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Wednesday
Mar192014

FIX AND DECORATE

The Aramaic word k’shot has several translations that bring depth of meaning to this weeks parsha…

INSTRUCT THE JEWISH PEOPLE

After the tragic death of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu, who were struck down by G-d for bringing an unauthorized offering, G-d instructs Aaron to admonish the surviving priests to abstain from wine when they are called upon to do the service in the Sanctuary. G-d concludes this admonition by stating:

“So that you will be able to distinguish between the holy and the profane… and to instruct [l’horos] the children of Israel regarding all the statutes which G-d has told them, through Moses.”

Commentators cite a parallel verse in an earlier parsha concerning the skill of Betzalel in constructing the Mishkan, where the same word l’horos-to instruct appears: “He placed in his heart the ability to instruct [l’horos].”

Commentators see the complementary nature of these two verses. The verse in our parsha speaks of instructing the children of Israel, whereas the identical term as used in the earlier parsha implies that G-d endowed Betzalel with the ability to instruct his own heart.

One can derive several lessons from these two verses:

INTOXICATION: BAD FOR THE HEART

First, the verse in this week’s parsha appears in the context of not drinking wine before entering the Sanctuary. By extension, Rashi states, the Torah admonishes a rabbi not to render legal decisions after drinking wine. When a rabbi, teacher or anyone who attempts to impart knowledge to another does so, their minds must not be affected by the consumption of alcohol or any other influence that can distort the message.

When we consider this verse together with the one that speaks of instructing one’s own heart, it suggests that when we seek to have the Torah’s message of creating a Sanctuary in our own lives, we must do so without having a clouded mind. Any form of intoxication—be it from wine or even from material pursuits, honor and power—will distort our perception of truth and will prevent the message from entering our heart.

FIX YOURSELF FIRST?

Another lesson, cited by some, which we can derive from this equation is that in order for us to be successful in instructing and inspiring others, we must first instruct our own heart.

This theme echoes the Talmudic statement (Sanhedrin 19a): “Fix yourself and then fix others.” This saying is applied to a king who can judge others, therefore he too is subject to being judged.

The Rebbe, in a letter to a university professor, urged him to inspire others. The Rebbe continued by discussing the foregoing Talmudic quote that one must first fix oneself before fixing others, by referring to the Talmud’s choice of language. The Aramaic word k’shot which we translated as “fix” actually has the connotation of “decorate.” The Rebbe thus concludes from this that when it comes to decorating or adding an ornament to the other’s spiritual life one must first enhance one’s own spiritual life. However, when the subject of the lesson is the basics of Jewish life, such as learning Torah and performing the Mitzvos, one cannot wait to achieve proficiency in these areas before helping others. One must help the other concurrently with helping oneself.

It is interesting to note that the Aramaic word k’shot can also be translated as “truth.” We can now render the Talmudic statement thus: “When it comes to decorating or demanding truth of others, first demand it of yourself!”

Both translations are related. When one performs a Mitzvah with truth, i.e., sincerity and integrity, it beautifies, decorates and adorns the Mitzvah. Although a Mitzvah is valid even if done perfunctorily or for ulterior motives, nevertheless, the Mitzvah done without feeling and truth lacks heart and soul. One must not wait for one’s own observance to meet basic standards, and certainly not wait for one’s further attainment of truth and purity, before teaching the performance of Mitzvos to others. However, if one demands the other to perform the Mitzvos with beauty, excellence and the attainment of higher goals and objectives, he or she should first demand the same of himself or herself.

This, then, is the meaning of the two references to l’horos: Before one tries to instruct and inspire the children of Israel, in a manner that will give them an enhanced version of a Mitzvah, k’shot, the instructions must enter and penetrate one’s own heart. The message must be conveyed with sincerity and love.

When it comes to the basic level of observance, however, we cannot wait until our own observance is perfect. Simultaneously with working on ourselves we also have an obligation to “reach out” to others and instruct them about the basic observance of Torah and Mitzvos.

THE FALSE CHALLENGE OF HYPOCRISY

One may challenge the above premise (that we should instruct others concerning the basics even if we have not yet gained full appreciation of the message) by raising the objection that it would be hypocritical to tell someone to do something before doing it oneself.

The answer to this argument is twofold:

First, hypocrisy is defined as someone who puts on a show of piety and righteousness, but is insincere and uses that veneer as a way of deceiving others, perhaps even with the intention of causing them harm. If a person is sincere about doing the right thing by teaching others, but cannot yet muster sufficient will-power to do it himself or herself, that is not hypocrisy. At the worst, it is simply an inconsistency. At best, it suggests that the person who instructs is taking baby steps in his or her journey towards self-perfection.

Second, if there is a hint of hypocrisy here it occurs in the reverse. Instructing and influencing others to do that which is right is the real thing. It is consistent with truth and righteousness. It is a Mitzvah to help others do the right thing. The only suggestion of hypocrisy is that we ourselves have not yet reached that level of commitment that we are asking of others. The onus of not being hypocritical should not weigh down our efforts to instruct others, but rather on our own lack of initiative in applying the message to ourselves.

It is useful to consider a simple analogy here: A thief decides to refrain from stealing one day each week but continues to ply his trade the other days. If this makes the thief a hypocrite it is not because he desists from stealing one day a week, but because he continues to steal the other days of the week.

If those who cry “hypocrisy” are obsessed with being honest and true to themselves, which is admirable, this should inspire them to live by the instructions they give others rather than prevent the transmission of necessary knowledge to others. Withholding information and inspiration from others, according to the Talmud, is tantamount to withholding food in a time of shortage.

MAY THE REAL
ME STAND UP!

When our behavior with regard to helping others grow belies our own level of commitment, we must ask ourselves, which is the real me? Does my desire to positively influence others define the true me, or does my lack of personal commitment reveal my true inner identity?

A story is told of a Chassid of the Rebbe Maharash (the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe) who dressed in modern attire for his business dealings, but when he came to Lubavitch to be with the Rebbe he wore traditional Chassidic garb. One year, he decided to come dressed in his modern business attire. When the Rebbe questioned him about the change in his manner of dress, he replied that he did not want to be a hypocrite and try to “fool” the Rebbe about his level of Chassidic practice. To which the Rebbe responded: “I thought the real you was the way you appeared when you came to Lubavitch and not the way you act when you are involved with your business…”

In truth, Chassidic thought, based on Talmudic sources, teaches us that “deep down” every Jew wants to do that which is right. The real person inhabits the identity that emanates from our G-dly souls. When we fail to go in the direction charted for us by the Torah that is where we are inconsistent. Inspiring others is in total conformity with our true identity and desire. We should play “catch up” with ourselves.

WORDS FROM THE HEART ENTER THE HEART

Having stated all of the above, there is another side to the coin. If we want our efforts at helping others to be successful we must instruct with our heart in it. We must decorate ourselves with enhanced feeling and love so that our message will not only provide others with the bare minimum but will also give them the ability to be decorated with love and truth.

This message is implied in the words “Decorate yourself first and then decorate others.” If you want your efforts to be rewarded with optimum results do them with the beauty that comes from sincerity, warmth and love.

In the words of our Sages: “Words that emanate from the heart will enter the heart.”

APPLICATION TO THE MESSAGE OF PUBLICIZING MOSHIACH

This twin principle (of not delaying the instruction to others even while we attempt to internalize the message) has been applied by the Rebbe (Seifer HaSichos 5751 p. 778) to the message that Moshiach’s coming is imminent. The Rebbe asked that we publicize this message with words that “emanate from the heart.” However, the Rebbe added, this announcement should be made even by those who doubt that they have fully internalized the message. Inasmuch as their faith is intact, they ought to publicize this message to their communities and their families (“why should their families suffer from the [messenger’s own] lack of progress in comprehending the message”).

The Rebbe concluded: “Certainly, with the appropriate efforts, the message will be accepted and will ultimately yield the desired results. It will also assist the one who makes the announcement and publicizes the message to integrate and internalize the message.”

 

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