Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff
Sfas Emes, Zechuso Tagein Aleinu, Parshas Shemini, 5631
It helps to begin with some background information.
This ma'amar is built on an insight that the Sfas Emes had from his
grandfather. The Chiddushei HaRim offered a comment based on an
explanation that the Toras Kohanim gives on a pasuk in our
parsha. (Note: Toras Kohanim is a classic commentary -- from Tana'itic
times -- on Sefer Vayikra.). Because of its layer-upon-layer
structure, to understand this ma'amar, we must first see the pshat
pashut (simple/surface understanding) of the pasuk that the Toras
Kohanim presents. Then we can proceed to the (very different) reading
of the pasuk that the Sfas Emes and his grandfather offer.
Early in the parsha (Vayikra 9: 6), the Torah tells us: "Zeh hadavar
ta'asu veyeirah aleichem kevod HaShem." (ArtScroll: "This is the thing
that HaShem has commanded you to do; then the glory of HaShem will
appear to you.") The Sfas Emes quotes the comment of the Toras Kohanim
on this pasuk: "Oso yeitzar hara ha'aviru mile'vavchem, ve'siheh'yu
kulchem be'eitza achas le'shareis lifnei HaMakom. Kesheim shehu
yechidi ba'olam, kach tiheyeh avodaschem meyuchedes lefahnav.
Ah'sisehm chein? Veyeira aleichem kevod HaShem."
(That is: "Rid yourselves of that evil inclination and be united in
your service [of HaShem]. [Further,] just as there is only one HaShem,
so, too, shall your service be totally unique and single-minded. If
you achieve that quality in your service, you will have access to the
glory of HaShem.")
As you see, the Toras Kohanim is working with the pasuk's word
"zeh". And the Toras Kohanim reads "zeh" as: "this -- and only this --
shall you do." I suggest that this reading leads the Toras Kohanim to
see the pasuk as a warning against two specific evils. One pitfall to
avoid is factionalism . The Toras Kohanim voices its concern about
divisiveness with the words: "vesiheyu kulchem be'eitza achas" ("and
be united"). That "eitza achas" follows from the pasuk's word: "zeh"
-- this and only this -- way shall you proceed.
The other danger against which the Toras Kohanim cautions is
ambivalence -- i.e., being of two minds about our relationship with
HaShem. We see this admonition in the use of the plural in the word
"levavchem" (your 'hearts'). And again we see the Toras Kohanim is
working with the word "zeh." That is, this -- and only this - shall be
your avoda; i.e., be single-minded in your relationship with HaShem.
So much for the pshat pashut (simple/surface meaning) of the Toras
Kohanim's comment. Citing his grandfather, the Sfas Emes offers a
different reading . The Sfas Emes focuses on the word "ta'asu" - "you
shall do". The Sfas Emes explains. The Torah is commanding us to do
all our "asiyos" -- our physical actions -- as "asher tziva HaShem" :
with an awarerness of HaShem's Presence. In reality, everything in
this world conveys a message of HaShem's Presence. For we know
something about that 'everything' -- namely, "Hakohl bara
lichvodo". ("Everything that HaShem created was to proclaim His
glory") . Thus, if only by implication, analogy, or allegory,
accurate perception of reality can enable us to perceive HaShem's
Presence. Hence, it should be feasible to live our lives in a
constant, interactive relationship with HaShem.
Note that the Sfas Emes is saying something very different from the
familiar: "Kohl ma'asecha yiheyu lesheim shamayim" In that standard
principle we are told: "Let everything you do -- your eating, your
sleeping, etc. -- and as the Ba'al Shem Tov added -- even your Torah
study and your tefila -- be to serve HaShem".
The Sfas Emes is telling us that HaShem is present in all creation.
But the Sfas Emes is also fully aware that HaShem's Presence is
hidden. From these two facts of life, the Sfas Emes draws a powerful
conclusion: that we bear a responsibility to reveal to the world that
HaShem is really there. How do we do it? By being aware in our
mundane, everyday activities of HaShem's Presence. In other words, we
are all called to perceive HaShem's Presence -- not in remote
mountains nor in isolated Bah'tei Medrash -- but "toch ha'asiya
mamash". Thus, "zeh hadavar ta'ahsu " is telling us to be aware of
HaShem while we go about our normal human activities.
The Sfas Emes concludes: by so doing we can reach a state in which
"Ve'yei'rah aleichem kevod HaShem" (the glory of HaShem will appear to
us.) You may ask: what is so wonderful about that? The answer is
straightforward. Living one's life with a constant sense of being in
the Presence of HaShem must truly be wonderful.
Copyright © 2004 by Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Torah.org