Friday, February 26, 2010

Does A Kohein Need Ears ?

In the initiation rites that Moshe Rabbeinu performed for Aharon and the rest of the kohanim we find an interesting ritual. The blood of one of the sacrifices was sprinkled, not only on the alter, which is usual, but upon the kohanim themselves.

It stands to reason that if the kohein is to be my representative to Hashem, he needs to be dedicated to the purpose. So the hands and feet of the kohanim were baptized by the blood to symbolize their job as an extension of our hands and feet in performing the Avodah.

There was a third element in the sprinkling – the ear. What are we to learn from here ? Is the kohein supposed to be my ear as well ? Definitely not. Rather, we see that the kohanim are given the subtle message that to serve as the representatives of other Jews is only possible when they themselves are absolutely attuned to their own obligations. The kohanim must be able to hear clearly the commandments of Hashem and only afterwards are they fit to assist His people in their service of Him.

An additional thought; the kohanim's mouth wasn't sprinkled. This may teach us that despite the kohein being our shaliach in performing a given service – we need no intermediary to pray before the One above. We may not all be holy enough to bring korbanos – but we are all fit to sing the praises of our creator.

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Sin

The Torah teaches us that if a man sells himself into servitude the contract expires at the shmitta year. If the servant wishes, however, he may extend his service with his master until the year following the seventh shmitta, the yovel year. This extension is not without its price – the servant's ear is pierced.

Chazal, as quoted in Rashi, comment that the servant deserves this ear piercing because he obviously failed to heed the word of Hashem that he heard from Har Sinai.

This castigation is more appropriate for the second circumstance of forced servitude – the thief. He stole and cannot pay back so he is compelled to 'work off his debt'. When the shmitta year comes he should rejoice at his freedom. If the thief opts to stay on until the yovel he is actually demonstrating that he believes that the theft wasn't all that wrong – after all, how wrong could it have been if the resulting 'punishment' is one he would freely choose ? For that the thief deserves to have the ear that heard "Thou shalt not steal" pierced.

What of the man who went into servitude of his own free will ? What message from Har Sinai did his hearing fail to process, that he should merit a piercing at the point when he displays his affinity for the master / servant social order ? "For Bnei Yisrael are my servants", said Hashem, and not servants of other servants.

But what's so bad being someone else's servant ?

The underlying root of servitude is control. It's not a working contract, whereby one party agrees to render services to the other party. It's a declaration of (near) total subservience to another person. Why would anyone, of their own volition, relinquish their freedom and acquiesce to a state of servitude – what would they gain ?

Every state has advantages and disadvantages. While freedom carries with it the obvious advantage of self determination, it also carries the responsibility for the morality and justice of that determination. A person giving up that freedom is also saying goodbye to that responsibility, the responsibility of exercising that determination correctly. It is this action that the Torah felt needed to be punished with a piercing.

Hashem created us in His image and placed us here in this world to improve ourselves and the world around us. Our single most powerful tool is our divinely mandated free choice. One who willingly deprives himself of this tool is truly ignorant of the lessons of Har Sinai.

And what of us ? We can take heed from the eved ivri – cherish our freedom and realize that the responsibility that we must exercise along with our freedom is both a testament to Hashem's great faith in us – and a major part of our service to Him.

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, February 05, 2010

In My Face

In the second commandment Hashem instructs us not to have any other gods. It seems this commandment is limited to a particular location - "על פני". While the simple meaning of this condition is not to have other gods in place of Hashem, we can also translate it to mean "in my face".
Hashem is sending us a subtle message. The polytheistic idolatry that was the mainstay of the Egyptian society was very accommodating of other gods. The incompatibility in belief systems lay in the necessary exclusivity. Egypt could accept that Hashem existed - what they couldn't accept was the turf infringement.
And so, Hashem seeks to remind us that it is "perfectly acceptable" to believe in and worship other gods if we do it outside His jurisdiction. But since no such place exists this is actually a reinforcement of a pivotal lesson - the same lesson that the Shulchan Aruch begins with - "שיוויתי ד' לנגדי תמיד " I place Hashem before me always.

Hatzlacha !!