Friday, June 27, 2014

Chukas 5632 First Ma'amar

Note:  This week marks the 8th anniversay of the Sfas Emes blog.  Here is a link to the first post: First Post Chukas 5631 First Ma'amar.  It is so appropriate for this is also the first Shabbos that my mentor Chayim Daskal zt"l is no longer with us.  He was the inspiration for this blog.  Throughout the years he encouraged me to continue and spread the blog to others as well.  Before his passing he asked that people do mitzvos and chassadim l'iluy nishmaso. I wish to dedicate the Sfas Emes blog l'iluy nishmaso.  חבל על דאבדין ולא משתכחין.

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.  Impurity is an actual spiritual state.  How do the ashes of the red heifer wipe it away?  Chazal were bothered by this question in the first Midrash[1] of our parsha.  The following pasuk forms the question, “מִי־יִתֵּן טָהוֹר מִטָּמֵא לֹא אֶחָד/Who produces purity from impurity?  No one!” (Iyov 14:4)  The Midrash answers that God can produce purity from impurity and they translate the pasuk slightly differently, “Who produces purity from impurity?  Is it not the One?!”  The Midrash Tanchuma quotes Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai who says explicitly that the red heifer does not purify.[2]  There is no physical process in place through which the ashes of the red heifer purify.  Rather God decreed that the corpse should produce impurity and that the red heifer should purify.

What is the nature of this decree?  Another pasuk the Midrash[3] quotes from Tehillim (12:7) gives us a clue, “אִמְרוֹת ה' אֲמָרוֹת טְהֹרוֹת .../God’s sayings are pure sayings…”  What is this pasuk teaching us?  It obviously cannot be taken literally because “God is pure and His servants are pure.” (Nidah 31a)  There is no need for a pasuk to teach us that His sayings are pure as well!
The Sfas Emes explains that “אִמְרָה/Saying” in this pasuk alludes to the ten מַאֲמָרוֹת/sayings with which God created the world.  The Sfas Emes explains that the saying is more than just the words God used to create.  The saying itself is a spiritual power that gives existence to the Creation.  The creating power of God, through the saying, is hidden within every part of the Creation.  It follows that the source of purity is hidden within every part of the Creation.  Every part of the physical world, then, has at least the potential for purity because of the spiritual Godly creation force inherent in it.  This is the meaning of the pasuk in Tehillim.  God’s sayings – His presence within the Creation – are pure and therefore purify.

How can we actualize the potential for purity that is hidden within ourselves and the physical world?  The Sfas Emes explains that the purity is revealed and affects us and our surroundings when we contemplate and acknowledge that it is there.  Chazal tell us that Avraham Avinu first recognized that God must be in the world.[4]  God then revealed Himself to Avraham Avinu.
Regarding producing purity from impurity the Midrash says, “Who commanded thus?  Who decreed thus?  Is it not the One?!”  The Sfas Emes explains the redundancy.  The existence of the physical world contains two wonders.  As we’ve said, God’s creative power is constantly working and is hidden within the Creation.  Without it, the world would cease to exist.  The first wonder is that God gives existence and strength to evil to resist the very “sayings” that are the source of its existence.  Relative to this the Midrash says, “Who decreed thus?”

The second wonder is that God gave us the ability to draw His “sayings” into the physical world, to reveal spirituality and ultimately to experience God Himself even as we live in the physical world.  Through the commandments we elevate ourselves and our surroundings to God.  Regarding this the Midrash says, “Who commanded thus?”  The Sfas Emes explains that when we perform the mitzvos, and contemplate that the physical act has a spiritual source, we “connect” the physical to that source.  The physical is affected by its spiritual source.  The physical becomes pure.

Purity and impurity, and in fact, the entire Creation works according to the laws that are familiar to us because God decreed that it should be so.  The same way that God decreed that the ashes of the red heifer change a person’s spiritual status, He decreed every aspect of the Creation.

We find this in the pasuk in Tehillim (148:6) regarding the Creation, “... חָק־נָתַן וְלֹא יַעֲבוֹר/… He issued a decree that will not change.”  The word חוֹק/decree has the same root as the word for engrave – חָקַק.  This decree is engraved, as it were, within the Creation.  It is the underlying force that is the source of the Creation’s existence.
In the same vein Chazal[5] tell us that חָק suggests sustenance as we find in the pasuk, “... וְאָכְלוּ אֶת־חֻקָּם .../… they ate their allowance …” (Breishis 47:22)  The underlying spiritual force sustains the entire Creation.  It is constantly imbuing the Creation with life and abundance.  The Sfas Emes teaches that the reason we were created is to reveal this spiritual life force in everything by contemplating that it exists within everything.  May we merit it!

[1] Bamidbar R. 19:1
[2] Tanchuma Chukas 8
[3] Bamidbar R. 19:2
[4] Breishis R. 39:1
[5] Beitza 16a

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