Monday, February 26, 2007

Tetzaveh (Parshas Zachor) 5631 First Ma'amar

“ואתה תצוה את בני ישראל .../And you will command the children of Israel…” In the first pasuk of this week’s parsha, God instructs Moshe Rabeinu to command the children of Israel regarding the mitzvah of lighting the menorah. Usually when God instructs Moshe to tell the people a commandment, He says, “... דבר אל בני ישראל/… speak to the children of Israel.” Why does God say here, “ואתה תצוה .../And you will command …” when instructing Moshe about this particular mitzvah?

The Sfas Emes teaches us that the נרות/lamps of the menorah allude to the mitzvos. In Mishlei we find, “... נר מצוה ותורה אור .../… a commandment is a lamp and Torah is light …” Just as light needs a lamp to hold it, so too, the light of the Torah needs a vessel to contain it. The vessel that holds the light of the Torah in this world is the mitzvos. The light of the Torah is ephemeral. It needs a mechanism for being drawn into and influencing the physical world. That mechanism is the mitzvos.

When we perform mitzvos we bring the light of the Torah into the world. In fact, the Zohar says that our 248 limbs parallel the 248 positive commandments. Our very limbs become the conduits through which the light of the Torah is drawn down into this world. When we understand that we are merely conduits, that there is nothing inherent in our actions or in us that brings spiritual light into the world, that it is the will of God that the specific actions of the mitzvos have this effect, we accomplish the will of God. That is why this specific mitzvah of preparing the menorah starts with, “ואתה תצוה .../And you will command …” It is only because God commanded us to do the mitzvos that they have this quality.

The Midrash, explaining the first few words of this week’s parsha says that the poor of Israel are equal to Eliyahu HaNavi and Daniel. How does the Midrash arrive at this conclusion from, “ואתה תצוה .../And you will command…”? According to the Sfas Emes, however, it is clear. A Jew, regardless of his spiritual level, who performs a mitzvah with the understanding that the light of that mitzvah comes through him from God, is on the level of our greatest prophets. This is because when a person does a mitzvah he connects to God. In fact, the root of the word mitzvah is the same as that of the Aramaic “צוותא/connection”. It is encouraging to know that regardless of our backgrounds and spiritual state, each of us can do the will of God and bring the Torah’s light into this world by being aware of this when performing the mitzvos.

The Chidushei HaRim understands this concept from the brachah we make before doing a mitzvah. We say “... אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו .../… that He made us holy with His mitzvos and commanded us …” We are able to do the will of God and bring the light of the Torah into the world through the mitzvos, only because this is the way God structured the world. He commanded us to do the mitzvos. Therefore, we are able to be His conduits to bring His light into the world.

The Chidushei HaRim explains that this is the intent of Chazal when they said that a person who wants to protect his assets should plant an adar tree as we find in Tehillim, “אדיר במרום ה'/God is strong on high.” Planting an adar tree is a metaphor for knowing that our assets and strength, everything really, comes from God. Chazal are teaching us that the awareness itself is protective and strengthening. This concept and metaphor applies to the month of Adar as well. The month of Adar, then, is an especially appropriate time to work on our awareness that when we perform the mitzvos we are conduits for drawing God’s light, the light of the Torah into the physical world.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Terumah 5631 Second Ma'amar

In this week’s parsha, God describes the Mishkan and its utensils to Moshe Rabeinu. The Midrash tells us that because Moshe Rabeinu had difficulty understanding the intricacies of the Menorah, God showed him a virtual Menorah. Even so, Moshe Rabeinu found it too difficult so God told him to throw a talent of gold into the fire for Him to fashion.

The Sfas Emes asks that if Moshe Rabeinu could not make the Menorah why did God bother showing it to him in the first place? God, after all, certainly knew that this was beyond Moshe Rabeinu’s capabilities. The Sfas Emes explains that it was crucial for Moshe Rabeinu to desire to make the Menorah, even if he could not. God showed Moshe Rabeinu a virtual Menorah so that he would know what he must desire. Moshe Rabeinu then did whatever he could to the best of his ability. Because of Moshe Rabeinu’s desire to see the completed Menorah, God helped and finished the job.

The Sfas Emes says that this is an important lesson that applies to every Jew and to every mitzvah for we certainly do not have the power to achieve the will of God. How could we? God is infinite and we are finite. However, we are required to yearn to achieve the will of God and to work towards that goal to the best of our abilities. The will of God is attained, with God’s help even if it is beyond our capabilities, according to the intensity of our desire.

Along these same lines the Chidushei HaRim explains a Gemara in Maseches Megillah. Rebbi Yitzchak says that if one will tell you that he worked hard in Torah and he found success, believe him (יגעתי ומצאתי תאמין). The Chidushei HaRim points out the incongruity in Rebbi Yitzchak’s words. Rebbi Yitzchak’s choice of words connotes a found item. Chazal tell us that items are found unintentionally (ג' באין בהיסח הדעת ... מציאה), the opposite of focused work towards a goal. Conventionally, if a person works hard and says that he succeeded and realized his goal, we tend to believe him. Why does Rebbi Yitzchak say, “he found success”?

The Chidushei HaRim answers that Rebbi Yitzchak is teaching us a profound lesson about success in Torah. The reality is that an understanding of the ultimate truth in the Torah is beyond our capabilities. The only way to reach this understanding is for it to be given to us. Rebbi Yitzchak is teaching us that God gives the gift of understanding the Torah to those who try hard to acquire it.

We see this clearly when Moshe Rabeinu ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. He worked hard. He did not eat or drink for forty days. At the end of the forty days the pasuk relates, ויתן אל משה ... שתי לחת העדת/He gave Moshe … the two tablets of testimony …” The Midrash says that the Torah was given to Moshe Rabeinu as a gift.

When it comes to serving God, He helps us to attain goals that are beyond our abilities. The key to success is the desire for it.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Terumah 5631 First Ma'amar

A recurring theme throughout the Torah is that God reveals Himself to us according to our level of belief in Him. A person, who believes that God gives existence every moment to every thing and every action, will experience God’s presence in every thing and every action.

We see this idea regarding learning and understanding Torah, particularly תורה שבעל פה/the Oral Law. The Torah can be understood on many levels. Each person understands it according to the intensity of his desire to understand it. The reason this idea applies to learning Torah is because the Torah itself is a revelation of God. Explaining this, the first Midrash in the parsha, expounding on the pasuk, “ ... ויקחו לי תרומה .../… take for Me a contribution …”, says that after a sale, the seller no longer has any ties to the object he sold. The Torah is different. God, as it were, sold us the Torah and Himself with it. So, the more a person wants to understand, the more God reveals Himself to that person through the Torah.

The same motif clearly applies to serving God. The pasuk in Tehillim states, “בטח בה' ועשה טוב שכן בארץ ורעה אמונה/Trust in God and do good so that you may dwell in the land and nourish yourself with belief.” Chazal tell us that according to the strength of our belief, God reveals Himself to us by helping us to be successful in serving Him. Trusting in God means being sure that He will help us succeed in our service towards Him. Many times, a person thinks regarding giving tzedakah, “If I give now, what will I have tomorrow?” Chazal tell us that believers give knowing that God will give them more. It is specifically because they give today, that they are blessed with more.

The Chiddushei HaRim explains the pasuk, “ברוך הגבר אשר יבטח בה' והיה ה' מבטחו/Blessed is the man who trusts in God, then God will be his security,” along the same lines. According to the level of man’s trust in God, God will be his security.

We find this same idea in this week’s parsha. “ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם/Make me a sanctuary so that I may dwell amongst them.” The Hebrew root of the word “מקדש/sanctuary, is the same as the Hebrew word for holy – קדוש. קדוש/holy also connotes separated. When we say that God is holy, we are saying that he is separate, hidden. According to the level of our belief that He is hidden in every thing and every action, He will dwell amongst us. We will merit an awareness of God in every thing and every action. In this sense, God’s revelation is dependent on us.

Chazal hint at this when they say, “במידה שאדם מודד מודדין לו/A man is measured according to his own measurement.” God is infinite and everywhere. But He is hidden. He is revealed in this world in measured doses. According to the measure of a person belief in God’s providence, he is granted an equal measure of awareness of God’s presence. God’s revelation is Truth. Truth becomes revealed based on our belief. Then the revealed Truth nourishes and helps our belief in a cycle.

This is also the meaning of the pasuk in Tehillim, “ה' רֹעי לא אחסר/God is my shepherd I shall not lack.” Proportionate to my belief that God is my shepherd, I will merit an awareness of His providence and I shall not lack. Similarly, according to the Rav of Neschiz, David HaMelech is praying that he not lack saying that God is his shepherd.

We find the same concept regarding Shabbos. God is more revealed on Shabbos and more hidden during the week. According to how much we work on our belief during the week, the workdays, we will experience God’s presence on Shabbos. Shabbos then nourishes and supports our belief. That’s why the Zohar calls the Shabbos meals, “סעודתא דמהימנותא/meals of belief. The Shabbos experience affects how we believe during the coming week.

In the Midrash we find that God says, “…make me a room that I can dwell among you.” The word for “I will dwell” in Hebrew is “אדור.” The Chidushei HaRim notes that אדור/I will dwell, has the same root as the word for strength (as in, “אדיר במרום ה'/God is strong on high.) It is encouraging, it gives us strength to know that everything in a person’s life comes from God. This is the key behind the month of Adar which also has the same root as the Hebrew word for “strength” and “dwell.” It is appropriate during this month to submit ourselves to God’s will, understand and work on our belief that everything that happens to us comes from Him and that He is the power behind everything including our own actions. The Sfas Emes is teaching us that we can be secure in the knowledge that when we “do good” by serving Him, by giving tzedakah and by putting ourselves out for Him, He is there for us and will help us succeed.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Mishpatim 5631 Second Ma'amar

At the time of the revelation on Mount Sinai, God instructs Moshe Rabeinu regarding the nation’s upcoming journey to the land of Israel, “הנה אנֹכי שֹׁלח מלאך לפניך לשמרך בדרך ... אל תמר בו ... כי שמי בקרבו ... ועבדתם את ה' אלקיך וברך את לחמך ... והסרֹתי מחלה מקרבך/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.”

The Sfas Emes understands this paragraph as a metaphor explaining the difference between serving God during the days of the week and on Shabbos. First, a description of the metaphor, followed by how the Sfas Emes sees it in the p’sukim.

The Torah requires us to work during the week, “שֵׁשֶת יָמִים תַּעֲבֹד .../You shall work for six days …” 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? The Sfas Emes explains that holiness is hidden in our weekday activities. We are able to draw out the holiness and transform our activities into mitzvos. How so? God gives life and existence to everything continuously. Existence is a continuing act of creation. We and every other part of the Creation continue to exist is so that we may do God’s will. Since God enables every action we take, it follows that every action can be a tool to do His will. Every action is a potential mitzvah.

The p’sukim mentioned above suggest this. The angel that God sent is the holy life force within every part of the Creation. We are required to recognize it by striving to do God’s will with everything and every action. Regarding this the pasuk says, “אל תמר בו ... כי שמי בקרבו/Do not defy him … for My name is within him.” When we go to work 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 – מלאכה has the same root as the Hebrew for angel – מלאך. The מלאכה/work enclothes the מלאך/angel.

During the week this applies to our weekday work. On Shabbos, though, there is no מלאכה/work. On Shabbos we can serve God without the outer shell of work. Shabbos, Chazal tell us, 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 by the pasuk, “ועבדתם את ה'/You shall serve God.” It implies that there are ways of serving God directly.

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, then? 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 – ברך 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.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Mishpatim 5631 First Ma'amar

“ואלה המשפטים אשר תשים לפניהם/And these are the laws that you will place before them.” The Torah contains many laws. Some are decrees having no apparent reason while others are rational laws found in most cultures. The commandment to eat only the flesh of animals that have split hooves and chew their cuds, for example, is a decree having no apparent reason. The commandments not to steal and murder on the other hand, seem very logical, indeed. In this first pasuk of the parsha, God commanded Moshe Rabeinu to place the rational laws before them. The word “משפטים/laws” refers to rational laws.

The Midrash says that this parsha directly follows the story of the revelation of God on Mount Sinai and the giving of the ten commandments to teach us that these rational laws were given on Mount Sinai, too. Our parsha begins with the word “And” indicating that this parsha is a continuation of and connected to the previous one. But why must the Torah make a point of teaching us that these laws were given at Mount Sinai? All the laws were given there! Furthermore, Rashi quotes Chazal who tell us that God instructed Moshe Rabeinu to explain to the nation the reasons behind these laws. This is why the pasuk states, “... אשר תשים לפניהם/… that you will place before them.” Moshe Rabeinu was required to serve them the laws like food on a set table. Everything was to be understood and clear. Why was he instructed to explain specifically these laws? What about all the other laws in the Torah?

The Chiddushei HaRim explains that there is a tendency to attribute these rational laws to man’s logic. After all, these laws are good for society. Chazal tell us that these laws as well were given on Mount Sinai to teach us that the only reason the laws are logical to us is because God created logic as well. We usually do not think of logic as a creation. But, the Chiddushei HaRim says that this is exactly the point. The rational laws of the Torah only appear logical to us because that is the will of God. This is why Chazal make a point of telling us that these rational laws were given at Sinai, too. They are teaching us that the laws are only rational because that’s the will of God.

The Sfas Emes explains this further. Not only do we understand these laws as being rational because that is the way God created us. Even the rational laws have deep underlying spiritual meaning. We are able to connect and understand these deeper meanings only because Moshe Rabeinu placed these laws before us. Regarding this the Zohar explains the pasuk, “ברכו ה' מלאכיו גברי כח עשי דברו לשמע בקול דברו/Bless God, His angels, those mighty in strength, performers of His word, to hearken to the sound of His word.” This pasuk tells us that the angels were “עשי דברו/performers of His word.” When the nation of Israel said “נעשה ונשמע/We will do and we will listen,” we became “עשי דברו/performers of His word.” How so? The word “עשי דברו/performers of His word.” in this pasuk can also be translated as “makers of His word.” How do we make God’s word? The Zohar is teaching us that when we said that we will first do and then listen, God gave us the power to make His words come alive in this world. According to a person’s desire to understand the letters themselves will become alive to him and he will be able to constantly hear new and novel things from the very same words. This is the deeper meaning of “... אשר תשים לפניהם/… that you will place before them.” The Torah stresses that Moshe Rabeinu placed particularly these rational laws before us to teach us that even the rational laws to which this pasuk refers have very deep spiritual meanings. Moshe Rabeinu placed these laws before the nation so that they would be able, through their quest, to reach an understanding of the very deepest meanings of the laws.

The Holy Rav of Parshischa takes this concept a step further. He says that God was telling Moshe that they should place His laws before themselves and before their own lives. The Rav of Parshischa explains that the nation of Israel did this when we said that we would keep God’s decrees even before knowing what they were. Essentially, we trusted God completely and delivered ourselves into His hands.

Because of this mesirus nefesh, God granted us the ability to understand all the inner meanings of the Torah. In essence He gave us the power to make the Torah come alive by drawing out the inner meanings of the words of God. This is what Chazal meant when they explained the pasuk, “... אשרי תשים לפניהם/… that you will place before them.” God instructed Moshe Rabeinu to place the laws before them like a set table with food ready to be eaten. The laws can be understood on different levels. God commanded Moshe to set the laws before them so that they could merit the deepest understanding.

Moshe Rabeinu gave us all the inner meanings of the words of the Torah. However, it was given to us in a format which requires work on our part to unveil them. When a Jew works hard to understand God’s laws, he opens himself up to constant new understandings in the words of the Torah. A person can merit understanding new and different concepts each time he learns the same words of Torah. We can merit understanding the deeper will of God through the letters of the Torah.

This happens when we trust God completely and accept the words of the Torah even before understanding or knowing what they are. Then, the wellsprings of Torah open up for us. Certainly God does not limit these wellsprings to these specific laws. Rather, a Jew through learning the Torah can reach a deep understanding of all of God’s laws. The inner will of God will be revealed to him through the Torah. We can prepare, before beginning to learn, by taking a few moments to contemplate this. According to the intensity of our desire, we will find the truth in everything and we will not err, chas vesholom.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Yisro 5632 Third Ma'amar

In Tehillim, “... גִבֹּרֵי כֹחַ עֹשֵׂי דְבָרוֹ לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקוֹל דְבָרוֹ/… strong warriors who do His bidding, 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 says that the strong warriors do His bidding in order to hearken to his word. What does this mean?

We find the same construct when we accepted the Torah. Chazal praise the nation of Israel for saying, when offered the Torah, “... נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע/… We will do and we will listen.” Even before we knew what God required of us we committed to do. This requires 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 דִבּור/speech teaches us how to perform the commandments. However the קוֹל דְבָרוֹ/sound of his word implies a deeper understanding. We can relate to the speech of the words and we can related to the underlying sound of the speech. The underlying sound suggests the underlying spiritual meaning of the words. The Zohar makes this distinction between דִבּור/speech and קוֹל/sound as well when it refers to speech as components of sound [1] (i.e. sound is the כלל and speech is the פרט.)

At Mount Sinai we committed to comply with God’s commandments and we accepted the yoke of heaven upon us in order to merit hearing the sound of God’s voice within the commandments, as it were. By committing to perform the commandments we would merit understanding that 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.) 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.” By taking appropriate action the strong warriors would merit hearing the sound within His words; they would merit understanding the deeper meaning of their actions.

[1] 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.

Also, for a fascinating discussion of 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 HaShana see Ya’aros Devash Chelek 1 Derush 6.

Yisro 5632 Second Ma'amar

Chazal teach us that before Yisro converted to Judaism he was called יתר/Yeser. After he converted, an extra letter ו/vav, was added to his name. He became יתרו/Yisro. What is the significance of this extra letter?

The Chidushei HaRim explains. The prophet Micha said, “מִי אֵ-ל כָּמוֹךָ נֹשֵׂא עָוֹן וְעֹבֵר עַל פֶּשַׁע לִשְׁאֵרִית נַחֲלָתוֹ .../Who is a God like You, Who forgives iniquity and passes over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? …” Micha is referring to the nation of Israel. He calls us “the remnant of His heritage.” Why does the prophet refer only to a remnant instead of to the entire nation? Chazal say that Micha is referring to those who make themselves like a remnant. Cultivating the quality of humility is a surefire way to merit God’s forgiveness.

The name יֶתֶר/Yeser also means remnant. According to the Chidushei HaRim, the name Yeser indicates that Yisro had the characteristic of humility. Before Yisro converted, though, his humility did not result in God passing over his transgressions. The prophet Micha was referring to the Jewish people when he proclaimed his timeless message of God’s forgiveness. However, after he converted, Yisro became a part of the remnant of God’s heritage. After Yisro converted, he enjoyed God’s forgiveness together with the other humble members of the nation of Israel. To show that he was included, a vav, which signifies connection, was added to his name.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Yisro 5632 First Ma'amar

“... וינח ביום השביעי על כן ברך ה' את יום השבת .../… He rested on the seventh day, therefore God blessed the Shabbos day ...” One would think that the opposite is the case. Because the seventh day is special, therefore He rested on it. Why does the pasuk say that God blessed the day because he rested on it? To understand this pasuk we need to understand what it means when we say that God rested and what it means when we say that He blessed the seventh day.

Chazal tell us that the Shabbos includes the entire Torah and that keeping the Shabbos is akin to keeping the entire Torah. One who denies Shabbos is a denier of the entire Torah. What is the relationship between Shabbos and the entire Torah?

At the end of the paragraph describing the sixth day of creation we find, “ויהי ערב ויהי בקר יום הששי/There was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” Why does the pasuk say, “יום הששי/the sixth day” instead of “יום ששי/a sixth day” as it says on every other day of creation? Reish Lakish explains that the extra letter ה/the, having a numeric value of five, alludes to the Torah which contains five books. Reish Lakish is teaching us that God created the world on condition that Israel accept the Torah. The Creation continues to exist because we accepted the Torah and the ten commandments. The Chidushei HaRim explains that the ten commandments were a rectification for the ten commands with which God created the world. How so? The revelation on Mount Sinai made it clear that the world exists only because God wills it through the power of the Torah. The revelation rectified the ten commands that created the natural word by showing that God runs it. The Torah is the conduit through which God gives life and existence to the Creation. This is the meaning of Chazal who say that the world was created for the sake of the Torah.

Once the Torah was revealed in this world it became available to us to use as a tool for coming close to God even as we live within the physical world. We see this from the following Midrash. The Midrash states that when the nation of Israel stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and witnessed the revelation of God, our souls left us. We did not have the strength to cope with the intense experience. The Torah itself asked God for mercy. Immediately our souls returned. This is the meaning of the pasuk, “תורת ה' תמימה משיבת נפש/God’s Torah is complete; it restores the Nefesh-soul.” The Zohar explains that the soul comprises three parts, Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah in ascending spiritual order. The lowest part of the soul, the Nefesh, is the part that resides within the body. It is the part most closely associated with the physical world. The Midrash is teaching us that the Torah is the tool that enables man to experience God in this world. This is the deeper meaning of “תורת ה' ... משיבת נפש/God’s Torah … restores the Nefesh-soul.”

The power to connect us and the rest of the Creation to God is inherent in Shabbos as well. The pasuk states, “... וביום השביעי שבת וינפש/… and on the seventh day He ceased work and rested.” The words “וינפש/rested” and נפש/soul have the same Hebrew root. The pasuk is telling us that on the seventh day, all souls become connected to God. On Shabbos we are able to more easily have a spiritual experience. Not only souls, but the entire Creation comes closer to God on Shabbos, meaning that on Shabbos, God is more revealed. Being connected, they re-energize from the Godly life-giving force. Shabbos is the channel through which the Godly life force comes into the Creation. This is why the Zohar says that Shabbos is the vehicle through which the Godly life force is drawn down to the other days of the week. They – the days of the week – (and everything else in the Creation) are connected to Godliness through Shabbos.

While Torah is the tool through which God gives life and existence to the creation, it is through Shabbos that the life giving power of the Torah is drawn into the world. This is why keeping Shabbos is like keeping the entire Torah.

The concept that the Godly life force is drawn down to the Creation and re-energizes it is the essence of ברכה/blessing. The inner meaning of all blessing is closeness to God. We can now understand why the pasuk says that God blessed the seventh day because He rested on it. Earlier we said that God’s resting suggests that all souls come closer to God. God rested on the seventh day so that all souls could come close to Him and experience blessing. He rested on the seventh day. As a result all of Creation came closer to Him and experienced blessing.

When we turn to God on Shabbos, opening ourselves up to Him, subjugating our own will to His and connecting to Him, we create channels along which the Godly life force is drawn down to us and the Creation. Shabbos, thus, becomes the source of ברכה/blessing for us and the entire Creation.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Tu BiShvat - Chidushei HaRim

The Sfas Emes does not have a ma'amar dedicated to Tu BeShvat. The Chidushei HaRim, though, does. Unfortunately, I did not have time this week to translate it so I decided to post the original Hebrew, lezakos es harabim. Many thanks to from whom I downloaded the Sefer HaZchus of the Chidushei HaRim. The poor quality of the text is a reflection of my technical ignorance. To see the text more clearly simply click on it and a clear version will open in a new window.
Happy Tu BeShvat and a Good Shabbos to all.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Beshalach 5631 Second Ma'amar

“דבר אל בני ישראל וישבו .../Speak to the children of Israel and they will return …” The children of Israel had left Egypt three days earlier. God commands Moshe Rabeinu to instruct the nation to turn around and head back towards the Egyptians. Pharaoh will think that the nation has lost its way in the desert and will be goaded into pursuing them. When he confronts the nation of Israel, God will destroy him and the Egyptians. The obvious question as we read these p’sukim is, “Why?” What was to be gained by returning? If God wanted to destroy the Egyptian army, He certainly had ample opportunity to do so before.

The miracle of the Exodus happened very quickly. Although the Egyptians suffered with plagues for a full year beforehand, our role in the Exodus began when God commanded us to take lambs for the Pesach sacrifice only a few days before we actually left Egypt. We left Egypt so quickly, the Torah relates, that there was no time even for our bread to rise. Things that happen quickly rather than gradually tend not to have a lasting impact especially when they are not earned; at this stage we certainly had not earned the redemption.[1] The will of God was that our redemption from Egypt become a part of us. The lesson we needed to take with us was that God is always with us, an especially encouraging lesson in times of distress when this fundamental fact is not apparent. We could truly internalize this lesson, only if we left Egypt on our own merit. This is why God commanded us to return; so that we could leave on our own merit.

Chazal allude to this idea when they say that at the time of the splitting of the sea we were being judged whether to be saved or destroyed with the Egyptians. This also explains why we were afraid and cried out to God when we saw the approaching Egyptian army. Considering all the miracles we witnessed in Egypt, it is clear that we had not the slightest doubt in God’s ability to save us from the Egyptians. Why, then, did we cry out to God in fear? The reason is because we doubted ourselves. We were not sure if we really deserved to be saved. It is possible that this doubt was the reason we complained to Moshe Rabeinu for having taken us out of Egypt, “... כי טוב לנו עבד את מצרים ממתנו במדבר/… for it is better for us to serve the Egyptians that to die in the desert.” We could have stayed in Egypt until we were deserving on our own. Also, God had promised Ya’akov that He would redeem his children from Egypt. If we were still in Egypt we would still have had God’s promise. Now that we had left, this promise had already been fulfilled.

God commanded us to return so that we could leave on our own merit. However, this really only begs the question. Why was the Exodus a two step process? Why redeem us with undeserved miracles first, then redeem us again because we earned it? Why not redeem us once on the basis of our own merits? The Sfas Emes explains that the first miraculous Exodus was needed in order for us to deserve the second redemption at the splitting of the Red Sea. The miraculous Exodus taught us that God is with us. We used the miraculous Exodus from Egypt to strengthen our belief and trust in God. In the merit of our strong belief and trust in God, we were saved at the Red Sea.

Chazal use the same concept when they teach us that if Israel would keep two Shabbosim they would immediately be redeemed. For the entire nation to keep two Shabbosim is certainly a great thing but what is the connection between this and redemption? The Chidushei HaRim answers this question in the name of Rav Shmelke Z"L. First we need to know that Shabbos is a high level spiritual day. This means that on Shabbos we and the entire Creation are closer to God. It is easier on Shabbos to become more aware of Him that it is during the week. In fact, Shabbos, as a concept, means closeness to God.

God wants us to become close to Him. He wants us to be aware of Him. He also wants us to earn closeness to Him. In order to help us, He first gives us an undeserved experience of closeness to Him. If we take advantage of this experience by using it as a stepping stone to become even closer to God, we are rewarded with God’s reciprocation.

God gives us Shabbos even though we may not deserve it. We can have an undeserved spiritual experience of closeness to God. Our job, then, is to take advantage of this gift. We do so by drawing the Shabbos experience into the following week. We can use the spiritual experience of Shabbos to help us maintain an awareness of God in our lives during the week as well. Based on our work during the week, we are rewarded with an even greater spiritual experience on the next Shabbos. The second Shabbos is an earned experience. By earning closeness to God, we bring the redemption which by definition is closeness to God.

[1] See Yechezkel 20:5-9 and Sfas Emes Bo 5631 Second Ma’amar