Friday, December 25, 2015

VaYechi 5631 First Ma'amar

 וַיְחִי יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם .../Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt ...” (Breishis 47:28) The Sfas Emes addresses two difficulties.  Firstly, וַיְחִי/He lived, is a strange choice of words.  Usually when the Torah relates that someone lived in a specific place, it uses the word וַיֵשֶׁב/He dwelt or וַיָגָר/He lived[1].  The Chiddushei HaRim suggests that, וַיְהִי/He was, would have been more appropriate than וַיְחִי/He lived.

Secondly, in a sefer Torah, there is always a blank space between two parshas.  VaYechi is the only parsha in the entire Torah which begins directly following the last word of the previous parsha with no break whatsoever.  This is referred to as a closed parsha.  Why is this?

Ya’akov Avinu is associated with the attribute of אֱמֶת/truth.  The prophet Micha (7:20) tells us, “תִּתֵּן אֱמֶת לְיַעֲקֹב/Give truth to Ya’akov.”  A person who lives with truth realizes that the physical world is a façade which hides an awareness of God.  Because of this Ya’akov Avinu felt God’s presence everywhere even in decadent Egypt.  For Ya’akov Avinu, there was no exile.  Conventionally we think of exile as meaning an expulsion from one’s native land.  We lived in Egyptian exile because we were not in our homeland.  The deeper meaning of exile, though, is an exile from God’s presence.  It is easy to be acutely aware of God’s presence in the Land of Israel, much less so in decadent Egypt.  In truth, though, God is everywhere equally.  For one who can see past the physical façade and realize this, there is no real exile. 

Egyptian society was pagan and immoral.  It was very difficult to see God in Egypt.  By using the word וַיְחִי/He lived, the Torah is telling us that even in decadent Egypt, Ya’akov “lived.”  Living means to attach to the Source of all life.  Chazal[2] tell us that wicked people are considered dead even during their lives.  This is because they have separated from God, the Source of life.  For the wicked, God is hidden.  He is not a part of their lives.  They do not feel His presence.  Ya’akov “lived” even in Egypt.  On the level of אֱמֶת/truth, it did not matter that he was in Egypt.  God gives life to the immoral Egyptians, too.  For Ya’akov, He was revealed even in Egypt.  This is why the parsha starts with, “וַיְחִי יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם .../Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt ...” instead of the more usual וַיֵשֶׁב יַעֲקֹב/Yaakov dwelt.

But why is the parsha closed?  Rashi[3] quotes Chazal[4] who tell us that Ya’akov wanted to reveal the end of days to his children.  The end of days is a time when all exile comes to an end and God is revealed.  The exile is a temporary screen behind which God hides Himself.  Behind the screen of the exile and giving life to it (and to everything else) is the eternal Source of life.  Ya’akov wanted to convey to his children that God is there even in Egypt.    He wanted it to be clear to them, as it was clear to him, that God is everywhere, even in the exile.  He wanted them to see, feel and experience God’s presence in Egypt just as he did.  If Ya’akov had taught this to his children, though, they would have reached Ya’akov’s level of אֱמֶת/truth.  God would have been revealed to them and there would have been no exile.  Chazal[5] in fact tell us that the bondage in Egypt only began after Ya’akov passed on.  The exile, though, was a necessary part of the Divine plan.  So, although Ya’akov “lived,” the parsha was closed.  He was not permitted to pass it on to his children.

However, Chazal tell us that Ya’akov was permitted to teach them that even if they could not see past the external screen of immoral and corrupt Egyptian civilization and experience God, they could still believe that God was there[6].  Belief that God was there when the reality of their surroundings was the immoral and pagan Egyptian culture required a lot of hard work.  But, through אֱמוּנָה/belief, they would be able to see the אֱמֶת/truth – God is in the exile as well.

Believing that God is the source of all power in the world enables us to see Him in the world.  The stronger our belief, the more God is revealed.  Working to reach this high level of אֱמוּנָה/belief enables us to find Godly enlightenment even where God is concealed.

[1]In English the difference between וַיְחִי/He lived and וַיָגָר/He lived, is not felt.  However, in Hebrew, the former refers to the length of one’s life while the latter refers to the place in which he lived.  Clearly, when the Torah wants to tell us that Ya’akov lived in Egypt, וַיָגָר would be more appropriate than וַיְחִי, hence the question.
[2] Brachos 18b
[3] Breishis 47:28, viz. VaYechi
[4] Breishis R. 96:1
[5] Ibid.
[6]Zohar 1:234b

Friday, December 11, 2015

Chanuka 5631 First Night First Ma'amar

The pasuk in Mishlei states, “... נֵר מִצְוָה וְתוֹרָה אוֹר .../… a commandment is a lamp and the Torah is light …” (Mishlei 6:23)  Just as the oil, wick and light need a lamp to hold them, so too, the light of the Torah needs a vessel to contain it.  The vessel that holds the light of the Torah in this world is the mitzvos.  The Zohar[1] explains that Shlomo HaMelech associated mitzvos with a lamp because we perform the mitzvos with our 248 limbs with love of God and fear of Heaven.  Two-hundred-forty-eight limbs + love of God + fear of Heaven = 250 which is the gematria of neir/lamp.  The Zohar is teaching us that we can rectify our deeds and limbs in this world by imbuing them with the light of the Torah.  We do this by performing the mitzvos.  Each mitzvah holds a unique aspect of the spiritual light of the Torah.  When we do a specific mitzvah we draw the unique spiritual force associated with it into the physical world.

This concept applies not only to the 613 mitzvos mentioned in the Torah.  It also applies to those mitzvos that were instituted by Chazal including, of course, the mitzvah of lighting candles on Chanukah.  What is the unique spiritual force triggered by the mitzvah of Chanukah lights?  The Chiddushei HaRim explains that the mitzvah of lighting candles on Chanukah contains the spiritual enlightenment of the original miracle of the menorah in the Beis HaMikdash on the first Chanukah.  Lighting the Chanukah candles draws the enlightenment of the original miracle once again into the world.  In fact, the Tur Shulchan Aruch writes that we light Chanukah candles in order לְהַזְכִּיר/to mention the miracle.[2]  Notice that he does not write, in order לִזְכּוֹר/to remember the miracle.  The nuance is not as apparent in English but in Hebrew, these two words are actually two forms of the same verb.  לְהַזְכִּיר/to mention is a stronger form of לִזְכּוֹר/to remember.  It implies an action that is being done to the object of the verb.[3]  Since the object of the verb here is the miracle, the Tur is telling us that by lighting the Chanukah candles we are bringing to light the actual original miracle.  Lighting the Chanukah candles is not merely a way of remembering the original miracle.  By lighting the candles, we are triggering the same latent spiritual force that caused the original miracle (i.e. bringing it to life.)  

This is why the prayer that we say after lighting the candles starts with the words, “הַנֵּרוֹת הַלָּלוּ קוֹדֶשׁ הֵם/These lights are holy.”  Generally, the objects that we use to perform mitzvos (e.g. lulav, matzah) are not considered holy.  They may be tossed once they are no longer needed.  The same principle should apply to the lights of Chanukah.  Yet, the prayer states that they are holy.  Why?  According to the Chiddushei HaRim, though, it is clear.  They are holy because they contain the spiritual force of the original miracle.

This explains the language of the brachah that Chazal instituted before lighting the Chanukah lights.  We say, “לְהַדְלִיק נֵר חֲנֻכָּה/to kindle the Chanukah lamp.”  We do not say, “לְהַדְלִיק נֵר בְּחֲנֻכָּה /to kindle a lamp on Chanukah.”  The language of the brachah suggests the original Chanukah lamp.  Performing the mitzvah activates the spiritual force of the original Chanukah menorah.

This concept helps us understand a puzzling halachah about the Chanukah lights.  A person who sees Chanukah lights is required to say the blessing, “שֶׁעָשָׂה נִסִּים לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ/who made miracles for our forefathers” even if he himself does not light.  Generally, one is required to say this blessing upon seeing the place where a miracle occurred either to him or his forefathers.  Why do Chazal require us to say this particular blessing upon seeing Chanukah lights?  According to the Chiddushei HaRim, though, it is clear.  Since the Chanukah lights contain the spiritual force of the original miracle, seeing the Chanukah lights is akin to seeing the actual place of the miracle.  This is why Chazal required the blessing usually reserved for seeing the place the miracle occurred.

Each of us has the ability to release the spiritual force of the original miracle of the menorah by lighting Chanukah candles.  Our very souls are intimately connected with the mitzvos.  A clear awareness of the spiritual effect of our physical action strengthens that spiritual effect.  Contemplating this concept while lighting the Chanukah lights is the best way to draw the spiritual force inherent in the mitzvah into the world.

[1]Zohar 1:170b, 2:166b
[2]Tur Orach Chaim 671
[3] Other examples:  לשמוע/to listen and להשמיע/to make others listen; לחתום/to sign and להחתים/to sign up others.  The first is more passive whereas the second means the person is doing something to the verb’s object.