Monday, June 19, 2017

The Sweet Taste Of Mitzvos

From the Sfas Emes blog

The first part of our parsha describes the mitzvah of the red heifer. The ashes of a red heifer are mixed with water and sprinkled on one who is spiritually impure through contact with a corpse. Because this mitzvah seems to have no apparent logic, Rashi[1] quotes a Midrash that states that this is one of the mitzvos about which the nations of the world and the satan chide the nation of Israel. Our answer to them is that this mitzvah is a divine decree which we must adhere to even though it has no apparent reason. For this reason, the pasuk introduces the mitzvah with, “זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה .../This is the decree of the Torah …” (Bamidbar 19:2)

The Sfas Emes asks that this answer does not seem to be an answer at all. The nations of the world tell us that our religion contains elements of illogic and we answer that our religion contains elements of illogic!

In order to understand this, we must know that every decree in the Torah is based on a good, valid reason. There is no such thing as a decree for its own sake. What then is the meaning of the Midrash? The Midrash is teaching us that decrees represent a category of mitzvos whose underlying reasons cannot be attained directly. The only way to attain an understanding of the decrees in the Torah is by embracing them even without understanding.

This is so because the reasons for these mitzvos are spiritual in nature. They can only be approached by distancing ourselves from the physical. A mitzvah, like the entire Creation, has a physical component – the act of the mitzvah – and a spiritual component. The performance of a mitzvah creates spiritual effects. The mitzvah’s reason is part of its spiritual component. 

By living spiritual lives, we prepare ourselves to understand even the decrees of the Torah. This concept is borne out by Chazal[2] who teach us that during the time of David HaMelech, the children who had not yet tasted sin, were able to understand the reasons behind even the most esoteric laws of purity and impurity.

In the poem that the Arizal composed for recital before Kiddush on Shabbos morning we find, “יְגַלֵּה לָן טַעֲמֵי דְבִתְרֵיסַר נַהֲמֵי/reveal to us the reasons behind the twelve loaves (of showbread). There are reasons even though they are not apparent to us. We ask God to reveal them to us.
In fact, the Sfas Emes teaches that our purpose is to reveal the reasons. By revealing the spiritual, we reveal the reasons as well.

As the Sfas Emes states in many ma’amarim, the spiritual component of the Creation is more revealed on Shabbos than during the week. As such, on Shabbos we are closer to understanding the reasons underlying the existence of the entire Creation. We find a hint to this idea in the musaf of Shabbos, “טוֹעֲמֶיהָ חַיִּים זָכוּ/Those who savor it will merit life.” The Hebrew word for “savor” is the same as for “reason”. So, this can be understood as, “Those who receive the reasons (having prepared themselves) merit life. In fact, our work during the days of the week should be geared towards preparing ourselves so that we can reach higher levels of spirituality on Shabbos.

[1] Rashi on Bamidbar 19:2
[2] Tanchuma Chukas 4

ברש"י לפי שמונין את ישראל מה טעם יש בה כתיב חוקה כו' אין לך רשות להרהר כו'. אין מובן התירוץ. אך כי ודאי יש טעם לכל חקה רק שא"א להבין הטעם עד שמקבלין המצוה כחוקה בלי טעם. וע"ש זה נק' חוקה. כי כן רצונו ית' לקיים המצוה בלי ידיעת הטעם. וכפי האמונה ורצון לקיים המצוה בלי ידיעת הטעם כמו כן זוכין אח"כ לקיים בידיעת הטעם. כי הטעם הוא דבר רוחני שאין בו ממש וכפי שאדם מתרחק מגשמיות יוכל להרגיש טעם חוקי השי"ת. וכ"כ במד' תינוקת שלא טעמו טעם חטא ידעו לדרוש במ"ט פנים כו'. וכן מבקשין יגלה לן טעמי כי הטעמים נסתרים כנ"ל. ועבודת האדם להביא הטעמים לידי גילוי. ובשבת מתגלה יותר כי שבת הוא בחי' הטעמים של ימות החול. [וכן עבודת האדם בחול צריך להיות כדי שיוכלו לעלות בש"ק] ופשוט שבשבת מתגלה פנימיות של כל דבר והוא הטעמים כנ"ל וז"ש טועמי' חיים זכו כו':