Monday, January 28, 2008

Mishpatim 5631 First Ma'amar

וְאֵלֶּה הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם/And these are the laws that you will place before them.” (Shmos 21:1) 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 Rabbeinu to place the rational laws before them. The word “מִשְׁפָּטִים/laws” refers to rational laws.

Rashi on this pasuk quotes the Midrash which 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 Rabbeinu to explain to the nation the reasons behind these laws. This is why the pasuk states, “... אֲשֶׁר תָּשׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם/… that you will place before them.” Moshe Rabbeinu 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 Chidushei 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 Chidushei 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 Rabbeinu placed these laws before us. Regarding this the Zohar explains the pasuk, “בָּרְכוּ ה' מַלְאָכָיו גִּבֹּרֵי כֹחַ עֹשֵׂי דְבָרוֹ לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקוֹל דְּבָרוֹ/Bless God, His angels, those mighty in strength, performers of His word, to hearken to the sound of His word.” (Tehillim 103:20) This pasuk tells us that the angels were “עֹשֵׂי דְבָרוֹ/performers of His word.” When the nation of Israel said “נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע/We will do and we will listen,” (Shmos 24:7) we became “עֹשֵׂי דְבָרוֹ/performers of His word.” How so? The words “עֹשֵׂי דְבָרוֹ/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 “... אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם/… that you will place before them.” The Torah stresses that Moshe Rabbeinu 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 Rabbeinu 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, “... אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם/… that you will place before them.” God instructed Moshe Rabbeinu 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 Rabbeinu 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.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Yisro 5634 First Ma'amar

The nation of Israel accepted the Torah by saying, “... כָּל אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֵּר ה' נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע/… we will fulfill and listen to all that God said.” Generally, we listen first and then fulfill afterwards. Why did we say that we will first fulfill and then listen to the word of God? We find this idea of fulfilling first and then listening afterwards in Tehillim, as well, regarding the angels, “בָּרְכוּ ה' מַלְאָכָיו גִּבֹּרֵי כֹחַ עֹשֵׂי דְבָרוֹ לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקוֹל דְּבָרוֹ/Bless God, His angels; those mighty in strength, who fulfill His bidding, to hear the sound of His word.” Chazal teach us that doing before listening is a secret of the workings of the Creation that the angels understand and that was revealed to the nation of Israel as well. What is this secret?

To understand this we need to understand what is meant by God’s word and the sound of His word. We need to go back to the Creation event itself. God created the universe with His word, by issuing ten commands. The act of creation was not a one time event, though, it is a continuous event. If God stopped supporting the universe for a moment, it would disappear. Therefore, God’s word permeates the Creation. God tells us in this week’s parsha, “... שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי .../… listen constantly to my voice …” implying that God’s voice/sound can be heard constantly.

God is really not separate from His word, of course. When we say that God’s word permeates the Creation, we are also saying that God Himself permeates the entire Creation. When the pasuk mentions, “קוֹל דְּבָרוֹ/the sound of His word,” it is referring to the revelation of God in the Creation. Hearing the sound of His word then, means being aware of God.

How can we become aware of God? The pasuk in Tehillim tells us the secret of the angels. We become of aware of God in the Creation by doing His will. By “fulfilling His bidding,” we can “hear the sound of His word.” This is what was meant when the nation said, “נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע/We will fulfill and we will listen.” By first fulfilling the will of God, we will merit hearing Him. We will merit being aware of Him.

This revelation of God’s word/sound permeating the Creation happened after the Exodus. Egypt in Hebrew – מִצְרַיִם – has the same letters as the word for boundaries – מֵצָרִים. When God took us out of Egypt, He brought us close to Him essentially removing the barriers which hid Him and prevented us from being aware of Him. This process of revelation culminated at Mount Sinai with the giving of the Torah.

Shabbos is also a day on which barriers are removed and it is easier to experience a connection with God. When we refrain from performing work that changes the physical world on Shabbos we are testifying that God created the world. Significantly, Chazal teach us that the Torah was given on Shabbos.

In addition to a connection between Torah and Shabbos, there is a connection between the Exodus and Shabbos. In Kiddush we say that Shabbos reminds us of the Exodus. At first glance, the connection between Shabbos and the Exodus is not clear. However, when we understand that leaving Egypt symbolizes breaking through the barriers that separate us from God, the connection becomes very clear. In fact Chazal teach us, “כָּל הַמְעַנֵג אֶת הַשַׁבָּת נוֹתְנִין לוֹ נַחֲלָה בְּלִי מְצָרִים/Whoever takes pleasure in the Shabbos is given an inheritance with no boundaries – an unlimited inheritance.” Notice that the last word in this saying מְצָרִים/boundaries has the same letters as מִצְרַיִם/Egypt.

The sound of God in the Creation became revealed to the nation of Israel and the entire world at Mount Sinai specifically on Shabbos. This is the reason, Chazal teach us, that even though the two crowns each of us received at the giving of the Torah – one for “we will fulfill” and one for “we will listen” – were taken from us after the sin of the golden calf, Moshe Rabbeinu returned them to us each Shabbos. On Shabbos we can hear the sound of God in the Creation. Significantly, the Sfas Emes points out that the first letters of “שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי/Listen constantly to my voice” spell out שַׁבָּת/Shabbos. It is on Shabbos when we can more easily hear God and be aware of Him. May we merit it!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

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 ...” (Shmos 20:10) One would think that the opposite is the case. God rested on the seventh day because it is special. Why does the pasuk say that God blessed the day – making it special – 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. In order to understand this, we have to first understand the relationship between Shabbos and the rest of the Torah.

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

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.” (Breishis 1:31) 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 the nation of Israel accept the Torah. The Creation continues to exist because we accepted the Torah and the ten commandments. This is why the Chidushei HaRim says that the ten commandments were a rectification for the ten commands with which God created the world. 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 Midrash which 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.” (Tehillim 19:8) 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.” (Shmos 31:17) 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. The days of the week (and everything else in the Creation) are connected to Godliness through Shabbos.

While Torah is the vehicle 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.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Beshalach 5631 Fourth Ma'amar

The nation of Israel is standing at the sea, trapped. The sea is in front of them and the Egyptian army is in hot pursuit behind them. The nation seeing this cried out to God. Moshe Rabbeinu, as well, cried out to God. The Ibn Ezra and the Ramban both have difficulty with Moshe Rabbeinu crying out to God. God had just finished telling him exactly what would happen. There were no surprises here. God told Moshe to bring the nation back to camp by the sea. He told Moshe clearly that Pharaoh would pursue them and that God would be glorified by the destruction of the Egyptians before their eyes. The nation may not have known all this. It is not clear from the pesukim that Moshe Rabbeinu told them this. They certainly had every reason to cry to God in prayer. Why, though, did Moshe Rabbeinu cry out to God?

The Sfas Emes explains that the righteous cry out to God even after they are promised salvation. As a vehicle for serving God and coming close to Him, prayer is relevant and required even after God promises to fulfill a request. This is the meaning of the Midrash that there are no guarantees for the righteous. According to the Sfas Emes, this means that the righteous understand that they must turn to God even after assurances are given. In fact, the Sfas Emes takes this idea a step further and says that God only makes the promise to those who will continue to turn to God in prayer even after the promise. Moshe Rabbeinu, therefore, cried out to got even after the promise. For this very reason, God made the promise known to him.

The nation, on the other hand, apparently would not have continued to pray for salvation had we known God’s promise to destroy the Egyptians. It is possible that for this reason God did not command Moshe Rabbeinu to convey the promise of Egypt’s destruction to the nation. God wanted our prayers, as it were. Chazal teach us that God wants us to cry out to Him. In Shir HaShirim we find, “יוֹנָתִי בְּחַגְוֵי הַסֶּלַע ... הַשְׁמִיעִנִי אֶת-קוֹלֵךְ .../My dove, in the clefts of the rock … let me hear your voice …” The Midrash in this week’s parsha explains that this is an allegory. It refers to God telling the nation of Israel at the sea that He wants to hear our voice in prayer.

God wants us to turn to Him always. The Sfas Emes teaches in a different ma’amar that we are required to turn to God in prayer even after our prayers are answered. This approach to prayer is very different from the conventional approach. This approach to prayer is based on the concept that prayer is primarily a tool for coming close to God, may we merit it.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

BeShalach 5631 First Ma'amar

God’s providence on every aspect of Creation became known and revealed to all when He split the Red Sea to save us and destroy the Egyptians. We know this from the following Midrash. The Midrash states on the pasuk, “נכון כסאך מאז מעולם אתה/Your throne is established from then; You are eternal,” (Tehillim 93:2) that even though You are eternal, Your throne became established only at the time of אז/Then (an allusion to Shiras HaYam/The Song of the Sea which begins with the word אז/Then.) The Midrash explains that God’s throne becoming established means that His providence became known in the world.

When the children of Israel realized that everything, including their very actions and the actions of every creature, is enabled because of the Godliness within, they sang. So, the song that the children of Israel sang was not so much a thank you to God for having saved them. Rather it was a spontaneous outburst of praise upon the realization that God is in everything. The Midrash, in fact, states this explicitly, “As soon as they came to the sea and saw God’s strength, how He punishes the wicked and immersed the Egyptians in the sea, ‘'ויאמינו בה/They believed in God.’ In the merit of this belief, ru'ach hakodesh/the holy spirit rested upon them and they sang.” Clearly, the key to their singing was their belief in God’s providence.

For this reason the introduction to Shiras HaYam is in the future tense, “אז ישיר/Then they will sing,” (Shmos 15:1) rather than the past tense, “אז שר/Then they sang.” The song is not thanks for a one time event. Rather it is an ongoing praise of God’s direct providence in the world. This is why the first pasuk of Shiras HaYam refers to השירה הזאת/this song, an allusion to a specific already known praise that rises from each part of the Creation.

When we praise God, indicating our belief that God is the force that gives everything its existence, we influence all His creatures to sing. How does a creation sing? To understand this we need to understand what song is. Song is the physical expression of a spiritual essence within. Each creation is unique, has a unique spiritual essence and therefore sings its own unique song to the Creator. This is the meaning of Perek Shira/The Chapter of Song which contains the songs that each creature sings to glorify God. When we are aware of God in the Creation, when we sing God’s praises, the Creation can be said to be singing. We know this from the pasuk "כל פעל ה' למענהו .../God created everything for His praise.” (Mishlei 16:4)

Chazal inform us that King Chizkiyahu did not sing (praise to God.) This is why he did not become the Mashiach. The Chidushei HaRim explains that Chizkiyahu did not sing because God’s providence was so clear to him that he was not moved by miracles. Chizkiyahu saw clearly the miracle of God’s life force in nature. To Chizkiyahu there was absolutely no difference between natural and supernatural phenomena. As we’ve said, singing to God is an outburst of praise stemming from the realization that God’s providence is behind all. To Chizkiyahu this was so obvious that he was not moved to sing praises to God about it.

For us, though, singing God’s praise is a result of that special “aha!” that happens when we realize that God is the source Who gives life to every thing, creature and action in this world enabling us and the entire creation to come close to Him.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Bo 5631 Fourth Ma'amar

הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים .../This month shall be for you the beginning of the months …” Establishing and maintaining a calendar is the first mitzvah that God commanded us as a nation. God told this mitzvah to Moshe Rabbeinu as part of the preparation for the redemption. Immediately following this mitzvah, God commanded us regarding the mitzvos of Pesach – the korban pesach, matzah and chametz. Why, the Sfas Emes asks, is the mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon given here? What is the connection between this mitzvah and the redemption?

The word חֹדֶשׁ/month, the Sfas Emes teaches, comes from the root חדש/new. The physical association with a moon that disappears and reappears once a month is obvious. However, the Sfas Emes explains that there is a spiritual significance as well. The new moon symbolizes renewal. Renewal and novelty, originality and creativity are all spiritual attributes. Indeed, Shlomo HaMelech taught us in Koheles, “There is nothing new under the sun,” implying that “above the sun” – in the spiritual realms novelty does exist.

Change in the physical world is simply a manifestation of the spiritual. God, of course, is the ultimate source. God is the source of renewal as we say each morning in the first bracha before kri’as shma, “הַמְחַדֵשׁ בְּטוּבֹו בְּכָל יוֹם תָּמִיד מַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית/Who, in His goodness, renews each day continuously the works of the Creation.” The way to tap in to novelty, creativity and originality, then, is by connecting to the spiritual from whence they originate. When we recognize that everything is from God, we open ourselves to receiving novelty and renewal.

The first time this happened was at the redemption from Egypt. At that time it was clear to all that God is in control. Our situation changed drastically due to His direct intervention. Appropriately, at the time of the redemption God gave us the mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon which symbolizes renewal.

On Shabbos, as well, there is renewal and novelty since on Shabbos there is a revelation of Godliness in the Creation. The difference between Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh, though, is that God established Shabbos whereas He gave us the power to determine the beginning of each month. In terms of renewal and novelty in the world, the aspect of revelation associated with the new month is dependent upon our faith. Our belief that there is God-given life force in everything draws revelation and renewal into the world. Chazal hint at this connection as well. God tells the angels that He and the angels will follow whatever the nation of Israel decides regarding establishing the new month, as the pasuk in Tehillim says, “אֶקְרָא לֵא-לֹהִים עֶלְיוֹן לָאֵ-ל גֹּמֵר עָלָי/I will call to God Most High, to God who fulfills things for me.” Just as the establishment of the new month is dependent upon us, so too, is the invoking of renewal and creativity in this world.

The aspect of revelation associated with Shabbos is independent of our faith. It is God-given. When God gave us the mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon, He said, “הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם .../This month shall be for you …” or according to what we’ve said, “This renewal is yours …” Regarding the mitzvah of Shabbos, on the other hand, we find, “'שַׁבָּת לה/Shabbos is to God.”

We find this difference between Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh in the way that God related to Moshe Rabbeinu differently from the rest of the nation. Rashi cites Chazal who teach us that God showed Moshe Rabbeinu the new moon. The significance for us is that Moshe Rabbeinu was on a level of recognition of God that went beyond faith. Moshe Rabbeinu’s level of faith was akin to seeing. We do need to have faith that the sun is shining. We see it shining. This was Moshe Rabbeinu’s level of belief and this is what Chazal mean when they tell us that God showed Moshe Rabbeinu the new moon. This level is given by God. It is like Shabbos in this respect. This is the reason that we mention Moshe Rabbeinu in the morning prayer on Shabbos, “יִשְׂמַח מֹשֶׁה בְּמַתְּנַת חֶלְקו/Moshe will be happy with the gift of his portion.”

Moshe’s level of belief was like Shabbos, it was given to him just like Shabbos was given. The nation’s level of belief was like the new moon. It is in our power just like establishing the beginning of the month is in our power. May we merit recognizing God in everything thus opening ourselves up to renewal, novelty, originality and creativity, attributes that can come only from Him.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Bo 5631 First Ma'amar

The Chidushei HaRim asks why it was necessary for God to bring specifically ten plagues upon the Egyptians. God could have accomplished His purpose with any number of plagues or with no plagues at all. Why ten? The Chidushei HaRim answers that the ten plagues removed God’s concealment from the ten commands with which the world was created and changed them from עשרה מאמרות/ten commands to עשרת הדברות/ten commandments.

The Sfas Emes explains this enigmatic answer. God created the world with עשרה מאמרות/ten commands. These are stated clearly in the first chapter of Breishis. God constructed the Creation mechanism so that when He uttered the words of creation, the words themselves gave their creations existence. So, for example, when God said, "Let there be light,” (Breishis 1:3) those words gave existence to light. The life force behind everything in this world is those letters in the beginning of the Torah which describe the Creation. The letters are the means through which God extends His will to create and continue the existence of the entire creation. This is a crucial concept. The Creation was not a one time act. It is continuous.

Looking around us, though, it is not clear that the life force that gives everything existence is in the letters of these very commands. In fact, it is not obvious that there is a spiritual life force at all. The Godly life force in Creation is hidden. The purpose of the plagues that God wrought upon Egypt was to clearly reveal that the physical Creation owes its continuing existence to a Godly life force. It was to make it known that there is more to the world around us than our eyes perceive. Each plague revealed God in one aspect of the Creation. Each plague removed a barrier preventing us from being aware of God in that aspect of nature referred to in one Creation מאמר/command. This is why God brought ten plagues upon the Egyptians; one plague for each of the ten commands by which God created the world.

What does the Chidushei HaRim mean, though, when he says that each מאמר/command changed to a דבור/utterance? The Chidushei HaRim is using a play on words. Although in Hebrew the root דבר/DBR means speech, in Aramaic it means leader. The Zohar uses this same play on words when it explains, “ודברת בם/You will speak about them.” The Zohar explains this as, “You will guide your actions according to the word of God.” דבור/Leadership symbolizes the revelation of God in the world. In the exile God’s truth is hidden. The Zohar describes this as the aspect of דבור/leadership being in exile. At the time the Torah was given the aspect of דבור/leadership was revealed. This is why right before the ten commandments we find, “וידבר אלקים את כל הדברים האלה .../God spoke all these words …” God’s leadership was no longer in exile. It was clear for all to see.

We find this concept regarding Moshe Rabbeinu’s speech impediment as well. When God asked Moshe Rabbeinu to return to Egypt to speak to Pharaoh and begin the redemption process, he responds, “לא איש דברים אנכי/I am not a man of words.” (Shmos 4:10) After the Torah was given, however, the pasuk says, “אלה הדברים אשר דבר משה .../These are the words that Moshe spoke …” (Devarim 1:1) How did Moshe change from a man with a speech impediment to one who could speak and explain the entire Torah to the nation? The Midrash teaches us that after he merited receiving the Torah he was healed. In the exile Moshe Rabbeinu was not a man of words. Moshe Rabbeinu understood that in the exile God’s influence was far from apparent. But at the giving of the Torah, God’s leadership was clear for all to see. It follows that Moshe Rabbeinu’s speech impediment, which symbolized God’s concealment, was healed.

As we’ve said, the ten plagues removed God’s concealment from the עשרה מאמרות/ten commands with which the world was created. As we and the Egyptians became more aware of God with each plague, each aspect of nature represented by one of the ten commands was changed to an aspect of God’s דבור/leadership. Finally, they were aware of God in all aspects of nature. This is why the Chidushei HaRim said that the ten commands which created the world changed to עשרת הדברות/ten aspects of (God’s) leadership.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Va'Eira 5631 Third Ma'amar

In the beginning of this week’s parsha God commands Moshe Rabbeinu to tell the nation, “... אֲנִי ה' וְהוֹצֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם מִתַּחַת סִבְלֹת מִצְרַיִם ... וְגָאַלְתִּי אֶתְכֶם .../… I am God and I will take you out from under the burdens of Egypt … and I will redeem you …” Why does the Torah need to tell us the sequence of events leading to the redemption? Obviously, when we are redeemed we are no longer subject to the burdens of Egypt. The Chiddushei HaRim explains that although the plain meaning of the pasuk refers to physical servitude, the deeper meaning refers to bearing the burden of the impurity, the evil and the decadence of Egypt. The Torah is not simply listing the sequence of events leading up to the redemption. The Torah is teaching us that the first event is a prerequisite for the next. When can the redemption begin? Only after we can no longer bear the decadence of Egypt.

This also explains the deeper meaning of Moshe Rabbeinu’s response to God’s command to speak to Pharaoh. Moshe Rabbeinu said, “... הֵן בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא-שָׁמְעוּ אֵלַי וְאֵיךְ יִשְׁמָעֵנִי פַרְעֹה .../… Here, the children of Israel did not listen to me so how will Pharaoh listen to me? …” The logic here needs explanation. The Torah told us that the children of Israel did not listen to Moshe because of their anguished spirit and hard labor. This certainly did not apply to Pharaoh. What is the meaning of Moshe Rabbeinu’s response, then?

The Sfas Emes explains that Moshe Rabbeinu understood that before redemption the nation would need to become fed up with the decadence of Egypt. Since they did not listen to him, this obviously had not happened. They had not as yet fulfilled the first prerequisite of the redemption. Since they were not yet ready for redemption, Pharaoh certainly would not listen.

In truth, though, the decadence of Egypt had become unbearable for the nation and we were ready for redemption. Moshe Rabbeinu, however, was on a higher level than the nation. He was more removed from the impurity of Egypt that than we were. For this reason Moshe Rabbeinu says clearly, “The children of Israel did not listen to me …” The emphasis here is on the word, “me.” Since they had not reached his level of disgust with Egypt, Moshe thought that we were not yet ready for redemption.

After enumerating the sequence of events leading to the ultimate redemption God tells Moshe Rabbeinu, “... וִידַעְתֶּם כִּי אֲנִי ה' אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם הַמּוֹצִיא אֶתְכֶם מִתַּחַת סִבְלוֹת מִצְרָיִם/… You will know that I am God your Lord who is bringing you out from under the burdens of Egypt.” Why does God mention specifically the first prerequisite of redemption? Why does He not say, “I am God … who has redeemed you from Egypt.”? The Sfas Emes explains that after the redemption is completed it is imperative for us to acknowledge that were it not for God’s help we would not have been able to fulfill even the first prerequisite of redemption. God told Moshe that He took us out from under the burdens of Egypt. Clearly, without God’s help we would still be under those burdens; we would still not be disgusted by the impurity of Egypt.

The Sfas Emes advises us, therefore, that in order to reach a personal redemption we need to work on ourselves to truly hate evil. Chazal, in fact, teach us, “A person should always rile up his good inclination against his evil inclination.” This, the Sfas Emes teaches, is the beginning of redemption.