Friday, February 24, 2012

Terumah 5632 Third Ma'amar

Chazal[1] teach us that we are required to say one hundred brachos each day.  Furthermore, Chazal[2] teach us that we may partake of the pleasures of this world only after reciting the appropriate bracha.  What is the significance of brachos?  What is so important about brachos?

We can gain understanding from the pesukim whence Chazal learn we must recite a bracha before partaking of this world.  According to one pasuk, "... לה' הארץ ומלואה .../… The earth and its contents are God's …" (Tehillim 24:1)  According to another pasuk, "... הארץ נתן לבני אדם/… He gave the earth to the children of Adam." (Tehillim 115:16)  Chazal reconcile these contradicting pesukim.  The first pasuk is true before we recite a bracha.  The second applies afterwards.  From these pesukim we see that the bracha is our acknowledgement that the earth and all its contents are God's.  Only after this acknowledgement may we partake of it.

The Chiddushei HaRim takes this idea further and teaches that the very purpose of the Creation is to recognize that everything in it is from God – to reveal Him within it – and to thus subordinate ourselves to Him.  This explains Chazal's[3] statement that eating without reciting a bracha is akin to מעילה – making inappropriate personal use of kodashim.  If a person brings an animal as a peace offering, he may eat the meat of the animal only following the mitzvah of throwing its blood on the wall of the altar.  Eating of the meat beforehand is a serious transgression – מעילה.

Not only kodashim but all food has a mitzvah that must be performed before partaking of it.  That mitzvah is reciting a bracha, acknowledging that the food we eat is from God, making the connection between the physical food and its spiritual source.  Furthermore, since we may partake of the food only upon making this connection, it is through this connection that bracha is drawn into this world and to us.  The brachos that we recite, then, are the foundation for drawing bracha into the physical world.

The Chiddushei HaRim therefore said that the one hundred brachos that we are required to say each day are associated with the one hundred silver sockets – אדנים – that were the base for the beams of the Mishkan.[4]  The silver sockets were the foundation of the Mishkan and brachos are the foundation of bracha in the physical world.

Further on the concept of subordination to God through the recitation of brachos, Chazal learn of the requirement to recite one hundred brachos each day from the pasuk, "מה ה' שואל מעמך .../What does God ask of you …" (Devarim 10:12)  In a play on the word מה/what, Chazal read this as, "מאה ה' שואל מעמך/God asks one hundred of you."  This seems somewhat arbitrary however the Sfas Emes explains the connection between the word מה/what, and reciting brachos.  As we've said, the purpose of reciting brachos is to acknowledge God's rule over the physical world, thus, subordinating ourselves to Him.  The word מה/what, brings to mind subordination as in, "What are we?"  The pasuk could thus be understood as, "God asks us to subordinate ourselves."  Appropriately, Chazal learn the requirement for one hundred brachos from this pasuk.

May we merit having the proper intent as we recite brachos during the day, drawing bracha into the world and onto ourselves.  Amen.

[1] Menachos 43b
[2] Brachos 35a
[3] Ibid.
[4] The source is Sha'arei Ora, Shaar Rishon, of the medieval Kabbalist Rav Yosef Gikatilla.  See there for an extensive and fascinating discussion of brachos and their connection with the name of God – aleph, dalet, nun, yod.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Parshas Shekalim 5633 First Ma'amar

This year Parshas Shekalim coincides with parshas Mishpatim.  In the first pasuk of parshas Mishpatim God tells Moshe Rabbeinu, "ואלה המשפטים אשר תשים לפניהם/These are the laws that you shall set before them." (Shmos 21:1)  This is strange wording that we find nowhere else.  Why not the more conventional, "Speak to the children of Israel the following laws?"

The Rav of Parshischa explains that God is teaching the importance of the mitzvos.  He is telling Moshe that we must place the mitzvos before ourselves – on a higher level of importance that our own lives.  We, in fact, did this when we said to Moshe Rabbeinu at the end of this week's parsha, "נעשה ונשמע/We will do and we will listen." (Shmos 24:7)  We committed to do even before knowing what we were committing to do.  We were ready to deliver ourselves to God.  We were ready to do anything God required of us without a thought as to what that might be or how it might impact our lives.

God repeats this requirement in Iyov (41:3), "מי הקדימני ואשלם" which, according to the Sfas Emes translates as, "Whosoever will place My will before his own, I will reward."

This concept can help us understand an issue that arises in Parshas Shekalim.  The Torah does not favor counting people.[1]  Counting evokes importance and individuality.  When people are counted, each person is noted.  Counting implies that each person is unique.  When people are noted individually, rather than as part of a group, each person must stand on his own merits.  As part of a group, though, the merits of the group count for each individual even if there are people within the group who do not merit on their own.

In Parshas Shekalim, God instructs Moshe to conduct a census.  What about the issues raised by counting people?  The beginning of the parsha alludes to the answer.  "כי תשא את ראש בני ישראל לפקודיהם ונתנו איש כופר נפשו לה' .../When you take a census of the children of Israel according to their numbers, let each man give a ransom for his soul to God …"  The literal translation of the beginning of this pasuk is, "When you raise up the head of the children of Israel according to their numbers …"  Shouldn't the word "head" be plural? 

The Sfas Emes explains that the "head" of the children of Israel is an allusion to our root or source.  Although we manifest as many different individuals in this physical world, the roots of our souls come together in the highest spiritual realm as one entity.  At our source we are one.  The Torah is advising us to identify with this reality – that the entire nation is, at its source, one.  By identifying with the entire nation, we are protected against being viewed individually and the need to stand scrutiny alone.

The Chiddushei HaRim explains, furthermore that that the word, ראש/head, alludes to Shabbos in this pasuk.  The literal translation, "When you raise the ראש/head …" tells us to look at the letters in the Hebrew alphabet that are above ראש.  The letters following ראש in the Hebrew alphabet are שבת.  On Shabbos the nation of Israel comes together with one will to recognize God as the Creator.  Here again, we see the concept of group instead of individuals in this pasuk.

Another hint to the same concept in this pasuk is from the word, "לפקודיהם/according to their numbers."  Chazal[2] refer to mitzvos as, "פקודי ה'/God's commands."  This word then, alludes to the mitzvos.  The pasuk is telling us that we can raise ourselves up to our source in which we are all one entity through the mitzvos.  How?  The pasuk continues, "ונתנו איש כופר נפשו לה'/Each man will give a ransom of his soul to God ..."  When we place the importance of the mitzvah on a higher level than ourselves, we are automatically raised up to our source where we are all one. 

By subordinating ourselves to the performance of the mitzvos – through mesirus nefesh in performance of the mitzvos – as the Rav of Parshischa taught us in the beginning of parshas Mishpatim, we connect with our source which is one with every other member of the nation of Israel at the highest spiritual place.  We are then protected from the individual scrutiny implied by the census.

[1] See for example Shmuel 2, 24
[2] Zohar 2:90b, 93b

Friday, February 10, 2012

Yisro 5632 Second Ma'amar

Chazal teach us that before Yisro converted to Judaism he was called יֶתֶר/Yeser.  After he converted, an extra letter ו/vav, was added to his name.  He became יִתְרוֹ/Yisro.[1]  What is the significance of this extra letter?

The Chiddushei HaRim explains.  The prophet Micha (7:18) said, “מִי אֵ-ל כָּמוֹךָ נֹשֵׂא עָוֹן וְעֹבֵר עַל פֶּשַׁע לִשְׁאֵרִית נַחֲלָתוֹ .../Who is a God like You, Who forgives iniquity and passes over the transgression of the remnant of His portion? …”  Micha is referring to the nation of Israel.  He calls us “the remnant of His portion.”  Why does the prophet refer only to a remnant instead of to the entire nation?  Chazal say that Micha is referring to those who make themselves like a remnant.[2]  Cultivating the quality of humility is a surefire way to merit God’s forgiveness.

The name יֶתֶר/Yeser also means remnant.  According to the Chiddushei HaRim, the name Yeser indicates that  Yisro had the attribute of humility.  Before Yisro converted, though, his humility did not result in God passing over his transgressions.  The prophet Micha was referring to the Jewish people when he proclaimed his timeless message of God’s forgiveness.  However, after he converted, Yisro became a part of the remnant of God’s portion.  After Yisro converted, he enjoyed God’s forgiveness together with the other humble members of the nation of Israel.  To show that he was included, a vav, which signifies connection, was added to his name.

[1] Shmos R. 27:8
[2] Rosh HaShanah 17a