Friday, February 28, 2014

Pekudei 5632 First Ma'amar

The beginning of this week’s parsha is an accounting of all the materials that were brought to build the Mishkan.  Ideally, Chazal teach us, it is better not to count material possessions because blessing rests only upon those things which are hidden from the eye – not counted.[1]  Why, then, were the materials of the Mishkan counted?  The Zohar answers that since the counting was done by Moshe Rabbeinu, blessing nevertheless rested on the materials and the work.[2]  What is the meaning of this enigmatic Zohar?

To understand the Zohar we need to understand why blessing does not rest on things that are counted.  The Sfas Emes explains.  Everything in this world is connected to the spiritual and, in fact, derives its physical existence from the spiritual.  The spiritual power that underlies the physical can be viewed as the root of the physical just as a tree’s branches derive their existence from the tree’s roots.  Just as there is one root to a tree with many branches, so too, the more spiritual the less plurality there is.  At the top of the hierarchy – whose bottom is all the disparate components of the physical world – is God Himself, the ultimate Unity and Root of everything.  Things that are uncounted are viewed from the perspective of the whole rather than the individual parts.  The whole, because it represents less plurality, is closer to “oneness,” – to the spiritual – than its separate components.  Accordingly, blessing rests on them.

This same concept applies whenever we recognize and acknowledge that the physical has spiritual roots.  Moshe Rabbeinu understood this as he was the ultimate believer.  Chazal teach us that the pasuk in Mishlei (28:20), “אִישׁ אֱמוּנֽוֹת רַב־בְּרָכוֹת .../A man of faith will increase blessings …” refers to Moshe Rabbeinu.[3]  Even though Moshe Rabbeinu was very involved with the physical world, since he internalized that God is in everything, that everything physical stems from spiritual roots, all his deeds were blessed.

The second part of this pasuk from Mishlei, “...וְאָץ לְהַֽעֲשִׁיר לֹא יִנָּקֶֽה/… but one impatient to become wealthy will not be exonerated,” is the exact opposite.  Chazal teach us that this part of the pasuk refers to Korach who wanted the priesthood for himself even though it was not his.  He did not recognize God in everything for if he did, he would have recognized the blessing in what was his and not have been tempted by what belonged to others.

This concept explains the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (4:1), “אֵיזֶהוּ עָשִׁיר הַשָׂמֵחַ בְּחֶלְקוֹ/Who is wealthy? He who is happy with his lot.”  According to the Sfas Emes, the Mishnah is teaching us that a person’s desire for his wealth needs to be because that is the portion that God granted him.  He needs to know and recognize that no one can take away that which is his and he cannot take from another that which is not his.  He is not “impatient to become wealthy” like Korach jealously regarding what others have because he desires only that which God designated for him.  He recognizes God in his assets.  As a result, there is blessing in them.

Chazal teach us this concept elsewhere as well.  Chazal say that a person who wishes to protect his assets should plant a maple – אֶדֶר – tree as it says, “אַדִּיר בַּמָרוֹם ה'/God is strong on high.” (Tehillim 93:4)[4]  Is this just a play on words or are Chazal teaching us something deeper?  Chazal relate planting a maple – אֶדֶר – tree to God being strong on high.  The Chiddushei HaRim explains that by recognizing that God is the source of our assets, it is as if we are planting His strength in our assets.
We learn this same idea from the word for assets – נְכָסִים which, according to Chazal, imply being covered from others and revealed only to their owner (נְכָסִים/Assets has the same root as cover – כִּסוּי.)[5]  The Chiddushei HaRim explains the significance of this.  A person’s assets are his – no one can take them from him – specifically because they are hidden from others.  As we noted earlier, blessing rests on assets that are hidden from the eye – uncounted.  And as the Sfas Emes explained, uncounted assets represent metaphorically closeness to “oneness” – to the spiritual – and ultimately, closeness to God.

With these concepts we can understand the difficult Zohar.  Even though Moshe Rabbeinu counted the materials of the Mishkan, blessing rested on them because he recognized in the deepest way their spiritual roots.

For this same reason blessing rests in Shabbos.  Shabbos is the day when the Creation became a single complete system, every disparate component performing its unique task but with the singular goal that the entire system “works.”  Because of this, the entire Creation as a whole became “connected” to its spiritual root.  Shabbos thus became a vehicle for receiving blessing.
We can ensure that blessing rests on our assets as well, by recognizing that they are our God-given portion and that they have spiritual roots.  The very recognition affects the things we do with our assets.  May we merit using them to fulfill the will of God. Amen.

[1] Taanis 8b
[2] Zohar 2:221b
[3] Shmos R. 51:1
[4] Beitza 15b
[5] Tanchuma Matos 6

Friday, February 14, 2014

Tisa 5631 First Ma'amar

In this week's parsha God commands us to keep the Shabbos, "אך את שבתותי תשמורו ... לדעת כי אני ה' מקדשכם/Only keep My Shabbosim … to know that I am God Who sanctifies you." (Shmos 31:13and a few pesukim later, "ושמרו בני ישראל את השבת לעשות את השבת לדורותם ברית עולם/The children of Israel will keep the Shabbos to make the Shabbos throughout their generations an eternal covenant." (Shmos 31:16)  The word שמור/keep connotes guarding.  What does the Torah mean when it tells us to "keep/guardthe Shabbos?  It cannot be understood literally because it is the Shabbos that "keeps/guards" us, not the other way around.  

In order to understand how we "guard" Shabbos, the Sfas Emes teaches us a deeper understanding of what Shabbos is.  The Sfas Emes explains elsewhere[1] that Shabbos can be defined as a state of Godly revelation.  This state occurs naturally on the seventh day of the week, the day we call Shabbos.  However, it is not bound only to that day.  In fact, Godliness permeates the Creation.  So, we can say that an aspect of Shabbos permeates the Creation.  We are not generally aware of this because it is hidden.  On Shabbos it is more revealed.

This hidden Godliness is alluded to by the word את in the pasuk, "את שבתותי תשמורו/Keep My Shabbosim."  This is because Chazal in many places understand the word את to include things that are subordinate to the main object of the pasuk.[2]  The main object of this pasuk is Shabbos.  The word את includes that aspect of Shabbos that is hidden in the Creation.  

It is this hidden holiness that the Torah enjoins us to guard.  How?  Our mission is to recognize and reveal the Godliness that is in everything.  Not only is this Godliness inherent in everything, it is the motive force within our very actions.  Our activities, although physical, have a spiritual component.  In fact, the spiritual component of our actions is really the main thing.  What is this spiritual component?  Everything that we do either brings us closer to God or distances us from Him.  Many times an action is neutral and it is our intent that makes all the difference.  Do we eat solely for the physical pleasure or do we eat to live in order to perform God's mitzvos?  The former hides the spiritual.  The latter reveals it.

The Sfas Emes teaches that when the purpose of our actions is to satisfy the will of God, we are acting for the sake of Shabbos which is the same as saying for the sake of revealing the hidden Godliness within our actions.  This is the meaning of the pasuk, "לעשות את השבת/to make the Shabbos."  Everything we do should be for the purpose of reaching that state of revelation that is called Shabbos.  In this way we "guard" Shabbos, keeping it vibrant within the Creation.

We learn this concept also from the word אך in the pasuk, "אך את שבתותי תשמורו/Only keep My Shabbosim."  Chazal[3] teach us that אך/Only connotes exclusion.  For example we find, the word אַךְ/only regarding purifying vessels that we receive from non-Jews, “אַךְ אֶת־הַזָּהָב וְאֶת־הַכָּסֶף .../only the gold and silver …” (Bamidbar 31:22)  From the word אַךְ/only we learn that the gold must be pure.  It must not have any rust on it.  אַךְ/Only tells us that only unsoiled gold can be purified.

So too, "אך/only" in "אך את שבתותי תשמורו/Only keep My Shabbosim" teaches us that we should see through the physical that hides the spiritual that is inherent in our actions and in everything.  We should see through to the pure Shabbos that is essentially spiritual.  When we do this, we will see holiness everywhere.

Chazal[4] teach us that God considers Shabbos His gift to us.  What is the gift?  If Shabbos is simply a cessation from work, then there is nothing that is being given.  The Sfas Emes explains that the gift is the ability to connect to the aspect of Shabbos that is within everything.  This connection is alluded to by the words at the end of the pasuk, "... לדעת כי אני ה' .../… to know that I am God …"  דעת/Knowledge, in the Torah connotes attachment, connection.  May we merit connecting to the spiritual, to the Godliness in the Creation. Amen!

[1] Teitzei 5631 First Ma'amar
[2] Viz. Pesachim 22bRebbi Akiva teaches us that that we should be in awe of Torah scholars.  He learns this from the word את in the pasuk, "את ה' א-להיך תירא/Fear God, your Lord."
[3] Yalkut Shimoni 1:785
[4] Shabbos 10b