Friday, January 31, 2014

Terumah 5632 Second Ma'amar

Today and tomorrow are Rosh Chodesh Adar I.  The root of the name of the new month, Adar, means, “dwell.”  The Chiddushei HaRim relates the word, “Adar”, to a Midrash which explains a pasuk in the beginning of this week’s parasha, “ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם/Make for me a sanctuary so that I will dwell in your midst.” (Shmos 25:8) The Midrash[1] explains that God wanted to give us the Torah but did not want to leave it, as it were.  So He asked us to build for Him a sanctuary so that He could dwell – אדור בתוכו – in it and thus be close to the Torah and to us, so to speak.

This is quite an enigmatic Midrash!  God is infinite and everywhere at once.  God certainly has no need for a dwelling place.  What is this Midrash teaching us?  The Chiddushei HaRim explains that the concept of God dwelling among us makes sense only from our perspective and our relationship to God.  God dwelling among us is revelation to us.
But God will only reveal Himself to us to the extent that we realize that everything comes from Him.  This requires humility from us.  When we humble ourselves to internalize the idea that everything is from God, God can dwell among us and we merit revelation.  Chazal[2] allude to this idea.  They teach us that of an arrogant person God says, “He and I cannot dwell – לדור – together in the world.”  Arrogance can only happen when there is a lack of belief that everything is from God.  Arrogance is the opposite of this belief.  Arrogance implies an autonomous existence outside of God.  Obviously, there can be no revelation in the presence of arrogance.  

The Sfas Emes teaches that this idea is alluded to in the name of this month.  אדר/Adar is an acronym for א – the One, דל – inadequate, רש – poor.  When we realize our own inadequacy vis a vis God, when we understand that everything we have, see around us and do come from God, we can connect to Him and experience Him in our lives.

Chazal[3] allude to this concept when they say that God is the “place” of the world.  He contains the world, not the other way around.  Chazal[4] also teach us that there is nothing that has no place.  To the extent that we understand that everything that exists only exists because it is from God, the Godliness is revealed.  In the words of Chazal, God is the place of the world.

It really cannot be any other way.  The world is simply a screen that hides God.  It is not autonomous and can only exist because of the Godliness within.  As the prophet Yeshayah teaches us, “אשכון את דכא/I will dwell with the downtrodden.” (Yeshayah 57:15)  The world exists only because God dwells with it.

[1] Shmos R. 33:1
[2] Sotah 5a
[3] Breishis R. 68:9
[4] Avos 4:3

Friday, January 24, 2014

Mishpatim 5634 Second Ma'amar

The Midrash[i] in our parasha states that God metes out justice to the nations of the world.  The Midrash also states that He put the power to mete out justice in our hands as God told Moshe in the first pasuk of our parasha, “ואלה המשפטים אשר תשים לפניהם/And these are the laws that you will place before them.” (Shmos 21:1)  The Hebrew word for law – משפט – also means justice.  Does God dispense justice or is it dependent upon us?

The Sfas Emes explains that God wants to dispense justice and revenge upon the nations of the world with one caveat.  We, the nation of Israel, must deserve good treatment.  God will not treat us well undeservedly and deal with the nations of the world according to the strict letter of the law, so to speak.  If He treats us well, even though we do not deserve it, He will not be strict with regard to the nations of the world.

This is the reason God told Moshe Rabbeinu, “... אשר תשים לפניהם/… that you will place before them.”  God’s justice towards the nations of the world is dependent upon us.

[i] Shmos R. 30:1, see also 30:18

Friday, January 17, 2014

Yisro 5632 Second Ma'amar

In Tehillim (103:20), “... גִבֹּרֵי כֹחַ עֹשֵׂי דְבָרוֹ לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקוֹל דְבָרוֹ/… strong warriors who do His bidding, to hearken to the sound of His word.”  It would seem that this pasuk is worded backwards.  One needs to hearken to God’s word and understand what He requires of us in order to do His bidding.  The pasuk states in reverse order – strong warriors do His bidding in order to hearken to his word.  What does this mean?

This pasuk refers to the malachei hashareis[1] yet we find the same construct when we accepted the Torah.  Chazal praise the nation of Israel for learning from the angels saying, when offered the Torah, “... נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע/… We will do and we will listen.” (Shmos 24:7)  We were committed even before we knew what God required of us.  This needs an explanation, though.  We certainly trusted in God and believed that He would not require us to do anything beyond our capabilities.  We certainly knew that anything God would ask of us would be for our own benefit.  Why the great praise, therefore, when we committed to comply with God’s commandments even before understanding them fully?

The Sfas Emes explains that while the simple meaning of listening to God’s word is understanding how to perform his commandments, it also implies something much deeper.  God’s דִבּוּר/speech teaches us how to perform the commandments.  However the קוֹל דְבָרוֹ/sound of his word implies a deeper understanding.  There is speech and there is the underlying sound that comprises speech.  The underlying sound suggests the underlying spiritual meaning of the words.  The Zohar makes this distinction between דִבּוּר/speech and קוֹל/sound as well when it refers to speech as components of sound[2] (i.e. sound is the כְּלַל and speech is the פְּרַט.)[3]

At Mount Sinai we committed to comply with God’s commandments and we accepted the yoke of Heaven upon ourselves in order to merit hearing the sound of God’s voice within the commandments, as it were.  By committing to do whatever God required of us we would merit understanding that which would otherwise be impossible to attain.  This is the reason we said, “נַעֲשֶה וְנִשְׁמָע /We will do and we will listen.”  We committed to do in order to merit hearing (the underlying sound of God – understanding the inner meaning of the commandments.)  This is also the reason the pasuk in Tehillim states first, “עֹשֵי דְבָרוֹ/do His bidding” and only afterwards, “לִשְמֹעַ בְּקוֹל דְבָרוֹ/to hearken to the sound of His word.”  Even the angels, by committing first to do would merit hearing the sound within His words; they would merit understanding the deeper meaning of their actions.

[1] Shabbos 88a
[2] For more detail on this Zohar and the relationship between קול/sound and דיבור/speech see the Sfas Emes on Shmos 5631 Second Ma’amar.   Also, for a fascinating exposition on this concept as it relates to the names of God, the Tetragrammaton and Adnus and the different sounds we are required to blow with the Shofar on Rosh HaShanah see Ya’aros Devash Chelek 1 Derush 6.
[3] Zohar 2:3a

Friday, January 10, 2014

BeShalach 5631 Second Ma'amar

דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיָשֻׁבוּ .../Speak to the children of Israel and they will return …” (Shmos 14:2)  The children of Israel had left Egypt three days earlier.  God commands Moshe Rabbeinu to instruct the nation to turn around and head back towards the Egyptians.  Pharaoh will think that the nation has lost its way in the desert and will be goaded into pursuing them.  When he confronts the nation of Israel, God will destroy him and the Egyptians.  The obvious question as we read these p’sukim is, “Why?”  What was to be gained by returning?  If God wanted to destroy the Egyptian army, He certainly had ample opportunity to do so before.

The miracle of the Exodus happened very quickly.  Although the Egyptians suffered from plagues for a full year beforehand, our role in the Exodus began only a few days before we actually left Egypt when God commanded us to take lambs for the Pesach sacrifice.  We left Egypt so quickly, the Torah relates, that there was no time even for our bread to rise.  Things that happen quickly rather than gradually tend not to have a lasting impact especially when they are not earned; at this stage we certainly had not earned the redemption.[1]  God wanted the redemption from Egypt to become a part of us.  The lesson we needed to take with us was that God is always with us, an especially encouraging lesson in times of distress when this fundamental fact is not apparent.  We could truly internalize this lesson, only if we left Egypt on our own merit.  This is why God commanded us to return; in order to earn the redemption.

Chazal allude to this idea when they say that at the time of the splitting of the sea we were being judged whether to be saved or destroyed with the Egyptians.[2]  This also explains why we were afraid and cried out to God when we saw the approaching Egyptian army.  Considering all the miracles we witnessed in Egypt, it is clear that we had not the slightest doubt in God’s ability to save us from the Egyptians.  Why, then, did we cry out to God in fear?  The reason is because we doubted ourselves.  We were not sure if we really deserved to be saved.  It is possible that this doubt was the reason we complained to Moshe Rabbeinu for having taken us out of Egypt, “... כִּי טוֹב לָנוּ עֲבֹד אֶת־מִצְרַיִם מִמֻּתֵנוּ בַּמִּדְבָּר/… for it is better for us to serve the Egyptians that to die in the desert.” (Shmos 14:12)  Why were we redeemed before we merited it?  We could have stayed in Egypt until we were deserving of redemption.  Also, God had promised Ya’akov that He would redeem his children from Egypt.  If we were still in Egypt we would still have had God’s promise.  Now that we had left, this promise had already been fulfilled, hence our fear at the approaching Egyptian army.

God commanded us to return so that we could leave on our own merit.  However, this really only begs the question.  Why was the Exodus a two step process?  Why redeem us with undeserved miracles first, then redeem us again because we earned it?  Why not redeem us once on the basis of our own merits?  The Sfas Emes explains that the first miraculous Exodus was needed in order for us to deserve the second redemption at the splitting of the Red Sea.  The miraculous Exodus taught us that God is with us.  We used the miraculous Exodus from Egypt to strengthen our faith and trust in God.  In the merit of our strong faith and trust in God, we were saved at the Red Sea.

Chazal use the same concept when they teach us that if Israel would keep two Shabbosim we would immediately be redeemed.[3]  For the entire nation to keep two Shabbosim is certainly a great thing but what is the connection between this and redemption?  The Chiddushei HaRim answers this question in the name of Rav Shmelke Z"L.[4]  First, we need to know that Shabbos is a high level spiritual day.  This means that on Shabbos we and the entire Creation are closer to God.  It is easier on Shabbos to become more aware of Him that it is during the week.  In fact, Shabbos, as a concept, means closeness to God.
God wants us to become close to Him.  He wants us to be aware of Him.  He also wants us to earn closeness to Him.  In order to help us, He first gives us an undeserved experience of closeness to Him.  If we take advantage of this experience by using it as a stepping stone to become even closer to God, we are rewarded and God reciprocates. 

God gives us Shabbos even though we may not deserve it.  We can have an undeserved spiritual experience of closeness to God.  Our job, then, is to take advantage of this gift.  We do so by drawing the Shabbos experience into the following week.  We can use the spiritual experience of Shabbos to help us maintain an awareness of God in our lives during the week as well.  Based on our work during the week, we are rewarded with an even greater spiritual experience on the next Shabbos.  The second Shabbos is an earned experience.  By earning closeness to God, we bring the redemption which by definition is closeness to God. 

[1] See Yechezkel 20:5-9 and Sfas Emes Bo 5631 Second Ma’amar
[2] Mechilta Beshalach 4
[3] Shabbos 118b
[4] Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke HaLevi Horowitz of Nikolsburg (1726 - 2 Iyar 1778) was a major disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch.  Many of the leading rebbes in Poland and Galitzia were originally his disciples. Among the books he authored are Divrei Shmuel and Nezir HaShem.

Monday, January 06, 2014

BeShalach 5632 First Ma'amar

Today 5 Shevat is the Yortzeit of the Sfas Emes.  Rashbi teaches us that when we say something in the name of the deceased, their lips move with us in the grave (Bechoros 31b)

דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיָשֻׁבוּ ויחנו לפני פי החירות/Speak to the children of Israel and they will return and encamp before the mouth of Chiros (lit. Freedom)” (Shmos 14:2The children of Israel had left Egypt three days earlierGod commands Moshe Rabbeinu to instruct the nation to turn around and head back towards the EgyptiansPharaoh will think that the nation has lost its way in the desert and will be goaded into pursuing them.  When he confronts the nation of Israel, God will destroy him and the Egyptians.  The obvious question as we read these p’sukim is, “Why?”  What was to be gained by returning?  If God wanted to destroy the Egyptian army, He certainly had ample opportunity to do so before.

The Sfas Emes answers that God wanted us in a situation that would require His direct intervention to save us so that we would then sing praise to God.  The Exodus was not enough for this.  The Exodus was the fulfillment of God's promise to our forefathers.  While we, of course, would be thankful, we would not feel the need to burst out in spontaneous song upon our leaving in Egypt and in fact, we did not do so.  The splitting of the sea and the destruction of the Egypt army before our very eyes in what can only be described as a clear miracle was something else.  This was totally unexpected.

However, this begs the question.  Why did God want us in a situation in which we would sing His praise?  To answer this question we need to understand what was accomplished through the Exodus and what was accomplished through the splitting of the sea.  The primary purpose of the Exodus, the Sfas Emes teaches, was to rectify a flaw in the Creation.  The physical world hides God.  At least once in the history of mankind, God needed to reveal Himself so that mankind would know that He created the world.  This He did at the Exodus through a direct and unambiguous intervention in history and events.

This is the reason the first commandment of the Ten Commandments describes God as the One who took us out of Egypt and not as the One who created the world.  His direct intervention in the events leading up to our leaving Egypt, events that our entire nation as well as the entire nation of Egypt experienced, is the proof that He created the world.[1]

What then was the purpose of the splitting of the sea?  The splitting of the sea teaches us that we can live on a level that is not bound by nature.  God split the sea in response to our prayers to teach us that as a result of our good deeds, God will relate to us in a way that is not constricted by the laws of nature.  Conventionally, we view miracles as a suspension of the natural order that happen in an unpredictable manner.  However, the Maharal[2] establishes that just as there is an order and laws in nature, there is an order and laws in miracles[3].  The splitting of the sea teaches us that we have the ability to conduct our lives in a way that is bound by an order that is beyond nature.

God commanded us to return to the sea.  Essentially, He was asking us to return to our spiritual roots that are outside of nature.  Significantly, the specific place that He commanded us to return to was called the Mouth of Freedom.  True freedom, the Zohar teaches us is attained at our spiritual roots where we are free from the constrictions of nature.[4]  May we merit it!

[1] Viz. Ramban at the end of Parshas Bo, on the pasuk ולטוטפות בין עיניך.  He discusses this idea at length.  Also see Ramban in Parshas Yisro on the pasuk, אנכי ה' א-להיך.
[2] Maharal, Gevuros Hashem, Second Introduction
[3] Viz Ramban end of Bo – There is no integral difference between outright miracles and nature.
[4] Zohar 2:45b

Friday, January 03, 2014

Bo 5631 Second Ma'amar

The seventh plague came and went and Pharaoh still could not bring himself to let us leave Egypt.  Imagine the exasperation!  God said that there would be a redemption with signs and wonders and yet, we were still in Egypt.  Pharaoh was being obstinate.  Where was the promised redemption? 

The first Midrash on the parsha explains that we did not deserve to be redeemed.[1]  God had made us His own and instead of embracing God we angered Him by not renouncing idol worship.  For this we deserved to be destroyed.[2]  God redeemed us so that Pharaoh would not say that God destroyed them because he was unable to redeem them.  In order to redeem us in spite of ourselves, God caused Pharaoh to be obstinate.  As a result of Pharaoh’s obstinacy we were redeemed.

With this Midrash we can understand a pasuk in Mishlei (27:3), “ כֹּבֶד־אֶבֶן וְנֵטֶל הַחוֹל וְכַעַס אֱוִיל כָבֵד מִשְּׁנֵיהֶם/A stone has weight and sand has mass, but the anger of a fool is heavier than both.”  The beginning of this pasuk refers to the nation of Israel.  The Hebrew word for weight – כּוֹבֶד – has the same root as the word for honor – כָּבוֹד.  God honored the nation of Israel.  We angered God, though.  The end of the pasuk – the anger of a fool – refers to Pharaoh.  We could not be redeemed immediately on our own merit.  So, God orchestrated a series of events whereby Pharaoh’s obstinacy would be his undoing. 

God explains this to Moshe Rabbeinu at the beginning of our parsha, “... בֹּא אֶל־פַּרְעֹה כִּי־אֲנִי הִכְבַּדְתִּי אֶת־לִבּוֹ .../Go to Pharaoh for I have hardened his heart …” (Shmos 10:1)  The situation in Egypt did not seem promising for the nation of Israel.  Pharaoh was showing no sign of weakening his resolve to keep the Jews even after seven terrible plagues.  God tells Moshe not to despair and not to be concerned for it was He who had hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order to be able to redeem the unworthy nation.  What appeared to be a cause for concern was actually the very thing that permitted the nation to be redeemed.

This is an important lesson for each of us when we find ourselves in a predicament and wonder where God is.  Why isn’t He helping me?  The lesson of Egypt teaches us not to despair in these situations.  We can remember that Pharaoh’s stubbornness was really a blessing in disguise.  It was the very thing that brought about the redemption

God is always helping us.  In every situation He has our best interests in mind.  Even if we do not understand how, we can understand that God arranges everything that happens to us for our own benefit.

[1] Shmos R. 13:1
[2] See Yechezkel 20:5-9