VOLUME 72 NUMBER 3 August 15, 2014 Av 19, 5774
This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in the merit of a speedy recovery for Daniel Halpern (Dov Shmuel ben Nechama Rivka).
In G-d’s Heart
by Rabbi Raphael Leban
A certain well-known radio talk-show host was discussing the correlation between Torah and science. Commented one caller: “What are you wasting your time for? The Torah can’t be true. Right at the beginning a supposedly omniscient G-d asks Adam, ‘Where are you?’ Shouldn’t He know where Adam is?!” Needless to say, the caller was perfunctorily dismissed.
From the beginning of the Torah to the end, we find examples of G-d doing pretty earthly things. He breathes life into Adam. He bargains with Abraham about Sodom. He remembers His covenant with us.
Throughout Tanach there are references to G-d’s ‘body.’ His hand smites the Egyptians. His finger works wonders. He turns His face towards us.
We read of G-d’s emotional state. Sometimes He gets angry with the Jewish People, at times He is a jealous G-d, more often than not He loves us.
And right ‘In the Beginning…’ the Torah tells us that G-d created man in His image.
Are these the descriptions of an omnipotent, omniscient being or an influential next-door neighbor? Do we look like G-d looks? Does He act like we act?
When we use human terms to describe G-d, it is called anthropomorphism. We attribute human characteristics to G-d, even though they are totally inappropriate and inadequate to describe Him. G-d has no arms, legs or head. He does not have mood swings, moods or even emotions. He has no corporeal presence and does not forget anything that ever was, is or will be.
Why, then, does the Torah use these terms to describe G-d to us, if they are inaccurate? Why does G-d ask Adam, “Where are you?”
Let me ask you, do you think you could develop a close personal friendship with trigonometry? Ever spend some quality time with China? How about dedicating yourself to world history?
We are humans, and as such, we relate best to other entities with human character traits. It is next to impossible to create intimate bonds with something abstract or outside our realm of human experience.
G-d, in His magnificent reality, is beyond our understanding. We cannot fully grasp His unlimited essence from our vantage point in this finite world. What we can appreciate is the way in which He relates to us. By using human expressions and interacting with us in human terms, we can relate to Him. And that’s the first step towards building the relationship with Him that we were created for.
Said G-d to Adam, “Where are you?” Explain our Sages of the Midrash, this was to enter gently into conversation with Adam, to prevent him from being so terrified of punishment that he wouldn’t be able to communicate. Similarly, G-d said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” and to Bilaam, “Who are these men with you?” When speaking to us mortals, G-d makes a point of opening conversations softly. Since closeness to Him is what He created us for, we should be awfully glad that He does.
by Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum
There are those who criticize the current administration in America. People claim a breach in democracy, an erosion of individual rights, monitoring of our private conversation and too much tinkering with our health care coverage. Too much authoritarian control of society. However, on further examination, this is apparently exactly how Hashem conducts His supervision of Israel.
The Torah states that Israel is unlike Egypt, where the people irrigate their farm lands from the Nile. In Israel, we depend on rain, which is meted out by Hashem. As if to say that there is a tight manipulation of the economy in Israel based, as it were, on the ‘whim’ of Hashem. Additionally, the next verse confirms that Hashem controls everything when it says that He constantly seeks what is taking place in Israel. Certainly sounds like a strong-armed government which doesn’t allow for too much self-autonomy. Maybe the president is on the right track?
Rashi there emphasizes a very important point about the fact that we need rainwater in Israel. Hashem has our welfare in mind. Unlike Egypt where the people must attend to the irrigation needs of their fields, in Israel Hashem is focused on our needs and provides for our well-being. Whereas in Egypt they need to irrigate their crops, Hashem assures us that we can rest at night and He will tend to our crops. All of our fields will be managed and they will receive ample water for the crops to flourish. What a deal! Free water, a bumper crop and you don’t have to do anything!
The next part of the parsha is the portion that we read twice daily with the Shema. Hashem will give you all that you need. However, there is a provision that needs to be met. We must observe the Torah and the 613 mitzvos that constitute its ‘charter’. Then Hashem will deliver his part of the bargain and arrange our affairs so that we may prosper. (Therein already lays an essential difference between the US government and the celestial government, Hashem.)
However, the distinction is much more profound. From this Torah portion the Talmud derives the obligation of prayer. When the Torah mentions we must ‘serve Hashem with all of our heart,’ it alludes to davening. If we raise our eyes to Hashem and implore Him, we have the opportunity to anticipate that He will benefit us from his inestimable bounty. For when we realize that our welfare is dependent upon Hashem, we have elevated ourselves into a new dimension, that of the spiritual. Although the return of our supplications is often tangible, nonetheless, the true benefit is not tangible; it is the enhancement of our innermost resource, our soul. When our essence connects with its source, Hashem, then we have embarked upon the path towards perfection.
Nachmonides points out another elucidating facet about Israel. Essentially, it is arid and not appropriate for agricultural development. As we are aware, the ingenuity of our people residing in Israel has led to constantly discovering new techniques and technology to transform the hostile environment of the land to be fertile and lush. This reality bears down upon us with the realization that if we do not harken to Hashem’s voice, there will be deterioration, for the land is essentially harsh and barren. We must realize that the phenomenal advancement that has occurred is actually a hidden miracle that Hashem has afforded us. And, of course, this is only possible within the context of observance of the Torah and its mitzvos.
Ohr HaChaim adds yet another idea which will gain us a favorable reception in Hashem’s eyes. He cites the Midrash that the wording of this portion of the Torah intimates that when we perform a mitzvah, we must do it with joy and happiness. If we serve Hashem begrudgingly, we lack genuine passion and as a result the mitzvos that we do are flawed. When we serve Hashem inadequately, we are treated accordingly. Although we shouldn’t only do mitzvos in order to receive a reward, still we must realize that if we live incomplete lives of Torah, Hashem will also minimize His generosity.
Joke of the Week
What’s a buccaneer? Expensive corn.
A BYTE FOR SHABBOS
Even though there are many mitzvos that do not our day-to-day interactions with others, but are just between a person and G-d, nonetheless His infinite kindness G-d rewards us not only in the next world, but here in this world as well.