What goes up must come down, people say. But is it true that what goes
out must come in? The opening of our parshah certainly does make
it seem so.
In the last parshios, three different sections dealing with warfare
began with the words, “When you go out.” It is almost relieving to
discover the shift, as our parshah begins, “It will be when you
come in to the land.” But what does the Torah mean by this substitution?
If we assume as we have before2 that
the preceding parshios apply to two different kinds of warfare, the
change from “going out” to “coming in” is expected and intuitive. The
Torah certainly means to dictate military policy for the Jewish army. At
the same time, it also deals with the personal struggle that defines our
mission in life – the constant battle against the yetzer hora,
whether in resisting prohibitions that are tempting, or battling the
temptation to get drawn further in to the pursuit of permissible
pleasures, or in becoming more earthly simply by periodically coming down
from any higher, contemplative existence and having to involve ourselves
in necessary material activities. In all these areas, we have no choice
but to dutifully go out to battle and attempt to vanquish the forces that
would make us less than what we can be. (Chazal tell us that just as
tzadikim praise Hashem in Gan Eden, the evildoers praise Him
from Gehinom. We know that the function of this world is to provide
Hashem a place, as it were, in the lower worlds. We do this through the
constant struggle with the distractions and competing elements of this
world, something that the Heavenly angels simply cannot mimic. The
tzadik brings satisfaction, as it were, to Hashem through his Torah
and avodah; so does the rasha! Those in whom the fire of
yetzer hora rages also contribute to His honor, even in their
failures, as the tears brought on by their wrestling with their own
natures cools the fires of Gehinom.3 )
There is no point in fighting on, unless Hashem designed things to enable
us to succeed. At some point, we should be able to declare that we have
achieved some significant milestone in the conduct of the war. This is
precisely what our parshah alludes to.
Imagine a person in bygone days who took an incredibly dangerous journey
in order to pursue some parnasah goal in a far-off land. Dodging
unrelenting danger, he arrives at his destination, relieved at surviving,
but mindful of the fact that the real pursuit of his goal is just then
beginning. Having arrived, he can now get down to the business of earning
his parnasah. This mashal carries over quite nicely to our
Mesilas Yesharim defines the difference between taharah and
kedushah. The former means desisting from any concession to
ta’avah, even when completely permissible; the latter means elevating the
objects of ta’avah to the level of korban. This higher level
is truly beyond Man’s reach. He attains it only by making the attempt –
and thereby winning the Divine assistance that can make it possible.
Before “arriving” at the beginning of our parshah, the perpetual
warrior could not possibly hope to consecrate everything around him. His
avodah was in fending off the allure of the illicit. All the “going out”
to war was important to get a person to the point of bikurim, at
which point he can elevate even the peri ha-adamah, the fruit of
the ground, and make a korban out of earthliness. At this point,
he has come into the Land – the special territory of a lofty world.
Unlike any other korban,bikurim is accompanied by a speech,
a relatively lengthy formula taking us back to our pre-national history.
In it, we retrace the steps we took to arrive at the spiritual place at
which we could meaningfully bring bikurim as an exercise in
consecrating the ordinary and earthly. We revisit our relationship with
Lavan. His declaiming “the daughters are my daughters, the children are my
children, and the flock is my flock; all that you see is mine” 4 overflows with possessiveness, with self-
importance, with the heresy of denial of the Hand of G-d in his fortune.
It is the polar opposite of the mindset of the person who brings
bikurim. The bikurim-offerer has pushed and strained
against the forces of nature, and finally seen the fruit of his labor,
literally. No sooner does he spy out the first fruit that he has
carefully teased from the earth, that he runs to it and suppresses the
powerful urge to possess it and keep it as a treasured trophy, a reminder
of his accomplishment. Instead, he ties a ribbon around it so that he can
offer it in the Beis HaMikdosh,acknowledging that all comes from Hashem,
and downplaying his own role.
We experience something similar each Shabbos. “Let no man go out from his
place on the seventh day.” 5 Going out
and doing battle with the yetzer hora may be our charge and mission
in life, but it is to preoccupy us only six days of the week. The forces
of evil that we typically encounter are blunted on Shabbos; they cannot
muster the stranglehold from which we daily try to break away. Ordinarily
we cannot hope to achieve deep and probing insight into the ways of Hashem
until we have overcome our yetzer hora. On Shabbos, we can access
supernal truths without first going through the laborious steps of
conquering our inner demons. Shabbos allows us to leap-frog over the lower
levels and act as if we have climbed the ladder to the top. We can take
the ordinary and consecrate it in a manner similar to consecrating an
offering in the Beis HaMikdosh! This is the deeper significance of
oneg Shabbos. All other days we work to decrease our dependence on
and involvement with material things, trying over time to sanctify
ourselves within the realm of the permissible. On Shabbos, we allow
ourselves to romp in a garden of earthly delights, because Shabbos alone
gives us the capacity to partake of them in a way that we elevate them,
rather than having them diminish us.
Chazal teach6 that the berachah
that Hashem bestowed upon the seventh day was the mon. This seems to us
to be a short-lived blessing! Mon descended for only forty years!
We must understand one of the inner dimensions of the mon.
Ordinarily, any amount of self-indulgence must separate us from HKBH. Yet,
the generation of the Wilderness ate the mon for forty years. They
were not diminished by it; instead, they grew spiritually through eating
the “food of angels.” It did not stimulate other passions and lusts. They
succeeded, at one point, of stripping themselves – while being nourished
by the mon - of the essential corruption that had become part of
the human condition after the sin of Adam. This, then, is the
berachah that Hashem bestowed upon Shabbos, for all times – that
like the mon in its time, we are not distanced from kedushah by
the physical pleasures that we indulge in today as part of our honoring of
Shabbos stands outside of the waging-war-against-the-yetzer-hora
paradigm in another regard. The very process of attaching ourselves to
the kedushah of Shabbos drives away all the forces of evil, which
simply cannot coexist in the rarefied spiritual atmosphere of intense
holiness. On a smaller level, this is analogous to what happens on Yom
Kippur, as explained by Maharal.7 The
day affords a unique opportunity to bond with Hashem. Once attached to
Him, our aveiros and shortcomings are incompatible with His Being,
and therefore cease to exist.
It is mistaken to look at Rosh Hashanah as a time for teshuvah.
The Kadosh of Kobrin remarked that the proper time for teshuvah is
Elul. By the time Rosh Hashanah arrives, our focus switches to crowning
Hashem as King upon ourselves. More accurately, it ushers in a time in
which we crown Hashem as King over each and every part of our being.8 Thus, we can read the references to going
out to battle in the context of the work of the entire year. The Torah
assures us that Hashem will deliver our enemy into our hands – in the
month of Elul. Coming in to the Land alludes to Rosh Hashanah, when we
can achieve the goal of spreading His Kingship to every fiber, to every
nook and cranny, or our inner selves.
This goal is not icing on a spiritual cake, but the very essence of being
Jewish. A Jew can observer every detail of every mitzvah, and miss the
mark of his purpose if he does not make Him the Master of every part of
himself. This implies far more than avoiding the prohibited. It means
subordinating all of himself, in whole and in part, to Hashem.
This, too, is part of bringing bikurim, which symbolizes
subordinating all our wants and desires to Him. After months of investing
so much of himself in coaxing new life from the ground, a person takes the
first and choicest of what he has wrought, and lays it down in Hashem’s
house, distancing his possessiveness and his inner connection to his
handiwork, surrendering everything to his Creator.
Moreover, he does this with joy 9 and
by prostrating himself before Hashem. Bowing before God is not uncommon.
We bow by bending the upper part of our body – the seat of our minds and
hearts. In bringing bikurim, however, we prostrate ourselves
fully, representing our subordinating all parts of ourselves, including
the less elevated and refined parts.
The central element of bikurim, however, remains the bringing of
the first of our fruits, representing what is primary and choicest to us.
This remains a powerful paradigm for the Yamim Nora’im and the rest
of the year: subordinating all parts of ourselves, particularly through
the reishis, the beginning of all things. At every twist and turn
in life, at the contemplation of every new deed, large or small, we should
stop at the beginning and ask a question. Is this what Hashem wants from
us or not? If we answer affirmatively, then we should begin the activity
by making His Will the primary focus.
In that way, the rest of the activity is shaped and defined by its
beginning, and all is elevated to Him.
1Based on Nesivos Shalom, pgs. 166-171 2 See “All For the One,” parshas Ki-Seitzei 3 In other words, the “place” of Hashem in our world is
assured by tzadik and rasha alike. The tzadik provides the place
directly, by obeying His wishes. Even the rasha, however, calls attention
to Hashem’s firm place here, through his tears of contrition – whether in
this life or the next , demonstrating that His presence cannot be
escaped. 4 Bereishis 31:43 5 Shemos 16:29 6 Bereishis Rabbah 11:2 7 Derashah for Shabbos Shuva 8 Based on many passages in the Zohar. See, e.g., Tikunei
Zohar, seventh tikun, 132A. 9 Devarim 26:11