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Parshas Ma'sei

By Nosson Chayim Leff

Sfas Emes, Zechuso Tagein Aleinu, Parshas Mas'ei, 5632

The parsha begins (33: 1 -2): "These are the journeys of Bnei Yisroel who went out of Egypt ... Moshe recorded their departures for their journeys (motza'ei'hem lemas'ei'hem) ... these were the journeys for their departures" (mas'ei'hem lemotza'ei'hem).

The Sfas Emes notes that the pasuk reverses the sequence of its key words. First it speaks of "motza'ei 'hem lemas'ei' hem"; then it speaks of "mas'ei'hem lemotza'ei'hem". The Sfas Emes explains the first sequence as reflecting a basic reality :: for our story to begin, we first had to get out of Egypt. Therefore, the pasuk starts with "motza'ei'herm" -- a word that comes from the shoresh "Y'TZ'A", and hence, a word that irresistibly evokes "ye'tzi'as Mitzrayim" (our exodus from Egypt). Once we had made that break-out, we could proceed on our journeys.

Apparently, our liberation from Egypt was not a "one shot" process in which once and for all, we moved to a higher stage of development in our relationship with HaShem. On the contrary, the Sfas Emes finds it relevant to observe that every "masa" (journey) took us further from Egypt. Evidently, escape from the cesspool of tum'a which Egypt was known to be had to be gradual, involving many small steps. The Sfas Emes may have inferred this point from the pasuk's use of the word "motza'ei'hem" -- plural.

Proceeding in this vein, the Sfas Emes notes that our journeys continued until we reached our goal -- Eretz Yisroel. The fact that we had this objective was crucial. For, too often, people break out from a bad situation; but lacking the right objective, go from the frying pan into the fire. Two examples come swiftly to mind. One case is the story of many Jews in the Shtetel. Reacting to the Shtetel's social inequities, they broke away from Yiddishkeit, and sought social justice -- in Stalin's tyranny. Another case involves many young Jews who broke away from the materialism of their milieu in America to seek spirituality -- in a cult.

The Sfas Emes has presented an analysis in terms of break-out ("freedom from") and journey to ("freedom to"). To conclude this discussion , he applies this framework in a wholly new context. Thus, he uses this perspective to explain why HaShem has made gashmiyus(materialism) so attractive.

HaShem has arranged things this way so that the right reasons motivate people when they strive to come closer to Him. If gashmiyus was ugly ( "nivzeh"), people might break away and seek HaShem because of their disgust with gashmiyus. But HaShem wants us to abandon gashmiyus and come closer to Him because He is our goal and our objective in life. That is what the pasuk means when it says: "motza'ei'hem le'mas'eihem"; that our departures -- break-outs -- be for the sake of our goals -- our journeys toward proper objectives.

Now comes the Sfas Emes with today's finat chidush -- his non-pshat reading of the word mas''eichem". He tells us that when a person makes the effort to depart from a misguided way of life, he/she will find that people will help them. You may be wondering : how did " help" get into this discussion? This case can serve as an example of a general problem that some people have with the Sfas Emes.. They feel that he sometimes takes liberties with the text, shaping it like "play dough" to suit his rhetorical needs.

Nothing could be farther from the truth ! The Sfas Emes here is based on --and working with-- classical Leshon Hakodesh.. He is simply reading the word "mas'eihem " as coming from the root S' Y' A' -- mainsteam Hebrew. for "to help"{1}.

Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and



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