Friday, April 22, 2011

Pesach 5631 First Night, Third Ma'amar

In the Haggada we read that God made a covenant with Avraham Avinu promising that his progeny would be afflicted in exile for four hundred years before returning with great riches.[1]  This covenant was to be a show of God's affection for Avraham Avinu.  How could it be that specifically in the context of this covenant God told Avraham that his descendants would be I exile for four hundred years?

It is natural to view exile negatively.  It is after all a trauma both nationally and individually.  We know from our own history that exile results in untold suffering.  To answer the question regarding what can possibly be positive about exile, we need to better understand the purpose of exile.

The reason we exist and by extension the reason the world exists is to reach a revelation of God.  If He were revealed to us, there would be no point to our existence.  He therefore created the world as a screen to prevent us from "seeing" Him.  This gives us the opportunity to work towards coming close to Him, to revealing Him, to experiencing Him.

God gave us exile so that we may gain the strength to find Him in every situation in which He is concealed.  In fact, the very word exile – גלות – has the same root as the word for revelation – התגלות (or גלוי).  Exile leads inexorably to redemption which is simply another way of saying revelation.

This is why the promise to bring us into exile and then return us to our own land is followed in the Haggada by, "והיא שעמדה לאבותינו ולנו .../This is what stood by our forefathers and us …"  This promise is what helps us in every generation.  It gives us the tools we need to use the exile for its true purpose – to reveal God is every situation in which He is concealed.  Every concealment of God results in a stronger subsequent revelation.

Actually, everything physical hides a spiritual component.  Exile is just the most extreme example of this idea.  The Sfas Emes sees a hint to this concept also in the beginning of the passage, "ברוך שומר הבטחתו לישראל ברוך הוא שהקב"ה חישב את הקץ לעשות כמה שאמר לאברהם אבינו בברית .../Blessed is He who keeps His promise to Israel, blessed is He, for God calculated the end (of the exile) in order to do what He said to Avraham Avinu at the covenant …"  The Sfas Emes translates, "חישב את הקץ לעשות/He calculated the end in order to do" as, "He calculated the end of doing."  "Doing" relates to physical activity.  However, through the exile we reach an understanding that every physical action has a spiritual component.  We can say that every physical action has within it the possibility of Godly revelation.  Exile teaches us to recognize this and not to get bogged down in the physical aspects of our activities but to strive to reveal the spiritual within.  It is the end of physical doing.

At the end of the paragraph we read, "והקב"ה מצילנו מידם/And God saves us from their hand."  Whereas the plain meaning is clear – God saves us from those who would rise against up to destroy us – the Sfas Emes sees a continuation of the concept of spirituality within the physical.  The word מצילנו/He saves us, can also be translated as, "He separates us," as in, "ויצל ... את מקנה אביכם ויתן לי/He … separated your father's livestock and gave them to me." (Breishis 31:9) 

The same idea can be understood from the pasuk, "רבות רעות צדיק ומכולם יצילנו ה'/The afflictions of the righteous are many and God saves him from them all." (Tehillim 34:20)  The Zohar[2] understands that this pasuk is not referring to afflictions brought upon the righteous but rather to afflictions that come from within as a result of the struggle the righteous has with his evil inclination.  The evil inclination wants to prevent the righteous from experiencing closeness to God.  Here too, יצילנו/He saves him, can be understood as, "He separates him."  From within the darkest straits God separates the spark of holiness and reveals it.  

This revelation is the essence of redemption.  This is the meaning of God's promise to Avraham Avinu that at the end of the exile, "ויצאו ברכוש גדול/They will leave with great riches." (Breishis 15:14)  The riches allude to the sparks of holiness that are hidden within the exile.  Revelation is a sure indication of the end of exile, may we merit it speedily!!       

[1] Breishis 15:13-14
[2] Zohar 1:179a-b

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