Friday, February 05, 2016
Mishpatim 5631 Second Ma'amar
At the time of the revelation on Mount Sinai, God instructs Moshe Rabbeinu regarding the nation’s upcoming journey to the land of Israel, “הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ מַלְאָךְ לְפָנֶיךָ לִשְׁמָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ ... אַל-תַּמֵּר בּוֹ ... כִּי שְׁמִי בְּקִרְבּוֹ ... וַעֲבַדְתֶּם אֶת ה' אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם וּבֵרַךְ אֶת-לַחְמְךָ ... וַהֲסִרֹתִי מַחֲלָה מִקִּרְבֶּךָ/Behold I am sending an angel before you to safeguard you on the way … Do not defy him … for My name is within him … You shall serve God your Lord and He will bless your bread … I will remove illness from your midst.” (Shmos 23:20)
The Sfas Emes understands this paragraph as a metaphor explaining the difference between serving God during the days of the week and on Shabbos. The Torah requires us to work during the week, “שֵׁשֶת יָמִים תַּעֲבֹד .../You shall work for six days …” (Shmos 20:8) During the week the Torah tells us, essentially, to immerse ourselves in the matters of this world. Should we not live a life of holiness? How can we immerse ourselves in the physical world and still live a holy life?
The Sfas Emes explains that holiness is latent in our weekday activities. We have the ability to transform our mundane activities into spiritual acts – into mitzvos – drawing out the hidden holiness. How? God gives life and existence to everything. Creation was not a one time event. Existence itself is a continuing act of creation. We and every other part of the Creation continue to exist so that we may do God’s will. Furthermore, since God enables every action we take, it follows that every action that we do is inherently part of His will. If we recognize it as such we turn the action into a mitzvah.
The pesukim mentioned above suggest this. The angel that God sent is the holy life force within every part of the Creation. We can recognize it by recognizing that we are doing God’s will with every action that we do even if that action seems to us to be mundane. Regarding this the pasuk says, “... אַל-תַּמֵּר בּוֹ ... כִּי שְׁמִי בְּקִרְבּוֹ/… Do not defy him … for My name is within him.” (Shmos 23:21) When we go to work, for example, without recognizing the angel within our work, without recognizing the potential holiness inherent in our work, we are defying the angel. Significantly, the Hebrew word for work – מְלָאכָה has the same root as the Hebrew for angel – מַלְאָךְ. The מְלָאכָה/work enclothes the מַלְאָךְ/angel.
During the week this applies to our weekday work. On Shabbos, though, there is no מְלָאכָה/work. We are prescribed from doing any work. This is because on Shabbos we can serve God without the outer shell of work. Chazal teach us that Shabbos is like the next world. Just like there is no work in the next world, so too, there is no work on Shabbos. This is alluded to in the pasuk, “וַעֲבַדְתֶּם אֶת ה' .../You shall serve God …” (Shmos 23:25) It implies that there are ways of serving God directly. We can experience God directly on Shabbos by being sensitive to the holiness of Shabbos.
The pasuk continues that God will remove illness from our midst. The automatic result of serving God on Shabbos is that He will remove all illness from our midst. According to the Sfas Emes, eating and the removal of illness is symbolic of all our activities and needs. This is why, on Shabbos we do not request things for ourselves in our prayers. There is no need to. Why does the pasuk speak specifically about eating? The reason is that there is a particular physical connection between eating and illness. The Zohar says that all of the body’s illnesses have dietary causes.
How does serving God on Shabbos result in His taking care of all our needs? The Sfas Emes explains. Directly following the requirement to serve God the pasuk states that God will bless our bread. The Hebrew word for bless – בַּרֵךְ has the same root as the Hebrew for a type of grafting – הַבְרָכָה. Grafting means that a branch from one tree attaches to and gains nourishment from a different tree. The pasuk is teaching us to “graft” our mundane activities, such as eating, to God by using them to serve Him. We then gain nourishment from Him and He removes illness from our midst and takes care of our needs.