Friday, August 29, 2014
Shoftim 5631 First Ma'amar
A pasuk in Mishlei (31:23) states, “נוֹדָע בַּשְּׁעָרִים בַּעְלָה .../Her husband became known at the gates (of the city) …” The Zohar explains this pasuk as a metaphor for the relationship between the nation of
Israel and God. The wife represents the nation of Israel
and the husband represents God. The
city’s gates represent the gates of the heart.
The Hebrew word for gate has the same root as the word for conjecture. The pasuk can be translated metaphorically
as, “God becomes known to the nation of Israel according to the level on
which we contemplate Him and His greatness.”
Each of us have different and unique abilities and talents. Accordingly, each of us contemplates God
differently. The way we contemplate God
determines the way and level at which He makes Himself known to us.
The Chiddushei HaRim applies the Zohar’s metaphor to the first pasuk of the parsha, “שֹׁפְטִים וְשֹׁטְרִים תִּתֵּן־לְךָ בְּכָל־שְׁעָרֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ .../Place judges and enforcers in all your cities (lit. gates) that God your Lord gives you …” (Devarim 16:18) The Chiddushei HaRim understands this pasuk homiletically as referring to the gates of the heart.
According to the metaphor the entire pasuk relates to each of us individually. The first word of the parsha, Shoftim/Judges, implies self judgment. She’arecha/Your cities (lit. gates), refers, as we’ve said, to the gates of the heart. The pasuk is teaching us that after all is said and done, after each of us contemplates God from his unique perspective, when we judge ourselves and realize what we are in relation to God, the knowledge of and connection to God that follows is His gift to us. This is the meaning of the next part of the pasuk, “... אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ .../… that God, your Lord gives you …”. The pasuk implies a gift. God owes us nothing. Any connection and revelation that we achieve is His gift to us.
The Sfas Emes explains the first pasuk of the parsha a little differently. Our desires and feelings originate in the heart. The pasuk teaches us that we must pay close attention to our desires and feelings when they first pass through the gates of the heart. It is important not to allow our desires and feelings to develop uncontrolled but rather we must notice them, using our intellect to steer them toward God alone. If we use our God-given understanding and knowledge in this way, we merit that the gates of our hearts will open up to receive God’s enlightenment.
We find this idea in the beginning of the piyut/liturgical poem written by the Ari z”l and sung Friday night. The piyut begins, “אֲזַּמֵר בִּשְׁבָחִין לְמֵעַל גוֹ פִּתְחִין .../I will sing with praises to enter inside the gates …” The commentaries explain that Azameir/I will sing also means, “I will cut” as in the pasuk in parshas Behar (25:4), “... וְכַרְמְךָ לֹא תִזְמֹר/… and you will not prune your vine.” The Ari z”l is saying that with praises to God we will cut away and remove the outer layers that hide the revelation of God. Once we do that, we will be able to enter inside the gates. The gates of our hearts open to receive revelation from God.
This is also the reason for saying Pesukei DeZimra/Verses of Song before praying each morning. The word Zimra/Song, as we’ve said, also means “cutting away.” The Sfas Emes explains that when we sing praises to God before prayer we are sending away the Satan – the block that prevents us from connecting with and experiencing closeness to God. This enables us to more easily connect with God when we pray.
Both the Chiddushei HaRim and the Sfas Emes are teaching us the importance of contemplating God’s greatness and its results. The Chiddushei HaRim teaches us that God opens our hearts as a gift so that we can receive His enlightenment. The Sfas Emes teaches us that we need to notice the desires and feelings emanating from our hearts and steer them toward God. Using our God given intellect in this way and praising Him results in a cutting away of the outer layers that separate us from God.