013 The Torah Podcast – Torah Portion of the Week – Emor – Rav Yeruchm – How to Get the Self Dignity You Need to Be Great – A Powerful Parable of the Chafitz Chaim – the Need to Mobilize – A Great Story about the Chafetz Chaim Missing the Train and Peace in Your Home – The 6th commandment of Marriage – Never say I Hate you or You are Ugly
A Powerful Parable
The parable of the Chofetz Chaim goes like this. In a time of peace and you have an army, the standing army gets the best men, trains the best men. And who is in the army? The strong, and people without impediments or handicaps. They’re there for a fixed period, and then they get another group every couple of years. But in times of danger, everybody’s mobilized into the army. It doesn’t matter who, what or where. Everybody has to do something. If you could handle a weapon you go to the front lines. If not, you’ll work in an office. If not, you drive a truck. It doesn’t matter what. When there’s a war, everybody works in the army. The nimshal is, according to the Chofetz Chaim, the comparison is, nowadays we’re in a war. We’re in a war against the evil inclination. He’s trying to take Torah out of the world, and bring all kinds of nonsense into the world. Every Jew and every person has to do the right thing. Every person has to fulfill his purpose in order to fight the evil inclination. Whether it’s talking about teaching somebody else or giving somebody else rebuke, but the Chofetz Chaim says, the main thing is the little school children. We have to make sure our children all go in the right way.
Great Stories – Chofetz Chaim
Here’s a great story about the Chofetz Chaim. One time, the Chofetz Chaim was hurrying with his suitcase to a train from Vilna to attend a very urgent matter. He turned into a street that led to the station. All of a sudden, somebody came up to him and said, “Can you complete a minyan, quorum, for the mincha prayer to daven, to pray in the home of a mourner. Somebody’s asking him if he can be the 10th man in the minyan in the home of a mourner, because mourners have to pray in their house. So, even though the Chofetz Chaim was in a tremendous hurry and it was very urgent, he decided it would be better he goes to the minyan in order that it shouldn’t be a hillul Hashem, it shouldn’t be a desecration of God’s name, that people see that the Chofetz Chaim didn’t help them out when they asked. In order to sanctify God’s name, the Chofetz Chaim went to the minyan and missed the train.
Torah Portion – Emor
The portion of the week is Parshas Emor. Rav Yerucham speaks about chillul Hashem, the desecration of Hashem’s name. We’re going to talk about how to build self-confidence and a healthy self-image.
The verse states, “Lo yitamei ba bamav beheichalo.” The simple of understanding of the verse is according to Rashi, that a Cohen should not desecrate himself by marrying a woman he’s not supposed to marry. For example, a regular Cohen cannot marry a woman who’s divorced, and he can also not impurify himself by touching a dead body or being in the room with a dead body. On top of that, a Cohen Gadol cannot even marry a widow. Why is that? Because a Cohen has a special status among the Jewish people. He has a higher level of spirituality. The Shem Mi Shmuel explains that his job is to connect the spiritual with the physical, and that’s what’s going on in the Temple. He has a higher status than a regular Jew. We see that even though it’s a chessed shel emes, which means when you bury a person you’re not going to get anything in return, there’s no compensation. No one’s going to pay you back. Even though it’s a tremendous mitzvah, a Cohen cannot degrade himself and touch a dead body.
Rav Yerucham, the mashgiach of the Mir, explains that this also applies for example, to a talmid chacham, a guy who sits and learns all day. We know that someone who’s sitting and learning Torah cannot stop learning to do a mitzvah. The only mitzvah he can do is ei efshar al yedei acher, only if it’s a mitzvah that someone else cannot do. He has to help his wife, no one else can do it, so he has to do that mitzvah. But anything else, since he’s learning Torah which has a higher status than any other mitzvah, he cannot stop that mitzvah in order to do another one, because that would be degrading the mitzvah of learning Torah. This is the idea of hillul Hashem, degrading the name of God. By lowering your status, you’re going to degrade the name of God. Also, you have the same concept by Shabbos, hillul Shabbos, the degradation of Shabbos. For example on Shabbos you’re supposed to have different clothes, you’re supposed to walk differently. You’re supposed to eat differently. You’re supposed to talk differently. Why is that? Because Shabbos is kadosh, Shabbos is holy, and you’re supposed to act differently. If you don’t act differently, you’re degrading the Shabbos. And desecration and holiness are opposites. For example, “Holiness,” he explains, “is separated and elevated.” When you make something special, you make it holy. In other words, you’re giving it a higher value. On the other hand, desecration of something is to destroy the value, and equate it with everything. In other words, if you say that this thing is equal to everything else, you took away its value. You just leveled the playing field. When you level the playing field, nothing has value. He brings the Shaarei Teshuva who says, “Everything was made for the honor of God,” and the a proof is from Yeshayahu that says, “Kol hanikra beshemi likvod dibrosav,” everything is called by My name and from My covenant it was created. Everything in the creation is needed. Everything in the creation has value. It’s a piece of a puzzle, and every piece in the puzzle has to fit.
We know for example Einstein even said that when all the bees to die, the world will be destroyed. There’s other scientific theories that if the ants wouldn’t exist, the world would be destroyed. Every little piece of creation is needed. Every little piece of the creation has value. You have to give it its value. You can’t level the playing field and say, “This thing has no value.” Everything in its right place. The question is, what is the value of man? “The essence of man,” he explains, “Is to serve and to fear God.” That’s the highest thing that a man could do with his life, because a man was created to sanctify God’s name. When people see a person serving God, doing mitzvos, and learning, they wonder what he’s doing. That’s a sanctification of God’s name. They say, “This person is bringing God into the world.” And if a man lowers his status and does other things, so it’s a hillul Hashem. He’s desecrating God’s name. Now obviously, every person was created with different capabilities, so a person has to do what he’s capable to do. But if he doesn’t do that, it’s a desecration. But he can’t go the other way, for example. Let’s say a person says, “I want to live with the animals.” That’s nothing to do with him standing up for his rights, or doing the right thing for his own honor. He’s not an animal. You’re not supposed to live with the animals. He’s a man. A man can’t live with the animals. He’s going against what he is created to do. He’s not an animal. And now he says a very powerful thing. He says, “A ben Torah, what’s a ben Torah? A ben Torah is someone who every extra moment that he has, he sits and learns.” Like I explained many times before, Rav Chaim Volozhin said, “There is only two seders, learning sessions in the Yeshiva. That was the sleeping time, and eating time. Every other second was learning time.” Even if a person works but at least every second he gets off, he tries to sit and learn, that’s a ben Torah. That’s a person who’s dedicated to Torah learning. He says, “A person like this who’s serving God in such a way, if he makes it, if he wants to be humble – he thinks he has the right intentions, ‘I want to be humble. I want to equate myself with all man. I’m going to mix with the group.’” He says, “That’s a hillul Hashem. It’s forbidden to lower your status.” You have to realize that you’re doing something special. That doesn’t take away from the love or the honor that you give to other people. It’s just the opposite. The more you do the right thing, the more you’re going to see the good in other people. But don’t equate the garbage man with you. Even if you’re doing it for the right reason but it still comes out to be a hillul Hashem, because you have greater capabilities than the garbage man. Maybe the garbage man is doing exactly what he’s doing according to his capabilities. But each person has to fit into the puzzle according to how he was created, and his capabilities. It’s forbidden to lower your status.
I remember when I was a kid I had a summertime job building houses. That was okay, as long as we were using wood. What happened was, we switched. They started to work on a different building, and we were doing metal. I was sitting all day cutting metal. The boss comes up to me and says, “Listen, this job is not for you, because you’re too smart for this job,” and he fired me. When I got home my father wanted to know what happened. I told him I got fired, he was all upset. I said, “Yeah, but he fired me because I was too smart.” I wasn’t created for cutting pieces of metal all day. That wasn’t what I was made for.
One day, I was sitting in the Mir and we were all sitting. It was a huge dining room, like 1,000 people were eating. I see a couple of Jewish kids helping the Sudanese in the kitchen over there, they were cleaning up. They were part of the clean-up crew. I’m thinking, “These boys, they come from good, Jewish homes. They’re helping the Sudanese to help to clean up, that’s what they’re doing with their lives? Just because they got turned off by Yiddishkeit or something happened to them?” I really, literally almost started to cry. Those Jewish boys have tremendous potential. They don’t know their own self-worth, they don’t know who they are. They’re the sons of the King, and there’s so many of us like that. For example, a man has a dog, and he has to take his dog for a walk. He carries around a little bag with him. When the dog makes, he takes his bag and picks it up. Is he crazy? What is this man doing, serving a dog? He’s picking up the stuff of a dog? He doesn’t know his own value. What if you found that you were a prince. It would change the way you looked at yourself.
Rav Avigdor Miller used to say at a boy’s Bar Mitzvah, that his hat was just as important as his tefillin, phylacteries. The fact that a Bar Mitzvah boy starts to wear a hat, that hat that he’s wearing is just as important as tefillin, because that hat says, “I’m a ben Torah. I’m special. I’m separate. I’m unique. I was created for a greater purpose, for a higher life.” The question is, why does this go against the grain of so many people? When people say, “The Jews are the chosen people,” and Jews cringe when they hear that, why is that? The answer really is that it comes from sin. When a person does the wrong thing, he starts to lose his self-confidence. He loses his self-worth. The question is, how to get back the self-confidence, and to accept that yes, we are the chosen people. We’re not racist. We’re ethnocentric. There’s a difference. We hold that anybody can become a Jew. If you want to join us, please do. But we do hold that what we’re doing is the greatest thing.
It’s like the Woody Allen joke that says, “Any club that would accept me, I don’t want to join that club.” It’s the opposite, though. The question is, how do we gain our self-confidence back? How do we gain our Jewish pride? How do we get it back? There’s two ways that I know. One thing is, clarity creates the confidence. The greatest factor for a person’s self-image is his ability to trust his grasp on reality. The more you develop your intelligence, the more you will develop your self-confidence. When you can believe in your power of decision-making and your power of perception of reality, that gives you self-confidence. So, learning Torah helps to accomplish that. When a person learns back and forth and he struggles inside the text, it builds the muscles of the intelligence and that builds self-confidence.
The second thing is, good deeds; if you want to build self-confidence, self-worth, do good deeds. Do deeds that you know have real worth, and God said they have real worth. Learning Torah has the combination of both – directly working on the intelligence, and it’s a good deed in itself. But the combination of learning and doing good deeds is the thing that’s going to bring back the confidence, to the point where one can say, “Yes, I am special. I am unique.” But it’s not arrogance, it’s a healthy self-worth. Just the opposite, a person who’s embarrassed to take his position in life, that comes from a low self-image. That’s really arrogance. You’re saying that what you are doing is the greatest thing, but that doesn’t mean you’re disrespectful to anybody. That doesn’t mean you don’t love people. You hold you’re doing the greatest thing, and if you are not doing the greatest thing, then what are you doing?
It’s very sad to see a person not live his life and feel that he’s doing the right thing. We have to fight this in the world, because the world now is trying to equate everything. There are no values. Everything goes. Everything’s the same. Nothing matters. There’s a yeiush, despair, who cares. You could do everything, nothing makes a difference. That destroys the personality. That takes away the self-worth of a person. If a person sins, he loses his confidence.
I just want to end off with the Shem shel Shmuel. He brings this week’s sefiras haOmer, this time period. He talks about the talmidim, students of Rabbi Akiva and he says the same thing. We know, Chazal tells us, that the reason why they died is because they didn’t give honor, one to each other, which is a hard thing to understand. We’re talking about tremendous talmidei chachamim, great, righteous people. What does it mean that they didn’t give honor, one to each other? He wants to explain there, they didn’t give the honor to the individual tzadik, righteous person. They gave honor to Torah learning in general, they understood that it had value. But they didn’t give the value to each individual.
He brings a nice proof that he said from the name of his father, that Nissan was the time we went out of Mitzrayim, Egypt. The sign of Nissan in astrology is the lamb. So, the lamb is the community. The lamb follows along with the group. Iyar which is the next month, is the bull, which is the individual. They didn’t recognize the bull, the individual. They didn’t give value to the other person and his individual place in the service of God. And the next month which is Sivan, that’s the twins. The twins is the balance between the community and the individual. So, all the honor has to be given, even though a person says, “Yes, I am doing the greatest thing. And yes, what I’m doing has true value.” But that doesn’t mean what everybody else is doing doesn’t have value. It means, whatever they’re doing, you have to have a balance between the community and the individual, which is the month of Sivan, the receiving of the Torah. And that’s the balance between the two.
Peace in Your Home
Now the sixth commandment of marriage according to Rav Avigdor Miller – never say, “I hate you,” and never say, “You’re ugly.” He says, “A person who says those things he’s like taking a piece of precious chinaware and smashing it on the floor. He should never say these things. You should never say to your wife, ‘You’re ugly,’ especially to the wife.” He says, “You must maintain the imaginary situation that existed at the moment of the marriage forever and ever.” In other words, that picture you had in mind when you married that person should stick throughout the entire marriage. You shouldn’t acknowledge any change in appearance. Anybody who says, “You look as nice as when I married you,” is going to get the next world, Olam Haba for that. You shouldn’t even hint at the fact that the person doesn’t look as well as they looked. Marriage is based on the feeling of attraction between a couple. Many times as time goes by, people get older, there’s no physical attraction. “However, the illusion has to continue forever,” he says. Even a great grandmother with one foot in the grave, she’s still checking herself in the mirror to see how many wrinkles she has. It’s very important to her.
He tells a story that one time a husband used to say to his wife – they were a young couple, “I see women in the street who are much more beautiful than you.” This is simply a crime. The woman raising a good family, she’s a loyal wife, and she’s a good cook. She does everything for him. Is it fair to say that I see women who look nicer than you? He says, “I’m sure when people walk down the street and see her, they say to their wives, “I saw today a woman who looks nicer than you.” He says, “This is a very, very serious thing and you can destroy all your mitzvos, all the good things you’re doing could be destroyed.” Never say the words, “I hate you,” and never say, “You are ugly.”
That’s it for this week’s Torah podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends. Please leave comments on the blog, and have a great week.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff