Friday, June 05, 2020

Beautiful Drosho by Rabbi Schaffel on Current Events

Parshas Nasso - 5780

Delivered by:

Rabbi Gershon Eliezer HaKohen Schaffel

Young Israel of Skokie

What an amazing week it has been. Just when we thought that we could see the light at the end of the tunnel and life would return to normal, we now face riots and chaos in our cities. I would like to share some thoughts about the current state of affairs. Not to enter into a political discussion but a discussion about our perspectives and a possible angle for us to consider. Before we get to that topic, let us begin with a thought from the parsha.

Chazal take note of the juxtaposition of two seemingly unrelated topics in this week’s parsha. The first topic is the sotah. A sotah is a married woman who was warned against going into seclusion with another man and she violated that warning so that we now have strong reason to suspect her of infidelity. In order to demonstrate her innocence and restore shalom bayis, she must drink the bitter waters. The next topic is the parsha of the nazir. The nazir is an individual who vows to refrain from consuming grape products, cutting his hair and having contact with a corpse. The nazir could vow to observe these restrictions for a month or longer. Following a successful term of nezirus the nazir cuts his hair, offers some korbanos and resumes normal life again.

Taking note that these two topics do not seem related, Chazal (Sotah 2a) wonder why, in fact, did the Torah place them next to one another. They answer that שכל הרואה סוטה בקלקולה – anyone who witnesses the disgrace of a sotah, יזיר עצמו מן היין – he will take a vow of nezirus and refrain from wine, שהוא מביא לידי ניאוף – because wine leads to promiscuity. In other words, the reason why the parsha of nazir is not presented in the general parsha of nedarim is that a vow of nezirus is the appropriate response to seeing a disgraced sotah. One who is present when the sotah is brought into the bais hamikdash and is witness to the humiliation and disgrace that she must endure, must reflect and internalize the event. That contemplation and consideration must lead someone to commit to improve and change something about their lives with the goal of assuring that he will not allow himself to fall into a similar compromised position where he is suspected or perhaps commits some serious transgression.

This principle, that we must reflect on the events of our lives and use it as a springboard for growth, isn’t limited to one who sees a sotah in her disgrace. As believers of Divine Providence, we believe that Hashem orchestrates the events of our lives so that we see or experience specific things that will help us actualize our potential. Nothing happens in our lives that is mere coincidence or irrelevant. Everything is purposeful and planned. Our job is to reflect on our experiences so that we can grow from those events. This is the lesson the Torah teaches by juxtaposing the parsha of sotah and nazir.

The events of this week cannot pass over us like a wave without taking pause to think about a lesson or a thought that we can take in our personal journeys. There is a basic principle of halacha called kavod habriyos. Commonly, kavod habriyos is translated as human dignity. It is rooted in the belief that each person deserves honor and respect, simply by virtue of being a human being. Every person was created b’tzelem Elokim in the image of Hashem. It is not a status or privilege that one must earn or work to achieve. It is something that we are endowed with by our very existence. The principle of kavod habriyos is so essential that it can, at times, override Rabbinic prohibitions. This means that in terms of the hierarchy of halacha, maintaining and supporting human dignity, kavod habriyos, is a higher, more weighty principle than a Rabbinic prohibition. Another value that potentially suspends Rabbinic prohibitions is pain and illness. When one is in severe pain or suffering from an illness, there are times that the Rabbinic prohibition is pushed aside so that the patient can seek relief from their pain or illness. Maintaining human dignity, honoring the tzelem Elokim that each human being is endowed with is on par with, if not greater than, the consideration that is given to someone who is ill or in pain. The reason for this is obvious. To disrespect or disregard someone’s tzelem Elokim undermines the very essence of their existence, as endowed by Hashem. It is a rejection of Hashem’s efforts and that is a terrible transgression.

How exactly we restore kavod habriyos and the tzelem Elokim to a group that feels that it has been withheld or denied to them is a question that is well beyond my paygrade and way to politically charged at the moment for me to even consider addressing. However, there are some steps that we can take. The Gemara in Berachos (17a) relates the following:

מַרְגְּלָא בְּפוּמֵּיהּ דְּאַבָּיֵּי: ... וּמַרְבֶּה שָׁלוֹם עִם אֶחָיו וְעִם קְרוֹבָיו וְעִם כָּל אָדָם וַאֲפִילּוּ עִם גּוֹי בַּשּׁוּק, כְּדֵי שֶׁיְּהֵא אָהוּב לְמַעְלָה וְנֶחְמָד לְמַטָּה, וִיהֵא מְקוּבָּל עַל הַבְּרִיּוֹת.

Abaye was wont to say: One must … take steps to increase peace with one’s brethren and with one’s relatives, and with all people, even with a non-Jew in the marketplace, so that he will be loved above [in Hashem’s eyes], pleasant below [in the eyes of the people], and acceptable to all [of Hashem’s] creatures.

אָמְרוּ עָלָיו עַל רַבָּן יוֹחָנָן בֶּן זַכַּאי שֶׁלֹּא הִקְדִּימוֹ אָדָם שָׁלוֹם מֵעוֹלָם, וַאֲפִילּוּ גּוֹי בַּשּׁוּק.

They said about Rabban Yoanan ben Zakkai that no one ever preceded him in issuing a greeting, not even a non-Jew in the marketplace, [as Rabban Yoanan would always greet him first].

This gemara has a lesson for everyone. Those who regularly greet others as well as those who do not regularly greet others. For those who do not make it a habit to smile and say hello to everyone you meet, make a greater effort to do so. When you look at them, take just a moment to remind your self that within the person that you are looking at is the image of Hashem, a tzelem Elokim. There are qualities and characteristics that this person possesses that are Divine. You may not be able to discern what they are, but that is your inability to recognize them, it has nothing to do with their possession of them. For those of you who are generally friendly and regularly greet others, remind yourself before doing so that what you are doing is a mitzvah. By smiling and saying hello to someone, one is promoting peace, as Abaye was wont to say. I saw a sign this morning that said, “pray for peace and pursue justice.” Although it is true that one should pray for peace, we must also, as Abaye instructed, pursue peace. We must make a greater effort in the area of kavod habriyos and learn to recognize the tzelem Elokim with which every human being was endowed.

IY”H all of the issues that surround us, both the medical and social, should come to a peaceful resolution and we should make sure to do our part to position ourselves to become worthy of that. That includes ongoing vigilance to safeguard our health and the health of our families, as well as make a concerted effort to be מרבה שלום to promote and pursue peace with everyone who crosses our path.

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