The Punishment Fits the Crime

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Jan 1, 2004
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Parshas Tazria - Metzora 5764 Start with two stories - we’ll see later a connection between them. R’ Isser Zalman on Purim, had a card in front of him, would look at from time to time - ע' ל' י' ו' י' נ'. עיניך לנוכח יביטו ועפעפיך יישירו נגדך - people come, he notices their failings, reminds himself - עפעפיך יישרו נגדך - קוק ניט אויף יענעם, נאר אויף זיך.


Story about R’ Tzvi Hirsch, rav of Cracow, vulgar members of community started whispering campaign. Spoke in shul - why did דוד המלך say ישיחו בי יושבי שער ונגינות שותי שכר (פרק ס"ט) - whose who lounge in doorways and guzzle beer speak ill of me - would it have been better if great צדיקים and respectable people spoke ill of him? Because it says in ספרים that מצוות of מספר לשה"ר go to person about whom he spoke - so if it had been צדיקים at least I would have gotten their מצוות!


Source in חובות הלבבות (שער הכניעה) - in עולם האמת people will be shown their ledger and there will be מצוות they never did - and עבירות - because their transferred as a result of לשה"ר. מגיד told בית יוסף the same thing.


Very bizarre punishment! לשה"ר associated with נחש - אמר ריש לקיש מאי דכתיב אם ישוך הנחש בלא לחש ואין יתרון לעל הלשון - לעת"ל מתקבצות כל חיות ובאות אצל הנחש ואומרות - ארי דורס ואוכל, זאב טורף ואוכל - אתה מה הנאה יש לך. אמר להם - וכי מה יתרון לבעל הלשון


בעלי מוסר explain connection between נחש and לשה"ר as follows. What is the attraction of לשה"ר? If there is no הנאה - why is it told with such glee? We’ve heard the expression “delicious gossip”. What makes it so delicious?


People generally tend to measure themselves against others. We derive our self-image from how we compare to others. If we meet someone smarter than ourselves - we feel unintelligent. If we meet someone foolish - we feel smart. If we meet someone richer than ourselves - we feel poor. If we meet someone more successful - we feel unaccomplished. If we meet someone more learned - we feel ignorant.


Now, if a person has a strong sense of self - a strong inner perception of who he is and what his strengths and weaknesses are - then that balances the other tendency. The more empty he is inside, the more dependent he is for his sense of self on comparing himself to others.


From there it is not a large step to feeling that other people’s accomplishments diminish us. And it is from that place that the compulsion of יצה"ר comes. Because - if I only measure myself against other people - then the easiest way for me to build up myself - is by tearing other people down. If the yardstick of my worth is how I measure up against my neighbor, then the smaller I make him - the more I diminish him or her - then the bigger I am in comparison.


You know in פרשה we learn that a person who has צרעת - which is a punishment for לשה"ר - has to live alone, outside society - בדד ישב מחוץ למחנה . We usually understand that as a punishment for his unsocial behavior. But I would suggest that it is just as much an education. The בעל לשה"ר has to learn to live inside his own skin. He has to learn to define himself without measuring himself against others, and to build himself without tearing others down. To quote Polonius - who was a fool in most ways but who said one good thing - he needs to learn to be true to himself, so that he can be true to others.


Here we come back to the נחש - and why it is such a symbol of לשה"ר. When the נחש was enticing חוה to eat - said כי יודע א' כי ביום אכלכם ממנו והייתם כא' יודעי טוב ורע. Says Rashi - כל אומן שונא בני אומנותו. In other words - the נחש was that voice that whispered into חוה’s ear to project on to the רבש"ע that most human failing - the failing that is at the source of לשה"ר - of feeling diminished by someone else’s stature. And therefore the נחש becomes emblematic of that very ugly trait.


And hence the fitness of the punishment - that the מצוות of the בעל לשה"ר should be transferred to his victim, and visa versa. Because the root cause of לשה"ר is the desire to build oneself up by tearing down someone else - and the most apt punishment is that the spiritual stature of the בעל לשה"ר should be reduced, and the stature of his victim enhanced at his expense.


The בעל לשה"ר derives his sense of worth from the smallness of other people. And since he does not derive his sense of worth from his own accomplishments, it stands to reason that his accomplishments should not be credited to him, but to others; and that their failings, which he is so attracted to, should be credited to him.


We’ve been talking about לשה"ר but the truth is that this same human weakness is at the root of other problems, many of which have become pathologies in our own community. The constant need to keep up with the Joneses - in our homes, our simchas, our clothing - the conspicuous consumption, the religious one-upmanship, the obssesive conformity - people are obsessed with what other people are going to say about them. It all goes back to the same malady - of deriving our sense of worth from comparing ourselves to other people. And that is a very shabby - and second-hand - and inauthentic way to live a life.


We would do well to adopt for ourselves R’ Isser Zalman’s motto: עיניך לנוכח יביטו; when we are tempted to look out at our neighbors, whether it is to envy them, or to condemn them, or just out of sheer nosiness - ועפעפיך יישירו נגדך - better to look at ourselves, where there is enough to occupy us for a lifetime.

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Drosho for Tazria - Metzora 5764

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