Friday, January 27, 2012

Bo 5631 First Ma'amar

The Chiddushei HaRim asks why it was necessary for God to bring specifically ten plagues upon the Egyptians.  God could have achieved His purpose with any number of plagues or with no plagues at all.  Why ten?  The Chiddushei HaRim answers that the ten plagues removed God’s concealment from the ten commands with which the world was created and changed them from עֲשָׂרָה מַאֲמָרוֹת/ten commands to עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדִּבְּרוֹת/Ten Commandments.

The Sfas Emes explains this enigmatic answer.  God created the world with עֲשָׂרָה מַאֲמָרוֹת/ten commands.  These are stated clearly in the first chapter of Breishis.  God constructed the Creation mechanism so that when He uttered the words of creation, the words themselves gave their creations existence.  So, for example, when God said, “Let there be light,” (Breishis 1:3) those words gave existence to light.  The life force behind everything in this world is the letters in the beginning of the Torah which describe the Creation.  The letters are the means through which God extends His will to create and continue the existence of the entire creation.  This is a crucial concept.  The Creation was not a one time act.  It is continuous. 

Looking around us, though, it is not clear that the life force that gives everything existence is in the letters of these very commands.  In fact, it is not obvious that there is a spiritual life force at all.  The Godly life force in Creation is hidden.  The purpose of the plagues that God wrought upon Egypt was to clearly reveal that the physical Creation owes its continuing existence to a Godly life force.  It was to make it known that there is more to the world around us than our eyes perceive.  Each plague revealed God in one aspect of the Creation.  Each plague removed a barrier preventing us from being aware of God in that aspect of nature referred to in one Creation מַאֲמַר/command.  This is why God brought ten plagues upon the Egyptians; one plague for each of the ten commands by which God created the world.

What does the Chiddushei HaRim mean, though, when he says that each מַאֲמַר/command changed to a דִבּוּר/utterance?  The Chiddushei HaRim is using a play on words.  Although in Hebrew the root דַבָר/DBR means speech, in Aramaic it means leader.  The Zohar uses this same play on words when it explains, “וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם/You will speak about them.”  The Zohar explains this as, “You will guide your actions according to the word of God.”[1]  דִבּוּר/Leadership symbolizes the revelation of God in the world.  In the exile God’s truth is hidden.  The Zohar describes this as the aspect of דִבּוּר/leadership being in exile.[2]  At the time the Torah was given the aspect of דִבּוּר/leadership was revealed.  This is why right before the Ten Commandments we find, “וַיְדַבֵּר אֱ-לֹהִים אֵת כָּל־הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה .../God spoke all these words …” (Shmos 20:1)  God’s leadership was no longer in exile.  It was clear for all to see.

We find this concept regarding Moshe Rabbeinu’s speech impediment as well.  When God asked Moshe Rabbeinu to return to Egypt to speak to Pharaoh and begin the redemption process, he responds, “לֹא אִישׁ דְּבָרִים אָנֹכִי/I am not a man of words.” (Shmos 4:10)  After the Torah was given, however, the pasuk says, “אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר דִּבֵּר מִשֶׁה .../These are the words that Moshe spoke …” (Devarim 1:1)  How did Moshe change from a man with a speech impediment to one who could speak and explain the entire Torah to the nation?  The Midrash teaches us that after he merited receiving the Torah he was healed.[3]  In the exile Moshe Rabbeinu was not a man of words.  Moshe Rabbeinu understood that in the exile God’s influence was far from apparent.  But at the giving of the Torah, God’s leadership was clear for all to see.  It follows that Moshe Rabbeinu’s speech impediment, which symbolized God’s concealment, was healed. 

As we’ve said, the ten plagues removed God’s concealment from theעֲשָׂרָה מַאֲמָרוֹת/ten commands with which the world was created.  As we and the Egyptians became more aware of God with each plague, each aspect of nature represented by one of the ten commands was changed to an aspect of God’s דִבּוּר/leadership.  Finally, they were aware of God in all aspects of nature.  This is why the Chiddushei HaRim said that the ten commands which created the world changed to עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדִּבְּרוֹת/ten aspects of (God’s) leadership.

[1] Zohar 3:269a
[2] Zohar 2:25b
[3] Devarim R. 1:1

Friday, January 20, 2012

VaEira 5632 Second Ma'amar

"ואני אקשה את לב פרעה והרביתי את אותותי ואת מופתי בארץ מצרים/I will harden Pharaoh's heart and I will multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt." (Shmos 7:3)  God is benevolent.  He accepts those who have sinned and wish to return to Him. Why did God treat Pharaoh differently?

Rashi on this pasuk explains.  God knew that Pharaoh, even if he did return to God would not do so with a complete heart.  Pharaoh would surely rebel given the opportunity.  God therefore prevented him from returning so that He could reveal Himself through the tribulations He would bring upon Pharaoh.

Rashi is teaching us the importance of intent.  In the case of Pharaoh, it was more important that the actual deed.  We can infer from this that the opposite is certainly true[1].  If one wants with all his heart to serve God and to not be swayed from this goal, even if he doesn't succeed in bringing this desire to fruition God will nevertheless help him.  It's the desire that counts.

God knows that the children of Israel want to serve God.  He knows that it does not give us pleasure to swerve from doing His will.  Therefore, just as He prevented Pharaoh from returning to Him because Pharaoh did not truly desire to do so, He strengthens our hearts and helps turn our hearts towards Him because He knows it's what we really want.

[1] מדה טובה מרובה ממדת פורעניות, Yoma 76a

Friday, January 13, 2012

Shmos 5631 Fourth Ma'amar

This week’s parsha relates a dialog between God and Moshe Rabbeinu wherein God commands Moshe to return to Egypt in order to end the exile and save the nation.  Moshe Rabbeinu asks God by what name will He be known to the nation.  God tells Moshe, "... כה תאמר לבני ישראל א-היה שלחני אליכם/… So shall you say to the children of Israel, 'I will be' sent me to you." (Shmos 3:14)  This is the only place in the entire Torah where God is revealed with this name.  Why?  Why did God not tell Moshe to reveal His ineffable name, the Tetregramaton – YHVH?

The Sfas Emes explains.  Both names are forms of the verb, "to be".  The difference between them is one of tense.  The name, "א-היה/I will be" is in the future tense whereas the ineffable name implies always present.  God is outside of time.  He created time.  For God everything is always in the present.  Time means change and God does not change, "... אני ה' לא שניתי .../… I am God, I have not changed …" (Mal'achi 3:6)

Since God never changes, His enlightenment is always revealed even during exile.  The reason that we experience exile is because we are not on a high enough level to see through the mirage of exile to the truth – that God is always with us.  Moshe Rabbeinu was on that level.  Chazal[1] imply this when, comparing the level of Moshe Rabbeinu's prophecy to that of the other prophets, say that his was like a clear lens.  There was no barrier.  Exile did not hide God from Moshe Rabbeinu.

The nation of Israel, though, was on a much lower level at the time of the exile in Egypt.  The people experienced the travails of the exile and believed that God was hidden from them.  They would not have been able to accept God's ineffable name that implies continuous revelation.  Therefore God told Moshe to reveal the name, "א-היה/I will be."  This name was intended to give the people much needed encouragement.  They understood that although they were experiencing God's concealment, there would be redemption and they would experience His revelation.

The jump from a level of "א-היה/I will be" to the level of experiencing God through His ineffable name is in fact recorded in the Torah itself.  After the nation left Egypt, watching the Egyptian army destroyed in the Red Sea the Torah tells us, "ויאמינו בה' ../They believed in God (YHVH) …" (Shmos 14:31)  Even more clearly, in the Song of the Sea they sang, "... ה' שמו/… God (YHVH) is His name." (Shmos 15:3)  They reached a level on which they recognized God's constant revelation. May we merit it as well!

[1] Yevamos 49b

Friday, January 06, 2012

VaYechi 5631 Third Ma'amar

After Ya’akov blesses each of his children the Torah tells us, “כָּל-אֵלֶּה שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר וְזֹאת אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֵּר לָהֶם אֲבִיהֶם וַיְבָרֶךְ אוֹתָם .../All these are the tribes of Israel, twelve in all, and this is what their father said to them and he blessed them …” (Breishis 49:28)  Since this entire pasuk does not seem to be adding anything that we do not already know, what is it teaching us?

The Sfas Emes understands the whole pasuk homiletically.  The Sfas Emes explains that this pasuk alludes to advice that Ya’akov Avinu gave his children to help them live their lives in the service of God.  The Sfas Emes understands that the appearance of the words, אֵלֶּה/these and זֹאת/this, in the pasuk is particularly significant.  The Zohar teaches that זֹאת/this represents the singular Godly life force which unites all.[1]  אֵלֶּה/These, on the other hand, is plural and represents differentiation.  Even though the material world consists of multitudes of separate creations, the Godly life force that underlies all is singular.  The word, דִּבֵּר/he spoke, as well, has a particular significance.  In Aramaic the root דַבָר means to lead.

According to the Sfas Emes, Ya’akov Avinu is teaching his children that although the physical world to all appearances consists of many separate things, they should lead their lives and manage their affairs with an understanding that underlying everything physical is a point of inner spirituality.  He wanted them to understand that the spiritual point, because it gives existence to the physical, is the main thing.  Contemplating the spiritual underpinnings of whatever activity is before them will lead them to fulfill the will of God.
The pasuk, therefore, starts with אֵלֶּה/these, representing the way the world appears and ends with זֹאת/this, representing the way things are in reality.  We, as well, can benefit from Ya’akov Avinu’s advice by recognizing the spiritual that is the basis for the material world including our very actions.  It is the merit of this recognition that helps us to fulfill God’s will.

[1] Zohar 1:184a