Parshas Re'eh 5758

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D'vekus is God Awareness

This Parsha provides an opportunity to elaborate on one of the most basic concepts of Judaism which is greatly emphasized in Chassidic thought and practice. This is the idea called d'vekus. Literally it means "clinging" or "cleaving" or "attaching" oneself to G-d. It however implies much more. It is the relationship of a parent to a child, of a husband and wife, one of ultimate devotion and commitment. Today we call it G-d Awareness. In practice it means being connected in thought, speech and deed to the Creator.

Parshas Ekev: "If you will keep the commandments that I have commanded, and you will love HaShem your G-d, to go in all His ways, and to cleave to Him. Then you will inherit the nations...." (Deut. 11:22-23)

Parshas Re'eh: "Follow Hashem, be in awe of Him, keep His commandments, obey Him and serve Him, and cleave to Him (u"vo sid'bakun)." (Deut. 13:5) (See also Deut. 4:4, 10:20, 30:20, and Joshua 22:5)

Psalms: King David expressed his longing for Hashem (while in hiding from King Saul) in the arid Judean desert. (v.2) ". . .my soul thirsts for You, and my flesh pines for You. . ". (v.9) My soul cleaves after You, for You have supported me." (Psalms 63)

The sons of Korach indicate their longing for the restoration of the Holy Temple. (v.2-3) Like a hart who yearns for springs of water, so does my soul yearn for You G-d. My soul thirsts for G-d, for the Living Almighty One, when will I come and appear before G-d." (Psalm 42:2-3)

Siddur Tefillah: (prayerbook) 1) "Enlighten our eyes with Your Torah, and let our hearts cleave to Your commandments in order to love and fear You." [in the Blessings before the Shema in the Shacharis (morning) prayer, in the section that begins "With a great love You have loved us. . ." (Ahava Rabbah). In some siddurim the section begins, "You have loved us with an eternal love. . ." (Ahavas Olam)

2) The poem that is recited in many congregations after Shabbos morning prayers, "Anim Zemiros", contains several expressions of longing to cleave to and unite with Hashem. The beginning goes like this:

"I shall compose pleasant melodies and weave hymns, because my soul yearns for You. My soul desires to be sheltered by You to understand every mystery of Your Being."

The Ramban zt"l in last week's Parsha (Deut. 11:22), gives a detailed description of d'vekus in action. "The principal of d'vekus is to constantly remember Hashem and your love for Him, and never to remove your thoughts from Him, whether on the way, when lying down or when awakening. And even while conversing with others his heart remains attached to Hashem's presence. . . People who have reached this spiritual level, live in eternity even while in this (material) world; they themselves are a dwelling place for the Shechina.

In our times, this theme was brought to fruition by the Baal Shem Tov zt"l and his disciples. The Ba'al Shem Tov absorbed this idea at a very early age from his father, who passed away when he was only five years old. Before his death, his father instructed him, "Remember my child that G-d is with you, never let this thought out of your mind. Go deeper and deeper into it every hour, every minute and in every place." Deeply affected, the Baal Shem Tov later remarked, "His words remained fixed in my mind and engraved in my heart. After his death it became my practice to go into seclusion in the forests and woods to in order reinforce these thoughts in my mind; that the glory of Hashem fills the world and that He is actually with me. (Ikkarei Emunah p.11)

The Ba'al Shem Tov also wrote, "It is a high level to continually see G-d in the mind's eye just as you would see a person. And you should be aware that G-d is also looking at you, just as a man would look at you. Always be joyful, believing with complete faith that the Divine Presence is with you and guards you. Meditate on this at all times. You are always looking at G-d and seeing Him, and G-d is looking at you." (Tzavas HaRivash)

Rebbe Kalonymus Epstein zt"l, in his fundamental book of Chassidic thought, Meor VaShamesh, writes, "While a person lives in this world he must have all his physical needs met; food, drink, clothing and a home. Nevertheless, in truth, every aspect of one's conduct should be centered not around oneself, but rather around Hashem, in order to see His true beauty; with the soul thirsting to partake of the sweetness and closeness of Hashem and his Shechinah. . . . Now if you maintain a continuous effort in yearning, and every day you increase your longing and desire for d'vekus with Hashem, then you and your body will become purified, and the even the physical will be transformed into spiritual." (Parshas Pinchas)

Rebbe Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira zt"l, the Piascetzna Rebbe, gives practical advice in his guide to spiritual growth, B'nei Machshava Tova. "Frequently during the day, whether at home or in the street, humbly consider: 'The entire world is G-dliness, the particles of earth beneath my feet, as well as the air I breathe within me. The reality of all that exists is G-dliness. Why then have I driven myself from Hashem's presence to become an independent non-spiritual entity? Ribbono Shel Olam, draw me closer to You and surround me with Your blessings in complete repentance.'" (Seder hadracha and Klalim #7) Not surprisingly, we find later in the Parsha, the ultimate expression of d'vekus. "You are children to Hashem your G-d. . ." (Deut: 14:1) This is the relationship of genuine unfailing love. When one remembers that he is a child of Hashem, he will certainly refrain from dipleasing his Father and thereby forfeiting the privilege of His presence.

The relationship has two sides though. Being a child of Hashem implies that we are the recipients of His special love. The Maggid of Mezeritch, the successor to the Baal ShemTov, explained this other aspect of d'vekus. A Jew must know, that when he is challenged or becomes overwhelmed by the circumstances of life, it is a message that Hashem wants him to come closer. Instead of focusing on the hurt, it is more advantageous to become aware of the distance that has come between himself and the Creator. This feeling is d'vekus. It can be used to launch a spiritual ascent. In fact, even a seemingly small disappointment can be used in this manner. The Sages say that even if one put his hand in his pocket expecting to find two coins and found only one, it is a message from Hashem. "Come closer, come closer", He is urging.

Furthermore, the Maggid explained, that after a person has had spiritual achievements, and feels d'vekus with Hashem, more likely than not he will experience a fall. Nevertheless, he must maintain his d'vekus with Hashem even if it dips to a very low or weak level. As long he remembers that his d'vekus to Hashem has left an indelible watermark on his soul, he has what is necessary to begin his ascent anew, as it is written, "A Tzaddik falls seven times and rises again." (Proverbs 24:16) He will be able to rise again to an even higher level of d'vekus. (R' Nachman Breslaver once mentioned how many falls he had taken in his efforts to grow in spirituality. When he finally stopped falling, he experienced a continuous spiritual climb for fourteen years before he had another fall.) Symbolic of this idea is the Kosel, the Western Wall. In spite of the fact that the Beis HaMikdash lies in ruins, the Sages revealed to us something that almost every Jew today knows (or feels) is true. "The Divine Presence never left the Western Wall." (Likutei Yekarim)

D'vekus is accomplished in one's thoughts. The Maggid of Mezeritch, gave some pointed advice. The path to wisdom is silence. Through silence, one can direct his thoughts with undeviating focus, increasing his d'vekus to Hashem. In another place, the Maggid offers this visualization: " Think of Hashem as not only a King whom one stands before in fear and awe, but also as a light that totally encompasses him. Then he can see that Hashem is contained within that light, as he is himself. There is unity, there is d'vekus.

Tefillin is another avenue toward achieving d'vekus. It is told that a certain Tzaddik once came to the R' Yisroel of Ruzhin zt"l after having paid a visit to Reb Zusia of Anipoli. The Ruzhiner wanted to know what he had seen there.

"When I entered his room", recalled the Tzaddik in awe, "Reb Zusia was wrapped in his Tallis and Tefillin, and the upper half of his body appeared to me to be burning with fire. Only after he removed the Tefillin did he slowly begin to take on the appearance of a flesh and blood man." Tefillin is a sign which identifies a Jew as being in unity with His Creator.

The Code of Jewish Law, the Shulchan Aruch, begins with a quote from Psalms 16:8. "I place Hashem before me constantly." Mitzvos are d'vekus. The best and most reliable way to begin one's d'vekus work is through the medium of Brachos (blessings). The principle of blessings is contained in a quote from the Midrash Tehillim. Rav taught, "When one makes a blessing he says, "Blessed are You Hashem. . .", as it is written, "I have placed Hashem before me constantly." (Midrash on Psalms 16:8) The fact that we address Hashem in the text of the blessing as You in the casual form, implies a certain type of closeness, of d'vekus.

A blessing is the ultimate expression of one's G-d awareness. By accepting on oneself the obligation to make blessings over food and other enjoyments, over mitzvohs and over natural phenomena, one is declaring that G-d is indeed Omnipresent, and His influence is the fabric of the world and all that is within it. Every blessing is an opportunity to reinforce this belief and deepen one's awareness of G-d's presence. This is d'vekus, and this is the essence of Chassidus.

Two short stories will illustrate the point. Once, some scholars, uninformed concerning the character of the Baal ShemTov and his path, came to a certain town where the Baal ShemTov was spending the night. They wanted to find out if the reports of the greatness of the Baal ShemTov were indeed true. They decided to pose some intricate Halachic questions in order to examine his erudition. The delegation arrived, introduced themselves and explained the reason for their visit. The Baal ShemTov, understanding their intentions readily agreed.

They began by asking, "When one has eaten a meal and forgot to say the Grace afterwards (Bircas HaMazon), and then travels one kilometer out of town, before he remembers that he forgot the Bircas HaMazon, what is the ruling?"

The Baal ShemTov, answered immediately, satisfying the concern of his visitors. "We", he promised them, "we don't forget to say Bircas HaMazon!"

Once a man brought his ten year old son to visit R' Aharon HaGadol of Karlin. As they were sitting and talking, Reb Aharon asked for a bowl of apples to be brought in. Reb Aharon and his guests each took an apple, with great intention recited the blessing, ". . .Borei Pri HaEtz. . ", and began to eat.

The boy thought to himself, "What is the difference between me and the Rebbe. He eats apples and also I eat apples. He makes a blessing and so do I. Even I could be the Rebbe someday."

Reb Aharon, attuned as he was to the thoughts of others, felt what the youngster was thinking. "Oh, there is a real difference between us my friend", divulged Reb Aharon. "When you wake up in the morning and look out the window, you see that there is a beautiful apple tree in your yard. You see the juicy, red apples growing on it and right away you can think of nothing else but those apples. You run to wash your hands, get dressed as quickly as possible, bolt out the door and scamper up the tree. You quickly decide which apple is to be your breakfast and open your mouth for the first delicious bite. You almost take that bite until you remember, just in time, that you must make a blessing before eating an apple. So you make the blessing in order to eat."

"When I wake up in the morning", continued Reb Aharon, "it is a different story." "When I wake up and look out the window I see a beautiful apple tree. I think about the wonder of Hashem's creation. I contemplate how this apple tree began as a small seed in the ground, and how it slowly grew year by year until one year it flowered and then apples appeared. I remember to wash my hands before I run outside to take a closer look at this amazing creation. In awe of Hashem and His Creation I want to make a blessing on the apple tree and its fruits. I begin to say the blessing, but then I remember, in order to make a blessing, I need an apple. . .!" The Talmud in Tractate Bava Kamma (30b), sums up these ideas. Rav Yehuda said, "One who wants to be a true Chassid (pious Jew), must fulfill the laws of Blessings." This advice is good for us today. Each blessing which one makes, represents a stride forward in ever increasing d'vekus to the Creator.

A Guten Shabbos!

The The Maggid of Mezritch is up on the Nishmas Chayim Website. Come and take a look.

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