Dr. 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 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 SH'M'R'' -- 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 tish' merun" . Both parts of this double verb are in the
active voice (i.e., "... you will observe ..."). However, in nonpshat
mode, the Medrash reads the second verb as "tisha'meirun"; i. e., in
the passive voice. Thus, the Medrash understands the pasuk to be
saying: "If you observe [the mitzvos] properly , you will be protected
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 properly. 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. We are focusing here
on the word "shamor". The pasuk that "shamor" calls up in our minds
is: 'Shamor es yom Ha'shabbos...' That is: 'Take proper care of
Shabbos'.) (Devarim, 5, 14).
The Sfas Emes reacts to this idea with astonishment. 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 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 ("be'chol 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 kiddatush 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): "Hi'sha'meir ve'hash'keit ... " ("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.
Copyright © 2003 by Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Project Genesis, Inc.