Monday, December 31, 2007

VaEira 5631 First Ma'amar

The Sfas Emes focuses on the main point of the first paragraph of the parsha. In the first pasuk of the parsha God tells Moshe Rabbeinu, “אֲנִי ה'/I am God.” A few p’sukim later He commands Moshe to convey this to the children of Israel and that He will take them out of Egypt. Finally, in the last pasuk of the paragraph, the Torah tells us that they did not accept Moshe Rabbeinu’s message, “מִקֹּצֶר רוּחַ/because of shortness of breath.” What is the significance of the message and why were they unable to accept it?

We know that our actions have consequences. It is less known that our actions have spiritual ramifications as well. A person’s actions affect his soul all the way to its source. [We usually think of the soul as being in the body. However, according to Chazal only a small part of the soul is in the body. In fact, the Zohar calls the body a shoe for this reason. Only the soul’s lower extremity is inside a person’s body. Most of a person’s soul extends from the body up through many spiritual realms to its source. The soul can be viewed as a continuum which is more spiritual the closer it is to its source and less spiritual the closer it is to the body. See Nefesh HaChayim 1:5 Haga’ah and Ma’amarim 14 for a detailed discussion of this concept.] The source of a person’s soul is in a very high spiritual place. It is a place that defies our understanding. It follows that we cannot know completely, the consequences of our actions. Instead of relying on ourselves and our own thought processes, it behooves us to subordinate our own mind and will to God’s.

The Chidushei HaRim explains that this concept is the deeper meaning of the Midrash which says that if Reuven had known that his opposition to his brothers’ desire to kill Yosef would be written in the Torah, he would have carried Yosef back to his father on his shoulders. The Midrash is certainly not telling us that Reuven would have done this because of the honor of being written into the Torah. Rather, the Midrash is teaching us that if Reuven had understood how important his opposition was, so important that it would be written in the Torah, he would have approached it with such enthusiasm that he would have carried Yosef back to his father. Reuven did not do this because he did not know, could not know, the ultimate consequences and importance of his actions.

The first Midrash on the parsha teaches us that Shlomo HaMelech and Moshe Rabbeinu grappled with this concept and learnt the lesson as well. Shlomo HaMelech had more wives that the Torah allows a king. The Torah commands a king not to have too many wives lest they steer his heart astray. It was absolutely clear to Shlomo HaMelech that he would not be affected. That is why he allowed himself to have many wives. However, a person’s actions affect him in ways that he does not always understand. Shlomo HaMelech thought that the power of the Torah within him and his connection with God would protect him. But his actions had unexpected consequences for him, consequences that he did not, could not foresee.

Shlomo HaMelech used his wisdom to disregard a commandment. The Midrash sees this alluded to in a pasuk from Koheles (2:12) “וּפָנִיתִי אֲנִי לִרְאוֹת חָכְמָה וְהוֹלֵלוֹת וְסִכְלוּת כִּי מֶה הָאָדָם שֶיָּבוֹא אַחֲרֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֵת אֲשֶׁר-כְּבָר עָשׂוּהוּ/Then I turned my attention to appraising wisdom with madness and folly – for what is man that he would come after the king regarding that which has already been done.” Referring to himself, Koheles says that he used his wisdom for madness and folly. How so? Because he could not know the complete consequences of his actions. He rationalized by saying that God is always with him because of his Torah and will protect him.

The Midrash says that this pasuk refers to Moshe Rabbeinu as well. At the end of last week’s parsha Moshe Rabbeinu complains to God, “ה' לָמָה הֲרֵעֹתָה לָעָם הַזֶּה/God, why have You done evil to this people?” (Shmos 5:22) God responds at the beginning of our parsha, “'אֲנִי ה/I am God.” The name of God YHVH comes from the Hebrew root which means “being.” It implies that the continued existence of everything in the Creation and everything that happens within the Creation is only because God wills it. The Egyptian exile also continued only because God willed it to. God gives life and existence to everything including the exile.

In fact, every action was decreed at the time of Creation. Koheles alludes to this at the second half of the pasuk mentioned earlier, “...מֶה הָאָדָם שֶיָּבוֹא אַחֲרֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֵת אֲשֶׁר-כְּבָר עָשׂוּהוּ/… what is man that he would come after the king regarding that which has already been done.” This is also the meaning of the pasuk at the end of the Creation, “God blessed the seventh day …because on it He abstained from all His work which God created to make.” (Breishis 2:3) The end of this pasuk is awkward. The pasuk could have ended with, “which God created.” The last words “to make” seem to be extra. “To make” in Hebrew also means, “To do”. With these words the Torah is telling us that every future action was ordained at the time of the Creation. God is telling Moshe Rabbeinu that the exile and all that it entails was decreed. This includes the most recent affliction that happened after Moshe spoke with Pharaoh.

Of course, Moshe Rabbeinu knew that God is at the root of everything. That’s why he complained to Him. When God sent Moshe Rabbeinu to speak to Pharaoh, though, he had an expectation. He expected that the children of Israel would not be further afflicted. When his expectation was not fulfilled, he complained to God asking Him why He had allowed more harm to befall the people. God’s answer was that Moshe Rabbeinu’s expectation was invalid. Everything that happened and everything that will happen is due to God’s decree that it should occur. Chazal tell us that a person does not lift his finger without it being decreed in heaven. In the words of Koheles, “It has already been done.”

God commands Moshe Rabbeinu to convey this message to the children of Israel but they do not accept it, “מִקֹּצֶר רוּחַ/because of shortness of breath.” The word רוּחַ/breath also connotes spirit and is a reference to the soul that gives a person life. [As we’ve said, one end of the soul is in the body but the other end is attached to God, as it were.] In the exile, the children of Israel became detached from the source of life. It was not clear to them that God was behind the exile and willed it. It was very difficult for them to see that their affliction was Divinely ordained. So they did not accept Moshe’s message.

Both Shlomo HaMelech and Moshe Rabbeinu, however, learned that decisions they made based on their own wisdom, decisions which appeared strongly to them to be correct when they were made, turned out to be wrong. When they gained more wisdom, they realized that their original actions were based on flawed thinking. The lesson for us is that we can never be sure of our own wisdom since our current outlook may prove incorrect when we gain more wisdom. Instead, we need to submit to the source of wisdom, God’s will and word.


Unknown said...

Thank you for the blog. I don't know if you track visitors but I try to read all your sfas emes blogs and they are a great help.
I read it first in Hebrew myself, then I read your blog and then I read the original again to see what has changed and whether I comprehend more.
It is a wonderful resource and hope that בע'ה you will continue.

Moshe David Tokayer said...

Thank you very much for your kind and encouraging words.