Friday, April 3, 2009

TZAV: ON DEVELOPING SENSITIVITY TO THE PAIN OF OTHERS

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Judaism is quite clear about guarding the sensitivities of people'sfeelings. Everybody knows that we cover the challah while making Kiddush so as not to hurt the feelings of the challah. For after all, if the wine and the challah are of equal value, the challah would feel quite insulted, and rightly so, to know that the wine was being blessed first. So we cover it up so it shouldn't see (or hear).

Now if we are so concerned about the feelings of bread, al achat kama vekama, how much more so, then, should we be concerned not to insult a fellow human being. We see this principle at work, as well, in this week's parsha Tzav.

Leviticus.6:6: "Ve zot torat hamincha...This is the law of the meal offering..."

Now in the interest of full disclosure I must confess a personal interest in this particular verse, as the name Melman is of kohanic origin, connected to the rites of the meal offering- mel deriving from the yiddish "mehl,"meaning flour. So my ancestors were not only kohanim, priests, but they were also flour-offering specialists.

The next verse (vs. 8) reads: "ve herim mimenu bekumtzo misolet hamincha... And he shall separate from it with his threefingersful some of the fine flour of the meal offering..."

Now why the three fingersful? Why not a whole fistful using all the fingers? Trying this at home, you will find that in so doing you are miming the head of a cow (the thumb and pinky serve as the horns), the horizontal hand and vertical forearm foreshadowing the future shape of the vowel kamatz!

Now the mincha offering was expressly for those who could not afford the more expensive meat-based offerings. If you couldn't afford to bring an actual live cow as an offering, then a symbolic substitute would do the job just as well, the Torah is teaching us.

Synagogues take note: just as God wanted in His Holy Temple that no one should be barred from drawing near to Him or disadvantaged in any way because of money, so too in our synagogues of today we can do no less.

We also use the pinky in yet another substitutive ritual- at the Passover Seder. While saying out loud the ten plagues over a full cup of wine we dip our pinky finger into the wine cup and flick a drop of wine into a plate at the name of each of the ten plagues. Why?

We develop our sensitivity to feel the pain of others, even the pain of our enemies. As a full cup of wine symbolizes happiness and joy, when we diminish the wine from our cup at the naming of the plagues, we learn to diminish our joy even when our enemy suffers. We do not pass out candies and sweets.

The famous story about Kamtza and Bar Kamtza touches on this theme most deliciously. In this story (BT Gittin 55b-56a) a man named Kamtza was invited to a banquet but the host's enemy named Bar Kamtza was sent the invitation by mistake. Showing up at the banquet, Bar Kamtza was quickly thrown out, even after offering to pay the costs of the banquet so as to avoid being humiliated in public. All the great rabbis were at the banquet. But no one said a word. No one spoke out.

When no one protested this humiliation he stirred up trouble for his fellow Jews with the Roman authorities. Consequently, they say that Jerusalem was destroyed on account of our not showing sensitivity to the feelings of others. The embarrassment we inflict on others comes back to us many times over. So when we read of the kohen taking his handful (kamtza) of flour for the mincha offering so as to preserve the feelings of the poor in our midst, let us remember the story Bar Kamtza as well. Emotional pain hurts too.

Shabbat Shalom.


Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)

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About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!