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Parshas Ki Sisa / Parah - Labels & Libels          17 Adar 5783

03/10/2023 02:42:26 AM

Mar10

This Dvar Torah is L'Ilui Nishmas Yocheved bas Tzvi, Anita Bogopulsky z"l on her Yahrzeit 17 Adar

Books are the core instructional tools of education, the written material shaped to meet the age and appropriate teaching level for the student. Many of the Jewish publications are focused on middos - character development and the proper way a child, and every Jew should behave. One of my favorite books which I enjoyed reading to my children and now grandchildren, is a play on words titled “Labels for Laibel”. Laibel, a boy, was taught many lessons about labels. Laibel would go around and put labels on many different items. The obvious message of this book is one which I believe presents a very important lesson for our generation.  It would be a very valuable contribution to write an adult version of this story, bearing the same title, but written to serve the opposite connotation – we should not put labels on everything, especially people.  Unfortunately, people put labels on themselves. On my last trip to Chicago, it was pointed out to me that some people were wearing a certain brand of overcoat that cost the same as a typical monthly mortgage payment. I asked, ”How do you know”? My wife  explained that a certain patch or label is displayed prominently on the outside of the coat. This is not a new phenomenon; every piece of designer clothing advertises its brand (ironically, we pay the designer companies to advertise their brand for them). Does wearing an article of clothing, driving a certain car, living in a certain neighborhood, really express anything about the quality of the individual who wears the clothing, drives the car, or lives in an affluent neighborhood? The answer: maybe yes, maybe no. 

We are fresh off the vibrant, festive days of Purim (I am currently in Yerushalayim) whereby one of the major components of the day has been to dress up, almost becoming someone whom we either emulate or despise, or dress up for the fun of being a little goofy and wild. The symbolism of the type of clothing or the uniforms we wear are often used by others to identify who that individual is, and even more concerning, to interpret what they stand for. A person who wears a police uniform is assessed from two opposite viewpoints -  either someone who is there to protect me, or if I did something wrong, someone who is coming to get me. In Judaism, and I’m sure in other religions as well, a person is identified and labeled according to his or her attire. Even cultural dress may dictate a certain bent on a person’s religious beliefs and association.

The dress code on Purim is certainly relaxed but nevertheless still must be within the guidelines of Halacha. Within the accepted parameters of Purim, we can take on a different identity; whether it is to make a statement or not is not the point. Rather, it is a reflection of a different component of whom we are which we allow to emerge and take center stage for the day. Unfortunately, the other three hundred sixty-four days of the year we find ourselves mostly dressed with and assessed by a single overt label. That label is, unfortunately, the measure of who we view ourselves as being or think who another person is and what he or she is all about. We look at and tend to judge someone through the lens of viewing how they dress and from that viewpoint determine how they think, how religious and observant they are, judging them by the ‘label’ we see them wearing. It is interesting to note that we say Purim is Yom K’Purim; the day of Yom Kippur and the day of Purim are very much related to each other. There are many beautiful interpretations, but I’ll share my own connection that I have not seen anywhere.  Yom Kippur is a day so holy that the Satan does not have the ability to influence us. The gematria, the numerical value of השטן – HaSatan - The Satan, is three hundred sixty four. It is that number of days which indicate when the Satan can harm us. But the one day, number three hundred sixty-five, the day of Yom Kippur, is hands off. So, too, is the day of Purim. During the entire year, for three hundred sixty-four days, the Satan influences us to label others and judge them by what they are wearing – viewed from their outer garb -  and not for whom they might be when viewed from within -, from their hidden selves. Only on, Purim that one day of the year, The Satan does not cause us to sin by thinking ill about a fellow Jew.

The basis for our flaw- passing judgment and labeling others - is because we do not live up to the honor of being a Tzelem Elokim, to be in the image of God. Hashem is able to see through the exterior, the outer trappings of a human being; Hashem knows the  essence which defines who we really are and what we are genuinely about. We have fallen short of a very simple directive that the rabbis have taught us:  מה הוא רחום, אף אתה רחום  - Just as He is merciful, so, too, we should be merciful. We are here to emulate God, to take on the image in which He created us. God is multi-dimensional; His many characteristics, His multiple character traits, are known as Middos. The character traits were used by Moshe Rabbeinu to defend the Jewish people in the aftermath of the greatest national sin committed by the Jewish people, the golden calf.

In this week’s Parshas Ki Sisa the Torah states in Shmos 34:6"ה' ה' קל רחום וחנון, ארך אפים ורב חסד ואמת. נצר חסד לאלפים נשא עון ופשע וחטאה, ונקה לא ינקה פקד עון אבות על בנים ועל בני בנים על שלשים ועל רבעים"   - “Hashem, Hashem, God, Merciful and Gracious, Slow to Anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth; Preserver of Kindness for two thousand, Forgiver of Iniquity and Willful Sin, and Error, and Who Absolves – but does not absolve completely; He remembers the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and upon the grandchildren, upon the third and upon the fourth”. These are the Thirteen Middos/Traits of Hashem that we need to follow. It was this formula that Moshe Rabbeinu defended the Jewish people with to avoid them being wiped out. There is a Mitzvas Asei/Positive commandment to walk in the ways of Hashem within their capacity as it states in Devarim 8:9 והלכת בדרכיו  - and you shall go in His ways. The Sifri in Parshas Eikev 11 - מה הקב"ה נקרא חנון אף אתה חנון, וחסיד וגו'  - in all Middos/character traits that Hashem is described, so, too, every man needs to imitate and copy Him in His ways. Reb Chaim Vital, in his work Shaarei Kedusha Shaar Gimmel, writes that these Middos/traits are not counted among the six hundred thirteen commandments because they are the primary function and fundamental part of the Mitzvos. Without these concepts it would be impossible to fulfill the Mitzvos of the Torah. I might add that it is truly impossible to live up to what a true human being needs to be. The Vilna Gaon echoes these points in his commentary to Megillas Esther 10:3: “Hashem is multi-faceted without names and without labels.  His traits are to see through everything – every one and every thing.  If we emulate Hashem and use His Middos in the way we look at others and the way others look at us, we will all be able to drop the labels and see each individual Jew in Klal Yisrael as a unique, one-of-a-kind person to be respected, not judged. When all these individuals, each with his/her own unique brand come together, we will become that one unique nation among the world known as Am Yisrael, the one and only!     

Mon, March 4 2024 24 Adar I 5784