Food For the Soul
I learned a new word recently: “mansplaining.” Wikipedia defines it as: “a portmanteau of the words man and explaining; to explain something to someone, typically a man to woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.”
Though a fairly new word, perhaps the Torah portion Naso (Numbers 7:84-7:89) admonishes us against this behavior.
The Sota is a woman whose husband suspects (and has limited evidence of) her infidelity. The couple comes to the Temple where a kohen fills an earthen vessel with Temple water and bitter earth, and dissolves in it the letters of G-d’s name. When she drinks the bitter waters, the unfaithful wife dies; the faithful one is exonerated and blessed.
The Chassidic masters explain this episode metaphorically as a struggle between spirituality and physicality, between the soul and the body, and between the masculine and feminine perspectives.
The soul, represented by the husband, cannot fathom the value of the body, represented by the feminine. The soul views physicality as something detracting from his Divine service and does not appreciate her needs or perspectives.
But while the body’s temptations often hold the soul back, that’s only one side. The soul could not accomplish its mission—or perform any mitzvah, for that matter—without its body. G-d chose to give the Torah to human beings—souls cloaked in physical bodies—and not angels. The Torah commands us about earthly matters and how to live in our physical world. In fact, in the feminine era of Moshiach, we will understand the body’s true value, and the soul will actually “be nourished by the body.”
That is why in the Sota episode, after the struggle between the soul and the body, the name of G-d is dissolved specifically in an earthen vessel, validating the significant role played by feminine earthiness and physicality. So, perhaps the lesson for us is not to have a one-dimensional worldview that disparages or disregards people or perspectives that differ from our own. Let’s stop mansplaining, womansplaining or peoplesplaining, and start seeing the inherent worth in all of G-d’s creations.
From an article by Chana Weisberg
Ethics of the Fathers: Chapter 1
It is the custom of many communities (and such is the Chabad custom) to continue the weekly study of a chapter Ethics of the Fathers (“Avot”), one chapter each Shabbat afternoon, through the summer, until the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana (the first six-week cycle is completed on the six Shabbatot between Passover and Shavuot). This Shabbat, being the first Shabbat after Shavuot, we study Chapter One.
Among the profound thoughts in this chapter is the famous saying from Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
Mind Over Matter
Focus on the positive
When a morbidly obese friend who was my age suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack, the shock made me recommit to my diet, and I lost some weight. Less than six months later, I gained it back. While there are exceptions to the rule, when motivation to change stems merely from wanting to avoid a bad outcome, rather than obtaining a good result, the change is usually temporary.
What does serve the process of long-term change is flipping the goal into something positive, like feeling confident, strong and healthy, and to be able to resume former activities and physical hobbies. In the long run, being pulled towards the good serves better than running from the bad. This idea is taught by the Chassidic master, the Maggid of Mezeritch, who explained the Psalm “stay away from evil and do good” to truly mean “stay away from evil by doing good.” The two are connected. When we do something positive, we are naturally removed from the negative.
From an article by Hanna Perlberger
From the moment that they were sundered apart, the earth has craved to reunite with heaven: physical with spiritual, body with soul, the life that breathes within us with the transcendental that lies beyond life, beyond being. And yet more so does the Infinite Light yearn to find itself within that world, that pulse of life, within finite, earthly existence. There, more than any spiritual world, is the place of G-d’s delight. Towards this ultimate union all of history flows, all living things crave, all human activities are subliminally directed. When it will finally occur, it will be the quintessence of every marriage that has ever occurred. May it be soon in our times, sooner than we can imagine.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Have I Got A Story
Who is man?
Let’s start with two stories. In both, one creature attempts to act like another, but fails. In the first, it’s an animal who is trying to be human; in the second it’s a human trying to be an animal. Here’s the first story: Once, during a discussion, Maimonides, personal physician to Sultan Saladin, argued that only human beings can change their character, while animals could not. One of the sultan’s anti-Semitic advisors, seeing an opportunity to humiliate the Jewish physician, proposed a wager, claiming he could transform a cat into a waiter, thus teaching it to behave contrary to its nature. The advisor was a skilled animal trainer and he trained the cat to walk on two legs, in a costume, carrying a tray. But when Maimonides opened a box containing a mouse – and the mouse ran out – the cat immediately dropped the tray, went down on all fours and began chasing the mouse all over the place!
The second story, as told by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov: There was once a prince who went mad and insisted he was a rooster. He sat under the table naked, clucking and eating his food off the floor. The king had tried everything to cure him, but nothing worked, and he was in despair. A wise man who had heard about the king’s predicament arrived at the palace and said he could cure the prince. So, the wise man took off his clothes and sat under the table, pretending to be a chicken too. Sitting there under the table, he began to get to know the Rooster Prince.
Then one day, the man called for a pair of pants and began putting them on. The Rooster Prince objected, saying, “What do you mean, wearing those pants? You’re a rooster, and roosters can’t wear pants!”
“Who says a rooster can’t wear pants?” the man replied. “Why shouldn’t I be warm and comfortable, too? Why should only humans have all the good things?” The Rooster Prince thought for a while. The man had a point. The floor under the table was very cold and uncomfortable. So he asked for pants, too, and put them on.
The next day, the man asked for a warm shirt, and began to put it on. Again the Rooster Prince objected: “How can you do that? Roosters don’t wear shirts!”
“Who says?” the man replied. “Why should I have to shiver in the cold just because I’m a rooster?” Again the Rooster Prince thought it over, and realized that he was cold, too—so he put on a shirt. And so it went with socks, shoes, a belt, a hat . . . Soon the Rooster Prince was talking normally, eating with a knife and fork from a plate, sitting properly at the table; in short, he was acting human once more.
Who is man? An age-old question if there ever was one. The Bible states that “G-d created man in His image.” G-d is inherently good, and so is the being He created called man. As for the question of how man comes to sin if indeed he is so G-dly, the Talmud answers profoundly: “A person does not commit a transgression unless a spirit of folly enters him.”
Unlike [those] who believe that man is at best a trainable cat who can act human so long as the mice are away, the Talmud suggests that man is in essence a beautiful being, who, because of a “spirit of folly,” can sometimes confuse himself with a squalid rooster. Thus, in Jewish thought, it is badness, not goodness, which is alien to man, a foreign product smuggled in from the outside.
In our third story, a professor complained to the Lubavitcher Rebbe about the nature of people. “From my encounters, I have noticed that people can seem nice and charming at the outset. They may express concern for you and even openly admit that they love you! But if one digs just a little deeper than the outer surface—some require more digging than others—at their core everyone is exactly the same: selfish, arrogant and egotistic. Why is this the nature of mankind?” The Rebbe responded with a parable: “When one walks on the street, things often look so elegant and appealing: tall flowery trees, fancy houses, paved roads and expensive cars. But if one takes a hoe and begins digging beneath the surface, he discovers dirt and mud, nothing like the beautiful but ‘deceptive’ world aboveground. But if he weren’t to give up,” the Rebbe concluded, “and would continue digging deeper, he would eventually encounter precious minerals and diamonds.”
Even if we at times succumb to our animal inclination, we can always be humanized again, since like the prince beneath the table, and like diamonds coated in dirt, our essence never changes.
Adapted from an article by Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson