Friday, May 30, 2008

Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha - The Reflection We See

(Picture by D. Eagle)

A Simple Jew asks:

People who have problems with each other often share a similar temperament or common aspect of their personalities. While these people may not recognize it, it is usually apparent to others who witness their interactions. It is taught, however, that these people are simply recognizing a negative character trait in the other person that they too possess. Do you think this is always the case? Also, can you think of any examples from your life in which you realized that another person that you had problems with was merely reflecting an aspect of your personality that you were less than proud of?

Chabakuk Elisha answers:

Way back when I was a bochur in yeshiva, I noticed a strange thing about my ability to rationalize: The human mind is capable of rationalizing incredible things (even really bad things) but deep down we generally know what's right and wrong – the question is only how often we really analyze our behavior. But, being that we don't like to analyze our actions, we generally avoid it – however, we're constantly faced with opportunities to judge the behavior of others, and we say things like, "Wow, what so-and-so did was wrong," or "What a nice thing to do," etc. As a bochur I noticed (and I still do) that I would have a far easier time finding a limud zchus for actions that I would never consider doing than I was at finding rationales for things that I could see myself doing. I found this odd; after all, if I could imagine myself doing something like that, shouldn't it be easier to rationalize for others?

Later, I realized that it was my conscience judging me when I saw something that I had done, or could see myself doing, in someone else. When that little voice had an opportunity to speak up in a more objective setting it would get in the way and say, "no, you know this is wrong," while if it was something that I wouldn't think of doing, my conscience wouldn't get involved and it was easier to rationalize for someone else.

This I think is the key to the issue you're raising. As you mentioned, the Baal Shem Tov taught that that the world is like a mirror: if you see shortcomings in your fellow, you should know that they are truly your own. In fact, R' Nachman of Breslev famously taught a parable along these lines called "The Chandelier of Imperfections" that expresses the idea quite lucidly. In Chabad I've heard an additional twist: that either you share that flaw, or that you have been designated to fix it (the point being that the flaw is "yours" – either internally or externally, but nevertheless yours). But, like many Chassidic similar teachings, this teaching of the Baal Shem Tov needs to be understood properly or it can be easily confused, and for clarification I'll try to explain it the way that I understand it. After all, does that mean that if I see Reuvain rob Shimon, I am then a thief? If I see someone beat their child, am I then a child abuser?

My understanding of this teaching is that since we aren't impartial or objective about ourselves, G-d sends us messages and lessons throughout our lives to highlight shortcoming that we need to address – because, in truth, we are full of shortcomings of every variety (which is why we say every "Al Cheit" imaginable on Yom Kippur – as we have generally violated them all at least to some degree). And the reason that I might have a harder time if someone does something I might share in some way is because there is a guilty part of me that is uncomfortable being judged. It's me that I'm mad at.

Therefore if I see a fault in someone else, let it be a lesson to me to find that flaw in myself and address it. This is a perspective on life, and I would think that it's always true and applicable. The idea is that things don't happen without reason, and if you notice or become aware of someone else's shortcoming, that should have some productive relevance in your life (along the lines of what you discussed here and here, because we can (and should) turn everything into a positive.

And to take it one step further, Chazal teach (and this is emphasized by the Baal Shem Tov) that we are our own judge; G-d sends us cases that are similar to things that we have done, and it is our judgment of those objective cases that "pasken" our fate. Thus, aside from being an impetus to judge others more favorably, by realizing that the shortcomings of others are really hints to our own shortcomings, we end up living in a healthier reality: a reality that is positive and productive instead of judgmental, destructive and cynical. It's provides us with constructive critique and opportunities for introspection and guides us towards favorable and honest assessments. If we take this view seriously, we're really helping ourselves – a very positive use and opportunity created by what may be considered witnessing something negative.


At May 30, 2008 at 4:56:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Parshas Bamidbar
שְׂאוּ אֶת-רֹאשׁ כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם בְּמִסְפַּר שֵׁמוֹת כָּל-זָכָר לְגֻלְגְּלֹתָם
Why does the posuk say בְּמִסְפַּר שֵׁמוֹת the number of names? The Ramban answers the question by saying that the Jewish counting is fundamentally different then a regular Census. A regular census is to collect data. There is no recognition of the individual. Therefore the torah went out of its way to say at a Jewish counting each person according to his name. Reb Lebowitz Zatzal says Hashem is telling we have to emulate him. When we interact with people we don’t just say yes he another of a certain group we must recognize each person for the individual he is and Honor and respect him as such.
וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי בַּשָּׁנָה הַשֵּׁנִית לְצֵאתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לֵאמֹר
The Medrash starts off in these weeks Parsha "the Torah was given with three things: fire, water, and desert. The Medrash may have one more lesson that is not so readily apparent that is the kosher aspect. That is just as the Torah expects our dishes to be Kosher so to Hashem expects no less of us, in order to receive the Torah. The Three elements are clear illustrations of Koshering. There are three ways to make a non kosher item kosher. They are all in our Medrash first is fire this is Libun known more widely as Kashering in English it is purging that means heating a pan or grill until it is red hot, so here we have the element of fire. Then there is hagalah which is essentially submerging the utensil in boiling water we now have the element of water. The most recognizable aspect of the desert is sand and dirt and now you can understand the final correlation. There is a way to Kosher something called na’itza and it is only for knives. It is when you stab it in hard soil 10 times you know have the element of desert. The Medrash now has a whole new level in its symbolism as now it represents Kashrus.
וַאֲנִי הִנֵּה לָקַחְתִּי אֶת-הַלְוִיִּם מִתּוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל תַּחַת כָּל-בְּכוֹר פֶּטֶר רֶחֶם מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְהָיוּ לִי הַלְוִיִּם
Whenever the torah speaks about the Levim it almost always says מִתּוֹך from among. What is the Significance that the Levim be among the Bnei Yisroel? Reb Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld answers it is to teach a lesson for the Levim. There are Halachos that apply to the Jews interaction with the Shevet Levi the Kohanim and Levim come first for Bentching and Kriyas Hatorah. This may lead to them to feel superior. This is why the torah always said from among the Jews. The reason you receive the honor is because you are among the Jews as teachers therefore you are owed the respect and not because of some Intrinsic quality. He also noted this message in the word יִשְׂרָאֵל when you spell it out and take the middle letter it spells out the word Levim
לויים =, למד, אלף, יוד שין ריש
so here we have another level of the Levim being מִתּוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.
וְנָסַע אֹהֶל-מוֹעֵד מַחֲנֵה הַלְוִיִּם בְּתוֹךְ הַמַּחֲנֹת כַּאֲשֶׁר יַחֲנוּ כֵּן יִסָּעוּ אִישׁ עַל-יָדוֹ לְדִגְלֵיהֶם
What is the Posuk telling us as they rested so they traveled? The Satmar Rebbe in his Sefer Divrie Yoel gives an answer based on a Gemara in Taanis. The Gemara says that Yosef warned his brothers do not talk torah on the way as you are liable to get lost or fall into a pit because you will get caught up in your learning. This week in the Medrash it explains how the clouds of glory worked .They traveled in front of the Jews a distance of three days it cleared the land of snakes and scorpions and leveled it so that there are no pits. Therefore we now understand what the Posuk is saying, that is just as when we rest we are not concerned about getting lost and falling into the pit so to now with the clouds of glory leading the way even when we travel getting lost is not a concern.
מִבֶּן שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה וְעַד בֶּן-חֲמִשִּׁים שָׁנָה כָּל-בָּא לַצָּבָא לַעֲשׂוֹת מְלָאכָה בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד
Why here by קְהָת does the torah use the language מְלָאכָה but by גֵּרְשֻׁנִּי the torah says עבודת ? The answer is a Klal in Hilchos Shabbos. קְהָת carried things on his body that is an Issur from the Torah so we call it a מלכה. The other Levim but the objects from the Beis Hamikdash on animals which is only a Drabonon so their work is called an עבודה

וְאֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת אַהֲרֹן וּמֹשֶׁה בְּיוֹם דִּבֶּר יְהוָה אֶת-מֹשֶׁה בְּהַר סִינָי
The Gemara in Sanhedrin learns out from this Posuk whoever teaches a child torah it is as if he is his child. The Chacham Tzvi questions based on the posuk, is a golem good for a minyan. The logic in question is if we apply the adage כל המגדל יותם בתוך ביתו מעלה עליו
הכתוב כאילו ילדו meaning whoever raises a child it is as if he was born to him. Then following that logic it would be as if he was born to him and therefore he would be good for a minyan. The Chacham Tzvi answers that it is not good for a minyan. He came to this decision based on another Gemara in Sanhedrin. This Gemara says that רבא created a golem and sent him to Reb זירא. Reb זירא realized what it was and told it return to the ground from where it came and so it was. Therefore he says that the golem is an it because if not he would have been killing someone, and hence is not good for Minyan. The Har Tzvi's son brought another proof to his fathers Psak. He said to be part of a Minyan you need Ruach and Nishama if not you cant be part of a Minyan because if you are sleeping and your Nishama is not with you, you are not able to be part of the Minyan.
וַיָּמָת נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא לִפְנֵי יְהוָה בְּהַקְרִבָם אֵשׁ זָרָה לִפְנֵי יְהוָה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי וּבָנִים לֹא-הָיוּ לָהֶם וַיְכַהֵן אֶלְעָזָר וְאִיתָמָר עַל-פְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן אֲבִיהֶם
The Posuk is structurally strange it says Nadav and Avihu died and they had no children. What is the connection between the two? A second question is also asked we know they died because they did the Avodah drunk and other things why change that in our Posuk? The Chasam Sofer answers everything is because they had no children. The explanation is as follows children teach adults a very important lesson respect. Children reflect behavior of their parents thereby if the parents are disrespectful so is the child. The parents see this behavior and realize their own shortcomings and hopefully change. Nadav and Avihu did drink and they also issued a ruling in front of Moshe and they also stood behind Moshe and Aharon and said "when will they die so we can take over". This is all one concept disrespect. The connection is now clear the lack of respect because they had no children. The change of reasoning is also answered. That is it is the same reasoning the original reasoning's are extensions of this one that they did not have children and thereby where lacking respect.
וַיִּפְקֹד אֹתָם מֹשֶׁה עַל-פִּי יְהוָה כַּאֲשֶׁר צֻוָּה
Why is it that the Levim had the fewest of all the tribes? There are many answers to this question. Here are a few Reb Elchonon Wasserman answers that the Levim are like Diamonds that is the reason for their value is their Rarity. It is only because they are so hard to come by that they are worth so much. The Levim are the same because there are so few they are so valuable to Klal Yisroel. The Ohr Hachaim has a very different answer from the other side of the spectrum he says because they followed Amram who separated from his wife after Pharaoh said he would kill the children. They where never slaves so the where very sensitive so they stopped having children. The Beis Halevi had a very practical answer he said the Levim are supported by the Jews and he did not one to place a large burden on the Jews so he made sure there would be few of them. The main reason is that they where not enslaved so they did not get the counter Bracha to have many children. The Sefer Shlal Rav has an amazing insight based on this. What is the reason for this Bracha of many children to counter the enslavement? The answer is there was a fear that People would say the men where enslaved so for sure the women where attacked too. In order to defend against this idea Hashem gave A Bracha to give many children illustrating they where kosher Children of two Jewish parents as Hashem would not give Bracha to an illicit relationship. Therefore since the Levim where not enslaved they did not need this proof against this claim of their children not being their own so they had less children.
פְּקֹד אֶת-בְּנֵי לֵוִי לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם כָּל-זָכָר מִבֶּן-חֹדֶשׁ וָמַעְלָה תִּפְקְדֵם
There is an amazing diyuk in Rashi based on this Posuk. Rashi here says משיצא מכלל נפלים that is "count from this age to make sure he is not going to die". Later in posuk Mem Rashi says משיצא מכלל ספק נפלים. Why the change in language and add the word ספק? The Medrash says in the first mention in Posuk Tes Vov Moshe walked over to each Levis tent and Hashem told him how many people lived there. By the second Posuk Moshe counted. The first one done by Hashem Rashi says מכלל נפלים as hashem can not have a ספק only humans can.


At June 1, 2008 at 10:38:00 PM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Yashar Koach! You have hit on probably the cornerstone of Tikun HaMidos! What you wrote is exactly what I needed to read before Shavuos!


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