Sunday, April 6, 2014
ACHAREI MOS – GOING FORWARD
In the midst of the Parsha’s outline of various Mitzvos, the Torah exhorts us with regard to our observance of the Torah in a general sense: “Perform My Laws, and guard My Statutes, to go in them, I am HaShem.” The meaning of the words, “to go in them” are unclear; what is this adding to the command to observe the Torah? The Ksav Sofer answers by explaining the Tanach’s use of the word with the opposite meaning of ‘going’ that is, omed, which means standing. It is used in relation to Malachim (Angels), as it says in Yeshaya, “The Serafim [a type of Malach] stand opposite him.” Malachim ‘stand’ in the sense that they remain stationary in their spiritual level, they have no connection to the concept of ‘growth’. Therefore, in contrast, the Torah tells us to be in a state of ‘going’, which means that we constantly strive to improve our spiritual level and to avoid remain standing still. The Ksav Sofer makes a similar point in Parshas Bechukosai on the opening verse: “If you will go in My Statutes, and keep my Mitzvos, and do them.” The Ksav Sofer writes: “It is not enough that you keep the Mitzvos every day on the same level as on the previous days, rather you should constantly go from one level to a higher level, and perform the Mitzvo in a better and more praiseworthy fashion.” We see from the Ksav Sofer that in addition to keeping the Mitzvos, one must constantly strive to go forward in his Avodas HaShem (Divine Service) and that ‘standing still’ is not an option. It seems further, that with regard to human beings there is no such concept as ‘remaining on the same spiritual level’, rather one is either going forward or backwards and it is only Malachim who are able to remain stationary without going backwards. This idea is expressed in a drush explanation of the prohibition of going up steps when approaching the Mizbeach (Altar) when approaching to perform the Divine Service. Instead of steps, they were to build a ramp going up to the Mizbeach. Why must one go up a ramp as opposed to steps? When climbing up a steep ramp, one must exert forward movement merely to remain still. If he tries to be stationary, the steepness of the slope will cause him to actually go backwards. He will only remain in the same place with a certain amount of forward pressure, and he will only advance with a greater display of forward movement. In contrast, when one walks up steps he is able to stay still without fear of falling back since the surface he is standing on is flat. This teaches us that when one approaches Divine Service, he must actively exert himself in order to remain stable, and to go forward he needs to exert himself greatly. The modern day analogy of this is trying to go up an escalator that is moving down. This explanation however, begs a new question - why is it the case that when a person makes no active effort he actually goes backwards as opposed to staying stationary? The reason is that the yetser hara (negative inclination) makes a constant effort to bring a person down in his spiritual level. Therefore, if the person is not making any active effort to go forward then it is inevitable that he will be going backwards since the yetser hara will be busy pushing him back and there will be no counteractive force to keep him steady. One may still ask that we look at many people who do not seem to be making any active effort to grow and yet they seem to remain on the same level, it is not obviously apparent that they are deteriorating spiritually. It seems that there are two aspects to the decline that takes place. One is that on a very subtle level the yetser hara does gradually weaken a person in his Avodas HaShem. This is such a subtle process that it is not evident to onlookers, and normally even the person himself is unaware of his gradual decline! The second way in which he goes down is that the longer he doesn’t work on areas where he is lacking he falls deeper and deeper into the trap of habit. The more a person continues with his bad habits the harder it becomes to pull himself away from his erroneous behavior. Only by great effort will he be able to break his bad habits. We have seen how fundamental active growth is to Avodas HaShem and how there is no option of standing still in one’s spirituality. This lesson is very pertinent as we strive to learn the lessons from the recent Festival of Pesach; Pesach is the time when the power of renewal is at its highest level. A person who resolved to make a strong effort to grow in his Avodas HaShem will receive great siyata dishmaya (Heavenly help) on Pesach. Even after Pesach is over we are now in the time period of Sefiras HaOmer (Counting of the Omer), a time that is particularly powerful for working on one’s character traits in preparation for the Receiving of the Torah. Obviously, it is important that a person not take on too much in his efforts at growth, perhaps it is more advisable to take one area where one feels that he is in something of a rut, and make a concerted effort at growing in that area, whether it be more care in one’s Shabbos observance, Torah learning, prayer, guarding one’s speech, marriage, parenting or any number of areas. If one really dedicates himself to grow then surely the lessons of Pesach will enable him to succeed. .