By Nosson Chayim Leff
Sfas Emes, Zechuso Tagein Aleinu, Parshas Shemini, 5631
It helps to begin with some background information.. This ma'amar is built
on an insight that the Sfas Emes had from his grandfather. The Chiddushei
HaRim offered a comment based on an explanation that the Toras Kohanim
gives on a pasuk in our parsha. (Note: Toras Kohanim is a classic
commentary -- from Tana'itic times -- on Sefer Vayikra.). Because of its
layer-upon-layer structure, to understand this ma'amar, we must first see
the pshat pashut (simple/surface understanding) of the pasuk that the
Toras Kohanim presents. Then we can proceed to the (very different)
reading of the pasuk that the Sfas Emes and his grandfather offer.
Early in the parsha (Vayikra 9: 6), the Torah tells us: "Zeh hadavar
ta'asu veyeirah aleichem kevod HaShem." (ArtScroll: "This is the thing
that HaShem has commanded you to do; then the glory of HaShem will appear
to you.") The Sfas Emes quotes the comment of the Toras Kohanim on this
pasuk: "Oso yeitzar hara ha'aviru mile'vavchem, ve'siheh'yu kulchem
be'eitza achas le'shareis lifnei HaMakom. Kesheim shehu yechidi ba'olam,
kach tiheyeh avodaschem meyuchedes lefahnav. Ah'sisehm chein? Veyeira
aleichem kevod HaShem."
(That is: "Rid yourselves of that evil inclination and be united in your
service [of HaShem]. [Further,] just as there is only one HaShem, so, too,
shall your service be totally unique and single-minded. If you achieve
that quality in your service, you will have access to the glory of
As you see, the Toras Kohanim is working with the pasuk's word "zeh". And
the Toras Kohanim reads "zeh" as: "this -- and only this -- shall you do."
I suggest that this reading leads the Toras Kohanim to see the pasuk as a
warning against two specific evils. One pitfall to avoid is factionalism .
The Toras Kohanim voices its concern about divisiveness with the
words: "vesiheyu kulchem be'eitza achas" ("and be united"). That "eitza
achas" follows from the pasuk's word: "zeh" -- this and only this -- way
shall you proceed.
The other danger against which the Toras Kohanim cautions is ambivalence --
i.e., being of two minds about our relationship with HaShem. We see this
admonition in the use of the plural in the word "levavchem"
(your 'hearts'). And again we see the Toras Kohanim is working with the
word "zeh." That is, this -- and only this - shall be your avoda; i.e., be
single-minded in your relationship with HaShem.
So much for the pshat pashut (simple/surface meaning) of the Toras
Kohanim's comment. Citing his grandfather, the Sfas Emes offers a
different reading . The Sfas Emes focuses on the word "ta'asu" - "you
shall do". The Sfas Emes explains. The Torah is commanding us to do all
our "asiyos" -- our physical actions -- as "asher tziva HaShem" : with an
awarerness of HaShem's Presence. In reality, everything in this world
conveys a message of HaShem's Presence. For we know something about
that 'everything' -- namely, "Hakohl bara lichvodo". ("Everything that
HaShem created was to proclaim His glory") . Thus, if only by
implication, analogy, or allegory, accurate perception of reality can
enable us to perceive HaShem's Presence. Hence, it should be feasible to
live our lives in a constant, interactive relationship with HaShem.
Note that the Sfas Emes is saying something very different from the
familiar: "Kohl ma'asecha yiheyu lesheim shamayim" In that standard
principle we are told: "Let everything you do -- your eating, your
sleeping, etc. -- and as the Ba'al Shem Tov added -- even your Torah study
and your tefila -- be to serve HaShem".
The Sfas Emes is telling us that HaShem is present in all creation. But
the Sfas Emes is also fully aware that HaShem's Presence is hidden. From
these two facts of life, the Sfas Emes draws a powerful conclusion: that
we bear a responsibility to reveal to the world that HaShem is really
there. How do we do it? By being aware in our mundane, everyday activities
of HaShem's Presence. In other words, we are all called to perceive
HaShem's Presence -- not in remote mountains nor in isolated Bah'tei
Medrash -- but "toch ha'asiya mamash". Thus, "zeh hadavar ta'asu " is
telling us to be aware of HaShem while we go about our normal human
The Sfas Emes concludes: by so doing we can reach a state in
which "Ve'yei'rah aleichem kevod HaShem" (the glory of HaShem will appear
to us.) You may ask: what is so wonderful about that? The answer is
straightforward. Living one's life with a constant sense of being in the
Presence of HaShem must truly be wonderful.
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Torah.org.