Sfas Emes Study List: Parashas Tazria and Parashas Hachodesh
In 5631 ( 1871 )-- the Sfas Emes's first year as Gerrer Rebbe--
Shabbos Parashas Tazria coincided with Rosh Chodesh Iyar. The Sfas
Emes said Torah on both topics, as well as on the closely related topic of
In that context, the Sfas Emes focuses on the words that begin the
special Torah> reading ( Shemos 12:,2 ) of this Shabbos : 'Hachodesh
ha'zeh la'chem'. ( Literally," 'This month shall be for you...'' ).. The
Sfas Emes had much to say on these words. Here are two of his thoughts.
As you might have expected, the Sfas Emes sees the word 'chodesh' (month)
as an allusion to the word 'chadash' ( new, fresh ). Thus he reads the
pasuk just quoted ('Ha'chodesh ha'zeh lachem ') as HaShem telling us: :
You have it within yourselves to find the Newness -- i.e., the Presence
of HaShem -- in everything that you do ('be'chol ma'aseh') ! .
Later in this ma'amar, the Sfas Emes reads 'Ha'chodesh ha'zeh la'chem' in
another way. The word 'chodesh' can also refer to the moon. Thus, the Sfas
Emes reads 'Ha'chodesh ha'zeh la'chem ' as giving Klal Yisroel a mission.
The moon ( " hachodesh " ) lights the darkness. So too it is our
assignment to shine light, and thus to find HaShem's Presence in the
Hester behind which He often chooses to hide Himself
As noted, this Shabbos coincided with Rosh Chodesh. This happy
coincidence gave the Sfas Emes good reason to quote what may have been his
favorite pasuk in all of Tanach --( Yekhezkel, 46:1 ). The pasuk, which
is the one he cites most often, says : "...Sha'ar hechatzeir hapenimis
haponeh kahdim yiheyeh sagur sheshes yemei hama'aseh; uveyom HaShabbos
yipasei'ach, uveyom HaChodesh yipasei'ach." (That is, "The entrance to
the [Temple's] inner court, which faces east, shall be closed during the
days of week-day activity, but it shall be open on Shabbos and on Rosh
The Sfas Emes reads this pasuk as telling us that on weekdays, access to
chiyus from HaShem is blocked. (I.e., the entrance to the inner court is
closed). But on Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh, the entrance is open, and we
have easier access to kedusha.. . The Sfas Emes adds that: with the
perspective on the world that we gain on Shabbos, we can keep our close
connection with HaShem on weekdays as well.
Sfas Emes, Tazria, 5631
This ma'amar begins with a reference to the first Medrash Rabba on the
parsha. That Medrash comments on a pasuk in Tehillim (139:5): "Ahchor
vakedem tzartani ..." (ArtScroll: "Back and front You have restricted
me ... ") Notwithstanding ArtScroll's effort to help, it is hard to
understand what this pasuk is telling us. Nor are we the only ones who
difficult to pin down the pasuk's meaning. This pasuk's message is so
unclear that Medrash Raba presents four (!) alternative ways -- of
The Sfas Emes quotes the interpretation presented by R. Yochanan: "Ahchor
vakedem tzartani ... Im zacha adam, nocheil shetai olamos -- hazeh,
vehaba". The pshat pashut of R' Yochanan's interpretation of this Medrash
is straightforward. He is telling us that if a person is priviledged, and
does things right, he/she will have a portion both of olam hazeh (this
world) and of olam haba (the world to come). Thus, Rabbi Yochanan is
reading the pasuk as: "You have formed me to take possession of olam haba -
- which comes after (ahchor) everything; and of olam hazeh -- which comes
before (kedem) everything." At this point, the Sfas Emes enters the
discussion with his reading of R' Yochanan's reading. The Sfas Emes
construes R' Yochanan as saying: If a person does things right, he
connects the two worlds. How does "connect" come into this discussion?
Simple. The Sfas Emes is reading the word "nocheil" in the pasuk as
coming from the same root as the word "nachal" (a brook, a flow). Hence,
he can see the word "nocheil" as meaning: to open a channel.
Thus, the Sfas Emes sees R' Yochanan's statement in Medrash Rabba as
teaching us an important fact of life. He is saying that as a consequence
of doing things right, a person opens a channel that connects olam hazeh
with olam haba. This link is crucial for the world's functioning. For, as
the Sfas Emes points out, this channel permits chiyus from olam haba to
flow to the Hester of olam hazeh.
(Yes. We are back to the problem of "Hester panim." -- HaShem's "hiding
Himself" from our view. If I remember correctly, the last time the Sfas
Emes and we encountered this problem was in Parashas Toldos. Note that
this problem has resurfaced despite such intervening experiences as the
Redemption from Egypt and the splitting of the Red Sea. Apparently,
Hester is so powerful a feature of reality that even witnessing those
extraordinary events had no lasting effects on our capacity to deal with
Continuing, the Sfas Emes asks: : if we do not connect the two worlds,
what would we gain from having olam hazeh? Apparently the Sfas Emes feels
that a world without a channel providing chiyus would not be
worth very much.
The Sfas Emes quotes the Mishna: "Kohl Yisroel yeish lahem cheilek
la'olam haba. (That is: "All Jews have a share in the world to come.")
The Sfas Emes reads this Mishna as telling us that in olam HAZEH, too, we
can have a portion of olam haba. How? By living in constant awareness of
HaShem's Presence, our lives here can also be illuminated by the "ohr
haganuz." ("Ohr Haganuz" is the brilliant light that HaShem initially
created for this world. But then -- seeing that this world does not merit
such bright illumination -- HaShem stored that light in olam haba.)
Thus, when the Sfas Emes speaks of our having a portion of olam haba in
olam hazeh , he had something very specific in mind: namely, ohr haganuz.
Having access to that bright light is especially meaningful in the context
of the Hester that the Sfas Emes mentioned earlier. For bright light can
enable us to see meaning and beauty that the darkness of Hester had
The Sfas Emes moves on to a new line of thought. We usually view the
imperfections of this world -- and hence the need to set the world
straight (tikun) -- essentially as "accidents" or anomalies from the
basic order that HaShem built into the world. Not so, says the Sfas
Emes. Those imperfections are part of the basic order deliberately
created by HaShem. Moreover, He also created us precisely to set straight
the world -- specifically with its imperfections. For this reason, as
soon as HaShem created human beings, He created Hester and klipa (the husk
of evil). For our role in this world is exactly this: to handle these
basic challenges to our serving HaShem.
This is the context within which the Sfas Emes sees the role of the
"ahdam hashaleim," a person who is complete, and who can therefore
complete creation. This person justifies all creation. How does
he/she achieve this powerful result? By focusing thought and action
on HaShem, the source of life.
Earlier, the Sfas Emes cited the text of the Medrash: " ... nocheil
shenei olamos." (That is, if a person does things right, he will have
two "olamos.") The pshat meaning of "olamos" is: "worlds." But the
Torah also has meaning via allusion. And in that mode, the Sfas Emes
reads the word as "he'eleimos": hidden realities.
Olam haba is obviously one such hidden reality. For it is beyond our
capacity to imagine what olam haba is. And olam hazeh is a second hidden
reality. Hester and klipa get in the way, making it hard for us to get an
accurate picture of reality. The Sfas Emes adds that to the same degree
that a person clings to the true reality of olam hazeh -- e.g.,
recognizing that HaShem is really there -- so, too, will he be privileged
to hold fast to olam habba.
This ma'amar is long and rich. In fact, so long and so rich that it may
be hard to remember any thing of the ma'amar after we finish reading it.
What can we retain once we have been through the ma'amar? People differ in
their tastes and interests. So, all I can do in this context is to
mention two images that have stayed with me with particular force as I
have learned Sfas Emes over the years.
One powerful image is the picture of the person who does things right, and
thereby opens a channel for chiyus to flow to our world. The other image
that stays with me is the picture of the gate to the inner court being
opened on Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh to give us easier access to kedusha on