Friday, October 24, 2014

No'ach 5633 Second Ma'amar

At the end of this week's parsha the Torah relates the story of the tower of Bavel.  The generation that built the tower sinned and was punished by being scattered across the face of the earth.  It's not clear from the pesukim, though, exactly what their transgression was.

The Sfas Emes explains that the sin of the dor hapalaga/generation that was split, as Chazal call it, is closely connected with the very purpose of our existence.  We can learn about that purpose from the special Mussaf tefilla of Rosh Chodesh that falls on Shabbos as it does this week.  The middle bracha of the special Mussaf begins, "אתה יצרת עולמך מקדם/You have formed Your world in ancient times." The word מקדם comes from the root קודם/before.  So, this tefilla can also be translated as, "You have formed Your world beforehand."  God formed the world before what?  The Sfas Emes explains that the physical world that we live in has a spiritual counterpart that was formed first.  The tefilla is actually referring to the spiritual world that God formed before the physical one in which we live.

The Sfas Emes teaches that the physical world is like a garment and an allusion to the spiritual world much like clothes say something about the person who is wearing them.  On the first Shabbos, when the Creation was completed, the physical world became a vehicle for the revelation of God's will.  At the very least, the harmony of the physical world is a lasting testimony to the Creator. 

In fact, every Shabbos has this quality.  It is easier to connect with and experience the physical world's underlying spirituality on Shabbos.  We learn this from a pasuk in Yechezkel (46:1) referring to the third Beis HaMikdash, “... שַׁעַר הֶחָצֵר הַפְּנִימִית הַפֹּנֶה קָדִים יִהְיֶה סָגוּר שֵׁשֶׁת יְמֵי הַמַּעֲשֶׂה וּבְיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת יִפָּתֵחַ וּבְיוֹם הַחֹדֶשׁ יִפָּתֵחַ׃/The inner courtyard gate that faces east will be closed during the six workdays but on Shabbos it will be opened and on Rosh Chodesh it will be opened.”  The gates of the temple opening and closing connote spiritual gates opening and closing.  On Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh there is a spiritual revelation that we don’t find naturally during the week.

קדים/east also has the same root as קודם/before and therefore alludes to the spiritual that underlies the physical world.  Our job is to acknowledge the spiritual underpinnings of the physical world and to internalize the understanding that the spiritual is the main thing.

How can we do this?  The Sfas Emes's advice is to identify strongly with the nation of Israel.  The Sfas Emes learns this from a Zohar that sheds light on the story of the tower of Bavel.  The Zohar infers from pesukim in the story that the generation that built the tower was rebelling against God.  The Sfas Emes understands this to mean that they only wanted to recognize and associate with the physical world.  They wanted to exclude the spiritual from their lives.  The Torah says, "בנסעם מקדם/as they travelled from the east."  As we've said, "מקדם/from the east" can also mean "from the spiritual that was created beforehand."  The Zohar tells us it means that they were trying to flee from God who existed before the Creation.  Either way, it's clear that they wanted nothing to do with the spiritual.

The Torah relates that they would have succeeded if God had not intervened.  Amazingly, they would have succeeded even though their goal was at odds with the purpose of the Creation.  Why is this?  Why would they have succeeded?  They would have succeeded because they were united in a singular purpose.  They spoke the same language – the holy language – and all struggled toward the same goal.  The Zohar concludes that the nation of Israel when united in serving God can certainly succeed and will receive God's help as well. 

God split the generation that tried to build the tower of Bavel.  However, to us He gave the Torah so that we would remain together with the singular purpose of internalizing the spirituality that underlies the physical world.  This is the meaning of the pasuk, "זכור ימות עולם ... בהפרידו בני אדם יצב גבולות עמים למספר בני ישראל כי חלק ה' עמו .../Remember the days of old ... when He separated the children of Adam.  He fixed the boundaries of the nations according to the number of the children of Israel.  For God's portion is His people …" (Devarim 32:7-9)  This pasuk is referring to the generation that was split – the dor hapalagah.  God's portion is His people so He gave us the Torah and one language – the holy language – as vehicles for unification.


Anonymous said...

"They wanted to exclude the spiritual from their lives."

so they planned to produce a smokescreen using a tower built of
incense bricks-- lamed, beis, nun, hei, 11:3, ha'levonah --a smokescreen to whirl between themselves & God, one that would satisfy Him, rei'ach ni'cho'ach, for the time it would take to slowly, very slowly, smolder down; a burning brickstack of frankincense that could even make for them a name with The Most High (or so they thought*), while they immersed themselves in physicality below with undivided attention;

this in contrast to the goy echad** b'aretz, where incense burns twice daily, & frankincense sits on stacks of showbread & joins in offerings of meal, a nation where frequent rituals require live attendance & intention

*until His intervention & their dispersion, alluded to on Kereisos 6a: v'ha'levonah...shivim shivim, 70
nations of 70 tongues

**although tragically, in Y'shayahu 11:11-12, we see that Jews had been dispersed to, among other places, Shinar, while at
65:3 Israel burns incense on bricks in a sort of throwback to dor hapalagah

Anonymous said...

what, concretely speaking, does
the Sfas Emes advise?

if the Nasi of Yechezkel 46:12 were "to identify strongly with the nation of Israel", would he
then form the will to bring animals daily to hasha'ar haponeh kadim, and so expose the nation to every increment of "spiritual
revelation" in his hands?

Moshe David Tokayer said...

The pasuk in Yechezkeil is a metaphor. Of course, we can and should pursue spirituality in the world every day. This pursuit affects our Shabbos when the gates of spirituality are open, so to speak.

Identifying strongly with the nation of Israel means thatt our intent in the performance of mitzvos is as a part of the nation all striving towards the same goal of Godly revelation in this world vs an individual island striving for self improvement alone.