Thursday, June 30, 2011

Do You Have It In You ?

In the perplexing field of tumah and tahara we find an interesting halacha. There are some levels of impurity that are so high that they transfer (or contaminate) everything within the same room or enclosure. This is called tumas ohel. There is an exception to this rule, however (where would we be without exceptions ?). If the item in question is resting in a tightly sealed, earthenware container, then it is saved or insulated from the tumah.


Chazal teach us that an earthenware vessel is different – it is only able to contract tumah from it's inside. Meaning – if it is filled with something impure – it will be impure – otherwise, it will retain purity even in the face of an entire ohel of tumah.

We could assume that this impregnability of the earthenware vessel is due to it's tremendous importance. That assumption couldn't be further from the truth. You see, it is precisely it's unimportance that enables the earthenware vessel to act as an insulator.

Most utensils are significant in their own right. As such, if they are in an area of impurity – they contract it. A simple earthenware jug, however, is only judged vis-à-vis it's inside. Since its only importance is to protect its contents – that is the only halachic reality it has.

I believe the same can hold true for us. If we over inflate our self image and strut around believing we are all that and a bag of chips – then we will be vulnerable to any impure wind that may blow our way. However, if we see ourselves as the custodians of a holy Torah and divine mitzvos, then we become so significant – we can even insulate against impurity when no one else can !

Hatzlacha !!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Into the Fire

The Gemara in the final lines of maseches Chagiga tells of the fate of the righteous in geheinom. Rabi Abahu states – the righteous will be unaffected by the fires of purgatory – in the same way that the mythical salamander is able to walk through fire unscathed.

R' Shimon ben Lakish states that even the sinners amongst the Jewish people will be spared from the fire's harmful effects since they are filled with mitzvos. His proof lies in the simile to the golden altar in the Beis Hamikdash. The altar, which was made of wood, had a veneer of gold that was a dinar's width thick. Even though the wooden altar should have burst into flames when the incense was burnt upon it – the golden covering was sufficient to protect it. So too, even the less-than-righteous amongst the Jews still have a solid layer of mitzvos to shield them from the fire.

The Vilna Gaon is quoted ( in the green book, פניני הגר"א ) as having made a distinction between these two analogies. The righteous, as represented by the salamander, are inflammable – they simply do not burn. Therefore the act of finding themselves amongst the fires of judgment poses no threat to them. The wicked however, do burn. Like the mizbeach, they are made of flammable wood – their salvation lies in the protective coating they managed to acquire.

When we look at ourselves in the mirror – what do we see ? Do we see imperfection with redeeming qualities ? Or do we manage to glimpse, even in one small corner of our lives, righteousness ? Even if we don’t see it there yet, at least now we know what to look for.

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Case Of The Upside Down Nuns

Sounds like a detective book for young readers, right?! Really we are referring to the letter of the Hebrew alphabet – nun or נון.

In the middle of parshas Beha'aloscha the torah interjects two pesukim that are bracketed with two upside down letters in the Torah – the letter nun. The Torah does this to separate between unfortunate incidents – so we shouldn't have an unbroken chain of negative parshiyos.

A closer look at the parsha would seem to indicate that the break is in the wrong place. After all, there are three 'calamities' that are described in the parsha – the Jews complaining about lack of meat, the Jews crying about forbidden relationships and Miriam speaking Lashon Hora against Moshe Rabbeinu - and they all take place after the nuns !

Perhaps what the 'nun break' is trying to teach us is that the one negative item mentioned before the break is equivalent to all three of the 'calamities'.

The Jews' travel from Har Sinai was described by chazal as the flight of a child from the schoolhouse. As if to say – please don't give us any more rules and restrictions. This negative behavior is somehow equivalent to all the misdeeds in the pesukim to follow – and why? Because it underscores the basic human failing that caused them.

Running from Har Sinai represented the ultimate in ungratefulness. The keys to the spiritual salvation of the universe had been placed in the Jews' hands and they resented the effort it would take to use them. This was certainly a flaw equal in magnitude to the others that the Jews exhibited.

What can we do to correct this flaw ? Every time we learn – we can linger at our seforim, just a drop – but enough to demonstrate that we wish we could have more. And what about those of us who have a difficult time learning ? We can close the gemara with the tiniest sigh – that we wish we didn’t feel relieved.

Hatzlacha !

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Nature Vs Reality

The Gemara in Shabbos (88a) teaches us that at Har Sinai Hashem held the mountain over our heads and told us that we must accept the Torah or else He would drop the mountain.

The Sefas Emes comments that this was not a manipulative action, designed to coerce a recalcitrant people. Rather, it was an inevitable outcome of reality. All of nature is totally dependant upon Hashem and his word and nothing has any existence outside His will. The looming mountain was just a physical manifestation of that lofty principle.

In Hashem's great kindness He cloaks reality in illusion and 'nature' so that we may be free to choose our path and be ennobled by our choice.

This Shavuous let us see Hashem's world as it is – an arena for us to declare and practice allegiance to the only reality that truly exists – the will of the divine.

May we be zocheh to accept His Will see it revealed over nature once again in the final redemption, speedily and in our days, amen.

Hatzlacha !!