Friday, April 15, 2016

Listen, Maintain Balance and Keep A Grip: Life/ Pesach Lessons from the Metzora

Parshat Metzora decribes the purification process for the Metzora. Part of this process involved the Kohen dabbing blood on the purifying person’s ear, right thumb and right big toe. This procedure was repeated a second time with oil.

This is not the first instance that this unusual ritual is described and utilized. In the course of the Kohanim’s dedication into service, they underwent the same procedure on the same appendages. 

It's worth noting that Kohen and Metzorah stand in stark contrast one to the other: The Kohen’s role is to bring about peace and unite for the community; whereas the Metzora is associated with behaviors that divide people and bring acrimony (such as Lashon Harah).

But what is the significance of the ear, the thumb and the big toe?
I did not come across a commentator who dealt with this issue directly, so let me share with you one idea I had:

Ear: is what we use to listen with
Big toe: is very important in maintaining balance
Thumb: is crucial in grasping items and keeping a grip

Perhaps the Metzora's purification ritual comes to teach us  that to be a worthy, upstanding member of society you must work on the following tasks:

Listen to people, don’t just talk
Seek to maintain balance, and avoid extremes
Keep a grip on things: not just tangible items but ideas and perspectives as well. We must attempt to keep things in perspective and proportion, for otherwise we may find ourselves constantly troubled by people and circumstances around us.

If we can listen more than we speak, find balance while avoiding extremes, and keep a grip on reality and what is really important than we will be worthy of helping to create a better community and a better world.

In light of these lessons, it is very appropriate that Parshat Metzorah is often Shabbat, Hagadol, the Parsha we read right before Pesach. Preparations for Pesach, and the Seder experience are both enhanced if we heed these lessons gleaned frorm the Metzora's purification.

Listening, Maintaining Balance, and Keeping a Grip are sound pieces of advice for each of us as we prepare for a Happy and Kosher Pesach

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Rest of The Story

This week I was fortunate to participate in a Yarchei Kallah program for Rabbis, hosted by Yeshiva University's Center for the Jewish Future. I learned a lot and I look forward to sharing what I learned in various ways and in various venues. But the first lesson that I want to share is one I thought of while on my way back to Florida. Sitting on the plane. Watching ESPN (thank you JetBlue).

On the show, Outside The Lines, there is a segment called "The Rest of The Story". The segment I watched was about a man named Scott Park. You can watch the 15 minute segment here
Scott is an avid college basketball fan. His team is the NC State Wolfpack. He won a contest to attend the ACC Tournament and have a chance to try to make a half court basketball shot and win a million dollars. Scott was very short on his shot. A reporter decided to record the attempt on his phone and then posted to Vine, a video sharing platform where people can post 6 second videos.

And then it happened- the video went viral with millions of views. Many of those viewers felt the need to post mean comments about Scott and his attempt that fell well short. But these people did not know the rest of the story.

The rest of the story is that Scott had contracted CAPS, a very serious disease. He was the first person in the world to successfully undergo a a kidney transplat with this disease. He knew he did not have the strength to make a half court shot. But as this article in the Sporting News put it "he tried anyway. That's what he does."

Check out the video or the article for the rest of Scott Park's inspiring story.

Often in life we are put in positions in which we have the opportunity to judge based on our impressions, based on what we see. We need to remember that there is always a rest of the story, and we are often not privy to those details.

This week my shul is participating in a project to bring awareness and sensitivity to the isse of infertility in the Jewish community, spearheaded by the organization Yesh Tikva. An important first step is to realize that we often don't know the rest of the story when it comes to acquaintances, or even friends, and their struggles with infertility.

In Parshat Tazria we are introduced to the Metzorah. According to the Midrash, one cause of tzaraat is Lashon Hara. One way to avoid Lashon Harah and to give people the benefit of the doubt is to remember that we often don't know the rest of the story.

At the beginning of the hagadah, in Ha Lachma Anya, we declare "Let all who are hungry come and eat." One of the ways we express our freedom is by being able to be sensitive and concerned for our fellow Jew. As slaves, we could only care about surviving. On Pesach we celebrate how our freedom has allowed us the opportunity to care for others.