Thursday, June 09, 2016

life after death (II)

Part I was really a sidelight that spun out of control.  What I really wanted to talk about is the limud of the gemara. How did R’ Yehoshua ben Levi know that people died when they heard the dibros? The gemara quotes a pasuk in Shir haShirim 5:6, “Pasachti ani l’dodi v’dodi chamak avar NAFSHI YATZA’H B’DABRO…” The problem is that if you look at the pasuk in context, it seems to mean exactly the opposite of what the gemara takes it to mean. The way the gemara interprets it, the pasuk is an allusion to becoming so overwhelmed with Hashem’s presence and closeness that one’s life departs. However, in context, what the pasuk is speaking about is opening the door to Dodi, to Hashem, and finding that it’s too late – that he is no longer knocking and waiting, he’s not there, he’s gone into hiding. Rashi comments on “nafshi yatz’ah b’dabro” that the words Dodi is saying “b’dabro” are words of departure: “I am leaving because you failed to answer.” The pasuk continues that the beloved searches for her Dod but fails to find him; the beloved calls to him but he fails to answer. This is a description of a painful parting, not a description of mattan Torah, not a description of the moment of eirusin, not of closeness with Hashem. What’s going on here?

The Sefas Emes (5640) points out a glaring redundancy in the pasuk, "V'kol ha'am ro'im es hakolos... va'yar ha'am va'yanu'u va'ya'amdu mei'rachok."  The pasuk tells us up front that the people were "ro'im es ha'kolos;" why repeat again at the end "va'yar ha'am?"  Secondly, why in the beginning of the pasuk does the Torah change the tense from the usual "va'yar," which seems to fit, to "ro'im," present tense? 

Sefas Emes answers that the Torah is speaking about two different groups of people.  "Va'yar," past tense, refers to the people who stood at Har Sinai over 3000 years ago.  "Ro'im" present tense, refers to you and me.  Every Shavuos the Torah is given anew, and we have a chance to re-experience seeing it happen all over again.

The difference is, says the Sefas Emes, that we are so far from the closeness to Hashem that we had back then.  You can't just walk into a Shavuos, walk into a ma'amad Har Sinai, and expect Hashem to drop a Torah in your lap when you are on such a small level of ruchniyus.  "Va'yar ha'am," our great-great... grandparents saw us -- saw what we would be like -- and knew that we would never be able to come close to the mountain and receive the giluy of Hashem's presence in its full force.  Therefore, "Vayanu'u," they took a step back for our sake.  "Nafshi yatza'ah b'dabro" -- not then, but now.  We are the ones who failed to respond and are now staring at the empty doorway, looking for Hashem.  But out great-great... grandparents had our neshomos within them, and therefore, even then, even though they were so close to Hashem, their souls departed and they could not take the experience.  They could not bear the totality of the giluy of mattan Torah because we were there too, within them, and we are the ones who cannot bear the totality of that giluy.

But, says the Sefas Emes, we can fix it.  Every year we experience "ro'im" all over again, and ever year it's up to us -- is this the year of "nafshi yatz'ah..." or the year where we respond to the knock at the door?

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