Thursday, May 14, 2015

Behar-Bechukosai 5775, May 2015, The Giving Women

Ten matters were created, each stronger than the previous.
Rock is strong, but iron breaks it; 
Iron is strong, but fire melts it;
Fire is strong, but water extinguishes it;
Water is strong, but clouds carry it;
Clouds are strong, but winds blow them away;
Wind is strong, but the body can hold air; 
The body is strong, but fear breaks it;
Death, though, is mightier than all of these.
Tzedaka is more powerful even than that; it rescues from death. (Bava Basra)

Through giving to others even the rich can be saved from punishment when they have committed sins nothing else will ameliorate (Vayikra Rabbah). Tiferet Tzion tells us that the giver receives far more in heavenly reward than he gives in monetary value.

But of course it is not only money that constitutes tzedaka. While men are often known as big "machers," financial donors or benefactors, we all know that it takes more than cash (not that cash isn't nice) to support a person. Time, energy, kindness, assistance, support, all of these can be given to a person who needs them.

In fact, the very parable given of "tzedaka," in Midrash Tanchuma and elsewhere, is that of a donkey overloaded, such that a single person is needed to adjust its load whereas if the donkey is loaded up still more and pushed to walk farther with the overly heavy baggage, it will collapse and a great number of people would still be inadequate to assist it then. This isn't a matter of throwing money at a problem; it is a a matter of assisting in exactly the way that assistance is needed.  And we all know well that it is women in our popular consciousness, and not men, who are noted for their ability to support each other, discover the nature of each others' burdens, shift them, remove them, readjust them, and otherwise lighten the load so that the other person can continue their journey to their own destination.

It is wonderful to give tzedaka in the strictly financial sense. But however much we each can do that, we are still also obligated to do more; to give of ourselves, to give our very selves, in the way we can. Of course each person has a unique "fund" of personal spiritual-emotional wealth available, some more and some less.
Frequently we give of ourselves in the very sense of
physically enabling the needs of others.
This is the glory of the woman. The giving of herself.  Yet never forget that as they say, charity begins at home. Never forget to give to yourself too. Your energy, time, effort, and care must first go to sustaining your own emotional and spiritual needs.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Emor 5775, May 2015; For You Yourself

"The sin of desecrating G-d's honor is so severe that even teshuva cannot fully atone for it." 
(Yoma caf-vav)
Learn about yourself;
 you never know what your
strengths might turn out to be!
We learn in this week's parsha the idea of desecration of G-d's name. Of course this is only a term for an action as performed by human; G-d's name itself can inherently only be holy.  But while we usually have in mind that "hillul Hash-m" consists only of public action not becoming of us, that's not so in Torah. One's expected standards behavior depend on her own status within the community and moreover are dependent on her own expectations for herself! (Chinuch Shiur, Mesillas Yesharim) R' Yochanan explained that for himself, being seen in public not wearing tefillin, or spending any time at all not studying Torah would be hillul Hash-m as it would not be up to the standards the community and he himself expected. (Yoma)

This may seem a burden, but it is also a challenge in a positive sense.  How do we each behave in our own eyes? Are we proud of our actions, our kiddush Hash-m in the sense of being who we were meant to be? It is a positive mitzvah to sanctify G-d's name! Not only by sacrificing our lives under horrible circumstances, but by living the lives we are given in the best way possible and by being ourselves, openly, comfortably, as G-d made us.

Rambam in Yesodei HaTorah teaches there are two aspects of kiddush Hash-m we can always do: to avoid transgressing halachah at any time, and to conduct ourselves as becomes a dignified Jew. But the Gemara goes farther as elucidated above; it is a kiddush Hash-m to treat oneself with respect, to appreciate oneself, to be true to oneself. Do something for yourself and remind yourself you are performing a mitzvah!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Acharei Mos/Kedoshim 5775, May 2015, Morality

In parshas Acharei Mos, we are forbidden certain relationships.  Deriving from this, the Acharonim developed our laws of yichud, regulating private seclusion of men and women who are forbidden to have personal relationships. Zecharya discusses the age of the coming of Moshiach, when according to Rashi's interpretation, families will mourn individually and men and their wives separately. Even on solemn occasions, even when the yetzer hara may have little hold, the halachos still apply (Michtav Me'Eliyahu). Clearly, the laws against immorality are therefore not just for the sake of preventing immediate prohibited relations.

The Gemara in Gittin explains, rather that by removing oneself from the possibility of immorality, one becomes closely associated with HaKadosh Bar-ch Hu. One who avoids an opportunity for yichud or obscenity but prevented himself from taking advantage of it is he about whom it says in Yeshayahu, "One who shuts his watching evil…shall behold the King in His beauty,…the land that is far off."

Vayikra Rabba says furthermore that he will behold the shechina, and happiness in Olam Haba.

Parshas Kedoshim continues with related ideas of avoiding paying any attention to idolatry, cults, or philosophies contrary to Torah; false oaths; thefts; and misleading the vulnerable.

When we have questions about how we need to separate men from women, community from greater community, we have no need to make new restrictions, create new barriers, and certainly not to do it based on non-Jewish thought patterns and philosophies at the risk of pain to other Jews; or worse yet to mislead other Jews about what separations are necessary. Halacha directly from Torah observed for generations upon generations, clearly discussed in both written Torah and Gemara tells us exactly how we interact with each other and how we maintain proper separation. To do more and insist it is Torah is to lead others astray; to do less is unworthy of a Jew.

True confession: I didn't have a good photo illustration. So I give you
a cute sheep this morning as it was finishing its being shorn and beautified
before judging at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. Just sheep, no goats, sorry!