Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sons To The Heavenly Father

The prohibition against self mutilation ( a common mourning practice in ancient times ) comes with the following introduction : "You are children to Hashem, your G-d, do not cut yourselves ..." [Devarim 14:1]

Obviously, this special familial relationship is intended to give us some background depth into the prohibition.

Rashi, quoting chazal, tells us that princes and princesses should never be in a state of dishevelment - and that this is the equivalent for us.

The Ramban offers an explanation that runs dearer to my heart - often children don't understand the actions of their parents. What may seem as cruel ( taking away or limiting the candy intake ) is really for the child's best ( eating your weight in candy is unadvisable - which the child would probably do if left to their own devices ).

Now, with older children - they usually claim to have a monopoly on wisdom - frequently to the specific exclusion of their parents - but in our case there is no parallel - Hashem knows best, always.

And so the acts of mutilation - or any other extreme sign of utter despondency in mourning - is inappropriate because, deep down, we are just children and our Father In Heaven is doing what's best.

Oh, we may cry - because it hurts - that's ok - but to feel that life cannot go own because of this loss - that's inappropriate - because if G-d did it - He must have had a good reason. And the only consolation that we can have is that, we may not like it, but, the same hand that is taking away our loved one - is also holding us in a tight embrace - telling us - "shhhhhh - all will be well, eventually"

May we be zocheh to truly feel ourselves to be on the path to destiny, guided by the loving hand of G-d Himself - and may we always be able to put our pain in this perspective - that we don't/can't know why - just that there is a good reason.

Hatzlacha !

Friday, August 22, 2008

You Are What You Eat

"ויענך וירעיבך ויאכילך את המן ...למען הודיעך כי לא על הלחם לבדו יחיה האדם כי על כל מוצא פי ד' יחיה האדם"
[דברים ח:ג]

"And He tortured you and He starved you and He fed you the manna ... to instruct you that not by bread alone shall man live, rather, by all that comes from G-d's mouth shall man live" [Devarim 8:3]

How does the manna teach us that we must live by "…what comes out of Hashem's mouth …" ? What does the food we eat have to do with our listening skills ?

But the food we eat has a direct influence over who we are. Chazal discuss this with regard to the spiritual aspects of kashrus. Non kosher food causes a dulling of the heart ( טמטום הלב ). If the food we put into our mouths influences our actions – then it stands to reason that what comes out of our mouths is a direct result of that fuel. A "systems test", if you will. The Baal HaTurim actually states that this is the reason for the manna – Bnei Yisrael could never have received(, and subsequently learned, )the torah without it !

So the manna teaches us that what goes in influences what comes out – and it's what comes out which is the deciding factor. Why did G-d choose to give the Jews such strange 'bread' ? Maybe it's due to it's necessary, special mission of fueling the first encounter with torah learning.

Just like the manna produced no waste product – so too, are the words of torah complete – with nothing extra or irrelevant. And just like the manna could taste like many different foods – so too, does the torah have 70 'faces' ( multiple meanings, nuances and understandings can all be derived from a single word – or even letter ). And just like the falling of the manna proclaimed publicly the level of righteousness of it's recipient ( the manna could fall as close as the doorstep of the intended recipient or as far out as the fields surrounding the camp – additionally, it was either ready to eat or required cooking – all based on how much effort Hashem was willing to spare the recipient, due to his righteousness ) so too does our speech proclaim, rather publicly, our personal level of righteousness.

So the lesson of the manna is that what goes in may be important – but it's what comes out as a result that is the ultimate goal – and that while our speech is of paramount importance – it is the "speech" of Hashem ( the torah ) that gives us our very life.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Are You Carrying A Greater Burden Than You Realize ?

When Moshe Rabbeinu reviews with the people the last 38 years in the desert, he also recounts his own personal saga regarding his denied entrance into Eretz Yisrael. When describing Hashem's displeasure with his actions Moshe Rabbeinu uses a very particular appelation :

" ... ויתעבר ד' בי " [Devarim 3:26 ]

Literally, "And Hashem was impregnated (with anger) towards me ..."

When we are angry we actually create this alter ego of anger within us. We carry it around, and nurture it until it explodes into being with ferocity and spite. Anger can be a sudden lash out but it can also be this slow, growth process. This second type is more dangerous - since we aren't currently expressing our anger we may feel that we have conquered it, only to be rudely awakened when it is "born" in a future confrontation.

Yet another lesson in life that Moshe Rabbeinu includes in the "mussar shmooze of a lifetime".

Additionally, this parsha is always read directly after Tishaa Bav - perhaps this is a subtle reminder from Moshe Rabbeinu on how to fix the sinaas chinam that made Tishaa Bav into a tragic day. And once we conquer the anger within us and merit to serve Hashem with our whole hearts ( also in this week's parasha - see Shema ) we will merit to build for Him a temple in our hearts - and soon a physical temple in His Holy City - bimheira beyameinu, amen.

Hatzlacha !!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Who Is Judging Who ?

In part of the epic mussar shmooze that is sefer Devarim, Moshe Rabbeinu discusses one seemingly incongruous point. Judges were appointed by Moshe and given certain guidelines about their task.

"... Judge righteously between man and his fellow ... for judgment belongs to G-d ..." [excerpted from Devarim 1:16-17]

Why do we need to know the directions that Moshe gave to the judges of the people ? And why is this part of the instructive legacy Moshe leaves for the entire nation ?

This principle ( that Judgment is, ultimately, G-d's ) is understood differently by Rashi and the Ramban.

Rashi, quoting the gemara in Sanhedrin [8a], explains that when we pervert justice we are causing Hashem to have 'extra work' because if we would have done our job right then the proper party would have gotten his reward/punishment - by messing with justice we are requiring G-d to 'clean up our mess' and set things straight in a roundabout fashion.

The Ramban explains this idea in the following way : Justice will get done one way or the other - we can either be part of the solution or part of the problem - the choice is up to us.

This is perhaps why Moshe Rabbeinu addresses this point to the entire nation ( and not just the judges ). To the judges he cautions, like Rashi, to not put 'extra' work upon Hashem - and be liable for it. While to the rest of the people, Moshe assures them - like the Ramban - that justice will be carried out no matter what - so they need not be suspicious or distrustful of their judges.

As to why this is part of Moshe's final message to the nation - perhaps this point is more fundamental that previously assumed. At the core of any mussar speech is the 'reason' to do what's right - and as we've seen when we carry out justice we are doing things the way Hashem would have them done. Could there be any greater 'reason' than allowing Hashem Himself to use our mundane actions as instruments of His Divine Will ?

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, August 01, 2008

An End To Exile

The "accidental murderer" is one whose actions are criminally negligent - but cannot be considered deliberate. So instead of being sentenced to death for his crime, he must sit in exile in one of the cities that are populated by the holy tribe of Levi until the death of the Kohen Gadol.

There are many interpertations of the message behind this unusual sentence. Most classic being that the Kohen Gadol somehow has the power to elevate the nation from a level of carelessness for the personal saftey of our fellows to a level of proper concern. And so the Kohen Gadol is tainted by this crime as well and must atone for it with his life, in the fullness of time.

But perhaps there is a different angle as well. It is known that we are never punished by G-d in a manner designed to harm us, rather, Hashem's justice is meant to be instructive and guiding us in a proper direction - much in the same way that a guard rail would hurt if we ran into it headlong - even though it is just there to prevent us from falling over the edge.

With this in mind let us examine the exile of the "accidental murderer". The tribe of Levi devoted themselves to serving Hashem - whether in learning His Torah or serving in His Temple. Any long term association with these tzaddikim would hopefully rub off on the receipient. And how much "rubbing off" will the murderer need to mend his ways ? Depends. It depends on his level of absorption of the righteous ways of the Leviim.

And what is the capstone ? The death of the Holiest Levi of them all, the Kohen Gadol. When the Kohen Gadol dies, all who are affected by the loss are moved to pledge themselves to fill the gap that he left. Since he is no longer around to perform this mitzva or another, we attempt to 'cover' and raise our standards of righteousness in his honor. And when the 'accidental murderer' has lived with the Leviim and identifies with their loss - he will also be moved to resolve to better his ways by this tragic loss. This will complete his teshuva - thusly earning hs freedom.

And what about us ? Are we not in exile ? Is Hashem not waiting for us to 'raise our game' and thus earn our deliverance ?

In this period of mourning for our losses - may we merit to increase our righteousness and become the jews we need to be to merit the geula sheleima, bimheira beyameinu, amen.

Hatzlacha !!