The Torah Podcast Transcript
The Torah Podcast 011 – Torah Portion of the Week – Parshas Tazria – Being alive and connecting with people – the destructive force of slander – A powerful parable about the opportunities of war – A great story about a great Rabbi – Rav Dessler – Peace in your home – never ever say divorce
A Powerful Parable
We’re going to start with a parable. The Chofetz Chaim says, “When peace reigns among nations and there’s tranquility in the world, it’s very hard for a plain soldier to go up the ladder of promotion rapidly.” In other words, if there’s no war, the army works slow. People don’t jump up into higher ranks. It takes many, many years in the army to move up the ranks, and you have to take various courses and different things that you have to do in order to move up in the ranks, and it’s really only people in their old age that have established reputations that become appointed to really big positions.
However, if there’s a war going on, things are different. Young people can reach high in prestigious ranks just by doing certain acts of heroism, because after the king or the president or the prime minister or whoever it is, hears about this tremendous act that this guy did in war, he will give him a very big position and he’ll become very honored after the war is over, because he saved the country from danger.
Therefore in a time of crisis, a young man may also achieve a high position by virtue of his actions. What’s it talking about? It’s talking about that Torah study is the same thing. Back in the old days there were many, many sages, many, many great Torah scholars that had very high levels in learning, and very high levels in the fear of God. That was like a time of peace. And therefore it was very difficult for a young scholar to rise up in the ranks of all these great sages. A vast amount of Torah learning was necessary. You’d have to work very, very hard for many years, and it was only at the end when he became older that he was considered on a very high level. But the Chofetz Chaim wants to say, “But in our times, it’s like a time of war. We’re in a time of crisis, there’s very few Torah scholars, and even the Torah scholars that we have are on a very low level compared to the generations before.” Therefore, the Chofetz Chaim wants to say that in our generation, if somebody works very diligently, he can rise up to be a great Torah scholar much faster, because since the situation is so difficult and things are on such a low spiritual level, anybody who exerts himself, who puts himself forward, Hashem will give him that special blessing that will rise him up much higher in the ranks as compared to the generations before, how it would take so long.
So, we shouldn’t pass this up. We should get working, and start pushing for spirituality because we all have the opportunity for greatness.
Great Stories- Rav Dessler
Now I want to tell a great story about Rav Eliyahu Dessler. His official title was the mashgiach of the Ponevitz Yeshiva. He claimed that that title didn’t fit him. Why? He said, “A mashgiach is someone who’s overseeing the spirituality of the boys, has to be involved with every individual.” He claimed he wasn’t involved with every individual, he just gave classes there.
The Ponevitz Rav used to press him to get more involved with the students. He said to him, “Listen, I’m not a policeman. My training was from Kelm. In Kelm the shitta was that the individual has to become an example. The leadership was through example. The whole focus was on the individual, and the higher the individual goes, it affects the klal, it affects the populace, in a greater way, because if that individual reaches higher quality, he has the ability to influence other people in a different way, as compared to trying to affect more people. He says, “In the spiritual world, Chelm taught, all counting is from the multitude down to the solitary individual. Large and many are terms of the physical world. But they are meaningless in the spiritual context. The spiritual world is defined by unity, represented by the number one, or the solitary individual. They held there is no idea of affecting the masses. The masses won’t be affected by the individual. The more the individual works on himself, the more automatically they will be affected.” He further says like this. “Quantity has meaning as far as Chelm was concerned, only when it’s starting point was a solitary point of perfection, no matter how small. Quality can produce quantity. Quantity can never produce quality.” The focus was on quality, and quality automatically is going to produce quantity.” The whole stress was on perfecting yourself and then influencing others. This is the same reason for example, Rav Shach was against kiruv. Rav Shach did not let people leave the beis midrash to go out to move to towns in America, who knows where, to start communities. He held that you have to work on your quality, because if you send someone out on a lower level into the community, he’s only going to be able to affect the community at that level. He won’t be able to go beyond that.
He has a little poem here, he wrote. I assume the original poem was in Yiddish. It says like this – I’m not going to say it in Yiddish. “To myself I record. In order that I can review the truth that I saw.” He’s saying, “I used to write it down for myself. I guard it and remember it.” “In this guarding for myself and not the outgrowth of self-love, if I’m just guarding it for myself, isn’t this called self-love? That is what the superficial view claims. But the true view is, if my heart does not learn how I teach, only that which goes in from the heart, a heart overflowing its banks, can enter the heart of another.” In other words, you cannot influence another person beyond who you are. You can’t educate your kids to be greater than you. Sometimes the kids come out to be greater than you because they’re learning from somebody else. But the focus has to be on self-perfection, and then the community. That doesn’t come to exclude the community, which I’m going to explain in the Torah portion of the week.
Torah Portion – Tazria – Being alive and connecting with people – The destructive force of slander
The Torah portion of the week is Tazria. I have here Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, this is an unbelievably beautiful piece. In this Parsha we’re going to be talking about a metzora. A metzora is translated as leprosy. Leprosy doesn’t really mean leprosy, it’s a spiritual disease here. We’re not talking about the physical disease. It happened to be, he came out like a leper, he looks like a leper. The verse says about the leper, “All the days that the affliction is upon him, he shall remain impure. He is impure. He shall stay in isolation. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.” The leper has to leave the camp, and we know that leprosy is caused by loshen hara, slander – speaking bad about people, even though it’s true. Speaking bad is the cause for leprosy.
Rav Chaim Shuelevitz brings the Gemara in Nedarim 64B that says, “The Rabbis have taught four people are considered as if they are dead; a pauper, a leper, a blind man, and one who is childless.” These are the four people which the Torah considers dead. There’s a difficulty with this Gemara which is, what do you mean they’re considered dead? We know there’s possukim that say dead is the absolute worst. Anybody who’s alive is not dead. As long as he’s alive, he’s not dead, so what does it mean he’s considered dead? He brings rayas, proofs for this. For example, you have the possuk in Tehillim that says, “God has afflicted me greatly, but he has not given me over to death.” So you see, even though he’s afflicted but he’s still not dead. And there’s another possuk in Eichah, “Of what can a living man complain? As long as the person is alive, he’s alive, he’s not dead.” So, what does it mean that he’s dead? He wants to explain that the common denominator between these four people, the pauper, the leper, the blind man and the childless, is they’re disconnected. They’re in a certain sense disconnected with society, disconnected by not having a family. They’re disconnected from other people. Like I just said, the leper has to stay by himself. He has to be outside the camp of Yisroel. He can’t be, which means he can’t lend a hand. He doesn’t have any friends. He says, “One who is disqualified from being with a fellow human being, from giving or from lending a helping hand to a friend, is considered as dead. His existence ceases to be meaningful.” In other words, if we are not connected with other people in terms of giving to them, relating to them, being with them, our existence starts to lose its meaning. That’s what it means, “dead.” He goes on to explain, “Why is the blind person considered dead? We know for example that a deaf person, a person if you cause, God-forbid you make another person deaf, so the Gemara Bava Basra says, “You have to give him his entire value.” We have to pay for what the entire human being is worth. On the other hand, site – which we’re talking about a blind person – it’s an eye for an eye, you have to pay them the value of his eye. So, why is losing his sight considered that he’s dead? It should be a deaf person is considered dead, not a blind person. The answer is, that sight has another quality which is, that’s the thing that forms a bond between two human beings, the ability to see each other whereas, if you can’t see, the bond is less. He brings rayas for this.
For example he says by Shemos, he brings proofs. By Shemos it says, “By Moshe Rabbeinu it says that he saw the suffering.” It was only that Moshe saw the suffering. Rashi explains that he applied his eyes and his heart to share in their pain, for it was only through seeing that he actually started to feel the suffering of the Jewish people. And when Yosef bought his children to Yaakov to give them a blessing, he said that, “Yaakov kissed them and hugged them,” in order to connect with them because the Sforno explains, since Yaakov was blind at that point in his life, he had to hold them and touch them in order to connect with them, in order to give them a blessing, because he couldn’t see them. Therefore, a blind man is also considered sitting in isolation. He’s by himself, and he’s considered dead just like the leper.
What about the person God-forbid, who is childless? He’s also in a certain disconnection, in other words he can’t give in the same way as someone who has children. He brings a beautiful proof from Shlomo HaMelech by the two women who stole the child. Why is this woman stealing a child? She knows the child’s not hers. Why did she do such a disgusting, cruel, selfish act? The answer is, because she had to satisfy that urge to give. Inside of a human being he needs to connect, and that’s what life is. That connecting to another human being is in a certain sense, the definition of life, according to these Chazals. The same story by a poor person, he’s also considered dead. He doesn’t have the ability to give. He doesn’t have the means to give. Maybe he’d like to give, but he can’t give. So, all four of these cases, the person’s considered like dead because his existence starts to lose meaning. I mean, being alive in part means meaning, what is my about? If I can’t give to other people, I can’t relate to other people or I can’t talk to other people, I have no life. Which is interesting, because I just said a minute ago that Rav Dessler said that the focus has to be on the individual. So, in terms of the individual of course the person has to perfect themselves. But the end goal is to connect and spread and be involved with other people.
What exactly did the leper do to get this unbelievable punishment that he has to be put in solitary confinement away from everybody, because he’s impure? So, Rashi explains, he says like this. “Since he caused a parting through loshen hara, through malevolent talk, through slander between a man and his wife, and between a man and his colleague, he shall too be set apart.” In other words, this person who spoke slander, he is breaking up society. He’s breaking up a relationship between a man and his wife, and man and his friend, between people, families, groups. This person is making a break in the human connection, in the relationships that people have between each other. And since that, he gets middah kenegged middah, tit for tat. He is going to be separated because he brought a break in society, which now leads to a totally new understanding of what it means to speak loshen hara, to speak slander. A person thinks, “Ah, what did I do? I said a bad thing, okay. It’s not so bad.” The answer is, no. According to this, you’re breaking the life force of society. You’re causing a disconnection between people, between the Jewish people. And in a certain sense you’re bringing a death force into the world. It’s a whole new way of looking at loshen hara, a whole new level of seeing what slander really is. It’s a horrible, horrible thing to the point where the person has to become isolated. So, next time you want to speak slander, you have to think twice. And with this new understanding of what slander does, you’ll be able to overcome your inclination to speak it.
Peace in Your Home
The fourth commandment of marriage according to Avigdor Miller is never say the word “get,” never say the word “divorce,” not the man – the man shouldn’t say divorce to the woman, and the woman shouldn’t say divorce to the man. He claims there is no such thing. And once you say it, it always stays in the mind of your partner, are they going to divorce me? I’m going to divorce them. It’s not the way to think. It’s not a Jewish way of thinking.
Divorce is for extreme cases that cannot be worked out – extreme cases. We know that Chazal tells us that there’s no chuppah, wedding that’s not min hashemayim. If two people got married, God put them together. He says like this, he’s funny. “Even if a couple is battling and she’s hitting him over the head with her pocketbook, and he’s kicking her, it is better than saying the word get.” Don’t say that word. People scrap throughout their lives and remain married, and they’re better off. He says, “It’s better to be fighting in the marriage than getting a divorce. Who knows what the next level of the situation could become? Who knows where you’ll wind up if you get a divorce. Therefore, the word divorce should never leave your lips.”
That’s it for this week’s Torah podcast, I hope you enjoyed it. Please tell your friends, and please share it everywhere.