Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tazria-Metzora 5772

This week’s double parsha focuses on spiritual purity. In times of the Holy Temple, when a person became spiritually impure, the impurity manifested as tzara’at, a leprosy-like lesion on a person’s skin, clothing and house. The Kohein (Priest) instructed the afflicted how to remove the lesion and examined it later to see if it had disappeared.

Sometimes tzara’at remained on the clothing. “And behold, the affliction has not changed appearance.”  Rabbi Yissocher Frand notes that Torah uses an unusual expression to convey this idea: Lo hafach hanega et eino, literally “the affliction has not changed its eye.”

Why does Torah use such unusual wording to describe the status of the affected clothing?

Talmud (Arachin 16a) discusses seven causes for tzara’at, including lashon hara (improper speech). Lesser known is tzarut ayin, literally “narrowness of the eye”.  Explains Rabbi Frand: “It refers to a mean-spiritedness, a tendency to see the negative and overlook the positive in everything. It is a singular lack of generosity in all things, a constricted view of the world and everything in it.”

If this spiritual deficiency caused the tzara’at, it could only be reversed by transforming the trait of tzarut ayin to ayin tov, literally “[a person with a] good eye”.  A sourpuss had to become smiling, expansive, generous, optimistic, warm and friendly, writes Rabbi Frand.

Rabbi Frand also draws meaning from the Hebrew word for affliction, nega. He cites the Chiddushei Harim who remarks that nega (spelled nun, gimmel, ayin) has the same letters as its opposite, pleasure, which in Hebrew is oneg (spelled ayin, nun, gimmel).  Noting the placement of the letter ayin, which is also the Hebrew word for “eye”, he infers that once the afflicted changes his ayin, the affliction can be transformed into pleasure.

As parents, we must teach our children to look at the world with ayin tov. In our daily prayers, we ask G-d to grant us grace, kindness and mercy “in the eyes of all who see us.” In order to receive that blessing, we must remember to view others in a positive light, especially our own children.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Shemini 5772

This week’s parsha presents the laws of kashrut (eating kosher), specifically the animals that may be eaten and those that are prohibited. “These are the creatures that you may eat among all the animals on earth; any animal that has a cloven hoof that is completely split into double hooves, and which brings up its cud…But these you shall not eat…the pig, because it has a cloven hoof that is completely split, but will not regurgitate its cud.”

Why does Torah single out the pig as unfit to consume?

Jewish wisdom teaches that we are what we eat: the qualities intrinsic to our food affect us not only physically, but spiritually as well. Torah prohibits eating certain foods to keep us from assimilating their negative characteristics.

Rabbi Ari Kahn on notes that the pig is the only species that possesses the unique combination of traits – split hooves without cud chewing. With its split hooves, the pig appears kosher from the outside; only an inner analysis of its digestive process reveals a deficiency that renders it unfit for kosher consumption. The pig therefore is equated to a hypocrite – it shows its split hooves to demonstrate its acceptability, yet hides an unacceptable, critical inner flaw.

Rabbi Kahn picks up on the etymological significance of the Hebrew word for pig, chazir, which has the same root (chet, zion, resh) as the Hebrew word for “return.” He writes that many authorities cite a teaching that the pig will become kosher when Moshiach (Messiah) comes. The Midrash alludes to the time when the Jews, exiled since the Roman domination, will return to Jerusalem.

Rabbi Kahn remarks that several authorities, including Rav Menachim Azarya DeFano, Rav Chaim Ibn Attar and the Chatam Sofer, suggest that the pig will undergo an “evolutionary process” and develop a cud, rendering it kosher.  Writes Kahn: “If the pig can change and become kosher, and cease to be a symbol of hypocrisy, certainly [people]…can undergo a fundamental change and return to the inherent good with which G- d endowed every man.”

As parents, we see that children easily spot and question the inconsistencies and dishonesty inherent in hypocrisy. We should do everything possible to ensure that our words and actions reflect what is truly in our hearts, and that our external appearances do not belie any internal inconsistency.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Pesach 5772

The following is excerpted from articles by Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

The Pesach (Passover) seder puts the education of our children at its heart. The narrative of the Haggadah is constructed in response to a child’s questions: first the famous four questions, and soon after, the passages describing the four sons’ differing approaches to the seder.

In Torah, (Shemot/Exodus 12:26, 13:8, 13:14), when Moshe (Moses) addresses the people as they are about to go free, his theme is children, education and the distant future. “And when your children ask you, what does this ceremony mean to you?...On that day, tell your son, I do this because of what the L-rd did for me when I came out of Egypt…In days to come, when your son asks you, what does this mean?” Moshe recognizes that it is education that helps build and sustain a free society.

Throughout history, Jews have been scattered amongst the nations of the world. Faced with persecution, assimilation and numerous life-threatening challenges, Jews have proven to be a stubborn people -- a people that not only overcame these obstacles, but thrived. How has this happened? It is because Jews have known that to defend a country, you need an army, but to defend a civilization, you need education. You need to teach children why freedom matters and how it was achieved.

Freedom is not won by merely overthrowing a tyrannical ruler or an oppressive regime. That is usually only the prelude to a new tyranny, a new oppression. True freedom requires the rule of law and justice and a judicial system in which the rights of some are not secured by the denial of rights to others.

Freedom begins with what we teach our children. Freedom is won not on the battlefield but in the classroom and the home. That is why Jews became a people whose passion is education, whose heroes are teachers and whose citadels are schools.

Nowhere is this more apparent than on Pesach, when the entire ritual of handing on our story to the next generation is set in motion by the questions asked by a child.  Pesach’s central lesson is quite simple: encourage your children to ask questions and teach them the history of freedom if you never want them to lose it.