Friday, May 16, 2008

Behar 5632 First Ma'amar

The Zohar teaches that God used the Torah to create the world. The Zohar is teaching us that the Torah is much more than the physical scrolls that is its physical manifestation. The Torah is a powerful spiritual entity that Chazal metaphorically refer to as “fire.” Since God created the world through the Torah and keeps it in existence continually, it follows that God’s life-force permeates the entire Creation.

This life-force, though, is not apparent in the Creation. The Creation itself acts as a barrier that hides the Godly life-force. When we look around us, we see the physical world, not the spiritual life-force underlying it. Our mission, the Sfas Emes teaches us, is to search and find the light of the Torah in all things. How can we do this?

The Midrash in this week’s parsha teaches us through metaphors on the following pasuk in Mishlei, “מָוֶת וְחַיִּים בְּיַד־לָשׁוֹן .../The tongue (i.e. speech) has the power of death and life …” How does speech have the power of death and life? Speech represents the life-force within us because we use our breath to speak. Breath, the Torah tells us, is life, “וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים/He blew the breath of life into his nostrils.”

The power of life and death, means the power to reveal or hide the Godliness that is within everything. The Midrash compares this to blowing or spitting on coal. When we blow on a coal, if flames up while spitting on it extinguishes it. The flame in the coal is a metaphor for the spiritual within the physical in this world. When we acknowledge the spiritual within us we can recognize the spiritual in everything. The spiritual within the physical is then revealed. In the words of the metaphor, “Blowing on the coal causes it to flame.”

If, however we do not recognize the spiritual within us, we cannot recognize the spiritual in the physical world around us. Again, in the words of the metaphor, “… spitting on the flame, extinguishes it.”

The Midrash also compares the power of life and death – the power to reveal or hide the Godliness within the physical world – to eating food that has been tithed or not tithed. Eating food before it has been tithed is death through the tongue. Eating food after it has been tithed is the power of life through the tongue.

The Sfas Emes explains the significance of this allegory. Tithing our food to fulfill God’s commandment is a way of expressing our belief that the food, and by extension everything, is from Him. The acknowledgement that the food is from God, reveals the Godliness inherent in the food. Food that is not tithed can be viewed as being wrapped in a shell preventing its spiritual life-force from being experienced.

May we merit acknowledging the Godliness within us and as a result the Godliness that permeates the entire world. Amen!

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