By Nosson Chayim Leff
Sfas Emes, Zechuso Tagein Aleinu, Yisro 5632
The Sfas Emes begins this ma'amar with a quote from the Zohar:
"Shabbos sums up the entire Torah". The Sfas Emes bolsters this point by
bringing a halachic ruling in support of this Zohar. If someone does not
believe in Shabbos, halacha regards him as a person who does not believe
in the entire Torah.
What does the Sfas Emes have in mind when he tells us that Shabbos sums up
the whole Torah? I suggest that the Sfas Emes is directing our attention
to a unique feature of Shabbos. Clearly, Shabbos brings to mind the fact
that HaShem created the world of nature. (The Sfas Emes refers to the
natural world by citing the Asara Ma'amaros -- the ten utterances with
which HaShem created heaven and earth.). Likewise, Shabbos, with its rich
content of hilchos Shabbos, also embodies and evokes the Torah (to which
the Sfas Emes refers with the shorthand phrase of "Aseres Hadibros" -- the
Ten Commandments). Thus, Shabbos highlights Torah and Creation coming
More importantly, as the Sfas Emes emphasizes, not only are these key
topics juxtaposed; they are also interdependent. In the world of creation,
Nature obeys the laws of science that HaShem established to govern its
behavior. But Creation and the world of nature can exist only if we obey
the laws that HaShem gave us to govern our behavior -- i.e., the Torah.
The Sfas Emes elaborates on this point by alluding to a comment in Gemara
Shabbos (88a). The context there is Matan Torah. Chazal tell us that when
HaShem offered us the the Torah, He said: "If Klal Yisroel accepts the
Torah, Creation will exist.. But if Klal Yisroel do not accept the Torah,
I (HaShem) will return the world to the state it was in before creation, --
i.e., to chaos".
The Sfas Emes continues with this line of thought; that it is only our
acceptance of the Torah that renders the natural world -- i.e., the world
without Torah -- liveable. (If you think he is exaggerating, look at a
newspaper and see how a world looks when people no longer accept "Aseres
In a final comment on the need for Torah to make the world of nature
liveable, the Sfas Emes refers to another ma'amar of Chazal (Avodah Zara,
9a). The Gemara there tells us that HaShem arranged human history in a
special sequence. First would come 2,000 years in which only Nature (Teva)
was apparent. Chazal refer to that period as one in which the world was in
a state of "tohu va'vohu" (R. Hirsch: 'confused and tangled.'). Only later
was Torah introduced into the system, to clear away the confusion and
tangle of lives lived in a world of nature alone. By letting people know
that all life comes from HaShem, the Torah made it possible for the
world "le'hischadeish " -- to begin life anew.
The Sfas Emes moves on now to another line of thought. A posuk in Shir
Hashirim (5: 6) says: "Nafshi ya'tzah bedabro imi." (That is, "My soul
took leave of me when He spoke to me".) Chazal apply this posuk to our
encounter with HaShem at Matan Torah, when He gave us the Torah.. As the
Almighty proclaimed the first Dibra (Commandment), the experience was so
awesome that our souls took leave of our bodies. That is, Bnei Yisroel
expired. What restored life to our people? The Torah did. Thus, a posuk
in Tehilim (19: 8) tells us that: "Toras HaShem temima, meshivas nafesh".
(That is, "HaShem's Torah ... restores life".)
You may say: "A nice thought; but how did this process actually work -- in
the real world? " How did the Torah revive our people? The Sfas Emes
explains that the Torah has this restorative effect because the Torah is
the vehicle through which HaShem chose to make His Presence manifest in
the physical world. Thus, by adhering to the Torah we are connecting to
HaShem. This is what the posuk means when it says that the Torah restored
our souls. The Torah enabled us to re-establish our intertwined
relationship with HaShem. Note the chiddush (innovation)that the Sfas Emes
has introduced here. (I say "note" because the Sfas Emes does not tell us
that he is construing the posuk in a radically new way.). The simple,
conventional understanding of the phrase "meshivas nofesh" is: ["When our
souls took leave of our bodies at Matan Torah"] the Torah returned our
souls to our bodies.. However the Sfas Emes is reading "meshivas nafesh"
as: "returned our nefashos to their previous close relation with HaShem".
Mention of the words "meSHiVas nefesh" leads the Sfas Emes to thoughts
about SHaBBoS. TheSfas Emes reminds us that our soul has three parts:
nefesh, ruach, and neshama.. Of these three, "nefesh" is the closest to
our physical reality, and hence, easiest to engage and repair. In fact, a
properly spent Shabbos can restore a person's nefesh.. Note, further,
another connection between Shabbos and nefesh. The posuk in Shemos (31,17)
tells us that on Shabbos the Almighty: "shavas. va'yiNaFaSH". R'. Hirsch
translates this phrase as: "... (He) ceased to create on the seventh day
and withdrew into His own essence". I suggest that "His own essence" is
ruchniyus (spirituality). So, too, on Shabbos our nefashos can be raised,
bringing us closer to HaShem.
Why? How? Because our expanded Avoda on Shabbos gives HaShem nachas
ruach (joy). And HaShem's joy, in turn, gives our nefashos new life. Thus,
HaShem's "Va'yinafash" on Shabbos has an impact on a person's nefesh. The
Sfas Emes takes us even further. He emphasizes that closer contact with
our source (HaShem) on Shabbos permits the vibrancy of Torah to reach the
workaday world as well.
The possibility of reaching a higher state of ruchniyus on Shabbos should
not be taken for granted; for it is truly a remarkable phenomenon.
Accordingly, the Sfas Emes devotes more effort to explaining it . The
Torah (Shemos, 20:11) tells us: "Va'yanach bayom hashevi'. Al kein
beirach..." ("He ceased to create on the seventh day.. For this reason,
HaShem blessed the seventh day ..."). The Sfas Emes understands this pasuk
as providing further explanation of the remarkable phenomenon just
mentioned.. We can return to a closer relation with HaShem on Shabbos
because HaShem invested Shabbos with a special beracha (blessing).
The Sfas Emes sees this beracha in the posuk just cited , specifically
in the word "Va'yanach." Mainstream Hebrew grammar reads this verb as a
construction in binyan kal.. That construction gives us "Va'yanach"
as: "He rested (ceased to create) on the seventh day." By contrast, the
Sfas Emes reads "Va'yanach" as formed in hif'il -- the causative
construction. This gives us: He caused (enabled) to rest. The Sfas Emes's
non-pshat reading of "Va'yanach" permits him to show us two special
dimensions of the beracha that HaShem has given us with Shabbos. One is:
a feature that we have already noted. That is: HaShem has granted us the
possibility of achieving menucha (repose) to come closer to Him on
Shabbos. The second beracha that the Sfas Emes shows us may come as more
of a surprise, He says: "Va'yanach ... nitan zeh ha'ko'ach le'ham'shich
m'imekor ha'berachos le'chol ha'olam". That is: HaShem has given us the
capability to extend this blessing to the entire world.
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Torah.org.