Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Beshalach, Shemos 17:16. Amalek and Marriage

This is from the translation I did for Artscroll/Mesorah of Reb Moshe's journal, with some changes and an addition.

 וַיֹּאמֶר כִּי יָד עַל כֵּס קה מִלְחָמָה לַה' בַּעֲמָלֵק מִדֹּר דֹּר     
And He said, the hand is on G-d's throne: G-d will be at war with Amalek for all generations. 
The verse uses an abbreviated form of the Hebrew word for throne, כֵּס, and the two letter Name of Hashem, קה, rather than the full name.  Rashi explains that the abbreviated forms indicate that Hashems' Name and Throne are diminished so long as Amalek exists.  
ומהו כס, ולא נאמר כסא, ואף השם נחלק לחציו? נשבע הקב"ה שאין שמו שלם ואין כסאו שלם עד שימחה שמו של עמלק כולו, וכשימחה שמו יהיה השם שלם והכסא שלם

With this in mind, the Gemara in Sotah (17a) seems, at first, perplexing.  The Gemara says that Hashem placed the letter yud in the Hebrew word for "man" איש and the letter hei in the Hebrew word for 'woman' אשה so that the Name of Hashem (Yud and Hei) would be formed upon their union in marriage.  If Hashem desired that the union of husband and wife be graced with His Name, why would He choose the incomplete Two-Letter Name as the signature of His Presence?  

The answer is that while it is true that Hashem graces each Jewish couple with His Name, He provides only a foundation, upon which the couple must build a true Jewish home.  Hashem's contribution, while essential, is only a beginning.  It is only the good works of the couple that can complete the Name that is present in their home.  If they succeed in doing so, then true blessing will surely follow, as the passuk states in Shemos 20:21, בְּכָל-הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַזְכִּיר אֶת-שְׁמִי אָבוֹא אֵלֶיךָ וּבֵרַכְתִּיךָ.  wherever I mention My Name, I shall come to you and bless you.  (here ends the slightly modified translation of Reb Moshe's dvar torah.)

A friend pointed out that the Name of G-d that is formed by the union of husband and wife is not a product of the letters aleph and shin, which they have in common.  It is a product of the letters yud and hei, the letters which they do not have in common.  Hashra'as Hashechina, the presence of the Shechina in a Jewish home, stems from harmony- the dynamic harmonizing of their differing emotions and thought processes and perspectives.  As the Aruch Hashulchan says in his introduction to his sefer (found in the beginning of Choshen Mishpat, which was the first volume that he published of the set.)
תפארת השיר כשהקולות משונים זה מזה וזהו עיקר הנעימות
The splendor of music is when the voices are different from each other, and that is the essence of its beauty.

Now, let's think about this a little more. 
What's the point of Reb Moshe's vort?
Does it really say anything at all?  Let's see.  It says that a nice peaceful house is good, but it's only a beginning, that the people need to do more, that Avodas Hashem never ends, that you have to build on a good foundation.  Is there any insight here, anything here at all that we didn't know?  Is it, chas veshalom, a platitude?

No, Reb Moshe never said platitudes.  His mind constantly worked on many levels, and careful attention to what he wrote and said revealed some of that thought process.  Here, Reb Moshe chose to emphasize the positive aspect of his observation - that if a person builds on the gift Hashem granted, then bracha will surely come to the house.  But he is teaching another implicit lesson here, and it's not a comfortable one.   The lesson is that a person who fails to take advantage of an opportunity, a person who rests on his laurels, a person who has achieved but can achieve more and fails to do so because he is lazy, that man is the brother of Amalek.  Whether passively diminishing by failing to do Hashem's work, or actively diminishing by doing wicked things - the result is the same.  This person is guilty of the same diminution of the Name of G-d as Amalek.  And this concept is expressed in Mishlei 18:9:
גַּם מִתְרַפֶּה בִמְלַאכְתּוֹ אָח הוּא לְבַעַל מַשְׁחִית

He, too, who is slack (weak) in his work is brother to the destroyer.

 As the Ramchal says in the Mesillas Yesharim on this passuk,

כי הנה העצל, אף על פי שאינו עושה רע בקום עשה, הנה הוא מביא את הרעה עליו בשב ואל תעש שלו. ואמר (שם יח, ט): "גם מתרפה במלאכתו אח הוא לבעל משחית" כי אף על פי שאינו המשחית העושה את הרעה בידיו, לא תחשב שהוא רחוק ממנו, אלא אחיו הוא ובן גילו הוא.
The lazy man, though not actively evil, produces evil through his very inactivity. We read further (Proverbs 18:9), "Also he who slackens in his work is a brother to the Destroyer." Though he is not the Destroyer who commits the evil with his own hands, let him not think that he is far-removed from him - he is his blood-brother.  (R' Aryeh Kaplan's translation)

So Reb Moshe's vort, properly understood, has a plangent resonance: A couple might say, our home is so pleasant and holy, why look outwards?  Why get involved in things outside of the house?  A person might say, "Look what I've achieved!  I've accomplished enough, I can relax, let others do the work."  These people need to know who is really talking.  That is the Amalek in our subconscious mind talking.  When you start thinking that way, remember that the mitzva of Mechiyas Amalek, the mitzva of restoring the Name and the Throne of Hashem, doesn't always involve taking a weapon in hand against 'the other'.

1 comment:

  1. The GRA says someplace that the word "kesuva" contains an extra vav and hey; it really could've been called a "ksav". Those extra letters are there to complete the Shem, so according to the GRA there is indeed a complete Shem.

    He adds that Rashi says Avraham's "pilagshim" is written without a yud, and therefore can be read "plag Shem", half of Hashem's name, because a pilegesh has no kesuva.