Friday, May 30, 2014

Naso 5631 First Ma'amar

Note: A ma'amar on Shavuos follows this one.

אִישׁ אוֹ אִשָׁה כִּי יַפְלִא לִנְדֹר נֶדֶר נָזִיר לַה' .../A man or woman who expresses a Nazirite vow to God …” (Bamidbar 6:2)  The pasuk uses an apparently extra word, “יַפְלִא/expresses.”  The Zohar explains that this word, from the root peleh which means wondrous and hidden, connotes separate as well.[1]  The Nazirite vow is no ordinary vow.  The Nazirite is one who distances himself from physical desires and pleasures even as he lives in the physical world surrounded by these desires and pleasures.  The Torah is teaching us that even though we are physical beings living in the physical world, we are, to an extent, able to separate from the physical and connect to the hidden spiritual aspect inherent in every physical thing and action.  We can lead spiritual lives in a physical world.

We find other references to these various meanings of the word peleh.  For example, in Tehillim, God is referred to several times as “Osei nifla’os/He does wondrous things.”[2]  David HaMelech is teaching us that God infused the seen physical world with an unseen spiritual aspect.  In the bracha Asher Yatzar we find that God is, “mafli la’asos/He does things wondrously.”  In Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 6, the Rema explains this as meaning that God created man – a physical being – and hid a soul in him.  Again, the word mafli whose root is peleh connotes hidden.

How can we, physical beings living within the confines of space and time, live a life style distanced from the physical and connected to its hidden spiritual roots?  The Midrash[3] on this pasuk addresses this very issue.  The Midrash explains a pasuk from Shir HaShirim (5:15), “שׁוֹקָיו עֲמוּדֵי שֵׁשׁ מְיֻסָדִים עַל אַדְנֵי פַז .../His thighs are pillars of marble set upon sockets of fine gold …”  The Midrash says that “שׁוֹקָיו/His thighs” refers to this world.  This is because “שׁוֹקָיו/His thighs” has the same root as “תְּשׁוּקָה/desire” and God yearned to create the world as we find in another pasuk in Shir HaShirim (7:11), “... וְעָלַי תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ/… his desire is upon me,” referring to God yearning for the Creation.  How do we know that this pasuk refers to the Creation?  The Midrash answers with a pasuk describing the completion of the Creation, the Shabbos, “וַיְכֻלוּ הַשָׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ .../The heavens and the earth were completed …” (Breishis 2:1)  “וַיְכֻלוּ/They were completed” has the same root as the Hebrew word for yearning.[4]  From here we know that God yearned to create the world.

How, though, can “וַיְכֻלוּ/They were completed” prove this, though?  If anything, “וַיְכֻלוּ/They were completed” refers to the Creation yearning, not God yearning.  The Sfas Emes explains that God created a physical world far removed from spirituality.  He created it this way in order to afford us the possibility of yearning for Him.  We long for that which we do not have, not for the things that we already have.  On the first Shabbos with the completion of the Creation, every part of the Creation yearned to do the will of God, in essence, to come close to Him.  And in fact, on every Shabbos, everything is naturally elevated and yearns to come closer to God.  When the Midrash says that God yearns for this world, then, it means that He yearns for our yearning to come close to Him.  This is why the pasuk of, “וַיְכֻלוּ/They were completed” meaning that the Creation longs for God, is followed by, וַיְכַל אֱ-לֹהִים/The Lord completed,” suggesting that God also longed for the Creation.  In fact, the implication is that because the Creation yearned for God, God in response yearned for the Creation.

Once we long to come close to God, how do we do it?  The Midrash continues, “... מְיֻסָדִים עַל אַדְנֵי פַז/… set upon sockets of fine gold.”  Sockets of fine gold are the base upon which the world rests.  This is a reference to three things on which the world is based, chochma/wisdom, bina/understanding, and da’as/knowledge.  Since the Creation is defined as that which yearns for closeness to its Creator, it follows that the base of the Creation is that which can be used to come close to the Creator.  We need to use our wisdom to realize that we cannot fathom God and we need to subordinate our will to His.  Realizing this, leads to awe of God as the pasuk states, “הֵן יִרְאַת ה' הִיא חָכְמָה .../Behold, fear of God is wisdom ...” (Iyov 28:28)  Understanding means that we internalize our awe of God to prevent us from sinning as the pasuk continues, “... וְסוּר מֵרַע בִּינָה/… and turning from evil is understanding.”  Finally, knowledge means applying the wisdom and understanding drawing them into our actions and midos.

The Midrash teaches us that we can live in the physical world and still connect to its spiritual roots.  First, we need to long for it.  Yearning to attach to the hidden spiritual life force, to come close to God, leads to using our wisdom, understanding and knowledge to reach this goal.  May we merit it!

[1] Zohar 3:126a
[2] Tehillim 72:18, 86:10, 136:4
[3] Bamidbar R. 10:1
[4] E.g.  “כָּלְתָה נַפְשִׁי/my soul yearns,” (Tehillim 84:3)

Shavuos 5631 First Day (1rst half of the ma'amar)

The Torah refers to Shavuos as Yom HaBikurim/The Day of the First Fruit.[1]  The Torah itself explains that on Shavuos a meal offering is brought from the new wheat harvest.  This new wheat is referred to as the first fruit.  On a deeper level the Sfas Emes associates the name Yom HaBikurim with the giving of the Torah which occurred on Shavuos.  What is the connection between Yom HaBikurim and the giving of the Torah?

The Zohar teaches that God used the Torah to create the world.[2]  If God used the Torah, then the life force that causes every creation to continue to exist comes through the Torah.  Chazal teach that the Torah itself is called, רֵאשִׁית/first.[3]  The first source of power is the Torah.  The Midrash[4] cites a pasuk in Tehillim (111:6), “כֹּח מַעֲשָׂיו הִגִּיד לְעַמּוֹ .../He told his nation the power of His deeds …”  The Midrash explains that this pasuk refers to the accounting of the Creation in the Torah.  The Sfas Emes understands this to mean that the Torah itself is the power of His deeds.

This concept is alluded to in the first bracha of Krias Shma of Shacharis, “הַמְחַדֵשׁ בְּטוּבֹו בְּכָל יוֹם תָּמִיד מַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית/In His goodness He renews the workings of the Creation every day continuously.”  Chazal explain that טוֹב/good is an allusion to the Torah.[5]  This bracha can be translated, then, as, “With the Torah He renews the workings of the Creation every day continuously.”

Each day God renews the Creation subtly.  We are not generally aware of the creative force that keeps the entire Creation from ceasing to exist at every moment.  This creative force is within everything.  On Shavuos, the day the Torah was given, every part of the Creation became aware of its spiritual root, the source of the creative force.  God’s creative force was thus revealed.  This is the meaning of Moshe Rabbeinu’s statement, “פָּנִים בְּפָנִים דִּבֵּר ה' עִמָּכֶם בָּהָר .../God spoke with you face to face on the mountain …” (Devarim 5:4)  This is also hinted at by Chazal when they said that with every word that God uttered the Creation was filled with perfume.[6]  Also, every word that God uttered split into the seventy spoken languages of the world.[7]  The concept is the same.  The giving of the Torah resulted in a universal awareness of God’s spiritual life force that comes into the universe through the Torah.

This concept is also alluded to by the Zohar[8].  The Zohar states that the Ten Commandments parallel the ten sayings with which God created the world.  What is the relationship between the ten sayings and the Ten Commandments?  The ten sayings are the mechanism through which God infuses the world with life force, with existence.  Paradoxically, they are also the mechanism by which God’s life force is hidden behind a façade of nature.  Looking around us, it is not apparent that there is a spiritual life force at all.  The Ten Commandments, on the other hand, are a clear revelation of God’s will.  At the giving of the Ten Commandments it was revealed that the Creation receives existence through the Torah.  The difference between the hidden aspect of the ten sayings and the revelation aspect of the Ten Commandments is hinted at by the word for saying and the word for commandment.  מַאֲמַר/Saying is a lighter form whereas דִיבּוּר/speech is a more powerful form.  We find, for example, in Koheles (8:4), “... דְּבַר־מֶלֶךְ שִׁלְטוֹן .../… A king's word is rule …”[9]   

In fact, the primary קַבָּלַת הַתּוֹרָה/acceptance of the Torah is this revelation.  Onkelos alludes to it when he translates, “וַיֵּרֶד ה' עַל־הַר סִינַי .../God descended onto Mount Sinai …” (Shmos 19:20) as, “God revealed Himself on Mount Sinai.”  The literal translation is problematic.  How is it possible to attribute movement to God since His glory fills the entire Creation?  Onkelos understands God’s descending as revelation.

The answer to our first question, then, is that Yom HaBikurim/Day of the First Fruit suggests רֵאשִׁית/first (The Midrash says that Bikurim are also called reishis.[10])  Shavuos is the day on which the entire Creation connected to and became aware of the aspect of “reishis” – the power of life that diffuses throughout the Creation through the Torah.  As the Sfas Emes said before, this revelation is the primary קַבָּלַת הַתּוֹרָה/acceptance of the Torah.  May we merit it!

[1] Bamidbar 28:26
[2] Zohar 1:5a
[3] Breishis R. 1:1
[4] Breishis R. 1:2
[5] Avos 6:3
[6] Shabbos 88b
[7] Ibid.
[8] Zohar 3:11b
[9] See Bo 5631 First Ma’amar where the Sfas Emes notes that דִיבּוּר/speech in Aramaic means leadership, certainly an aspect of revelation.  Also there is a detailed explanation of the relationship between the ten sayings, Ten Commandments and the ten plagues.
[10] Breishis R. 1:4

Friday, May 09, 2014

Behar 5636 First Ma'amar

At the end of parshas Behar we find, “כִּי־לִי בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל עֲבָדִים עֲבָדַי הֵם .../For the children of Israel are servants to me; they are my servants…” (VaYikra 25:55)  Why the repetition?  The Sfas Emes explains that first God chooses the children of Israel.  Then, the children of Israel choose God by accepting upon themselves the yoke of Heaven.  This idea is clearly the meaning of two p’sukim in parshas Ki Savo, “אֶת־ה' הֶאֶמַרְתָּ הַיּוֹם/Today you have made God unique.” (Devarim 26:17)  In the next pasuk we find, “וַה' הֶאֱמִירְךָ הַיּוֹם/And God has made you unique today.” (Devarim 26:18

The Sfas Emes teaches that there is a continuum of acceptance ranging from no acceptance at all to complete acceptance.  God alone rules over us to the extent that we subordinate ourselves to Him. 

We find this concept earlier in this week’s parsha.  The pasuk states, “כִּי־עֲבָדַי הֵם ... לֹא יִמָּכְרוּ מִמְכֶּרֶת עָבֶד/For they are my servants … they will not be sold like slaves.” (VaYikra 25:42)  These very same words, “עֲבָדַי הֵם/they are my servants” appear in the pasuk referred to earlier.  This pasuk ends with a prohibition against selling a Jew on an auction block in the fashion that slaves are sold, “לֹא יִמָּכְרוּ מִמְכֶּרֶת עָבֶד/ they will not be sold like slaves.”  The Sfas Emes teaches us that this prohibition is also a promise.  To the extent that we subordinate ourselves to God, we will not be subject to the rule of others.  

We find this idea in Pirkei Avos (3:5) as well, “Whoever accepts upon himself the yoke of Torah, the yoke of government is removed from him.”  According to the Sfas Emes, this is not all or nothing, black or white.  Rather, to the extent that we accept the yoke of Torah, the yoke of government is removed.  

To the extent that we subordinate ourselves to God, we remove from ourselves the yoke of others.  May we merit it.  AMEN!

Friday, May 02, 2014

Emor 5642 Second Ma'amar

In this week’s parsha we find the mitzvah of counting the Omer, the seven weeks between the beginning of Pesach and Shavuos.  The pasuk instructs us, “וספרתם לכם  ... שבע שבתות תמימות תהיינה/You shall then count … seven weeks; they shall be complete.” (VaYikra 23:15)  Since the pasuk tells us clearly that we should count the fifty days beginning on the second day of Pesach and culminating on Shavuos, it seems that the words תמימות תהיינה/they shall be complete, are extraneous.  

The Midrash[1] addressing this question teaches that these weeks are considered complete when the nation does the will of God.  What does this mean?  To understand this Midrash we need to understand the significance of תמימות/complete.  In Tehillim (37:38) we find, “יודע ה' ימי תמימים .../God knows the days of the complete …”  God knows everything so what is this pasuk teaching us?  The Sfas Emes explains this pasuk elsewhere[2] noting that the word יודע/know connotes connection.  The Sfas Emes explains that the days of the righteous are closer, as it were, more connected, to God.  The righteous try to do God’s will and God reciprocates by helping them along.  Chazal[3] therefore teach, explaining this pasuk, that just as the righteous are complete, so are their days complete.

The days between Pesach and Shavuos, are particularly suited for coming close to God.  After the Exodus the nation was like a newborn child.  God wanted us to use these days to leave the impurity of Egypt and reach purity so that we would be able to receive the Torah and be close to Him.  Therefore God gave us these days as a gift.  This is why the pasuk says, “וספרתם לכם .../You shall then count (lit. for yourselves) …”  God gave us these days for our own benefit so that we may use them to come close to Him.

This is also the reason these days of Sefiras HaOmer are mentioned together with the holidays.  Just like the days of the righteous are closer to God, so to the holidays are closer to God.  This is why they are called, “מועדי ה'/the times of God”.  In fact, the days between Pesach and Shavuos are likened to the days of Chol HaMoed.  Just like the days of Chol HaMoed are preceded and succeeded by holidays (holy days), so too, the days of Sefiras HaOmer are preceded by Pesach and succeeded by Shavuos.

The Sfas Emes teaches that the days themselves help us to reach purity.  But this is true only if we want to reach purity as Chazal[4] teach us, one who wants to be pure is helped from Heaven.  This then explains the first Midrash above.  These days are considered complete and help us to reach completeness only if we strive to do the will of God and be complete ourselves.  They will only help us, if we strive to help ourselves.  May we merit it.  AMEN!

[1] VaYikra R. 28:3
[3] Breishis R. 58:1
[4] Yoma 38b