Friday, May 24, 2024

Potential, Unity and Renewal

One of the greatest Chassidic rebbes was the Izhbitzer. One of his followers was Reb Dovid of Lokov, an elderly chossid, who had known the Chozeh of Lublin and the Yid Hakadosh of Peshischa. He had frequented the courts of Kotzk and Peshischa before making his way to the Izhbitzer.

One day, as the elderly chossid was walking in Izhbitz, a young boy bumped into him. Reb Dovid turned to the precocious boy and admonished him, “Derech eretz, mein kind. Show some respect.”

The boy, a grandson of the Izhbitzer Rebbe, would grow up to be the Radziner Rebbe. He responded to the man he had bumped into, “Farvos? Why do I need to have respect for you?”

“Because I knew the Chozeh,” the elderly Reb Dovid responded.

“So what? I am a grandson of the rebbe,” the boy replied.

“How can you compare the two?” the man demanded.

“My grandfather is greater than the Chozeh!” the lad said.

That was enough for Reb Dovid, who would have no more of the insolence and smacked the boy right across his face.

The boy ran to his grandfather, crying. “Zaide, Reb Dovid hit me.”

“Why did he do that? He must have had a good reason.”

“Because I told him that you are greater than the Chozeh of Lublin. Did I not say the truth, grandfather?”

The holy Izhbitzer wiped the tears off the cheeks of his bewildered grandson. “Go back to Reb Dovid and say that I told you to tell him that it is true that there is no comparison between the Chozeh and me. But there is a difference: The Chozeh reached as high as he will reach. He can never attain more greatness, for he has passed away. I am alive. I can rise. I can grow. It is possible for me to reach the heavens in greatness.”

Life is all about potential. As long as we are alive and ambitious, we can improve. There is no imposed limit to how much we can achieve. The only thing that holds us back is ourselves and our self-imposed limitations.

We can grow to be as great as the Izhbitzer and the Chozeh if we maintain a pure heart and devote ourselves to the service of Hashem. We can become great if we control ourselves from sinning, remain humble, embrace goodness and good people, daven well, learn with diligence, and refrain from sin, pettiness and machlokes.

We all know that we have an inclination that seeks to entrap us in silliness and actions that provide momentary pleasure. We need to smack down the yeitzer hora and not permit him to gain a foothold in our hearts, souls and minds. We must allow ourselves to be guided by the yeitzer tov, doing good and being good.

Chazal’s declaration that “Ein adam choteh elah im kein nichnas bo ruach shtus” conveys that since every person understands that succeeding in life involves becoming more connected with Hashem, we seek to do mitzvos, study Torah, and be kind and caring. Knowing that aveiros distance us from Hashem, the only way we commit them is when a ruach shtus enters our mind and causes us to act in a way that will harm us and draw us away from Hashem.

The Sefer Hachinuch (95) writes that this is the reason for korbanos. The bodies of man and animal are quite similar, except that man was given intelligence and a soul; animal was not. When man sins he takes leave of his intelligence, he is essentially like an animal. Therefore, when he repents, he brings an animal to the choicest location and it is totally consumed and forgotten. This reminds him that a body without intelligence is doomed to be destroyed and erased. He remembers that he was given a body plus intellect and a soul, and he repents for his misdeed, resolving that he would not permit his intellect to give way to a ruach shtus again.

Our mission in life is to bring ourselves closer to Hashem. Every mitzvah that we perform, every word of Torah that we study, every time we do chesed, and every time we love another Jew, we are firmer in Hashem’s embrace. However, when we do an aveirah, we distance ourselves from Hashem. Aveiros create walls that separate us from Hashem. Being divisive and spreading machlokes and peirud between people in this world causes Jews to separate from each other and from Hashem.

Seder Vayikra is all about korbanos. The parsha begins this week with an introduction to the concept of Jews offering animal sacrifices to Hashem to atone for their sins. The posuk (Vayikra 1:2) states, “Adam ki yakriv mikem korban laShem,” using the word adam, instead of the usual ish, to denote man. Many reasons are offered for this.

Perhaps we can say that adam refers to the potential of man. Adam Harishon was given that name to signify that he was created from the ground, adamah. Though he had the lowliest physical beginning, he has the potential to rise to the heavens and become a spiritual being, immersed in Torah and avodah.

When a person commits an aveirah, he sinks from whatever level he has attained and becomes closer to the earth from where he began. But he has the ability to erase what he has done and resume his spiritual connection on his way to realizing his potential for greatness. A korban along with viduy and charotah returns him to the path that he was born to climb. The path of the Izhbitzer.

Perhaps we can offer a deeper explanation. Rav Chaim Vital writes cryptically in the Kisvei Arizal on Parshas Kedoshim, in explaining the mitzvah of “ve’ahavta lerei’acha kamocha,” that the concept that all of Am Yisroel are “areivim zeh lozeh” is based upon the idea that “kol Yisroel sod guf echod shel nishmas Adam Harishon.”

He says that this is the reason the Arizal would say viduy for the sins of other people, because all members of the Jewish nation are really one.

The words of the Arizal can be understood as such: Adam carried within himself the future neshamos of Klal Yisroel, and thus every Jew is a limb of one large body and we are all interconnected (Derech Mitzvosecha). The optimum behavior of Klal Yisroel is when we all recognize that we are parts of one whole, acting with unity and achdus, and caring for each other. This lies behind the command that we should love each other.

Therefore, before he davened, the Arizal would recite viduy for disparate parts of the Jewish body to bring everyone together. For just as if a korban is blemished and incomplete it cannot be offered to Hashem, so too, if the person who is bringing the korban is blemished, he is not worthy for the korban to forgive him for his sin.

It is for that reason that the Arizal instituted that prior to davening, a person should accept upon himself the mitzvas asei of “v’ohavta lerei’acha kamocha.” A person who hates another Jew, or despises him or her, is a baal mum, for he prevents himself from being connected with the entire body of Klal Yisroel.

 We know that tefillah is in the place of korbanos. Thus, just as a person’s korbanos are not accepted if they are found lacking, the same applies to his prayers.

It is for this reason that the Torah uses the appellation “Adam” when discussing the bringing of korbanos. It is to remind us that Adam Harishon embodied all the neshamos of Klal Yisroel, and if we wish to be forgiven and accepted by Hashem, we must acknowledge that since we are all interconnected, if even one person is left out, the person who is bringing the korban and saying viduy will fail in his bid of seeking penitence.

Adam ki yakriv mikem.” The person who is bringing the korban must acknowledge that he is a part of “mikem,” the entire klal. Just as Adam encompassed all the neshamos of Klal Yisroel, the makriv must be connected to all the neshamos b’achdus.

When we read Parshas Hachodesh this Shabbos, let us bear in mind the explanation offered by the Sefas Emes to the wording of the posuk, “Hachodesh hazeh lochem,” which literally means this month is for you. Although in this posuk the word “hachodesh” means month, it also contains a connotation for renewal, as in hischadshus.

The posuk is admonishing us that the ability to be rejuvenated is up to us. At times we may fall or slip, but we don’t have to stay down. We each have the ability to pick ourselves up, to rise, and realize our potential.

Let’s do it!


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