Wednesday, January 27, 2016
In Tehillim (103:20) we find, “... גִבֹּרֵי כֹחַ עֹשֵׂי דְבָרוֹ לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקוֹל דְבָרוֹ/… strong warriors who do His bidding, in order to hearken to the sound of His word.” It would seem that this pasuk is worded backwards. One needs to hearken to God’s word and understand what He requires of us in order to do His bidding. The pasuk states in reverse order – strong warriors do His bidding in order to hearken to his word. What does this mean?
Chazal teach that the strong warriors in this pasuk refer to the malachei hashareis/ministering angels and yet we find the same construct when we accepted the Torah. Just as the angels first agree to do God’s bidding before knowing what that bidding is, Chazal praise the nation of Israel for learning from the angels. When offered the Torah we responded, “... נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע/… We will do and we will listen.” (Shmos 24:7) We were committed even before we knew what God required of us.
This needs an explanation, though. We certainly trusted in God and believed that He would not require us to do anything beyond our capabilities. We certainly knew that anything God would ask of us would be for our own benefit. Why the great praise, therefore, when we committed to comply with God’s commandments even before understanding them fully?
The Sfas Emes explains that while the simple meaning of listening to God’s word is understanding how to perform his commandments, it also implies something much deeper. God’s דִבּוּר/speech teaches us how to perform the commandments. However, the קוֹל דְבָרוֹ/sound of his word mentioned in the pasuk in Tehillim implies a deeper understanding. There is speech and there is the underlying sound that comprises speech. The underlying sound suggests the underlying spiritual meaning of the words. The Zohar makes this distinction between דִבּוּר/speech and קוֹל/sound as well when it refers to speech as components of sound (i.e. sound is the כְּלַל /general term; speech is the פְּרַט/specific term)
At Mount Sinai we committed to comply with God’s commandments and we accepted the yoke of Heaven upon ourselves in order to merit hearing the sound of God’s voice within the commandments, as it were, to experience the underlying spirituality that the manifests as speech. By committing to do whatever God required of us we would merit understanding that which would otherwise be impossible to attain. This is the reason we said, “נַעֲשֶה וְנִשְׁמָע /We will do and we will listen.” We committed to do in order to merit hearing (the underlying sound of God – understanding the inner meaning of the commandments and experiencing the underlying spirituality.) This is also the reason the pasuk in Tehillim states first, “עֹשֵי דְבָרוֹ/do His bidding” and only afterwards, “לִשְמֹעַ בְּקוֹל דְבָרוֹ/to hearken to the sound of His word.” Even the angels, by committing first to do, would merit hearing the sound within His words; they would merit understanding and experiencing the deeper meaning of their actions.
 Shabbos 88a
 For more detail on this Zohar and the relationship between קול/sound and דיבור/speech see the Sfas Emes on Shmos 5631 Second Ma'amar Shmos 5631 Second Ma’amarfrom "Undifferentiated sound". Also, for a fascinating exposition on this concept as it relates to the names of God, the Tetragrammaton and Adnus and the different sounds we are required to blow with the Shofar on Rosh HaShanah see Ya’aros Devash Chelek 1 Derush 6.
 Zohar 2:3a
Thursday, January 21, 2016
The Ultimate Purpose of Prayer
Synopsis – Coming close to God is the ultimate purpose of prayer. Once the level of closeness has been reached, there is a higher level of faith manifested by silence. This is the reason God told Moshe Rabbeinu not to pray when the nation was trapped at the Reed Sea. God had already heard his prayer even before he mouthed the words. The primary lesson is that striving, through prayer, to reach a level of preparedness to cry out to God is the main goal of prayer.
The nation of Israel was encamped on the shores of the Reed Sea. The Egyptian army was hard upon them. God says to Moshe, “מַה־תִּצְעַק אֵלָי דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִסָּעוּ/Why are you crying out to me? Speak to the children of Israel and they will move forward.” (Shmos 14:15) This is a difficult pasuk to understand because there is no prior indication that Moshe Rabbeinu cried out to God. Previous pesukim relate that the nation cried out to God but not Moshe. The Midrash addresses this question and says that God is not telling Moshe to stop crying out to Him. Rather God is telling Moshe not to cry out to Him.
Why, though? This seems like the best time to ask God for help. To answer this question, the Midrash, according to the Chiddushei HaRim, teaches us a fundamental principle of prayer. The Midrash says that God bequeathed prayer (lit. sound) to Ya'akov, “הַקֹּל קוֹל יַעֲקֹב ... .../… the voice is the voice of Ya’akov …” (Breishis 27:22) What does this mean? Is prayer reserved only for the descendants of Ya’akov? Cannot anyone pray? The Chiddushei HaRim explains that our prayer awakens the connection between us and our spiritual source. While anyone can and should turn to God for his needs, God specifically bequeathed to the descendants of Ya’akov the power to use prayer as a means for coming near to Him. In fact, coming close to God is the ultimate purpose of prayer. Once the connection is established and strengthened, the prayer has accomplished its purpose. Crying out to God has been used for its true purpose – to reach the higher level of faith manifested by silence.
This is the reason God told Moshe not to cry out to Him. On Moshe Rabbeinu’s level God already heard his prayer even though he had yet to mouth it as the Midrash ends, “… Why will you cry to Me? I have already heard your cry.” This concept is also apparent from the Midrash later that cites the pasuk, “וְהָיָה טֶרֶם יִקְרָאוּ וַאֲנִי אֶעֱנֶה .../It will be that even before they call out, I will answer …” (Yeshaya 65:24) to explain our pasuk. In certain instances, God answers prayers that have yet to be spoken.
We find this concept in another pasuk in Yeshaya (45:11) as well, “... הָאֹתִיּוֹת שְׁאָלוּנִי עַל־בָּנַי וְעַל־פֹּעַל יָדַי תְּצַוֻּנִי/… Ask me about the wonders (of the heavens). Do you command me regarding my children and the work of my hands?” God is telling us, through the prophet, that regarding His children, He has already created their salvation.
The Sfas Emes takes the concept a step further. He explains that reaching a level of preparedness to cry out to God is the main goal. Generally, this level is reached by actually praying, however, once it is reached the cries are no longer needed. Moshe Rabbeinu reached this aspect of crying out, hence God told Him that there was no need for the actual cries.
This concept is further embodied in a pasuk in Eicha (2:17), “צָעַק לִבָּם אֶל־ה' .../Their heart cried out to God …” and in a pasuk in Tehillim (34:18) cited by our Midrash, “צָעֲקוּ וַה' שָּמֵעַ .../They cried out and God hears …” The implication is that even if they cried out in their hearts – a cry that is not heard at all – still, God hears and there is no need to actually cry out with the mouth.