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HOW DO YOU MAKE A TRANSITION?

Thursday, 24 March, 2022 - 6:17 pm

 

 

A car mechanic is called in after every other mechanic failed. He listens to the engine for a few minutes, then hauls off and gives it a big swift kick in a certain strategic spot. Lo and behold, the engine starts humming like a kitten. The mechanic turns around, gives the car owner his bill for $900. The owner of the vehicle is flabbergasted and demands an itemized breakdown AND EXPLANATION.

 

 

The bill says...

 

 

“$10 for my time, and $890 for my expertise where to kick.”

 

 

It is an interesting Talmudic story.

 

 

Salome Alexandra, also known as Shlomtzion, was the queen of Judea, 150 years before the destruction of Judea and the Temple by the Romans. While her husband Alexander Yannai, a grandson of the original Chashmonaeim, turned out to be a vicious monarch—during his reign he murdered thousands—his wife, Shlomtzion was a wonderful, noble, moral, and pious woman. Her nine years of kingship were a brief “golden period” in the otherwise turbulent and bloody years of the Second Temple era. She rescued her brother, Rabbi Shimon ben Shotach, one of the greatest sages of the time, from the wrath of her husband, who killed most of the leading rabbis of the time, and then had him become the leader of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court.

 

 

The Talmud tells us that during this time, Rabbi Shimon ben Shotach made two major contributions to Jewish practice: he instituted the formula of the marriage contract for a woman, known as the “Ketubah,” and also decreed that impure metal vessels must be properly purified.

 

 

How do we purify?

 

 

The first method was to smash the vessel into pieces.

 

 

The second option—articulated at length in Parshat Parah—that we read this coming Shabbat was to sprinkle the vessel with the mix of ashes and water from a slaughtered and burnt Red Heifer over a week’s time.

 

 

It was Rabbi Shimon, says the Talmud, who instituted that the first option should be ineffective.

 

 

The Talmud tells a story:

 

 

Shelomzion the queen, Rabbi Shimon's sister, made a wedding feast for her son. During the ceremony, all of her vessels became impure, Shlomtzion broke all her metal utensils.

 

 

The sages said: What she did was ineffective, as all the vessels will reassume their previous impurity.

 

 

This is an interesting story also from another angle. In Judaism, nobody is above the law. Even the queen was not above the law.

 

 

Now, each law in Torah contains a message behind the literal meaning. What does this law represent?

 

 

As human beings, we tend to think in black and white. It is good and it is bad. But as Baal Shem Tov taught us, sometimes, our weakness can be used as a strength. You need to learn how to use their preexisting reflexes as a source for new awareness and strength.

 

 

Each one of us, is a “vessel”—an organism, are we sometimes become impure, in one form or another? Does our vessel not fill up with anger, fear, resentment, anxiety, dishonesty, depression, addiction, and all forms of mental, psychological, emotional, financial, social, and spiritual challenges? Do we not see these very conditions in our spouses, siblings, parents, children, and friends? How ought we to deal with our own—and other people’s—impurities insecurities?

 

 

One method, which may even seem easier and simpler, is to smash the defiled vessel into pieces. Break the person, and start over. This has, indeed, been one method employed over the ages by seekers of spiritual perfection: They crushed their personalities, or the people around them, into small little pieces, in order to start over anew.

 

 

To be sure, that is a method that can sometimes work, and at times there is no other alternative. When someone hits rock bottom and is living in a delusional, sick, diseased mindset, there is sometimes no alternative but to mentally shatter the vessel so that it can become pure again.

 

 

Yet Rabbi Shimon ben Shotach, realized that the damage in this approach may be greater than the benefit.

 

 

Rabbi Shimon said: Don’t break the vessel; purify it while whole. Don’t smash it; work with it. Do not shatter your vessel, rather allow it to go through the process of cleansing and healing.

 

 

Why? Chassidim used to say: When you break a bad habit, when you smash a craving, all you did was split into two… now you have to deal with two, instead of one.

 

 

This is a profound idea. Sometimes by breaking something, your good may get destroyed with your bad.

 

 

When we observe a rebellious child, an untamed child—our first instinct is: Crush creativity because it will only cause problems. Children are to be “seen and not heard”, they ought to sit quietly in their place and do as they are told. We like obedient children.

 

 

But, albeit well-intended, this runs contrary to the true message of Judaism. G-d wants us to maintain our creativity, our initiative, our passion, and our color. G-d wants His creations to be bold, vibrant, happy, creative, proactive, expressive, not to walk around hunched and resigned, smashed and insecure. G-d wants to feel your pulse! He desires a fully vibrant heart and soul! “G-d did not create anything in this world in vain,” states the Talmud, and when you were given a big gigantic complex personality—do not crush it; use it!

 

 

Of course, we have to challenge our immoral instincts and passions. Of course, we have to harness our creativity in the proper directions and the right outlets—but we must never destroy them.

 

 

Everything G-d created has good and is good. If we eradicate something, it means that we haven’t fully seen it for what it is.

 

 

A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

 

 

For a full two years, this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his master’s house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.

 

 

After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.”

 

 

“Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?” “I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master's house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts,” the pot said.

 

 

The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot's side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.”

 

 

Each of us has our own unique flaws. We are all cracked pots. Each of our vessels becomes impure in some fashion. But if we will allow it, G-d will use our flaws to grace His world in ways that only we can achieve because of our unique set of traits and idiosyncrasies. In God’s great economy, nothing goes to waste. Don’t be afraid of your flaws. Acknowledge them and realize that they too can be the cause of beauty.

 

 

Are you very sensitive? do you get hurt very easily? Do not become something else. Do not deny your identity. Yes, it has its perils, but there is nobody who can connect, emphasize, and understand people as well as you. Learn how to turn it into your greatest asset.

 

 

A chasid once told the Rebbe, “People hold me in high esteem, and think of me as greater than I actually am.” The Rebbe told him, “Good, now you have what to live up to! Go and become that person they think you are!”

 

 

But for this path of purification, we need patience. It’s a process. We may not see right away a redeeming quality in someone or in a particular trait in ourselves. To break is easy, but ultimately our task is to redeem the world. And it begins with knowing that in whatever we might perceive as negative, there is something positive hidden within it.

 

 

Rabbi Shimon, as we recall, lived during a particularly turbulent time in Jewish history.

 

 

Whenever we face such situations, our inclination is to destroy everything and start all over again. We want a quick fix.

 

 

Rabbi Shimon taught us something very important. Don’t smash every vessel that is impure. It looks like it is healed. But in truth, the impurity might come back. A far more effective approach is to work hard and tirelessly to cleanse the vessel.

 

 

G-d said, let’s destroy the people after they sinned with the Golden calf. Moses said: No! We will cleanse the Jews. We will work with them, educate, refine, challenge, sublimate—and then you will have a world the way you want it. Moses prevailed; G-d acquiesced. It had to be that way. G-d speaks in absolutes; G-d transcends time. Humans speak in relative terms, we embrace imperfection and understand that some things develop over time.

 

 

As we recall, Rabbi Shimon introduced another reality into Jewish life: The Ketubah.

 

 

As the Talmud explains, there was a crisis during the times of Rabbi Shimon. When men would get angry at their wives, they would divorce them. So, he instituted a lien on the husband's property, so when he gets angry, he won’t rush to divorce his wife, for he will then have to take a handsome sum of money out of his pocket to pay the Ketubah. He will rethink his rash decision, and hopefully, as he sobers up, the marriage will survive.

 

 

He could have told the couple, you are not capable of real love, you do not belong to each other. But that is not how our world works. He said something deeper: Let’s make this work. Let's give them the motivation to stay together. Let’s purify the vessel, not smash it. Let’s find a way to use his stinginess for a positive goal. And when that happens, they will grow together and discover true love and romance. Keep on going to the gym every day, through thick and thin, and sooner or later, you will discover a new, better, healthier self. Truck away in your marriage, be there for each other, be nice, kind, considerate, sensitive, loving, and respectful. Stick it out (of course in situations where there is no abuse or danger) and the romance will flow.

 

 


 

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

 

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

 

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