The weeks of Sefirah, during which we count days and weeks and monitor our progression through the seven sefiros of middos, are meant to bring us to a place of harmony. The seven sefiros we mention each day following the counting of the numbers of the omer represent the attributes required for growth during the period leading up to Kabbolas HaTorah. To properly receive the Torah on Shavuos, man must be perfected in each facet of his avodah.
In Parshas Emor, we read about the various blemishes that render a kohein unfit, one being “saruah” (Vayikra 21:18). Rashi explains that one with this blemish suffers from “one eye being larger than the other, or one limb longer than the other.” He fails to explain why these conditions are considered blemishes that render a kohein unfit to perform the avodah, for apparently his ability to perform his tasks in the Mikdosh is not impeded.
The Chofetz Chaim posed this question and offered an explanation during his hesped on the beloved rosh yeshiva of Radin, Rav Naftoli Trop. He said, “Sheleimus, perfection, means that everything fits and the middos of a person are compatible with each other. Someone who davens a long Shemoneh Esrei but has horrible middos is out of sync. A talmid chochom with no yiras Shomayim is unbalanced. A measure of Rav Naftoli’s greatness was that his avodah was proportionate to his Torah. His middos fit with his yiras Shomayim. They all came together in equal measure. No limb was bigger than any other.”
Now is generally a time of year when we seek to become a little more whole, not just internally, but externally as well, doing our part to bring the body of Klal Yisroel together.
We just celebrated Lag Ba’omer, when Jews of all types held hands in circles the world over, singing, “Ashreichem Yisroel.” We are marking the climb from Pesach, when four sons sat at the communal table, when we learned that even those on the 49th level of impurity are worthy of geulah, towards Shavuos, the day that saw us proclaim, ke’ish echod beleiv echod, all of the Bnei Yisroel together, “Na’aseh venishma.”
We often wonder: Why can’t we all get along for longer than one dance? What happened to that achdus? Where has it gone? Why can’t we recreate it on a daily basis, everywhere, all the time?
We need peace in the Holy Land. We need peace in our community. We need peace in our world. “Why can’t we all get along?” sounds like a simple question, but the answer eludes us. Seriously. Why the infighting? Why the backbiting? Why one against the other? And more importantly, what can we do to bring some harmony to our people? Why so much hate? Where is the love?
The way to start is by creating peace in ourselves. If we would be fulfilled and satisfied, secure with ourselves and happy, we wouldn’t have to engage in battles to create feelings of accomplishment.
The pesukim at the beginning of Parshas Bechukosai provide insight into how we go about doing that.
The posuk (26:3) promises, “Im bechukosai teileichu… If you will walk in the path of My laws and observe the mitzvos of Hashem, then the rains will fall on time, the earth will produce its proper harvest, vishavtem lovetach be’artzechem. Venosati shalom ba’aretz, ushechavtem ve’ein machrid…and you will live confidently and in peace.”
The absence of external enemies can lead to internal friction. If the nation is not engaged in a battle for its survival against outside enemies, there is a danger that the people will then fight with each other.
The Ramban (ibid.) writes that this is why, after promising vishavtem lovetach, the posuk promises shalom, peace. Hashem is promising the Jewish people that if they behave properly, they will not only be safe from attacks from across their borders, but they will also not have to worry about internecine battles. There will be peace, complete and total. Those who follow the chukim of Hashem will be fulfilled spiritually and physically, and they will earn peace and harmony. They won’t have to resort to outside negative activities to satisfy themselves.
Through being amal baTorah, diligently following Hashem’s commands, we become elevated people, tranquil and calm within. When we maintain peace in our land, we earn the Divine promise of freedom from our enemies.
In the midst of the brachos contained in the parsha, the posuk says (26:11), “Venosati Mishkoni besochechem velo sigal nafshi es’chem – I will place my Mishkon amongst you and My Soul will not purge itself of you.” The Alter of Novardok wondered about the nature of this brocha and the implications of Hashem’s guarantee.
He answered that according to the natural order of things, the spiritual soul of man, known as nefesh, should despise being in a physical body known as guf. The reason the nefesh is not offended by being placed in the guf is because of the special brocha depicted in this posuk. The soul of a Jew can acquiesce to its placement in the physical body, because when the guf fulfills the wishes of Hashem, it becomes elevated and can equal holiness of the neshomah.
Man has the ability to raise his physical being into a spiritual being. It is this synthesis that allows man to function, experiencing the desires of his guf and the longing of his neshomah and learning to work with this duality.
It’s how peace is made in the olam koton, the small world that is man.
The Ponovezher rosh yeshiva, Rav Dovid Povarsky, in Yishmiru Daas, amplifies this concept. He explains that the relationship between people who fulfill the ratzon Hashem and those who ignore it parallels this association between guf and neshomah.
This, the rosh yeshiva says, is the reason for the intense dislike displayed by Jews who scorn the Torah toward those who cherish it. According to teva, there is a dichotomy between the guf and the neshomah, but Hashem created man with the ability to turn his guf into neshomah. Thus, the neshomah doesn’t dislike the guf, because it knows that the guf can raise itself to its level.
However, those who are totally physical despise the spiritual, for the neshomah can never lower itself to the inferior level of the guf. Therefore, those who insist on keeping their guf on a low level, naturally despise the neshomah and anything that resembles it.
People who choose to focus their lives and choices on the world of neshomah are despised by those who choose guf; which is only natural. But the people who have chosen a life of guf aren’t disliked by those who live a life of neshomah, for the world of neshomah remains optimistic that, one day, those who choose guf will also adopt the lifestyle of the neshomah.
Even a person who is controlled by his bodily urges can overcome them and raise himself to the level where his nefesh controls his guf.
I met just such a person this past Shabbos. He was observing Shabbos for the second time in his life and is not yet ready to commit to more. His cherished daughter became a baalas teshuvah a few years ago and lives in a frum area with her husband, who also gave his nefesh control of his guf. This man’s grandchildren attend a fine yeshiva and he derives much joy when he visits them.
He and his wife were ardent leftists and were devastated when their daughter adopted a life of “Im bechukosai teileichu.” But as we sat and talked, he told me that he knows that his days of living strictly a life of guf are numbered. He said that his father had attended cheder, but there was no religion in their home. “When my father died, one sister got his siddur and the other a Chumash. For me, though, there was nothing,” he said. He let that hang for a while as he related with eyes and heart that he didn’t want to leave his children with nothing and was giving serious consideration to allowing his neshomah to slowly take over.
Thankfully, there are more people like him out there waiting for people like us to embrace them. Tragically, there are too many people going the other way, giving their neshamos over to their guf. They also need to be embraced.
When we merit to visit Yerushalayim and walk through neighborhoods such as Zichron Moshe, we don’t even realize that this neighborhood was once home to the country’s leading Maskilim. It was on one of its pastoral gesselach that Ben Yehuda lived and wrote his dictionary. Rechov Press, now home to the famed Brisker Yeshiva, was home to a leading progressive named Yeshayahu Press. The Lemel School, now home to a cheder, was the first modern educational institution in Yerushalayim. Zev Jabotinsky would rally his supporters on the ground that later occupied the Edison Theater and is now home to a Satmar housing complex.
As the religious people approached the neighborhood, those early Zionists and others like them moved out, seeking greener pastures for their poetry, novels and works of philosophy. Their children are lost, but not beyond repair. There is always hope for everyone. Every guf has a neshomah that can be tapped.
Thankfully, the battles those people fought a century ago are largely settled, and as you walk into neighborhood shuls, you have no idea that they were once staging grounds for internal battles. Today, Torah seems to be the ruling authority in those very places.
There is still much to be done and a long path to be hoed. There are people who are lost and bewildered, disenchanted by abuse, or poverty, or strict conformity or hate. They need a loving heart and soul to reach them.
People who despise the mishpotim of the Torah remain obsessed with their desire to carve out a secular state unencumbered by age-old laws, but passionate Jews don’t rest from trying to bring wayward souls back to Torah and achieving harmony between the neshomah and the guf of the nation.
The sefer Lulei Sorascha tells of a well-regarded askan who was welcomed to Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach, who bared his soul. “Listen,” he said, “I am pained by the financial situation of Chinuch Atzmai to the point that I would do anything to help. I would give the shirt off my back to anyone who could do something.”
The askan responded that he had two influential government contacts who could help if the rosh yeshiva would invite them to his home and receive them warmly. Rav Shach was hesitant, explaining that every time he spoke with public officials about money, he worried about chillul Hashem. “I don’t want them to think that all the rabbis want from them is money and that we only reach out at times like that,” he said.
The askan assured Rav Shach that they would be happy to help and the rosh yeshiva agreed. The two politicians arrived at the humble apartment and Rav Shach welcomed them with love and respect. Then he articulated his request. “You represent the government. You are charged with building up this country and helping the nation flourish. Now, a successful country needs industry to thrive. I turn to you with advice: Help this industry of authentic Jewish education, because it will make your country succeed. You’re younger than I am, and you may not understand what I’m saying now, but trust me. If you help these children learn the Torah of the Jews, then the country will benefit and you will have done your jobs.”
The askan reported that the government officials responded to Rav Shach’s plea with generosity and heart.
The great rejoicing and dancing on Lag Ba’omer in Meron and all around the world were expressions of the neshomah’s yearning, an appreciation of our great rebbi, Rabi Shimon bar Yochai, and the heights he reached. He revealed the depth and potential of each Jew, assuring us that wherever we are, we can always raise ourselves ever higher.
The words selected as Rabi Shimon’s enduring legacy, emblazoned on the famous entranceway in Meron, quote his teaching, “Ki lo sishochach mipi zaro,” representing his assurance that Hashem’s children will never forget the Torah, despite all that will befall them. The final letters of the words spell Yochai, a hint at how they are bound up with the essence of the one who said them: yud, alef, ches, yud, vuv.
Rav Shach succeeded in expressing the timelessness of Torah, the enduring birthright of our children, and the Divine assurance that each succeeding generation has a right to its light.
We have to connect the neshomah to the guf, inside ourselves and outside ourselves.
As the fame of the Chofetz Chaim grew, people flocked to him, asking for brachos. Many times, he would respond with a question. “Why did you come to me for brachos?” he would ask. “I am just a simple human being. Brachos can be obtained by following the pesukim in Parshas Bechukosai, which proclaim that all the blessings of the world will flow to those who observe Hashem’s path – ‘Im bechukosai teileichu.’ The Torah, whose every word is true, guarantees brachos for shemiras hamitzvos. If it is blessings you seek, you would be well advised to spend your time advancing your shemiras hamitzvos and forgetting about me.”
May the words of this parsha, with its promises of brachos and yeshuos, fill Jews everywhere with light, blessings, peace and the ultimate brocha.
The period of Sefirah is a time of harmony, of working on our bein odom lachaveiro, in the season of yomim tovim defined by achdus. We prepare for Kabbolas HaTorah by empowering our personal neshomah, as well as the neshamos of all of our people, so that they appreciate their importance and obligation in this world, through peace, harmony and greatness.
Rav Yisroel Eliyohu Weintraub writes in his sefer Raza D’Shabbos that when we say that a person is a tzelem Elokim, it means that man has the ability to resemble Hashem through his actions. He explains that the neshomah hears the bas kol reminding it how to conduct itself. When the neshomah manages the guf, man can rise to the highest levels of conduct and spirituality, but when the neshomah doesn’t dominate, man can’t advance and cannot be rachum vechanun like Hashem.
As we count the final days of Sefirah and recite the middos of gevurah, tiferes, netzach, hod, yesod and malchus, and as we learn this week’s parsha of brachos and shalom, let us allow the neshomah to take over and influence our behavior so that we may be blessed with shalom and sheleimus.