15 Кислева 5783 года, шестой день недели, гл. Ваишлах

The Weapon Against Galus

Living in less than an ideal existence allows for a misalignment between the internal and the external, the spiritual and the material.

29.05.2022 317 (0)
The Weapon Against Galus
The Weapon Against Galus


Bechukosai begins with the following promise: “If you pursue My laws and you will keep my Commandments and you will observe them. Then I will give you rain in its time, the Land will yield its produce…”

The question has been raised that the words “and you will observe them” are redundant for the Torah just stated “and you will keep My commandments.” What do the words “and you will observe them add?

This question prompted the Ba’al Haturim (a commentary that focuses on finding hints in the Torah) to state that when the letters of the Hebrew word for “them”-“osam” (in the words “and you will observe them”) are rearranged they spell the word emes-truth.

The Ba’al Haturim seems to be suggesting that the words “and you will observe them” were intended to convey the idea that mere observance does not suffice for G-d’s rewards; one must also perform the commandments with emes, sincerity and consistency.

However, the question still remains: Would G-d not reward us for observance of His commandments even if we are not consistent? Don’t our Sages teach that G-d does not withhold reward from any of His creatures? Surely, we deserve reward for anything good that we do regardless of our degree of sincerity and consistency.

Facilitating, Not Reward

To answer this question we must preface Maimonides’ answer to a fundamental question as to why the Torah only mentions the material rewards for compliance with G-d’s will. No mention is made of the reward in Paradise in the afterlife, a basic Jewish belief, preserved in the Oral Torah and hinted in the Written Torah. Why isn’t it spelled out explicitly in the Biblical text?

Maimonides’ answer is that the rewards promised in the Torah are not really intended as rewards. Rather, they are G-d’s promise to us that when we perform the commandments we will not have any distractions because all of our material needs will be taken care of. Observance will lead to more observance because there will be no obstacles to stand in the way of our observance. These are, therefore, not characterized as rewards but measures that will facilitate observance. The real rewards for the observance of the Mitzvos will occur in the next world.

Based on Maimonides’ explanation that the rewards are G-d’s way of assisting us in the performance of the Mitzvos, we can understand the message of the Ba’al Haturim that the material blessings promised to us are contingent not only on the actual performance of the Mitzvah but on performing then with emes, sincerity and consistency.

Now our original question shifts. Why would G-d not want to make it easier for us to perform a Mitzvah in the event that we lack sincerity? After all the Talmud states that one should always perform a Mitzvah even if it is for ulterior motives, for from the ulterior motive one will eventually evolve to doing it for pure motives.

Removal of Dichotomies through Emes

One can suggest an explanation that requires us to probe deeper into the words of Maimonides that the rewards are actually aids to those who perform a Mitzvah to make it possible and easy for them to do another mitzvah. How does this work?

The answer is that in the ideal setting the physical and spiritual realms are not dichotomous. One is a reflection and manifestation of the other. In an ideal world, when one does something morally and spiritually positive it will be reflected in a visible positive change to the world. If someone is endowed with spiritual beauty it should, in an ideal world, be reflected in one’s physical appearance as well and vice versa.

That is the real definition of emes. As was explained in many of these essays, emes is not the absence of a lie. It is the removal of the dichotomy between the spiritual and the physical; it is where spiritual truths are not contradicted by physical realities.

Living in less than an ideal existence allows for a misalignment between the internal and the external, the spiritual and the material. One could live a most pious life and have no Divine assistance in that endeavor because of a lack of emes in his or her own behavior.

Now in the days of the Bais Hamikdash, a period known for the highest levels of spirituality, it was most natural for people to enjoy material blessings when they performed the Mitzvos. Emes was “in the air” and everyone who did not resist breathed emes. The same will occur in the future Messianic Age when it is ushered in by Moshiach, who is identified as a man of absolute truth and consistency.

No Need for Physicians and Medicine

The above is based on a letter of the Alter Rebbe (R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the author of the Chassidic classic, the Tanya, and the founder of the Chabad Chassidic movement) to a doctor who raised an interesting question.

The Talmud makes it abundantly clear, based on an explicit Biblical statement, that the Torah granted a physician permission to heal. As Rashi explains, one may not argue that since it was G-d who wrought the illness, only G-d should be allowed to heal the sick. To reject that argument, the Torah expressly permitted the practice of medicine. Yet, Nachmanides, who was himself a physician, writes in his commentary on this week’s parsha, that, ideally, one should not rely on physicians to heal but rather rely on G-d. Nachmanides cites a verse that takes a certain Biblical king to task for relying on a doctor and not on G-d. How do we reconcile that with the explicit verse that allows doctors to heal? Moreover, Nachmanides writes in another of his works that it is a Mitzvah for the physician to heal!

The Alter Rebbe answers by distinguishing between the Temple and prophetic era and the post Temple and prophetic era. At that time, there was a robust alignment between the spiritual and the physical as evidenced by the prevalent phenomenon of prophecy; a direct line of communication and alignment between G-d and the prophet. In such times, there is truly no need to heal by medical professionals and treatment. One could be healed by cementing his or her relationship with G-d. By contrast, in the post Bais Hamikdash and prophetic era, that alignment is lacking and we must avail ourselves of the medical profession.

A Taste of the Future

Now, while in the Bais Hamikdash and prophetic era the spiritual path was the norm, one still had free choice and was able to resist spirituality and create a dichotomy between the physical and spiritual in their own lives. Thus, even then, if they decided to eschew emes-consistency in their own lives, the “automatic” translation of the Mitzvot into physical and material blessings would not materialize.

Conversely, life in the period of Galus-exile misalignment has become the convention. However, we can resist that dichotomous existence and instill emes into our lives and thereby enjoy the reflexive and reciprocal nature of material blessings from the observance of the commandments. Whatever emes we invest into our Mitzvos now we enjoy a taste of the future.

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