Friday, July 1, 2011

CHUKAT: EXPLORING THE ZERO SUM MENTALITY AND THE MEANING OF LIFE

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

How much of life is seen as a zero sum game? How often do we view our neighbor's gain as our loss? This jealousy/covetousness is the source of evil. When we believe that there is not sufficient abundance in the universe for all of us we resort defensively to a hoarding posture. So, homeopathically, we must eliminate this zero sum thinking with a ritual which embraces the same!

This week we learn about the snake victims. Ironically the symbol for healing is the snake on a pole (Numbers 21:8). Aetiologically, it is falsely attributed to Greek origins. But more than irony is the homeopathic truth which is revealed: The cure is implicit in its (diluted) essence. Gazing upwards to heaven (while looking in the direction of the snake on the pole) is the cure for the snake plague.

The Torah is a blueprint for life affirmation and the implicit negation of death. We are instructed to concoct the antidote to death contamination/impurity. How fitting in the parsha where we see the deaths of Miriam, Aaron, and the snake victims. We are to take a completely red cow- aparah adumah temimah,and slaughter it and burn it completely. Its ashes serve to ritually and spiritually purify us in the face of death and death contamination. The word "tumah" (impurity) itself is the root of the English word "conTAMinate," or "TUMor."

The use of this formula symbolically helps us attain spiritual perfection in the face of death- the highest form of tumah, or spiritual imperfection. It is the highest form of spiritual imperfection because implicit in death is the cessation of spiritual struggle. Struggle is life. Life is struggle. That is why Eden has become a metaphor for the world to come, olam haba, because there is no struggle in Eden. The snake alludes to Eden. In Eden the evil inclination was located outside of humankind. The consequence of Eden was that the evil inclination (yetzer hara) would now be an internal part of humankind's makeup. In death we are once again stripped of our yetzer hara. That is why the soul's growth is limited in olam haba (the coming world) and as much as we seek relief from struggle in this world, in the next world our souls yearn to return back to this world in order to grow and perfect themselves. To return to the peace of Eden we need to earn our way back through taking responsibility for our own part in the struggle.

Tam is short for temimah- which means "perfect" or "complete."Tam spelled in reverse is "meth," meaning death. How appropriate that America's primary drug scourge and the violence it brings in its wake revolves around meth! Inherent in the word itself is its function. That in and if itself is not extraordinary. What compels the imagination is the metaphorical pallandromic aspect inherent within the name itself. Read from either direction we come to understand its meaning.

Interestingly, this "reversal" is similarly attained when we examine what is burned and how it is burned. Its skin, its flesh and its blood must be burned- AL pirsha- ON its entrails, not AND its entrails. This serves to highlight the idea of the entrails, the innards, as somehow the focus and foundation of what is to be burned. In essence, then, the Torah is teaching us to look beyond the outer glitz, to peer more closely at what is inside. Ethics and morals, as opposed to glitz and glamour, are what truly count in life.

How much of life is seen as a zero sum game? How often do we view our neighbor's gain as our loss? This jealousy/covetousness is the source of evil. When we believe that there is not sufficient abundance in the universe for all of us we resort defensively to a hoarding posture. So, homeopathically, we must eliminate this zero sum thinking with a ritual which embraces the same!

AL PIRSHA YISROF. ON the entrails it must be burned. The shoresh, the rootSOURCE ofyisroph, is SRF (burn),which is reverse for FRS (innards/entrails). This idea of "reverse consumption" is played out on the macro level with the automatic contamination of the handlers in their very handling of the product which eliminates contamination. In other words, nothing is left over. There is no net gain on the side of purity. If you make something pure on one end, the other end becomes impure. You can't get to FRS without SRF.

Similarly, we don't get to TaM (perfection) without an awareness of the approach of death(MeTh). This certain knowledge compels a sense of urgency and clarity of purpose. To skip to parshat (the INSIDE of the Torah - PaRSha has the same FRS root) Balak, the very next parsha, when Bilaam blesses the B'nai Yisrael (MA TOVU OHALECHA YAKOV- HOW GOODLY ARE THY TENTS OH JACOB) for the sexual sanctity/privacy which he sees when looking out at their encampment (see Rashi here Numbers 24:5), Israel in the very next chapter succumbs to the curse- the REVERSE of the blessing, for taking something which rightlybelongs on the INSIDE (sexuality) and displaying it on the OUTSIDE.

This point is further driven home in the text by the double word meaning of KUBA both as "inside" (Numbers 25:8) and as "curse" (laKov- Numbers 24:10 and elsewhere). In other words, Pinchas' antidote to the curse of public sexuality was to pierce them through in the most private of areas.

Thus the symbolically reverse nature of the red cow formula was terribly played out in real life. The point really is, though, that what must be purified to attain perfection is the INSIDE. The kishkes must be burned through and through to have the highest cleansing!

So we must ask ourselves if we are willing to go beyond the superficial token level to do what is right? Are we content to merely nudge ourselves in the right direction? Or are we ready to commit to what we know is right on the deepest (kishke) level possible?

Are we ready to commit ourselves to Torah on the deepest kishke level, the level which aroused Bilaam's blessings? Are we willing to go the extra mile in our families to make Shabbos special, to make Shabbos sweet? To make it unthinkable for our children to want anything but the deepest Jewish life possible?

In Israel, is the Jewish Nation ready to internalize its faith and devote itself wholeheartedly to renew its commitment to Torah values and wean itself off of empty, vapid western materialism? Are we ready to commit ourselves to a higher transcendant covenantal truth?

In politics, there is the fallacy of all or nothing thinking, for which the red heifer ritual is the homeopathic antidote. It should be appreciated that Israel's blessings are not at the expense of the Arabs' blessings, unless they insist on framing it as such. There is enough blessing and abundance in the universe for all to partake. Those who insist on an all or or nothing solution for life's problems usually end up with nothing. Once the Middle East accepts and embraces the Jewish state in its midst, then all the energies expended on war could be harnessed for unlimited blessing for humankind.



Shabbat Shalom!
Good Shabbos!

© 2000 - 2011 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen Melman, z"l and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.


http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=esther-melman&pid=143745543

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

1 comment:

goodbird said...

I'm addicted to your blog! You deliver the parsha in a clever and meaningful way...quite thought provoking, which has a pro-active effect, having me rethink where I'm at and where my desired level can be...Thank you BB and Shavua Tov!

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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!