Thursday, November 12, 2009

Chayei Sarah 5631 First Ma'amar (second half) and Second Ma'amar

In the first half the ma’amar, the Sfas Emes teaches that the actions of  Sarah Imeinu, and all righteous people, cause the Creation to be more elevated toward its spiritual roots.  God’s glory, which is hidden but present in the physical Creation, thus becomes revealed through the actions of the righteous.  (Click here to read the first half of the ma’amar.)
With this concept we can understand the deep teaching of a seemingly mundane Midrash in this week’s parsha.  The Midrash[1] relates that during the course of a lecture, Rebbi Akiva noticed that some people were dozing.  In order to regain their attention he asked, “Why did Esther merit ruling over 127 provinces?”  He answered, “Esther as the granddaughter of Sarah who lived for 127 years, ruled over 127 provinces.”
What is the connection between the years of Sarah’s life and the number of provinces over which Esther ruled?  The Sfas Emes explains that since time was created and therefore exists only in the physical world, it represents nature.  Nature conceals God. 
Each year has its own unique form of concealment and needs its own unique rectification.  No two years are the same.  Therefore, what works to reveal God in one period, will not work in a different period.  Each period is different.  We have the ability to reveal God’s glory that is hidden within nature, within time.  In fact, this is the purpose of the Creation and of our very lives.  Indeed, Sarah Imeinu succeeded in revealing God during each of the years of her life.
Achashveirosh’s rule over 127 provinces was a tremendous concealment of God.  Esther was able to reveal God through her rule over these provinces in spite of Achashveirosh, in the merit of her grandmother Sarah who revealed God during the 127 years of her life.
The ones who were dozing during Rebbi Akiva’s lecture represent the concealment the evil inclination causes that lulls us to sleep.  Rebbi Akiva used the same merit of Sarah Imeinu to awaken the dozers from their state of concealment.  In the process he taught that the goal of life is to reveal God in the natural world.
We find this same concept in a Tanchuma on this week’s parsha which quotes this pasuk, “לֹא־תִירָא לְבֵיתָהּ מִשָּׁלֶג כִּי כָל־בֵּיתָהּ לָבֻשׁ שָׁנִים/She is not afraid of snow for her household, for her entire household is clothed in scarlet wool.”  The Midrash explains that this pasuk is a metaphor.  Snow represents gehinnomשָׁנִים/scarlet wool, which can also be read שְׁנַיִם/two, represents two mitzvos, Shabbos and circumcision.  The Midrash translates the pasuk as, “She need not fear gehinnom because in her house there are two fundamental mitzvos, Shabbos and circumcision.”
What compelled the Midrash to choose specifically the mitzvos of Shabbos and circumcision instead of any other pair of mitzvos.?  The Sfas Emes explains that this Midrash is addressing the issue of God’s concealment and revelation. 
Gehinnom is the ultimate concealment of  God.  The Sfas Emes notes that scarlet wool as well represents God’s concealment as we find, “.. חֲטָאֵיכֶם כַּשָׁנִים .../... your transgressions are like scarlet wool.” (Yeshaya 1:18)  Transgressions create a barrier between us and God and the prophet compares transgressions to scarlet wool.  The Midrash is giving us a solution, a tool for a situation in which God is concealed. 
The solution, the Midrash teaches is observing Shabbos and circumcision.  Why these two mitzvos specifically? The Sfas Emes explains that, whereas fulfilling any mitzvah elevates the physical and reveals God, the nature of both Shabbos and circumcision are especially associated with the revelation of God.  
Elsewhere[2], the Sfas Emes teaches that Shabbos can be defined as a state of God’s revelation.  We experience an aspect of Shabbos during the week, as well.  By recognizing the spiritual within our mundane activities during the week, we reveal the spiritual.  When we work to fulfill God’s will during the week, we also experience more spiritual elevation on Shabbos.
Circumcision, as well, represents revelation.  The removal of the foreskin represents the removal of the outer physical shell hiding God’s presence.[3]
A situation in which God is concealed lends itself to fear.  The Midrash is teaching us that we have in our power to change the situation and remove the barrier that conceals God by carefully observing Shabbos and circumcision.  Shabbos is a revelation of God and circumcision teaches us that we can effect God’s revelation in the physical world.  May we merit it!

[1] Breishis R. 58:3
[2] Sfas Emes Tetzei 5631 First Ma’amar
[3] See Sfas Emes VaYeira 5632 First Ma’mar and 5633 First Ma’amar for more detail on this idea.

1 comment:

NonymousG said...

Excellent as usual M! Check out my latest post, it's a Vilna Gaon.