would have been complete as it will be at the final redemption. Because of Amalek's rebellion, God declared that His throne is not complete. This means that His revelation was not complete. Amalek represented an alternative to recognizing God's kingship. We are therefore required to hate Amalek.
In order for the rectification to be complete God will blot out Amalek's name. Then, there will be no alternative to God's kingship and His throne, representing His revelation, will be complete. This is why all the nations will have a part in the future redemption except for Amalek, "אחריתו עדי אובד/His end will be everlasting destruction." (Bamidbar 24:20)
May we merit being a kingdom of "priests" - the King's officers.