Wednesday nights - Rav Benzion's Tanya shiur..........Please continue to daven for the good health of the Rebbe (Yechiel Michel ben Devorah Leah) and Rebbetzin (Feiga bas Sarah).

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Emor: The Only Way Up is Down

Which Way is Up?

There is a concept in Chassidus called yeridah l’tzorech aliyah, literally translated as “a descent for the purpose of ascent”. The Sifrei Chassidus describe it harshly, yet consider it a signally essential step in the way people grow spiritually. When a person feels compelled to move beyond where they are, there is a sense of needing to grow, a tugging feeling. It can be felt as a certain intolerance of remaining where you are: “I just can’t stay here anymore. I’m not getting anything out of this. I need to move on.”

A person feels that they need to move from where they are. That feeling comes from a sense of being tugged at, drawn upwards. It could also be a feeling of just no longer being able to stay where one is, being pushed from behind. Whether it’s a pull from above or a push from behind, the idea is that a person understands the need to move.

But then something seemingly drastic happens. As soon as one commits to take the next step up, the rug gets pulled out from under him.

Spiritual Progress is Not Mathematical
Generally speaking, people move forward incrementally. You learn how to add and subtract, then how to multiply and divide. Eventually you get into fractions and from there to algebra, geometry, and advance to trigonometry. It’s learning how to crawl before you walk. The step of learning how to walk follows from and is built upon learning how to crawl. Learning division after multiplication is a logical step forward; it’s one step up from addition and subtraction. Calculus is going to be a logical progression from a previous acquisition of mathematical skill.

Whereas that is all true in the physical world, when it comes to the acquisition of a new spiritual level, it is not attainable through a simple step upward. By definition, the spiritual is always a movement towards the infinite and the infinite is never achievable through any kind of incremental movement, from any kind of a finite step. You can’t get from the finite place you want to leave to the next step in the rush to the endless (Ein Sof). There’s no way to attach yourself to something boundless from a limited state.

So what happens next is at the same time painful and confusing, yet it is the signally requisite step that will allow one to make the jump from “here” to “there”. The Ribono Shel Olam takes away everything. You suddenly find yourself in a heap at the bottom of the staircase. You find yourself in this pit and in the distance you see where you want to go but you don’t have any way of getting there because the ladder is gone, the steps are gone, there is no rope.

How We Understand Mesiras Nefesh

We need to understand that the determination and commitment to reach the new plateau must be so intense that our mesiras nefesh (self-sacrifice) to get there has no bounds. Mesiras nefesh is a renunciation of self in pursuit of a goal. We need to figure out how to reach a point where my comfort and convenience, my limitations, are not a consideration.

Take, for example, somebody whose child is kidnapped, chas v’shalom. The parents must find out where this child is. There are no bounds. They stop all considerations of eating, of sleeping, of going anywhere, of doing anything. There are no considerations. It’s a focus which is boundless in the way it consumes their energy. They’re completely focused on finding that child. Their self disappears in the pursuit. That’s what mesiras nefesh is. It is a commitment to get to that place. It doesn’t matter whether I eat or sleep. I’m not going to rest during the day. I’m no going to rest until I get where I’ve got to go.

The really crucial factor here is in the renunciation of self in pursuit of the goal, because it’s only when the self and its limitations are set aside that you step into the infinite. It’s only when you remove your own finiteness and the yearning becomes the consuming factor that you step into the appropriate place where you can make an acquisition of the infinite. As soon as your person disappears that’s when, all of a sudden, the infinite reappears.

It goes back to raw yearning. It goes back to the fact that I saw a place where I could be closer to Hashem. In order to get there I’m willing to set aside myself in every way so that there’s nothing there but this limitless yearning to get closer to Hashem. That’s what brings me into this new space. Hashem says, “You can’t have Me unless your desire for Me is so profound that when I take everything away from you, I am still all you want”.

Pulling Someone Else Out With You

The Maor Einayim speaks about another aspect of yeridah. When a person finds themselves struggling to get up from a very dark place, given the interconnectedness of Klal Yisroel, his effort to move from that depth is one that connects others who are lost in those depths and don’t have the ability to get out on their own. Because they are now in that abyss, they pour this immense yearning into getting where they need to go. That energy is now a shared energy and they’re able to bring these other neshamos with them.

In a much subtler sense, there’s a concept that people of greatness will find that for a moment they’ve lost their connection. Or they’ll find in a given moment that there’s something that they consider a faithless act or a faithless thought, maybe an anger or frustration with Hakadosh Baruch Hu or a sense of despair, but something which is inconsistent with them. The seforim say that this is orchestrated from above. This person may not necessarily deserve to feel this rejection, but Hashem needs for them to struggle to recover their place. Whether they do teshuvah or they are yearning to be restored to their former level of G-d consciousness, whatever they do in the moments of struggle becomes part of the resources for all of Klal Yisroel and now Klal Yisroel has this energy. There is this concept in Chassidus of something happening to a great Tzadik for the sake of sending off a ripple across the surface all of Klal Yisroel that Klal Yisroel can connect with.

Knowing that this is how it works can at the very least help us when we suddenly find ourselves without steps or a ladder; we know we should not despair. It looks like we don’t have a clue of how to get to where we need to go, but we understand that there’s no other way to get there other than to go through this process. We won’t feel that we’ve just been rejected. The concept of yeridah l’tzorech alyiah, that there is no other way to get there, is an integral part of the growth experience spiritually. Additionally, the energy we put into getting out of the pit will help jump-start someone else as well.

Wisdom, My Sister

At the beginning of Parshas Emor we find the following: “And to his virgin sister who is related to him who has not been unto a man,” (meaning never been married), “for her he shall make himself impure.” Among his immediate relatives, a Kohen may become impure for his sister as well, but only a sister who has not been married.

In Maor Einayim, Rebbe Nachum of Chernobyl brings the pasuk, “And you will say to wisdom you are my sister.” The “virgin sister” in Emor is referring symbolically to a level of wisdom that he sees from afar, that is yet untouched. Its “hakarov eilav”, it’s close to him. It’s the next step but he has yet to reach it. He has not made that acquisition yet.

The Torah tells us, “for her he shall become impure”, for the sake of that acquisition he’s going to become tamei. He’s going to be pushed away; he’s going to descend into this abyss, this darkness. He’s going to feel himself become tamei and the only way he can get to the that new place of wisdom is by experiencing this distance. Achoso habesulah hakrovah eilav, it’s so close to him, asher lo haysah l’ish, it’s a new place, he’s never been there yet. “Lah yitamah”, in order to make this his own he’s going to lose his ground.

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