Great article on freedom of Choice. Covers fundamental Kabbalah concepts
I would like to say that though I like the article in geheral, there is one point that I want to clear up: the law of free choice is a spiritual law and that is why it has no range, it is constant and endless.What does have range is our awereness of this law and our understanding of its meaning.There is no thief that doesn’t know that steeling is “bad” but there are a lot of people who knowing that it is “bad” would do it because they can’t resist their “ratzon lekabel” because they are not trained enough to put massakh on their wishes from the category”lekkabal al mennat lekkabel”.Fulfilling mitzvot and learning Torah( all Pardes) little by little give you the strenght to prevent yourself from choising Tummah in favour for Kddushah.
If we compare the expretions : Freedom of Choice and the Choice of Freedom, we will see tht there is a slight differences between them. In the first case the main word=noun is choice and the secondary word=ajective is freedom, it means that first of all we want to have a choice, and then comes freedom, but the choice may not always be between the slavery and freedom, very often it can be between one sort of slavery and another, for ex.- econoic, or another sort of slavery, such is political, and on the level of a privite person there are much more dependenses, which together may be called slavery of this or that kind.
Jewish way of life is based on the second expretion: choice of Freedom, where the main word is Freedom, and the secondary one is choice!
We are the nation that talled the world that Freedom is the highest value of the human existence. The coming out of the Egypt is mentioned in Torah 50 times! It is our most important holiday- Pessakh, which is also the bithday of Jewish nation, and our individual New Year!
Rosh HaShanna is the New Year for all the creation, but Pessakh is our HewYear and Bithday! WE, as a nation, were born to be free, and we fought for that thousands of years! No matter where we were physically, our heart was always in Jerusalem in Holly Land, the person may not feel complition ,if he isn’t free, so doesn’t matter what pluses you may see in this or that position, if it isn’t leading you to the freedom you will never wish it for yor children or loved ones.
And so here we have to understand that for the jewish people the choice is the secondary value, and that is way we choose not what we would wanted, but what our Sages told us, may be we are not so content with our choice at the begining, but we do know that for the Freedom, We are ready to take anything what the Creator gives us as a tool to get the state of Freedom.
Today’s main form of slavery is the slavery of our own ego, which is the most difficult and complicated barrier on our way to the Fredom of the existence, and the only free existence may be if a person is in the spiritual world,the world free from the wish to get, be he physically there or spiritualy only, he lives and thinks with the categories of the Eternity, and in this way he is free throm the Angle of Death, and the mortality of this world, Freedom from all kind of dependences and the only reason for coming to this world.
Each of us has a choice and first of all between this two exprations.
If you choose the first one you choose the development through the cycles of suffering, hopes and bitter disapoinments, if you choose the second expretion, you choose very tough for your ego form of existence, by little by little it will be corrected through the conscious, detailed work with the structuring and unfoldment of your potential, and your ego will serve as a basic material for this reforming, a lot of discouveres are waiting for you about the laws of the spirituality, you have a posibility to become an active participent of your own correction, and to do it on the bases of your choice of Freedom.
Freedom is Life, and Life is the choice of Torah and Mitzvot as a priority for my perposal form of existence,because my choice is motivatied by jewish Choice of FREEDOM!
We became Ahm Sgulla, the special=chosen nation, because we chose Freedom, and if the way to it is through learning Torah and performing Mitzvot we are ready for it, because the one who experienced the Freedom of spirit and mind even once may never agree for the slavery, because after the choice of Freedom he gets as a gift- the Freedom of choice, but if first of all we don’t choose the freedom willingly, and our term of existence and the connection with the Creation, our earthly “freedom of choice “will be always the choice between one form of slavery between another.
The Fear of Freedom
Britain’s Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
More Sharing Services ShareThe episode of the spies has rightly puzzled commentators throughout the centuries. How could they have got it so wrong? The land, they said, was as Moses had promised. It was indeed “flowing with milk and honey.” But conquering it was impossible. “The people who live there are powerful, and the cities fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of the giant there … We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are … All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the titans there … We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we seemed in theirs” (Num. 13: 28-33).
They were terrified of the inhabitants of the land, and entirely failed to realise that the inhabitants were terrified of them. Rahab, the prostitute in Jericho, tells the spies sent by Joshua a generation later: “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you … our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Joshua 2: 10-11).
The truth was the exact opposite of the spies’ report. The inhabitants feared the Israelites more than the Israelites feared the inhabitants. We hear this at the start of the story of Bilaam: “Now Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites, and Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites.” Earlier the Israelites themselves had sung at the Red Sea: “The people of Canaan will melt away; terror and dread will fall on them” (Ex. 15: 15-16).
How then did the spies err so egregiously? Did they misinterpret what they saw? Did they lack faith in God? Did they – more likely – lack faith in themselves? Or was it simply, as Maimonides argues in The Guide for the Perplexed, that their fear was inevitable given their past history? They had spent most of their lives as slaves. Only recently had they acquired their freedom. They were not yet ready to fight a prolonged series of battles and establish themselves as a free people in their own land. That would take a new generation, born in freedom. Humans change, but not that quickly (Guide III, 32).
Most of the commentators assume that the spies were guilty of a failure of nerve, or faith, or both. It is hard to read the text otherwise. However, in the Hassidic literature – from the Baal Shem Tov to R. Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger (Sefat Emet) to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, R. Menachem Mendel Schneersohn – an entirely different line of interpretation emerged, reading the text against the grain to dramatic effect so that it remains relevant and powerful today. According to their interpretation, the spies were well-intentioned. They were, after all, “princes, chieftains, leaders” (Num. 13: 2-3). They did not doubt that Israel could win its battles with the inhabitants of the land. They did not fear failure; they feared success. Their concern was not physical but spiritual. They did not want to leave the wilderness. They did not want to become just another nation among the nations of the earth. They did not want to lose their unique relationship with God in the reverberating silence of the desert, far removed from civilization and its discontents.
Here they were close to God, closer than any generation before or since. He was a palpable presence in the Sanctuary in their midst, and in the clouds of glory that surrounded them. Here His people ate manna from heaven and water from the rock and experienced miracles daily. So long as they stayed in the desert under God’s sheltering canopy, they did not need to plough the earth, plant seeds, gather harvests, defend a country, run an economy, maintain a welfare system, or shoulder any of the other earthly burdens and distractions that take peoples’ minds away from the Divine.
Here, in no-man’s-land, in liminal space, suspended between past and future, they were able to live with a simplicity and directness of encounter they could not hope to find once they had re-entered the gravitational pull of everyday life in the material world. Paradoxically, since a desert is normally the exact opposite of a garden, the wilderness was the Israelites’ Eden. Here they were as close to God as were the first humans before their loss of innocence.
If that comparison is too discordant, recall that Hosea and Jeremiah both compared the wilderness to a honeymoon. Hosea said in the name of God: “I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her” (Hos. 2: 16), implying that in the future God would take the people back there to celebrate a second honeymoon. Jeremiah said in God’s name, “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown” (Jer. 2: 2). For both prophets, the wilderness years were the time of the first love between God and the Israelites. That is what the spies did not want to leave.
Clearly this interpretation is not the plain sense of the narrative, but we should not dismiss it on that account. It is, as it were, a psychoanalytical reading, an account of the unconscious mindset of the spies. They did not want to let go of the intimacy and innocence of childhood and enter the adult world. Sometimes it is hard for parents to let go of their children; at others it is the other way round. But there must be a measure of separation if children are to become responsible adults. Ultimately the spies feared freedom and its responsibilities.
But that is what Torah is about. Judaism is not a religion of monastic retreat from the world. It is supremely a religion of engagement with the world. The Torah is a template for the construction of a society with all its gritty details: laws of warfare and welfare, harvests and livestock, loans and employer-employee relationships, the code of a nation in its land, part of the real world of politics and economics, yet somehow pointing to a better world where justice and compassion, love of the neighbour and stranger, are not remote ideals but part of the texture of everyday life. God chose Israel to make His presence visible in the world, and that means that Israel must live in the world.
To be sure, the Jewish people were not without their desert-dwellers and ascetics. The Qumran sect known to us from the Dead Sea Scrolls was such a group. The Talmud speaks of R. Shimon bar Yochai in similar terms. Having lived for thirteen years in a cave, he could not bear to see people engaged in such earthly pursuits as ploughing a field. Maimonides speaks of people who live as hermits in the desert to escape the corruptions of society (Laws of ethical character, 6: 1; Eight Chapters, ch. 4). But these were the exceptions, not the rule. This is not the destiny of Israel, to live outside time and space in ashrams or monasteries as the world’s recluses. Far from being the supreme height of faith, such a fear of freedom and its responsibilities is – according to both the Gerer and Lubavitcher Rebbe – the sin of the spies.
There is a voice within the tradition, most famously identified with R. Shimon bar Yochai, that regards engagement with the world as fundamentally incompatible with the heights of spirituality. But the mainstream held otherwise. “Torah study without an occupation will in the end fail and lead to sin” (Avot 2: 2). “One who makes his mind up to study Torah and not to work but to live on charity, profanes the name of God, brings the Torah into contempt, extinguishes the light of religion, brings evil upon himself, and deprives himself of life hereafter” (Maimonides, Laws of Torah Study 3:10).
The spies did not want to contaminate Judaism by bringing it into contact with the real world. They sought the eternal childhood of God’s protection and the endless honeymoon of His all-embracing love. There is something noble about this desire, but also something profoundly irresponsible that demoralised the people and provoked God’s anger. For the Jewish project – the Torah as the constitution of the Jewish nation under the sovereignty of God – is about building a society in the land of Israel that so honours human dignity and freedom that it will one day lead the world to say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people” (Deut. 4: 6).
The Jewish task is not to fear the real world but to enter and transform it. That is what the spies did not understand. Do we – Jews of faith – understand it even now?
HOME Holidays Passover Themes Seder Insights Teach Your Children Well
The world we build tomorrow is born in the stories we tell our children today.
by Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
What creates freedom? A revolution in the streets? Mass protest? Civil war? A change of government? The ousting of the old guard and its replacement by the new? History, more often than not, shows that hopes raised by such events are often dashed, sooner rather than later. “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,” wrote Wordsworth about the French revolution, but the mood did not last long. It rarely does. Sometimes all that happens is that the tyranny of the minority is replaced by the tyranny of the majority; sometimes not even that. The faces change. The suffering remains.
The books of Exodus and Deuteronomy take a different route altogether. It’s astonishing how, reflecting on the Israelites’ journey from slavery to freedom, Moses keeps returning to one subject above all others: how we teach our children. “When your children ask you this, you should answer them that.” “Teach your child on that day.” “Say to your child …” Four times Moses speaks about the duty of parents to educate their children, handing on to them their people’s story until it becomes their own.
That’s what we do each year on Passover as we gather in our extended families to re-enact the night long ago when our ancestors readied themselves to leave Egypt and begin the long walk to freedom. It’s a remarkable ceremony, the oldest continuously observed religious ritual in the world, going back thousands of years. We still eat the matzah, the dry unleavened “bread of affliction,” and taste the maror, the “bitter herbs” of slavery. And children are still at the heart of this celebration. For we can only tell the story in response to questions asked by a child. That’s why, for many of us, our earliest Jewish memory is of asking the “four questions,” beginning with “Why is this night different?” We remain faithful to Moses’ mandate: first teach the children.
Much has been written since Moses’ day about freedom. Even today it is the key word of politics, especially in those parts of the world under repressive regimes. Still the talk is of politics and power, armies and militias, tactics and strategy, regime change and international intervention. Still we are surprised when the new guard turns out to be as bad as the old guard. The faith religious believers have in God is small compared to the faith people put in politicians, knowing how many times they have been disappointed in the past but still insisting that this time it will be different.
Moses taught us something else entirely. The world we build tomorrow is born in the stories we tell our children today. Politics moves the pieces. Education changes the game. If you want a free society, teach your children what oppression tastes like. Tell them how many miracles it takes to get from here to there. Above all, encourage them to ask questions. Teach them to think for themselves. Get them to continue the heritage not through blind obedience – the world’s worst preparation for liberty – but through active, challenging conversation across the generations. That’s how we learned, as children, about the long walk to freedom. It’s how we came to take our ancestors’ story as our own.
Amid all the talk about the challenges facing the world in the twenty first century – climate change, the global economy, political turmoil, the impact of the new technology – far too little is said or thought about education, and even when it is, it focuses on the wrong things, such as technical skills. Education is the single most important determinant of the future of the human race, and what and how we teach our children is the most important decision we can make.
We have to teach our children that freedom only comes when you respect the freedom of others, that it involves responsibilities as well as rights and that it means making sacrifices for the common good. God, the supreme power, intervened in history long ago to help the supremely powerless, a nation of slaves, and ever since, His work must be ours. Nor can we teach these things without giving children the space to ask, question and challenge, thereby learning the dignity of dissent, itself one of the elements of freedom.
Liberty is born not on the battlefield but in homes, schools and houses of study. That is the message of the world’s oldest ritual, Passover, and its force remains undiminished today.
This article originally appeared in the Times.
Ki Tisa(Exodus 30:11-34:35)
The Birth of a New Freedom
Witnessing the birth of a new idea is a little like watching the birth of a galaxy through the Hubble Space Telescope. We can witness just such an event in a famous rabbinical commentary to a key verse in this week’s parsha.
The way to see it is to ask the question: what is the Hebrew word for freedom? Instinctively, we answer cherut. After all, we say that God brought us me-avdut le-cherut, “from slavery to freedom.” We call Pesach, the Festival of freedom, zeman cherutenu. So it comes as a surprise to discover that not once does the Torah, or Tanakh as a whole, use the word cherut in the sense of freedom, and only once does it use the word, or at least the related word charut, in any sense whatever.
There are two biblical words for freedom. One is chofshi/chofesh, used in connection with the freeing of slaves (as in Ex. 21:2). That too is the word used in Israel’s national anthem, Hatikva, which speaks about “the two-thousand-year hope to be a free people [am chofshi] in our land.”
The other is dror, used in connection with the Jubilee year, engraved on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia: “Proclaim liberty [dror] throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” (Lev. 25:10). The same word appears in Isaiah’s great words: “to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom [dror] for the captives” (Is. 61:1).
However, the sages coined a new word. Here is the passage in which it occurs:
It says, “The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved [charut] on the tablets” (Ex. 32:16). Read not charut, “engraved” but cherut, “freedom,” for the only person who is truly free is one who occupies himself with Torah study. (Avot 6:2).
The reference is to the first tablets given by God to Moses just before the sin of the golden calf. This is the only appearance in Tanakh of root ch-r-t (with a tav), but a related word, ch-r-t (with a tet) appears in the story of the golden calf itself, when the Torah tells us that Aaron shaped it with a cheret, an “engraving tool.” The Egyptian magicians are called chartumim, which may mean “engravers of hieroglyphics.” So how did a word that means “engraved” come to mean “freedom”?
Besides which, why was a new term for freedom needed? If the Hebrew language already had two, why was a third necessary? And why this word – engraved? To answer these questions, let us engage in some conceptual archaeology.
Chofesh/chofshi is what a slave becomes when he or she goes free. It means that he can do what he likes. There is no one to order him around. The word is related to chafetz, “desire” and chapess, “seek”. Chofesh is the freedom to pursue your desires. It is what philosophers call negative liberty. It means the absence of coercion.
Chofesh is fine for individual freedom. But it does not constitute collective freedom. A society in which everyone was free to do what they liked would not be a free society. It would be, at best, like the society we saw on the streets of London and Manchester in the summer of 2011, with people breaking shop windows, looting and assaulting strangers.
More likely it would be what failed states are today: a society without the rule of law, with no effective government, honest police, or independent courts. It would be what Hobbes called “the war of every man against every man” in which life would be “nasty, brutish and short.” Something like this is referred to in the last verse of the book of Judges: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did that which was right in his own eyes.”
A free society needs law. But law is a constraint on freedom. It forbids me to do something I might wish to do. How then are we to reconcile law and liberty? That is a question at the heart of Judaism – which is a religion of both law and liberty.
To answer this, the sages made an extraordinary leap of the imagination. Consider two forms of writing in ancient times. One is to use ink on parchment, another is to engrave words in stone. There is a marked difference between these two methods.
The ink and parchment are two different materials. The ink is external to the parchment. It is superimposed upon it, and it does not become part of the parchment. It remains distinct, and so it can be rubbed off and removed. But an engraving does not use some new substance. It is carved out of the stone itself. It becomes part of it, and cannot easily be obliterated.
Now consider these two ways of writing as metaphors for law. There is a law that is externally imposed. People keep it because they fear that if they do not, they will be caught and punished. But if there is no chance that they will be caught, they make break it, for the law has not changed their desires. That kind of law – imposed on us like ink on parchment – is a limitation of freedom.
But there can be a different kind of society in which people keep the law not because they fear they will be caught and punished, but because they know the law, they have studied it, they understand it, they have internalised it, and it has become part of who they are. They no longer desire to do what the law forbids because they now know it is wrong and they wrestle with their own temptations and desires. Such a law needs no police because it is based not on external force but on internal transformation through the process of education. The law is like writing engraved in stone.
Imagine such a society. You can walk in the streets without fear. You don’t need high walls and alarms to keep your home safe. You can leave your car unlocked and still expect to find it there when you return. People keep the law because they care about the common good. That is a free society.
Now imagine the other kind of society, which needs a heavy police presence, constant surveillance, neighbourhood watch schemes, security devices and personnel, and still people are afraid to walk alone at night. People think they are free because they have been taught that all morality is relative, and you can do what you like so long as you do not harm others. No one who has seen such a society can seriously believe it is free. Individuals may be free, but society as a whole has to be on constant guard because it is at constant risk. It is a society with little trust and much fear.
Hence the brilliant new concept that emerged in rabbinic Judaism: cherut, the freedom that comes to a society – of which Jews were called on to be pioneers – where people not only know the law but study it constantly until it is engraved on their hearts as the commandments were once engraved on stone. That is what the sages meant when they said, “Read not charut, engraved, but cherut, freedom, for the only person who is truly free is one who occupies himself with Torah study.” In such a society you keep the law because you want to, because having studied the law you understand why it is there. In such a society there is no conflict between law and freedom.
Where did the sages get this idea from? I believe it came from their deep understanding of what Jeremiah meant when he spoke of the renewed covenant that would come into being once Jews returned after the Babylonian exile. The renewed covenant “will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt … This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time – declares the Lord – I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts…” (Jer. 31:31-33).
Many centuries later Josephus recorded that this had actually happened. “Should anyone of our nation be asked about our laws, he will repeat them as readily as his own name. The result of our thorough education in our laws from the very dawn of intelligence is that they are, as it were, engraved on our souls.”
To this day many still do not fully understand this revolutionary idea. People still think that a free society can be brought about simply by democratic elections and political structures. But democracy, as Alexis de Tocqueville said long ago, may simply turn out to be “the tyranny of the majority.”
Freedom is born in the school and the House of Study. That is the freedom still pioneered by the people who, more than any other, have devoted their time to studying, understanding and internalising the law. What is the Jewish people? A nation of constitutional lawyers. Why? Because only when the law is engraved on our souls can we achieve collective freedom without sacrificing individual freedom. That is cherut – Judaism’s great contribution to the idea and practice of liberty.
Freedom and Truth
Why did Moses tell Pharaoh, if not a lie, then less than the full truth? Here is the conversation between him and Pharaoh after the fourth plague, arov, “swarms of insects” (some say “wild animals”).
Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land.” But Moses said, “That would not be right. The sacrifices we offer the Lord our God would be detestable to the Egyptians. And if we offer sacrifices that are detestable in their eyes, will they not stone us? We must take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, as he commands us.” (Ex. 8:21-23)
Not just here but throughout, Moses makes it seem as if all he is asking is for permission for the people to undertake a three day journey, to offer sacrifices to God and (by implication) then to return. So, in their first appearance before Pharaoh, Moses and Aaron say:
“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.'” Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.” Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword.” (Ex. 5:1-3)
God even specifies this before the mission has begun, saying to Moses at the burning bush: “You and the elders of Israel will then go to the king of Egypt. You must tell him, ‘The Lord, God of the Hebrews, revealed Himself to us. Now we request that you allow us to take a three day journey into the desert, to sacrifice to the Lord our God'” (Ex. 3:18).
The impression remains to the very end. After the Israelites have left, we read:
The king of Egypt received news that the people were escaping. Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds regarding the people, and said, “What have we done? How could we have released Israel from doing our work?” (Ex. 14:5)
At no stage does Moses say explicitly that he is proposing that the people should be allowed to leave permanently, never to return. He talks of a three day journey. There is an argument between him and Pharaoh as to who is to go. Only the adult males? Only the people, not the cattle? Moses consistently asks for permission to worship God, at some place that is not Egypt. But he does not speak about freedom or the promised land. Why not? Why does he create, and not correct, a false impression? Why can he not say openly what he means?
The commentators offer various explanations. R. Shmuel David Luzzatto (Italy, 1800-1865) says that it was impossible for Moses to tell the truth to a tyrant like Pharaoh. R. Yaakov Mecklenburg (Germany, 1785-1865, Ha-Ktav veha-Kabbalah) says that technically Moses did not tell a lie. He did indeed mean that he wanted the people to be free to make a journey to worship God, and he never said explicitly that they would return.
Abrabanel (Lisbon 1437 – Venice 1508) says that God told Moses deliberately to make a small request, to demonstrate Pharaoh’s cruelty and indifference to his slaves. All they were asking was for a brief respite from their labours to offer sacrifices to God. If he refused this, he was indeed a tyrant. Rav Elhanan Samet (Iyyunim be-Parshot Ha-Shevua, Exodus, 189) cites an unnamed commentator who says simply that this was war between Pharaoh and the Jewish people, and it war it is permitted, indeed sometimes necessary, to deceive.
Actually, however, the terms of the encounter between Moses and Pharaoh are part of a wider pattern that we have already observed in the Torah. When Jacob leaves Laban we read: “Jacob decided to go behind the back of Laban the Aramean, and did not tell him that he was leaving” (Gen. 31:20). Laban protests this behaviour: “How could you do this? You went behind my back and led my daughters away like prisoners of war! Why did you have to leave so secretly? You went behind my back and told me nothing!” (Gen. 31:26-27).
Jacob again has to tell at best a half-truth when Esau suggests that they travel together: “You know that the children are weak, and I have responsibility for the nursing sheep and cattle. If they are driven hard for even one day, all the sheep will die. Please go ahead of me, my lord” (Gen. 33:13-14). This, though not strictly a lie, is a diplomatic excuse.
When Jacob’s sons are trying to rescue their sister Dina who has been raped and abducted by Shechem the Hivite, they “replied deceitfully” (Gen. 34:13) when Shechem and his father proposed that the entire family should come and settle with them, telling them that they could only do so if all the males of the town underwent circumcision.
Earlier still we find that three times Abraham and Isaac, forced to leave home because of famine, have to pretend that they are their wives’ brothers not their husbands because they fear that otherwise they will be killed so that Sarah or Rebecca could be taken into the king’s harem (Gen. 12,20,26).
These six episodes cannot be entirely accidental or coincidental to the biblical narrative as a whole. The implication seems to be this. Outside the promised land Jews in the biblical age are in danger if they tell the truth. They are at constant risk of being killed or at best enslaved.
Why? Because they are powerless in an age of power. They are a small family, at best a small nation, in an age of empires. They have to use their wits to survive. By and large they do not tell lies but they can create a false impression. This is not how things should be. But it is how they were before Jews had their own land, their one and only defensible space. It is how people in impossible situations are forced to be if they are to exist at all.
No one should be forced to live a lie. In Judaism truth is the seal of God and the essential precondition of trust between human beings. But when your people is being enslaved, its male children murdered, you have to liberate them by whatever means are possible. Moses, who had already seen that his first encounter with Pharaoh made things worse for his people – they still had to make the same quota of bricks but now also had to gather their own straw (Ex, 5:6-8) – did not want to risk making them worse still.
The Torah here is not justifying deceit. To the contrary, it is condemning a system in which telling the truth may put your life at risk, as it still does in many tyrannical or totalitarian societies today. Judaism – a religion of dissent, questioning and “argument for the sake of heaven” – is a faith that values intellectual honesty and moral truthfulness above all things. The Psalmist says: “Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord and who shall stand in His holy place? One who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not taken My name in vain nor sworn deceitfully” (Ps. 24:3-4). Malachi says of one who speaks in God’s name: “The law of truth was in his mouth, and unrighteousness was not found in his lips” (Mal. 2:6). Every Amidah ends with the prayer, “My God, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from deceitful speech.”
What the Torah is telling us in these six narratives in Genesis and the seventh in Exodus is the connection between freedom and truth. Where there is freedom there can be truth. Otherwise there cannot. A society where people are forced to be less than fully honest merely to survive and not provoke further oppression is not the kind of society God wants us to make.
Two last articles also belong to Rav Jonathan Sakcs.
The Politics of Freedom
by Rav Jonathan Sacks
Having set out the broad principles of the covenant, Moses now turns to the details, which extend over many chapters and several parshiyot. The long review of the laws that will govern Israel in its land begin and end with Moses posing a momentous choice. Here is how he frames it in this week’s parsha:
See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse – the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known. (Deut. 11: 26-28)
And here is how he puts it at the end:
“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil … I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live. (Deut. 30:15, 19)
Maimonides takes these two passages as proof of our belief in freewill (Hilkhot Teshuvah 5: 3), which indeed they are. But they are more than that. They are also a political statement. The connection between individual freedom (which Maimonides is talking about) and collective choice (which Moses is talking about) is this: If humans are free then they need a free society within which to exercise that freedom. The book of Devarim represents the first attempt in history to create a free society.
Moses’ vision is deeply political but in a unique way. It is not politics as the pursuit of power or the defence of interests or the preservation of class and caste. It is not politics as an expression of national glory and renown. There is no desire in Moses’ words for fame, honour, expansion, empire. There is not a word of nationalism in the conventional sense. Moses does not tell the people that they are great. He tells them that they have been rebellious, they have sinned, and that their failure of faith during the episode of the spies cost them forty extra years of delay before entering the land. Moses would not have won an election. He was not that kind of leader.
Instead he summons the people to humility and responsibility. We are the nation, he says in effect, that has been chosen by God for a great experiment. Can we create a society that is not Egypt, not empire, not divided into rulers and ruled? Can we stay faithful to the more-than-human hand that has guided our destinies since I first stood before Pharaoh and asked for our freedom? For if we truly believe in God – not God as a philosophical abstraction but God in whose handwriting our history has been written, God to whom we pledged allegiance at Mount Sinai, God who is our only sovereign – then we can do great things.
Not great in conventional terms, but great in moral terms. For if all power, all wealth, all might belong to God, then none of these things can rightfully set us apart one from another. We are all equally precious in His sight. We have been charged by Him to feed the poor and bring the orphan and widow, the landless Levite and non-Israelite stranger, into our midst, sharing our celebrations and days of rest. We have been commanded to create a just society that honours human dignity and freedom.
Moses insists on three things. First we are free. The choice is ours. Blessing or curse? Good or evil? Faithfulness or faithlessness? You decide, says Moses. Never has freedom been so starkly defined, not just for an individual but for a nation as a whole. We do not find it hard to understand that as individuals we are confronted by moral choices. Adam and Eve were. So was Cain. Choice is written into the human condition.
But to be told this as a nation – this is something new. There is no defence, says Moses, in protestations of powerlessness, saying, We could not help it. We were outnumbered. We were defeated. It was the fault of our leaders or our enemies. No, says Moses, your fate is in your hands. The sovereignty of God does not take away human responsibility. To the contrary, it places it centre-stage. If you are faithful to God, says Moses, you will prevail over empires. If you are not, nothing else – not military strength nor political alliances – will help you.
If you betray your unique destiny, if you worship the gods of the surrounding nations, then you will become like them. You will suffer the fate of all small nations in an age of superpowers. Don’t blame others or chance or ill-fortune for your defeat. The choice is yours; the responsibility is yours alone.
Second, we are collectively responsible. The phrase “All Israel are sureties for one another” is rabbinic but the idea is already present in the Torah. This too is radical. There is no “great man” theory of history in Judaism, nothing of what Carlyle called “heroes and hero-worship.” The fate of Israel depends on the response of Israel, all Israel, from “the heads of your tribes, your elders and officers” to your “hewers of wood and drawers of water.” This is the origin of the American phrase (which has no counterpart in the vocabulary of British politics), “We, the people.”
Unlike all other nations in the ancient world and most today, the people of the covenant did not believe that their destiny was determined by kings, emperors, a royal court or a governing elite. It is determined by each of us as moral agents, conjointly responsible for the common good. This is what Michael Walzer means when in his recent book In God’s Shadow: Politics in the Hebrew Bible he calls biblical Israel an “almost democracy.”
Third, it is a God-centred politics. There was no word for this in the ancient world so Josephus had to coin one. He called it “theocracy.” However, this word has been much abused and taken to mean what it does not, namely rule by clerics, priests. That is not what Israel was. Again an American phrase comes to mind. Israel was “one nation under God.” If any single word does justice to the vision of Deuteronomy it is not theocracy but nomocracy, “the rule of laws, not men.”
Biblical Israel is the first example in history of an attempt to create a free society. Not free in the modern sense of liberty of conscience. That concept was born in the seventeenth century in a Europe that had been scarred for a century by religious wars between Catholics and Protestants. Liberty of conscience is the attempt to solve the problem of how people with markedly different religious beliefs (all of them Christians, as it happened) can live peaceably with one another. That is not the problem to which biblical Israel is an answer.
Instead it was an answer to the question: how can freedom and responsibility be shared equally by all? How can limits be placed on the power of rulers to turn the mass of people into slaves – not necessarily literally slaves but as a labour force to be used to build monumental buildings or engage in empire-building wars? It was the great nineteenth century historian Lord Acton who rightly saw that freedom in this sense was born in biblical Israel:
The government of the Israelites was a Federation, held together by no political authority, but by the unity of race and faith, and founded, not on physical force, but on a voluntary covenant … The throne was erected on a compact, and the king was deprived of the right of legislation among the people that recognised no lawgiver but God … The inspired men who rose in unfailing succession to prophesy against the usurper and the tyrant, constantly proclaimed that the laws, which were divine, were paramount over sinful rulers … Thus the example of the Hebrew nation laid down the parallel lines on which all freedom has been won.(1)
It is a beautiful, powerful, challenging idea. If God is our only sovereign, then all human power is delegated, limited, subject to moral constraints. Jews were the first to believe that an entire nation could govern itself in freedom and equal dignity. This has nothing to do with political structures (monarchy, oligarchy, democracy – Jews have tried them all), and everything to do collective moral responsibility.
Jews never quite achieved the vision, but never ceased to be inspired by it. Moses’ words still challenge us today. God has given us freedom. Let us use it to create a just, generous, gracious society. God does not do it for us but He has taught us how it is done. As Moses said: the choice is ours.
A Blessing and a Curse
by Rav Ari Kahn
‘See! I give you today (a choice of) a blessing and a curse. The blessing, when you listen to the commandments of God your Lord, which I command you today. The curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of God your Lord, and you deviate from the path which I command you today, in order to follow other gods which you did not know.’ (Deut. 11:26-28)
This week’s Torah portion begins with Moses placing before the people two choices: a blessing or a curse. These will be the results of following the word of God or alternatively abandoning the word of God and embarking on a path leading to idolatry.
These beginning verses encapsulate what follows. Much of this Torah portion is a polemic against idolatry, but in order to understand this, we first need to better understand the choice, i.e. the difference between the blessing and the curse.
Later on in this soliloquy, Moses describes the catastrophes and horrors which will inevitably result from deviation from the teachings of God:
‘And God will get exceedingly angry with that land, to bring upon it all the curses written in this book … And behold when all these things befall you, the blessing and the curse which I placed before you …’ (Deut. 29:26 and 30:1)
Then the text concludes with these immortal words:
‘See I have placed before you today life and good, and death and evil … I call upon heaven and earth to witness against you, life and death I have placed in front of you, the blessing and the curse – choose life in order that you and your children can live! (Deut. 30:19)
This text bears remarkable similarity with the beginning of our Torah portion, where the same formula was used: “See I have placed before you.” But here the text identifies the blessing with life, and the curse with death.
This, then, is the real choice for man: life or death.
It is hard to imagine a more stark distinction than that between life and death. They stand at the opposite poles of the human experience. Why would anyone choose death over life? It would seem totally illogical.
Certainly, there are people for whom life becomes too painful, and they might choose to avoid their pain – some might choose drugs, while others go one step further and choose suicide/death. There are also those who seek to dull the reality of life, others choose to avoid life completely. But these are clearly maladjusted individuals. Why would the Torah have to speak at such great length about psychological maladies?
THE PRIMAL CHOICE
The choice between life and death has a famous parallel which was presented to man at the very dawn of existence:
And God the Lord caused to grow from the ground every pleasant tree to the sight and good to eat, and the Tree of Life was in the Garden (of Eden) and the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil … And God the Lord took Adam and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to work it and to guard it. And God the Lord commanded Adam saying: ‘From every tree in the Garden you shall eat. But from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, do not eat from it, for on the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.’ (Genesis 2:9,16-17)
One tree is associated with life, the other with death. Clearly, no sane person would choose death over life, unless, of course, there is a serpent whispering seductive thoughts, leading the listener to self destruction.
We continue to listen to the devious serpents, urging us to eat of the tree of death.
This description is a paradigm for all humanity. We have all been placed in a Garden of Eden, life and death presented before us, and we are told by God to choose life. But alas, we continue to listen to the devious serpents, real or imagined, encouraging us to partake of the tree of death, despite the manifold curses which accompany that choice.
The world, from its very inception, was created with choices. Ultimately, these choices are between life and death, but rarely do people see their choices in such terms. The possibility for evil or pain is part of the process of creation, or, perhaps, is a result of creation:
And, behold, it was very good … And, behold, it was good [in the Book of Genesis] alludes to the creation of man and the Good Inclination, and “very” alludes to the Evil Inclination. Is, then, the Evil Inclination “very good”? It is, in truth, to teach you that were it not for the Evil Inclination, no one would build a house, marry and beget children. (Kohelet Rabba 3:15)
The very creation includes the evil inclination, and without it one cannot speak of the world being very good. The possibility of evil is an essential part of the creation. This idea is expressed most clearly in this passage in the Book of Isaiah:
‘I am the Lord, and there is no one else, there is no God beside me; I girded you, though you have not known me. That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the Lord, and there is no one else. I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I the Lord do all these things.’ (Isaiah 45:5-7)
Here, in unequivocal terms, God, “takes credit” for all phenomena, good and evil. To ascribe these things to any other power would necessarily impinge on the idea of monotheism. All things come from God.
But why would God create a world with these things? Furthermore, how can the Midrash label these things as “very good”? How can a God who is all good, who defines good, cause evil?
On the one hand, we can appreciate that if all things come from heaven – including pain and punishment – all of these things are motivated by God’s absolute love for us. As a parent must discipline their children, so does God treat us. It seems clear that if a parent responds to a child’s anti-social behavior with rewards, the child will most likely become a sociopath. Likewise, if God responds to the anti-social behavior of the masses with rewards and gifts, an entire generation or nation of sociopaths would result.
But there is more to it.
The verse cited above from Isaiah deserve a second reading. Close inspection of the text offers a fascinating insight. Light is formed, while darkness is created; peace is made while evil is created.
What is the difference between “formation” versus “creation”? Formation indicates an appearance of “something from something,” while creation indicates ex nihilo – “something from nothing.”
Despite the fact that evil was created by God, it does not emanate from God.
We may learn from careful examination of Isaiah’s words that light, or good, is derived/formed from a primordial source – from God, while evil is created. Despite the fact that evil was created by God, it does not emanate from God. Light is refracted from the supernal good, while the result of a separate act of creation results in the appearance of something new, not part of God, called evil.
The mystics described this process as tzimtzum, Divine contraction. This process of creation allows the appearance of something other than God, which needed to be created because it did not exist in God’s sphere. This concept is encapsulated in a one-line phrase in the Midrash:
No evil descends from heaven.
(Yalkut Shimoni Va’era 186)
The Midrash is clearly aware of the verse in Isaiah cited above, but simply assumes, as we do, that creation differs from formation; therefore, evil does not emanate from heaven, rather it is a by-product of creation.
Likewise, commenting on our Torah portion, Rabbi Chaim of Allepo (a student of Rabbi Chaim Vital) noted:
See! I give you today (literally, ‘I place before you’) a blessing and a curse. ‘Before you’ and not ‘on you,’ for no evil descends from heaven, rather it is placed before you. The choice is yours. (Torat Haham 419:3)
IS GOD COMPLETELY GOOD?
In a certain sense, this may sound like theological double talk. In a lengthy passage, the Zohar addresses this question:
True love of the Holy One, blessed be He, consists in just this, that we give over to Him all our emotional, intell, and material faculties and possessions, and love Him. Should it be asked: How can a man love Him with the evil inclination? Is not the evil inclination, the seducer, preventing man from approaching the Holy One to serve Him? How, then, can man use the evil inclination as an instrument of love to God? The answer lies in this, that there can be no greater service done to the Holy One than to bring into subjection the evil inclination by the power of love to the Holy One, blessed be He. For, when it is subdued and its power broken by man in this way, then he becomes a true lover of the Holy One, since he has learnt how to make the evil inclination itself serve the Holy One.
Here is a mystery entrusted to the masters of esoteric lore. All that the Holy One has made, both above and below, is for the purpose of manifesting His glory and to make all things serve Him. Now, would a master permit his servant to work against him, and to continually lay plans to counteract his will? It is the will of the Holy One that men should worship Him and walk in the way of truth that they may be rewarded with many benefits. How, then, can an evil servant come and counteract the will of his Master by tempting man to walk in an evil way, seducing him from the good way and causing him to disobey the will of his Lord? But, indeed, the evil inclination also does through this the will of its Lord.
It is as if a king had an only son whom he dearly loved, and just for that cause he warned him not to be enticed by bad women, saying that anyone defiled might not enter his palace. The son promised his father to do his will in love. Outside the palace, however, there lived a beautiful harlot. After a while the king thought: “I will see how far my son is devoted to me.” So he sent to the woman and commanded her, saying: “Entice my son, for I wish to test his obedience to my will.” So she used every blandishment to lure him into her embraces. But the son, being good, obeyed the commandment of his father. He refused her allurements and thrust her from him. Then did the father rejoice exceedingly, and, bringing him in to the innermost chamber of the palace, bestowed upon him gifts from his best treasures, and showed him every honor. And who was the cause of all this joy? The harlot! Is she to be praised or blamed for it? To be praised, surely, on all accounts, for on the one hand she fulfilled the king’s command and carried out his plans for him, and on the other hand she caused the son to receive all the good gifts and deepened the king’s love to his son.
Therefore it is written, “And the Lord saw all that he had made, and behold it was very good”, where the word “very” refers to the angel of death (i.e. the evil inclination). Similarly, if it were not for this accuser, the righteous would not possess the supernal treasures in the world to come. Happy, therefore, are they who, coming into conflict with the tempter, prevail against him, for through him will they attainvbliss, and all the good and desirable possessions of the world to come. (Zohar, Sh’mot, Sec. 2, p. 163b)
The Zohar, in this remarkable passage, describes in the clearest of terms how it is possible for the “king” – a metaphor for God – to allow this scenario to unfold outside the palace. The impetus for evil is the king’s will. The king wishes for evil to be rejected, but this is not possible within the palace walls. Likewise, man prior to creation possesses a soul, but no free choice. He lives in the palace. Outside the palace, in this world, temptation exists – in order to be rejected.
Evil can be said to be good “incognito.”
Ultimately, all temptation is sent by God in order to be rejected. Therefore, evil can be said to be good “incognito.” Despite the allure of desire at the moment of passion, the sinner will one day come to realize that what he embraced is merely an emissary of the king/God which was meant to be rejected. This is the meaning of the Midrash, “No evil descends from heaven.”
Likewise, now we can understand how the term “very good” may apply to the evil inclination. By rejecting the evil inclination, man is enabled to reach a spiritual level unattainable in heaven, where only good is a reality. The Talmud adds that this is the desire of the Satan:
Rabbi Levi said: “Both Satan and Peninah had a pious purpose [in acting as adversaries]. Satan, when he saw God inclined to favor Job said, ‘Far be it that God should forget the love of Abraham.’ Of Peninah it is written, ‘And her rival provoked her sore for to make her fret.'” When Rabbi Aha ben Jacob gave this exposition in Papunia, Satan came and kissed his feet. (Baba Bathra 16a)
We further understand that our view of the world is somewhat skewed. We see evil as a reality, thus failing to realize that it is actually a servant of the King “dressed up.” Evil, by virtue of being a “creation,” does not really exist in the palace of God. Rather, it is the result of an act creation and will one day dissipate.
WHO IS SATAN?
But what is the evil inclination? The Talmud identifies it with other known adversaries:
Resh Lakish said: “Satan, the Evil Inclination, and the Angel of Death are all one.” (Baba Bathra 16a)
These three forces are instilled in the world as part of a cosmic balancing act, in order to give man free choice. The verse which we began with “See! I give you today a blessing and a curse” is only relevant if man has free choice.
Man’s evil inclination does not necessarily work by calling upon man to perform objectively evil deeds. Any action which distances man from God is sought out by the evil inclination. Furthermore, at times the choices with which man is faced are both positive, but one will bring man closer to God than the other.
In such cases, the evil inclination is particularly insidious, for man himself may be unsure which choice represents the good inclination, and which the evil. The litmus test must always be which of these choices will bring the individual closer to God. The Talmud expresses this succinctly:
If God created the Evil Inclination, He also created the Torah as its antidote. (Baba Bathra 16a)
The Torah is the only objective source which we possess which forces man to follow the good inclination. Following its rules, laws, morals, and systems of prioritizing, is what enables man to define right and wrong, and therefore to choose right from wrong. There are often situations which seem to fall in the “gray area.” It is precisely in such cases that we must remind ourselves that the Torah defines “right” and “wrong.”
Now we can return to this week’s Torah portion. One of the major attractions of idolatry was the possibility for local worship, “under every leafy tree” (Deut. 12:2). The motivation of such worship was immediate gratification, which resulted from man worshipping his own desires, and not God. We can appreciate how individuals who followed idolatrous practices could have deceived themselves into thinking that it was God that they were serving, here and now.
The Torah instead calls upon man to practice a centralized religion with its spiritual capital in a chosen place (Deut. 12:5). This would force man to objectify his religious practice and take it out of the realm of instinct.
How was the individual, who felt a burning need inside to reach out to God, to know if his desire emanated from a place of holiness, or self-destruction? The only possible answer is to follow the rules set out in the Torah.
If the “prophet” encourages practices alien to the Torah, he is to be executed.
How can we, as individuals, know if an apparently holy person is “the real thing” or a false prophet, a charlatan? Again, the objective system is Torah: If the “prophet” encourages practices alien to the Torah, he is to be executed.
At times, though, such issues are not as black and white as we would like. Once we realize that the evil inclination entices with arguments and experiences which are not intrinsically, objectively evil but are simply not the best way to relate to God, we are armed for this mortal spiritual combat.
Ultimately, the evil inclination leads to self-deception and destru. The choice between life and death is the result of the battle, but far more often than not, the battle is waged in more innocuous settings. The people entering the land would only be spiritually armed for the ensuing battles if they were made aware that a spiritual battleground awaited them, and they were armed with the ability to be victorious:
Indeed, let us choose life, the Tree of Life – the words of the Living God – let us choose life!
by Nosson Chayim Leff
This parsha begins with a focus on choice. We hear Moshe Rabbeinu saying: “Re’ei a’nochi no’sein lif’nei’chem ha’yom bracha u’klalla”. (ArtScroll: “See. I present before you today a blessing and a curse … “). The Sfas Emes notes that implicit in this pasuk is a key fact of life: that HaShem has endowed us with “bechira chofshis” — free will — to choose between good and evil.
The Sfas Emes develops this thought by citing an insight from his Grandfather. The Chidushei HarRim had commented on the fact that every morning, we say a bracha (blessing) whose inner message may initially be hard to grasp. In that bracha, we thank HaShem for giving roosters the ability to distinguish between day and night (and accordingly, to crow at daybreak). A bracha on this theme seems bizarre. Why did Chazal introduce it into our daily davening? The Chiddushei HaRim explained that this bracha is a daily reminder that, just as HaShem gives the rooster the ability to distinguish between day and night, so, too, has He given us the free will necessary to choose between right and wrong.
You may be wondering: the fact that we have free will is well known. Why does the Sfas Emes bother to mention — and to emphasize — it? The answer is straightforward. In reality, most people in today’s world are not aware — and do not acknowledge — that they have bechira chofshis. Much research in present-day sociology and psychology focuses on the causes of given human behavior. Often the links of causality are drawn so taut that the behavior being studied seems inescapable. As the French proverb says: understanding behavior often amounts in practice to excusing it. Further, free will implies responsibility and accountabilty for our actions — something that many people are not willing to accept. So, it turns out that in reality, bechira chofshis is not a well -known fact. We can thank the Sfas Emes for bringing the subject up, and giving us the opportunity to think about it.
The Sfas Emes gives us his reaction to a word in the pasuk which begins the parsha. As cited above, that pasuk says: “Re’ei … hayom ….” That is, “I present … today”. Normally, we would expect that a person who has done wrong would lose some of his capacity to choose between right and wrong; that is, his free will. Not so, says the Sfas Emes, who is working with the word “today”. Every day, HaShem renews creation (“ha’me’chadeish be’chol yom tamid ma’asei be’reishis”), As part of this daily renewal HaShem gives us new bechira chofshis, thus enabling us to start anew. And, adds the Sfas Emes, quoting a pasuk in Yechezkel (33:12), “A person who is returning will not stumble”.
The Sfas Emes moves on now to another topic, a set of ideas brought to mind by a single Hebrew root. The root with which the Sfas Emes has chosen to work is “shamor” — usually translated as: to guard; to protect; to take care of; to observe. The Sfas Emes begins by citing a Medrash (4, 4) on a pasuk in Eikev (Devarim, 11:22). The pasuk contains a double use of words derived from the root “shamor”. Thus: “Ki im shamor tish’merun es kol ha’mitzva …” (ArtScroll: “If you will observe the entire commandment …”) Note the double verb “shamor ti’sha’merun”. Both parts of this double verb are in the active voice (i.e., “… you will observe”). However, in non-pshat mode, the Medrash reads the second verb as “tishameirun”; i.e., in the passive voice. Thus, the Medrash understands the pasuk to be saying: “If you take proper care of [the mitzvos], you will be taken care of properly”.
The Sfas Emes continues, alluding to another question of the Medrash. The pasuk cited says: “If you will observe the entire commandment …” (“kol hamitzva”). This phrase seems to refer to a single mitzva which — if we observe it properly — is equivalent to our observing the entire Torah. What mitzva can that be? Chazal answer that the unique mitzva which encompasses the entire Torah is Shabbos. How do they arrive at that answer? By allusion. The pasuk indelibly inscribed in our mind is: “Shamor es yom Hashabbos …” That is: “Take proper care of Shabbos”.) (Devarim, 5, 14).
The Sfas Emes reacts to this idea with astonisment. He asks: Why does Shabbos need special care? He replies by alluding to a classic Medrash. The Medrash describes how, after the first week of creation, all the days of the week paired up with each other. Yom Rishon paired with Yom Sheini (Sunday with Monday), and likewise all the other days of the week — except Shabbos, which could find no mate. When Shabbos told HaShem how unhappy she was for lack of a mate, HaShem replied: “Klal Yisroel will be ben zugeich (your marriage partner).”
(Do not be taken aback by the Medrash’s (and the Sfas Emes’s) personification of Shabbos as wife. This metaphor is no more extreme than one which most of sing (with gusto) every Friday night — in “lecha Dodi”. We know, from the text of Shir Hashirim, that HaShem can be refered to as “Dodi” — my beloved.. Thus, the words in “lecha Dodi” have us saying to HaShem: “Come, my Beloved, let us welcome the kalah”; i.e., Shabbos personified as a bride.)
Thus, the Sfas Emes is telling us that just as a wife is given to her husband to provide her with proper care, (“husband” actually means “to take care of”), so, too, does Shabbos need us to take proper care of her. (Note how the Sfas Emes’s view of marriage is the reverse of the conventional view. The conventional view sees the man as having a wife in order to have someone to take care of him.) What does “proper care” mean in the context of shemiras Shabbos? Presumably, observance of Shamor and Zachor — the mitzvos that HaShem has given us to define our relationship with Shabbos. And, continues the Sfas Emes, our relationship with Shabbos is reciprocal; i.e., it goes in both directions. Thus, we are commanded (Shemos, 35 : 3) to observe Shabbos whererever we live (“bechol moshe’vosei’chem”). So, too, Shabbos has stuck loyally with Klal Yisroel in all of our distant dwellings. Further, Shabbos gives chiyus (vitality; vibrancy) to all creation.
How do we know this? From two pesukim (Bereishis, 2:1-2) that we recite in kiddush every Shabbos: “Vayechulu Hashamayim …”; and Vayechal …” The Sfas Emes is reading these two words as coming from the root “chal”, and thus as related to the word keli” — a vessel. Mention of the word “keli” immediately evokes the phrase “keli machzik beracha” — that is, a vessel that contains a blessing from HaShem. That phrase, in turn, evokes the maxim that the best vessel for holding a beracha is shalom (peace; harmony). And sure enough, Shabbos is closely related to shalom.
The Sfas Emes has taken us on a circuit of associations: shamor; Shabbos; kala; vayechulu; keli; beracha; shalom. That circuit is not easy to follow, So it helps to keep its central feature in mind. Shabbos brings a special blessing: to fill all creation — heaven and earth — with the chiyus of HaShem. We can all partake of this additional flow of HaShem’s Presence that comes on Shabbos, each of us at his own capacity.
What can we do to increase our capacity to receive HaShem’s additional presence on Shabbos? The Sfas Emes tells us that subordinating one’s personal agenda (one’s nefesh) and giving a lower priority to one’s physical wants (one’s guf) will help. The Sfas Emes underlines this vital point by noting still another meaning — and hence another allusion — of the root “shamor”.
The word “shemarim” is the Hebrew word for lees (the sediment after grapes have been squeezed to make wine). The Sfas Emes leads us to a phrase in Yeshayahu (7:4): “Hishameir vehashkeit …” (“Be calm and still …”). He quotes Rashi on that pasuk to bring home the point about keeping one’s personal agenda and one’s bodily wants in their proper place. Rashi tells us that, left in their proper place — the bottom — the lees, too, can enhance the wine.
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *