Friday, November 25, 2011

Toldos: Big Bang Theory

The following is based on the Maharal in Netzach Yisrael. Feel free to print this out and read it over Shabos Kodesh, just please not during Tefilos!

In the start of this week’s Parshah, we read as Yaakov Avinu buys the Bechorah – the Rights of the Firstborn from his brother Eisav HaRasha. And what did he buy it for? What was Yaakov charged for these prestigious privileges? A bowl of lentils. Eisav sells the holy Bechorah for some beans.

Now, Yaakov wasn’t cooking up lentils for no reason. Chazal explain that the preparation of lentils shows us that the day of that this transaction did not did not occur in a vacuum. This was the day of Avraham Avinu’s passing and thus Yaakov prepared lentils whose round shape symbolize and encapsulate the proverbial circle of life and death.

The day on which Avraham died served as a turning point in Eisav’s life. Within the spiritual black-hole generated by the Tzadik’s passing, Eisav chose to commit a number sins marking his decision to give up on a life of Kedushah and Tahrah and instead walk the path of darkness and corruption.

Even though these events are not explicit in verse, Chazal prove through the use of Drashos – analytical exegesis – that they in fact occurred.

On the top of the list of Aveiros that Eisav committed on that day was the moment that he was Kofer B’Ikar – he transformed into a heretic and rejected the existence of God. And how do Chazal learn this out? They see an extra word when Eisav agrees to sell the Bechorah, and this word tips them off to the extra, heretical intention that was going on behind the scenes. Let’s explain.

Eisav walks in and says, ‘Oy, I’m tired. Feed me that bowl of stuff.’ Yaakov replies, ‘Not for free. Let’s make a deal. My lentils for your Bechorah.’ Eisav considers the barter and says, ‘I’m Mamesh so tired I feel like I’m gonna die - V’Lamah Zeh Li Bechorah – of what use is the Bechorah to me? Pass me those beans.’ And the deal is done.

Now, in this Pasuk we openly see how Eisav is Kofer in the Chashivus of the Bechorah – he rejects the importance of the Rights of the Firstborn. He’s willing to trade it away for something far below its proper worth. But Eisav could have accomplished the same goal with one less word. He could have said V’Lamah Li HaBechorah – that would have the same exact connotation! So then why did he throw in the extra ‘Zeh’ in V’Lamah Zeh Li Bechorah?

From this Chazal understand that Eisav wasn’t just coming to be Kofer in the Bechorah, he was also coming to be Kofer in the added Zeh as well. And what is Zeh a reference to? Nothing other than HaKadosh Baruch Hu Himself, as the Pasuk says Zeh Keili - This is my God. Thus by adding the extra Zeh to his Kfirah in the Bechorah he also accomplished a Kfirah in Hashem as well.

A Maamar Chazal cannot be seen in a bubble. The Drashah and the Pasuk from which it came do not exist independently of one another.  The textual source from which a Maamar Chazal is extracted sheds crucial light on the nature of the Drashah itself. I have to see the Ma’amar Chazal through the lens of the content of the Pasuk that it emerged from. Chazal chose to introduce me to this teaching specifically with this Pasuk as its background. Otherwise they would have learned it out from another source.

With this in mind we are forced to sharpen our definition of Eisav’s heresy. He didn’t simply add on his rejection God with his roundabout rejection of Zeh. No. It’s much deeper. He rejected God specifically from within his rejection of the Bechorah! He became a Kofer B’Ikar through his Kfirah of the Bechorah. Well, what does that mean? We’ll need to take a detour.

The first Pasuk in the Torah states Bereishis Bara Elokim Es HaShamayim V’Es HaAretz – In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Chazal famously learn out that Bereishis means Bishvil Reishis – For the things that are called Reishis. It is because of things that the Torah calls Reishis that the world can exist. On that list is Am Yisrael, the Torah HaKedoshah, and specific Mitzvos that are called Reishis. For example Bikurim which is called Reishis Tvuaschem – the first of your produce. This Mitzvah entails bringing the first fruits of the field to the Beis HaMikdash.

What makes them so holy? Why can the world only exist because of Bikurim?

So a heretical philosopher will tell you the following: Any given thing can only produce something that it like itself. Water doesn’t produce fire and the opposite is also true. That being said, Yichud cannot produce Ribui and Ribui is incapable of generating Yichud. That which is unified and solitary will not generate multifariousness and multiplicity. Also, that which is dispersed and multidimensional will not produce something simple and whole. Thus, it is impossible that your monotheistic God created this world that has so many unrelated elements.

This is not our belief. We believe that HaKadosh Baruch Hu creates with ‘white light’ and we merely perceive it as many colors on the other side of the prism. This means that when God set the universe in motion all of the subsequently revealed energies were already present in the original spark. All life, every personal story, every everything that we see throughout the rest of history is merely an unfolding of that original creative force. It’s amazing that there was in fact a spiritual Big Bang. There is an original unifying energy that pulls together all the details in the world. Sof Ma’aseh B’Machshavah Techilah.

So the heretical philosopher will tell you that in an apple orchard one fruit blossoms, then a second appears, then a third, fourth and so on. But now we know that this is not true. Contained in the first apple is the potential for the rest of the orchard! Every other fruit is merely an unfolding of the latent energies that are already present in the first fruit.

Therefore, by holding the first - the Reishis - in high regard, when I designate the first fruit as a symbol of God’s unity, when I go ahead and bring that first fruit to the Beis HaMikdash and give it to Hashem I’m not merely giving Him one apple – I’m giving Him the whole field!

The Emunah, the faith in what Bikurim represents separates us from sacrilegious theorists. The concept of the Bikurim drives home the point that in this crazy, multifarious world of endless details – Hashem Echad – there is a unifying monotheistic force that holds it all together and gives it meaning.

The Bechorah is no different. The firstborn is called also called Reishis Ono. The world was created for it as well. Already present in the original son is potential of all future offspring. This explains why the original intention was for the Bechor - the firstborn - to be the Kohen, the priest. Bikurim re-enforce our Emunah in the Oneness of Hashem and therefore it’s intrinsically holy and the Bechor is fundamentally sanctified for the same reason.

We would look around the world and be led away from God and not towards Him. The Mitzvos of Reishis allow the world to exist in a context that we can be reminded that there is a unifying creative force, a common denominator, a Oneness to the world and history. The Mitzvos of Reishis save us from falling into Kfirah.

Let’s bring it full circle.

Now we can understand the depth of what Chazal were trying to teach us. V’Lamah Zeh Li Bechorah. We don’t learn that Eisav became a Kofer B’Ikar out of nowhere. Inasmuch as Eisav rejected the value of the Bechorah he simultaneously rejected the Oneness of God! By saying that the Bechorah is of no value he was also saying that the world we live in is essentially a world of dividedness and therefore it’s not a world that HaKadosh Baruch Hu governs. Kofer B’Ikar.

But what does this mean for me?

I look around my life and I see endless details. Bills and concerns. Different spheres of friends. A never-ending media barrage. A world of unbearable multiplicity and duality. I watch the news for fifteen minutes and each story turns my world upside down from a new angle. How am I expected to cope?

Knowing that all of the diversity in my life is coming from a Unified Source gives me the focus I need to sanctify all of my different endeavors for a Unified Purpose. When I clearly know that every situation is from Hashem I begin to uncover the inner wellsprings of inspiration needed to direct all of my responses towards Him. No matter where I end up. No matter what the universe delivers. The common denominator in all of my responses will be, ‘As long as it’s Ratzon Hashem.’