Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff
Sfas Emes, Zechuso Tagein Aleinu, Tazria, 5631
This ma'amar begins with a reference to the first Medrash Rabba on the
parsha. That Medrash comments on a pasuk in Tehillim (139:5): "Ahchor
vakedem tzartani ..." (ArtScroll: "Back and front You have restricted
me ... ")
Notwithstanding ArtScroll's effort to help, it is hard to understand
what this pasuk is telling us. Nor are we the only ones who find it
difficult to pin down the pasuk's meaning. This pasuk's message is so
unclear that Medrash Raba presents four (!) alternative ways -- of
The Sfas Emes quotes the interpretation presented by R. Yochanan:
"Ahchor vakedem tzartani ... Im zacha adam, nocheil shetai olamos --
hazeh, vehaba". The pshat pashut of R' Yochanan's interpretation of
this Medrash is straightforward. He is telling us that if a person is
priviledged, and does things right, he/she will have a portion both of
olam hazeh (this world) and of olam haba (the world to come). Thus,
Rabbi Yochanan is reading the pasuk as: "You have formed me to take
possession of olam haba -- which comes after (ahchor) everything; and
of olam hazeh -- which comes before (kedem) everything."
At this point, the Sfas Emes enters the discussion with his reading of
R' Yochanan's reading. The Sfas Emes construes R' Yochanan as saying:
If a person does things right, he connects the two worlds. How does
'connect" enter this discussion? Simple. The Sfas Emes is reading
the word "nocheil" in the pasuk as coming from the same root as the
word "nachal" (a brook, a flow). Hence, he can see the word "nocheil"
as meaning: to open a channel.
Thus, the Sfas Emes sees R' Yochanan's statement in Medrash Rabba as
teaching us an important fact of life. He is saying that as a
consequence of doing things right, a person opens a channel that
connects olam hazeh with olam haba. This link is crucial for the
world's functioning. For, as the Sfas Emes points out, this channel
permits chiyus from olam haba to flow to the hester of olam hazeh.
(Yes. We are back to the problem of "hester panim." -- HaShem's
"hiding Himself" from our view. If I remember correctly, the last
time the Sfas Emes and we encountered this problem was in Parshas
Toldos. Note that this problem has resurfaced despite such intervening
experiences as the Redemption from Egypt and the splitting of the Red
Sea. Apparently, hester is so powerful a feature of reality that even
witnessing such extraordinary events had no lasting effects on our
capacity to deal with hester panim.).
Continuing, the Sfas Emes asks: if we do not connect the two worlds,
what would we gain from having olam hazeh? Apparently the Sfas Emes
feels that a world without a channel providing chiyus would not be
worth very much.
The Sfas Emes quotes the Mishna: "Kohl Yisroel yeish lahem cheilek
la'olam haba. (That is: "All Jews have a share in the world to
come.") The Sfas Emes reads this Mishna as telling us that in olam
HAZEH, too, we can have a portion of olam haba. How? By living in
constant awareness of HaShem's Presence, our lives here can also be
illuminated by the "ohr haganuz." ("Ohr Haganuz" is the brilliant
light that HaShem initially created for this world. But then --
seeing that this world does not merit such bright illumination --
HaShem stored that light in olam haba.)
Thus, when the Sfas Emes speaks of our having a portion of olam haba
in olam hazeh , he had something very specific in mind: namely, ohr
haganuz. Having access to that bright light is especially meaningful
in the context of the hester that the Sfas Emes mentioned earlier.
For bright light can enable us to see meaning and beauty that the
darkness of hester had previously obscured.
The Sfas Emes moves on to a new line of thought. We usually view the
imperfections of this world -- and hence the need to set the world
straight (tikun) -- essentially as "accidents" or anomalies from the
basic order that HaShem built into the world. Not so, says the Sfas
Emes. Those imperfections are part of the basic order deliberately
created by HaShem. Moreover, He also created us precisely to set
straight the world -- specifically with its imperfections. For this
reason, as soon as HaShem created human beings, He created hester and
klipa (the husk of evil). For our role in this world is exactly this:
to handle these basic challenges to our serving HaShem.
This is the context within which the Sfas Emes sees the role of the
"ahdam hashaleim," a person who is complete, and who can therefore
complete creation. This person justifies all creation. How does
he/she achieve this powerful result? By focusing thought and action
on HaShem, the source of life.
Earlier, the Sfas Emes cited the text of the Medrash: " ... nocheil
shenei olamos." (That is, if a person does things right, he will have
two "olamos.") The pshat meaning of "olamos" is: "worlds." But the
Torah also has meaning via allusion. And in that mode, the Sfas Emes
reads the word as "he'eleimos": hidden realities.
Olam haba is obviously one such hidden reality. For it is beyond our
capacity to imagine what olam haba is. And olam hazeh is a second
hidden reality. Hester and klipa get in the way, making it hard for
us to get an accurate picture of reality. The Sfas Emes adds that to
the same degree that a person clings to the true reality of olam hazeh
-- e.g., recognizing that HaShem is really there -- so, too, will he
be privileged to hold fast to olam habba.
Finally, in the year 5631, Shabbos Parshas Tazria coincided with Rosh
Chodesh Iyar. This happy coincidence gave the Sfas Emes good reason
for citing what may be his favorite pasuk in all of Tanach --
Yekhezkel, 46:1. The pasuk: "...Sha'ar hechatzeir hapenimis haponeh
kahdim yiheyeh sagur sheshes yemei hama'aseh; uveyom HaShabbos
yipasei'ach, uveyom HaChodesh yipasei'ach." (That is, "The entrance
to the [Temple's] inner court, which faces east, shall be closed
during the days of week-day activity, but it shall be open on Shabbos
and on Rosh Chodesh.")
The Sfas Emes reads this pasuk as telling us that on weekdays, access
to the chiyus that comes from HaShem and pervades all reality is
blocked. (I.e., the entrance to the inner court is closed). But on
Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh, the entrance is open, and we have easier
access to kedusha (sanctity). The Sfas Emes adds: with the
perspective on the world that we gain on Shabbos, we can keep our
close connection with HaShem on weekdays as well.
This ma'amar is long and rich. In fact, so long and so rich that it
may be hard to remember any thing of the ma'amar after we finish
reading it. What can we retain once we have been through the ma'amar?
People differ in their tastes and interests. So, all I can do in this
context is to mention two images that have stayed with me with
particular force as I have learned Sfas Emes over the years.
One powerful image is the picture of the person who does things right,
and thereby opens a channel for chiyus to flow to our world. The
other image that stays with me is the picture of the gate to the inner
court being opened for Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh.
Copyright © 2004 by Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Torah.org