Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Problem of Pet Sterilization

Nature in the Parasha - Parashat Emor
My son, Meir, recently became a dog owner. Together with my daughter in law and granddaughters, their life has been enriched by the loving dog Chiquita. She mainly lives on their porch, but is allowed in the house whenever they are home. She is a very good-natured and friendly dog and doesn’t bark much, in other words, this is a dog with excellent midot (character traits)! The children learn a lot from taking care of Chiquita. My daughter in law reports that they have become more in touch with their feelings, more cooperative and sharing. By trying to feel how Chiquita feels, they become more aware of how other kids feel. Actually, the whole family is happier since they brought Chiquita home. Daily contact with the dog and responsibility for her care offers my grandchildren a sense of self-worth, as animals are so accepting. One day Chiquita escaped and only returned the next day. Exactly two months after on a Friday when I was eagerly expecting a Shabbat visit of my children and grandchildren, I got a phone call from Meir, “Eh Mazal tov we had puppies.” He hesitatingly began. “We don’t exactly know about coming for Shabbat as we can’t leave the dog alone now with the seven new puppies.” I was a bit in shock, I didn’t even know she was expecting. What was my son and his family going to do with all those puppies? So many mouths to feed and so much work to take care of them all. Knowing how busy they both are, working full time and also studying. What about coming for Shabbat? Would they ever be able to leave all those dogs?

Meanwhile, they managed, the puppies were nursing and the children were delighted, they each adopted two of the puppies, which they eagerly named after their favorite ice-cream, names such as Chocho, Vanilla and Banana. Three month later, they were still the proud owners of eight dogs. “What are you going to do with all these puppies?” I asked my son. “We are trying to find homes for them. Do you know anyone in Bat Ayin who would be interested?” answered my son with a question. “Sorry no, I absolutely know no-one who would want to adopt a mutt puppy. I only know people who are trying to get rid of their extra dogs and cats.” In fact, the Bat Ayin community has its own strays. Some got lost and never returned and they continue to multiply until happily ever after. The holy city of Jerusalem too is bursting with stray cats, and so are many other places I have been. We even have a special name for these strays: ‘Garbage cats.’ Because of the scarcity of food to feed them all, they have this scrawny famished look. So, I told my son, “You may want to look into spading your dog, so you won’t have seven new dogs every year. I know it is a halachic problem, but there must be some way to get around it. I mean, some way to do it in a permissible halachic way, ‘cause I can’t believe Hashem wants this overpopulated unbalanced situation which is the source of much tzar ba’alei chaim (pain caused to animals).” I was happy when a few weeks after this conversation I found the prohibition to castrate people and animals in this week’s parasha. This would be my opportunity to look into what the Torah has to say on the topic. Read on to learn the answers I found.

To Spay or not to Spay
This week’s parasha discusses disqualification of animals for sacrificing. A male cow, sheep or goat that has been sterilized may not be sacrificed as it states,
ספר ויקרא פרק כב וּמָעוּךְ וְכָתוּת וְנָתוּק וְכָרוּת לֹא תַקְרִיבוּ לַהָשֵׁם וּבְאַרְצְכֶם לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ
“You shall not offer to Hashem anything which has its testicles bruised, crushed, torn, or cut; neither shall you do thus in your land (Vayikra 22:24).

Rashi explains that this prohibition is a personal responsibility of the individual and not a duty to be practiced only in the land of Israel such as bikurim (first fruit sacrifice), chalah (bread tithes) etc. The phrase, “Neither shall you do so in your land,” therefore, comes to include any animal that exists in your land whether kosher or non-kosher. Likewise, the Talmud records that when the students asked Ben Zoma, “What about castrating a dog?” He replied in the negative, “Anything in your land you shall not do” (Babylonian Talmud, Chagigah 14b). The sages understood this verse to prohibit sterilization of all male creatures, human and animals alike (Sifra Emor 121). The Torah verse applies to any deliberate impairment of the male reproductive organs in domestic animals, beasts, birds, and man, including the castration of a person who is already impotent or genitally maimed (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 110b). While the biblical commandment for men remains clear, scholars debated its applicability to women. While some maintain that females are also biblically prohibited from removing internal sexual organs, it is halachically accepted to be a lighter rabbinic violation (Even Ha’ezer 5:11). Neutering female animals may only stem from the laws against tza’ar ba’alei chayim (causing suffering to animals), and for women from the general prohibition of causing someone pain (Taz 5:6). Therefore, many halachic authorities permit hysterectomies for therapeutic purposes and to prevent dangerous or unusually painful childbirth (Bach EH 5), However, they remain less preferable options when nonsurgical forms of contraception are equally available (Igrot Moshe EH 4:34). Whether Noachide laws includes the prohibition of sterilization is disputed. Whereas the Talmud records one view according to which the ban on castration is included among the Noachide Laws (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 56b), many halachic authorities assert that non-Jews are permitted to perform these procedures (Aruch Hashulchan 5:26).

Fruitful and Multiplying
Sefer HaChinuch explains the reason for the prohibition of sterilization from an early environmentalist perspective. Castration may bring about extinctions which could impoverish our rich, diverse, various, complex world, a world with many species, which the Creator called “good” and “very good” (Bereishit 1:25, 31).
משרשי המצוה, לפי שהשם ברוך הוא ברא עולמו בתכלית השלימות, לא חסר ולא יתר בו דבר מכל הראוי להיות בו לשלימותו, והיה מרצונו ובירך בעלי החיים להיותם פרים ורבים, וגם צוה הזכרים ממין האדם על זה, למען יעמודו, שאם לא כן, יהיה המין כלה אחר שהמות מכלה בהם, ועל כן המפסיד כלי הזרע מראה בנפשו כמי שהוא קץ במעשה הבורא ורוצה כהשחתת עולמו הטוב
“The root of the mitzvah is that Hashem may He be blessed, created His world for the purpose of perfection. There is nothing lacking or is extra in it from what is suitable for the perfected world. Through G-d’s benevolent will, He blessed the animals to be fruitful and multiply. He also commanded the human males about this, in order that they endure. If not so, the species would be extinct. Therefore, if someone incapacitates the male sexual organs, he shows himself to be as one who cannot tolerate the work of the Creator and desires the destruction of His good world” (Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 291).

The mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply has such a central place in the Torah. It is ingrained in the very fabric or creation when all species was blessed with fruitful procreation. The mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply is also the very first mitzvah given to humanity (Bereishit 1:28). Unfortunately, we have destroyed the eco balance of the earth, and somehow this has caused an overpopulation of certain species. Therefore, spaying dogs and cats will no longer threaten these species from being extinct. On the contrary, it would avoid contributing to the population of unwanted dogs and cats. Certainly, no one wishes to see packs of starving feral dogs roaming our cities, or desperate bony cats massacring our remaining songbirds. So what can we do about this problem in a halachic permissible way?

Finding a Permissive Halachic Way to Neuter Your Pet
In recent years, both public health officials and animal rights groups have advocated that pet owners neuter their pets. They note that excessive reproduction and overpopulation can endanger the animal, the species and the public. Experts advise us to neuter our cats and dogs. We should do so, they say, as responsible pet owners.

1. While halacha prohibits us from neutering our pet, it does not prohibit us from owning a pet that is already neutered. Therefore, one solution is to acquire and already neutered pet.

2. There is no halachic prohibition against using hormonal treatments or contraceptives, when available, to limit fertility.

3. Most halachic authorities hold that a Jew may not take his pet to a non-Jewish vet to get it fixed, since it’s not permitted for a Jew to tell a non-Jew to perform a Torah prohibition. A Jew may not ask a non-Jew to sterilize for himself (amira le’akum), even in a subtle or indirect manner (EH 5:14). However, it may be permissible to sell our animal to gentiles, who in return would get a second non-Jew to neuter the animal. Then, if both parts agree, it would be allowed to buy back the animal. This law was originally instituted by 19th century scholars to prevent severe financial loss from business owners who used animals for commercial purposes, (Ha’elef Lecha Shlomo EH 23). Although many contemporary halachic authorities believe it inappropriate to utilize this procedure with household pets for purposes of convenience (e.g. to eliminate unwanted litters or to prevent the animal from trying to leave the house), (Shu”t Bemareh Bazak 6:77), it is quite possible that one may do so if it is necessary to alleviate an animal's suffering due to sickness. Aruch Hashulchan would very likely agree with this conclusion since he rules that non-Jews are permitted to remove reproductive organs. Whereas we may not violate a biblical prohibition to alleviate an animal's suffering, it is possible that we may violate the rabbinic prohibition to ask a non-Jew to do what a Jew may not do in order to alleviate suffering.

4. An alternative solution has been offered by Rabbi I. Y. Unterman (Otzar Haposkim I, pp. 164-165). He describes a procedure of neutering which he believes constitutes only a rabbinic prohibition since it does not involve direct removal of reproductive organs. Instead, the blood supply to the testicles is eliminated and the animal is rendered sterile. Rabbi Unterman asserts that one who performs this procedure violates the prohibition indirectly (grama) which is permitted on a Torah level and forbidden by the rabbis. The authorities who rule that non-Jews are forbidden to neuter animals concede that non-Jews are forbidden only to perform biblically forbidden acts of neutering. Non-Jews are not required to follow rabbinic legislation.

5. There is greater room for leniency when a female pet is involved since many authorities believe neutering a female to be a rabbinic prohibition, and a minority opinion (Taz, Even Haezer 5:6) believes that one is permitted to neuter a female animal if the procedure is performed for the creature's benefit. As with most mitzvot, sterilization becomes permissible when done for urgent therapeutic needs. Given the lighter strictures regarding female species and claims of significant health benefits, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner allows a Jewish veterinarian to spay female pets (She’elat Shlomo v.6), while Rabbi Shmuel Wosner (Shevet Halevi 6:204) more hesitantly permits a non-Jew to perform the procedure.

6. Recently, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar has alternatively contended that because of public safety concerns from wild and ownerless animals, one may ask a non-Jewish veterinarian to neuter pets of both genders.

Wow, I didn’t know this topic was so complicated. Seems to me that to be on the sure halachic side it doesn’t hurt to ask our personal Rabbi before getting involved in neutering our animal in any way.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ingrained Giving

Nature in the Parasha: Parashat Acharei Mot/Kedoshim
During the week when the Land of Israel was returned back into Jewish hands after nearly 2000 years of exile we read Parashat Acharei Mot/Kedoshim. I just noted that the meaning of these Parshiot is, After death/Holiness. May I venture to interpret this as, “After the deathening exile there is holiness through the Jewish people once again returning to their Holy Land.” Parashat Kedoshim opens with the directive to be holy: “You shall be holy; for I Hashem your G-d am holy” (Vayikra 19:2). So what is kedusha – holiness? A word that sounds weird in other languages. Our Torah verse gives us the clue, holiness is about emulating Hashem. An important part of being holy and living a holy life is to be giving in all our endeavors, for Hashem is all about giving. Holiness is not only in the synagogue and in the House of Study; holiness is in the work-field and in the corners of our orchard. We naturally want to give and enjoy the feeling of being a beneficiary. While, we all have various areas where we enjoy giving, the Torah teaches us a different attitude towards the very concept of ownership and giving. While it is gratifying to select personal gifts for loved ones, at times it can be challenging to give, especially when we have worked very hard for it. Having really earned something by the hard work of our hands, may give rise to a feeling of exclusive ownership. At harvest time, when we look forward to bringing the fruit of our own labor home. Precisely at the moment when we are about to proudly pronounce, “This is my own,” that is the time to bear in mind and signify in deed how we are obligated to care for others as well (Rav S.R Hirsch, Vayikra 19:10).
ספר ויקרא פרק יט
ט) וּבְקֻצְרְכֶם אֶת קְצִיר אַרְצְכֶם לֹא תְכַלֶּה פְּאַת שָׂדְךָ לִקְצֹר וְלֶקֶט קְצִירְךָ לֹא תְלַקֵּט
י) וְכַרְמְךָ לֹא תְעוֹלֵל וּפֶרֶט כַּרְמְךָ לֹא תְלַקֵּט לֶעָנִי וְלַגֵּר תַּעֲזֹב אֹתָם אֲנִי הָשֵׁם אֱלֹהֵיכֶם
“When you harvest the harvest of your land, you shall not completely harvest the corner of your field; neither shall you collect all the gleanings of your harvest. Do not collect single or underdeveloped grapes from your vineyard; neither shall you glean all the fallen grapes. Leave them for the poor person and the convert. I am Hashem your G-d” (Vayikra 19:9-10).

The Torah designed these special agricultural mitzvot not only to assure that the poor and less fortunate are cared for at the time of harvest. These mitzvot are also to help the landowner harness his ego and open his heart to the less fortunate. The manner in which we may harvest our field of grain or vineyard is restricted to assure that we leave behind some portion of the crop for the poor. Verse 9 delineates specific mitzvot that apply to a field of grain, while verse 10 describes the commandments that apply to a vineyard. These mitzvot instill within us a general attitude of giving not just to loved ones but even within the furthest corners of our lives.

Forget it for the Poor
The first mitzvah of the field mentioned in Parashat Kedoshim is known as peah, referring to the corner of the field that must be left uncut for the poor to reap. This mitzvah applies equally to all fields, orchards and vineyards (see Devarim 24:20). In addition, we have the mitzvah of leket, often translated as gleanings. It refers to the mitzvah of leaving for the poor the fallings of the hands of the harvester while harvesting the field. This only applies if less than three stalks fall in one place during the harvest. If, however, three stalks fall at once, the owner it permitted to collect them. Ruth was aware of this law and was careful to glean only one or two fallen stalks (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 113b). There is a similar mitzvah regarding the vineyard, known as peret. The vineyard also has an additional mitzvah, not to “pick clean” the vines by collecting the ollelot, the underdeveloped clusters of grapes. Parashat Ki Tetzei introduces another mitzvah known as shichecha. If a sheaf is forgotten during the harvest, it is to be left for the poor. The owner of the field may not return to collect it. This mitzvah applies to trees as well; when one forgets to pick one or two trees, they must be left for the poor. In the summary, the agricultural gifts are as follows:

The Four Gifts of the Vineyard: 1. פֶרֶט/peret – the fallen grapes 2. עוֹלְלִים/ollelim – the undeveloped clusters 3. שִׁכְחָה/shichecha – the forgotten clusters 4. פְּאַה/peah – the corner of the vineyard.
The Three Gifts of the Field: 1.לֶקֶט /leket – the gleanings 2. שִׁכְחָה/shichecha – the forgotten sheaf bundle 3. פְּאַה/peah – the corner of the field.
The Two Gifts in the Orchard: 1. שִׁכְחָה/shichecha – the forgotten fruits 2. פְּאַה/peah – the corner of the orchard (Babylonian Talmud Chullin 131a). Together all the mitzvot transform our field into a center for agricultural tzedakah (charity), allowing us to provide for the poor in a dignified manner.

The Mitzvot of the Field and the Nature of Property Ownership
These agricultural mitzvot ingrain within us that our field and vineyard do not yield their produce for us alone, (this is the message of peah and ollelot). With the labor of our own hands we do not work only for ourselves (this is the message of leket and peret) (Rabbi S. R. Hirsch, ibid). We shouldn’t think that we are giving to the poor from our own property, or that Hashem has despised him by not giving him the abundance that He has given us. The mitzvot of the field teach us that the poor is also Hashem’s child, just as we are, but his portion is in our produce. It is for our merit that Hashem intended to give his/her portion from our hand. This is the reason why the beginning of the verse “When you reap” is plural, but the end “you shall not reap all the way” is singular. At the beginning, it uses the plural “the harvest of your [plural] land,” belonging to the owner, the poor, and the stranger, for in truth, their portion is included in the owners field (Rav Moshe Alschich, Torat Moshe, Vayikra 19:9-10). The change in terminology in our Torah verse from plural to singular can also imply that the verse is focusing on the individual responsibility of providing for the poor, even when society as a whole is involved in the harvesting (Rabbeinu Bachaya). Moreover, the Torah may have wanted to dispel the faulty notion that when the amount of gleanings does not add up to anywhere near enough to provide something meaningful for the poor, the law does not apply. The Torah, therefore, addresses each farmer individually, telling us that even if our individual contribution is minimal, we must still keep the laws of the land (Ohr Hachayim). The fact that the agricultural gifts apply even when we don’t have enough produce to satisfy the needs of the poor teaches us that the purpose of the agricultural gifts is also to limit the landowners sense of ownership and strengthen his character trait of generosity.

Applying the Gardening Gifts Today
How does these mitzvot apply to us today? With a small plot of a few dozen fruit trees in the land of Israel, I’m eager to practice character development through the mitzvah of the gifts of my garden. Do these mitzvot even apply today? If so, how do I go about it? Luckily, my husband showed me our book מצוות הארץ כהלכתן/The Mitzvot of the Land According to their Laws by Rav Yitzchak Goldberg. This book includes a section about the agricultural gifts in our time. Originally, these gifts are mitzvot from the Torah as we learn from this week’s parasha. However, these mitzvot of the field, which have the same status as terumot and ma’aserot (tithes), only apply from the Torah when the majority of the Israelites have returned to their land. Until then they apply according to rabbinical status (Rambam, Hilchot Terumot 1:26). The Rabbis ruled that we must keep these mitzvot also today to ingrain within the corners of our being the limitation of ownership and ego through the mitzvot of allowing the poor to take what is rightfully theirs. This explains also why there is an opinion that the mitzvot of the agricultural gifts apply even outside of Israel according to the Rabbis (Rambam, Hilchot Matanot Ani’im 1:14). These mitzvot mandate that we can’t even get the feeling of control through the apparent benefit of deciding which needy individuals will receive our gifts. The mitzvot teach us to let go of ownership and allow the poor their entitlement. For this reason, the Torah does not use a terminology of giving bur rather: “You shall leave them” in Vayikra, “It shall be” in Devarim. However, the obligation to leave the agricultural gifts for the poor only apply even according to Rabbinical ruling as long as there are poor people who come and pick up these gifts. If no-one picks the fruits left for the poor, then anyone can pick them including the landowner, since we are not obligated to leave the produce for animals and birds (Babylonian Talmud, Chulin 134b). There is an opinion that even if no poor people come to pick we still must leave the peah in order not to transgress the commandment “You shall not completely harvest the corner of your field” (Vayikra 19:9). According to the Torah, peah has no set amount; however, the Rabbis ruled that it must be at least on sixtieth (Mishnah Peah 1:2). So, if for example my pear-tree has sixty fruits I need to leave one unpicked and declare it peah. After a few days, if no poor people come to pick, I can pick the last pear myself before the birds gets it. The best way of fulfilling these mitzvot today, would be to tell some poor students and all the beggars that come to our door weekly, that they can help themselves for peah and ollelot in our garden. For most, the few fruits they could gather may not be worth their effort, but that will be their decision. At least I can do my part the best I can.

Reapers of the Holy Apple Field
The field exists also in the spiritual realm. It corresponds to the sefirah of malchut, which is called a field. There exists different kinds of spiritual fields. The field of Esav is filled with arrows and murderers. In contrast, the field that is called “the field of holy apples” corresponds to the lower Garden of Eden. The mitzvot that we perform becomes seedlings in that field. From all our actions and speech that we perform in the lower world, we produce fruits in the Garden of Eden. The inner meaning of, “When you harvest the harvest of your earth” is to cut down the yetzer hara (negative impulse) which destroys us through our earthliness. How can we destroy our yetzer hara? Through Torah and tefilah and good deeds by which we can become holy. It is possible to reach the upper Garden of Eden through planting a spiritual vineyard by means of Torah learning for the sake of Hashem. In our learning we must take precautions to stay away from fallen wisdoms, which correspond to the peret and ollelot. Our goal when serving Hashem should not be in order to receive a reward, even not in order to receive spiritual reward in the world to come. Rather, our worship needs to be for the sake of giving pleasure to Hashem, and influence blessing, life and healing to the world. “Do not glean the gleanings of your harvest,” which is dew of holiness, for yourself, in order that the Creator shall bring down blessings upon you. Only do it for the sake of the “poor” the lower worlds that look forward to our mitzvot that cause the Creator to bring down influences to them. There are inner hidden meanings in the mitzvot of the field. Leaving agricultural gifts for the poor connect us with the living G-d. We learn this from the fact that the numerical value of the word פְּאַה/peah is 86 the same gematria as אֱלֹהִים/elokim – G-d. (Based on Pardes Yosef and Toldot Aharon, Vayikra 19:10).

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Plants of Purification

Nature in the Parasha - Parashat Tazria/Metzora
Let My Tongue Remain Chametz Free!
“So what are you taking with you from Pesach?” asked my sister. I hesitated, it was not so much what I was taking with me, but more what I was not taking with me, things that I hope to have left behind with the puffed up chametz (leaven). Everything had been cleaned and excess shed, and I wish it to stay that way. How amazing to manage without all the extras such as supplements, vitamins, perfume and excess words, how humbling. While Facebook was lined with photos of pizza eaten only three hours after Pesach, we were in no chametz rush. The simplicity of matzo and quinoa was enough for now. Yes, let the taste of purifying Pesach linger. Let it linger into our lingo influencing body and soul. Pesach means, “The mouth speaks.” The entire month of Nissan is about rectification of speech (Sefer Yetzirah, Chapter 5). It is no wonder that the last parasha of the month of Nissan is about purity of speech. So, that is what I want to take with me from Pesach, no extras, no more unnecessary words. If we let out a phrase or even a word we shouldn’t have said, then what happens? It’s not like we sprout a long nose like when Pinocchio lies. However, in Biblical times evil speech caused immediate retribution through the skin breaking out in a spiritual disease called tzara’at. The remedy for this impure disease was a purification ritual consisting of plants and birds:
ספר ויקרא פרק יד: ב-ד
זֹאת תִּהְיֶה תּוֹרַת הַמְּצֹרָע בְּיוֹם טָהֳרָתוֹ וְהוּבָא אֶל הַכֹּהֵן: וְיָצָא הַכֹּהֵן אֶל מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה וְרָאָה הַכֹּהֵן וְהִנֵּה נִרְפָּא נֶגַע הַצָּרַעַת מִן הַצָּרוּעַ: וְצִוָּה הַכֹּהֵן וְלָקַח לַמִּטַּהֵר שְׁתֵּי צִפֳּרִים חַיּוֹת טְהֹרוֹת וְעֵץ אֶרֶז וּשְׁנִי תוֹלַעַת וְאֵזֹב
“This shall be the law of the metzora (person afflicted with tzara’at) in the day of his purification: he shall be brought to the kohen. The kohen shall go outside the camp; if the kohen sees that the metzora has been healed from his scaly plague; then the kohen shall order two live pure birds, cedar wood, scarlet worm, and hyssop” (Vayikra 14:2-4).

What is the connection between these plants and birds and the purification of the metzora?

A Worm for the Gossiper
We all know that the spiritual disease of tzara’at is caused by evil speech, which consist of three categories: Lashon Hara (true derogatory speech), Rechilut (gossip), Motzi Shem Ra (false derogatory speech). Lashon hara is the expression of looking for the weaknesses and negative in others, like the fly, which is attracted to open sores and infections. The need to overcome the negative impulse to put others down is symbolized by slaughtering one of the birds. The second bird corresponds to Motzi Shem Ra, as evil spirits will eat the souls of those engaging in false derogatory speech. Therefore, this live bird is sent out to the open field to these spirits that fly in the field (Torat Kohanim 2:5). The scarlet producing worm corresponds to the gossiper, as his sins are like red stains, which are transformed to white through repentance (Yesha’yahu 1:18). When we speak negatively about others we think we are better than them but in truth it is the opposite, we are lowly like the hyssop and those we speak against become high like the cedar tree (Sefer Toldot Yitzchak, Vayikra 14:4).

Purification of Body, Mind and Soul
All the rituals of the service in the Tabernacle and Temple have deeper than symbolic significance, even if we don’t always understand them. For example, it states: “The kohen shall take of the blood of the guilt-offering, and the kohen shall put it upon the tip of the right ear of the person being purified, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot” (Vayikra 14:14). What is all this sprinkling of blood all about? Toldot Yitzchak continues to explain that the evil speaker sins through all of these body parts. Kicking with the foot, and finger pointing is all part of lashon hara, so is listening with the ear. Therefore, each of these places deserves blood. Yet, in the end, we are forgiven and this is symbolized by the oil poured on those same places (Ibid. 17). The three body parts where blood and oil was sprinkled include the upper body (ear), the middle body (hand), and the lower body (foot). These three places may possible allude to the mind, heart and body, which all need to be purified. The Shem M’Shemuel explains that the cedar tree, the scarlet producing worm and the hyssop allude to the גוּף/guf –body, נֶפֶש/nefesh – soul and שֶׁכֶל/sechel – intellect. Since the cedar is the tallest of trees, it corresponds to the intellect, the worm, which is red like blood corresponds to the nefesh, while the lowly hyssop corresponds to the body. All of these three parts need to be purified, as they include the elevation of man, the desire and will of the soul, and the subjugation of the body. During the Exodus from Egypt the hyssop was all they needed, because in Egypt the Children of Israel weren’t arrogant at all; on the contrary they were very submissive (Midrash Shemot Rabbah 2:5). Therefore, only their body needed purification so that it would be subjugated to Hashem alone and not be submissive merely due to the suffering of exile. Why did King David pray, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean…” (Tehillim 51:9)? The reason he mentioned only the hyssop is that he had already purified his mind and soul and was only concerned about purifying his body from despair. Therefore, all he needed was the hyssop (Shem M’Shemuel, Parashat Metzorah, Year 5673).

Arrogance – the Plague Causing Character Trait
Arrogance is the underlying negative character trait expressed through evil speech. When we attribute greatness to ourselves as if we are a tall cedar tree, we need to humble ourselves to become like the lowly hyssop, in order to receive atonement (Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Metzorah 3). We know that the cedar is the tallest and the hyssop the lowliest of plants from the wisdom of King Shlomo (I Melachim 5:13).

Why does the leper receive purification through both the very tallest and the very lowest? Although the tall cedar tree alludes to arrogance, it is still part of the healing process. This is because when we repent it is our previous arrogance, which helps us to lower ourselves to become even more humble. We also sometimes need atonement from being overly humble, when we think we are not good enough to do a certain mitzvah. It is important to find the right balance between feeling “I’m a worm and not a man” (Tehillim 22:7), and “The entire world is created for me (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 30b), (Pardes Yosef, Vayikra 14:4). In the purification ritual from the impurity of death the two plants, cedar and hyssop are juxtaposed, while the worm and birds are mentioned afterwards. This is the natural order moving from flora to fauna. Why then is the worm interspersed between the two plants in the purification ritual from tzara’at? One answer is that the speaker of lashon hara is lowly like a worm, but hits on people who are compared to the lofty cedar tree. The atonement for an evil tongue that committed a wormy deed against the prominent cedar, is to lower himself as a hyssop without desiring to blemish others. Therefore, the worm, which corresponds to the person committing the evil speech, is interspersed between the cedar corresponding to his victim and the hyssop corresponding to his rectification (Kli Yakar, Vayikra 14:4).

Tapping into the Devotion of Yitzchak & the Humility Ya’acov
While idol worship and murder characterizes Esau, conversely in the side of holiness מְסִירַת נֶפֶש/mesirat nefesh – devotion to Hashem is the aspect of Yitzchak and עֲנָוָה/anava –humility the aspect of Ya’acov. Therefore, אֶרֶז/erez – cedar has the same numerical value as יִצְחָק/Yitzchak (208), while the worm alludes to Ya’acov, who is called “the worm of Ya’acov” (Yesha’ayhu 41:14). Tapping into the humility of Ya’acov allows others to live and exist without being picked on or backstabbed. Furthermore, the phrase עֵץ אֶרֶז וְאֵזוֹב/ Etz Erez v’Ezov (cedar tree and hyssop) has the same numerical value as Yitzchak, Ya’acov (390) = (160+208+22) = (208+182) (Panim Yafot, Vayikra 14:4). Evil speech is compared to idolatry, (Midrash Yalkut Shimoni, Vayikra 14:558), which is an attempt to view reality as we wish, circumventing whatever gets in our way. When someone is seeking to benefit himself, he doesn’t care if his view of reality is unsubstantiated by what is real and evident. If he thinks it will be in his advantage he may turn to idol worship. Likewise, when a person speaks lashon hara, he lives in a delusional reality. If a certain person makes him feel inferior, he may need to ‘correct’ this by putting that person down. Evil speech is also compared to murder (Rambam, Hilchot Deot 7:1), as words can kill. The Midrash brings the famous example of Doeg the Edomite who told King Shaul that the Achimelech the Kohen had offered David protection. Consequently, Shaul had 85 kohanim killed (Midrash Tanchuma, Metzora 1). See also Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 30:1). The cedar tree can also allude to Hashem. Just as the cedar is taller than all other trees, so is Hashem taller than all. The hyssop alludes to the tzaddik (righteous person) who emanates from Hashem like a small tree that stem forth from a big tree. The scarlet string teaches us to connect ourselves to the tzaddikim by means of this we may be able to connect ourselves to the Creator (Avodat Yisrael, Parashat Para).

Plants of Repentance

We need to apply the character trait of גְּבוּרָה/gevurah (might and self-discipline) in order to overcome our negative impulse for evil speech. This is a very heavy and difficult inner war that we must wage. The tall and stout cedar tree teaches us to be hard and strong as this tree to fight against our negative impulse and overcome it. This is another reason why אֶרֶז/erez – cedar shares the numerical value of יִצְחָק/Yitzchak, as Yitzchak is known to correspond to gevurah. In our repentance process, we simultaneously need the humility of both the worm and the hyssop. Just as humility cleans us from our puffed up ego, hyssop is a cleansing herb both in the Torah and according to folk medicine. In the Torah, hyssop is used for spiritual cleansing, from the impurity of Egypt, arrogance and death, whereas in folk medicine it cleanses and eliminates viruses and infections. All sicknesses comprise a decrease of life force and hence a small death. The more humble we become, the more alive, since there is no true life but Hashem. While arrogance causes us to be far from Him, humility creates space for Hashem to enter our lives. The humility of the hyssop empowers us to purify from various forms of death and enables us to pierce through the darkness of death and impurity to connect with the eternal light of life. “Who is the man that desires life, and loves many days that he may see good? Guard your tongue from evil, and your lips from deceitful speech (Tehillim 34:13-14). May we overcome the tendency for evil speech by tapping into the energies of these plants of repentance!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Pig of Return

Nature in the Parasha - Parashat Shemini
Finding Balance between Internal and External Expression
People have told me that I’m more New York than New York. What does that mean? Being a non-American, I wasn’t sure. I was told that I’m so direct with people, sometimes even blatant. I make clear what I feel about this and that, even if it may not please everyone. As a child, I was never able to lie, not even a small white lie crossed my lips, and I never cared to be politically correct. True, I had to pay for this dearly, for example, when I wrote about dogs in my commentary to Parashat Bo, unfortunately some people were really offended. So, next year around I will have to modify. Perhaps I inherited this character trait of speaking my mind and heart from my grandmother, may she rest in peace. She would always make clear if she didn’t like the boy or girl-friend of any of my sisters or cousins. No wonder, some of them were afraid to introduce their prospective to her. The American culture teaches you to be smooth and maintain a pleasant façade. When you walk into any kind of shop, the salesclerk will kindly wish you, “Have a nice day!” Here in Israel, you will not hear this kind of shallow well wishing. A born and breed Israeli is called a ‘Sabra’ – that is a kind of cactus that has stinging thorns on the outside but is super sweet on the inside. Israelis can be all elbows and thorns on the outside, yet when you really need them, they will be there for you, and you get a taste of their inner sweetness. While obviously, we all agree that it is not right for mature adults to, for example, tell a woman at the bus stop that she smells and needs to take a shower. On the other hand, who can stand a people-pleaser whose speech is always sugarcoated? What is the correct balance according to the Torah between speaking our mind and expressing our true feelings and being careful to keep an agreeable façade in order to please people around us? The laws about pure and impure animals, in Parashat Shemini about the kosher and non-kosher beasts, allude to the proper balance between our internal and external characteristics. The external kosher sign of a mammal is that it needs to have split hooves, whereas for the internal kosher sign, it must chew its cud (Vayikra 11:3).

Learning Integrity from the Swine
The pig has only the external sign of a kosher animal but not the internal:
וְאֶת הַחֲזִיר כִּי מַפְרִיס פַּרְסָה הוּא וְשֹׁסַע שֶׁסַע פַּרְסָה וְהוּא גֵּרָה לֹא יִגָּר טָמֵא הוּא לָכֶם
“Although the swine has split hooves and is cloven-footed, it doesn’t chew the cud. It is impure to you” (Vayikra 11:7).

We can learn about the proper way of serving Hashem from the pig that displays its split hooves to make-believe that it is kosher. This can be compared to a person who pretends on the outside with a smooth tongue to love and endear certain people, while in truth his heart is not with them, like the characteristic of the swine, which shows outwardly that it is good and kosher. However, the fact that the pig doesn’t chew its cud is like a person, who speaks lovingly on the outside, but actually doesn’t feel any love in his heart and soul. Rather, he feels only hatred inside (Sefer Bat Ayin, Parashat Shemini). The Torah praises a person who’s “inside matches his outside.” Rabbi Gamliel declared that unless a student’s outside reflects his inside he would not be permitted to enter the Beit Midrash (study hall) (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 28a). Likewise, from the discredit of Yosef’s brothers we may infer something to their credit: Although “they hated him so that they were unable to speak peaceably to him” (Bereishit 37:4), they did not speak one thing with their lips having another thing quite different in their heart (Rashi). We see from all this how vital it is, according to the Torah, to avoid flattering and put up a façade that doesn’t match the feelings in our heart. Sefer Bat Ayin even explains, “This matter is what deters the redemption, for, “the son of David doesn’t come until the pig has become purified,” meaning when it will start to chew its cud, and the insides of its heart will match what it shows on the outside (Sefer Bat Ayin, Parashat Shemini).

When the Pig Starts to Chew its Cud
Will the nature of the pig ever change so that it will begin to chew its cud? Actually, the Midrash teaches us that it will, and that is what originally intrigued me about the swine and made me chose to focus in on the pig rather than any of the many other animals mentioned in Parashat Shemini. “­­Wh­­y is it called ­­­­חֲזִיר/chazir – pig because in the future it will להחזיר/l’hachzir – return the greatness and the kingdom” (Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 1:28). This change in the nature of the pig will reflect the general change in all of reality during the time of redemption when all evil will cease from the earth as it states, “The sinners will disappear from the earth and the wicked will be no more” (Tehillim 104:35). Hashem will circumcise our hearts to desire only good (Devarim 30:6), and our will will become 100% in tune with the Divine Will. At the time of redemption when the whole earth will be filled with knowledge of Hashem (Yesha’yahu 11:9), no one will think an evil thought about anyone else. At that time, our insides will completely match our outsides, and we will be able to express all our feelings and thoughts outwardly without ever offending a soul. Until then, we need to work on purifying our insides, on feeling positive feelings towards others, see their good points and remove bad character traits such as jealousy and pettiness. It is this work that Rabbi Gamliel required of his Yeshiva students in order to enter the Beit Midrash.

Esav and the Peel of the Swine
The numerical value of the Hebrew word for swine – חֲזִיר/chazir equals 225. This is the same exact gematria (numerical value) of the Hebrew word for peel – קְלִיפָּה/klipah. Since the pig shows an outward purity but hides its true impure nature, it identifies itself with its outside peel. Moreover, in the Hebrew word חֲזִיר/chazir there are four letters. The two inner letters: yud and zayin have the same gematria as the Hebrew word טוֹב/tov, which means ‘good.’ These inner letters are hidden and swallowed up within the ‘peel’ of each of its two outer letters. Since its goodness is absorbed within it, it makes sense that the swine, which hides its inside, is associated with the Evil (hidden) Eye. The Evil Eye is caused by negative thoughts and feelings mainly jealousy. Therefore, Esav is compared to the swine (Rashi, Bereishit 26:34). He pretended to be holy on the outside to his father Yitzchak by asking super ‘frum’ questions such as “how do you tithe salt?” (Midrash Tanchuma, Toldot 8). Esav also had an Evil Eye, this is why he brought 400 men with him to attack Ya’acov (Bereishit 33:1), as 400 has the same numerical value as רע עין/ra ayin – Evil Eye (Benayahu ben Yehoyada, Baba Kama 82b).

Pig or Prophet
When the pig will return to chew its cud and its outside will match its inside “this is the aspect of truth the aspect of the letter vav” (Sefer Bat Ayin, Parashat Shemini). Vav is called the letter of truth (Zohar 169a), because vav is the letter, which connects heaven and earth – the inside with the outside. Just as the letter vav means ‘and’ and is used to connect different part of a sentence, the truth can always be verified by the facts to which it is connected, like the Hebrew word for truth אֱמֶת /Emet, which includes the first, last and middle letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Through our dedication to truth, we may achieve deliverance from evil thoughts (Rav Tzaddok of Lublin, P’ri Zaddik, Rosh Chodesh Iyar 2). Meanwhile, while we still sometimes harbor negative feelings on the inside, we have to be a bit like the pig, showing a different façade on the outside than what we really feel within. We are not yet ready to be totally truthful, and tell others what we really feel about them, as this could be rude and offensive. We still need to apply a filter in order to be sensitive to the feelings of others. Therefore, we won’t be so direct as to, for example, tell our neighbor that she is fat. Children and people suffering from dementia do not have this filter. They will say exactly what is on their mind. Perhaps this is why the Talmud states:
מיום שחרב בית המקדש ניטלה נבואה מן הנביאים וניתנה לשוטים ולתינוקות
“Since the Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken from prophets and given to fools and children” (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra 12b).

Prophets are called נְבִיאֵי אֱמֶת/nevi’ei emet – “prophets of truth” (Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 510, the prayer introducing the Haftorah reading), as they are a channel bringing down the ultimate Divine Truth to the world. Perhaps the reason we no longer have prophesy is that we cannot be truthful and allow our inside to be expressed on the outside as long as the internal feelings of our heart have not yet been purified, and we still have a yetzer hara (negative impulse). However, fools and children who speak their truth without realizing the offending impact of their words, still have a bit of prophetic spirit because their inside and their outside match. Complete prophesy will eventually return to Israel when our Temple will be rebuilt (Rambam, Sefer Hamitzvot Root 14), and our heart will be circumcised and purified. In the future, when the righteousness of Israel will be revealed, and the evil and negative impulse will be abolished from the world, then the impurity will also be eradicated from the animals. “The swine will in the future return to be permissible” as it was before the giving of the Torah (Rav Tzaddok of Lublin, Machshavot Charutz 11). At that time, the purity of our inner thoughts will spiral down to become manifested in our exterior deed. Even today, if we dig deeply enough into our innerness we can find the spark of pristine purity – the spark of Hashem that He imbued within us, which remains eternally pure.

May we be able to tune into this spark in ourselves and others and manifest our internal goodness into the external world!