Friday, October 19, 2012

Noach 5631 First Ma'amar

... נֹחַ אִישׁ צַדִּיק/… No’ach was a righteous man …”  (Breishis 6:9)  The word צַדִּיק/righteous, has the same root as צֶדֶק/justice and צוֹדֵק/correct.  Just as in a court room, a house of justice, there is a struggle between two sides until one side emerges צוֹדֵק/correct, so too, a righteous person is one who has emerged victorious from various struggles with his evil inclination.  A חָסִיד/pious individual, on the other hand, is on a higher level.  He no longer has a struggle with his evil inclination.  David HaMelech alludes to this level when he says in Tehillim (109:22) , “... וְלִבִּי חָלַל בְּקִרְבִּי/… and my heart has died within me …” According to Chazal, David HaMelech is saying that his evil inclination had died within him.  David HaMelech had reach a stage at which there was no longer a struggle with his evil inclination.

One who struggles with his evil inclination is one who is not fully aware of God’s presence.  The person who is fully aware of God’s presence will not be tempted by his evil inclination.  The evil inclination goes hand in hand with the physical world.  In the physical world it is difficult indeed to be completely conscious of God.  In a sense, the חָסִיד/pious, who, despite his physical surroundings is totally aware of God, can be said to be above nature.  The צַדִּיק/righteous person, on the other hand, is one who struggles within the physical world and finally emerges from his trials victorious.

These two levels, חָסִיד/pious and צַדִּיק/righteous person, are exemplified by Avraham Avinu and Ya’akov Avinu.  Avraham Avinu was on the level of the חָסִיד/pious.  He no longer struggled with his evil inclination.  He was completely aware of God’s presence.  The physical world presented no barrier for him.  Ya’akov Avinu, on the other hand, was on the level of the צַדִּיק/righteous person.  He struggled within the physical to discover God.

The Sfas Emes explains that we find this difference between Avraham Avinu and Yaakov Avinu in an interesting Midrash[1] that says that Yaakov Avinu kept Shabbos.  The Midrash does not tell us that Avraham kept Shabbos.  Why is this?

In general, the struggle in the physical for spirituality and subsequent victory can be understood in terms of the days of the week and Shabbos.  We struggle during the week to become more aware of God in spite of the distractions that surround us.  The Sfas Emes uses a metaphor of a closed gate that during the week prevents us from being more aware of God’s presence.[2]  Our struggle ends on Shabbos when we rest from the week’s distractions and can spend time immersed in the spirituality of Shabbos.  On Shabbos, the gate opens.  How much the gate opens for us, how much we experience the spirituality on Shabbos, is in direct proportion to how much we worked during the week to become more aware of God’s presence. 

Yaakov Avinu struggled to become more aware of God in spite of his physical surroundings.  He reached a level, through hard work, on which he became as aware of God as possible within the physical world.  He reached a level on which the physical world no longer presented a barrier to his awareness.  This is the deeper meaning of Chazal when they say that Ya’akov Avinu received an inheritance with no boundaries.[3]  The plain meaning refers to his inheritance of the land of Israel.  The deeper meaning, though, refers to his victorious struggle over the physical which prevented a total awareness of God’s presence.

As noted, Chazal do not mention that Avraham Avinu kept Shabbos.  Shabbos, representing the culmination of a struggle, did not apply to Avraham Avinu.  This is because the physical world never presented a barrier to Avraham Avinu’s awareness of God’s presence.  We find this idea in a Midrash which says that the word in parshas Breishis, “בְּהִבָּרְאָם/in their creation” (Breishis 2:4) refers to Avraham Avinu because it comprises the same letters as אַבְרָהָם/Avraham.[4]  Chazal are teaching us that Avraham Avinu’s awareness of God was on a level whereby the physical world did not conceal Him.  In this sense Avraham Avinu’s awareness of God precedes the Creation.

Like Ya’akov, No’ach also struggled.  As noted earlier, the pasuk calls No’ach a צַדִּיק/ righteous person.  Chazal, in fact, make this distinction between No’ach and Avraham Avinu.  Referring to No’ach the pasuk says, “... אֶת הָאֱ-לֹהִים הִתְהַלֵך נֹח/… No’ach walked with the Lord.” (Breishis 6:9)  Avraham Avinu, however, says, “... ה' אֲשֶׁר הִתְהַלַכְתִּי לְפָנָיו .../… God before Whom I walked …”  (Breishis 24:40)  The different wording indicates that No’ach needed God’s help to walk with Him.  He struggled and required help.  Avraham Avinu, on the other hand, was able to walk alone before God without help.[5]

The idea that No’ach struggled within nature to reveal God explains an enigmatic Zohar.  The Zohar says that No’ach is an aspect of Shabbos.  (Tikunei Zohar 70:138b)  Of course, No’ach’s very name means rest which happens on Shabbos (וַיָּנַח בַּיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי/He rested on the seventh day.  (Shemos 20:10)) but what is the significance of this?  According to what we’ve said, though, it is clear.  No’ach was righteous.  As we’ve made clear, this means that he struggled within nature and emerged victorious.  No’ach connected to God after a struggle.  This, as we’ve seen, parallels exactly our struggle to connect to God during the days of the week culminating in revelation/rest on Shabbos.

God gave us the gift of Shabbos, a day on which the gate is opened.  We can take full advantage of this gift by recognizing that our activities during the week affect how much the gate opens for us.  As No’ach the tzadik and Ya’akov Avinu before us, our struggle to become aware of God’s presence during the week results in our fully experiencing the gift of God’s revelation on Shabbos.  May we merit it!

[1] Breishis R. 79:6 יעקב אבינו קבע תחומין
[2] Based on Yechezkel 46:1
[3] Shabbos 118a-b
[4] Breishis R. 12:9
[5] Breishis R. 30:10

Friday, October 12, 2012

Breishis 5631 First Ma'amar

וַיְכַל אֱ-לֹהִים בַּיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה ... /On the seventh day God completed His work that He did …”  (Breishis 2:2)  This pasuk implies that God’s work was completed on the seventh day itself, not before.  What work did God do on the seventh day?  Rashi answers that the world was still lacking מְנוּחָה/rest.  God created rest on the seventh day.

We usually think of rest as a cessation from activity.  Rashi, however, relates to rest as something positive.  What is this positive entity called מְנוּחָה/rest?  God created the world to bestow His light and good.  The vehicle that God uses is nature.  Since God’s good comes through nature,  His hand is not apparent.  Looking around us, it seems as if the universe operates autonomously.  The Chiddushei HaRim points out that God’s concealment in the Creation is alluded to by the Hebrew word for world – עוֹלָם – which has the same root as the word for concealment – הָעָלַם

There are places and times when God’s presence is more strongly felt just as there are places and times when His presence is not felt at all.  When we view the Creation as a whole, though, when we see the harmony that exists in the universe, each part of the Creation performing its unique task, doing the will of God, so that the entire system that we call the universe works, we become aware of God’s presence in the Creation.  The universe, then, while concealing God, is also a tool for revealing Him. 

The following p’sukim and Chazal allude to the idea that the completed universe is a tool for revealing God's glory.  “כָּל פָּעַל ה' לְמַּעֲנֵהוּ/Everything that God made, He made for His own sake.” (Mishlei 16:4).  Chazal tell us, too, that He created everything for His honor.[1]  Also, we find in this week’s parsha, “וַיַּרְא ה' אֶת-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וְהִנֵּה-טוֹב מְאֹד/ God saw all that he had done and behold it was very good.”  (Breishis 1:31)  Since God Himself is the ultimate “Good”, the deeper meaning of this pasuk is our concept; the completed Creation, as a whole, reveals God.  The common denominator in these p’sukim and the Mishnah is the word כָּל/everything implying completion.  The completed Creation enhances God's glory.

This idea is hinted at also in the pasuk signifying the completion of the Creation which begins, “וַיְכֻלוּ/ They were completed.” (Breishis 2:1)  This word has the same root as the Hebrew word for vessel and tool – כְּלִי.  The Midrash says that once the Creation was completed, it became a tool.[2]   The completed Creation is a tool for revealing God’s glory.  The word “וַיְכֻלוּ/ They were completed” also has the same root as the Hebrew for yearning as in the pasuk in Tehillim (84:3), “... כָּלְתָה נַפְשִׁי ... /… my soul yearns …”  indicating that each part of the Creation yearns to do the will of God.

Before the Creation was completed, the harmony of the universe was not apparent.  It was not apparent that every creation was fulfilling the will of the Creator.  The universe was not yet a single system working together.  However, once the Creation was completed and there was a cessation from creative activity, it became apparent that the Creation was one complete system wherein every part, by performing its own unique function, accomplishes God’s will.  This state that the universe achieved on the first Shabbos is what Rashi refers to as מְנוּחָה/rest.  A system can be said to be at rest when all its parts are working smoothly and efficiently.  There is no “noise” in the system.

This idea sheds light on an enigmatic Zohar which states that Shabbos is the name of God, a name that is complete in every aspect.[3]  The Sfas Emes explains that God’s name represents His influence in the Creation.  God, of course, does not change.  He was One before the Creation and He is One after the Creation.  The Creation is the mechanism by which God reveals Himself, His Oneness, as it were.  When the entire Creation works harmoniously to do God’s will, God is essentially revealing Himself through the Creation.  The Creation reflects God, in a manner of speaking.  When the prophet says that God’s Name is One[4], he means that God’s oneness is revealed in the harmony we see in the Creation.  On the first Shabbos the universe became a completed tool for revealing God’s greatness.  On the first Shabbos, His Name became One.  This is why the Zohar associates Shabbos with the name of God.  The first Shabbos was the first time it became possible to recognize God’s oneness through the harmony of the completed Creation.

The Hebrew for complete – שָׁלֵם – has the same root as the word for peace –שָׁלוֹם.  On the first Shabbos with completeness came peace.  Chazal teach us that only a vessel of peace can hold blessing.[5]  When the Creation became complete, it became a vessel that was able to receive God’s blessing.

[1] Avos 6:12
[2] Breishis R. 10:2
[3] Zohar 2:88b
[4] Zecharya 14:9
[5] Uktzin 3:12

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Succos 5634 Sixth Ma'amar

When the Beis HaMikdash was standing in addition to the mitzvah of taking the four species, there was an additional mitzvah to bring aravos to the Beis HaMikdash, stand them against the altar and walk around the altar.[1]  Today we commemorate this mitzvah on Hoshana Raba, the last day of Succos by taking aravos in addition to the four species.  What is the significance of the arava?  Why, of the four species is the arava singled out for an added mitzvah?

Chazal teach us that each of the four species alludes to different types of Jews.  The esrog which has taste and smells good alludes to those who have Torah and good deeds.  The lulav which has taste (i.e. the date, fruit of the palm tree) but no smell alludes to those who have Torah but no good deeds.  The hadas/myrtle branch which has a nice smell but no taste alludes to those who have good deeds but no Torah.  Finally the arava which has neither taste nor smell alludes to those Jews who have neither Torah nor good deeds.

The arava was singled out for the additional mitzvah in order to show that our special connection to God is intrinsic and unconditional rather than based on our Torah and good deeds.  The Torah unconditionally calls us children of God, "בנים אתם לה' א-להיכם .../You are children to God, your Lord ..."

We see this idea in a pasuk from Shir HaShirim (1:2), "ישקני מנשיקות פיהו כי טובים דודיך מיין/If only He would kiss me with the kisses of His mouth, for Your love is better than wine."  נשיקה/Kiss is closely related to the word השקה which means bringing together or touchingFor example, a pool of water can be made kosher to be used as a mikva if it touches water that is already kosher for a mikva.  This is called השקה.  When we long for God's kiss, as it were, we are asking for a connection to Him that would purify us the way that water becomes pure through השקה/touching.  That connection is better than wine.  What does wine signify? 
The end of the pasuk, "טובים דודיך מיין/Your love is better than wine" is an allusion to the wine libations of the entire year.  Using wine as a libation represents our Mitzvos and good deeds.  In contrast, on Succos, in addition to the wine libation, there is a water libation.  Water, the universal solvent, the simplest liquid represents our intrinsic connection to God and God's unconditional love for us.  Our connection to God that we merit as a result of our Torah and mitzvos cannot compare to the intrinsic connection that flows from God Himself, "כי חלק ה' עמו/For God's portion is His nation."

This realization of the fundamental connection between us and God causes us incredible happiness, another reason that Succos is the time of happiness.

[1] Succa 4:5

Friday, October 05, 2012

Succos 5634 Second Ma'amar

The two primary mitzvos of the holiday of Succos are dwelling in the succah and taking the lulav. What is the connection between these two mitzvos?

The Sfas Emes explains that the succah represents God protecting us. God spreads His canopy over us, “הַפּוֹרֵס סוּכַּת שָׁלוֹם עָלֵינוּ/He spreads His canopy of peace upon us.” (Evening prayer on Shabbos and Yom Tov)  We leave our “secure” homes to live for a week in a temporary dwelling in order to show that it is God who protects us, not our secure home. Whether we deserve it or not, God wants to protect us just as a father wants to protect his son. In fact, God relates to us as His children, “בָּנִים אַתֶּם לַה׳ אֱ־לֹהֵיכֶם .../You are children of God, your Lord …” (Devarim 14:1)  This is obviously a great kindness that God shows us.

For our part, the children of Israel also want to connect with God and come close to Him. We want to accomplish His will so that we deserve His protection rather than being the beneficiaries of God’s total kindness. Taking the lulav represents our accepting God’s benevolence. “וּלְקַחְתֶּם לָכֶם ... פְּרִי עֵץ הָדָר כַּפֹּת תְּמָרִים .../Take for yourselves … the fruit of the citrus tree, branches of palms …” (VaYikra 23:40)  The extra word לָכֶם/for yourselves implies that we take God’s benevolence to ourselves.

Why does the lulav particularly represent God’s benevolence? The word לוּלָב/lulav has the same gematria – numerical value – as the word חַיִים/life. By taking the lulav we are showing God that we want to receive true life from Him. In Tehillim we find, “תּוֹדִיעֵנִי אֹרַח חַיִּים שֹׂבַע שְׂמָחוֹת .../Make known to me the path of life, the satiating joys …” (Tehillim 16:11)  Recognizing that true life comes from God filled David HaMelech with joy and satiates us as well.

The succah represents more than God’s protection, though. It also represents da’as/knowledge as we find regarding the mitzvah of succah, “לְמַעַן יֵדְעוּ ... כִּי בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל .../In order that they may know … that I settled the children of Israel in huts …” (VaYikra 23:43)  The pasuk uses the word “knowledge” in order to hint that God gives each Jew knowledge through the mitzvah of succah.  
The Sfas Emes takes this concept a step further and declares that the knowledge of the entire year stems from Succos. Succos is the last holiday of three major holidays, the shalosh regalim. The word for holiday that is used here is regel which literally means foot implying that the entire year stands upon the base of these holidays.

The Sfas Emes explains elsewhere that da’as/knowledge represents applying our spiritual wisdom and understanding in our everyday lives.[1] By taking the lulav we accept this attribute of da’as/knowledge into the depths of our hearts.

The mitzvah of succah represents God’s protection, enlightenment and gift of da’as/knowledge. The mitzvah of taking the lulav represents our internalizing these gifts. May we merit it!

[1] The Sfas Emes may be alluding to chochma/wisdom, bina/understanding and da’as/knowledge. Each of the shalosh regalim would then represent one of these midos with Succos representing the last midah of da’as/knowledge. See Sfas Emes Naso 5631 First Ma’amar.