Friday, April 17, 2015

Metzora 5632 First Ma'amar

The first half of this week’s parsha describes the procedure that a metzora/leper must undergo in order to return to a state of purity.  Chazal teach us that tzora’as/leprosy is a consequence of slandering.[1]  The Midrash says that the word metzora alludes to this because the word can be split into two words, motzi ra/spew out evil (speech).

The Sfas Emes understands the word ra/evil here, homiletically as an allusion to the evil inclination.  God created us with a good and an evil inclination.  Chazal teach us that we are expected to serve God with both the good and the evil inclinations.[2]  How can we serve Him with our evil inclination?  The evil inclination provides us with challenges and opportunities to grow.  Acknowledging this makes it easier for us to accept the challenges that occur in our lives.  We can even welcome them since they are the means by which we are able to grow closer to God and accomplish our mission in this world. 

The Sfas Emes understands Chazal’s play on the word metzora  - motzi ra - as an allusion to spewing out or expelling the evil inclination.  If we expel our evil inclination and do not accept it for the tool that it is meant to be, then instead of helping us it becomes rather a hindrance in our service to God, a source of impurity.

This concept may be alluded to in the procedure for purifying the metzora.  The procedure calls for two pure birds.  The Sfas Emes says that these birds may represent the two inclinations within us, the good and the evil.  However, even though one of those birds represents the evil inclination, the Torah also refers to it as pure just as it refers to our soul – which contains the evil inclination – as pure.  The key is not to reject any part of the root of our soul but rather to take advantage of everything that God has given us even if at first glance it appears to be unhelpful.  In reality, we need all of it to achieve the mission for which God sent us into this world.

[1]                      VaYikra R. 16:4
[2]                     Brachos Mishna 9:5

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Pesach 5631 Last Days Second Ma'amar

On the seventh day of Pesach the nation of Israel crossed the Red Sea and sang Shiras HaYam/The Song of the Sea.1 The Shirah starts with, “... אָשִׁירָה לַה' כִּי־גָאֹה גָּאָה .../I will sing to God for He is most exalted.” The double wording “גָאֹה גָּאָה/He is most exalted” implies that He is the epitome of exaltedness, of greatness. To say that the difference between God’s exaltedness and that of others is simply a matter of degree is difficult. Instead, the Sfas Emes explains that the double wording teaches us something about the relationship of the greatness of others to God. It implies that the greatness of all others are only for His glory whereas God’s glory is inherent. It has no ulterior reason. How so?

We find in Mishlei (16:18), “לִפְנֵי־שֶׁבֶר גָּאוֹן/Pride precedes destruction.” The greatness of the wicked glorifies God in their destruction. The greater they are, the greater the destruction when they fall and the greater God’s honor when they are destroyed. The greatness of the righteous glorifies God as well when the righteous person even in greatness subordinates himself to God and recognizes His benevolence. The greater the righteous the more he glorifies God when he acknowledges God’s kindnesses. We see that the greatness of others is not intrinsic. The greatness of others is defined by its relationship to God and how it brings out God's glory. God's glory, though, is independent.

According to this we can understand why we find in the Shirah, “אָמַר אוֹיֵב אֶרְדֹּף אַשִּׂיג .../The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will reach …” (Shmos 15:9) Why is this part of the Shirah? Do we care to know the intentions of the enemy? Is not the purpose of the Shirah to sing praises to God for having saved us? The Sfas Emes explains that this is exactly the reason that the enemy’s intentions are mentioned. The more impertinent the enemy the greater God’s glory when he is destroyed. The enemy’s intentions are followed directly with God’s action to destroy him, “נָשַׁפְתָּ בְרוּחֲךָ כִּסָּמוֹ יָם .../You blew with Your wind, the sea covered them …” (Shmos 15:10) The enemy’s impudence helped cause his own destruction.

1See Rashi on Shmos 14:5