Thursday, April 07, 2016

Parshas HaChodesh 5631 Second Ma'amar

The Purpose of Exile
The Sfas Emes’s Approach to Life’s Challenges

Chazal[1] relate a story about the Tanna, Rebbi Elazar ben Arach.  After the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash, Rebbi Elazar ben Arach went to a certain city expecting his students to follow him. They didn’t. Alone in a city known for its decadence, he forgot his Torah learning. When he had the opportunity to read from a Torah, instead of reading, “הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם/This month is for you,” (Shmos 12:2) he read, “הַחֵרֵשׁ הָיָה לִבָּם/Their hearts were deaf”, a seemingly innocuous mistake.  The Chiddushei HaRim[2], however, understands that this was not an innocuous mistake.  The mistake was actually a hint to Rebbi Elazar to leave the city.

The Chiddushei HaRim understands this from a Midrash[3] which implies that the leaders of Israel have the power to lead the people and steer them onto the right path.  If instead they allow themselves to be led by the people, they fall.  Rebbi Elazar understood the words that he mistakenly said as applying to the inhabitants of the city of his exile.  He understood that he would not be able to improve them, would be drawn after their evil ways and should therefore leave.  

The Sfas Emes gives another interpretation to this story.  The new moon/month symbolizes renewal.  The Hebrew words for “month” and “new” are the same, חֹדֶשׁ and חָדָשׁ, respectively.  In order to experience the light of renewal, “הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם/This month is for you,” the Sfas Emes explains, we first must experience the darkness of deafness, represented by, “הַחֵרֵשׁ הָיָה לִבָּם/Their hearts were deaf”.

We could only experience God’s revelation at the redemption from Egypt after having first experienced the darkness of His concealment in the exile.  In fact, we define exile and redemption as God’s concealment and revelation respectively.  The redemption is simply a removal of the screen that hides God.  We merited this renewal of our relationship with God by first living through and bearing His concealment.

This idea underlies the need for the four kingdoms[4] – Babylon, Medes, Greece and Rome – before the final redemption.  Each of the four kingdoms is a rectification for an aspect or aspects of God’s concealment.  A complete rectification will manifest at the ultimate redemption as, “מַלְכוּתְךָ מַלְכוּת כָּל־עֹלָמִים .../Your kingdom is a kingdom spanning all worlds …” (Tehillim 145:14), the culmination of the historical process.

Rebbi Elazar ben Arach went to the city knowing that the inhabitants were on a low spiritual level.  He wanted to experience an atmosphere of God’s concealment so that subsequently he could find a renewed revelation.

The Zohar[5] as well teaches us that purity implies a preceding period of impurity.  Attaining purity from a state of impurity means that the mask hiding God is removed.  This idea is related in Chazal’s understanding of the following pasuk, “מִי־יִתֵּן טָהוֹר מִטָּמֵא לֹא אֶחָד/Who can produce purity from impurity?  No one!” (Iyov 14:4)  The Midrash[6] translates this pasuk as, “Who produces purity from impurity?  Is it not the One?”  Impurity does not have an autonomous existence.  Impurity is a screen that hides purity.  God produces purity from impurity by removing the screen that hides Himself.

We can only experience God's revelation by subordinating ourselves to Him.  This is also symbolized by the ashes of the red heifer.  The ashes represent our own subordination.  We only attain purity when we are sprinkled with the ashes of the red heifer.  When we subordinate ourselves and our own desires to God, we “connect” to Him and attain a state of purity.

When purity is reached we are open to a renewed relationship with God.  This is the meaning of the pasuk, “לֵב טָהוֹר בְּרָא־לִי אֱ־לֹהִים וְרוַּח נָכוֹן חַדֵּשׁ בְּקִרְבִּי/Create a pure heart for me, Lord, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Tehillim 51:12)  First David HaMelech asks God for purity - revelation.  This naturally leads to a desire for renewal.

This is why Parshas Para representing attainment of purity from an impure state precedes Parshas HaChodesh which represents spiritual renewal.  May we merit it!

[1]Shabbos 147b
[2]Sefer HaZchus Shlach s.f. Slach lecha
[3]Shmos R. 27:9
[4] For a detailed discussion of the four kingdoms as described in the Book of Daniel, see Maharal’s Ner Mitzvah.
[5]Zohar 2:69b
[6]Bamidbar R. 19:1

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