Thursday, March 31, 2011

Parshat Tazria - Why specifically a Cohen..../ Hachodesh

Tzaraat, often mistranslated as "leprosy', is discussed in this week's Torah portion of Tazria.

Tzaraat used to strike when a Jew would indulge in gossip or malicious talk. It would present as various whitish spots that would break out on one's body, house or clothes. The Jew in question would then visit a Kohen, a priest, to confirm that he was indeed suffering from tzaraat and then be sent out of the city to undergo an intensive program of repentance and purification rituals.

Interestingly though, even if an educated member of the public were to diagnose the symptoms of tzaraat, the sufferer would STILL need to have the diagnosis confirmed by a member of the priesthood.
Why did one specifically need a Kohen, a priest, to declare him impure with this afflicted disease?

Kohanim were entrusted with a sacred responsibility. Daily, they would gather in the Temple to bless the nation. They have come to symbolize "men of blessing."
Because they were concerned with the benefit of the nation, they alone had the capability to render judgment in case one sinned.

Hence, an important lesson: Occasionally, one observes improper behavior on the part of another. How tempting to stand in judgment, and to banish the sinner "out of the camp." From the Torah's insistence that the Kohen play a part in the drama, we learn that the only ones qualified to condemn are those who have served their time in the cause of love.
Only someone who has proven himself to be truly dedicated to the welfare of others can dare to criticize, and he is to also then involve himself in the process of the Jew's atonement.
This week we also bless the new month of Nissan and we do the special Hachodesh reading where it recounts G‑d's communication to Moshe two weeks before the Exodus, regarding the establishment of a Jewish (lunar) calendar, the Paschal Offering, matzah, bitter herbs, and the seder.
The special Hachodesh haftorah is a prophecy regarding the Paschal Offering that will be brought in the Third Holy Temple.

Honorable Haughtiness

Reb Mottel, a follower of the Alter Rebbe, (Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi)was wont to serve G-d with haughtiness. How so? Well, the Yetzer Hora, the evil inclination, would approach him and say, "Mottel, do such and such a sin...."

And Reb Mottel would bellow in response "WHAT?? I should sin? I am a follower of the Rebbe! I am fabulously wealthy and learned! Yet, you dare tell me to sin?"

In essence, each of us can use this approach. The Alter Rebbe observed that "a Jew neither desires, nor can, be separated from G-dliness and it is only his evil inclination that forces him." As such, the Yetzer Hora can be rebuffed by way of haughtiness.

When the evil inclination tries his tactics to get us to sin, G-d forbid, we should be firm: "I am a descendant of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yakov; I stood at Mt. Sinai and accepted the Torah. The Mishna even says: "The world was created for me" - the entire world rests on me! You want me to degrade myself and blindly follow my sinful desires? I have more than enough power to ignore your enticements!"

This is honorable haughtiness.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Jewish Yardstick

There is a system of measurement called "The Jewish Yardstick."

The Jewish yardstick is simple to use and it doesn't interfere with any other system of measurement. The rules for using the Jewish yardstick are as follows:

When measuring up your neighbor, friend, co-worker, relative or any stranger, judge him leniently and favorably.
When measuring yourself and your accomplishments, be stringent.

In Chasidic terminology one would say: Look at another with the "right eye", with kindness; look at yourself with the "left eye", with strictness or severity.

Such an approach is based on the commandment to "Love your fellow as yourself." Just as a person's intrinsic self-love allows him to overlook his own faults, so too, must we overlook the faults of another.

In regard to our personal conduct, we strive to both push away the negative and to do good. When relating to another individual however, the Jewish yardstick's method is to channel our energies solely into the positive path of "Do good."

Although there may be times when someone's conduct warrants reproof, before criticizing - even before giving "constructive criticism" - we should question ourselves as to whether we are fit to be the one to administer it. Furthermore, if reproof must be given, one must first love the other person just as a father loves his child. And of course, it should be offered gently, which will obviously enable it to be accepted more readily than harsh speech. Moreover, such words should be spoken only on select occasions.

Be extra kind and be extra sensitive, for the ultimate value of every Jew is after all, immeasurable.

Getting Rid of Ego...

"Rabbi, how can I rid myself of my ego? As hard as I try, it keeps coming back. After years of work, my ego is still there!"

"Fighting your ego", responded the Rabbi, "is like trying to think about nothing. The harder you try, the further you get from your goal. As long as you are taking yourself so seriously, you are feeding into your ego. Even if you are fighting your ego, it's still all about you."

A desire to be spiritual can also be self-centered. As long as it is you who calls the shots and decides what is high and holy, then you remain under your ego's spell.

There is only one way to truly transcend your ego: do a mitzvah. A mitzvah is a divine command as communicated in the Torah. Doing a mitzvah means doing something just because G‑d wants you to, and for no other reason.

Whether the mitzvah feels good, like resting on Shabbat, or something like wrapping tefillin on your arm; whether it is as easy as putting up a mezuzah on your doorpost or as hard as honoring your parents, when you do a mitzvah you go beyond the parameters of what defines a human and you touch the Divine - you are doing not what you feel like but rather what G‑d asks of you.

The mitzvah life is about not taking ourselves so seriously, because we are only here to serve others - both G‑d and our fellow human beings. Even self-improvement, in the mitzvah world, is only important because G‑d wants us to refine ourselves.

Do a mitzvah today and focus not on yourself, but on your purpose. When you do, the weight of ego is lifted off your shoulders, and you are free.