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Jewish Dermatology

 

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When discussing the “magical” skin disorder known as tzoraat (leprosy), an affliction that appeared on people who transgressed the prohibition against gossip in the times of the Temple, we are taught that it was only someone of Kohen lineage who could declare the person ritually impure.

What’s unusual is that the criteria for who was allowed to determine if a spot found was actuallytzoraat, had nothing to do with who was most well versed in the laws, or who was the greatest scholar in order to ensure an accurate verdict. Rather, all that was required was a Kohen. And if the only Kohen available was a child who knew nothing about what did or did not constitute tzoraat, a person who was well versed would tell the Kohen child and that Kohen child would make the declaration.

This might seem needlessly ceremonial, however, the reason this task was given to the Kohen is because it was the Kohanim who were given the job to bless the Jewish people, with the words ‘to bless the people of Israel, with love’. A Kohen is endowed with an additional measure of the attribute of kindness in order to do his job with love, and it is that love that is required in order to declare a fellow Jew ritually impure with all the ramifications that came along.

His innate love will ensure that he does not misjudge a fellow Jew, he will leave no stone unturned and will do all he can to try to find a way for the verdict to be positive. And when the outcome was negative, you could be sure that it was so in the truest sense.

Often we encounter people or situations that we find unjust or wanting of improvementbefore we reach out to rebuke another or try to rectify a situation we need to look inside ourselves and ensure that that rebuke is coming from a place of love. Our job is not to highlight another’s wrongdoings, but if the situation arises we are only permitted to do so if our intentions are coming with the love of a Kohen.

Have a fabulous week,

~Nechama~

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Shabbat, me or you?

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Have you ever wondered about Shabbat candle lighting? Particularly in the winter?

A woman once wanted to begin incorporating Shabbat into her life; she began with the quick and easy component of lighting Shabbat candles figuring that it didn’t require much investment of time, but still felt meaningful as it is a mitzvah specifically for women.

The problem arose as winter’s short Fridays hit and candle lighting time (18 mins before sundown) found her still in the office. At first she stuck with it and as the time approached she would pull out her tea-light candles, light them and recite the blessing, she got some strange looks but she smiled confidently in return and no one seemed to mind.

Later in the evening as she would return home and sit down to dinner she began to feel that it wasn’t quite right to be lighting candles while continuing to work, followed by driving home. She decided that lighting candles once she returned home, even if it was technically later than should be, in the calm of her dining room would be a better option so she could relax and really enjoy the glow of the candles, it felt much more spiritual and really that’s what Shabbat candles were all about, right? Or is it?

The story of the death of Aron’s two sons, as related in this week’s Torah portion, sheds some light on this quandary.

We are told that they died because they sinned, but the medrash tells us that they were holier than Moses and Aron. If they were in fact such holy men, how could they sin so terribly that resulted in their deaths?

The problem with Nadav and Avihu (the sons) was that they served G-d so fervently that they got lost in the ecstasy of it, they worked so hard to get closer to G-d that they forgot about what their purpose in this world really was. Their souls reached higher and higher until they actually left their bodies, and they died.

They were lofty men but in this area they were off course. They were reprimanded for not marrying and not having children because living a physical life and making that physical life more spiritual, is really the purpose of our creation.

If we look at our relationship with G-d from the vantage point of what makes us feel good, what makes us feel more spiritual or more connected, then perhaps we are really just serving ourselves. But if we do what G-d wants us to do and we want to truly serve G-d, then we need to follow his commands as He commanded them.

If the woman above asked me which scenario is best for lighting her Shabbat candles, I would obviously tell her to leave work early and be home in time for Shabbos:), but in fact lighting candles once Shabbat has begun is counterproductive as they are no longer Shabbat candles but actually desecrate Shabbat. Because it’s not about what makes us feel good, but about what G-d wants us to do.

Have a wonderful week,

~Nechama~

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We had a very happy Purim, hope you did too!

Jewish Self Esteem

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If you do a search on Amazon under books with the key words ‘self esteem’, you’ll find some 110,000 results, pretty much telling the readers how to increase their self esteem or that of those around them.

For decades now the importance of a healthy self esteem in achieving successhas been believed to be a most integral component. For parents of little ones phrases such as ‘good girl’ were replaced by ‘good job’. Parents of teenagers are taught to criticize an action, never a person. College students are told that they can be at the top of anything they choose, and job hunters are taught that they will succeed when they project high levels of self confidence. All of these messages are intended to help us succeed.

Recently however, this theory is being questioned as to its possible correlation with the alarming rates of nearly 50% in the US suffering from anxiety and depression. How real is that sense of self that we are creating? Are we really all capable of tremendous success bordering on, dare I say, perfection? Or is our preoccupation with self esteem actually undermining our success in the long run?

When the Alter Rebbe (author of the Tanya and Code of Jewish Law) sent his grandson to school for the first time, he instructed the boy’s teacher to begin his lessons with the Torah portion of Vayikra (this week’s portion), instead of the obvious first choice of Bereishit, Genesis. When the little boy came home, he presented his grandfather with a question. “Why is the letter alef in the word vayikra smaller than all the other letters?”

Apparently, this was what his grandfather had been hoping he would ask and after moments of meditation he explained to him that there are three sizes of letters in the Torah, medium, large and small. Most of the Torah is written in the medium font to teach us that the Torah is written to instruct us to strive to become the ‘intermediate’ person referred to in Tanya. The large font, which is used in the alef of Adam’s name, represents an inflated ego that led to downfall. And the small font, used in the word vayikra, refers to Moses’ incredible sense of humility that led to his greatness.

It might seem a little strange to think that Moses thought of himself with humility as he was, after all, chosen by G-d to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt. G-d appeared to Moses face to face, so it wouldn’t take much for him to think that he must have done something right in his life. Was his humility simply an attempt to appear pious? Was it false?

True character, as it says in the Hayom Yom, is to make an honest assessment of one’s strengths as well as one’s weaknesses.

Moses knew what he was doing right, but he also knew that he had been granted a very lofty soul, that he was the son of a righteous man and that he was the seventh generation from Abraham. He believed that if someone else had been granted all the gifts he had, surely they would have done better and been better than he, Moses.

Feeling confident about our abilities helps propel us to accomplish more, but the key to our success is knowing that those strengths are a gift from above and if given to someone else, they might have done better than us. Honest self-awareness and humility is what will lead to true greatness.

Have a wonderful and rejuvenating break,

~Nechama~

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