Friday, March 28, 2014
Tazria and Parshas HaChodesh 5646 First Ma'amar
The first Midrash of this week’s parshah explains the pasuk in Tehillim (139:5), “אָחוֹר וָקֶדֶם צַרְתָּנִי .../From behind and from in front you have bound me…” Chazal explain that this pasuk alludes to this world and the next. “אָחוֹר וָקֶדֶם/behind and in front” can also be translated as “last and first.” “אָחוֹר/Last” refers to this world which was created last and “קֶדֶם/first” refers to the next world which was created first. If a person merits it, he inherits two worlds, this world and the next.
The word, צַרְתָּנִי/you have bound me, can also be translated, “you have formed me.” Chazal therefore relate this pasuk to the creation of man, “וַיִּיצֶר ... אֶת־הָֽאָדָם .../He … formed the man …” (Breishis 2:7) וַיִּיצֶר/He formed, is written with two yods, an uncommon spelling, to teach us that man comprises two components, physical and spiritual. The Zohar teaches us that man is a microcosm of the entire physical and spiritual worlds. While he has a physical body, through his soul, he is connected to the upper spiritual realms. The Zohar and the Tanchuma teach that a person’s soul includes the forms of these realms.
There is an aspect of the nation of
Israel which is spiritual, corresponding to
God’s thought, as it were, and there is an aspect that is physical,
corresponding to the physical Creation.
Chazal hint at this when they teach us that God created the world for Israel
who are called רֵאשִׁית/first. God’s thought comes before the physical
We find this split between thought and action in the relationship between the days of the week and Shabbos. The pasuk in Tehillim (92:6) states, “מַה־גָּֽדְלוּ מַֽעֲשֶׂיךָ ה' .../How great are Your works, God …” suggesting the days of the week during which God created the world. The pasuk continues, “... מְאֹד עָֽמְקוּ מַחְשְׁבֹתֶֽיךָ/… Your thoughts are very deep,” referring to Shabbos. Because Shabbos is the day on which God ceased to create, it is associated with God’s thought rather than with activity. It was given to the nation of
Israel which existed in God’s thought before the
physical Creation. Shabbos, then, is the
sign that the children of Israel
have a special spiritual status, “בֵּינִי וּבֵין בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אוֹת הִוא .../It
is a sign between me and the children of Israel …” (Shmos 31:17) All the creations of the world have a place
in the physical Creation. However, only
the nation of Israel
attaches to Shabbos, representing God’s thought.
We find another instance of this concept in a Midrash on the pasuk in Tehillim (40:6), “רַבּוֹת עָשִׂיתָ אַתָּה ה' אֱ-לֹהַי נִפְלְאֹתֶיךָ וּמַחְשְׁבֹתֶיךָ אֵלֵינוּ .../You have done much, God, my Lord; Your wonders and thoughts are for us …” The first part of the pasuk, describing God’s doing, relates to the physical world. The second part makes it clear that God’s wonders and thoughts – the spiritual – are for us, His nation, as the pasuk states, “... נֶגֶד כָּֽל־עַמְּךָ אֶֽעֱשֶׂה נִפְלָאֹת .../… In front of all your people I will perform wonders …” (Shmos 34:10)
The nation of
merited this special relationship with God at the time of the Exodus when God
changed nature on our behalf. Although
the Exodus itself was initiated by God, He told us at that time, that we would
need to work to merit this special relationship. This is alluded to in the first words
describing the first mitzvah that God gave us as a nation, “הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים
.../This month is for you the beginning of the months …” (Shmos
12:2) The word חוֹדֶשׁ/month connotes חָדָשׁ/new. With this first mitzvah, God hinted that He
gave us the ability to draw novelty into the world.
Novelty is beyond nature because the natural world is a closed system. Nothing new can happen in it. Novelty can only come from without, from the spiritual. God is telling us that in order for us to be connected to the spiritual, we must draw it down. How do we draw novelty into the world? How can we not be bound by the physical world? The answer, the Sfas Emes explains, is by realizing that the physical world is dynamic, not set. By internalizing the concept that the physical world is changeable, the gates of miracles, wonders and novelty open.
This is why on Shabbos when, to an extent, we disregard the physical world by not performing creative work, the spiritual gates open. We find this in a pasuk from this week’s haftara. Yechezkeil describing the gates of the Beis HaMikdash tells us that the gate of the inner courtyard will be closed during the six days of the week and open on Shabbos. These physical gates suggest spiritual gates.
A person who takes these words to heart, though, realizes that the physical world is a barrier which separates him from God’s light. The Sfas Emes says that this is not a reason to become melancholy. It is all for good. God sent us into this world, exile and darkness specifically to find His enlightenment which is hidden within it. David HaMelech said, “וָֽאֹמַר אַךְ־חֹשֶׁךְ יְשׁוּפֵנִי וְלַיְלָה אוֹר בַּֽעֲדֵֽנִי/I said, ‘Surely darkness will shadow me, then the night would become as light for me.” (Tehilim 139:11) Chazal translate the pasuk as, “I said, ‘Surely darkness will shadow me in the next world. In the end even this world which is likened to night has become light for me.” David HaMelech was concerned that he would not merit God’s light in the next world. In the end, he merited it even in this world. We need to remember that the physical component of man and the physical Creation are also from God. Fortunately, God enlightens us in this world as well through the Torah and the mitzvos.
Both the darkness and the light are true and needed. Realizing that we are in darkness, that this world is a barrier that hides God’s light is the first step towards revealing that light. We find a hint to this idea in a story involving the Tanna Rebbi Elazar ben Aruch. When all his students went to Yavneh after the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash, Rebbi Elazar ben Aruch went to a different city expecting his students to follow him. They didn’t. Alone in a city known for its decadence, he forgot his Torah learning. When he had the opportunity to read from a sefer Torah, instead of reading, “הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם/This month is for you,” He transposed letters and read, “הַחֵרֵשׁ הָיָה לִבָּם/Their hearts were deaf.” Although at first glance this appears to be an innocuous mistake, the Sfas Emes explains that it actually bears out our concept. In
we first needed to experience the darkness before we could merit the renewal of
God’s light. The prophet Yeshayah, as
well, prophesied this idea, “הַחֵרְשִׁים
שְׁמָעוּ/Listen deaf ones.” (Yeshayah 42:18) They needed to experience the deafness before
they could merit listening.
In exile the nation of
pines to hear the word of God but it is hidden from us. We need to not give up hope but rather to
understand that it is hidden within the very darkness that we experience. In fact, since revealing God’s light is the
primary reason that we exist in this world, we are guaranteed success through
hard work. Yeshayah said this clearly, “מִי ... חֵרֵשׁ כְּמַלְאָכִי
אֶשְׁלָח/Who … is deaf like My messenger who I send.” (Yeshayah 45:15) The messenger – us – needs to experience the
deafness in order to merit being the messenger whom God sends. May we merit it!