Parshas Chaye Sarah
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Hevron, in the land of Canaan. Avraham
came to eulogize Sarah and to cry for her. Avraham arose from before his
dead and said to the sons of Ches, "I am a stranger and a resident among
you. Let me purchase a burial place from you so that I may bury my dead."
This week's parshah begins with the death and burial of Sarah Imainu, and
provides a good opportunity to talk about a topic that is as much a fact of
life as is taxes: death and burial.
As we have mentioned before, death is a necessary element of life because
the body must dissolve. According to Kabbalah, the Original Snake imparted
a spiritual impurity to mankind that is so strong that it cannot be removed
from the body, for the most part, except through death and the dissolution
of the body.
Immediately Adam descended tremendously from his level, and so did the
worlds to where they are now . . . They became material, and so did Adam
and Chava. Their "clothing" transformed from clothing of light to clothing
of skin . . . (Sha'arei Leshem, p. 344-345)
In the future, the righteous will be dust, as it says, "The dust will
return to the land as it was" (Koheles 12:7), and it says, "You are from
dust and to dust you will return" (Bereishis 3:19); (Shabbos 152b). This
will occur a moment before Techiyas HaMeisim, when those who are still
living will die in order to dissolve the physicality of their bodies in
order to transform them from clothing of skin to clothing of light. Death
will not be the result of the Angel of Death then, G-d forbid, for that was
destroyed completely (Succah 52a) . . . but by The Holy One, Blessed is He,
Himself, in order to recreate them anew completely, like the body of Adam
before the sin when he entered Gan Aiden. (Sha'arei Leshem, p. 489)
I say for the most part because, according to the Talmud, the Jewish people
accomplished this when they accepted Torah at Mt. Sinai:
When the Snake came to Chava he imparted to her zuhama. When Israel stood
at Mt. Sinai, the zuhama ended. (Shabbos 146a)
and then de-accomplished it when they sinned through the golden calf. And
the truth is, even then they had died and were brought back to life again
anew, though they did not go through the stage dissolving in the ground.
Part of the reason for the dissolution of the body is to rectify the soul.
One of the pitfalls of life in this very physical world is that the soul
itself can, over time, come to identify with the body. So much so, in fact,
that it can mistake the well-being of the body for its own well-being,
which often runs contrary to the well-being of the soul. Having to watch
the body dissolve in the ground is lesson in the other direction.
Indeed, as the body rots, the soul of the person who lived like a body,
making materialistic gain his priority in life, the soul believes that it
is him, the soul, who is actually disappearing. Gradually, but surely, to
the horror of the soul, it watches its end approach with dreaded and
fearful anticipation, "kicking and screaming" the whole way, until one day
it is all over.
"AHHHHHHHH! WE'RE GONE!!!!" it screams out.
And then, it realizes, that it cannot be gone and also have a consciousness
of not being there. At that time, as the recognition of what must have
truly occurred hits the soul, it breathes a great sign of relief as it
dawns on the soul that it was the body that went, not it. Alas, it is still
alive, and always will be, and after having gone through that stage of
Gihennom (there might be others, depending upon the sins done in the
lifetimes), it awaits to inhabit a new version of its old body, one that
has been created without the effects of the Original Snake.
Why all this process? Because, wherever we think we're headed, ultimately
we're headed for the World-to-Come, and we're not yet dressed for the
occasion. As one can imagine, the World-to-Come is not like anything we
have, or can experience in this world.
You descended and the mountains melted because of You. [People] have never
heard, never observed, no eye had ever seen a god - except for You - that
acted for those who trust in him. (Yeshayahu 64:2-3)
On the simplest level, this posuk is talking about the Jewish people's
revelation of G-d at Mt. Sinai in this world. On a deeper level, the posuk
is understood by the Talmud to be talking about the final stage of history,
Olam HaBah - the World-to-Come. Thus, the Talmud reads this verse a little
Rebi Chiya bar Abba said in the name of Rebi Yochanan, "The glorious future
of which all the prophets prophesied is only for him who marries his
daughter to a talmid chacham, for him who does business with a talmid
chacham, and for him who gives of his wealth to a talmid chacham. But, as
for the scholars themselves, 'No eye has witnessed, G-d, besides You!'
(Yeshayahu 64:3). Happy is he who waits for it." What is meant by "No eye
has witnessed?" Rebi Yehoshua ben Levi said, "This refers to the wine
preserved in its grapes since the six days of creation." Rebi Shmuel bar
Nachmeini said, "This refers to Aiden which no eye ever saw. And if you
will ask, 'Where did Adam, the first man live?' It was only in the garden
[of Aiden]. And if you say that 'Garden' and 'Aiden' are the same, it says,
'And a river went out of Aiden to water the garden' (Bereishis 2:10),
[which shows that] 'Garden' and 'Aiden' are two distinct places." (Brochos 34b)
Not even Moshe Rabbeinu's eye, because a prophet can only prophecize about
what he has seen (Maharal, Gevuros Hashem).
Even Adam didn't experience the level of Gan Aiden that we are destined to
experience. How could he have had free-will and still be in Olam HaBah? How
could there have been a snake still in the world that could act as the
yetzer hara? And, even though Moshe ascended Mt. Sinai into Heaven,
received Karnei Hod - beams of light - and no longer needed to eat or drink
after he returned to the camp, it sill did not come close to the ultimate
experience of the World-to-Come.
Kesones Ohr - clothing of light - is the goal. And, we're not talking about
the wardrobe in your closest either. Kesones Ohr is what our skin has to
become to be able to rise from level to level and to receive the light of
G-d. It's hard to believe in or relate to such a concept in such a very
physical world as the one in which we live, but eventually, it will become
difficult to relate to how the world could ever have been so physical and
mundane in the first place.
. . . In Olam HaBah after Yemos HaMoshiach, from the seventh millennium
onward . . . the bodies will literally be transformed to Nefashos (souls),
and there will no longer be any physical eating. (Sha'arei Leshem, p. 502)
Difficult as it may be to believe, 5,790 years of history will only have
been a pit stop along the way to far more important and internal realities.
Though everyone lives in this world like it is all that counts, save a few
knowing and righteous individuals, and even though the events of today are
so overwhelming frightening and dominating, they mean little in the
ultimate scheme of things. In fact, even though Techiyas HaMeisim -
Resurrection of the Dead - may be between 210 to 214 years only, a mere 3.5
percent of 6000 years of history, it will make 95 percent of history seem
like a passing dream (at times a nightmare) only, something that feels real
at the time and to take up much time, but in fact, lasts only moments.
Thus, the Rambam made belief in Techiyas HaMeisim the thirteenth of the
Thirteen Principles of Faith, and the following will explain why.
I believe, with perfect faith, that the dead will be revived, at the time
that it is the will of the Creator, blessed is His Name . . . (Thirteen
Principles of Faith)
Even though the Rambam has referred to the resurrection of the dead in the
Future Tense, it is not so obvious. Indeed, if one pays close attention to
the wording of the Shemonah Esrai, he will notice that the Men of the Great
Assembly, who standardized the prayer service over 2000 years ago, referred
to Techiyas HaMeisim in the Present Tense: Mechaye Meisim - He is reviving
the dead. Is it a contradiction, or just two different levels of
discussion. The Leshem answers this question at length:
We see from the rabbis that, among those whom they consider to have no
portion in the World-to-Come, are those who do not believe that Techiyas
HaMeisim is a Torah concept (Sanhedrin 90a). Thus, the Rambam, with the
spirit of God that spoke through him, included faith in Techiyas HaMeisim
as one of the "Thirteen Principles," which are the cornerstone of Torah.
This seems remarkable! For what reason? As the R"Y Albo asked in his Sefer
Ikarim, in his first essay (Chapter 3): "If a person believes in reward and
punishment, but that it will be meted out in the World-to-Come and not that
we will return in bodies after death, why does this matter so much to the
Torah to the extent [that it considers belief in Techiyas HaMeisim] to be
one of the fundamentals?" The truth is, because much rides on this, and
without Techiyas HaMeisim it would seem that all of creation was only for
toiling and misfortune, and for the destruction of the soul of all living
beings, God forbid. For, if we consider how history has progressed from the
time that God created man on earth, it has been the posuk say, "As for man
- in glory he shall not rest . . ." (Tehillim 49:13). Adam did not repose
in his glory even one night, and all the generations until the Flood in
1656 were destroyed, save for Noach and his family. And, the next ten
generations from Noach to Avraham accomplished very little, except for a
few select individuals in each generations. Yafes and Shem set up houses of
study to teach the way of G-d but were unsuccessful; few followed after
them . . . Faith in God did not become widespread until Avraham Avinu's
time, once the 2000 years of Tohu came to an end in his fifty-secondth
year, as mentioned in Avodah Zarah (9a). Indeed, the rabbis called it is
called "2000 Years of Tohu," indicating that nothing worthwhile came from
those generations. After this, during the 2000 Years of Torah [that
followed], only Israel received Torah while the rest of the nations
remained in a state of tohu, without any real purpose. Even the Jewish
people [for the next 480 years] did not seem to have fulfilled the full
will of God, since we see from the Torah that the main objective was to
build the Temple. Only it is called the "Menuchah" (repose) and "Nachalah"
(inheritance), as the Torah says, "until now you have not come to the
repose or the inheritance" (Devarim 12:9), as it says in Zevachim (119a).
As the Zohar says, only in Shlomo's time did the moon reach its completion,
after the 15 generations from Avraham Avinu had been completed. Then Israel
was successful to the upper level. Yet, the night that Shlomo completed the
work of the Temple, he married the daughter of Pharaoh, and at that moment
The Holy One, Blessed is He, thought to destroy Jerusalem . . . (Shabbos
56b). Not even one night passed peacefully, just as the posuk said, "As for
man - in glory he shall not rest . . ." And how much more so has this been
the case during this [last period of history called the] "2000 Years of
Moshiach," of which 1,657 have already passed. Still we have yet to been
redeemed! Thus we find that from the time of creation until 5658, the world
has not merited to reach fulfilment for even a single day! It would appear
as if all of creation was for nought. However, belief in Techiyas HaMeisim
provides the correct answer. The depth of the matter is that Techiyas
HaMeisim is not a hope of man alone, but for every aspect of creation as
well from the time it was made until the end of history. All of it, all
that every existed at any moment in time, will eventually be renewed and
return rectified in Techiyas HaMeisim . . . Every aspect of Techiyas
HaMeisim that will come about for man, who is a miniature world unto
himself, will come to be for every detail that ever existed throughout
history. However, as we know from the Arizal, in truth, Techiyas HaMeisim
takes place every moment. For, the Sparks and Broken Pieces from the
Original Kings that died and broke, are constantly being elevated into some
form in this world. As we see, new things are constantly being created in
this world; there is not a moment when some new act is not occurring to
some vessel of creation . . . The world is constantly at work to bring its
potential into actuality for the sake of man, and in this way it is
elevated by becoming attached to man, who is the most important aspect of
creation. This is its life. All the potential that comes out in this world
is from the Sparks and Broken Pieces that are relevant to Olam Asiyah (our
physical world), and when man uses them for his benefit properly, that is,
in the service of God, causing his soul to ascend to God, then his soul
ascends with the reality of the Sparks and the Broken Pieces as well, which
return to their sources [above]. There they are renewed, and light and
blessing is added to them, literally resurrecting them . . . Thus, there is
no moment when they are not being rectified and ascend, and that is the
reason why they [the rabbis of the Men of the Great Assembly] worded the
mention of Techiyas HaMeisim [in Shemonah Esrai] in the Present Tense . . .
(Sha'arei Leshem, p. 505-7)
Thus, references to Sparks, Broken Pieces, and Kings aside, the Leshem is
revealing that Techiyas HaMeisim is not only a future event, but it is an
ongoing process as well. It's just that we can't see it. Instead, what we
see is just the opposite, waste, death, destruction, even in history as
late as 5764. However, as the Rambam points out, you have to know and
believe that this will come to an end, and the world will begin anew -
physically - with the type of utopian perfection we long for now but won't
taste until later.
Yet, explains the Leshem, that does not mean that Techiyas HaMeisim is not
already occurring. It is, on the spiritual level that is, beyond the range
of our physical eyes to see. And even that's not entirely true, for the
constant newness of things in creation for the benefit of man used in the
service of G-d is something we can see, and is very much a part of the
process of Techiyas HaMeisim.
That is why many of the blessings of Shemonah Esrai, including the building
of Jerusalem and the ingathering of the exiles is written in Present Tense
form. Until Moshiach comes, they are taking place, but on a spiritual
plane, in spite of what our physical eyes and mind tell us.
However, after Yemos HaMoshiach, then Techiyas HaMeisim will take place on
ALL levels, for all (good) aspects of creation. And then, as the posuk
says, G-d will finally be happy with His creation, and creation will shine
in its full glory.
Your children will recognize and know that their rest comes from You, and
through their rest they will sanctify Your Name. (Minchah, Shabbos)
These words from the Shemonah Esrai of Shabbos afternoon are interesting.
The "rest" to which they refer, obviously, is that of Shabbos. We ask G-d
for a perfect rest, one that brings with it a sense of security and
tranquility, and then we end off with the above words about the Children of
Israel recognizing who their source of rest really is, and about the great
sanctification of G-d's Name the rest creates. Why?
The reference to Shabbos is both general and specific. Shabbos is not only
the seventh day of rest for Klal Yisroel, but it also represents the Jewish
people's willingness to rely upon G-d, and His willingness to take care of
all of our needs, especially when we rely upon Him so openly, no matter day
of the week it is.
At the end of Parashas Beshallach, the nation of Amalek officially enters
the history of the Jewish people for the first time. As to why, Rashi
provides an elaborate explanation, providing an analogy about a father,
son, and a dog; the father, of course represents G-d, the son, the Jewish
people, and the dog always symbolizes Amalek. The father, who had been
carrying the son on his shoulders, placed him down on the ground, at which
time the dog but him. But why would a father do that?
Because, explains Rashi, to teach the son a lesson. Having become
accustomed to living above it all on his father's shoulders, the son forgot
that it was his father that was carrying him. To remind him of this fact,
he lowered his son into the world below, and as a result, the son became
vulnerable to the attack of the dog.
Likewise, explains Rashi, when the Jewish people asked Moshe, "Is G-d with
us our not?" it was as if they had forgotten that G-d had been carrying
them until that point. It was as if they had forgotten how easily they had
overcome and left Egypt, how easily their food and water was acquired, and
how miraculously they had crossed the sea and watched the pursing Egyptians
drown. I short, they had become accustomed to living in the safe
supernatural reality of being on G-d's shoulders.
So, G-d let them down into the world of Amalek, the very physical world of
Amalek, and all of a sudden, the dog came and took a bite. This
necessitated the appointment of a 3,000-man army, and a war fought with far
more conventional means than they had had to employ until that time. Even
Moshe Rabbeinu had to fend off exhaustion do his part to win the war.
But this had not been a punishment, but a lesson. It was meant as a
reminder of just who it really was who took care of the needs of the Jewish
people. It was to remind them of just how miraculous their existence had
been until then, and was meant to be. It had been designed to inspire the
Jewish people to want to return to their Father's shoulders once again, and
get out of Amalek's reality once and for all.
Just as the rotting of the body teaches the soul that it is a soul and not
a body, so too was the attack of Amalek, and any other nation for that
matter, was designed to teach the Jewish people that they don't belong in
the everyday mundane reality of the nations of the world. If we exist and
survive and succeed, it is because G-d made it happen, and not the nations
of the world.
Remember the Durban Conference? Remember how the Arab world tried to hijack
that conference and make Zionism racism, and how appalled we were as well
as other western nations? Did we ever imagine back then that 60 percent of
Europe would find Israel the greatest threat to world peace, or that
anti-Semitism would reach pre-1939 levels, and so quickly?
Not I. But it has, and Israel and Jews around the world face a level of
isolation we have not known for decades. Gradually at first, and now quite
quickly, those things that we Jews have attributed to our success and sense
of security amongst the family of nations, if you can call it a family,
have been taken away from us. The body around us is rotting, and with it,
we feel as if we are dying and are in danger of death.
As G-d told Avraham, and we know from the prophecies, the time will come
when the body of the Western world will dissolve completely, and like the
confused soul, we will awaken to see that we have remained behind. Then, we
will realize that our "rest" and "security" did not come from the nations
of the world, but that G-d had been carrying is all along. And, we'll
understand that all the anti-Semitism we experienced - the biting dog - was
all because we doubted the Presence of G-d amongst us.
G-d willing, that time will come sooner than later.