By Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff
Sfas Emes, Zechuso Tagein Aleinu, Parshas Naso, 5631/5634/5637
The Sfas Emes begins this ma'amar with a pasuk (and a Medrash) that come
well into the parsha. The fact that the Sfas Emes skipped over other
potential topics means that he saw special significance in the subject
that he did select. The pasuk that the Sfas Emes saw as especially
meaningful comes in Bemidbar (6:2): "ish oh isha ki yafli lindor neder
nazir ... "(ArtScroll: " ... a man or a woman who shall dissociate himself
by taking a Nazarite vow ... ").
The meaning of these words is not obvious, so the Sfas Emes elaborates.
He explains that being a nazir means that a person separates himself from
matters of olamhazeh (this world) even though in fact, he is involved in
olam hazeh. That may sound like a contradiction. In fact, it is a
contradiction. But the Sfas Emes does not hesitate to confront apparent
cosmic inconsistencies. He explains that HaShem gives us the power to
cling to the Source -- of His Presence -- which is present in all things.
Thus, the Sfas Emes is telling us that this capacity to be part of -- yet
separate from -olam hazeh depends on our maintaining contact with the
chiyus (vibrancy, vitality) that HaShem put into all Creation. The Sfas
Emes calls this phenomenon "pehleh" -- from the same root as a word in the
pasuk -- "yafli".
Clearly, the Sfas Emes regards the topic of the nazir as extremely
important. And equally clearly, "pehleh" is a key word for understanding
what nezirus is all about. How does the Sfas Emes arrive at his reading:
namely, that the word "pehleh" refers to our capacity to maintain contact
with the inner vitality that HaShem has placed in all Creation? A pasuk
from the haftora of Parshas Naso (Shoftim, 13:18) provides some help. That
pasuk contains the word "peli" -- a word that all the commentaries render
as "mechuseh" or "ne'ehlam" -- i.e., hidden. That is to say: Our capacity
to connect with ruchniyus even though we are involved in olam hazeh is a
phenomenon beyond our understanding. Thus, we are dealing here with a
familiar situation: our limited capacity to understand how the cosmos
For further clarification of the word "yafli", the Sfas Emes sends us to
an unexpected source. He directs us to a remark of the Rema in Shulchan
Aruch Orach Chayim, Siman 6. The Rema there comments on a phrase in the
berocha -- the blessing -- of asher yatzar". The Rema observes that the
phrase "umafli la'asos" (HaShem, "Who does wondrous things") refers to a
unique creature that HaShem has fashioned with His boundless creativity.
What creature does the Rema have in mind ?
Human beings, can, in principle, combine ruchniyus (spirituality) with
gashmiyus (corporeality). Thus, following the Sfas Emes's approach, we can
translate the pasuk with which he began this ma'amar as: "If a person
commits to doing that wondrous thing -- something whose feasibility is to
us, with our limited knowledge, hidden -- that is, to take a Nazarite
Notice what the Sfas Emes is doing here. Earlier he defined a nazir as a
person who is not involved in olam hazeh even though in fact he is
involved in olam hazeh. That sounds paradoxical. But by introducing us to
the concept and halachos of nazir, the Torah is telling us that such a
combination is indeed feasible. And the Sfas Emes brings support for this
view by citing a berocha that celebrates the reality of such a
combination, which HaShem has built into all humankind. The take-home
lesson is clear: being bahsar vedahm (flesh and blood) need not bar us
from living a life of spirituality.
The Sfas Emes moves on now to another line of thought. He quotes the
Medrash Rabba on our pasuk. The Medrash, in turn, brings a pasuk from Shir
Hashirim (5:15): "Shokav amudei shesh ... " ("The Torah's columns that
support the world are marble ... "). The Medrash (and the Sfas Emes)
read "shokav" as coming from the same root as the Hebrew word "teshuka" --
yearning. In other words, they read 'shokav' as "His yearning". Thus,
the Medrash tells us that HaShem yearned to create the world. This
perspective implies that the world is -- or can be -- a good thing.
The Medrash continues in the same vein, quoting a pasuk that we say in the
Friday night kiddush (Bereishis, 2:1): " Va'yechu'lu ha'shamayim
veha'aretz ... " In non-pshat mode, the Medrash chooses to read the
word "va'yechulu" as coming from the root of another Hebrew word which
also denotes yearning or longing. Thus we find a pasuk in (Tehillim,
74:3.) which says: 'nichsefa vegam kalsa nafshi...' (That is: 'My soul
yearns for ...') You see the link -- by allusion -- that
connects "va'yechulu" and "kalsa".
So far, the Sfas Emes has had to add little to the discussion. The
Medrash is so much in a Sfas Emes mode that he can let the Medrash say it
all for him. But at this point, the Sfas Emes enters with comment on the
pasuk (quoted above): "Shokav amudei sheish ... " As noted above, the
pshat (simple, literal) meaning of the word "sheish" in this context
is: "marble". Hence, the literal meaning: "His columns that support the
world are marble. " But in non-pshat mode, the Sfas Emes reads the
word "sheish" as "six." Hence, the Sfas Emes can now read the phrase
as "The six support the world." Thus, the Sfas Emes is telling us that
during the six yemei hama'aseh (workdays), our ma'aseh (work) can connect
us with HaShem!
The picture that the Medrash (and the Sfas Emes) give us is a picture in
which HaShem, as it were, yearned to create the world. Further, the way He
built the world, we can reciprocate His feeling. As the pasuk in Shir
Hashirim (7:11) says: "ve'ahlai teshukaso" ("And I yearn for Him"). Taking
the relationship a step further, the Sfas Emes endows that pasuk with a
secondary meaning, "And His yearning for me depends on my yearning for
Thus, the Sfas Emes views this world in a very positive light. HaShem had
a yearning to create this world. (In fact, the Medrash uses a word much
stronger than 'yearning': "ta'ava"). As you see, what we have here is a
deep, heartfelt relationship between HaShem and the world that He has
created -- that is, with us.
I suggest that this heartfelt relationship also brings with it a potential
danger. HaShem yearns for us. But what if we do not yearn for Him? As we
know, spurned love leads to frustration, and frustration leads to anger.
And anger can lead to acts of anger. Sad to say, Tanach recounts many such
episodes. So too does our people's history in the post-Tanach years.
In any case, the Sfas Emes reminds us that on Shabbos we can come closer
to HaShem. And our coming closer gives HaShem nachas (joy). We are told in
Shemos, 20:1: "va'yanach ba'yom hashevi'i." (ArtScroll: "And He rested on
the seventh day."). The Sfas Emes reads this pasuk as: "And He had nachas
[joy] on the seventh day". When we say this pasuk in kiddush on Shabbos
morning, let us try to have in mind that on Shabbos we can give HaShem
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Torah.org.