Forethoughts and Afterthoughts.
Commentary on the weekly Torah reading.
In memory of Father, Yosef Ben Zelig.
March 25th 1911 - May 2nd 2008
In memory of Mother, Nechama Bas Tzvi Hirsh.
June 9th 1925 - April 16th 2003
In memory of Uncle, Moshe Binyamin Ben Tzvi Hirsh.
December 12 1929 - February 2nd 2010
In Loving Memory of Moreinu Horav Shmuel Yaakov Weinberg, Rosh HaYeshiva Ner Yisroel
Mishpatim (Exodus 21-24)
22:30 And you shall be to Me men of holiness and (therefore) you shall not eat meat of the field that was torn (off by a predatory animal). You shall (instead) cast it to a dog.
The Nesivas Shalom commentary focuses on the words in the beginning of this verse. What is the message in the words, “to Me”? Why didn’t the Torah simply write, “And you shall be men of holiness …”
He provides the following lesson.
We first need to understand the term, ‘holiness.’
While everyone is expected to stay away from this type of forbidden meat, not everyone will approach this commandment the same way.
The Torah defines certain marriages as being incestual, such as the marriage of a son with his mother. Our sages of blessed memory added to this list, including marriages that the Torah permits. The Mishnah calls the added marriages ‘prohibitions of holiness.’ Rava explains that the concept of holiness includes distancing oneself from things that are otherwise permitted (Talmud Yevamos 20a).
As one begins his journey towards greatness he starts off with a dominant focus on his “self,“ his needs and wants. Therefore, when he sees a delicious meal containing forbidden meat he is expected to say ‘no’ and will refrain because he fears the eternal consequences of transgressing the Torah’s law.
This approach is fine and expected, even though there is a taint of self-interest in this approach, that it won’t be good for “Me.”
Many live most of their life that way and will receive eternal reward for their good choices and serving G-D, even though it is based on the fear of consequences.
Here, this verse opens up a window for something even greater and this is the message in the words “to Me,” to G-D.
Our teachers encourage us to always look for improvement, to always strive to raise the bar for ourselves.
What I’m about to describe is not easy to achieve. In fact, says the Nesivas Shalom, without G-D’s help one can’t get there. However, if one sincerely tries then G-D will intervene and make it happen.
A higher level is to include a focus on what G-D wants, to serve Him out of love. It’s a shift from being focused exclusively on ‘Me’ to blending it with a significant percentage of ‘He,’ G-D. This is part growing a deeply meaningful connection with G-D, ‘attached’ to Him.
Clearly, this is not for the beginner. Anyone who tries to jump out of his skin and land in one leap onto this plateau will probably fail and may never recover from the fall.
Based on the teachings of his mentors, the Nesivas Shalom says that a way to grow into this level is by sometimes questioning whether what he is about to do would be pleasing to G-D.
Note the subtle difference. Instead of questioning whether what I’m about to do would make G-D “upset,” one begins to consider whether what they are about to do would be pleasing to G-D.
Here is an example. Say we have a delicious meal that was prepared from an establishment that has questionable kosher certification.
We’re expected to say ‘no’ to that meal. While many will say no because they don’t want to eat ‘traif,’ some will say no because they don’t feel that G-D would want them to eat it.
Here’s another example. We just finished a meal and everyone is stuffed. Wouldn’t you know but the host brings out a huge and delicious looking cake, 100% kosher with the best certification you can find.
Unless you have health issues, you won’t find any verse that openly forbids you from taking a nice serving. And you will certainly find some room in your belly to fit it in.
The person who is on the growth path may stop before taking a serving. He or she may ask him/herself this question: Would it give G-D pleasure if I stuffed this in? And some may indeed say no, even though it’s perfectly kosher. And they wouldn’t eat it.
And yes, we do have a portion in the Torah that discusses the nazir, a person who takes a vow to refrain from wine for thirty or more days. And this person does bring a sin offering because he added to the prohibitions of the Torah.
And yes, our teachings say that one who says ‘no’ to a pleasurable thing will have to give an accounting in Heaven from restraint.
But our person who is growing and sees the scrumptious portions of this cake being passed around may just be able to think up a reason on the spot to ‘rationalize’ and defend the decision to say no.
Therefore, says the Nesivas Shalom, the Torah writes You shall be “to Me” men of holiness, not “You shall be men of holiness.”
We are thereby encouraged to make and achieve the goal of increasing our connection with G-D, over our native and dominate connection to our “selves.”
And guess what, folks. G-D designed life so that we will eventually and hopefully disconnect from the many chains of physicality that keep us distracted from spiritual significance and accomplishments.
By the time many of us hit the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, and on, the doctors will have a laundry list of things we can’t eat or do. Add that to the list of body parts that can and sometimes wear out.
The significance of physical pleasures is going to wane away anyway. Don’t wait for the doctor. Take the first baby step and start growing out of the ‘Me’ shell right now.