Ingathering of the Sparks

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Bechukosai
Ingathering of the Sparks

Two boys got into an argument when finally Shmeryl said to Beryl, "You know what, you're a piece of dirt", to which Beryl replied, "Thank you for the compliment." When Beryl noticed the puzzled face on Shmeryl, he explained to him how being compared to dirt is actually an accolade. And this is what he said.

Parshas Bechukosai begins by telling us that if we study Torah and do Mitzvos, then the rains will fall and the earth will produce its fruits (Lv. 26:3-4, Rashi citing Toras Kohanim). We often find in the Torah that reward is described in terms of rain coming and punishment is described in terms of rain being withheld. This draws our attention to rain. But first let us explore the nature of earth.

At the end of the Shmoneh Esrei (the Silent Prayer) it says, "V'nafshi K'afar Lakol Tihiyeh" (let my soul be like dust to everybody). Let us why we would ask Hashem to be like dirt.

The Zerah Kodesh (Rabbi Naftaliof Rupshitz, Parshas Ha'azinu) teaches that we find a most interesting ability that the earth possesses. Although the earth is filthy, it nevertheless produces the most beautiful things. More spellbinding is the fact that if manure is poured onto the earth, it produces even healthier and more beautiful produce. How can such beauty stem from something so dirty and so foul?

The Zerah Kodesh explains the mechanics behind this in the following way. He says that God endowed the earth with a power to sift out and extract the kernel's worth of good even from the most disgusting places. That "good" is the holy spark that is buried even in the most unlikely of places. It is from that spark of holiness that beautiful vegetation grows.

This is the intent behind the sentence, "V'nafshi K'afar". We are asking Hashem to make us just like the earth, meaning, just as the earth has the power to extract the good from the bad, so may we be blessed with that same power. After all, we came from the earth and as such, we should have the same ability as the earth . But, we ask Hashem that just as the earth succeeds in executing its power, so may we be successful in accomplishing this goal.

Let us explain the history of holy sparks for just a moment. Since Hashem created this world, there is an impression of God in all things that He created. The impressions are the sparks of holiness found in all things. The sparks buried in the physical world are actually extensions of God who testify that God created all that exists. The sparks long to be reunited with Hashem. When we utilize the objects of this world in the service of God, we automatically extract the sparks from their physical shells and join them once again to the Divine Presence from where they came.

The Shvilei Pinchas points out that when we sift the holy sparks from their materialistic garb, we are partnering with the earth. The earth began this process by extracting the holy sparks from the ground producing fruits, and we continue to extract the holy sparks found within the fruits by eating for the right reasons and by reciting the appropriate blessings over them.

The Tiferes Shlomo shares another layer of understanding to the prayer V'nafshi K'afar Lakol Tihiyeh". He points out that the earth sustains all creatures. I was thinking that this could be why we refer to this planet as "Mother Earth." It is because the earth is like a mother. Just as a mother sustains her child by nursing him, so does the earth sustain her children by providing them with the nourishment they need.

The Tiferes Shlomo goes on to say that the earth is also very humble. We can see this from the fact that people constantly "walk all over the earth" and yet the earth does not get upset and take revenge. On the contrary, it continues to provide. Not only that, but the earth merited to be the "mother of all living things" because of its humility.

He says that humanity should take the lesson of humility from the earth. This is actually what we are praying for when we say, "V'nafshi K'afar", meaning, may I be as humble as the earth. Then we go on to ask, "Lakol Tihiyeh", meaning, in the merit of our humility, "Tihiyeh", let us be able to provide bounty, "Lakol", to everybody.

Once we have the merit of providing for everybody by causing the earth to yield its fruits, we can then be involved in extracting the holy sparks from the fruits. By doing so, we are once again "K'afar", like the dirt that continually does this (Shvilei Pinchas).

The Zerah Kodesh goes on to say that the earth cannot extract those sparks on its own. It needs outside help because right now the sparks are imprisoned in the shell of physicality and "A captive cannot release himself from prison" (Berachos, chap. 1, "M'eimasai", pg. 5b). The outside help is the rain that pours down. Only with the two together does vegetation grow. Since that vegetation stems from the sparks, both earth and water are participants in this process.

The Arizal adds that the rain represents the masculine sparks from above. However, the earth contains the feminine sparks below. When the sparks from above begin to pour down and assist in the redeeming of the sparks below, the lower sparks begin to stretch and jump to reach the sparks from above. This demonstrates how much the lower sparks desire to be reunited with the Divine Presence (See Rebbi Shimon ben Elazar, Yerushalmi, Ta'anis, chap. 1, M'eimasai", Halachah 3, pg. 4b).

When the sparks get liberated, it is like they are being gathered from their exile because presently they are scattered across the globe. When we successfully gather in all the sparks, then Moshiach will come and gather all of us in from our exile (Arizal, Likutei Torah, tehillim, 84:7). This is why Rebbi Yochanan compares a day of rain to the ingathering of the exiles (Ta'anis, chap. 1, "M'eimasai", pg. 8b). It is because when it rains and the sparks come out of the ground clothed in vegetation, it is the beginning of the ingathering of exiles. When we use the food of the ground to serve Hashem better, we elevate the sparks even more, completing the process of gathering the sparks to God. This will lead to the ingathering of the Jewish people, because when we gather the sparks in, measure for measure, we will be gathered in.

The Arizal explains that this is why the Torah describes punishment in terms of preventing rain. In a broader sense, this tells us that if it does not rain, then the sparks will not be gathered. Subsequently, we will not be gathered in from our exile. In other words, the Moshiach will not come. There can be no greater punishment than that.

However, the Torah describes reward in terms of rain. This teaches us that when it rains the sparks will be gathered. Consequently, we will be gathered in from our exile. In other words, Moshiach will come. There can be no greater reward than that.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that just like the earth cannot bring forth the sparks without rain from above, similarly we (our bodies that come from the earth) cannot bring forth sparks without rain from above. The rain from above for Man is the Torah that is compared to rain water (Rebbi Chaninah bar Idi, Ta'anis, chap. 1, "M'eimasai", pg. 7a).

Incidentally, rain always trickles down and rests in the lowest of places. This teaches us that Torah will only be found in people that conduct themselves in a low and humble way. This is all included in our prayer.

V'nafshi K'afar, may I be as humble as the earth. Then the Torah will rest in me. This is why the very next words of that prayer say, "Open my heart to Your Torah". When the Torah pours down on Man, then beautiful Mitzvos sprout out and come forth. That is why the very next words of that prayer say, "May my soul run after Your Mitzvos."

All of this ties right into the beginning of our Parsha which says that if we immerse our bodies in Torah study, then we will do the Mitzvos. Then God promises that there will be rain and produce that will come from the ground. The comparison is clear. When we bring "Torah rain" onto our "earthy bodies" and produce "Mitzvah fruits", then God will bring rain on the earth which will produce fruits as well. Both of these scenarios share a commonality which is the elevating of the sparks.

Perhaps we could carry this lesson with us on a daily basis. From now on, when we pray the Shmoneh Esrei and get to the words, "V'nafshi K'afar etc..." let us concentrate on the following five points:

1) I want to be as humble as dirt (V'nafshi K'afar).

2) Therefore, I want to deserve receiving the Torah (P'sach Libi B'Torasecha).

3) Subsequently I want to be able to perform the Mitzvos (U'bemitzvosecha Tirdof Nafshi).

4) Additionally, I would like the merit of bringing sustenance to the world (Lakol Tihiyeh).

5) Ultimately, I would like to be able to extract the holy sparks as the earth does (V'nafshi K'afar).

Each day, let us use this sentence to motivate us to improve ourselves in this area, one drop at a time.

So, may we all be blessed with dirt-like humility, in order that we rise to greet the Torah that rains down upon us, producing the greatest Mitzvah fruits that sparkle with Divine light, and witness the coming of Moshiach and the ingathering of our exiles, speedily in our days.