Monday, January 06, 2014

BeShalach 5632 First Ma'amar

Today 5 Shevat is the Yortzeit of the Sfas Emes.  Rashbi teaches us that when we say something in the name of the deceased, their lips move with us in the grave (Bechoros 31b)

דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיָשֻׁבוּ ויחנו לפני פי החירות/Speak to the children of Israel and they will return and encamp before the mouth of Chiros (lit. Freedom)” (Shmos 14:2The children of Israel had left Egypt three days earlierGod commands Moshe Rabbeinu to instruct the nation to turn around and head back towards the EgyptiansPharaoh will think that the nation has lost its way in the desert and will be goaded into pursuing them.  When he confronts the nation of Israel, God will destroy him and the Egyptians.  The obvious question as we read these p’sukim is, “Why?”  What was to be gained by returning?  If God wanted to destroy the Egyptian army, He certainly had ample opportunity to do so before.

The Sfas Emes answers that God wanted us in a situation that would require His direct intervention to save us so that we would then sing praise to God.  The Exodus was not enough for this.  The Exodus was the fulfillment of God's promise to our forefathers.  While we, of course, would be thankful, we would not feel the need to burst out in spontaneous song upon our leaving in Egypt and in fact, we did not do so.  The splitting of the sea and the destruction of the Egypt army before our very eyes in what can only be described as a clear miracle was something else.  This was totally unexpected.

However, this begs the question.  Why did God want us in a situation in which we would sing His praise?  To answer this question we need to understand what was accomplished through the Exodus and what was accomplished through the splitting of the sea.  The primary purpose of the Exodus, the Sfas Emes teaches, was to rectify a flaw in the Creation.  The physical world hides God.  At least once in the history of mankind, God needed to reveal Himself so that mankind would know that He created the world.  This He did at the Exodus through a direct and unambiguous intervention in history and events.

This is the reason the first commandment of the Ten Commandments describes God as the One who took us out of Egypt and not as the One who created the world.  His direct intervention in the events leading up to our leaving Egypt, events that our entire nation as well as the entire nation of Egypt experienced, is the proof that He created the world.[1]

What then was the purpose of the splitting of the sea?  The splitting of the sea teaches us that we can live on a level that is not bound by nature.  God split the sea in response to our prayers to teach us that as a result of our good deeds, God will relate to us in a way that is not constricted by the laws of nature.  Conventionally, we view miracles as a suspension of the natural order that happen in an unpredictable manner.  However, the Maharal[2] establishes that just as there is an order and laws in nature, there is an order and laws in miracles[3].  The splitting of the sea teaches us that we have the ability to conduct our lives in a way that is bound by an order that is beyond nature.

God commanded us to return to the sea.  Essentially, He was asking us to return to our spiritual roots that are outside of nature.  Significantly, the specific place that He commanded us to return to was called the Mouth of Freedom.  True freedom, the Zohar teaches us is attained at our spiritual roots where we are free from the constrictions of nature.[4]  May we merit it!

[1] Viz. Ramban at the end of Parshas Bo, on the pasuk ולטוטפות בין עיניך.  He discusses this idea at length.  Also see Ramban in Parshas Yisro on the pasuk, אנכי ה' א-להיך.
[2] Maharal, Gevuros Hashem, Second Introduction
[3] Viz Ramban end of Bo – There is no integral difference between outright miracles and nature.
[4] Zohar 2:45b

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