Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Teitzei 5631 First Ma'amar

כִּי-תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה עַל-אֹיְבֶיךָ וּנְתָנוֹ ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ בְּיָדֶךָ וְשָׁבִיתָ שִׁבְיוֹ/When you go to war against your enemies and God, your Lord delivers him into your hands and you capture his captives.”

The Sfas Emes explains this first pasuk of the parsha homiletically as referring to our ongoing battle with the evil inclination to search out and discover the hidden Godliness in the world. This struggle has a time structure. The cycle of weekdays followed by Shabbos entails hard work during the week after which God is revealed on Shabbos. By keeping Shabbos we are testifying that God created the world and that the act of creation is constant. During the week we need to struggle to reveal the Godliness that keeps the world in existence each moment. Even though on Shabbos there is no struggle, God allows Himself to be revealed in direct proportion to the work we did during the week. This is the meaning of Chazal’s maxim that whoever struggles (to prepare) on Erev Shabbos will eat on Shabbos. Shabbos can be defined as a state of God’s revelation. This state can be reached to some extent during the week as well. The word “erev/eve” alludes to this because erev also means to mix together. Therefore Erev Shabbos/Shabbos Eve alludes to the idea that we can mix aspects of Shabbos into the weekdays.

Although we work hard during the week to uproot our evil inclination and to discover God, we cannot succeed without God’s help. God does not uproot our evil inclination for us. Rather he gives us the strength to do it. This is the meaning of the second part of the pasuk, “...וּנְתָנוֹ ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ בְּיָדֶךָ .../… God, your Lord delivers him into your hands …” “Into your hands” implies that God puts the strength needed to deal with the enemy – the evil inclination – in our hands but it is still we who must use this God-given strength to uproot the evil and reveal God.

We see this idea in a Gemara in Maseches Rosh HaShanah. The Gemara cites a pasuk in Tehillim, “וּלְךָ-ה' חָסֶד כִּי-אַתָּה תְשַׁלֵּם לְאִישׁ כְּמַעֲשֵׂהוּ/And you God have kindness for you repay a man according to his action.” The Gemara notes the apparent contradiction in the pasuk. Repaying a man according to his action does not seem to be an aspect of kindness. Does a person not deserve to be repaid according to his action? However, the question is based on the premise that man can act independently of God. If man’s actions are independent of God then repaying a person according to his deeds is justice, not kindness. When we realize, though, that it is God who gives us the strength to act, the question becomes moot. God repays man according to his action even though the very ability to act comes from God. This truly is kindness.

This realization that even though it is we who perform mitzvos, it is God who gives us the strength and directs us to do so, is key in serving God. We are God’s messengers in this world. He sent us here to perform mitzvos thereby revealing Him in the world. A messenger by definition is one who acknowledges that someone sent him. If the messenger does not acknowledge the sender, he is no longer a messenger. He is acting independently. This is the meaning of the words at end of the pasuk “... וְשָׁבִיתָ שִׁבְיו/… and you capture his captives.” These words have the same root as the Hebrew for return - הַשָׁבָה. The pasuk can thus be translated as, “… and you return your actions to Him (by acknowledging that we are doing on His behalf.)” The pasuk is teaching us that it is not enough to overcome the evil inclination and do good. We need to acknowledge that we are messengers and not acting independently. A key part of serving God is affirming our role as God’s messengers and His role in sending us and giving us the ability to act on His behalf.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Elul 5631 First Ma'amar

The month of Elul and the third meal of Shabbos are especially propitious times. During these periods we can attain God’s compassion. The mechanism by which God showers us with compassion is the thirteen attributes of mercy. Why are these needed? God is infinite in every way. We would expect God’s compassion to permeate our world at all times. How, then, can one period be better than another period? Why is it necessary for God’s compassion to be channeled, as it were, through the thirteen attributes of compassion? Why is this tool needed? Why can we not receive God’s compassion directly?

The Sfas Emes explains that we only experience by way of contrast. We will not notice something that is ubiquitous. God is infinite and does not change. We can only notice the bounty that He showers upon us by contrast to periods of time when we do not receive that bounty or when we receive less of it. For us to notice God’s goodness, it must be channeled. By restricting His bounty, we notice it by contrast. The mechanism that God uses to channel His bounty is the thirteen attributes of compassion. Once we understand the idea of God’s goodness being restricted and channeled, if follows that there can be periods during which His goodness is more accessible or less so. What is God’s goodness, after all, if not a connection to Him. He Himself is the ultimate good. During the Elul and the third Shabbos meal, God Himself is more easily accessible.

Even though God’s goodness is more accessible during the month of Elul, actually receiving it is dependent on us. The Sfas Emes explains that to receive the good we must emulate God and restrict our own desires and actions. Excess is the opposite of this. Excessive eating, excessive speech, excessive exercise, excessive idleness are all the opposites of the moderation required to emulate God’s moderation. This is the meaning of the piyut/liturgical poem from the Hoshanas that we say on Succos, “Om ani choma/The nation says, ‘I am a wall.’” The Midrash explains that Avraham Avinu (and by extension his progeny) tells God, “I am a wall.” He sets his good deeds like a wall. The Sfas Emes understands that a wall has a two fold function. First, it protects that which is within it. Additionally it restricts that which is within it. A wall restricts and prevents that which is within from flowing out. Comparing himself to a wall, Avraham Avinu is saying that he will not allow excess in his deeds.

By moderating our actions and practicing balance we can bring the light of the Torah and God’s compassion in the measured doses that we can receive. We thus connect to God even though He is infinite.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Shoftim 5631 First Ma'amar

The pasuk in Mishlei states, “נוֹדָע בַּשְּׁעָרִים בַּעְלָה .../Her husband became known at the gates (of the city) …” The Zohar explains this pasuk as a metaphor for the relationship between the nation of Israel and God. The wife represents the nation of Israel and the husband represents God. The city’s gates represent the gates of the heart. The Hebrew word for gate has the same root as the word for conjecture. The pasuk can be translated metaphorically as, “God becomes known to the nation of Israel according to the level on which we contemplate Him and His greatness.” Each of us have different and unique abilities and talents. Accordingly, each of us contemplate God differently. The way we contemplate God determines the way and level at which He makes Himself known to us.

The Chiddushei HaRim applies the Zohar’s metaphor to the first pasuk of the parsha, “שֹׁפְטִים וְשֹׁטְרִים תִּתֵּן-לְךָ בְּכָל-שְׁעָרֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ .../Place judges and enforcers in all your cities (lit. gates) that God your Lord gives you …” The Chiddushei HaRim understands this pasuk homiletically as referring to the gates of the heart.

According to the metaphor the entire pasuk relates to each of us individually. The first word of the parsha, shoftim/judges, implies self judgment. She’arecha/Your cities (lit. gates), refers, as we’ve said, to the gates of the heart. The pasuk is teaching us that after all is said and done, after each of us contemplates God from his unique perspective, the knowledge of and connection to God that follows is His gift to us. This is the meaning of the next part of the pasuk, “... אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ .../… that God, your Lord gives you …”. The connection that God allows us is not based on our merit but rather is His gift to us. When we introspect and realize what we are in relation to God, we understand that God owes us nothing and that any connection and revelation that we achieve is a gift.

The Sfas Emes explains the first pasuk of the parsha a little differently. Our desires and feelings originate in the heart. The pasuk teaches us that we must pay close attention to our desires and feelings when they first pass through the gates of the heart. It is important not to allow our desires and feelings to develop naturally but rather we must notice them, using our minds to make sure that they are toward God alone. If we use our God given understanding and knowledge in this way, we merit that the gates of our hearts will open up to receive God’s enlightenment.

We find this idea in the beginning of the piyut/liturgical poem written by the Ari z”l and sung Friday night. The piyut begins, “אֲזַּמֵר בִּשְׁבָחִין לְמֵעַל גוֹ פִּתְחִין/I will sing with praises to enter inside the gates …” The commentaries explain that Azameir/I will sing also means, “I will cut” as in the pasuk in parshas Behar, “... וְכַרְמְךָ לֹא תִזְמֹר/… and you will not prune your vine.” The Ari z”l is saying that with praises to God we will cut away and remove the outer layers that hide the revelation of God. Once we do that, we will be able to enter inside the gates. The gates of our hearts open to receive revelation from God.

This is also the reason for saying Pesukei DeZimra/Verses of Song before praying each morning. The word zimra/song, as we’ve said, also means “cutting away.” The Sfas Emes explains that when we sing praises to God before prayer we are sending away the Satan – the block that prevents us from connecting with and experiencing closeness to God. This enables us to more easily connect with God when we pray.

Both the Chiddushei HaRim and the Sfas Emes are teaching us the importance of contemplating God’s greatness and its results. The Chiddushei HaRim teaches us that God opens our hearts as a gift so that we can receive His enlightenment. The Sfas Emes teaches us that we need to notice the desires and feelings emanating from our hearts and steer them toward God. Using our God given intellect in this way and praising Him results in a cutting away of the outer layers that separate us from God.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Re'ei 5631 First and Second Ma'amarim

1. “רְאֵה אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיוֹם בְּרָכָה וּקְלָלָה/Look, I place before you today blessing and curse.” The Chiddushei HaRim notes that this pasuk establishes that we are each able to distinguish between good and bad, between blessing and curse, and to choose the blessing. This is the meaning of the first of the morning blessings, “... הַנוֹתֵן לַשֶׂכְוִי בִינָה לְהַבְחִין .../… Who gives the heart understanding to distinguish …” We find this concept in the Midrash on, “... וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים .../… and you shall choose life …” God not only places the choices before us. He also teaches us to choose life. Often, we feel that we are the victims of circumstance. Being a victim implies powerlessness. The Chiddushei HaRim is teaching us that God always gives us a choice and empowers us to choose.

2. The first Midrash on the parsha says that when reading the curses and rebukes in parshas Ki Savo, it is impermissible to stop in the middle. The Midrash explains that God does not want the curses. Rather He wants us to learn from them. When we contemplate the curses and rebukes and then return to God we transform the curses and rebukes into blessing. The Zohar says that a person who accepts his tribulations with love and returns to God transforms those torments into torments of love. He understands that, through the torments, God has shown him a way to return.

Based on this Zohar the Sfas Emes understands the first pasuk in this week’s parsha, not as a choice between two exclusive options. Rather the Sfas Emes understands that God places before us both blessing and curse together. We have the ability to transform the curse into blessing as well. This is why the Midrash teaches us not to stop in the middle of reading the rebukes in the Torah. The rebukes and curses are not separate from the blessing. Everything is potentially blessing.

3. “אֶת-הַבְּרָכָה אֲשֶׁר תִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶל-מִצְוֹת ה' אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם .../The blessing, that you will listen to the mitzvos of God your Lord …” The simple meaning of the words implies that the blessing is mitzvah observance. Conventionally, though, blessing is the result of mitzvah observance. In fact, this is how Rashi understands the pasuk, “The blessing is on the condition that you listen …” The Sfas Emes, however, explains the pasuk according to the simple meaning. He bases his understanding of the pasuk on a Midrash in our parsha.

In Mishlei a lamp is used as a metaphor for both the Torah and mitzvos on the one hand and the soul on the other hand. “כִּי נֵר מִצְוָה וְתוֹרָה אוֹר .../For a mitzvah is a lamp and Torah is light …” Here Shlomo HaMelech compares mitzvos to a lamp and the Torah to the lamp’s light. In another pasuk in Mishlei we find, “נֵר ה' נִשְׁמַת אָדָם .../Man’s soul is the lamp of God …” According to the Midrash God says, “My lamp is in your hands and your lamp is in My hands.” If we protect and keep His lamp, he will protect and keep our lamp.

The Sfas Emes develops this metaphor further. He explains that the Torah is the mechanism through which God gives life to every thing in existence including our actions. The spiritual life-giving force flows out of the Torah into every thing and action in the Creation. It is hidden, though. We have an obligation to reveal this inner spirituality which pervades everything. We do this by performing the mitzvos. The Sfas Emes teaches that every action is a potential mitzvah depending on our intent when we act. The metaphor of a lamp is exact. When the Midrash says that God’s lamp is in our hands, it means that we are able to and required to light the lamp. This happens when we observe the mitzvos. Every act, if done with the intent to serve God, unleashes and reveals the latent spiritual light inherent in the act. The revelation of spiritual light is itself the blessing. It heightens our awareness of God, the ultimate Blessing. This is the exact meaning of the pasuk, “אֶת-הַבְּרָכָה אֲשֶׁר תִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶל-מִצְוֹת/The blessing: that you will listen to the mitzvos …”

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Eikev 5631 First Ma'amar

וְהָיָה עֵקֶב תִּשְׁמְעוּן אֵת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים הָאֵלֶּה .../And it will be, because you will heed these laws …” The word, eikev/because appears awkward. The pasuk could have said simply, “If you will heed these laws …” as it says in other places. Rashi, addressing this question, quotes the Midrash that the word eikev/because, which also means heel, refers to “light” mitzvos that people tread on with their heel, so to speak. If we keep even those mitzvos that people tend to neglect, then surely God will keep His promise to our forefathers.

The Sfas Emes expounds on these “light” mitzvos. Which mitzvos are Chazal referring to? According to the Sfas Emes these mitzvos are all our daily activities which are not necessarily mitzvos at all unless we realize that we can direct all of our daily activities toward the service of God thus transforming everything we do into a mitzvah. Chazal call them “light” or easy mitzvos not because they are easy to do, but rather because it is easy to ignore them as mitzvos. The Godliness in our daily activities, because they are commonplace, is hidden.

The Sfas Emes learns this from the first Midrash Tanchuma on the parsha. Relating to the word eikev/because, at the beginning of the parsha, the Tanchuma brings a pasuk in Tehillim, ““... בְּשָמְרָם עֵקֶב רָב/… in keeping them there is great reward.” Although literally, eikev in this pasuk means “reward”, the Tanchuma understands it as an allusion to the light mitzvos. David HaMelech is telling us that there is great reward for keeping the light mitzvos. As noted earlier, eikev also means “heel.” The heel is that part of the body which is farthest from the head. It thus is a metaphor for the most mundane activities, those which are seemingly farthest away from anything to do with holiness. The Tanchuma is teaching us, according to the Sfas Emes, that all our mundane daily activities have the potential for holiness. The holiness is hidden, though, as the Tanchuma continues with another pasuk from Tehillim, ““מָה רַב-טוּבְךָ אֲשֶׁר-צָפַנְתָּ .../How abundant is your goodness that you have hidden.” This pasuk refers to all the commonplace activities we do every day that have latent holiness.
David HaMelech is teaching us that God’s will is for us to draw out the holiness inherent is our daily activities by contemplating the service of God before every action we take. In this way, the whole of Creation becomes a unified tool for revealing God. We build, so to speak, the Creation into what it is supposed to be. In fact, as we mentioned in parshas Tetzaveh the word mitzvah has the same root as the Aramaic word for joining - “צִוְתָּא. Our mitzvos cause the entire Creation to be joined together in a unified whole.

For this reason the first Midrash on the parsha starts with the prohibition against constructing a candelabrum made from separate parts on Shabbos. Chazal consider it building, one of the thirty-nine categories of prohibited work. What has this halacha to do with the parsha?

The Sfas Emes explains in the context of unifying the disparate parts of the Creation towards the common goal of serving God. The candelabrum is a metaphor for the Creation. The parts of the candelabrum are meaningless separate; however, when they are put together they form a tool. Each part of the candelabrum, when it performs its individual task assures that the candelabrum as a whole, works. Each part of the Creation as well has a specific task. Man has the ability (and the responsibility) to unite the entire world in the service of God. As we’ve said man can complete the Creation turning it into a tool for revealing God. The mechanism for doing this is performance of the mitzvos. The Torah stresses the “light” mitzvos (i.e. all our commonplace activities) because they are easy to overlook.

How does this work? Every created thing and action has a Godly spiritual force in it that gives it its existence. When we direct our activities in the service of God we draw out the spiritual light latent in those actions. This is certainly the case regarding mitzvos in which the Godly force is more apparent. Obviously, donning tefillin, for example, is a holy act. The Sfas Emes explains, though, that this is the case regarding all our mundane activities. When we dedicate our activities to the service of God we transform them into mitzvos as well. We thus reveal the spiritual light inherent even in our most banal activities.

A person who realizes that there is a Godly force in everything he does and that he is able to reveal that force through correct intentions thereby transforming every action into a mitzvah, is well on his way towards yiras shamayim/awe of heaven. He sees God in everything. In this week’s parsha we find, ““... מָה ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ שֹׁאֵל מֵעִמָּךְ כִּי אִם-לְיִרְאָה אֶת-ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ ... וּלְאַהֲבָה אֹתוֹ .../… What does God your Lord ask of you if not to fear Him … and to love Him …” The pasuk makes it sound easy. All we need to do is have fear of heaven. Chazal ask the question. Is fear of heaven a small thing?! Chazal answer that for Moshe Rabeinu it was a small thing! But Moshe Rabbeinu is talking to the nation. According to Chazal, Moshe Rabbeinu is telling the nation that fear of God is not difficult and presents himself as an example! What does this mean?

The meaning of this Chazal lies in the reason fear of heaven was easy for Moshe Rabbeinu. Chazal themselves give a clue. Chazal compare it to asking a person to borrow a big tool. If the person has the tool he does not consider it big but if he does not have it he considers it big. The Sfas Emes explains that Moshe Rabeinu already had the attribute of fear of heaven so for him it was a small thing. The Sfas Emes relates this to each of us.

Fear of heaven, the Sfas Emes teaches can be a small thing for each of us just as it is for Moshe Rabbeinu, if a person desires it. Our desire to fear God brings us to a low level of awe. Then, step by step we attain higher and higher levels of awe of God. Each step in itself is a small thing. As Chazal said regarding Moshe Rabeinu, since he already had it, for him it was a small thing. The exact same logic applies to each of us.

This concept explains another teaching that Chazal learn from this pasuk. Chazal learn from this pasuk that everything is in the hands of heaven except for fear of heaven. Why do Chazal say only fear of heaven? After all, the pasuk goes on to list other things that God requests of us as well. We are required to love Him, to walk in His ways and to serve Him with all our hearts and souls.

The Sfas Emes explains that certainly fear of heaven is the main thing since it is listed first. However, in terms of service to God, it is listed first, as well, because it is the basis, the prerequisite, the preparation, for all the other requirements that follow in the pasuk. Everything else in the pasuk builds on it. In order to truly love God, we must first learn to be in awe of Him. By mentioning only fear of heaven Chazal are not excluding the other attributes listed in the pasuk. They are stressing fear of heaven because in the context of our lifelong dedication toward service of God it is the first level that we must attain.

The word ma/what in this pasuk alludes to awe of God as well. Chazal learn through a play on the word ma/what which is similar to me’ah/one hundred that we are required to say one hundred blessings each day. What compelled Chazal to learn me’ah/one hundred blessings from ma/what of this pasuk specifically? The Sfas Emes explains that the main aspect of awe of God is understanding that our very lives are in His hands exactly like an ax in the hand of a woodchopper. Ma/What connotes humility as in Moshe Rabeinu’s response to the nation’s complaints, ““וְנַחְנוּ מָה (כִּי תַלִּינוּ עָלֵינוּ)/what are we (that you complain to us?)” Seeing God’s power behind everything leads us to bless Him for everything we take from this world. This compelled Chazal to learn the requirement to say blessings from the word, ma/what in this pasuk.

We can serve God in everything we do. We merely need to preface all of our activities with this thought. May we merit seeing God in everything, attaining awe of heaven which is the first step in serving God and revealing the latent holiness in all our activities and everything we touch.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Va'Eschanan 5631 First Ma'amar

The first Midrash on this week’s parsha says that if a person pays attention to his prayer he can rest assured that it is heard as it says in Tehillim, “... תָּכִין לִבָּם תַּקְשִׁיב אָזְנֶךָ/… You prepare their heart; let Your ear be attentive.” If a person’s heart is prepared when he prays God listens to the prayer.

This Midrash is difficult to understand. It implies that if a person does not pay attention to the words of his prayer, he has prayed albeit not properly. But the very definition of prayer is a request, a petition of God. If a person mouths the words while his thoughts are elsewhere, is this prayer?

To be sure, at the very least one must be attentive to his words. The Midrash, however, is referring to a higher level of prayer. The clue to understanding this Midrash is in the pasuk the Midrash brings. The pasuk says that God prepares their hearts and He listens to their prayers. Shouldn’t the pasuk say that the ones who pray prepare their own hearts? Why does it say that God prepares their hearts? The Sfas Emes explains that at the highest level, true preparation is also from God. The Midrash is teaching us that a person who prays in a totally unselfconscious way, pouring out his heart before God, has reached a level of prayer at which God Himself prepares and directs that person’s heart towards Him. This type of prayer is certainly heard.

But why would we want God to direct our hearts? Can we not direct our own hearts? The answer to this question is related to the reason a person approaches God with a request. At its highest level, prayer is not about asking for our own benefit. At its highest level, prayer is about asking for the sake of heaven. The pasuk in Mishlei says, “לְאָדָם מַעַרְכֵי-לֵב וּמֵה' מַעֲנֵה לָשׁוֹן/The preparation of thoughts in the heart are man’s but the response of the tongue is from God.” A person who reaches the highest level of prayer, whose prayers are for the sake of heaven is so completely unselfconscious and involved in the connection to God that the prayer affords that he even forgets the need that brought him to prayer in the first place. At this level God puts the appropriate words into his mouth to ask for what he really needs. Shlomo HaMelech is teaching us that if we prepare properly for prayer then God supplies us with the proper words. At this level of prayer for the sake of heaven we want God to direct our hearts, to supply us with the proper words and the best way to approach Him.

What can we do to reach this level of prayer? The Sfas Emes learns the ways of preparing for prayer from the first Midrash on the parsha. The first Midrash on the parsha mentions ten expressions which represent prayer. Significantly, the primary Hebrew word for prayer – tefilla, is not among them. Why not? The Sfas Emes explains that the Midrash is teaching us ten different ways of preparing for prayer. In order to reach a level of prayer at which God directs us we need to use the tools mentioned in the Midrash.

Chazal teach us that even the righteous who are able to approach God in prayer on the merit of their good deeds prefer to come before God as unworthy and rely completely on His mercy and compassion. The Kotzker Rav asks from a pasuk in Iyov, “מִי הִקְדִּימַנִי וַאֲשַׁלֵּם .../I will pay to the one who comes before me …” God is telling Iyov that He will answer the prayers of the one who comes before Him and asks. The implication is that no one really deserves to be answered. The Sfas Emes strengthens the question. He says that if a person were truly deserving, he would not have to ask. Yet, Chazal tell us that the righteous are deserving in the merit of their good deeds. How does this reconcile with the pasuk in Iyov?

The Sfas Emes explains, according to what we’ve said, that while the pasuk in Iyov is referring to petitioning God with requests, Chazal are referring to approaching God in prayer. No one, not even the righteous, deserves having his prayers answered affirmatively. Everything we receive from God is a chessed. However, the righteous are certainly able to approach God and come close to Him in the merit of their good deeds. Still, they prefer to come before God as unworthy. They would rather approach God with entreaties. The last of the expressions of prayer mentioned in the Midrash, in fact, is tachanunim/entreaties which comes from the root chanun/compassionate. It implies that God in His mercy allows us to approach Him with our requests even when we are unworthy of His compassion.

This is why the first Midrash above brings the pasuk, “... תָּכִין לִבָּם .../… You prepare their heart …” as an expression of the highest level of prayer. As we noted earlier, significantly, the pasuk says that God prepares their hearts rather than they preparing their own hearts. At the highest level, we want to approach God from a position of unworthiness and rely upon Him to prepare our hearts, to guide us in prayer.

According to this approach to prayer we can understand the inner meaning of, “וָאֶתְחַנַּן אֶל-ה' ... לֵאמֹר/I entreated God … saying.” VaEschanan/I entreated is in the reflexive form. The last word in the pasuk, leimor/saying is apparently extra. Moshe Rabeinu is saying, “I prepared myself reaching the level of one who entreats before God so that I could be guided by Him in prayer.” Moshe Rabeinu is teaching us that prayer is a reflexive activity. It is working on ourselves, preparing ourselves to approach our Creator. The main thing is approaching and coming close to God.