Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Metzora Internal Freedom

Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Metzora Internal Freedom Social media has made it commonplace for people to post negative and condemning remarks about people with whom they disagree. This and other types of malicious behavior are considered major offenses in Judaism. There’s not a whole lot we can do about it today but in ancient times, a person who besmirched someone else came down with a sickness called tzara’at, which some translate as leprosy. When someone contracted it, he went to a Kohen, a sort of spiritual doctor. The Kohen worked with the afflicted person to find the underlying reason for why he felt it necessary to speak negatively behind someone’s back. One of the most common underlying causes is arrogance.   The rest of the oil that is on the kohen’s palm, he shall place upon the head of the person being purified; in order to bring him to atonement before Hashem. (14:29) R’ Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (1843-1926) asks, regarding the sacrificial offering of a wealthy person who has been struck with tzara’at, the Torah says (14:20), “The kohen brings him atonement.” This implies that he has been fully purified and forgiven. In contrast, regarding the poor person, the verse above says, “In order to bring him to atonement…” This implies that the pauper has come close to achieving atonement but has not yet attained it. Why is there a difference between a rich person and a poor person? The illness called tzara’at is a consequence of arrogance. While arrogance is undesirable, a wealthy person’s arrogance is at least understandable, as it says And you increase silver and gold for yourselves, and everything that you have will increase. And your heart will become haughty and you will forget G-d. In contrast, what is the poor person arrogant about; what would cause him to act haughtily? It’s simply bad character. Therefore, the Torah says, “in order to bring him to atonement.” Because of his bad character, his atonement is not yet completed merely with the oil being placed on his head. He must search his mind for the twisted thinking that led him to be arrogant for no logical reason. Chassidim v’Anshei Ma’aseh is a 20th century five volume anthology of Chassidic stories. One of the most famous is that of Yankel, a chassid who came to his Rebbe and complained, “I’m so arrogant; how can I learn to be humble? The Rebbe told him to sit next to him while he received those coming to him for advice. A distressed person walked and told the Rebbe that his big burly antisemitic neighbor was bullying him and he didn’t know what to do. The Rebbe told Yankel to help the man and stand up to the bully. “I can’t do that; he would probably beat me to death” Yankel responded. Shortly thereafter, someone else came in and pleaded with the Rebbe to help him. It was winter and he and his wife and baby were about to be evicted and would have to live on the street in the bitter cold. The Rebbe told Yankel to give the man rent for the next two months. Yankel responded, “I don’t have that kind of money.” Then, a Yeshiva student walked in and posed a piercing question to the Rebbe involving a complex legal matter. The Rebbe told Yankel to answer the question. Yankel answered, “I’m not that learned or smart enough to even begin to know how to approach the question.” When the man left and the Rebbe was alone with Yankel, the Rebbe looked at him and said, “Yankel, I don’t understand. You have no strength, no money, and no education; what exactly are you arrogant about? This idea is appropriate for Passover because one of the most important symbols of Passover is matzah. What makes bread different then matzah? They’re both flour and water; bread is merely a puffed-up version of matzah. Bread represents ego because we puff ourselves up. The results range anywhere from looking condescendingly toward others to showing off at meetings to being rude and offensive, conceited, exaggerating one’s abilities—and the list continues. But that’s not the real you, it’s merely a puffed up, unpleasant version of yourself. Matzah represents the true you; the raw essence. It’s the person you could be if the shackles of ego weren’t constricting you.
This Monday night begins an eight-day journey in discarding the fluff—the chometz—and embracing your essence—the matzah. We got our freedom from the cruel Egyptian oppressors thousands of years ago but that doesn’t mean that we are free from the internal head trash that limits us. Let’s make this Pesach a time of internal liberation and reconnecting to the good, kind, and wise person you know you are or have the potential to be. Believe in yourself and don’t have your life dictated by what others think and know that you don’t need their approval. Become the person whose only concern is to doing the right thing, not the one motivated by what others think of them.  Now that’s real freedom. This Pesach, grab some! Good Shabbos/ Chag Samayach

Passover 5784-2024This is the Story of a HurricaneEver since October 7th, our world has been forever altered but long before that the winds of change have been blowing. In one generation, snail mail turned into email, rotary phones turned into cell phones, and Blackberry turned into an iPhone. There’s uncertainty concerning politics, gender, marriage, support for Israel and many other issues that were, for the most part, straightforward for decades. Whether you think it’s positive or negative is inconsequential; the main point is that change brings uncertainty, which can be a challenge for many people. We’ve been knocked us all off kilter and we still live with the stress it brought to us all—and that’s why the message of Passover is so crucial.
When the Mayflower left England, it brought the first organized group (that we are aware of) of people to America. This was a great historical event but its details are unknown to most Englishmen. Do they know precisely when it departed, what the travelers ate and how they cooked their pre-departure food? How many people were on the ship; what time did it set sail? The overwhelming majority of Englishman and Americans can’t answer these questions, yet there was another, much bigger journey whose details have been preserved; the Exodus from Egypt. Jews in Russia, America, Asia, and Africa, and anywhere else in the world there are Jews, can tell you what the Israelites ate thousands of years ago; roasted, not cooked, meat that was roasted well, not rare. They know what time of night they left (midnight), as well as how many people left Egypt.
What’s the message? The Jewish people have been transmitting a detailed message for thousands of years. Even far off communities such as Yemen who didn’t have contact with other communities have transmitted the same message as Jews who grew up in Paris. We have strong roots going back more than 3300 years and a continuous history of Jews passing on those roots to the next generation.
When a tree is freshly planted, its roots are shallow. When a strong wind or rain comes, those roots can be easily uprooted but a tree with deep, long roots can withstand the worst of storms. We Jews have long, deep, and extremely strong roots that go from one end of the globe to another. Our history has been made by people who never forgot the Jewish past. We kept the longing for Zion in our collective consciousness for close to 2000 years after we were expelled from that Land. No other nation in world history has returned to their homeland after 2000 years but we did because we never forgot. We mention the Land of Israel in our prayers as well as fulfilling precepts specifically enacted so that we would never forget Jerusalem and the Temple that stood there. You need deep roots to revive an ancient language (Hebrew) and survive without your own land or army—and be hated by virtually every nation in whose land you live. Our roots have allowed us to remain standing when hurricanes and tornadoes (Greece, Rome, Communist Russia, Germany, …it’s a long list) attempted to blow us over but we remain standing while they got swept away in history.
The idea of the night of the Seder is to talk about our roots and make sure the next generation is made aware of them and give them the gift of taking pride in knowing where they come from. But even if one is alone for the Seder or with other adults, you still have a mitzvah to say the Haggadah and relive the story and strengthen your roots.
The winds of change do not intimidate us and, still, the night of the Seder night is not just a discussion of the past; we also talk about the future. No matter how difficult a period of one’s life is, as long as (s)he sees a future, there is hope, the antidote to negative thoughts.  The Seder ends with Next year in Jerusalem, a yearning for the future based on our past. 
Global antisemitism is higher than ever as are the unsettling changes in the political and social order around us but we need not be frightened. As Mark Twain famously said, “The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts.” Seder nights are opportunities to transmit the message our people have transmitted for thousands of years. It doesn’t take any knowledge to strengthen the roots, just follow the well-trodden path of the Haggadah. By doing so, you will be taking one of the first steps in being able to weather the hurricane of uncertainty in which we all live.                                                                                                  Chag Samayach/Happy Passover     
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