Friday, November 13, 2015
This week’s parasha relates the story of the three wells that Yitzchak’s servants dug. Avimelech’s shepherds argued with Yitzchak’s shepherds regarding ownership of the first two wells. Over the third well, however, there was no argument. Yitzchak called the first two wells Eisek and Sitnah respectively. He called the third well Rechovos. What is the significance of this story?
The Chiddushei HaRim explains that digging a well in search of water is a metaphor for the search of the Godliness hidden in the physical world. The first two wells Eisek and Sitnah represent this search during the days of the week. Eisek means to work at and Sitnah comes from the word hate as in hating the evil inclination. Rechovos has the same root as the Hebrew word for expansion - הַרְחָבָה. Rechovos represents the culmination of the search on Shabbos. On Shabbos there is an expansion of holiness in the physical world. During the week, by performing mitzvos and learning Torah, we attempt to reveal the spiritual Godly light that is hidden in the Creation. According to the extent of our work during the week we merit a revelation on Shabbos.
The Sfas Emes explains that our very purpose in this world is to uncover the spiritual within the physical. Everything in this world is a tool for us to use. When we use the physical world to perform mitzvos and learn Torah we elevate the physical world to a higher spiritual level. In this way we uncover the Godliness underlying the Creation. The Sfas Emes teaches that this was the main work of our forefathers.
We find this in a Midrash Tanchuma regarding learning Torah as well. The Tanchuma brings a pasuk from Mishlei (1:20), “חָכְמוֹת בַּחוּץ תָּרֹנָה בָּרְחֹבוֹת תִּתֵּן קוֹלָהּ/Wisdoms shout in the street; in the streets she gives forth her voice.” The Midrash says that Shlomo HaMelech is referring to studying Torah. At first glance the pasuk seems to be saying that Torah should be studied anywhere, even in the streets. However, the Midrash makes it clear that the streets in this pasuk are referring to the “streets of Torah”, those study halls and gathering places that are designated for Torah study.
Why should we study Torah specifically in the study halls? As we made clear earlier, the word בָּרְחֹבוֹת/in the streets, has the same root as the Hebrew word for expansion - הַרְחָבָה. The Midrash says that Torah should be studied in a place where it can be expanded. The Sfas Emes explains that this expansion of Torah is more than just better learning. It is an expansion of the Torah’s light into the physical world. The Midrash is teaching us more than the physical place where we should study Torah. The Midrash is teaching us that we need to study Torah so that its light will be brought into the physical world. How do we do this?
Torah learning affects the physical world. The Sfas Emes explains that this is an aspect of Torah Shebe’al Peh (lit. the Oral Law). How so? The essence of Torah Shebe’al Peh is our ability to produce חִידוּשׁ/novelty through our Torah learning. By studying Torah, we bring novelty into the physical world. Bringing the Torah’s light into the physical world and uncovering the Godliness in the Creation is one and the same thing.
The Midrash in this week’s parsha also hints at this idea. The Midrash associates each of the wells Yitzchak dug with one of the books of the Torah. Rechovos is associated with the book of Devarim based on the pasuk in Devarim (12:20), “כִּי-יַרְחִיב ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ אֶת-גְּבֻלְךָ.../When God your Lord expands your borders …” since, as we’ve noted, the word יַרְחִיב/expands has the same root as Rechovos. The Sfas Emes explains that the deeper meaning of this pasuk is that God is expanding His holiness throughout nature. The well named Rechovos, as the Chiddushei HaRim taught, represents Shabbos, the day on which holiness expands into the physical world.
As we’ve said, our forefathers’ main work was to uncover the light of the Torah, the Godliness in the Creation. Yitzchak spent his life striving to reveal the Godliness within everything. In fact, Eisav was able to play on this to fool his father. When Eisav asked Yitzchak how to tithe salt and straw, Yitzchak viewed this as another way of uncovering the Godly life force in even the most mundane things of this world. Through tithing, the No’am Elimelech explains, the food is raised to a higher spiritual level. Eisav’s scheme was to fool Yitzchak by appearing to want to find ways of bringing out the holiness in even the lowliest objects.
Chazal teach us that we should strive to uncover the Godliness in everything in the Creation even to the extent of using our evil inclination to do so. The pasuk says, “וְאָהַבְתָּ ... בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ.../And love … with all your heart …” (Devarim 6:5) The Hebrew word for heart contains the letter beis twice even though it could be written with one beis. Chazal teach us that this alludes to our two inclinations, the good and the evil, emanating from the heart. The Torah is teaching us that we should use both to serve God. May we merit emulating our forefathers and, through our actions and Torah learning reveal the spiritual in the physical world.
Tanchuma Bechukosai 3
Breishis R. 64:8
Yitzchak was particularly open to this because he used every possible avenue in serving God. We find a hint to this in the pasuk referring to Yitzchak’s success, “... וַיֵלֶךְ הָלוֹךְ וְגָדֵל עַד כִּי גָדַל מְאֹד/… and he grew constantly greater until he had grown very great.” The Zohar in this week’s parsha, referring to a Midrash in Breishis, explains that the word מְאֹד/very alludes to the evil inclination. The Midrash explains the pasuk, “... וְהִנֵּה טוֹב מְאֹד/… and it was very good.” This pasuk refers to God’s observation of the Creation when it was completed. The Midrash says that this refers to the evil inclination and the angel of death. The evil inclination is needed, the Midrash explains, because without it people would not marry, build houses, etc. The angel of death is necessary, the Zohar explains because the fear of death is a main motivator for teshuvah. The pasuk, “and it was very good” refers to the evil inclination and the angel of death because the world as we know it, would not be able to function without them. The pasuk is teaching us that Yitzchak used everything, even the evil inclination, to reveal God in the world.