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Why Can't I Get Along With Others? - תזריע מצורע

Why Can't I Get Along With Others? 

Of all the forms of ritual impurity discussed in the Torah, only the impurity of the Metzora (a person afflicted with the skin ailment called Tzaraat) is so severe that the Torah commands “he shall dwell isolated; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.” (Leviticus 13:46). The sages explain that the Tzaraat affliction comes as a consequence for slander and evil speech. The Torah understands that evil speech undermines and destroys the harmony of a family, community, and society. The Metzora therefore must sit in solitude in order for him to feel the pain of loneliness and learn to appreciate the value of community and togetherness. Only then can he be reintegrated into the community. 

The Kabbalists teach that every phenomenon that exists on earth originates in the spiritual worlds. Often, a destructive energy on earth can be corrected by correcting and realigning its source in the spiritual worlds. When the Kabbalists read the portion of the Metzora, they looked to understand the spiritual source of slander and evil speech and sought to heal the symptom, the evil speech, by addressing the spiritual source. 

The Zohar states that the root cause of Tzaraat is that the “light of wisdom”, which allows the other attributes to integrate, departs, leaving each attribute in a state of isolation, unable to integrate with the other attributes in a wholesome way. To explain:  the divine attributes are the building blocks of creation, these attributes are also reflected within the soul of every person. The attributes and soul powers differ from one another, and don’t always integrate easily. For example, the attribute of kindness seeks to provide kindness to every creation, regardless of whether the creation is deserving. The attribute of strength, or discipline, is judgmental and does not want to give kindness to someone who is undeserving. These opposing perspectives can cause great tension in the universe, within society, within families, as well as within the soul of man. 

The integration of these opposing attributes can only happen when wisdom is introduced. In Kabbalah, wisdom is synonymous with humility. When two people who see the world very differently express intense emotion, they will not be able to find a compromise, they will not be able to agree on an approach forward. If, however, they are enlightened by wisdom, if they are open to a greater perspective, they will then be able to soften their approach and integrate the positive aspects of the opposing perspective. The kind perspective will learn that there are times when kindness is counter productive and destructive. The perspective of discipline will learn that a certain measure of kindness is critical even for the goal of inspiring discipline. 

When the Metzora, who can’t seem to get along with his fellow man, looks at the revealed part of Torah, he will see the obvious diagnosis. He must cease from evil speech. When he turns to the mystical part of the Torah he will learn the root cause of his ailment. He will learn that he needs humility in order to allow him to integrate his own perspective with that of his family and community. 

The Kabbalah teaches that when someone does not have humility to live in peace with others and appreciate their different perspectives, it is usually because the person’s own emotions are intense; each emotion does not have the humility to integrate with the opposing emotion. When one cannot live in harmony with others it is often because his own emotions are not in harmony. 

Introducing the wisdom of the Torah will allow the internal soul powers to integrate with each other. This humility will help a person integrate with the people around him, creating a harmonious blend which will produce a more beautiful symphony of voices and experiences. 

(Adapted from Lekutei Torah Tazria p. 23) 

Am I kind, if I don’t always feel kind? - שמיני

Am I a kind person, if I don’t always feel kind? 

Can something be true, if it is only true some of the time? 

Am I a kind person, if I don’t always feel kind?

Do I love, if I don’t always feel the love? 

In our journey of spiritual growth, we seek to refine our character, and develop a relationship with G-d. Indeed, much of Judaism is designed to help us develop feelings of kindness and empathy to others, as well as an emotional bond with G-d. Each and every day we recite the words of the Shema prayer, we meditate on the greatness of G-d, and seek to bring to life the words of the Shema “you shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.” Yet, more often than not we are discouraged because it seems that we are not able to maintain this lofty spiritual state. We often fall back on our own self oriented perspective, and are not always able to feel connected to others.  

Does the fact that we cannot experience holiness consistently mean that our experience is inauthentic and false?

This question lies at the heart of a passionate dispute between Moses and his brother Aaron, in this week’s Torah portion. 

Two of Aaron’s sons died on the day the tabernacle was inaugurated. Aaron, following the commandment Moses, ate the inauguration offerings despite his state of mourning. Aaron felt that the commandment to consume the temporary offerings of the inauguration, did not apply to the ongoing daily offerings. Moses was furious and demanded to know why the daily offerings were burned and not consumed. Aaron explained his position to Moses, and “Moses heard [this], and it pleased him.”

The dispute between Moses and Aaron ran deeper than a technical dispute about a matter of law. Chassidic philosophy explains that Moses represents the unyielding, unchanging truth, while Aaron represents peace and the ability to compromise. Moses argued that there be no distinction between the temporary exhilarating spiritual moments, and the ongoing daily reality. From the perspective of Moses, the exemplifier of truth, if something is true it must be true always. Aaron’s perspective differs. Aaron was a man of peace because he was able to understand and evaluate the point of view of every person. Aaron understood that the spiritual makeup of most people does not allow them to experience the ultimate truth in a consistent way. There are extraordinary experiences (“inauguration offerings”) which are not always felt in  day to day life (“ongoing daily offerings”). 

Yet, eventually Moses agreed with Aaron, because Moses understood that indeed truth must be consistent, but there are degrees of consistency. While most people will not feel a love to G-d at every moment, they are able to experience the feeling of love for one moment every day. That too, Aaron teaches Moses, is considered consistent, that too is truth.   

The answer to these questions, then, is that if we are capable of experiencing a moment of kindness every day, if we can feel a moment of love every time we say the Shema, then those feelings are true. And they will endure. 

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 17 Shmini 3)


Judaism’s Bread Complex - צו

Judaism’s Bread Complex 

Judaism has a complicated relationship with bread. All year long bread is considered the staple of sustenance, as the verse states “bread, which sustains man's heart.” During the holiday of Passover, however, bread is the enemy. Not only are we not permitted to eat bread, but we are not allowed to benefit from or even own any bread. 

If bread is so terrible on Passover, why is it celebrated all year long? 

We find this dichotomy in the temple as well. All bread offered in the temple was unleavened, as the verse states:  

No meal offering that you sacrifice to the Lord shall be made [out of anything] leavened. For you shall not cause to [go up in] smoke any leavening or any honey, [as] a fire offering to the Lord; (2:11)

Yet, there were a few exceptions. On the holiday of Shavuot there was an offering of two loaves of Chametz (leavened) bread. In addition, in this week’s portion, we read that the thanksgiving offering was offered with loaves of leavened bread:  

Along with loaves of leavened bread, he shall bring his offering along with his thanksgiving peace offering. (Leviticus 7:13)

Which begs the same question: if leavened bread is off limits in the temple, why is it offered on the holiday of Shavuot and together with the thanksgiving offering?

Bread, which is made from dough that was left to rise, represents inflated ego, the intense feeling of self. Matzah, by contrast, is flat and represents humility. Therefore, in the temple, where we come to stand before G-d, where we seek to submit to and be subsumed within, the divine presence, there is no room for the feeling of self. The Torah therefore tells us not to offer any leavened bread. That’s because we come to the temple in order to escape the confines of the ego and connect to the infinity of G-d. Therefore we don’t offer any bread which resembles the inflated ego. 

The same is true regarding Passover. The moment of the exodus from Egypt is the moment of the birth of our people. The foundation of our spiritual identity is humility before G-d. Therefore, for a full week we eradicate all traces of bread, symbolizing that we seek to rid ourselves of any trace of self orientation and we commit ourselves to a purpose greater than ourselves.

After a full week of Passover (outside of Israel we celebrate an eighth day), once we internalize the feeling of humility in all our seven emotional attributes, which correspond to the seven days of the week, we can begin to introduce bread into our spiritual diet. After a full week of experiencing humility we achieve an even greater spiritual accomplishment: we align our sense of self, our desire and pleasure, with the Divine will. On Passover we transcend ourselves, after Passover the self is transformed to want to connect to holiness.

This explains why leavened bread was offered on Shavuot, the holiday which celebrates the giving of the Torah. The Torah represents wisdom which, in the Kabbalah, is synonymous with humility. When one studies the Torah and internalizes its teachings, the “bread”, the ego, the sense of self, is transformed and it too experiences a relationship with G-d.  

The same is true regarding the bread offered with the thanksgiving offering. The Hebrew word for thanksgiving (Todah) is related to the word for acknowledgement and submission to another’s opinion. That's because thanksgiving and humility are related. For an arrogant person never feels grateful because he feels entitled to everything. Only when someone is humble, is he able to feel that he is undeserving of the gifts he received, and therefore he experiences a feeling of gratitude. 

The person offering the thanksgiving offering, then, is in a state of humility, therefore he can then offer leavened bread, signifying, that when predicated on humility, the ego itself can be transformed to holiness. 

(Adapted from Torah Or, Tehilim page 984)

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