Friday, October 02, 2015

Succos 5634 First Ma'amar

There is a famous allegory mentioned by Chazal[1] comparing the relationship between the nation of Israel and God to that between a bride and bridegroom.  The Sfas Emes elaborates and relates it to Succos.  The Exodus is considered the marriage as the pasuk states, “אֲנִי ה' מְקַדִּשְׁכֶם: הַמּוֹצִיא אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם .../I am God who sanctifies you, who takes you out of the land of Egypt.” (VaYikra 22:33:34)  The Hebrew word for marriage – kidushin – is the same as the word for sanctify.  The underlying meaning of both is to become dedicated.  A married woman is “dedicated” to her husband in the sense that her marriage permits her to him and prohibits her to all others.  In the same sense, when God sanctifies us, He makes us dedicated to Him alone.

A Jewish marriage transaction, though, comprises two parts.  The first part is the marriage/kidushin by which the husband makes his wife dedicated to him alone.  The second part is the chupah by which he takes her into his home.  The canopy – chupah – under which a couple marries, symbolizes the husband’s act of taking his wife into his home.  When the nation of Israel left Egypt, God took us to live in huts in the desert, “... בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּהוֹצִיאִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם .../… I settled the children of Israel in huts when I took them out of the land of Egypt …” (VaYikra 23:43)  The Sfas Emes teaches that these huts symbolize the completion of the marriage transaction – the chupah – as it were,  between us and God.

That God separated us from among the nations to be dedicated to Him alone causes vulnerability.  Separateness draws attention.  The huts of the desert symbolize God’s protection over us.  He separated us from the nations and made us unique.  But He also provided us protection.  We find another pasuk which hints at this as well, “ ... וּלְמִקְנֵהוּ עָשָׂה סֻכֹּת .../… and for his livestock he made huts …” (Breishis 33:17)  This pasuk is referring to Yaakov Avinu however it alludes to God.  The word for livestock has the same root as the word for acquisition.  The pasuk can therefore be translated as, “… and for His acquisition He made huts …”, implying the nation of Israel whom God “acquired” by taking us out of Egypt and over whom He spread his protective canopy.  Along the same lines we say in Ma’ariv, “הַפּוֹרֵס סוּכַּת שָׁלוֹם עָלֵינוּ/He spreads a canopy of peace on us.”  The word poreis/spread, also implies a portion (as in אֲכִילַת פְּרַס/eating a piece.) hinting, as well, that God separated us.

Clearly God chose us to be His nation from among the nations.  The pasuk states explicitly, “ ... חֵלֶק ה' עַמּוֹ .../… God’s portion is His people …” (Devarim 32:9)  The Sfas Emes asks, though, that since God is the ultimate completeness, why would He choose only a portion?  A portion seems to contradict wholeness.  Should God not have chosen all the nations?

When we think about this, though, we realize that the question really does not start.  The reason is that wherever God reveals Himself, there is completeness.  Where does God reveal Himself?  Where does He dwell, as it were?  The prophet Yeshayah stated, that God dwells specifically with “broken vessels”, “אֶשְׁכּוֹן וְאֶת־דַּכָּא וּשְׁפַל־רוּח/I will dwell with the despondent and lowly of spirit.” (Yeshayah 57:15)  These are the righteous whose hearts are broken in their service to God.  The Zohar[2] explains that although they are “broken vessels” they are really more complete than any other place.  God Himself, chooses to dwell with the righteous and makes them whole.  This is a deeper meaning of, “הַפּוֹרֵס סוּכַּת שָׁלוֹם עָלֵינוּ/He spreads a canopy of peace on us.”  As we’ve said, poreis/spread, also means a portion.  Shalom/Peace has the same root as the word for whole – shalem.  This brachah, then, is saying that God separated us from the nations of the world but then protected us with His canopy of peace, making us whole. 

It is our duty to spread an awareness of God to the rest of world.  God structured the physical world so that there is a spiritual life force inherent in every creation.  This spiritual life force, actually a revelation of God in a sense, is a point of completeness within the physical.  So too, the nation of Israel is the point of wholeness among all the nations. 

This idea relates particularly well to the holiday of Succos.  Chazal[3] teach us that Succos is for the nations of the world as well as for us.  Seventy cows, representing the seventy nations, were sacrificed.  The water libation, unique to Succos, represents the nations of the world as well.[4]  The point of this is that Godly abundance comes to the nations through us, the nation of Israel.  It is our duty not to keep God, as it were, to ourselves.  Rather we are required to request that the kingdom of God spread throughout the Creation.  We find a hint to this in Avos (1:3),  “אַל תִּהְיוּ כַּעֲבָדִים הַמְשַׁמְשִׁים אֶת הָרַב עַל מְנַת לְקַבֵּל פְּרַס/Do not be like servants who serve the master in order to receive a reward.”  Rather we should serve God altruistically.  The Tanna uses the word pras for reward.  As we’ve seen, pras also means a portion.  Therefore, the Tanna is hinting that we should not serve God only for ourselves but rather we should seek to spread awareness of Him throughout the world.

Succos, then, is a culmination of the process by which God established the nation of Israel as the point from which completeness and abundance spreads to the rest of the world.  It is also the beginning of the process of spreading the abundance to the rest of the world.  Succos represents the culmination of the “marriage” between the nation of Israel and God, God’s protection and making us whole.  It also represents our spreading an awareness of God and His abundance to the entire world.  May we merit being God’s channel.

[1] See Mechilta BaChodesh 3
[2] Zohar 3:90b
[3] Succah 55b
[4] See Gur Aryeh on Rashi, Bamidbar 29:18, remez lenisuch hamayim

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Yom Kippur 5645 First Ma'amar

Yom Kippur, in addition to being a day of atonement, is also a day of purification.  Just as mitzvos have positive effects on us, sins have negative effects on us and on our surroundings.  They sully our souls and distance us from the Creator.  We can fulfill the mitzvah of repentance by admitting our transgression, regretting it and committing not to repeat the wrong.  God will forgive us our sin and we will not be punished  However, does this automatically wipe the slate clean and purify us?
Chazal[1] teach us that when the sinners of Israel repent, the power of the Torah purifies them.  Chazal understand this from a pasuk in Yechezkeil (36:25), “וְזָרַקְתִּי עֲלֵיכֶם מַיִם טְהוֹרִים וּטְהַרְתֶּם מִכֹּל טֻמְאוֹתֵיכֶם .../I will throw upon you purifying waters and you will be purified from your impure state …”  Chazal[2] teach us, too, that water is a metaphor for Torah.  Sin causes an impure state but when we repent, Torah causes purification.  Significantly, Moshe Rabbeinu brought down the second luchos on Yom Kippur.[3]

The Sfas Emes teaches the difference between the first luchos and the second.  Preparations for the first time stressed holiness and separation from the mundane.  “... וְקִדַּשְׁתָּם הַיּוֹם וּמָחָר .../… prepare them today and tomorrow …” (Shmos 19:10)  The word that we translate as prepare comes from the root kodesh/holy.  The pasuk can thus be translated, “make them holy today and tomorrow.”

The stress of the second luchos was purification.  God was prepared to purify the nation after the idolatry of the golden calf.  While we can certainly repent, showing remorse for our actions, Chazal teach us that only God can wipe the slate clean and purify us.  Chazal learn this from a pasuk in Iyov (14:4), “מִי־יִתֵּן טָהוֹר מִטָּמֵא לֹא אֶחָד/Who can produce purity from impurity.  No one!”  Chazal[4], though, read this pasuk as, “Who can produce purity from impurity.  Is it not the One?”  Reaching this state of purification is the ultimate goal of the ba’al teshuva/penitent and God grants it through Torah.

We see from the two sets of luchos that the Torah provides one approach of serving God for the righteous – separation from the mundane, holiness – and a different approach for the ba’al teshuva – purification.  It is important to recognize this because not everything that is appropriate for one group is appropriate for the other.  It is important to understand that as ba’alei teshuva, our goal is purification through keeping and learning Torah, may we merit it!

[1] Tanna deVei Eliyahu Rabba 18
[2] Bava Kama 17a
[3] Seder Olam Rabba 6
[4] Bamidbar R. 19:1

Friday, September 18, 2015

Shabbos Teshuva 5638 Second Ma'amar

The period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is especially suited for repentance.[1]  What is repentance?  The mitzvah of repentance entails a verbal recognition that a wrong was done, remorse and a commitment not to repeat the wrong.[2] 

Albeit these are the steps that must be taken in order to fulfill the mitzvah of repentance, the prophet does not mention these.  Rather, he speaks of returning to God.  The special haftarah that we read this Shabbos – the Shabbos before Yom Kippur – begins, “שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ .../Return, Israel, until God, your Lord …” (Hoshe’a 14:2

It almost seems as if the prophet continues from where the mitzvah ends.  We may fulfill the mitzvah of repentance by following the steps brought down in the halachah.  However, in order to return to God, something more is needed.  The Sfas Emes explains, in fact, that the prophet is not only addressing penitents.  He is addressing the righteous as well.  The only difference between the two is that the penitent must first fulfill the mitzvah of repentance whereas the righteous can start from the second step of returning to God.

The two step process of repentance and return explains the pasuk in Eichah (5:21), “הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ ה' אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה .../Return us to You and we will return …”  When we rectify the sin through remorse and by committing not to repeat the sin, God returns us to Him.  Afterwards, we return.  Although rectification of the sin is critical, it is not the main thing.  The main thing is the subsequent return to God that the rectification enables.

The Sfas Emes refers to these two steps as two types of repentance, the second building on the first.  The first is repentance from fear.  When we first realize that we’ve done a wrong, it is natural to fear and be concerned for the damage we’ve caused.  This concern stirs us to remorse and a commitment to not repeat the wrong.  We are also moved to ask God to have mercy on us and rectify the damage caused by the sin.

The second step, once we merit coming close to God, is the repentance of love.  When we contemplate God’s tremendous kindness that He has not rejected us as sinners but rather has brought us close to Him, we are shamed and inspired to come close to God out of love.

Elsewhere[3] the Sfas Emes explains that during the weekdays of the ten days of penitence, concern for the damage caused by our sins compels us to repent and return to God.  To the extent that we work and pray for this during the weekdays, we merit returning to God on Shabbos out of a feeling of love that God Himself imbues in us[4].  May we merit it and a G’mar Chasima Tova.

[1] Rosh HaShanah 18a
[2] Yad Teshuva 1:1
[3] Sfas Emes Shabbos Teshuva 5637 Third Ma’amar
[4] Regarding awe of God as a prerequisite for love of God see this ma’amar.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Rosh HaShana 5632 Third Ma'amar

The Midrash[1] on the pasuk in parshas Emor which mentions Rosh HaShanah cites the following pasuk from Tehillim (119:89), “לְעוֹלָם ה' דְּבָרְךָ נִצָּב בַּשָּׁמָיִם/Forever, God, Your word stands firm in the heavens.”  What is the connection between this pasuk and Rosh HaShana?

The Ba’al Shem Tov[2] explains that this pasuk harks back to God’s command to create the heavens and is to be understood literally.  God’s command, “Let there be a firmament …,” (Breishis 1:6) the very words of the declaration, stand firm in the heavens and give them existence.  The same applies to all the commands of the Creation.

Why is this so and what is its significance?  The Sfas Emes explains that God's creation commands (i.e. "Let there be light", etc.) are at the root of every part of the Creation. The spiritual sustenance that enables every part of the Creation to continue to exist flows out of God’s very declarations that brought them into existence in the first place. The spiritual energy at the source and its physical counterparts are therefore intimately connected. The Creation was structured so that the spiritual energy actually becomes the physical creations.

Chazal quote this pasuk relating it to Rosh HaShanah because Rosh HaShanah represents the spiritual energy before it changes into distinct and disparate material creations.  The teki’ah sound of the shofar alludes to this concept.  The teki’ah is a simple sound.  It represents sound before it is broken into parts by speech and reminds us of the source of life and existence before it becomes physical and broken into disparate physical forms[3].

On Rosh HaShanah we want to connect – to experience – through the sound of the shofar, to God’s spiritual life force. May we merit it! 

[1] VaYikra R. 29:1
[2] Cited in Tanya, Sha’ar HaYichud VeHe’Emunah
[3] For a fascinating discussion of this concept, see Ya’aros Devash 1:6.  Rav Yonasan Aibshutz explains the juxtaposition of the different names of God in the pasuk, “עָלָה אֱ-לֹהִים בִּתְרוּעָה ה' בְּקוֹל שׁוֹפָר.”  The Tetragrammaton has no consonants.  As such it is comparable to the teki’ah which is a simple sound unbroken into components by the different parts of the mouth.  The name אֱ-לֹהִים, on the other hand, has consonants.  It is comparable to the teru’ah which is sound broken using parts of the mouth.  It represents God’s influence in the physical world.  Rav Aibshutz also explains that the world was created with the simple sound of the teki’ah because the definition of dibbur is the creation of an “angel”.  For this reason there is no dibbur or amira associated with the first command – Breishis.  This is why we associate the teki’ah with the Creation on Rosh Hashanah –HaYom haras olam.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Tavo 5631 Second Ma'amar

In the third year of the shmitta cycle we are required to perform the mitzvah of bi’ur ma’asros.  We fulfill this mitzvah by distributing all tithes separated but not yet distributed.  An integral component of this mitzvah is to declare, according to a formula prescribed in the Torah, that the mitzvah was done properly.  The formula starts with this sentence, “בִּעַרְתִּי הַקֹּדֶשׁ מִן-הַבַּיִת וְגַם נְתַתִּיו לַלֵּוִי וְלַגֵּר לַיָּתוֹם וְלָאַלְמָנָה כְּכָל-מִצְוָתְךָ אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתָנִי לֹא-עָבַרְתִּי מִמִּצְוֹתֶיךָ וְלֹא שָׁכָחְתִּי/I have rid the house of the holy (portion) and have also given to the Levite, to the [resident] alien, to the orphan and to the widow according to Your entire commandment that You have commanded me.  I did not transgress Your commandments nor did I forget.” (Devarim 26:13)  Chazal teach us that each part of this sentence is referring to a different aspect of the laws of tithing.[1]  The final clause, “nor did I forget,” is referring to the blessing that we are required to make before tithing.  This declaration is called viduy ma’asros/confession of tithes.

Viduy ma’asros is a review of a person’s performance of the mitzvah of tithing.  This is why the declaration includes the different aspects of the mitzvah and how they were performed properly, according to halachah as prescribed in the Torah and by Chazal.  Why, though, is the blessing on the mitzvah included?  The blessing we recite before performing a mitzvah is not a part of the mitzvah.  A mitzvah performed is valid even if no blessing preceded it.

The Chiddushei HaRim addresses this question.  The answer is tied to the concept of saying blessings on mitzvos before fulfilling the mitzvah rather than afterwards.  Chazal[2] use uncommon language to state that the blessing for a mitzvah must precede the mitzvah.  Chazal call it, “עוֹבֵר לַעֲשִׂיָיתָן/Oveir l’asiyasan.”  The word oveir is translated as “pass”.[3]  The word connotes the past.  In grammar it is used to describe the past tense.  Chazal therefore ask, “How do we know that this word in our context of saying blessings means specifically to say the blessing before performing the mitzvah?”  Chazal answer that to pass someone means to go before him.[4] In this sense, the word oveir/pass implies saying the blessing before doing the mitzvah.

Why, though, does the Talmud use language which is subject to confusion?  Would it not be better to state clearly that we are required to make a blessing before fulfilling the mitzvah?  The Chiddushei HaRim asks this question and answers that Chazal specifically used language that could, at first glance, connote “after.”  The reason is that there is a certain logic to reciting the blessing following the mitzvah rather than before it.  After performing a mitzvah, the blessing would serve as a “thank you” to God for giving us the opportunity to fulfill it and for helping us to merit it.  Why then do we, in fact, say the blessing beforehand?  The Chiddushei HaRim explains that it is the way of Jews to express gratitude to God specifically before everything.  This is because we tend to remember Him.  He is on our minds. 

Saying blessings before doing the mitzvos, then, is an indication of a fundamental aspect of our relationship with God.  This is why Chazal include not forgetting to recite the blessing in viduy ma’asros.  Although not an integral part of the mitzvah of tithing per se, it indicates an integral part of our relationship with God.  We are declaring, "We did not forget You, God, therefore we said the blessing and expressed gratitude to You for the mitzvah even before we did it.  We are grateful for the opportunity and the wherewithal.  And, most importantly, we remember You."

[1]Ma’aseir Sheini 5:11
[2]Pesachim 7b
[3]as in, Reuven’s car passes Shimon.
[4] When Reuven’s car passes Shimon, Reuven is now in front of Shimon.  Reuven is before Shimon.