Parshas Chayei Sara
Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff
Sfas Emes, Zechuso Tagein Aleinu, Chayei Sara, 5631
The Sfas Emes begins this ma'amar by remarking that HaShem created
time. This seemingly casual observation is actually a matter of great
importance. For one thing, this comment implies that the Sfas Emes could
imagine a world without time. Such a mental feat of imagination is beyond
the capacity of most of us. (Thus, for example, I have the impression that
even so imaginative a literature as Science Fiction has not had the
capacity to work with worlds without time.) And note the Sfas Emes'
immediate reaction to the fact we live in a world with time. He views the
existence of time as a manifestation of HaShem's Presence. Here is another
example of the Sfas Emes's capacity to see HaShem everywhere.
Note further implications of the Sfas Emes's observation that HaShem
created (more accurately, constantly creates -- i.e., present tense)
time. The fact that HaShem creates time leads us immediately to recognize
that HaShem is " lema'ala min ha'zeman" (literally, 'above time'), and
hence, not bound by its constraints. Thus, we can understand, in principle,
how "Shamor Vezacor" could be "bedibur echad".).
Finally, there is another way to appreciate the importance of our being
aware that time is something that HaShem creates. That other way is to
consider the implications that follow if we adopt the opposite
perspective. An example is Aristotle's assertion that on the contrary,
"the world is eternal." That apparently innocent statement, coming from
someone with Aristotle's authority, led people to kefira (apostasy). For,
"if the world is eternal" there exists a source of creation aside from
HaShem. Unfortunately, innaccurate metaphysics leads to misconceived
physics. In this case, the people who adopted Aristotle's inaccurate
metaphysics ended up adopting destructive life-styles.
The Sfas Emes continues, quoting the first Medrash Rabba on this
parsha. That Medrash, in turn, cites a posuk in Tehilim (37:18): "Yodei'ah
HaShem ye'mei temi'mim, ve'nacha'lasam le'olam tiheye." (ArtScroll: "HaShem
knows the days of the perfect; their inheritance will be forever.") This
Medrash focuses our attention on two of this ma'amar's key themes: One key
theme involves zeman (time) -- how to perceive it and how to relate to it.
The other key theme is the role of the tzadik -- in this case. exemplified
by Sara Imeinu. (Note the Sfas Emes's gender-free view of the tzadik).
In an earlier ma'amar, the Sfas Emes told us that HaShem's Presence in
space is hidden (olam = "hidden"). Now he educates us further, telling us
that the tzadik has the responsibility of piercing the veil of chitzoniyus
(things' external appearance). That piercing enables us to live our lives
in active awareness of the penimiyus (the inner reality) -- i.e., the
Presence of HaShem. Now the Sfas Emes is telling us that we have the same
responsibility of seeing through the veil of chitzoniyus that hides
HaShem's Presence in time. That is, just as HaShem created space (olam),
so too did He create time. And just as one can be oblivious of HaShem's
Presence in the world of space, so, too, can one miss perceiving HaShem's
Presence in the events that unfold in time.
To clarify what he is saying, the Sfas Emes refers us to a posuk in Mishlei
(13:16): "Kohl arum ya'aseh beda'as; u'kesil yifrosh iveles." (ArtScroll:
"Every clever person acts with knowledge; but the fool broadcasts his
foolishness.") To understand how this clarifies matters requires a
digression.. Hence, we digress.
The Sfas Emes begins this digression by making an amazing statement. To an
outside observer, the lives of the tzadik and the rasha (the 'kesil') may
appear identical. For, both the tzadik and the kesil are involved in olam
hazeh. But, in fact, there is an important difference. The tzadik
integrates the penimiyus with the chitzoniyus; i.e., life's internal
reality -- of HaShem's Presence -- with life's external appearance -- of
HaShem's absence. Now comes the promised clarification: The Sfas Emes
reads the word "beda'as" in the posuk from Mishlei as "integrates" or
As you see, the Sfas Emes is going back to the primal meaning of the root
"yda": namely, to cling to, to unite, to integrate, Thus he reads the posuk
as telling us that the tzadik views life accurately, including both the
chitznoiyus and the penimiyus. By contrast, the kesil is "poreish,"
separates, from reality. Thus, a fool/wicked person lives with a distorted
view of reality, for he fails to see the world's penimiyus.
The Sfas Emes continues with this reading of the Hebrew root "yda" as
"bringing together." This perspective leads him to offer an insight on the
meaning of the phrase "yishuv hada'as". This state, which often eludes us,
refers to conducting oneself in a deliberate, thought-through manner. The
Sfas Emes explains that reaching a state of yishuv hada'as requires that we
unify our actions with our thought.
The Sfas Emes also applies this approach to clarify a key concept in
Yiddishkeit, the concept of "temimus". As you may remember, the Sfas Emes
followed the Medrash Raba in quoting a phrase in Tehilim (37, 18) -- "yemei
temimim". Quoting that pasuk raises the question; What does the word
'temimim,' or more generally, the much lauded quality of "temimus" actually
mean? The Sfas Emes answers that "Temimus" is a state in which one's
thought and action are one. In other words, a person who is "tamim" has
escaped from the tension and confusion of thinking one thing but doing
otherwise ; i.e., from cognitive dissonance.
Now the Sfas Emes moves on to another point. Why does the Torah (Bereshis,
23:1) use the complex phrasing of "Vayiheyu chayei Sara shenei chayei
Sara..." ? That is, "Sara's life was 127 years, the years of Sara's
life"? A simpler, more direct statement would have been "Sara lived 127
years." The Sfas Emes answers that the Torah is working here with an
allusion brought to mind by the two sound-alike words -- "chayei" and
"chiyus". Thus, the Torah is telling us that during her life ("chayei
Sara"), the chiyus (vibrancy, vitality) of the entire world was due to her,
the tzadeikes, Sara Imeinu . And similarly for other tzadikim in other epochs.
How does the tzadik deliver this remarkable achievement? By his teaching
and by his example, a tzadik can enable people to perceive real reality (in
which HaShem's Presence is manifest), which is hiding behind "reality" (in
which HaShem seems to be absent) .Thus the tzadik can raise everyday life
to a higher level of kedusha.
What about a take-home lesson from this ma'amar? One potential lesson
follows directly from our recognition that HaShem is "lema'ala min hazeman"
(not bound by the constraints of time). The Torah tells us to emulate our
Creator. How can we apply that commandment in this context?
The following possibility comes to mind. People often let the weather
govern their state of mind. Thus, on a cool day in the summer, they are in
good spirits. And on rainy days, they are more likely to take a negative
outlook on life. Such an approach is understandable; but it is also
Why is it regrettable? Because in surrendering his/her state of mind to
the weather, a person loses autonomy -- the freedom that HaShem gave us to
determine our own moods. I suggest that we make an effort to be "lema'ala
min hazema" -- autonomous beings, whose state of mind is above -- and
independent of the day's particular weather conditions.
To help us achieve this freedom -- and thus to resemble our Maker more
closely -- we even have a posuk in the Torah. In fact, as a daily reminder
of that goal, this helpful pasuk is included in the parshiyos contained in
tefilin. That posuk (Shemos, 13: 4) says: "Hayom ahtem yotze'im, bechodesh
he'aviv." ("Today you are leaving [the state of slavery in Egypt] -- on a
day in spring.") This posuk is telling us that if we will it, every day
can be a spring day!
Copyright © 2003 by Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Torah.org