Sunday, October 28, 2007

Chayei Sarah 5631 First Ma'amar

וַיִּהְיוּ חַיֵּי שָׂרָה מֵאָה שָׁנָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים .../And the life of Sarah was 100 years and 20 years and 7 years …” (Breishis 23:1) In every other instance that the Torah tells us the length of an individual’s life, the language is clear and straightforward. For example, “These are the days that Adam lived, 900 years and 30 years.” Another example from the end of this week’s parsha is, “And these are the years of Yishma’el’s life, 100 years and 30 years and 7 years.” Stating that the life of Sarah was 127 years seems awkward. The pasuk is apparently teaching us something in addition to the number of years that Sarah lived. Click here for rest of ma'amar.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

VaYeira 5632 Second Ma'amar

God constructed the Creation hierarchically, from least spiritual to most spiritual. This physical world is the least spiritual. Connecting the physical world to the most spiritual are myriads of spiritual realms. We, through our souls, are connected to all the spiritual realms. [This is because only a small part of the Jewish soul resides in the body. Most of the soul stretches from the body through the spiritual realms up to the most holy spiritual place. In fact, the Zohar calls the body a shoe for this reason. Only the “heel” of the soul, as it were, is in the body.] It follows that our physical actions affect all the spiritual worlds. When our actions are good, we have a positive effect on the spiritual worlds and God reveals His Providence in this world. When our actions are not good, we have a negative effect and God hides His Providence.

Avraham Avinu, sitting at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day just in case travelers happened by, represents the epitome of love for God. When the Zohar explains the mitzvah of loving God, it uses Avraham Avinu as the quintessential example. Avraham Avinu, from the time he recognized God, disregarded himself completely in order to accomplish God’s will.

Avraham Avinu surely understood the results of his actions in the spiritual realms. He brought an awareness of God to all those with whom he came in contact. Although his actions affected high spiritual realms, he always remembered that he was only flesh and blood at the entrance of the tent. The entrance of the tent represents a level of initiation. Regardless of how much he accomplished, with regard to serving God, Avraham Avinu considered himself to be at the beginning, at the “entrance.”

We need to understand that our actions have powerful ramifications in the highest spiritual realms and, as a result, here in the physical world. We also need to consider that in relation to God and serving Him, we are always at the “entrance.”

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Vayeira 5632 First Ma'amar

Iyov said, “וְאַחַר עוֹרִי נִקְּפוּ זֹאת וּמִבְּשָׂרִי אֶחֱזֶה אֱ-לוֹהַּ/After my skin was stricken they pierced this, and from my flesh I perceive God.” (Iyov 19:26) The Midrash in this week’s parsha attributes these words to Avraham Avinu as well. Avraham Avinu continues, “If I had not circumcised myself how would God have been revealed to me?” (Breishis R. 48:2)

Why is God’s revelation to Avraham Avinu dependent upon his circumcision? Furthermore, God spoke to Avraham several times before he was circumcised. Click here to see entire ma'amar.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Lech Lecha 5632 Third Ma'amar

In the beginning of our parsha God commands Avraham Avinu, “לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ ... אֶל-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ: וְאֶעֶשְׂךָ לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל .../‘Leave your land … to the land that I will show you. And I will make you into a great nation …” The Ramban asks the following question. Generally, the Torah tells us that receiving God’s bounty is dependent upon our righteousness. One example is, “אִם-בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ ... /If you follow my laws …” God tells us that if we listen to Him, He will bless us with His good. However, here, with no introduction whatsoever, God grants Avraham Avinu an incredible gift. What did Avraham Avinu do to deserve this blessing?

The Sfas Emes explains that the command, “לֶךְ-לְךָ/Leave” itself is the clue. This is essentially a command to leave behind those things with which we are familiar in order to follow God and do His will. The command does not even define God’s will. God told Avraham Avinu simply to leave all that with which he was familiar to follow God to wherever he was led.

It is a command that God is constantly sending to each of us. Most people, though, are not tuned in and do not hear it. The Zohar on this week’s parsha says that people tend not to think about why the world exists and what keeps it in existence. The Zohar says, “Woe to those who are asleep who do not know and do not think …” Avraham Avinu was awake. He was searching. When God commanded, he heard and acted. This is the reason that he merited God’s blessing.

Like Avraham Avinu, even if we do not know what God requires of us, the very intent to fulfill God’s will, to leave behind the familiar and enter uncharted territory in a quest to come close to God, God gives us the understanding and we merit it. Avraham Avinu, as well, did not know where God was leading him. Yet, his desire to come close to God was so strong that he was willing to leave all that was familiar to him behind to do so.

May we all merit hearing God’s command to follow Him and do His will.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Lech Lecha 5632 First Ma'amar

... לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ אֶל-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ/Leave your country, your birth place and your father’s house for the land that I will show you.” (Breishis 12:1) Why did God not reveal the land to Avraham Avinu immediately? The reason, according to the Midrash, was to make the task more precious to him and to give him a reward for each step that he took to get there.[1]

Coming to the land of Israel represents a quest to understand and achieve God’s will. Click here to see entire ma'amar.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

No'ach 5631 Second Ma'amar

אֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת נֹחַ נֹחַ אִישׁ צַדִּיק.../These are the offspring of No’ach; No’ach was a righteous man …” The strange construct of this first pasuk of our parsha requires an explanation. Rashi cites the Midrash which explains that the offspring of the righteous are their good deeds. What does this mean? What are Chazal teaching us? After all, not only the righteous perform mitzvos. What is special about the mitzvos that the righteous perform and what does it mean when Chazal say that those mitzvos are their “offspring”?

In order to understand this Midrash we need to understand that actions are imbued with meaning by the intent of the one who performs them. Two people can fulfill the exact same mitzvah, perform the same action, and yet the results of their actions can differ. In truth, every mitzvah, regardless of who performs it has spiritual ramifications. God structured the world so that effects in spiritual realms are dependent upon our physical actions in the material world. A tzadik, though, can lay claim to the spiritual effects of his mitzvos. They affect him directly. The reason, the Sfas Emes explains, is that the tzadik identifies so strongly with the mitzvos he does. The tzadik puts his life energy into the mitzvah that he performs. In Iyov we find, “... וּמִבְּשָׂרִי אֶחֱזֶה אֱ-לוֹהַּ/… and from my flesh I will perceive God.” To the extent we put our life energy towards the fulfillment of a mitzvah, we perceive its effects.

To the extent we do a mitzvah with all our strength and for the moment of the mitzvah, are totally dedicated to it, we will experience the spiritual effect of the mitzvah.

The Sfas Emes, therefore, understands this first pasuk of the parsha literally. Because No’ach united with his wife as a tzadik, for the purpose of fulfilling a mitzvah, the result of the union were offspring who were worthy as they reflected his intent.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

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. Click here to see entire ma'amar.

Friday, October 05, 2007

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? Click here for entire ma'amar.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

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? Click here to see entire ma'amar.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Succos 5634 Fourth Ma'amar

The water libation that was poured in the Beis HaMikdash only on Succos, was drawn each day of the holiday amid great fanfare and festivities from the Mei HaShiloach. The Talmud describes the drawing of the water, the dancing, juggling and music which continued throughout each night of Succos until the sacrifice in the morning. The festivities were referred to as Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva/The Rejoicing of the House of the Drawing. The Gemara, in describing the festivities says that the people did not sleep during Succos. During the day they witnessed the special sacrifices and studied Torah. At night they watched and participated in the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva. Festivities of this sort accompanied no other event in the Beis HaMikdash. What was the significance of these festivities? Why were they associated specifically with the drawing of the water libation? Why did the people not sleep?

Chazal say that the festivities were called Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva/The Rejoicing of the House of the Drawing because from there they drew Ruach HaKodesh. Chazal find a hint to this in a pasuk in Yeshaya, “וּשְׁאַבְתֶּם מַיִם בְּשָׂשׂוֹן מִמַּעַיְנֵי הַיְשׁוּעָה/You will draw water with joy from the fountains of salvation.” The Sfas Emes says, too, that water is life and implies Ruach HaKodesh which is also life as the pasuk says when God created man, “וַיִפַּח בְּאַפָּיו נִשְׁמַת חַיִים/He blew into his nostrils the soul of life,” a reference to the holy spirit which is Ruach HaKodesh.

What was the significance of this Ruach HaKodesh and what is its connection to the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva? The Sfas Emes explains that enlightenment, blessing, for the entire year was dependent upon the enlightenment received during the seven days of Succos. This is why regarding Succos the pasuk states, “וְחַגֹּתֶם אֹתוֹ חַג לַה' שִׁבְעַת יָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה .../You will celebrate it, a holiday for God, seven days during the year.” Succos is the only holiday where the Torah relates the days of the holiday to the year. Regarding Pesach, for example, the Torah does not mention the word shana/year. The enlightenment came from the level of Ruach HaKodesh the people reached during the festivities. The Ruach HaKodesh the people attained on Succos was crucial to assure a good coming year. This is the reason that they did not sleep during the entire festivities. They did not want to lose a moment.

Chazal mention the idea of not sleeping in order to take advantage of every moment regarding Moshe Rabbeinu’s ascent to Mount Sinai. Moshe Rabbeinu knew that he had forty days during which to receive. He understood that there was no way to even measure the amount he could receive every moment. He, therefore, did not sleep so as not to lose even a second.

This is why the people did not sleep, but what compelled the Midrash to associate water drawing with drawing Ruach HaKodesh? The Sfas Emes explains that the key was the rejoicing. The joy was the tool the people used to draw Ruach HaKodesh upon themselves and receive abundance and enlightenment.

This, then answers our questions. The water of the water libation symbolized the true spiritual life, the enlightenment which the people received through Ruach HaKodesh. The festivities enabled the people to reach a level of Ruach HaKodesh. And, finally, because they understood the ramifications the enlightenment they received had for the entire year, they dared not lose a moment. They did not sleep throughout the festivities. Ultimately, the Simchas Beis HaSho'eiva is a tool, a tool we unfortunately do not have today, to bring God's enlightenment and abundance into our lives. May we merit once more to participate in the great rejoicing of the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva. Amen.