Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Faithful Messenger

This week's Haftara tells the story of the two spies that Yehoshua sent to Jericho, "וישלח יהושע ... שנים אנשים מרגלים חרש לאמר לכו ראו את הארץ ואת יריחו .../Yehoshua … sent two men as spies secretly saying, 'Go observe the land and Jericho …" (Yehoshua 2:1) Spies, by definition, are on a covert mission. When Moshe sent the twelve spies, the pasuk does not say that they were sent secretly. It's obvious. Why then, does the pasuk tell us that Yehoshua's spies were sent secretly?

The Midrash[1], in a play on words, infers that they disguised themselves as potters. (חרש/secretly, חרס/pottery) Why is this significant? The Midrash is teaching us something fundamental about the nature of spies specifically and messengers in general. 

The Chiddushei HaRim explains. Clay vessels are unique in that they only become impure when an impure object is inside them. If an impure object touches the outside of a clay vessel, it has no effect. The reason, notes the Chiddushei HaRim, is that clay is the simplest material from which vessels can be made. In and of itself, clay has very little value. A clay vessel is only as valuable as its function. The inside of the vessel represents its function. The outside represents the material of the vessel. Therefore if impurity touches the outside it has no effect. The outside – the clay – is unimportant as a material. If impurity is on the inside, though, the vessel becomes impure. The inside – the functionality – is what gives the clay value.

Spies, too, are only "valuable" as messengers when they are totally devoted to the mission for which they were sent. If they have their own agenda as well, they are no longer solely messengers of the one who sent them. They are on their own mission. In that case, they have "value" apart from their mission.

The Sfas Emes generalizes this principle and applies it to our lives. We are all messengers in this world. We are here on a mission. In order to truly be messengers, we must be totally devoted to the mission to the exclusion of our own personal desires. Our bodies are simply vessels that we can use to accomplish our mission. 

It is our tool for bringing holiness into the world and honor for God. The main thing is the holiness within each of us that lasts forever. "יבש חציר נבל ציץ ודבר א-להינו יקום לעולם/Grass withers and blossom wilts, but the word of our God stands forever." (Yeshaya 40:8) Everything in this world contains a holy hidden spark. Our physicality hides the spark. When we view our bodies as simply vessels here to perform a function, then that function is revealed. When we dedicate ourselves to achieve God's will, the spark – the word of God that stands forever – is revealed.

That the holy spark is hidden means that the physical world appears to have an autonomous existence. The reality is that God is running the world. "... מלכותו בכל משלה/… His kingdom reigns over all." (Tehillim 103:19) We see this in the pasuk quoted earlier, "... ודבר א-להינו יקום לעולם/… and His word stands forever", as well, for the word דבר/word, also means "lead" in Aramaic. "ידבר עמים תחתינו .../He shall subdue (lit. lead) nations under us." (Tehillim 47:4) The pasuk can be understood as, "… Our God's leadership stands for ever." To the extent that we subordinate our own desires in favor of God's, God's running of the world is revealed. And this is our essential purpose. May we merit it!

[1] Tanchuma Shelach, 1

[Sfas Emes blog]

ובמדרש חרש שעשו עצמן קדרין ע"ש. כי שמעתי מאמו"ז ז"ל טעם שאין כלי חרס מקבל טומאה רק מתוכו כיון שאין לו מצד עצמו חשיבות רק מצד שיוכל לקבל בו. לכך החשיבות רק תוכו כו'. וזה הכלל. שצריך האדם לבטל כל החיצוניות שלו ולהיות בטל למה שהוא מוכן לעשות רצונו ית'. כי גוף האדם רק כלי להשראת הקדושה ולהיות נעשה ע"י כבוד שמים כמ"ש במד' הפסוק יבש חציר כו' ודבר אלקינו יקום לעולם כו'. פי' שיש בכל דבר ניצוץ קדוש ורק שיש עליו חיצוניות שמסתיר הקדושה וכפי מה שאדם מבטל זה ונותן נפשו רק להיות נעשה רצונו ית' כנ"ל זה דבר א' כי דיבור הוא הנהגה כמ"ש ידבר עמים כו' ובעולם הזה נסתר הנהגתו ית' כאלו הכל ברשות עצמו אבל האדם צריך לבטל עצמו להנהגתו ית' שיתרצה שיהיו כל מעשיו רק בהשגחת השי"ת ושהשי"ת יקרב לבבו לעשות הכל כרצונו ית' וכפי רצון האדם כן מתגלה הנהגתו ית' כי באמת מלכותו בכל משלה רק שנסתר הוא כנ"ל. [והוא כמו מאמר וע"י הביטול קם בחי' דיבור שהוא בהתגלות וז"ש ודבר אלקינו יקום]. 

[תרל"ג מאמר ג']