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Parshas Miketz & Rosh Chodesh Teiveis

By Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff

Sfas Emes, Parashas Mikeitz and Rosh Chodesh Teiveis, 5631

In the Sfas Emes's first year as Gerer Rebbe-- 5631 {1871}-- Shabbos Parshas Mikeitz coincided with Rosh Chodesh Teiveis. Accordingly, on that Shabbos, the Sfas Emes presented Divrei Torash on both topics: Parshas Mikeitz and Rosh Chodesh.

The Sfas Emes begins with a comment on one of Par'oh's dreams, specifically on the dream in which Par'oh sees lean, mangy cows -- symbolizing the power of Evil -- devour pleasantly plump, healthy-looking cows . The Sfas Emes comments that the dream gives the impression that Evil dominates the world. Not so, says the Sfas Emes. Notwithstanding appearances, the apparent autonomy and the power of Evil derive from HaShem.

The Sfas Emes continues with the discussion of this basic fact of life -- the difficulty of perceiving HaShem's Presence in the world as we usually see it. Hester -- HaShem's "hiding" from us -- is so pervasive, the Sfas Emes tells us, that even when we are granted a glimpse of HaShem's Presence, the purpose of that glimpse is to enable us to get through the bad times that (the Sfas Emes takes for granted) will follow. Thus, the Sfas Emes is telling us that when HaShem does permit us to see through the hester, the reason for that illumination is to sustain us in the times when kedusha is hidden. ( NOTE : Hester was so powerful and so pervasive for the people who came to America that a street in the immigrants' neighborhood was actually named "Hester Street". )

The Sfas Emes moves on now to another theme. He quotes a pasuk in Yechezkel (46: 1) This posuk was apparently very dear to the Sfas Emes-- so dear that he often quotes it. The pasuk describes an architectural feature of the future Beis Hamikdash : "... Sha'ar he'chatzeir ha'penimis, ha'poneh kadim yiheye sagur sheishes yemei hama'aseh; u'beyom HaShabbos yipase'ach; u'beyom HaChodesh yipasei'ach.' ( ArtScroll: "...The gate of the inner courtyard that faces eastward shall be closed during the six days of labor; but on the Sabbath day ... and on the day of the New Moon, it shall be opened.")

The Sfas Emes reads this posuk as telling us two things. First,the pasuk says that on Shabbos and on Rosh Chodesh, a special channel is opened to give us easier access to the world's penimiyus. The Sfas Emes also understands the pasuk to be saying that Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh can be the keys to enable us to gain access to penimiyus even on the weekdays.

Repeated mention of "penimiyus " raises a basic question. What does the Sfas Emes have in mind when he refers to 'penimiyus'? When the Sfas Emes mentions penimiyus, he is referring to the real "real world"; i.e., to the world in which HaShem's Presence is evident. I say the real "real world" in contradistinction to the apparent "real world," in which hester hides HaShem's Presence. The posuk is telling us that Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh can give us access to the world as it truly is; i.e., not hidden by the chitzoniyus ( external appearance) of Teva and/or of Hergeil.

The Sfas Emes's non-pshat reading of the pasuk from Yechezkel seems to be very distant from its simple pshat meaning. Hence, you may wonder ( I certanly did ) : how does the Sfas Emes get from the pasuk's literal meaning-- the description of an architectural feature -- to his very different non-pshat--the description of access to HaShem ? After I thought about it for a long time, the answer came back: simple. The posuk's words 'ha'penimis" and ha'poneh" evoke the sound-alike of "penimiyus".

We can take another step forward in trying to understand the Sfas Emes's interpretation of the posuk from Yechezkel,. The Sfas Emes reads the "be" in the posuk's words "u'BE'yom hashabbos " and "u'BE'yom hachodesh" not as conventionally understood -- as a time word -- that would give us: 'On Shabbos or on Rosh Chodesh...' Instead, the Sfas Emes reads the posuk's 'be' as meaning: '' by means of''. Thus, the Sfas Emes is telling us that by means of Shabbos or Rosh Chodesh, we can open the gate that blocks our access to the penimiyus -- to HaShem's Omnipresence -- even during the week-- on yemei hama'aseh.

(Note the strength of the Sfas Emes's ko'ach hachidush [innovative power]. The posuk in Yechezkel tells us unambiguously that the gate should remain closed on weekdays. The Sfas Emes just opened it.)

The Sfas Emes moves on now to include discussion of topics from Parshas Mikeitz. The Sfas Emes spoke earlier about the possibility of a major spiritual breakthrough: to have access to the 'inner court' not only on Shabbos, but on weekdays as well. Now he adds a powerful precondition : to achieve that breakthrough, we must adhere to the bris (the covenant). What is this bris to which the Sfas Emes refers? Bris milah, which many authorities view as a means of diminishing sexuality.

More generally, the Sfas Emes tell us, to live our lives in a manner consistent with the covenant, we would be well advised to follow the model that Yosef exemplified -- the model for which he is called "Yosef HaTzadik". The Sfas Emes explains that Yosef kept the bris under very difficult conditions. The Sfas Emes is referring here to Yosef's handling of sexuality, most notably with the wife of Potifar.

The Sfas Emes has just told us that bris milah is a key feature of our relationship with HaShem. Why so? Because unbridled sexuality is the most powerful competitor to our living our lives in constant awareness of HaShem's Presence. Why is it so important that we live our lives fully aware of HaShem's Presence? Because by so doing, a person can achieve "hisbatlus" -- subordinating his/her will to the will of HaShem, and his/her agenda to the agenda of HaShem. Such hisbatlus -- even in a small measure -- can enable a person to reach a state of Ahavas HaShem -- love of HaShem. For the Seforim define love as a state in which one gives priority to the will of the beloved over one's own will.

The Sfas Emes goes on to point out that Rosh Chodesh, too, can be an opportunity for access to the penimiyus. Because the new moon is a phenomenon of nature, we can use Rosh Chodesh as a trampoline to perceive HaShem behind nature. Thus, instead of seeing Teva as fixed and unchanging, we can see HaShem constantly giving it existence. You may ask : what is so bad about not seeing HaShem behind Teva? The answer is straightforward. A failure to be aware of HaShem being behind nature may be part of a general lack of awareness about what is going on, metaphysically, in our lives. And a life lived in a state of unawareness - - in a rut of habit -- is the very opposite of the state of hischadshus -- the constant freshness with which we are enjoined to live our lives.

More information concerning control of sexuality. The Sfas Emes tells us that if we keep the bris, we will be able to perceive Hashem even in golus. He notes that the golus began only when B'nai Yisroel stopped keeping the bris in the way that Yosef had. The Sfas Emes has focused on the loss of control of sexuality as a key feature of our golus in Egypt. This may be a part of the story that you were not told when you were a child. But we have this feature from Chazal; the Sfas Emes did not invent it.

Thus, the Sfas Emes cites a Medrash Rabba on Parshas Shemos. The posuk on which the Medrash comments is (Shemos, 1:8) : 'Vayokom melech chadash' (ArtScroll: 'A new king arose in Egypt...'). After he refers to the text in Medrash Rabba, the Sfas Emes says: 'Ayein shom' ('Look it up!'). Knowing the importance of heeding the words of a tzadik, we do look it up. And we find the Medrash (on the posuk: 'Vayokom melech chadash') quoting Hoshe'ah (5:7): "Be'Hashem bagadu ki banim zarim yaladu; ata yochaleim chodesh'. (That is: "They have betrayed HaShem, for they have begotten alien children. Now a month will devour them.")

By directing us to the Medrash in Shemos, the Sfas Emes is telling us that the golus in Egypt came in the following sequence. Bnei Yisroel gave up Bris Milah, thereby losing control of their sexuality. Thus, they failed to follow the model that Yosef Hatzadik had provided for Jewish survival in Egypt. As a result, they lost awareness of the world's constant hischadshus and HaShem's Omnipresence. At that point, with Bnei Yisroel locked into Teva and Hergeil, "Vayokom melech chadash...'

(Note the irony in this phrase now that the Sfas Emes has shown us the interplay of chadash, hischadshus, and chodesh.)


Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Torah.org.


 






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