Friday, July 18, 2014

Matos 5631 First Ma'amar

The beginning of parshas Matos details the laws of vows.  The first Midrash on the parsha teaches us that not just anybody is permitted to take a vow.[1]  The prerequisite traits that are needed before a person may take a vow are derived from a pasuk in Devarim (10:20), “אֶת־ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ תִּירָא אֹתוֹ תַעֲבֹד וּבוֹ תִדְבָּק וּבִשְׁמוֹ תִּשָּׁבֵעַ/You shall fear God your Lord, serve Him and cling to Him, and swear by His name.”  The Midrash says that to take a vow one must be God-fearing like Avraham Avinu, Iyov and Yosef whom the Torah refers to as God-fearing.  One must serve God through Torah and mitzvos to the exclusion of all else.  Finally, one must cling to God.

Regarding the last required trait of clinging to God the Midrash asks, “How is it possible to cling to the Shechina?”  The Torah calls God a consuming fire[2].  Is it possible for a physical being to connect to a consuming fire?  The Sfas Emes elucidates the Midrash’s question.  He explains that it is based on the premise that connecting to God involves distancing oneself from the physical, since God is far removed from physicality.  The Midrash notes the difficulty with this direct approach to clinging to God.  The Midrash answers that the only way a physical being can connect to God, is indirectly, through activity in this world.  We connect to God in this world when our actions are done for His sake.  

This explains how we can experience God in this world but why must a person’s every action be done for the sake of Heaven in order to take vows?  What is the connection between dedicating our actions to God and taking vows?  Understanding the nature of vows will shed light on this question.  A vow is a verbal expression of a person’s desire to do a given action.  The Torah gives such a declaration the status of a legal commitment.  Chazal tell us that vows can be used as a tool to encourage us in the performance of mitzvos.[3] 

Avraham Avinu, Iyov and Yosef, the people the Torah explicitly refers to as God-fearing, were on a level at which awe of God permeated and motivated their every action.  Everything they did was for His sake.  Since everything they did increased God’s glory in this world, every one of their actions, even the most mundane, was transformed into a mitzvah.

The Midrash is teaching us that when all of a person’s activities are for the sake of Heaven, when one’s desires and God’s will are in complete alignment, he has transformed his actions into mitzvos.  It is appropriate for this person to declare his desire, which mirrors God’s will, in the form of a vow. 

However, for many of us, our desires are not totally aligned with God’s will.  Our actions may be motivated by other factors such as personal desires.  These actions are not mitzvos.  It is thus not appropriate to declare such desires as vows.  What can we do to align our desires with God’s?  The Sfas Emes advises us to work on performing our routine daily activities because we need to (e.g. we need to eat to live) rather than because we desire to.  This is the first step in aligning our actions with God’s will.  May we merit it.  Amen!

[1] Bamidbar R. 22:1
[2] Devarim 4:24
[3] Nedarim 8a

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"the people the Torah explicitly refers to as God-fearing"

Iyov, according to God Himself (outside Chumash, in Iyov 2.3);
Avraham, according to a malach (Ber. 22.12);
Yosef, by his own account (42.18)