Friday, December 31, 2010

VaEira 5632 First Ma'amar

At the beginning of the parsha we learn that Moshe Rabbeinu prophesied on a higher level that Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov.  God revealed Himself to Moshe through His ineffable name whilst He revealed Himself to our forefathers through the name ש-ד-י/Almighty.  Yet, Rashi quoting Chazal tells us that God was more pleased with the forefathers than with Moshe Rabbeinu.  Referring to the forefathers God says, "חבל על דאבדין .../Alas, those who are gone …" If Moshe Rabbeinu was on a higher level than the forefathers, why was God more pleased with the forefathers?

A deeper understanding of the names through which God revealed Himself to the forefathers and Moshe Rabbeinu will shed light.  The name ש-ד-י/Almighty, represents God's life force which, although hidden, permeates the entire Creation.  This life force is the source from which the Creation manifests.  The mission of our forefathers was to spread this idea and awareness of God in the Creation.  Chazal teach us that Avraham Avinu was the first person to refer to God as אדון/Master.

Our mission as well, is to realize that God's presence is in every aspect of the Creation.  This is easy work in holy places.  The work becomes more difficult the less holy the venue.  The definition of exile is God's concealment just as the definition of redemption is God's revelation.  The purpose of exile is to come to believe and internalize the belief that God is with us even in the most unholy of places.  God reveals Himself to those who believe that He is there and in fact, this is the way to redemption.  The work and teachings of our forefathers prepared us for redemption.

In order for our forefathers to do their work of spreading an awareness of God in nature and the natural world, they had to experience the natural world, be a part of it.  This is the level of ש-ד-י/Almighty, God's life force within the natural world. 

God revealed Himself to Moshe Rabbeinu through the Tetragrammaton, representing God as eternal, above nature.  Moshe was charged with the mission of bringing an awareness of God to the nation of Israel within the exile of Egypt.  The nature of his own relationship with God, however, made this mission exceedingly difficult for him.  God was more pleased with our forefathers because they were able to do a better job of spreading awareness of God in the world.

Moshe Rabbeinu told the nation that the redemption – God's revelation – was at hand but they did not listen, "... ולא שמעו אל משה מקצר רוח .../… and they did not listen to Moshe from shortness of breath …"  The simple meaning is that they were too consumed by their oppressive work to even hear Moshe Rabbeinu.  The deeper meaning involves the concept we've been discussing – the idea that God's presence permeates the Creation but is hidden by it. 

Everything has a physical component and a spiritual component.  In man this idea is clearly stated in the Torah, "ויפח באפיו נשמת חיים .../He blew into his nostrils the soul of life …" If we act with a view for the spiritual, for the soul so to speak, then our actions are spiritually meaningful.  If we act only for the physical then our actions are cut off from the spiritual.  Exile is the ultimate being cut off from the spiritual because it is the ultimate concealment of God. 

"מקצר רוח/from shortness of breath" alludes to this idea.  רוח also refers to the soul.  קצר/short also means to cut.  Therefore, מקצר רוח can also be translated as, "because of being cut off from the soul."  Moshe Rabbeinu was trying to teach the nation that God was with them even in the exile.  Internalizing this belief would be instrumental in revealing God and bringing on the redemption.  In fact, this was a prerequisite for the redemption.  The nation could not hear the teaching because they were removed from the spiritual and involved only in the physical.

This concept explains the Zohar on the pasuk, "... הן בני ישראל לא שמעו אלי ואיך ישמעני פרעה .../… Behold the children of Israel did not listen to me so how will Pharaoh listen to me …"  The Zohar says that they did not listen because the דבור/speech was in exile.  What does this mean?

The Chiddushei HaRim explains that the world was created with ten sayings – עשרה מאמרות.  These ten sayings became ten עשרת הדברות/ten commandments through the ten plagues.  This seems even more enigmatic than the Zohar.  However according to what we've said earlier we can understand this.  The purpose of the Creation is to conceal God.  This concealment is represented by the ten sayings through which the Creation came about.

The word דבור/speech, means to lead in Aramaic.  We find, for example in Tehillim, "ידבר עמים תחתינו/He shall subdue nations under us …" Another example, the Zohar explains, "ודברת בם/You shall speak about them" as meaning that we should manage our lives according to the Torah.  In exile, God leadership is not apparent.  This is the reason the Zohar says that דיבור – meaning God's leadership – was in exile.  God's leadership was concealed.

The Chiddushei HaRim is teaching us that God's leadership was revealed through the ten plagues.  By the end of the plagues it was clear to all that God was controlling nature.  So, the ten sayings that created nature to conceal God turned into the ten דיברות/leadership revelations through the ten plagues.

However, when Moshe Rabbeinu spoke to the nation and they did not listen he told God that if the nation cannot accept that He is with them, then how would Pharaoh possibly accept it.  And in fact the prophet tells us that Pharaoh said, "לי יאורי ואני עשיתני/My river is mine and I have made myself"  This is the ultimate expression of God's leadership being in exile.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Shemos 5631 Third Ma'amar

... וְאָמַרְתִּי לָהֶם אֱ-לֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵיכֶם שְׁלָחַנִי אֲלֵיכֶם וְאָמְרוּ-לִי מַה-שְּׁמוֹ מָה אֹמַר אֲלֵהֶם/… and I will say to them, ‘The God of your forefathers sent me to you,’ and they will ask me, ‘What is His name,’ what shall I say to them?” (Shmos 3:13)  Why did Moshe Rabbeinu think they would ask God’s name?  Why would this be important?  What is the significance of knowing His name?

The Sfas Emes explains that God’s name symbolizes His revelation in this world.  During exile we say that the glory of His name is concealed.  Redemption means that the glory of His name is revealed.  His Providence is clearly apparent to all.  In a time of redemption everyone understands that exile is simply a shell preventing us from experiencing God’s presence.  The Zohar makes this point when it says that Shabbos is the name of God.[1]  Shabbos is that aspect of Creation that represents an uplifting of everything towards its spiritual source.  The ultimate spiritual source of everything is God Himself.  God is thus more “revealed,” – it is easier to be aware of His presence – on Shabbos.  Shabbos, then, is the name of God because His name represents His revelation.

God, of course, does not change.  There is a higher level of faith whereby one’s recognition and awareness of God are not affected by external circumstances.  Moshe Rabbeinu was on this level.  During the exile, the nation of Israel was not.  The significance of the question, “What is His name?” then, is, “Where do we see the revelation of God in the exile?”  God’s answer is that His name is, “אֶהְיֶה/I will be.” (Shmos 3:14)  God says that although now, in the exile, His presence is hidden, the exile, specifically because of its darkness, causes a greater revelation later.  Even the Egyptians will recognize that God is in charge.

After the redemption, the nation reached the higher level of faith.  We find in  Shiras HaYam, “ה' אִישׁ מִלְחָמָה ה' שְׁמוֹ/God is master of war, God is His name.” (Shmos 15:3)  At the time of redemption there is clear recognition that, “God is His name.”  They are one and the same.  Significantly the name of God used here is the Tetragrammaton, which means that God is beyond time – He does not change.  When He reveals Himself, it becomes clear that the God who is revealed – represented by His name – is the same as the God that was hidden before.

Certainly, before the redemption, the nation of Israel was not on this level of faith, hence the question, “What is His name?”  Moshe understands this when he says to God, “וְהֵן לֹא-יַאֲמִינוּ .../They will not believe.” (Shmos 4:1)  Even though the pasuk relates subsequently that they did believe, Moshe Rabbeinu was not mistaken.  The nation believed the signs that Moshe showed them.  They believed that the redemption was at hand.  They were on a certain level of faith.  This, however, is not what Moshe Rabbeinu was referring to.

Moshe Rabbeinu was referring to the total and complete faith that God is present in the exile exactly as He is present in redemption.  Moshe Rabbeinu was saying that they were not on his level of faith, the faith of knowing that God is here the way we believe in what we actually see with our eyes.  Moshe Rabbeinu knew that he would not be able to make them understand that God is present in the exile the same way He is present in the redemption.  After the redemption, though, the pasuk testifies that the nation reached this level, “וַיַאֲמִינוּ בַה'/They believed in God.” (Shmos 14:31)

According to this we can understand the three signs that God sent Moshe Rabbeinu to show the nation.  After each of the first two signs, God says to Moshe that He is giving another sign in case the nation does not believe the previous one.  Isn’t this strange?  God obviously knows beforehand whether the nation will believe or not.  Why did He not simply send Moshe Rabbeinu the sign that He knew would be effective?  The explanation according to what we have said, is that there are levels of belief.  The highest level is the level of Moshe Rabbeinu, the level akin to seeing with our own eyes.  It is possible, though, to start at a lower level and work up to a higher level.  The three signs represented this process.  Each subsequent sign represented a higher level of faith than the previous sign.

At the level of faith that Moshe Rabbeinu reached, the surrounding exile and darkness is recognized for what it really is.  It is an illusion that God created.  It is not reality.  The Sfas Emes teaches us that built into Shabbos is a spiritual enlightenment which allows us to experience this, to some extent.  Significantly, the chapter in Tehillim that describes Shabbos states clearly that even though we see evildoers succeeding, this is not truth.[2]  This is not reality.  This is an external illusion.  That which gives life and existence to everything, even to the evildoers, is only God.  May we merit seeing God in everything both redemption and exile and may we merit redemption this year!  AMEN.

[1] Zohar 2:88b
[2] Tehillim 92

Friday, December 17, 2010

VaYechi 5631 First Ma'amar

 וַיְחִי יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם .../Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt ...” (Breishis 47:28) The Sfas Emes addresses two difficulties.  Firstly, וַיְחִי/He lived, is a strange choice of words.  Usually when the Torah relates that someone lived in a specific place, it uses the word וַיֵשֶׁב/He dwelt or וַיָגָר/He lived[1].  The Chiddushei HaRim suggests that, וַיְהִי/He was, would have been more appropriate than וַיְחִי/He lived.

Secondly, in a sefer Torah, there is always a blank space between two parshas.  VaYechi is the only parsha in the entire Torah which begins directly following the last word of the previous parsha with no break whatsoever.  This is referred to as a closed parsha.  Why is this?

Ya’akov Avinu is associated with the attribute of אֱמֶת/truth.  The prophet Micha (7:20) tells us, “תִּתֵּן אֱמֶת לְיַעֲקֹב/Give truth to Ya’akov.”  A person who lives with truth realizes that the physical world is a façade which hides an awareness of God.  Because of this Ya’akov Avinu felt God’s presence everywhere even in decadent Egypt.  For Ya’akov Avinu, there was no exile.  Conventionally we think of exile as meaning an expulsion from one’s native land.  We lived in Egyptian exile because we were not in our homeland.  The deeper meaning of exile, though, is an exile from God’s presence.  It is easy to be acutely aware of God’s presence in the Land of Israel, much less so in decadent Egypt.  In truth, though, God is everywhere equally.  For one who can see past the external façade and realize this, there is no real exile.  

Egyptian society was pagan and immoral.  It was very difficult to see God in Egypt.  By using the word וַיְחִי/He lived, the Torah is telling us that even in decadent Egypt, Ya’akov “lived.”  Living means to attach to the Source of all life.  Chazal tell us that wicked people are considered dead even during their lives.  This is because they have separated from God, the Source of life.  For the wicked, God is hidden.  He is not a part of their lives.  They do not feel His presence.  Ya’akov “lived” even in Egypt.  On the level of אֱמֶת/truth, it did not matter that he was in Egypt.  God gives life to the immoral Egyptians, too.  For Ya’akov, He was revealed even in Egypt.  This is why the parsha starts with, “וַיְחִי יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם .../Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt ...” instead of the more usual וַיֵשֶׁב יַעֲקֹב/Yaakov dwelt.

But why is the parsha closed?  Rashi quotes Chazal who tell us that Ya’akov wanted to reveal the end of days to his children.  The end of days is a time when all exile comes to an end and God is revealed.  The exile is a temporary screen behind which God hides Himself.  Behind the screen of the exile and giving life to it (and to everything else) is the eternal Source of life.  Ya’akov wanted to convey to his children that God is there even in Egypt.    He wanted it to be clear to them, as it was clear to him, that God is everywhere, even in the exile.  He wanted them to see, feel and experience God’s presence in Egypt just as he did.  If Ya’akov had taught this to his children, though, they would have reached Ya’akov’s level of אֱמֶת/truth.  God would have been revealed to them and there would have been no exile.  Chazal in fact tell us that the bondage in Egypt only began after Ya’akov passed on.  The exile, though, was a necessary part of the Divine plan.  So, although Ya’akov “lived,” the parsha was closed.  He was not permitted to pass it on to his children.

However, Chazal tell us that Ya’akov was permitted to teach them that even if they could not see past the external screen of immoral and corrupt Egyptian civilization and experience God, they could still believe that God was there[2].  Belief that God was there when the reality of their surroundings was the immoral and pagan Egyptian culture required a lot of hard work.  But, through אֱמוּנָה/belief, they would be able to see the אֱמֶת/truth – God is in the exile as well.

Believing that God is the source of all power in the world enables us to see Him in the world.  The stronger our belief, the more God is revealed.  Working to reach this high level of אֱמוּנָה/belief enables us to find Godly enlightenment even where God is concealed.

[1] In English the difference between וַיְחִי/He lived and וַיָגָר/He lived, is not felt.  However, in Hebrew, the former refers to the length of one’s life while the latter refers to the place in which he lived.  Clearly, when the Torah wants to tell us that Ya’akov lived in Egypt, וַיָגָר would be more appropriate than וַיְחִי, hence the question.
[2] Zohar 1:234b

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Chanukah 5632 Third Night

Chazal established Chanukah as a holiday by giving praise and thanks – "לשנה אחרת קבעום ועשאום ימים טובים בהלל והודאה/The next year they established and made [these days] holidays through praise and thanks." (Shabbos 21b)  The wording implies that the praise and thanks caused these days to be holidays rather than being instituted as a result of these days being established as holidays.  Why did Chazal establish Chanukah in this manner?

Our holidays are not merely a national memoriam of past events.  Each of our holidays is the result of a spiritual enlightenment special to that day.  The only way Chazal could establish a holiday would be to tap into the specific spiritual enlightenment for that day and draw it into the physical world.  Chanukah is a time of praise and thanks to God.  So, to draw the enlightenment specific to this time into the world they gave praise and thanks to God in recognition of His salvation.  As a result the holiday of Chanukah with its spiritual power as days of thanksgiving manifested.  

But this does not mean that we automatically experience Chanukah's spiritual enlightenment.  In order for us to experience the spiritual enlightenment of Chanukah we, too, must draw it into the world by singing praises of thanksgiving to God.

What is true on a national level is true on a personal level as well.  Any time we experience God's salvation – which is really a Godly revelation – we can cause that revelation to remain with us by recognizing it for what it really is – a revelation of God's great kindness towards us.  The effects of His kindness remain with us to the extent that we recognize it by praising and thanking Him.   In fact, the Sfas Emes teaches that we can cause the effects of God's revelation to remain with us even for the generations that follow us.

With this concept we can understand a Chiddushei HaRim.  Although Chanukah is a time of thanksgiving, there is no mitzvah to eat a special meal on Chanukah.  However, the Rema[1] writes that we can turn a meal on Chanukah into a "mitzvah meal" by singing praise to God during the meal.  The Magen Avraham[2] extrapolates to any situation in which there is a doubt as to whether the meal is a "mitzvah meal" or not.  By singing praises to God during the meal it becomes a mitzvah meal.  There are, for instance, certain marriages where the meal may not be considered a "mitzvah meal."  The Magen Avraham infers from Chanukah that singing at these meals turns them into "mitzvah meals".

The Chiddushei HaRim[3] however, notes that Chanukah meals cannot be compared with other situations where the mitzvah status of the meal is in doubt.  The reason that the Chanukah meal becomes a mitzvah through singing is because giving praise and thanks to God are inherent attributes of the holiday.  This is not the case in the meals that the Magen Avraham is referring to.  If the meal at a certain type of marriage is not a mitzvah, there is no special magic that occurs through singing that will turn it into a mitzvah.

The Sfas Emes explains that the Chiddushei HaRim is alluding to our concept.  By praising and thanking God on Chanukah, we reveal the latent enlightenment that exists at this time.  The holiday is a manifestation of this revelation.  When we sing at a meal we are drawing that enlightenment into the physical.  The meal automatically becomes a holiday meal – a mitzvah meal.

[1] S.A. O.Ch 670:2 Haga'a
[2] Ibid Magen Avraham 4
[3] Chiddushei HaRim Chanuka, s.v. Issa