Mishnah or Marijuana – Part 2


By Rabbi Moshe L Kuskin

When I wrote “Mishneh or Marijuana” I had no idea it would engender controversy. Apparently, there are a number of Matzav readers who may be partial to the idea of marijuana use, so it appears to have touched a raw nerve. It seems that those readers took the word “polemic,” used in the article, as an intent to wage a polemic against them, personally. Nothing could be further from the truth. My use of the word was directed solely against the smoking of pot, itself, due to its devastating effects, both psychological and spiritual, and not against those who may have considered smoking it. It was merely an expression of pain for my fellow Jews who might pursue this deleterious path. I tried to avoid judgmental statements about those individuals and simply attempted to identify the group within our community where marijuana use is perhaps most apt to be found—young adults at risk who have left the folds of Torah and Judaism to one extent or the other.

And so, now, during this period of “nechama” when we read seven Haftorahs of consolation following Tisha B’av, let my words in this article be accepted as “divrei nechama”, words of understanding and consolation to those who may have felt offended.  I am keenly aware of the great teaching of Hillel HaZaken(Avos2:4), “Don’t judge your fellow until you reach his place,” meaning one can not know the tests, trials, difficulties and travails that may have caused a person to go “off the derech.” Were I, personally, faced with such nisyonos that lead people to use drugs, it is likely that I would have fared much worse. My entire purpose of the article, if you will re-read it, was to decry the tragedy of what the false, ersatz “high” and falsely labeled “mind expanding” effects are upon the mind and the soul of those who smoke pot, and, conversely, to try and express the true “mind-expanding” and spiritually elevating nature of the holy Torah—particularly the study of mishneh which, in Hebrew, has the same letters as “neshama,” soul.

Body and Soul

The greatness of Torah is that it teaches and enables a Jew to make the body subservient to the soul. But when that relationship is reversed, the body convinces the soul that this is his or her nature and it cannot be changed, or that it is just too difficult to make the effort to overcome the bodily and material lusts. We must recognize the potential that lies within each and every Jewish soul. The Jewish people produced over two million prophets in our history, during the time when prophecy existed in the world. Two Million! A prophet was someone whose thoughts were only kedusha, holiness, from the second he awakened in the morning until the moment he went to sleep at night, through whom G-d literally spoke. This is the true potential of a Jew. The Midrash (Song of Songs 5:2) states that the Al-mighty implores every Jew, “Open up for me an opening like the eye of a needle, and, in turn, I will enlarge it to be an opening through which wagons can enter.” G-d just needs the smallest opening, the smallest, sincere effort and initiative and He will repay and assist that effort by raising up a person to the greatest heights. The potential of the Jewish soul is unlimited.

Capacity for Change

I once heard a shmooz from one of the great Torah scholars of our generation who explained the difference between an adom, man, and an animal. An animal, from the moment it is born, is endowed with all the necessary instincts and traits it needs to survive for the rest of its life. Except to increase in size and strength, its nature undergoes absolutely no change. But man’s nature is just the opposite. Man is endowed with almost nothing at birth and his whole life is one of learning and transformation. A person has the innate ability to change at every single moment of his life no matter what his past history. He may have led a dissolute life for 50 years until one moment comes, and he decides to change and begins to make some small effort to do so. For that individual the Talmud exclaims, “the one who comes to purify (himself), they will assist him from Heaven” (Yoma 38b).

The Scapegoat

The pious Gadol, Rabbi Shimshon Pinchus, zt”l, once explained the mysterious commandment in the Torah of sending a ַשָּׂעִיר לַעֲזָאזֵל—that on Yom Kippur, at the time of the Mishkan and when the Beis HaMikdosh stood,  a scapegoat, upon which the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, had confessed the sins of the Jewish People, would be sent to the desert to a high, rocky cliff and thrown over as an atonement. Before it reached halfway down the mountain it was torn limb from limb and destroyed. Rabbeinu Bachya (Vayikra 16:7) explains that this was a “bribe” to the Satan, and having received this bribe, the Satan begins to praise the Jewish people and compare them to the purity of the ministering angels in Heaven. Hearing the praise of Am Yisrael from their very accuser, Hakadosh Baruch Hu then forgives the entire Jewish nation of their sins.

What kind of a “bribe” is this, exactly, that the Satan receives which has such a powerful effect that he does the opposite of what his nature is, to praise the Jewish people rather than bring accusations against them? Rav Pinchus explained that the essence of the Satan and the yetzer HaRa, the evil inclination, which are essentially the same, is that their true purpose is to be overcome and to be destroyed. The impediments of the yetzer are placed in front of a person in order that he choose, instead, to follow the dictates of the soul, not the body, and overcome that temptation, thereby elevating him and earning eternal reward. And no one knows this better than the Satan, himself, who was created for this sole purpose.

And so, when he sees that the scapegoat is destroyed as the Jews are repenting their sins, he realizes that the Jewish people recognize what the true essence and purpose of the Satan and the Yetzer HaRa are, and this realization, that his true nature has been understood, validated and fulfilled, gives him the satisfaction, therefore, to praise this great nation that has come to such a lofty recognition. That very yetzer HaRa that we convince ourselves is somehow embedded in our nature and can not be overcome or is too difficult to defeat actually desires to be defeated and destroyed.

A Future Time

I would like to add to the beautiful words of Rav Pinchus, zt’l, the words of The Ohr HaChaim, Rabbi Chaim Ibn Attar, called by the name of his commentary on Chumash. He explains the verse ,” And you shall know this day and consider it in your heart, that the Lord He is G-d in heaven above, and upon the earth below; there is none else” (Devarim 4:39). The word “”היום in the verse, translated “this day” or “today”, may also be understood as that (designated) day, the letter ה of היום considered a ה  הידיעה””, referring to a specific day. That day, explains the Ohr haChaim, when it will become clear to all that Hashem is G-d over heaven and earth and there is none else, will be לעתיד לבא when the Al-mighty shall unsheathe His sword and slaughter the “”,ס”מ the Satan, before all Israel, for ultimate destruction is its true purpose. This is referred to by the Navi Yeshayah (27:13) “it will come to pass in that day the great shofar shall be blown…,” and It will be  the day that “death shall be swallowed up forever,” (ibid 25:8)[Talmud Yerushalmi],meaning the demise of the Satan, himself. Until then, it is our task to constantly “slaughter” figuratively the yetzer HaRa, fulfilling its purpose of being overcome and destroyed, for until that future time of y’mos haMoshiach (the days of Moshiach) and techiyas HaMasim, the revival of the dead, the Satan has a purpose to fulfill—to constantly challenge our free will and be defeated, thereby elevating us in this World and the Next.

Hint from the Torah

Let us all realize that with a little effort, Hashem will help us overcome all obstacles and spiritual impediments in our lives. We pray in every maariv (evening) service, “…they are our life and the length of our days, and in them we will meditate day and night” referring to Torah. These words :

 “הם חיינו ואורך ימינו ובהם נהגה יומם ולילה”

have the same numerical value (gematria) as קרע לשטן, “destroy (tear) the Satan.”

As we approach the Yamim Noraim, the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, let us take this beautiful lesson of the ַשָּׂעִיר לַעֲזָאזֵל to heart and recognize that, with the help of the Al-mighty and the power of Torah and mitzvos, we can overcome all the obstacles in our path in fulfilling our purpose to serve Hashem.



    • Methinks thou protesteth too much (especially with no explanation)! I read both articles, and they both contain inspiring words of chizuk and chiddushim, and the author even offered an apology where he did not have to. So what’s your complaint?


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