Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff
Sfas Emes, Zechuso Tagein Aleinu, Vayeira, 5632/33
The Sfas Emes begins this ma'amar with a quotation from the second
paragraph of Medrash Rabba on this parsha. That Medrash Rabba, in turn,
cites a pasuk in Iyov (19:26): "Ve'achar ori nikfu zohs; umibsari echezeh
Eloka." (ArtScroll: "After my skin was stricken, they pierced me; and I
see the judgment of God from my flesh.")
The Medrash -- which by definition is not the plain/simple/literal
interpretation -- on this pasuk, feels that these words might just as well
also have been spoken by Avraham Avinu after he had performed bris mila on
himself. Viewing the pasuk in that context, the Medrash presents its
reading of this pasuk: "After I performed the bris mila, many people
circled around me to follow my path; and once I made this change in my
flesh, I was able to see HaShem much more clearly."
The reaction of the Sfas Emes to this text signals his whole approach to
this parsha. Kedarko bakodesh, the Sfas Emes presents what is, in effect,
a Medrash on the Medrash. Thus, he tells us that a nekuda (a particle) of
HaShem is present everywhere in the cosmos. This nekuda gives chiyus
(vibrancy, vitality) to all creation. All we have to do is to remove the
klipa (husk) which covers this particle, and HaShem's Presence is
revealed. Just so, when the outer covering -- the foreskin -- is removed,
our covenant with HaShem is evident.
Continuing with this line of thought, the Sfas Emes points out that the
name of this parsha -- "Vayeira" ("And He appeared") -- tells the same
story. That is, by performing the mitzva of bris mila, Avraham pierced the
outer covering that was hiding HaShem's Presence, and then (presto!) "And
HaShem appeared." (see footnote below ).
The Sfas Emes deepend his discussion of this subject in his ma'amar of
5633. A basic question that puzzles many thinking people is: Why did
HaShem create the world? Apparently, the Sfas Emes asked himself that
question, for he provided an answer to it. He tells us that HaShem created
the world so that people would be aware of His Presence and bring testimony
(by their manner of living) that HaShem gives life to all creation. (A
person may or may not find this answer persuasive. But the mere fact that
the Sfas Emes felt that he had to confront the question is noteworthy.)
Proceeding further, the Sfas Emes notes that the letters of the word
"Vayeira" ("And He appeared") can be rewritten to form the word "Vayahr"
("And He saw").
Mention of the word "Vayahr," in turn, immediately brings to mind (that is,
to the mind of the Sfas Emes, and thence, to our minds) a pasuk which
echoes the word "Vayahr". Which pasuk? The pasuk (Bereishis, 1:31): which
concludes the Torah's account of Creation. That is: "Vayahr HaShem es kohl
asher asah, vehinei tov me'od." (ArtScroll: "And God saw all that He had
made; and behold, it was very good.") The Sfas Emes adds that the gaze of
HaShem continues forever, giving life and vibrancy to the whole world.
The Sfas Emes now returns to his central theme. That is, we can -- indeed,
we must -- remove the external shell which conceals HaShem's Presence, and
thus bring testimony concerning the real real world. In fact, the Sfas
Emes tells us, Bnei Yisroel can be better witnesses to HaShem's Presence
and to His constant sustaining force of all creation (i.e., that He is
mechayeh hakohl) than are the malachim (the agents that HaShem uses to
manage the world).
Why so? Because the malachim have ready access to the truth and hence are
totally aware of HaShem. By contrast, for Bnei Yisroel, HaShem is hidden
-- indeed, this world is called "alma deshikra" (the world of
falsehood). Nevertheless, Bnei Yisroel fight on to be witnesses of
HaShem's reality. And at substantial cost to themselves, Bnai Yisroel
accept His Kingship!
Perhaps as a bonus for sticking with him in hard times as well as when
things are difficult, the Sfas Emes offers us his comment on another pasuk
(Bereishis 18 :1). That pasuk says: "vehu yosheiv pesach ha'ohel ...
(ArtScroll: "And he (Avraham) was sitting at the entrance of the
tent..." Says the Sfas Emes: We give joy to HaShem when we conduct
ourselves properly. In fact, the way HaShem structured the world, the
entire cosmos gets its direction from our behavior. (For, if we live our
lives properly, HaShem's Presence in the world is revealed.)
Nevertheless, we should not exaggerate our importance. Thus, we should be
aware that we are only "at the entrance of the tent." Even if we serve
HaShem passionately ("... kechom hayom ...;" "in the heat of the day"), we
are enjoined to see ourselves in proper perspective. I suggest that what
the Sfas Emes has in mind here is that we conduct ourselves with due
humility as well as with gratitude to HaShem for giving us Torah and
mitzvos. These gifts help us fulfill our awesome responsibility of
revealing HaShem's Presence behind the klipa.
To conclude for today, I cannot resist lifting a thought of the Sfas Emes
on this parsha in the next year, 5634. On the phrase (Bereishis, 18:1)
"HaShem appeared to him " Rashi -- echoing Chazal -- tells us that HaShem
came "levakeir es hacholeh" ("to visit the sick person."). Who was this
sick person? Avraham Avinu, presumably, because Avraham had not yet
recovered from surgery -- his bris mila. The Sfas Emes reacts negatively
to this suggestion -- that Avraham was sick because he had yet recovered
from the surgery of bris mila. He offers in its stead a mind-stretching
non-pshat. Thus he quotes by quoting a pasuk in Shir HaShirim (2:5) : "Ki
cholas ahava ahni" ("For I am sick with love."). You might feel that this
expression is merely a guzma (hyperbole) and/or chassidisch
emotionalism. But look at what is happening here. A person who is 99
years old, without anesthesia, sharp instruments, or germ-free conditions,
performs bris mila on himself! Truly, this person is "lovesick"!
 A question comes to mind at this point. Women cannot have Bris Mila.
Hence, the question: How do women fit into this picture? The Gemara (Avoda
Zara, 27,a) provides an answer: namely, that women are considered as
already circumcised! Moreover, this view is not rhetorical; it is applied
lehalacha. Thus the Gemara gives us the rule that only a person who is
circumcised may perform Bris Mila. And the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei'ah,
264) paskins (rules) that a woman may in fact circumcise.
Copyright © 2003 by Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Torah.org