Preparation and Spontaneity
Adapted by Rav Reuven Ziegler
Translated by Rav David Silverberg
Regarding the first verse of Parashat Vayikra, "And He called to Moshe," Rashi writes,
"'Calling' preceded every utterance, every speech, and every commandment. It is an expression of love, the expression used by the heavenly angels. To the gentile prophets, by contrast, He reveals Himself in expressions of transience and impurity, as it says, 'God chanced upon Bilam.'"
God reveals Himself to Jewish prophets only after having first called them, whereas to the gentile prophets He appears suddenly, by chance, without their having been previously informed. Unlike their gentile counterparts, Jewish prophets have the opportunity to prepare themselves for prophecy. This indicates the importance of preparation, especially in matters of sanctity.
The Kotzker Rebbe makes a similar comment on the following midrash (Tanchuma, beginning of Parashat Tzav):
"This is what is meant by the verse (Tehillim 89:7), 'For who in the heavens can equal God, can compare with God among the divine beings?' Said the Almighty, 'If I wanted a sacrifice, wouldn't I simply ask Michael, who is right here next to Me, to offer to Me a sacrifice? From whom do I want a sacrifice? From Israel!'"
According to the Kotzker, this midrash teaches us that the Almighty desires not the sacrifice itself, but the investment of the person bringing the offering. If God had really wanted the sacrifices themselves, He would have requested so from the angels in heaven.
This, too, tells us something about the value of preparation. Preparation for the performance of a mitzva bears profound significance, just as preparation for prophecy is of utmost importance. A mitzva loses much of its value when performed straightaway, with no prior emotional preparation. By preparing for a mitzva beforehand, one identifies with it more profoundly and infuses it with greater value. Indeed, this rule applies even beyond the realm of specific mitzvot: every spiritually meaningful experience requires prior preparation. The more the individual has thought about the approaching event and worked towards it, the more he will derive from that event.
For example, the festival of Pesach receives added significance from the intensive preparations in the preceding weeks. The halakhic problem of chametz could be resolved without the lengthy and involved cleaning process. Why do we need to turn the house upside down and clean every square inch? Let us not be so quick, however, to dismiss this time-honored custom. The cleaning process forces us to engage in preparation for the festival, which contributes significantly to the emotional impact of the holiday itself. Expending all that effort cleaning results in a totally different Pesach experience!
Regarding Shabbat, as well, there is a mitzva to prepare in advance: "They shall prepare that which they bring." The Gemara (Beitza 2b) posits that an egg laid on a Yom Tov that occurs on a Sunday may not be eaten, since we view it as having been prepared on Shabbat, and "Shabbat does not prepare for Yom Tov." But if so, why do we not forbid any egg laid on a Sunday (even if it is not Yom Tov), since it too has been prepared on Shabbat? Rashi (ibid., s.v. Ve-ein) answers that Yom Tov meals require special preparation, which cannot be performed on Shabbat; weekday meals, however, do not require any special preparation. This added importance of Shabbat and Yom Tov meals derives from the concern that we adequately prepare ourselves for these days in advance. In other words, spiritually meaningful phenomena require preparation.
Herein lies the meaning behind the concept of "erusin" - engagement - in Judaism. The relationship between husband and wife becomes warmer and stronger as a result of a prolonged process of preparation. The inherent problem with the institution of the "pilegesh" (concubine) is the fact that a man lives with a pilegesh without the process of chuppa and kiddushin, and the two thus undergo no preparation for their lives together.
This also explains the common custom to recite "Hineni mukhan u-mezuman" ("Behold, I am prepared and ready") before the performance of mitzvot. One cannot jump right into a mitzva without prior preparation. In fact, the Gemara (Berakhot 30b) tells us that the "pious ones of old" would wait an entire hour before beginning to pray, so as to properly focus their minds in anticipation of their encounter with the Almighty.
There is, however, one important exception to this general rule: acts of kindness and charity are meant to be spontaneous, stemming from one's deep love for his fellow man. Hence, the Maharal explains that we do not pronounce a blessing before fulfilling a "mitzva bein adam le-chavero" (interpersonal mitzva) because this would defeat the purpose of the mitzva. Imagine if before giving charity, the donor insisted on dipping himself in the mikve, putting on his gartel and saying both "Hineni muchan u-mezuman" and a berakha; in the meantime, the pauper might drop dead! Furthermore, this would be treating the pauper as an object through which we fulfill a mitzva, not as a brother for whom we instinctively care.
Undoubtedly, spontaneity has its place in Judaism, but in general, the rule is always to ensure careful preparation. This message is especially relevant to Purim. Amalek represents the secular view that all history is mere chance and essentially meaningless. In contrast to that world-view, we maintain that God acts within history, and we must behave accordingly. We must act only after careful thought; only then will we truly succeed in maximizing our spiritual potential.
The Gemara (Megilla 7b) asserts that "one is obligated to get intoxicated on Purim until he cannot differentiate between 'Blessed be Mordechai' and 'Cursed be Haman.'" Does Judaism really encourage this state of uncertainty, the inability to distinguish between good and evil? The answer is that the Gemara here teaches one to strive occasionally for a level of such straightforward thought and reasoning that one need not engage in complex questioning, nor experience doubts, nor undergo excessive pondering. This is the condition of the simple, spontaneous Jew, who worships God out of a genuine sense of joy and contentment, like a drunkard.
Thus, Judaism does leave room for spontaneity, but specifically on Purim, after an entire year of preparation for this moment. If one properly prepares oneself for Purim, then one can go into Purim with simple and spontaneous joy. Otherwise, without proper preparation, one cannot allow the spontaneity to burst forth, as one has no idea where such spontaneity will lead.
Thus, even on Purim, the secret of spontaneity lies in prior preparation, in the refining of the personality throughout the year which ensures that the spontaneous outburst of Purim will reveal a pure interior.
(Based on summaries by Matan Glidai and Jeremy Winson.
This sicha was delivered at Se'uda Shelishit, Shabbat Parashat Vayikra-Zakhor, 5755 .)