By Yochanan Gordon
There is nothing to get too excited about; pigs are still not kosher for consumption. But the truth is that we have a lesson to learn regarding the split hooves that a pig possesses.
The Torah clearly states that the requirements for animals to be fit to eat are having split hooves and chewing their cud.
It’s kind of interesting that necessary signs have to be present both on the inside (chewing its cud) as well as on the outside (having split hooves). Our sages have pointed out, “Any Torah scholar whose outer facade does not reflect his core essence is not a Torah scholar.” It seems, then, that the kosher requirements for animals are relevant on a greater scale.
Split hooves and chewed cud represent the universal signs indicating a truly kosher individual who is wholesome on the inside and the outside.
I remember a number of years back (something tells me that it has not changed since then) when news began circulating that a slew of cardinals and priests were guilty of engaging in promiscuous conduct. At the time we proudly said to ourselves, “See, this will show the world who really upholds the beacon of ethics and morality in this depraved world!” We did not just look on as outside observers, rather we felt a collective feeling of victory and satisfaction that it was they who got busted, and the truth of our righteousness would soon be revealed.
Then I learned a Gemara in Megilla which elucidates on the verse, “Do not rejoice as a result of your enemies’ downfall.” What is so terrible about feeling a sense of pride knowing that the world will soon realize the innocence and eternity of the Jewish people and realize the double standard of these non-Jewish so-called teachers of morality and religious ethics? The answer, I believe, lies in the fact that we, as servants of G-d, cannot point to our righteousness as a result of the sinful actions of the world around us. True righteousness requires executing the positive while abstaining from the negative. Someone who just sleeps through the twenty-five hours of Shabbos is not shomer Shabbos just because the Shabbos was safeguarded by not doing an action. Staying out of trouble in Judaism does not make someone a righteous person; rather, what is required is staying out of trouble as well as acting as a conduit to spread the light of Torah and mitzvos to a world which is very much in need of its light.
There is an interesting nuance between the nuschaos of Ashkenaz, Sefard, and nussach Ari. In the Tefillas Hashachar of the nuschaos of Ashkenaz and Sefard it says, “A person always has to fear G-d in private and in public,” whereas in nussach Ari it says, “A person always has to fear G-d in private.” The reason, I always felt, for the omission of “public” in nussach Ari was because people in public never have a hard time projecting an image of righteousness, whereas in the confines of their own private domain, where their reputation is not on the line, they may compromise or cut corners. But it recently dawned on me that someone who just portrays himself as something that he essentially is not, is in all honesty fooling himself as well as everyone around him (like the pig that possesses split hooves but is not kosher).
Having stated this, it would make sense for me to deviate from my accustomed nussach Ari to Sefard or Ashkenaz, which would now seem to be more precise. However, after some more thought, it seems that the addition of “and in public” is unnecessary in light of the next few words in the prayer, which read, “and agrees to the truth and speaks truthfulness in his heart.” One who is truthful with him or herself would not portray himself in the public eye in a manner that does not represent who he is-for better or for worse.
The Gemara in Bava Basra states, “[G-d said]: I see that the righteous are scarce so I stood up and planted them throughout every generation.” Torah is also known as Toras Emes since it is eternally truthful and relevant. That being the case, the righteous, or rabbanim, are few and far between. Yet it seems that there are more and more people professing to be rabbis or leaders than there really are. This subsequently lowers the standard within the global Jewish community. As a result of this, if the media gets hold of a story involving dishonesty or unethical conduct in someone among the Jewish people, they are quick to label the suspect as a rabbi, causing a larger desecration of G-d’s name in the world. While it’s true that even the common Jew amongst us has to follow Torah and mitzvos and lead an exemplary life, acting as a role model to those who he or she comes in contact with, still, a rabbi flies the flag of righteousness and therefore carries a much greater responsibility and is looked at with a more discerning eye.
There has forever been controversy regarding the role of men and women in Jewish life and observance. Recent times have brought women’s quorums for prayer, Torah reading, and deciders of Torah law for those who feel more comfortable sharing their predicaments with people of the same gender. The problem with all this is that at the dawn of creation, when G-d said, “Let us make man,” we were given partnership rights towards perfecting a world but not amending or modifying the Torah. No religion or way of life respects women and their role in society more than the Torah. A woman who decides that she could be more constructive assuming the role of the man does not value the role of women more than someone who contends that it is prohibited! To the contrary, her very actions imply that the man is superior, and thus she has decided to henceforth assume the more superior role of manhood. There is nothing healthier towards living a successful life than knowing who you are, what you are capable of, and the purpose that you were brought here for. A woman who attempts to assume the role of a man, and the layman who attempts to assume the role of a rabbi is not contributing more, rather detracting from himself, the Torah, and society around him. To this end our rabbis have ruled, “kol hamosif gorei’a.”
The Gemara relates the incident of Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher, and Rabbi Akiva who entered the mystical realm of existence; only one of them entered and emerged peacefully. Ben Azzai expired, Ben Zoma left the path of normalcy, Acher left the path of Torah and mitzvos, and the last one, Rabbi Akiva, entered and emerged unscathed. What’s interesting is that the Gemara says regarding Rabbi Akiva that he entered as well as emerged peacefully. It would have been enough for the Gemara to say that he, as opposed to the others, emerged peacefully. Why the addition of the word “entered”? The answer is that had the three of them entered peacefully, they too would have emerged peacefully. Their unfortunate outcome is reflective of the state in which they approached the divine.
This article was inspired by a video I saw in which an esteemed rosh yeshiva approached the late Lubavitcher Rebbe to ask him about the minhag in Chabad of not sleeping in the sukkah. He portrayed himself as a messenger of his students or colleagues who had sent him to demand a reason for this seeming deviation from the law as stated in the Shulchan Aruch. A number of times throughout the conversation, the rav reiterated that he was not coming on his own behalf but rather that others had sent him. Giving him the respect that he deserved, the Rebbe said, “It is no wonder to me that people who get involved in discord and dichotomy exist; what surprises me is that someone of your stature would agree to get involved.”
The rosh yeshiva continued to state that these were bnei Torah who were seeking to resolve something that seemed to them a weakness in the overall observance of Torah and mitzvos. Immediately the Rebbe fired back, “They are not bnei Torah! Someone who causes disunity within the unified Jewish people is not a ben Torah!” Someone who chooses to start up with the Alter Rebbe, his son the Mitteler Rebbe, and the following Rebbes who all enjoyed congenial relationships with the various other leaders of their day and age, does not represent Torah. More accurately, it represents those who learn in order to boost their own image, with insincerity, not for the sake of G-d and the Jewish people.
Rabble-rousers perpetuate the call of the Midianites, about whom the Torah says, “Milchemes Hashem B’Midian.” The Rebbe asked, Why does it say, ‘Milchemes Hashem B’Midian’ and not ‘Milchemes Yisrael B’Midian’? Because a rav who paskens a halacha but himself does not uphold the sanctity and oneness of Torah values is entering into a war with G-d Himself.
Many a rosh yeshiva has quoted the Rambam which says, “Everyone has the ability to become a tzaddik like Moshe Rabbeinu.” Obviously, the purpose in quoting this is to infuse the realization that everyone on his level has the ability to reach greatness. At the same time, however, it is important to stress that what is great for one person may not be all that great for another, depending on each one’s disposition. Secondly, the Rambam is clearly referring to a level of righteousness as opposed to leadership qualities. Becoming a rebbe or a rosh yeshiva does not make one a leader of K’lal Yisrael. Success and achievement can only come once we know who we are and what is expected of us.
There is a famous story of Reb Zishe from Anipoli. He was found in a very worried state, lamenting over his fate when he would be confronted by the heavenly tribunal. He said, “I’m not worried that they’ll ask me why I wasn’t like Avraham Avinu, or Moshe Rabbeinu; I am concerned that they will rebuke me for not having been the best Zishe that I could have been. While this story is usually reserved for children who don’t fully appreciate the profundity contained therein, we could all benefit by reviewing it every once in a while to make sure we are following the path that was laid out for us.
Golda Meir was once in the White House lamenting to President Richard Nixon about her experiences as prime minister of Israel. Nixon turned to her asking, “I am the president of two-hundred million Americans, while you are the prime minister of just a few million Israelis. What could be so terrible?” Prime Minister Meir responded, “Yes, Mr. President, but I am the prime minister of a few million prime ministers!”
In order to maintain order and function, a system of checks and balances needs to be maintained. In a society where people do not realize their strengths and weaknesses or do not agree to look up to true leaders, dysfunction will prevail. We need to look no further than the dispute between Moshe Rabbeinu and Korach. Korach felt that everyone was created equal, and there was no need for a leader of the people. We all know the end of that incident and would hope that it never be repeated.
The mere fact that we were created gives us importance. If we would focus on our lot and our purpose instead of looking at the seemingly greener pastures on the other side, we would become satisfied with our purpose individually and realize its importance collectively.
Having just commemorated the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, zt’l, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, I will conclude with a story that I recently heard about him. As a man in his mid sixties, the Rebbe was seen walking the streets in the pouring rain without the protection of an umbrella. A chassid who saw this approached the Rebbe and kindly asked, “Why is the Rebbe not using an umbrella?” To which the Rebbe replied, “When was the last time you saw a soldier go to war holding an umbrella?”
There is a famous adage used by the U.S. Army which states, “Be all that you can be, in the army.” We are all soldiers in G-d’s army; first and foremost we have to be all that we can be. ♦
Yochanan Gordon is a contributing writer at The Five Towns Jewish Times. He can be contacted at email@example.com.