Friday, November 12, 2010

Kislev/Vayeitzei: Extraction

We know that the Avos instituted the Tefilos, the prayers that we use to connect to Hashem. Each one of our forefathers set up a prayer K’neged - in parallel to one of three daily Korbanos.

Avraham Avinu instituted Tfilas Shacharis K’neged the Tamid of the morning. In Parshas Chayei Sarah, Yitzchak Avinu introduced the afternoon service of Mincha K’neged the Tamid Shel Bein HaArbayim. These two offerings culminate with the throwing of blood on the Mizbeiach, on the altar, a process called Zrikas HaDam.

In this week’s Parsha, as Yaakov Avinu leaves his home, he stops at what he later finds out is the Temple Mount. There institutes Ma’ariv, the prayer that is K’neged the Eivarim, the limbs which burn on the Mizbeiach all night.

Why is it that Avraham and Yitzchak institute Tefilos K’neged Zrikas HaDam, and Yaakov Avinu set’s up a Tefila Kneged the Eivarim?

The Shem MiSmuel explains based on a Midrash. The Midrash points us to a Passsuk in Tehilim. The Passuk says, “Tzamah Licha Nafshi, Kamah Licha Bisari.” ‘Hashem, my soul thirsts for You, my body yearns for You.’ The Midrash tells us that Yaakov knew this Passuk, but he added on to it. Kmo She’Nafshi Tzamah Licha, Kach HaEivarim She’Yeish Li Tzamim Licha, In the same way that my soul thirsts for you, so too does my body thirst for you.

What is the Midrash telling us? We already know that his body yearns for Hashem - Kama Licha Bisari! So why would the Midrash add that not only does his body yearn, but like his soul, his body also thirsts for closeness to Hashem. What’s being added here?

The holy Shem MiShmuel explains that the Midrash is telling us that Yaakov Avinu attained such a degree of holiness in his physical body that his body was elevated to the level of a soul, and therefore the Passuk of Tzamah Licha Nafshi, Kama Licha Bisari is not enough, but also Kmo She’Nafshi Tzamah Licha, Kach HaEivarim She’Yeish Li Tzamim Licha - my body is as spiritually sensitive as my soul is.

With this in mind we can begin understand why it is Davka Yaakov who institutes the Tefilah K’neged the Eivarim.

The morning and afternoon both fall under the category of day, light and brightness. These terms are themes that are connected to outright spirituality. The soul is light, he who is holy has a face that ‘shines’, Tzadikim benefit from the ‘glow’ of the Shechina, the righteous are enlightened. So it makes sense that the Tefilos of the day are connected to blood.

Why? Because the Passuk in Devarim tells us, “HaDam Hu HaNefesh” ‘The blood is the (seat of) the soul.’ The physical component of the soul’s life-giving force is found in the blood. Thus the blood is the most material way to relate to the soul. And based on this; the day, which is the time of metaphorical spiritual clarity, has sacrifices that will relate directly to the soul, as we see by the sprinkling of the blood by the Timidim of Shacharic and Bein HaArbayim.

The night on the other hand is darkness. This is physicality. The material world is dense. In both the physical and metaphorical sense, we can’t see through it. In the same way it is impossible to visually penetrate a wall, so too it is extremely difficult to see past the body and relate to the soul. It is so easy to become blinded by that which is real to the touch, and miss the deeper meaning contained within.

The scene of Parshas Vayeitzei opens with night. The sun dramatically disappears on Yaakov Avinu and night comes upon him. It is specifically then, in the time of material and metaphorical darkness that Yaakov taps into his exalted perception of physicality and institutes Ma’ariv. Like we said, Ma’ariv is K’neged the physically dense, dark and very ‘real’ Eivarim. Therefore it is Yaakov, who has Eivarim of his own which are on the elevated level of Nefesh who can elevate such a time, and thereby elevate a service rooted in body to become a service of soul. Beautiful.

We are now entering the night of the year. The day is becoming its shortest and the night is dominating our twenty-four-hour cycle. (Purim is Ayeles HaShachar, sunrise. Pesach is the morning etc…). So it is clearly very fitting that we introduce this concept of ‘spirituality in the night’ as we cross the threshold into the darkness of the year.

The Sefer Yetzira tells us that every month of the year has a letter, body-part and bodily function associated with it. The letter of the Kislev is Samech, the body-part is the stomach and the bodily function listed there is sleep. On top of all that, these factors need be seen through the lens the upcoming holiday of Chanukah.

As we know, the Avodah of Chanukah is candles. The subject of candles in Judaism is perhaps best summed up by the Passuk in Mishlei, “Ki Ner Mitzva V’Torah Ohr” ‘Mitzvos are the candle and the Torah is the light’. What does this mean?

A candle’s role is to convert oil or wax into light. In reality there is potential for light present inside of the fuel, it just needs the candle to extract and reveal it. In essence a candle is a vessel that reveals the light already present in fuel.

The world is a sea of endless dense, physical objects, but contained within all matter is the will of Hashem: how HaKadosh Baruch Hu wants me to relate to all of the physicality that comes my way. Says Chazal, ‘Istakel Be’Oraisa V’Bara Alma’ - Hashem peered into the Torah and created the world. This means that the Torah is inner-frame on which all things are formed. Inside any given object is its Penimius, the Koach of the Torah inside of it its internal value. This is it’s inner component of Razton Hashem. But how do we hit that point?

This is the job of Mitzvos. The Midrash Tanchuma tells us that there is not a single object in the world that can’t be related to through some form of Mitzvah. If every object has some Mitzvah attached to it, then there is always a way of revealing the Koach HaTorah stored inside of that object.

Just like we said that the light is present in the fuel but it needs the candle to expose it, so too the Ohr Torah, the spiritual light enclosed within physicality is revealed through the Ner Mitzvah the candle of the Mitzvos.

Yaakov Avinu, the third of our forefathers goes K’neged the third month of the year. And the concept of attaining the level of soul even in the context of body goes hand-in-hand with we are raising here in respect to Chanukah.

And this could be the ‘Stomach’ of Kislev. The singular role of the stomach is very connected to the above lesson of candles. The entire purpose of the stomach is to extract the life-source from within the food that it comes in contact with. When I look at a granola bar I don’t see the energy to hike up the mountain, but it’s there, and it’s my stomachs job to elevate that food into sustenance. Is there no clearer metaphor for Ki Ner Mitzvah V’Torah Ohr?

And this also could be the ‘sleeping’ that the Sefer Yetzirah connected to Chodesh Kislev. The themes of sleep understandably root themselves in the themes of night. And just like we said night is a metaphor for heightened physicality, so too for sleep. When I pass out, my soul leaves my body. For that reason my inner core of spirituality dims and I become a more physical being. With this in mind, it should be no surprise that Yaakov Avinu attains a prophecy deeper than any of the forefathers, and specifically in a state of unconsciousness. Because just like we said that Yaakov had a body on the level of a soul, so too his sleep was on a level more profound than the average cognizance and alacrity. For in Yaakov’s vision of the ladder that reached heavenward, the Passuk tells us that angels ascended and descended the ladder and Hashem Nitzav Alav, Hashem stood atop the ladder. The Midrash points out that the word Alav doesn’t necessarily mean on the ladder, rather it can be a reference to Yaakov himself. During his transcendental slumber, the presence of Hashem rested Mamesh on him! A truly amazing level.

And this could also be the letter Samech of this month. What is Samech? David HaMelech tells us in Ashrei that Samech is Somech Hashem L’Chol HaNoflim. Hashem supports all those who fall. Nefilah throughout scripture is a terminology used for falling asleep. For even now, in the night of the year God empowers us to be the candle in the darkness.

And perhaps this is also the Sulam, the ladder in the prophecy of Yaakov. The Passuk tells us that it was rooted in the ground, but reaching heavenward. And this is truly the life of every person. With our base in physicality we are always trying to connect to higher and higher places.

Life is so deep. Hashem is constantly sending me messages, sometimes subtle and sometime blatant. And all He wants is for me is to open up and little by little make myself more spiritually sensitive. Little by little to contemplate my surroundings and just ask, ‘What does Hashem want from me right now?’ Everything we mentioned above? This is how starts. A slight tweak in perspective that depth is attainable on all levels of life – this is how we, step by step bring ourselves to the level of Yaakov Avinu. Just by opening up my mind to the thought that physicality is meaningful is the biggest switch in perspective. Life is as meaningful as we choose to make it. With our entrance into the darkness of the year, we should take Yaakov’s message of Ki Ner Mitzvah V’Torah Ohr to heart.

If we can do this, there is no doubt that we will live lives of Simcha and Shleimus moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and ultimately the Geula Sheleimah!

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