Thursday, October 22, 2009

No'ach 5631 Third Ma'amar (second half)

In the first half of this ma’amar, the Sfas Emes shows that the generation of the Flood was destroyed because the people of that generation benefited from the world without recognizing God in it.  The second half of the ma’amar contrasts this approach with the approach of the generation of the haflaga/dispersal – the generation that built the tower of Babel.
The generation that built the tower of Babel recognized God.  They clearly understood that everything that they had came from Him.  But this knowledge put them at His mercy.  They wanted freedom from God.  They also understood that God runs the world through a hierarchical system of spiritual “ministers”.  Every component of the physical universe has a spiritual “minister” or root through which that physical component is sustained.  The generation of the tower of Babel wanted to distance themselves from God and deal only with the components of the universe.  They felt this would give them the freedom to do as they pleased.
The recognition of the One God is a unifying force.  The generation of the haflaga was unified because of it.  Although the Torah calls the generation of the haflaga עַם אֶחָד/one nation (Breishis 11:6), the Chiddushei HaRim[1] says this is a reference to the nation of Israel.  How so?  The Sfas Emes explains that the nation of Israel is associated closely with worshipping the One God, the exact opposite of believing in many different forces that govern the world.  The belief in One God unifies us.  Idol worship separates people.
Chazal[2] teach us that a person who observes the Shabbos is forgiven even for idol worship.  The wording of Chazal implies that he worships idols even as he observes the Shabbos.  But how can this be?  They contradict each other.  Observing Shabbos is a testimony to a unifying force in the world.  Shabbos was the culmination of the Creation.  The Creation was seen as one unified system on Shabbos, created by One Creator.  Idol worship is the exact opposite.  It is a testimony to many forces and a disbelief in the unity of the Creation.  How, then, can Shabbos and idol worship exist in the same person at the same time?  The Sfas Emes answers that they cannot.  Since the two cannot exist simultaneously in the same person, it is obvious that he is not really an idol worshipper and he is accepted as one who believes in one God.  He is therefore “forgiven” for whatever infraction he transgressed.
Although the generation of the haflaga wanted their unity, they also wanted their freedom.  They wanted at the same time to be separated from God.  This is a contradiction and therefore their unity was taken from them.
We find this concept in the Zohar[3] on our parsha as well.  Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai explains the pasuk, “וְהַבַּיִת בְּהִבָּנֹתוֹ אֶבֶן־שְׁלֵמָה מַסָּע נִבְנָה וּמַקָּבוֹת וְהַגַּרְזֶן כָּל־כְּלִי בַרְזֶל לֹא־נִשְׁמַע בַּבַּיִת בְּהִבָּנֹתוֹ/When the Temple was being built, it was build of complete quarried stone; no hammers, chisels nor any iron utensils were heard in the Temple while it was being built.” 
Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai teaches that the tools used to build the Temple represent the lower spiritual forces that directly influence the physical world.  Their not being heard refers to their subordinating themselves to the Shechina through which they receive sustenance from the upper spiritual realms.  When they are not heard, then, there is unity in the world.  There cannot be unity in the physical world without a corresponding subordination to its ultimate Root, God Himself.

[1] Chiddushei HaRim on the Torah No’ach s.v. hein am
[2] Shabbos 118b
[3] Zohar 1:74a-b s.v. umakavos vehagarzen

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