Friday, July 29, 2011

אוהב שלום ורודף שלום

The Mishna in Avos (1:12) tells us that Aharon HaKohein was one who "loved peace and pursued peace". In fact, it was this quality that endeared him to the entire nation, causing them all to mourn him in his passing ( see Bamidbar 20:29 and Rashi there ).

How does one 'pursue peace' ? The actions seem to be contradictory. To chase something down and catch it requires forcefulness, tenacity and single minded conviction. These traits are the exact opposite of the ones we would need to increase peace and harmony – a forgiving, easygoing nature and a relaxed countenance.

So how did Aharon HaKohein do it ?

Aharon was tenacious in his forgiving, and fiercely motivated to be easygoing. He would always place before him the goal of loving his fellow Jew and would work himself to acquire it. To assume that Aharon was blessed with a relaxed personality that allowed him to forgive all would be a total disservice to his memory – he worked at it !

This week is Aharon HaKohein's yahrtzeit, on rosh chodesh Av, the day when we begin the 'nine days'. As we enter this period of national tragedy we can ask ourselves – Have I pursued peace recently ? Chasing peace doesn't mean forgiving an offense that didn't really bother you, or going out of your way when you really don't mind. Chasing peace means putting in the effort and determination of a hunter to catch his prey.

Happy Hunting !

Friday, July 22, 2011

Who By Fire and Who By Water


After the Jews successfully defeat the Midianites they are instructed as to how to purify the spoils for Jewish use.

"כָּל דָּבָר אֲשֶׁר יָבֹא בָאֵשׁ תַּעֲבִירוּ בָאֵשׁ וְטָהֵר אַךְ בְּמֵי נִדָּה יִתְחַטָּא וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָבֹא בָּאֵשׁ תַּעֲבִירוּ בַמָּיִם:" [במדבר לא:כג]

"Any item that passes through fire shall be passed through fire and be purified, it must be cleansed in water fit for a niddah, and all that does not pass though fire you shall pass through water."

What is the secret, miraculous way by which fire and water serve to remove the idolatrous influences of Midian ?

There are two types of stains that can affect a person's soul. You can be surrounded by negative influences – your entire frame of reference can be one of misguided values and faulty goals. This is common in a society dominated by superficiality and instant gratification. Or perhaps you have fallen deeper into the abyss of impurity and you are actually excited by doing what is wrong in the eyes of G-d.

To correct these flaws you must reverse the effect they have upon you. In order to reorient yourself to a life of divine service and positive values you must completely surround yourself with those of a similar mindset. This spiritual immersion can help shift the focus and sharpen it to true life goals.

The second level of impurity is much harder to expunge. It has become so absorbed within a person that external immersion will not have the power to bleed it out. For this we need to 'burn it out' from the inside. We must fight fire with fire – a fire of longing for the Divine to cancel out the fires of desire; a fire of intense happiness in His service to cancel out a fire of revelry and wildness.

May we be zocheh to add only purity to our lives by every which way imaginable and merit seeing the pure redeemer, speedily, in our days.

Hatzlacha !!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Be Like Water


Did Bruce Lee Really Learn Ohr HaChaim ?

In the memorable beracha that Bilaam bestows upon the Jewish people is a powerful, hidden message.

" מה טובו אהליך יעקב משכנותיך ישראל "

" How good are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel "

The Ohr Hachaim HaKadosh points out that Bilaam is prophetically praising the Jewish people for having two different types of housing – tents (which are temporary housing) and dwellings (more permanent housing). It is specifically this diversity of housing that is so praiseworthy.

The transient tents represent those of bnei yisrael who toil for their livelihood. Despite this being a chief endeavor in their lives, they nonetheless view it as a temporary pursuit – a means to an end. Amassing a great fortune or finding material success is never viewed as a goal in its own right – it is just what may be necessary to subsist in a physical world. It is this impermanence that renders their actions commendable.

Conversely, the yidden who toil in the house of study see that as their permanent station – despite the fact that some concerns may take them out of it once in a while. It is their steadfastness and solidity that is so worthwhile.

We can even describe this praise as referring to the same people – ones who are able to mentally "switch hats" from a transitory, passing occupation to a permanent, rooted endeavor. Those who possess the ability to view one part of your day or week as being the fixture and another part as a passing errand. A Jew who has mastered the art of knowing when he is in his "tent mode" and when he is in his "dwelling mode" is certainly one deserving of praise.

This recalls a comment made by Bruce Lee, the martial arts guru. He advised the student to "be like water" – fluid and malleable when receiving a blow – but hard and forceful when delivering it.

We can take a look at our own lives – what aspects scream out to us as "tent" things – and what things are substantially more permanent ? Are we as deserving of Bilaam's beracha as the generation who received it ?

Hatzlacha !!