In this week’s parsha, regarding the makka of Barad (hail), it says something very interesting. Like many of the makkas, the makka of Barad had a condition within the makka. The condition was that anyone who came indoors or entered his livestock indoors was unaffected by the plague. Anything in the field would be destroyed, but if the Egyptians would heed the word of Moshe and enter themselves indoors, they would be saved.
The psukim then recount what actually happened during the plague. It says, “those who feared the word of Hashem chased his servants and livestock into the houses. And whoever was ‘Lo Sam Libo (did not place the words of HaShem on his heart), he left his servants out in the field.”
On the surface, these verses are hard to understand. In the first verse, it says that those who feared HaShem would enter their possessions indoors. Along these lines, the pasuk should have continued “and those who didn’t fear the word of HaShem left their possessions outside…” However, the pasuk doesn’t say this. Instead of saying “those who didn’t fear HaShem”, the pasuk says “those who didn’t place HaShem on their hearts…” What’s the meaning if this? Why not just say, “those who didn’t fear HaShem?
I heard one answer once from Rav Doniel Kalish (the menahel of Waterbury Yeshiva) which I would like to elaborate on. He said that an explanation in the pasuk is that the idea of not fearing HaShem doesn’t really exist. Deep down, there doesn’t exist a person who doesn’t have a little inkling of heavenly fear. Even the greatest atheists of our day have a fear of HaShem. The only difference is that they don’t place their hearts on that fear; they’re not in touch with it.
To illustrate this, there’s a famous parable which Rav Yisroel Salanter used to relate. (The following is not the exact mashal, but it’s similar). Picture the following scenario: One day, the Coca Cola company publicizes a serious mistake made at one of its manufacturing outlets. Approximately 200 cans of Coke had accidentally mixed with a small amount of a different liquid which would cause a minor stomachache if drunk. How many people would stop buying Coke that day? Even for that one day, how drastically would the sales of Coke drop? The company would go out of business! No one would buy it! But why? Do you know what the chances are of getting affected by those cans of Coke? On average, the Coca Cola company produces 100,000 cans of Coke in the UK alone! That’s millions of Coke worldwide! The chance of getting one of those 200 cans of coke are microscopic! And even if you do, all it would cause is a minor stomachache! How many people would stop drinking Coke, even though the chances of getting that can are so small?
Says R’ Yisrael, it’s the same thing with fearing HaShem. Even if a person hasn’t been studying in Yeshiva to know how we know all the truths of HaShem and the idea of reward and punishment, likely, on the tiny percent chance that all those Jewish Rabbis dating back to Mount Sinai know what they’re talking about, wouldn’t a person feel compelled to fear?
The reality is that everyone has this fear. It’s innate. The only thing is that people try so hard to not believe. They try hard not to see HaShem. Many modern-day scientists aren’t looking for truth; they’re looking for ways to have an excuse for not believing in G-d. Rav Kalish said over a story with one of the other rebbeim at his Yeshiva. The Rebbe had just experienced the birth of his first child, and in his extremely emotional state, he couldn’t help but look at the secular Israeli doctor and say, “did you see that?! How could you not be religious after seeing something like that!?!” To which the doctor replied to him, “I know. It’s really hard”. The doctor had a hard time not believing in HaShem, but because of his convictions, he was able to not place HaShem on his heart, thereby ignoring Him.
I think we see from here a very powerful idea. The idea of not fearing HaShem isn’t simply not feeling the fear; it’s not thinking about it. It’s removing the self from that emotion, by numbing yourself to it. That’s the way a person removes HaShem from his life. Yet we see from here another point. That just as a person combats fear of Heaven by not thinking about it, the only thing a person needs to do in order to acquire it is to actively think about it. One should think of HaShem wherever life takes him. And when he thinks of HaShem, when he brings down HaShem’s presence into his life, then he’ll undoubtedly acquire this trait of “fear of Heaven.”
This week’s parsha is called sasum, meaning “closed”. Meaning there’s no space separating Vayechi and last week’s parsha, Parshas Vayigash as we find by every other parsha. The first Rashi in the parsha explains that the reason behind this anomaly is that the lev (heart) and ayin (eyes) of klal Yisrael were “closed” due to the death of Ya’akov. In an allusion to this, the parsha itself was left “closed”.
What does this mean? Obviously, Bnei Yisrael didn’t begin to lose their actual eyesight as a result of Ya’akov Avinu’s death. Rashi must be referring to our spiritual eyesight, the ability to truly see and feel the presence of HaShem. But why did Ya’akov’s death contribute to a lessening of this ability?
Chazal tell us that normally, when we have a space in between each parsha, the function and purpose of the space is to give time to be misbonein the previous parsha and process all the fundamental yesodos we just read. It’s to take all of the ideas we just gleaned from the Torah and make them relevant to ourselves.
With this in mind, Rashi isn’t merely telling us that we began failing to see and feel HaShem with Ya’akov’s death. Rather, the parsha was left sasum because we began to lose our ability to properly be misbonein about the Torah. Without Ya’akov Avinu, there’s no purpose towards having a space in between parshas for without Ya’akov we lost our ability to properly think and inculcate the Torah ideas within ourselves.
In more kabbalistic sources, each part of the body is likened to a corresponding middah. The “eyes” of a person correspond to kedusha. They’re the only part of the body which cannot receive even a small speck of a foreign agent such as dust without irritation and discomfort. The “heart” on the other hand, corresponds to tahara. Just as the process of tahara is the changing of a substance which was once tamei, so to the heart receives the blood from the rest of the body and “changes” the blood so to speak by infusing it with usable oxygen before dispersing it again to the limbs of the body.
This is the deeper idea which Rashi is alluding to. It isn’t that we physically began to lose our eyesight. Rather we began to lose our spiritual sight. When Ya’akov Avinu passed away, the galus began. The koach of kedusha and tahara in Yisrael began to diminish and wither away. In an allusion to this nekudeh, the parsha is sasum. Because we began to lose our kedusha and our tahara, we weren’t able to properly focus and inculcate the concepts of the Torah.
There’s a much deeper idea and penetrating insight which results from this train of thought. By leaving the parsha sasum, the Torah isn’t just teaching us what results from a diminished sense of kedusha and tahara- rather it’s also teaching us how to deal with it. It’s teaching us how to live our lives while still in the galus. It teaches us how to respond during the times when our avodah isn’t as it should be. The only way to deal with such a galus, is to look back. Because the parsha is sasum, its forever connected to its predecessor. This teaches us to always look back. To remember the times of enlightenment, when things were clearer, when our avodah was stronger. In the parsha, the Brothers knew that in order to deal with the diminishing kedusha in klal Yisrael, the only way to handle it would be to look back. To remember when Ya’akov Avinu was alive. To remember the times of light and the times when avodas HaShem was stronger. With that type of hisbonenus, a person can bring light even into a galus night.
This idea is a very important eitzah for the times in life when a person falls. So many people leave yeshiva, and after a short time in the secular world, realize that they aren’t holding where they used to be in avodas HaShem. Many just get disappointed and move on, because that’s just the way life is. Back in yeshiva, night and day were spent focusing on avodas HaShem and a clarity in life. But after yeshiva ends, ever so slowly the trivialities we tend to attribute so much importance to begin to take over. Our kedusha and tahara which we worked so hard on to build begins to falter. So how do we react? Does one shrug and accept it as a hardship of life? The Torah here is teaching us how to deal with it. Don’t just ignore it, rather think back to the times when you were in yeshiva, to the times when we loved davening and learning, when they weren’t a burden for us. When we remember and relive those times, we draw upon our power of inspiration. And with that inspiration, we can continue to grow, even amidst our dark galus night.