Thursday, May 26, 2016

BeChukosai 5636 First Ma'amar

How to Use Our Intelligence to Serve God

אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ .../If you will follow my statues …” (VaYikra 26:3)  Chazal[1] teach us that בְּחֻקֹתַי/my statutes, refers to mitzvos that have no apparent reason.  תֵּלֵכוּ/You will follow” on the other hand, from the root הָלוֹךְ/go, implies a reasoned decision.  People generally think about where they want to go, decide, then go.  It seems that חֹק/statute with הָלוֹךְ/go is an awkward combination.[2]

Addressing this issue, the Midrash[3] quotes a pasuk in Tehillim (119:59), “חִשַּׁבְתִּי דְרָכָי וָאָשִׁיבָה רַגְלַי אֶל עֵדֹתֶיךָ/I considered my ways and returned my feet to Your testimonies.”  עֵדֹתֶיךָ/Your testimonies” refer to the mitzvos.  David HaMelech is saying that to attain clarity in action and thought it is not enough to rely on our logical faculty.  It is not enough to “consider our ways”.  We need to act.  We must perform the mitzvos.  A pasuk in Mishlei (3:5) goes even further.  Not only is relying on our understanding not enough.  The pasuk teaches, “... וְאֶל־בִּינָתְךָ אַל־תִּשָּׁעֵן/Do not rely on your own understanding.”    

In what capacity, then, can we use our mental abilities, our logic in serving God?  The Sfas Emes explains that we should use our intelligence to understand the need to perform God’s mitzvos and submit to Him.  We need to understand and consciously consider before any act that this act is for the sake of God, lesheim shamayim.  ... בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ .../… You will follow my statues …” then means, “Use your intelligence to submit to My will.”

We see this idea in the Midrash[4] that Rashi quotes to explain, “אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ .../If you follow my statues …”  The Midrash says that this cannot refer to performing mitzvos since the very next words in the pasuk are, “וְאֶת־מִצְוֹתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ/and keep my mitzvos.”  Rather, the Midrash says, it is referring to laboring at studying the Torah.  How do the words, “אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ .../If you follow my statues …” refer to laboring at Torah?  According to the Sfas Emes, Chazal are teaching us that we must use our power of reason represented by “הָלוֹךְ/go” to know what to do to submit to God’s will represented by “חֹק/statute.”

The Sfas Emes is teaching us that we reach uprightness by performing mitzvos rather than trying to figure it out for ourselves.  We use our intelligence to understand what we must do to submit to God’s will.

Clarifying the point further, Chazal[5] tell us that regarding words of Torah a person should make himself like an ox to a yoke and a donkey to a burden.  The Sfas Emes explains that just as an ox must go wherever the yoke leads him, so a person should follow the will of God wherever it leads him.  Just as a donkey carries his burden, so a person carries with him the entire Creation which is elevated because of him.  

This double comparison exactly parallels learning Torah and performing mitzvos.  We need to learn Torah to determine the will of God and follow it just as an ox is lead by the yoke.  When we learn Torah with this in mind, our actions are influenced as well.  We take a moment before a mitzvah to consider, “I am doing God’s will.”  Then our actions are elevated and become a vehicle for elevating the entire Creation just as the donkey carries his burden.  

The results are illustrated in the next pesukim which describe a world of plenty.  Our actions, with the proper intent, draw the power of Torah into the physical world even to the point where barren trees, representing the lowest most impure places, are imbued with that power and give fruit.[6]  

[1] BaMidbar R. 19:6  The prohibition against wearing a garment made of linen and wool, for example, is a decree having no apparent reason.  It is a חֹק/statute. 
[2] Viz. Sfas Emes Bechukosai 5638 First Ma’amar
[3] VaYikra R. 35:1
[4] Sifra BeChukosai 1:Introduction:1
[5] Avoda Zara 5b
[6] Rashi on VaYikra 26:4

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