Thursday, October 26, 2006

No'ach 5631 First Ma'amar

... נֹחַ אִישׁ צַדִּיק/… No’ach was a righteous man …” (Breishis 6:9) The word צַדִּיק/righteous has the same root as צֶדֶק/justice and צוֹדֵק/correct. Just as in a court room, a house of justice, there is a struggle between two sides until one side emerges "correct," so too, a righteous person is one who has emerged victorious from various struggles with his evil inclination. A חָסִיד/pious individual, on the other hand, is on a higher level. He no longer has a struggle with his evil inclination. David HaMelech alludes to this level when he says in Tehillim (109:22) , “... וְלִבִּי חָלַל בְּקִרְבִּי/… and my heart has died within me …” According to Chazal, David HaMelech is saying that his evil inclination had died within him. David HaMelech had reach a stage at which there was no longer a struggle with his evil inclination.

One who struggles with his evil inclination is one who is not fully aware of God’s presence. The person who is fully aware of God’s presence will not be tempted by his evil inclination. The evil inclination goes hand in hand with the physical world. In the physical world it is difficult indeed to be completely conscious of God. In a sense, the חָסִיד/pious, who, despite his physical surroundings is totally aware of God, can be said to be above nature. The צַדִּיק/righteous person, on the other hand, is one who struggles within the physical world and finally emerges from his trials victorious.

These two levels, חָסִיד/pious and צַדִּיק/righteous person, are exemplified by Avraham Avinu and Ya’akov Avinu. Avraham Avinu was on the level of the חָסִיד/pious. He no longer struggled with his evil inclination. He was completely aware of God’s presence. The physical world presented no barrier for him. Ya’akov Avinu, on the other hand, was on the level of the צַדִּיק/righteous person. He struggled within the physical to discover God.

This struggle and subsequent victory can be understood in terms of the days of the week and Shabbos. We struggle during the week to become more aware of God in spite of the distractions that surround us. The Sfas Emes uses a metaphor of a closed gate that during the week prevents us from being more aware of God’s presence. Our struggle ends on Shabbos when we rest from the week’s distractions and can spend time immersed in the spirituality of Shabbos. On Shabbos, the gate opens. How much the gate opens for us, how much we experience the spirituality on Shabbos, is in direct proportion to how much we worked during the week to become more aware of God’s presence.

In line with this metaphor Chazal tell us that Ya’akov Avinu kept Shabbos. He struggled to become more aware of God in spite of his physical surroundings. He reached a level, through hard work, on which he became as aware of God as possible within the physical world. He reached a level on which the physical world no longer presented a barrier to his awareness. This is the deeper meaning of Chazal when they say that Ya’akov Avinu received an inheritance with no boundaries. The plain meaning refers to his inheritance of the land of Israel. The deeper meaning, though, refers to his victorious struggle over the physical which prevented a total awareness of God’s presence.

Significantly, Chazal do not mention that Avraham Avinu kept Shabbos. Shabbos, representing the culmination of a struggle, did not apply to Avraham Avinu. This is because the physical world never presented a barrier to Avraham Avinu’s awareness of God’s presence. We find this idea in a Midrash which says that the word in parshas Breishis, “בְּהִבָּרְאָם/in their creation” (Breishis 2:4) refers to Avraham Avinu because it comprises the same letters as אַבְרָהָם/Avraham. Chazal are teaching us that Avraham Avinu’s awareness of God was on a level whereby the physical world did not conceal Him. In this sense Avraham Avinu’s awareness of God precedes the Creation.

Like Ya’akov, No’ach also struggled. As noted earlier, the pasuk calls No’ach a צַדִּיק/righteous person. Chazal, in fact, make this distinction between No’ach and Avraham Avinu. Referring to No’ach the pasuk says, “... אֶת הָאֱ-לֹהִים הִתְהַלֵך נֹח/… No’ach walked with the Lord.” (Breishis 6:9) Avraham Avinu, however, says, “... ה' אֲשֶׁר הִתְהַלַכְתִּי לְפָנָיו .../… God before Whom I walked …” (Breishis 24:40) The different wording indicates that No’ach needed God’s help to walk with Him. He struggled and required help. Avraham Avinu, on the other hand, was able to walk alone before God without help.

The idea that No’ach struggled within nature to reveal God explains an enigmatic Zohar. The Zohar says that No’ach is an aspect of Shabbos. (Tikunei Zohar 70:138b) Of course, No’ach’s very name means rest which happens on Shabbos (וַיָּנַח בַּיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי/He rested on the seventh day. (Shemos 20:10)) but what is the significance of this? According to what we’ve said, though, it is clear. No’ach was righteous. As we’ve made clear, this means that he struggled within nature and emerged victorious. No’ach connected to God after a struggle. This, as we’ve seen, parallels exactly our struggle to connect to God during the days of the week culminating in revelation/rest on Shabbos.

God gave us the gift of Shabbos, a day on which the gate is opened. We can take full advantage of this gift by recognizing that our activities during the week affect how much the gate opens for us. As No’ach the tzadik and Ya’akov Avinu before us, our struggle to become aware of God’s presence during the week results in our fully experiencing the gift of God’s revelation on Shabbos. May we merit it!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Breishis 5631 First Ma'amar

וַיְכַל אֱ-לֹהִים בַּיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה ... /On the seventh day God completed his work that he did …” (Breishis 2:2) This pasuk implies that God’s work was completed on the seventh day itself, not before. What work did God do on the seventh day? Rashi answers that the world was still lacking מְנוּחָה/rest. God created rest on the seventh day.

We usually think of rest as a cessation from activity. Rashi, however, relates to rest as something positive. What is this positive entity called מְנוּחָה/rest? God created the world to bestow His light and good. The vehicle that God uses is nature. Since God’s good comes through nature, His hand is not apparent. Looking around us, it seems as if the universe operates autonomously. The Chidushei HaRim points out that God’s concealment in the Creation is alluded to by the Hebrew word for world – עוֹלָם – which has the same root as the word for concealment – הָעָלַם.
There are places and times when God’s presence is more strongly felt just as there are places and times when His presence is not felt at all. When we view the Creation as a whole, though, when we see the harmony that exists in the universe, each part of the Creation performing its unique task, doing the will of God, so that the entire system that we call the universe works, we become aware of God’s presence in the Creation. The universe, then, while concealing God, is also a tool for revealing Him.

The following p’sukim and Chazal allude to the idea that the completed universe is a tool for revealing God's glory. “כָּל פָּעַל ה' לְמַּעֲנֵהוּ/Everything that God made, He made for His own sake.” (Mishlei 16:4). Chazal tell us, too, that He created everything for His honor. Also, we find in this week’s parsha, “וַיַּרְא ה' אֶת-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וְהִנֵּה-טוֹב מְאֹד/ God saw all that he had done and behold it was very good.” (Breishis 1:31) Since God Himself is the ultimate “Good”, the deeper meaning of this pasuk is our concept; the completed Creation, as a whole, reveals God. The common denominator in these p’sukim and the Mishnah is the word כָּל/everything implying completion. The completed Creation enhances God's glory.

This idea is hinted at also in the pasuk signifying the completion of the Creation which begins, “וַיְכֻלוּ/ They were completed.” (Breishis 2:1) This word has the same root as the Hebrew word for vessel and tool - כְּלִי. The Midrash says that once the Creation was completed, it became a tool. The completed Creation is a tool for revealing God’s glory. The word “וַיְכֻלוּ/ They were completed” also has the same root as the Hebrew for yearning as in the pasuk in Tehillim (84:3), “... כָּלְתָה נַפְשִׁי ... /… my soul yearns …” indicating that each part of the Creation yearns to do the will of God.

Before the Creation was completed, the harmony of the universe was not apparent. It was not apparent that every creation was fulfilling the will of the Creator. The universe was not yet a single system working together. However, once the Creation was completed and there was a cessation from creative activity, it became apparent that the Creation was one complete system wherein every part, by doing it’s own unique function, accomplishes God’s will. This state that the universe achieved on the first Shabbos is what Rashi refers to as מְנוּחָה/rest. A system can be said to be at rest when all its parts are working smoothly and efficiently. There is no “noise” in the system.

This idea sheds light on an enigmatic Zohar which states that Shabbos is the name of God, a name that is complete in every aspect. The Sfas Emes explains that God’s name represents His influence in the Creation. God, of course, does not change. He was One before the Creation and He is One after the Creation. The Creation is the mechanism by which God reveals Himself, His Oneness, as it were. When the entire Creation works harmoniously to do God’s will, God is essentially revealing Himself through the Creation. The Creation reflects God, in a manner of speaking. When the prophet says that God’s Name is One , he means that God’s oneness is revealed in the harmony we see in the Creation. On the first Shabbos the universe became a completed tool for revealing God’s greatness. On the first Shabbos, His Name became One. This is why the Zohar associates Shabbos with the name of God. The first Shabbos was the first time it became possible to recognize God’s oneness through the harmony of the completed Creation.

The Hebrew for complete – שָׁלֵם – has the same root as the word for peace –שָׁלוֹם. On the first Shabbos with completeness came peace. Chazal teach us that only a vessel of peace can hold blessing. When the Creation became complete, it became a vessel that was able to receive God’s blessing.

All the different creations that make up the universe were created to do the will of God. When we subordinate our own will to the will of God we, too, work with the rest of the Creation to reveal God’s glory. Then we find מְנוּחָה/rest and שָׁלוֹם/peace in the Creation and merit God’s blessing.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Succos 5632 Fourth Ma'amar (VeZos HaBracha)

... ה' מִסִּינַי בָּא וְזָרַח מִשֵּׂעִיר לָמוֹ הוֹפִיעַ מֵהַר פָּארָן ... /… God came from Sinai, He shone to us from Sei’ir, He appeared from Mount Paran …” What is the meaning of this pasuk? God is everywhere. What does it mean to say that God came from a specific place? Chazal answer that each of these places represent one of the nations of the world. Before giving us the Torah God offered it to the nations. When the pasuk says that God came to us from a specific place, the significance is that He offered the Torah to the people of that place before coming to offer it to us.

The Zohar elaborates further that the word “from” in the pasuk does not mean from the place but rather from what was said by the people who lived in those places. So the pasuk would translate, “… He shone to us from what the children of Sei’ir said – that they are unwilling to accept the Torah …” As a direct result of their unwillingness to accept the Torah, God enlightened us and added light and love.

Thinking about Chazal’s explanation two questions come to mind. Firstly, why did God ask the nations of the world to accept the Torah? Secondly, did God make giving us the Torah dependent on whether the nations of the world accept it or not?
Chazal tell us that when Moshe Rabbeinu ascended Mount Sinai to accept the Torah, the angels complained to God that man is too puny for the Torah. Moshe Rabbeinu answered that the Torah was made for man. He gave examples from the mitzvos which are obviously only possible in the physical world. Why, then, did the angels want the Torah? The Sfas Emes explains that the Torah can be understood on many levels. The angels, of course, had no use for the mitzvos that are possible only in the physical world. However, the angels understood the Torah on the higher level of sod/secret mystery. Their complaint makes sense on this spiritual, non-physical level.

The Sfas Emes is teaching us that the Torah is understood and accepted by each according to his level. The angels understood the Torah on the very high level of sod. The nations of the world are a natural part of the physical world. It follows that when God offered the Torah to the nations of the world, he offered them the Torah on its most physical level. The nation of Israel, on the other hand, is not associated with this level. We are not part of the natural order of the world. We received the Torah in a way that was beyond nature. On this level we received it unconditionally. However, once the nations of the world rejected the Torah we received their path of Torah as well. This is the meaning of the Zohar. God enlightened us with an additional path in the Torah because this path was rejected by the nations of the world.

This idea sheds light on a Midrash that explains why the Torah starts from Breishis instead of from the first mitzvah. The Midrash brings a pasuk in Tehillim, “כֹּחַ מַעֲשָׂיו הִגִּיד לְעַמּוֹ לָתֵת לָהֶם נַחֲלַת גּוֹיִם/He declared the strength of his works to his people to give them the heritage of nations.” The Sfas Emes explains that the strength mentioned in this pasuk is referring to the strength of the Torah that is the underlying force giving life and existence to God’s works, the Creation. The Torah begins with a description of the physical world because God is declaring to the nation of Israel that the strength of the Torah underlies the Creation. He did this in order to give us the aspect of the Torah that was meant for the nations – the Torah in nature.

This idea also explains why Moshe Rabbeinu’s blessings in parshas VeZos HaBracha are material. He blesses the tribes with physical strength, bountiful crops, etc. The nation of Israel received the spiritual levels of the Torah unconditionally. For this we needed no encouragement and blessing. However, Israel received the physical aspect of the Torah by default once the nations of the world forfeited it. Since this aspect was not naturally meant for Israel, Moshe Rabbeinu made a point of blessing us with it. Moshe Rabbeinu blessed us with life from the Torah through nature.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Succos 5632 First Ma'amar

On Rosh HaShanah God gives life for the coming year. Succos and Shemini Atzeres are the mechanism through which that life spreads out to the Creation. This is the reason for the special water libation (nisuch hamayim) that is poured in the Beis HaMikdash only on Succos. Water suggests life.

The seven days of Succos represent the physical life of this world. The nations of the world are also an intrinsic part of the natural order. Because of this the nations of the world have a part in Succos as well. The seventy cows that are sacrificed during Succos represent the seventy nations.

The physical world owes its continued existence to the spiritual that is hidden within the physical. This spirituality is embodied by the Torah. The very nature of the physical world is fraught with pitfalls and obstacles that prevent us from discovering the spiritual and leading spiritual lives. In order to avoid the pitfalls and to overcome the obstacles we need protection. The Succah symbolizes the protection that God affords us in the physical world. It is God’s testimony that our primary existence is not the physical but rather the spiritual – the Torah and the spiritual life of the next world. That we need protection at all is an indication that this physical existence is not the main thing. The Zohar calls the Succah “tzila demehemnusa/shade of faith.” It is a shade which protects us from the physical world allowing us to cultivate and nurture our spirit. The Sfas Emes in other ma’amarim quotes Chazal who tell us that the Succah is hekdesh/dedicated to God just like the sacrifices that are brought during the holiday. God’s presence resides on the Succah the same way as it resided in the Mishkan.

Shemini Atzeres, on the other hand, represents the spiritual life of the next world. For this reason the nations of the world, who are part of the physical natural order, have no part in Shemini Atzeres. In a sense, Shemini Atzeres is similar to the Succah itself. Shemini Atzeres represents the Torah and the spiritual life of the next world and the Succah is a spiritual place that protects us from the physical. This is why the mitzvah of Succah does not extend to Shemini Azteres. There is no need for protection on Shemini Atzeres since the day itself is like the Succah. If Succos is the culmination of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeres is the culmination of Succos. It is a day dedicated to the special relationship between the nation of Israel and God.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Yom Kippur 5640

It is a mitzvah to eat and drink on the day before Yom Kippur in preparation for the fast. Chazal teach us that whoever eats and drinks on the ninth of Tishrei is considered to have fasted on both the ninth and tenth of Tishrei. It is certainly a good idea to eat before a fast. But why is this not simply good advice? Why is it actually a mitzvah, a biblical requirement? A mitzvah implies that the activity has value in and of itself. What value does the activity of eating on Erev Yom Kippur have aside from preparing for the fast?

Chassidic masters write that eating on Erev Yom Kippur rectifies all the eating of the entire year. The masters are not referring to eating non-kosher food. Rather they are referring to eating kosher food. Why does our eating need rectification? Chazal tell us that this world is likened to a hallway leading to a hall. Chazal teach us that we need to prepare ourselves in the hallway of this world in order to merit entering the hall of the next world. We need to use this world to prepare for entering the next world. Eating and drinking are essentially neutral activities. Our intent imbues the activity with meaning. If we partake of the pleasures of this world represented by eating and drinking, for the sole purpose of preparing ourselves for the next world, we’ve performed a mitzvah. If we partake of this world’s pleasures merely to satisfy our desires and lusts, we are using this world in an inappropriate way and we’ve sinned.

The Sfas Emes explains that this physical world enclothes the next world, which is spiritual, similar to the way our physical bodies enclothe our souls. Just as our actions affect our souls, physical activity in this world has spiritual ramifications in the next. We find, for example, a pasuk in Iyov, “Yachin vetzadik yilbash …/He (the wicked) will prepare and the righteous will wear it …” This refers to the gross physicality that enclothes the spirituality of the righteous. Our sinful actions therefore require rectification. They have caused damage that needs to be and can be fixed.

The acts of eating and drinking with improper intent require rectification. In order to help our repentance on Yom Kippur we need to reenact the deed by eating and drinking on Erev Yom Kippur. Why? Chazal teach us that repentance is denied the one who sins rationalizing that he will eventually repent. The Sfas Emes explains that this is because the sin is in the repentance itself. During the act of the sin, the sinner is thinking about the eventual repentance. From this we learn that the opposite is the case as well. Thinking about the act of the sin during the repentance rectifies that act. We reenact the activity of the sin with proper intentions in order to remind us of the sinful act during repentance.

Yom Kippur represents the next world. Just as in the next world so too on Yom Kippur there is no eating or drinking. Eating and drinking on Erev Yom Kippur in preparation for Yom Kippur reminds us that we are supposed to partake of this world’s pleasures to prepare for the next world.

The act of eating and drinking in preparation for the fast reminds us of the correct approach to eating and drinking during the entire year and in fact rectifies the eating and drinking that we did during the year merely to satisfy our desires. Experiencing the proper approach to eating and drinking on Erev Yom Kippur is a powerful tool to ensure a complete repentance on Yom Kippur. May we merit it!