Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff
Sfas-Emes, Zechuso Tagein Aleinu, Toldos, 5631
The Sfas Emes takes us back to the subject -- and the reality -- of
"hester." That is, HaShem is at all times present, but is "hiding" behind
nature and chitzoniyus (superficial appearances). Last week, in Parshas
Chayei Sara, the Sfas Emes discussed hester in the context of zeman (time);
i.e., in viewing history and current events. This week, the Sfas Emes
discusses hester in more general terms. He also focuses on the
responsibility that hester brings with it for us, namely, the task of
penetrating the Hester to be aware of HaShem's Presence -- despite the hester.
Where in Parshas Toldos does the Sfas Emes find the issue of hester? He
finds it in Bereishis, 26:18-22. Avraham Avinu had dug wells to give people
access to water. Chazal see these wells, not only as real-life wells, but
also as a metaphor for Avraham Avinu's activity in giving people access to
HaShem, Whose Presence is manifest in the water of the wells.
After Avraham was niftar, the Plishtim -- the original Palestinians --
filled in the wells with earth. Again, viewing this real-world experience
in metaphoric terms, we see this action of the Plishtim as blocking access
to HaShem. I.e., they actively tried to block access to HaShem. Now came
Yitzchok Avinu. He removed the earth that the Plishtim had used to close
the channels to -- and from -- HaShem. Thus, the Sfas Emes sees Yitzchok's
removal of the earth to reach the water in the wells as an act of
penetrating the hester to renew contact with HaShem.
Why does the Sfas Emes return so often to the theme of hester? In his
constant reference to HaShem's being hidden, the Sfas Emes may be
addressing his own personal question of: where is HaShem? And out of his
personal experience with this problem, the Sfas Emes drew a crucial
insight. As he has often told us: the purpose of Creation is to give us the
challenging task of penetrating the Hester; and thus to finding HaShem in
nature (ma'aseh breishis). That is, our key responsibility is to make
ourselves aware that despite appearences to the contrary, all existence
comes from HaShem.
After Yitzchok Avinu encountered strife and hatred from the Plishtim in the
matter of the wells, he dug a new well, over which there was no
conflict. Accordingly, Yitzchok called that well "Rechovos," a name which
connotes expansiveness and repose. The name Rechovos evokes for the Sfas
Emes a posuk in Mishlei (1:20): "Chochmos bachutz barona, baRECHOVOS titein
kolah." (ArtScroll: "Wisdom sings out in the streets; it gives forth its
voice in the squares.") The message is clear: Once we remove the outer
shell which hides HaShem, an awareness of His Presence will expand and
permeate the world.
Continuing with this theme, the Sfas Emes tells us that the agent for this
permeation is Torah Shebe'al Peh (the Oral Law). How does this process work? The Sfas Emes explains. By extending HaShem's accessibility to all our
activities, Torah Shebe'al Peh enables us to experience HaShem's Presence
more thoroughly in our daily lives. Thus the posuk in Mishlei is telling
us that by giving forth its voice (an allusion to Torah Shebe'al Peh ),
wisdom -- Torah -- expands its domain.
The Sfas Emes continues. This specification of our role in life -- to
expand awareness of HaShem's Presence -- helps answer a puzzling
question. Why -- and how -- did Yitzchok Avinu misjudge his son Esav?
A posuk (Bereishis 24:62) tells us: "Vayeitzei Yitzchok lasuach basadeh."
(That is: Yitzchok went out (ArtScroll: "to supplicate;" Rabbi Aryeh
Kaplan: to "medidate") in the field.) As you see, translation of the word
"lasuach" is not obvious. The Sfas Emes sees this word as related to the
word 'sicha' -- spoken words. Thus, he reads 'lasuach' as; "to speak." Why
did Yitzchok Avinu go out "to speak" in the field? The Sfas Emes answers:
To expand awareness of HaShem in the world. Thus, the Sfas Emes sees
Yitzchok Avinu as being engaged in kiruv (outreach).
Further, the Torah tells us (Bereishis, 25:27) that Esav, too, was known to
be an "ish sadeh" (a person of the field). But for Yitzchok Avinu, the
sole reason for going out 'to the field' was kiruv. Yitzchok thought that
Esav, too, was engaged in kiruv. Thus Yitzchok Avinu misperceived his son
Esav, viewing him as "a chip off the block." "Like father, like son."
Finally, Esav played on his father's misperception. He did this by asking
Yitzchok Avinu questions that implied that he, too, was concerned to extend
awareness of HaShem's Presence. Thus he asked his father: How does one give
ma'aseir (tithe) from salt? How does one give ma'aseir from straw? The
former question conveyed the impression that he (Esav) wanted to extend our
awareness of HaShem even to the inanimate world (salt); and the latter
question, even to the relatively unimportant part of the world (the chaff).
Three suggested take-home lessons from this Sfas Emes. Bear in mind:
1. The sheer evil of the Plishtim, expending resources to block access
2. The Sfas Emes's novel interpretation of why Yitzchok favored Esav;
i.e., ish sadeh.
3. The fact that hester is not something that happens accidentally or
that we bring upon ourselves. The Sfas Emes is telling us that
HaShem built hester into creation -- to give us the challenge of
seeing Him despite the hester!
Copyright © 2003 by Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Torah.org