054 The Torah Podcast – Torah Portion of the Week – Emor – How to Increase Your Life Force – The Jewish Secret to Vitality – A Powerful Parable about the New Goat – A Great Story about Rav Shach and Peace in Your Home – The Problem with Criticism
The Torah Podcast Transcript
Torah Portion of the Week – Emor
In this week’s Parsha the verses say like this. “Hashem said to Moses, ‘say to the Cohanim, the sons of Aharon, and you shall say to them, to a dead person he should not become impure among his people.’” This is the first commandment to the Cohanim of what they shouldn’t do. “They cannot go in and purify themselves by doing the mitvah of burying the dead, unless it is a blood relative or a spouse.” The verses continue, “They shall not make a bald spot on their heads, and they shall not shave the edge of their beard. In their flesh they shall not scratch a scratch.” We’re going to explain what that means. The next verse says, “They shall not marry a woman who was a zona, or a challalah, or a woman who’s been divorced from her husband. For each one is holy to God.” We’re going to discuss why a Cohen cannot marry a divorcee.
I want to first go back to last week’s Parsha and tell you what Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch says on this verse. It was also a negative commandment for a regular person to not make a wound on himself. It said, “You shall not make a wound in your flesh for one who has died,” put a tattoo upon yourselves. “I am God.” He wants to explain why we cannot make a wound in our flesh for the one who dies. This was the pagan custom, and it’s forbidden for Jews. He explains, “Wait a second. We do do kria, we rip our garments when somebody dies. It’s a mitzvah to do kria, a mitzvah de’oraisa from the Torah. If lo aleinu a relative dies, you rip kria. You rip your clothes. What’s the difference between ripping your clothes and putting a mark in your skin? He says, “The renting or the ripping of clothes represents the fact that this loved one has departed makes a rent in our world.” In other words, it’s a part of our world is now missing. That’s the mitzvah to realize that yes, now something is missing from your life. The loved one is gone. But to go one step further and to make a wound in your flesh, that God-forbid, we don’t do. He says, “No matter how dear and precious the person may be to us, no matter how much he means to us, his death must not negate or even diminish the value and the meaning of our own lives.” Every man’s life is important in its direct relationship to God. Every fiber of our physical existence, every spark of energy that is given to us, and every minute of our lives is sacred to God. As long He ordains life for us in this world, we must preserve His service. And ad araba, just the opposite – we should fill the gap that’s now missing in our lives with our service to God.
But the pagans on the other hand, they would see this as the force of death that came into their lives. And therefore they have to pay homage to the dark forces, and somehow deflect the decree that’s against them. So, they would wound themselves in order that they shouldn’t die, as if God is a God of death and destruction. But as said, for a Jew that’s totally forbidden. Throwing away your own life, or even a fragment of your own life, is not an act of respect but it’s a crime against God. In other words, God is the life force. The way that we deal with death is more life – serving God more, doing more chessed, doing more teshuva, coming closer to God, because God is a source of life.
Now, this was all in the mitzvah of last week’s Parsha, which was talking about a non-Cohen. In this week’s Parsha we take it one step further with the Cohanim, who are not at all allowed to be connected with death. A very interesting thing, the Cohanim, the Jewish priests, could have no connection to death, which is the exact opposite of the pagans. Their priests were involved with death. A Jewish priest can’t go into a cemetery, even to this day. When they go in the hospital they should be very careful where the dead bodies are. Rav Hirsch says here, “Heathenism, both ancient and modern, tend to associate religion with death. The kingdom of God begins where man ends. Death or dying are the main manifestations of divinity. And therefore, God is a God of death.” Where does God start? When you die. When you die you go to see God, right? That’s the normal way of thinking about things. Most people including myself think that religion starts with death, when you’re going to go to the next world.
You’ve got to hear this chiddush, thought, it’s unbelievable. And I also thought this way until I heard this tremendous chiddush, this new idea. You have to hear this. He says, “God is the God of life. The most exulted manifestation of God is not in the power of death which crushes strength and life; rather God reveals Himself in the liberating and the vitalizing power of life, which elevates man to free will and eternal life. Judaism teaches us not how to die, but how to live, so that even in life you may overcome death. What’s death? An un-free existence, enslavement to the physical things, and moral weakness. And just the opposite – our whole focus is on life and connection with life, which is moral freedom. And a life of thought and will, creativity, achievement and pleasure. This is simply unbelievable. In other words, death is connected with this world. The next world is life. But even life in this world is connected with the next world, because all the life force comes from above. It’s just the opposite of what you thought. People think, people they die and they go to the next world. No. You’re living in this world because of the life force that’s coming into this world from the next world. And therefore, the Cohanim cannot be connected with death at all. Why? Because the Cohanim are connecting this world to the next world, and their job is to uplift this world, to connect this world to the world of life, eternal life.
Look how he defines death. “Death is an un-free existence, enslavement to the physical things, and moral weakness.” In other words, the more connected you are to the physical world, the more dead you are. The more you enslave to your taavas, to your desires, it makes you more dead. What’s the opposite life? Moral freedom, a life of thought and will, creativity, achievement. In other words, life means you’re free, you’re free from the physical. That’s what makes you alive. You’re connected with eternity. This is unbelievable. That’s why the Cohen has to step away, he cannot be next to the dead person, and by doing that they raise the banner of life beside the corpse. They awaken in people’s consciousness the idea of life, and remind them of moral freedom, of man’s Godly existence. That’s not subjugated to the bodily forces, that suppress all moral freedom. They reinforce in people’s conscious the idea of life. Our whole view of life is upside down. We think life is here, the physical; that’s life. Just the opposite; life is the spiritual. The life force comes from the spiritual. The more disconnected you are from the physical, the more alive you are, the more vital you are, the more energy you have. And death, what’s death? Death’s connected with the body, with the physical. That’s why the verses continue. It says in verse 17, “Speak to Aharon saying, ‘Any man of your offspring throughout the generations who has a bodily defect shall not draw near and bring an offering to God.’” A Cohen if he’s going to serve in the Temple, cannot have any physical defect. It’s called a mum, an externally visible body defect. He can’t be missing an arm, an eye. He has to be shalem, complete. Again, the same idea – God is connected with shleimus, completeness, perfection, not defects in the physical reality. He says, “The altar was not built so a weary man could crawl up to its heights and find consolation in his sorrow, and miraculous healing for his illness.” Rather, life in its completeness and its freshness and its strength, that’s what should be on God’s altar – the whole person, the whole being. It shouldn’t take a calamity for a Jew to come close to God. A broken life, or a fragment of life. One cannot attain a full life that is worthy of God’s nearness unless his aspiration springs from the standpoint of life that is whole, and is completeness. It’s a healthy religion. We’re coming from a healthy place. Our connection to God has to be healthy. That is the connection to God, because God is the life force. It’s the physical world that’s deficient. It’s the physical world that is tamei, impure. All these things come from the physical.
The Ohr haChaim explains in this week’s Parsha that corporality, gashmius, opposes fusion with spirituality by definition, by its very nature. This opposition between the spiritual and the physical is more powerful than the opposition between fire and water. The physicality of this world does not go together with spirituality. But up until now we thought that life, life was this world, and the source of life is this world. It’s not true. That’s nature, that’s teva. The source of life is coming from above. If we want to have spirituality, we have to have the proper relationship to the physical world. Everything in its place.
I want to bring the Shem mi Shmuel who explains. Also in this week’s Parsha you have a lav in the Torah that an onen cannot bring a sacrifice. Who is that? Someone, the first day lo aleinu if one of his relatives died and he didn’t bury his dead yet, a person in that position cannot bring a sacrifice to the Beis Hamigdash. He brings the verse in Tehillim, “Serve God with joy and come before Him with singing.” A person in this bereaved state, he’s incomplete. So, he can’t bring a shlamim, which means completeness. He can’t bring a sacrifice of completeness, because he is incomplete.
He brings a Zohar that says, “If a person transgresses a mitzvah and he repents before his master, how should be appear before God? Surely he needs to demonstrate a broken and depressed spirit. But where’s the joy? Where’s the singing? If he cries, this is best of all. But where’s the joy? In what way should it be rectified? By the Cohanim and the Leviim, who will make up the joy and the singing for him.” In other words, even if a person did a sin and now he has to come back to the Beis Hamigdash and he has a broken heart, it still requires that it’s in an environment of singing and joy – unbelievable. The Cohanim are supposed to connect this world to the spiritual world, it has to be done through singing and joy, because there is no connection to the spiritual without singing and without joy. That’s why he explains that a Cohen can have no connection with death. It is inappropriate for the Cohen to come in contact with death, because it’s the opposite of his very being. The Cohen strives to join the physical and the spiritual, and death breaks them apart.
He brings the Arizal, listen to this. “Prior to death, the person is attacked by kochos hatuma.” Before a person dies, lo aleinu, these forces of impurity come into his body. The holy soul which rests within the victim cannot bear the association with these forces, and therefore it departs the body, just to alleviate its discomfort. How does a person die? These forces of impurity come into him, and he can’t take it. He has to leave, his neshama has to go out. That’s how it works, because death is only connected with the physical body. Like Rav Hirsch said, “Death is connected with the inability to control yourself.” A person is running all day after his taivas, all kinds of things. He’s actually running after death, not life. I never understood why death was connected with alcohol. They put subliminal messages of death connected with alcohol. The answer is, death is connected with alcohol, because the more a person goes after his taivas, his physical desires, he’s running really after death, not after life. When a person runs after mitzvos, when he controls himself, when he has moral freedom like Rav Hirsch said, when he’s free, that’s connected with the life force. We think that life is having a great time, having fun. It’s true, enjoying life is having fun, but within the framework of Torah and mitzvos. God gave us the way to life.
Now, listen to this. The Shem mi Shmuel explains why a Cohen cannot marry a divorcee, which is true to this day. These halachas apply today. A Cohen cannot go into a graveyard, and a Cohen cannot marry a divorced woman. We know that men and women are opposite, and Chazal tells us, “Ish ve ishah,” if you take away the letters of God’s name which is the yud and the hey, you’re left with aish. In other words, if you do not have God in the relationship, the couple will burn each other up. He says, “A divorced couple are left with a sense of division and disunity. Thus, a divorced woman is no longer in a spiritual condition to marry a Cohen, whose very being demands contact only with unifying forces.” He brings the Gemara in Pesachim that says, “When two divorced people get married, there are four views in the bed.” Since a Cohen’s whole job is to unify, is to connect with the spiritual world, he can’t marry a woman who was divorced, who became disconnected. It’s a little bit harsh, but that’s his job. You see that the Cohen has to be connected with unity, with life, and be totally disconnected from the forces of death, destruction, or even rejection, because all those forces are the antithesis of God, who is the life force.
I want to bring Rav Schwab who also speaks on this week’s Parsha. The verse says, “An ox, lamb or goat when it is born, shall be its mother for seven days. An ox or a lamb and its offspring you shall not slaughter in one day. When you sacrifice a thanksgiving offering to Hashem, it will be favorably accepted before you. And you shall not profane my Holy name. But I will be sanctified among bnei Yisroel. Speak to bnei Yisroel and say them at the appointed times of Hashem, ‘You shall proclaim them as this holy assembly sees my appointed times.” Then you have all the different holidays, all the Jewish holidays are listed after that.
These possukim are the possukim that we read for all the Yom Tovim, all the Jewish holidays. But he has a question. When we read it, why do we bring these possukim before? It seems to be unrelated. First of all, you have the law of an ox and a lamb that it must be with its mother for at least seven days. Only on the eighth day is it eligible for a sacrifice. Then you have the prohibition that you can’t slaughter the cow and its mother on the same day. And then you have the thanksgiving offerings, which are supposed to be brought when a person survives something dangerous. Then you have kiddush Hashem, that a Jew has to sacrifice his life not to do avoda zara, shikfas damim, not to kill, and not to do zenus, not to live with another woman if he’s forced to do so. He has to die instead of doing those things. That’s kiddush Hashem. What does all that have to do with the holidays? They seem to be disconnected. There’s enough possukim, enough verses, on the holidays that we don’t need to read that part.
He wants to explain that the possukim that come before the mitzvah of kiddush Hashem that a person has to sacrifice himself, give value to life. Because what’s the mitzvah of sacrificing yourself if you don’t value life itself? The fact that the calf has to live for at least eight days before you sacrifice it, that shows the value of life. And that you cannot kill the mother and the baby on the same day that shows genocide. Again, value for life. And bringing a sacrifice, and bringing the sacrifice of a thanksgiving offering when you were saved from a dangerous situation, you’re valuing life.
What if a person is caught God-forbid in a situation with the Nazis or who knows what, where he has to give up his life? It should be the most precious thing that he’s giving up, which is life. So, here’s the chiddush, novel idea, he says, “Where does a person really get the value of life, and the strength in order to sacrifice himself? From the next possuk, from the holidays; from all the Jewish holidays, the connection to Hashem. That’s where we get our life force. That’s where we get our connection to life. All the Jewish holidays connect us with life. That’s where we restore our batteries,” he says, “Because by living the Jewish lifestyle and going through all the holidays of the year, we connect with life. We connect with God, and God is the life force. Not the force of death, God-forbid, and destruction – that the next world is only after you die. This world is where you die. This world is where you have to be careful of death. This world is where you have to protect yourself from sin, because the more you connect with the bodily forces, the more you’re connecting with the forces of death and darkness. The Torah is light. The Torah is vitality, the Torah is life.” We learn this from the Cohanim, the Cohanim cannot go into a cemetery. The Cohanim are commanded a second time not to mar their bodies. The Cohanim cannot have a physical blemish. And all these things are there to put into the consciousness of every Jew, that Torah is a life force. Mitzvos are our lives, and the holidays are our chance to connect up with God and be connected with life, eternal life.
A Powerful Parable
This week’s Parsha speaks about Yom Kippur. The verse says, “A day of atonement. It shall be for you a holy assembly.” One time, a poor man brought a goat for his wife. His wife was all excited. She says, “Now we’re going to have milk to give the kids.” She didn’t delay for a moment. She went outside and took a pitcher, and started to milk the goat. But to her disappointment, the goat didn’t give any milk. She began to cry. Her husband said, “Don’t cry, please. The goat’s probably tired. Let her rest a little bit. Give her some hay to eat, and I’m sure she’ll give us some milk later on.” That was the moshul, parable. The Maggid mi Dubno says the nimshal, conclusion is, sometimes also a person he repents, he regrets his sins. He even tortures his soul in atonement. Then right away he wants to feel and know what his efforts have reaped, as if he was forgiven right away. Hakadosh Baruch Hu said, “Wait a little bit. Let’s see what this fasting and regret has done for you.”
Great Stories – Rav Shach
The Rambam in Sefer ha Mitzvos and the Sefer ha Chinuch both say that included in mitzvah, that a Cohen is only allowed to become impure for his relatives, we learn that a Jew also has to mourn his relative. He has to sit shiva seven days. One time Rav Shach was sitting shiva for his wife, and Rav Yehuda Addes from Bayit Vegan came to visit him to make a shiva call. This was on a Sunday. Rav Shach said to him that he was thinking of going to give his shiur, Torah lesson which he gives on Tuesday, in the middle of the shiva period. He opened up the Shulchan Aruch and showed Rav Addas, “A mourner who is needed by the many, from whom many learn, is permitted to teach them Torah, even in the middle of a shiva.” Rav Shach asked him humbly, “What’s your opinion?” Rav Addes was a little bit surprised how could Rav Shach have the koach, the energy to give a shiur in the middle of his mourning? He answered him, he said, “Maybe the community will not understand, and they’ll see it as disrespectful as compared to kavod HaTorah, honor for the Torah.” Rav Shach said, “You’re right. It’s better not to give the lecture.”
For several months after that, Rav Shach wrote a letter to somebody. He said, “It’s quite a while that I haven’t written you. I’m sure you know the reason is because it’s so difficult for me to concentrate after I’ve lost my wife, because I have still not recovered from the anguish.” So, you can imagine how much mesirus nefesh, self-sacrifice Rav Shach had, to give a shiur beiyun in the Yeshiva the same week of his shiva, but he was willing to do it for the sake of the Yeshiva.
Peace in Your Home
Rav Simcha Cohen speaks about criticism. He says, “When a man is going in the street looking for a certain address, he is grateful for anyone to point out which direction he should go in, and if he’s going in the wrong direction. But when someone tells him a personal thing that he’s going in the wrong direction in his life, so there’s tremendous resistance, and the defenses go up immediately. He may even come to hate the person who said that to him. Few though, do appreciate criticism as if it was a gift. King Solomon said, “Admonish the wise man and he’ll love you.” But on the other hand, very few people know how to give criticism. The Gemara says, “Said Rav Eliezer ben Azarya, I would be amazed to find that if there’s anyone who can give criticism today.” The Maharal wants to explain that it takes tremendous wisdom to give criticism. You have to speak pleasantly, and you have to speak reasonably. You have to speak in a way that’s going to penetrate the other person’s heart. It’s very hard to give constructive criticism, and very easy to give destructive criticism.”
In a marriage, what happens is the two people are very different. They don’t realize their differences. They feel misunderstood. They look at their spouses as if they’re doing something hurtful to them. It may have been actually something that their spouse was doing in order to help the other person, but they don’t see exactly where the other person’s coming from.
In order to work at the marriage, you have to know how to tell the other person what’s bothering you. But you have to do it in the right way. What usually happens is, as soon as you try to point something out they say, “Who are you to talk?” The defense mechanisms come up. If she says to her husband, “You’re not giving my parents the proper respect,” he says back to her, “You’re so perfect?” If she says to her, “Your new dress is a little bit high,” she says, “Well, you don’t pray with a minyan, quorum, every time, do you?” No one likes to hear criticism. And sometimes there’s criticism even without the person speaking. He gave an example of this guy Marty who went to a Jewish seminar to learn Jewish values. The next thing, he shows up in his office with a hat and tzitzis and the beginnings of a beard. He tells everybody he wants to be called Mordechai, not Marty. Everybody gets upset. He’s a fundamentalist, everybody gets upset with him. But he didn’t criticize anybody. He says, “Yes, he did. His actions criticize. The fact that he has his new lifestyle by definition means he rejects their lifestyle. It’s as if he’s criticizing them without even saying anything.” In the house, criticism can frustrate one of our most basic needs – to be loved and accepted the way we are. We expect that our spouse should accept us the way we are, and overlook our faults. Even though we have the faults it’s true, but we want the other person to overlook our faults. We want emotional support, because of our weaknesses. We tell the other person, “That’s the way I am.” It’s very hard for us to change our habits, physical habits and ideological habits.
He gave an example. One guy tried to convince his friend to come to a lecture on Jewish values. The friend says, “Who’s giving it? “ He says, “Oh, a famous Rabbi.” He says, “No, I don’t want to come. I don’t feel like coming.” He pressed him. “Nope, I don’t want to come.” He said, “Why not? It would be interesting. It might do you some good.” He says, “That’s exactly the point. I don’t want to be convinced. I’m afraid I’m going to be convinced.” In other words, even if he feels that it’s right, he doesn’t want to change his ideological habit. So, it doesn’t matter what the other person is saying, they’re just saying that’s the way I am. Nobody wants to hear about change.
He brings the Sefer Yekarim that says, “The cry of a newborn baby is all about a lifestyle change. That’s why he’s crying.” He came out of the womb into this world – difficult. And surely, if we’d give the criticism out of anger, it’s not going to work. Most of the time when we criticize, it comes out from a build-up of small events that are happening in the house. Then the person explodes. So, when they see that other person’s face and they see a little bit of anger, they’re going to reject the person.
On the other hand, a person can be reading an article about this exact problem that the spouse is bringing up, and the person will read the article again. He’ll be interested, he’ll look at it. That’s because he’s under control, there’s no one else pressing him. He brings a raya, proof from the Torah itself. It says, “When Hashem rebuked Aharon and Miriam because they were speaking about Moses who was neglecting his wife, God explained to them, ‘Listen, na, please listen to my words.’ If there would be a Prophet among you and a vision, I will make myself known to him in a dream and I will speak to him. Not so with Moses my servant. In all my house he is trusted. Mouth to mouth do I speak to him. And the image of God he sees. Why did you not fear to speak against my servant Moses?” Only after that the Torah says, “And God’s anger flared against them.” At first he told Miriam and Aharon, calmly and quietly, what they did wrong. He even used the word na, please – please listen, politely he said it. The Mizrachi says on this, “He spoke with them softly, for had He spoken with them angrily, His words would not have been listened to.” Who are we talking about? Aharon and Miriam. They wouldn’t have listened to Hashem. If Hashem was angry with them, and gave them rebuke with anger, they wouldn’t have listened. And who was giving them the rebuke? The Master of the Universe. So surely, we’re not going to listen to rebuke from anyone if they’re giving it to us with anger. He says, “Sometimes one of the couples comes to me. I screamed at him, I yelled at him, I told him how hurt I was.” He says, “Yeah, of course. That’s why he’s not listening,” because the person pays attention to the tone and the anger, and doesn’t listen to the content. Next week, Bezrat Hashem, we’re going to speak about the right way to criticize.
That’s it for this week’s podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends. You can go to torahpodcast.com, and there you can find the link to iTunes to leave a rating and review. Please do me a personal favor, and leave a review on iTunes.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff