by Rabbi Heshy Grossman
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|"And he came upon the place, and he slept there, for the sun had set, and he took
from the stones of the place and set them around his head, and he lied in that
"And he dreamed, behold a ladder standing on the ground with its head reaching the heavens, and behold, angels of G-d going up and down upon it."
"And behold, Hashem stood above him, and said, 'I am Hashem, the G-d of Avraham your father, and the G-d of Yitzchak, the land that you are lying upon I will give to you and your descendants." (B'reishis 28,11-13)
" 'And he came upon the place' - Said Rav Huna in the name of Rebbi Ami: For what reason do we refer to G-d as 'HaMakom' (the place)? For He is the place of the world, the world is not His place." (B'reishis Rabbah, 68,10)
" 'V'Hineh, Hashem Nitzav Alav' (and behold, Hashem stood upon him) - R. Chiya Rabbah and R. Yannai, one says 'Alav' - 'upon the ladder' and one says 'Alav' - 'upon Ya'akov'. The opinion that says 'upon the ladder' is fine, but the one who holds 'upon Ya'akov', does G-d stand upon him?"
"Said Rebbi Yochanan: The wicked stand upon their G-d. 'And Pha'aroh dreamed, and behold he was standing upon the river [The Egyptians worshipped the Nile]. But the righteous, their G-d stands upon them, as it says, 'V'Hineh Hashem Nitzav Alav'. " (B'reishis Rabbah, 69, 2)
In this shiur we will explain these ideas, gaining new insight into man's relationship with G-d.
The underlying question in the Midrash is: who stands upon whom? Or, in other words: Who is depending upon whom for success? Does man rely on G-d, or vice-versa?
The declaration of our Sages is astounding; G-d stands upon man, it is the Tzaddik who consummates the Divine plan for creation.
Let us explain.
The essence of G-d is unknowable to human perception, Hashem is removed from the dimension of mortal man. Creation exists within a black hole, the spiritual vitality having been drained with the onset of physical life.
It is within this vacuum that man lives, independently capable of fulfilling his Divine mission, the restoration of holiness to this physical domain. G-d, in a sense, holds Himself back from revealing His presence to the world, allowing room for man's achievement. It is the fufillment of this task that grants man a place in existence, a well-deserved portion of eternity.
The wicked man, in contrast, views himself as the center of creation. He needs G-d to fill the empty void in his life, and to satisfy his unfulfilled needs. He stands upon his G-d, utilizing G-d's service to advance his own position.
He turns to G-d because he needs Him.
What could be wrong with that?
Let us first clarify another difficult problem.
Many non-believers are of the opinion that man created the idea of G-d. They explain that for many individuals, life without any sense of a higher existence is meaningless, a world filled with pain and tragedy is insufferable, therefore, people have 'invented' the 'G-d' concept in an attempt to make life bearable.
What is our response to this assertion?
Only a wicked man could believe that.
The assumption underlying their claim is this: religion begins with man. Even more, existence begins with man.
In their view, there can be only one explanation for G-d: man needs Him.
Life can be understood only through the clouded and distorted lens of their self-centered existence.
A number of years ago, at a Jewish Community fair somewhere in the San Fernando Valley, I had a heated discussion with a non-observant, thirtyish or so, happy-go-lucky Californian. The details of our argument escape me, except his parting words: "Rabbi, I don't need your book, it's all right here, in my heart!"
His perspective is this: granted that the Torah embodies certain truths which G-d bestows upon life, enabling man to live a moral and just existence. I, personally, have nothing to gain from those particular words, because I have everything I need.
In other words, the only reason for man to follow G-d is the accordant benefit that accrues, a self-sufficient individual can make it on his own.
Life is not centered around man.
Whether Torah observance provides benefit, meaning, or even eternal life is irrelevant. We yearn for a place in existence, and life originates elsewhere, not in our own hearts. Religion begins with G-d, not man, and we strive to connect ourselves to His reality, not mold His presence to fit our perception.
A careful reading of the Midrash reveals an important idea.
We have explained that the Rasha uses G-d to build his own standing.
Unlike the popular view of an evildoer, the Rasha of Chazal may be a completely observant Jew. It is his outlook towards G-d and His law that is misguided. This alone is sufficient to classify him in the ranks of the wicked.
Consider the following: A young man, short on cash, wants a new car, to impress his friends and family. Desperate to realize his dream, he turns to G-d with his request, recognizing that only Hashem can satisfy his desire.
Is this right or wrong?
As we have said: The wicked man may very well be worshipping G-d, but he is doing so improperly. True, the young man understands that Hashem is the address, but he is serving himself, not G-d.
Avoda Zara includes more than worship of the wrong deity. Literally, it is only the service that is 'Zara', foreign to the Torah mindset. He has the right G-d, only the wrong method.
It is himself that he worships. He stands on his G-d.
But, don't we daven each day for G-d to fulfill our each and every need?
Here's an illustration: A woman complains to her husband, "Why don't you ever buy me flowers? You know that I just love red roses!"
"Okay", he says, "Here's my credit card, why don't you call the flower shop and have a dozen roses delivered each week!?"
"Wait! Why are you angry? Didn't you say you want roses?. I promise, you can order as many roses as you want!"
This man is a fool. She doesn't want red roses. She wants HIM to give them to her.
We do not pray for health, sustenance, wisdom, or all our varied needs because we want them for ourselves. Indeed, there is nary a word in Shmoneh Esrei that is couched in personal terms. Rather, we take every area of our physical life, and direct it toward G-d, saying: "Hashem, I want YOU to give me health, I want YOUR forgiveness".
We don't want the flowers. We want the relationship.
We don't need health or prosperity in order to improve our position. We want merely to enhance our service of G-d, and need his blessing so as to serve Him best. We yearn for the opportunity to have our physical capacities utilized as vehicles to reveal G-d's glory. We long for the Kiddush Hashem of G-d acceding to our requests.
We hope to transform our physical selves as tools in the unfolding of the Divine plan.
We use ourselves to build up G-d.
"V'Hineh Hashem Nitzav Alav" - G-d stands upon him.
There is a paradox in all this.
On the one hand, we refer to G-d as 'HaMakom', "For He is the place of the world". On the other hand, G-d's presence is completely dependent on the deeds of mortal man, His Hand hidden from human perception, relying upon man to grant Him space in this earthly domain.
R. Chayim Volozhin zt'l explains the term "Tzelem Elokim", man created in the precise image of G-d.
"He, His name be blessed, is referred to as 'Elokim', master of all forces. Every individual force in all the worlds, everything, He is the master of, bestowing power and strength every moment. They are all constantly dependent upon Him, to change them, or to arrange them, according to His will."
"Similarly, in this way, as it were, G-d created man, putting him in control of tens of thousands of forces, and worlds beyond number. He put them in his hands, that he should lead and direct them, according to his particular movements; his deeds, words, and thoughts, and the entire order of his actions, for good or bad...." (Nefesh HaChayim, Section 1, Chapter 2-3)
G-d places all creation at the mercy of man's good grace. The universe waits passively for the righteous man whose deeds will parallel G-d, elevating all existence. It is all at man's fingertips, from the depths of the earth, to the furthest reach of heaven.
Man is much bigger than we think. Ya'akov Avinu IS the ladder. His accompanying angels go up, while others come down, hardly believing that the earthly Ya'akov, a human being of flesh and blood, is the precise picture of the perfect man, engraved in G-d's image on the Heavenly throne.
G-d is the world's place; He IS the existence itself. Yet, there is no paradox, for he has placed all of existence in man's hand.
"How awesome is this place!", says Ya'akov, for Hashem has cradled all of Eretz Yisrael under his head. Indeed, the ladder of man's soul envelops all of life. Ya'akov Avinu, and his descendants after him, acquire their Makom in G-d's place, the land of eternity.
The world waits for us to wake from our slumber - "A'chein, Yesh Hashem BaMakom HaZeh, V'Anochi Lo Yadati"
Have a good Shabbos!
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