Friday, August 28, 2015
Teitzei 5631 Second Ma'amar
How can we live in the physical world, be attached to physicality and yet live spiritual lives? The Sfas Emes finds the answer in the first mitzvah of this week’s parsha and a Midrash.
The parsha begins with the laws of a captured woman. “וְרָאִיתָ בַּשִׁבְיָה אֵשֶׁת יְפַת-תֹּאַר וְחָשַׁקְתָּ בָהּ וְלָקַחְתָּ לְךָ לְאִשָׁה/And you saw in captivity, a beautiful woman and you desire her, and you take her for a wife.” (Devarim 21:11) The Torah permits a Jewish soldier, under certain circumstances, to take a non-Jewish woman in the heat of his passion. A strange law, to be sure. Rashi, citing Chazal, explains that the Torah is addressing a person’s evil inclination. If God had not permitted the captured woman, the soldier would take her in sin. God permitted her to him because it is not within the soldier’s ability to overcome the temptation.
The Sfas Emes asks, “Would it not be better to lessen the power of the evil inclination so that the soldier can overcome the temptation?” Why actually permit what would under any other circumstance be considered a low act?
To answer this question we must understand the nature of permitted acts and prohibited acts. The Hebrew for permitted and prohibited is heter and issur respectively. These words also mean released and bound. Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi explains that a prohibition is called issur because the act binds one to the evil which is within it. The Sfas Emes extrapolates that a permitted act is one which enables a person to attach himself to the holy life force within it – the spiritual aspect of the act – instead of the physical. If the act is done for the sake of Heaven, the spiritual underpinnings of the act are revealed. Even if the act is not done for the sake of Heaven, one is not bound to evil. In fact, in principle, there is no other difference between a permitted act and one that is prohibited. Actions, in and of themselves are neutral.
This, then, is the reason the Torah permitted the captive woman to a Jewish soldier rather than lessen the temptation. Once the captive woman is permitted, marrying her does not bind one to evil. Indeed, the Torah goes on to detail the laws of a hated wife implying, according to Chazal, from the juxtaposition of these two laws that one leads to the other. A Jewish soldier who marries a non-Jewish female captive will not be bound to the evil within this act. Since the act is not generally done for the sake of Heaven but rather to fill a physical desire, in all likelihood, he will divorce her.
This concept is expounded upon in the Midrash on this week’s parsha. The Midrash teaches us that in order to facilitate a connection to the spiritual within everything, God associated mitzvos with everything we do. One who builds a house is required to build a fence around the roof. When he puts up the door, he needs to attach a mezuzah to the doorpost. When he puts on new clothing, he needs to ensure that they are not made of a mixture of wool and linen. Connecting to the spiritual, to the light of the Torah within the mitzvah act, is essentially connecting to God.
The Sfas Emes takes this concept one step further and applies it not only to stated mitzvos but to all actions. Any act that is done for the sake of Heaven is a mitzvah. This is hinted at in the pasuk from Mishlei that the above Midrash cites, “כִּי לִוְיַת חֵן הֵם לְרֹאשֶׁךָ .../For they are an adornment of grace for your head …” referring to the teachings of the Torah. (Mishlei 1:9) The Midrash in a play on words relates, “רֹאשֶׁךָ/your head” to “רְשֻׁיוֹתֶךָ/your permitted actions.” By striving to act for the sake of Heaven we turn mundane actions into holy ones and make ourselves holy, fulfilling the mitzvah of, “קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ/You shall be holy (VaYikra 19:2). Conversely by refraining from certain actions for the sake of Heaven we fulfill the mitzvah of, “וְלֹא-תָתוּרוּ אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם .../And you shall not explore after your heart and eyes …” (BaMidbar 15:39)
This, then, answers the question we start with. By contemplating before any permitted action that it is for the sake of Heaven, in order to accomplish God’s will, the act becomes consecrated and we become consecrated as well.