Friday, November 21, 2008

Chayei Sarah 5631 Fourth Ma'amar

וְאַבְרָהָם זָקֵן בָּא בַּיָּמִים .../And Avraham was old, advanced in age (lit. - he came with his days) …” The Zohar explains that when a person passes on, he comes to the next world enclothed in his days. The Chiddushei HaRim explains that a person’s mitzvos create enlightenment. The enlightenment of no two days are the same. Being enclothed by his days means that the unique enlightenment from each day surrounded him.

The Sfas Emes says further that “בָּא בַּיָּמִים/he came with his days” means that all the enlightening experiences Avraham Avinu had on each day remained with him forever. Usually, an enlightening experience is exhilarating while we experience it. Then, when we get used to it, the exhilaration dies down. What was exhilarating becomes a little stale with time.

We may think that there is nothing wrong with this. After all, it’s only natural to forget. The Sfas Emes, though, teaches that we are required to remember the exhilaration we experience when God sends us an inspiration . According to the Sfas Emes, the Torah admonishes us not to forget this exhilaration in this pasuk, “רַק הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ וּשְׁמֹר נַפְשְךָ מְאֹד פֶּן־תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת־הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר־רָאוּ עֵינֶיךָ .../Only, take care and guard yourselves well, lest you forget the things that your eyes saw …

What can we do to maintain the freshness of an inspiring experience long after the event? The Sfas Emes teaches us that Avraham Avinu reached an advanced age with all his enlightening experiences as if they all happened now. Nothing was lost in the passage of time. Nothing became stale and old in Avraham Avinu’s view of the world.

The Chiddushei HaRim uses this concept to give a novel interpretation to a Mishna in Avos, “הַלּוֹמֵד יֶלֶד לְמַה הוּא דּוֹמֶה לִדְיוֹ כְּתוּבָה עַל נְיָר חָדָשׁ וְהַלּוֹמֵד זָקֵן לְמַה הוּא דוֹמֶה לִדְיוֹ כְּתוּבָה עַל נְיָר מָחוּק/To what can a child who learns be compared? To ink written on new paper. To what can an old person who learns be compared? To ink written on used paper that has been erased.” The Chiddushei HaRim learns that the Tanna is not necessarily speaking of a young person vs. and old person. Rather the Mishna is referring to one who has a child’s outlook vs. an old person’s outlook. To a child, everything is new and exciting whereas an old person rarely gets excited. He’s seen it all before.

Avraham Avinu, even though he was at an advanced age, had a child’s view. He was exhilarated by all the enlightening experiences that he ever experienced as if they were new to him and had just occurred.

How did he cultivate this incredible world view and how can we? The answer to this question is based on an understanding of what an inspirational experience really is. From where do our flashes of inspiration come? One moment I am in quandary. The next moment the answer is clear in my mind. A new, original thought exists that did not exist before. Where did it come from?

The Sfas Emes teaches that from within the physical world, no novelty is possible. All novelty comes from outside the physical world. Koheles says this clearly, “... וְאֵין כָּל־חָדָשׁ תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ/… and there is nothing new under the sun,” implying that only “under the sun” – within the physical world – nothing is new. All originality comes from “above the sun” – outside of the natural world. The reason for this is that the physical universe has no autonomous existence. God brought it into existence and it remains in existence only so long as He wills it. Therefore, each moment of existence is actually a new creation. In the blessings before Kri’as Shema each morning, we say that God, “... מְחַדֵשׁ בְּטוּבוֹ בְּכָל יוֹם תָּמִיד מַעֲשׂה בְרֵאשִׁית/… in His goodness, renews the workings of the Creation constantly each day.” “Constantly” means every moment.

Our senses, though, tell us that the world around us exists autonomously, independent of any outside force. How then can we cultivate a sense of excitement by the newness that is reality? The answer, the Sfas Emes teaches, is to internalize the belief that there is a hidden spiritual power behind everything in the physical world that constantly renews it. It was this belief that enabled Avraham Avinu to be exhilarated by the inspirational moments that he had years before. Nothing ever became stale because getting old is a physical quality not a spiritual one.

We too, can cultivate a sense of awe and wonder, a child’s excitement at the world around us, by attributing all actions and all things to their spiritual underpinnings. A true and complete internalization of this concept leads inexorably to constant praise of God stemming from the feeling deep inside that at this very moment we, along with everything else, are newly created.

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