Friday, June 06, 2014

BeHa'aloscha 5631 Second Ma'amar

If a person wants to grow in his service to God, should he deliberately place himself into a situation in which he will be tested?  According to the Sfas Emes the answer to this question is in this week’s parsha. 

After the nation left Mount Sinai they complained that there was no meat to eat.  Rashi asks that in fact they did have plenty of meat.[1]  The pesukim relate that they left Egypt with cattle and sheep and they entered Israel with cattle and sheep.  Why did they complain?  Rashi answers that they were looking for an excuse.  The Sfas Emes asks that since they had meat this wasn’t even a lame excuse.  It was no excuse at all.  What, then, is the meaning of their complaint?

We find a clue at the beginning of the pasuk in which they complain.  The pasuk says, “... הִתְאַוּוּ תַּאֲוָה .../… they caused themselves to crave …” (Bamidbar 11:4)  We can infer that at first they had no desire yet they caused themselves to desire.  How is it that they had no desire initially?  Furthermore, since they had no desire, why did they deliberately bring it on?  The Sfas Emes explains that they were on a very high spiritual level.  They were on a level above nature, a level on which they were free from their evil inclination.  Remember, they had spent the previous year, following the receiving of the Torah, in a highly spiritual environment.  They were at the foot of Mount Sinai basking in God’s presence which was manifest in the Mishkan.  All their physical needs were provided for allowing them to focus completely on the spiritual.

They were above physical desire yet they caused themselves to crave meat.  Why?  The Sfas Emes explains that they wanted to reach an even higher spiritual level.  They wanted to merit giving God even more satisfaction by eating something as physical as meat in holiness.  Leading a very holy life while totally detached from the physical world is certainly a high level.  But leading a holy life within the physical world is certainly an even higher level.  

We find this concept in a Midrash on the pasuk, “... ולעבדו ... בְּכָל נַפְשְׁכֶם/… and to serve Him … with all your soul.” (Devarim 11:13)  The Midrash explains that the way to serve God “with all your soul” is by directing all the attributes and forces within the soul, including physical desires, towards serving God.  When the nation complained, “נַפְשֵׁנוּ יְבֵשָׁה/our soul is dry,” (Bamidbar 11:6) they were complaining that because they were living is such a highly spiritual environment, they did not have the opportunity to worship God with all the attributes of their souls.  Their souls were dry, so to speak.  They “rectified” the situation by causing themselves to crave meat.

God, though, did not agree with their approach.  A person should be more concerned with violating the will of God by deliberately placing himself into a risky situation even if by so doing he might reach a higher spiritual level.  In fact, the Sfas Emes explains that one who does this is demonstrating an element of selfishness.  Those who are truly concerned only about doing God’s will, will be content with a simpler approach and rely on God to provide tests.

[1] Rashi on Bamidbar 11:4

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