Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Wed., Aug. 29th)



And in terms of the sense of hearing our sages said, "A woman's singing voice is considered nakedness" (Brachot 24a). Our sages screeched like cranes about the promiscuous use of lips and ears, that is, speaking or listening to profanity. In the Jerusalem Talmud (Terumot 1:4) they observed that it is written, "Your camp-sites shall be holy so that G-d will see no unclean thing (ervat davar) amongst you and turn away from you" (Deuteronomy 23:15). This, they say, refers to unclean speech (ervat dibur), profanity. They stated that "Troubles reappear and death (G-d forbid) comes to the young men of Israel because of the sin of profanity" (Shabbat 33a) ; that, "All who speak profanely deepen Gehenom for themselves" (Ibid.); that, "Everybody knows why a bride gets married, but anyone who utters profanity enunciating it can turn around even a judgment of seventy good years to bad" (Ibid.); and that, "Even the small talk that goes on between a husband and his wife is related back at the time of judgment" (Chagigga 5b). They said about listening to this evil that "even the one who hears and remains silent (suffers), as it is written, 'The mouth of a prostitute is a deep pit; he who incurs G-d's indignation will fall therein' (Proverbs 22:14)" (Shabbat 33a). So we see that all of our senses need to be innocent of licentiousness and matters associated with it.

If someone comes to confound you saying that when the Torah speaks against profanity it is only doing so to frighten and draw a person away from an actual sin, and that the prohibition is for the more "hot-blooded" type of person who might be brought to desire by his speech, but that someone who uses it as a joke does not have to worry about it-- you should tell that person that what they are doing is speaking for the yetzer hara. The sages quoted a verse from the Torah that explicitly says other than what that person is saying. It says, "Therefore G-d shall have no joy in their young men, neither shall He have mercy on their fatherless or widowed: for everyone is a flatterer and a tale-bearer, and every mouth speaks obscenity" (Isaiah 9:16). Notice that the passage says nothing about idol-worshipping, outright licentiousness or murder, but only flattery, tale-bearing and obscenity. All of these are speech-related sins, and as a result of them a decree was made in Heaven that, "G-d shall have no joy in their young men, neither shall He have mercy on their fatherless or widowed." The fact of the matter is that obscenity is truly the promiscuity of the power of speech, as our sages observed. It was forbidden because it, like other things like it, is within the category of licentiousness. And while these things do not carry with them the punishment of the soul being cut-off from eternity, they are forbidden in their own right (aside from the reason that they cause the essential prohibition to come about, as we saw in the example of the Nazir above.)

In terms of thought-- we have already mentioned in the beginning of our beraita when the Torah says, "And you shall guard yourself from any evil" (Deuteronomy 23:10) it means "a man should not think lewd thoughts in the daytime..." (Avodah Zara 20b). Our sages said, "Thoughts of sin are worse than sins themselves" (Yoma 29a), and based it upon the statement which reads, "Evil thoughts are an abomination to G-d" (Proverbs 15:26). We have spoken thus far about the two most serious prohibitions people are likely to stumble in the details of, both because there are so many of them, and also because the heart is so often inclined in the direction of these desires.

The third category of prohibitions we will be addressing in the realm of coveting-- after thievery and promiscuity-- is forbidden food. This includes foods that are inherently forbidden, those that are forbidden because they are accidently combined with forbidden food, mixtures of meat and dairy, forbidden fats, blood, meals cooked by non-Jews, utensils owned by non-Jews, and sacramental versus ordinary wines. Great care and determination are required to stay innocent in these matters, because the heart is easily drawn to good food, and there is often monetary loss in the accidental mixing of forbidden and permitted foods etc. As is known and taught in the books of the rabbis, the laws in these matters are numerous, and all who are lenient in their observance of them where the rabbis advise to be stringent are destroying their souls. The Sifra (Sh'mini) quotes Leviticus 11:43, where it is written: "Do not make yourselves unclean with them, that you should not be defiled by them", and explains, "If you will make yourselves unclean with them, in the end you will be defiled by them." What they mean to say is forbidden foods actually cause spiritually unclean elements to enter into your heart and spirit, and the Holiness of G-d is removed and drawn away from you. Our sages also said, "'And you will be defiled (nitmaytem) by them' should be understood as 'and you will be stupefied (nitamtem) by them'" (Yoma 39a)-- the sin will stupefy your mind: the true knowledge and sense of understanding G-d gives to His holy ones (cf. Proverbs 2:6, "For G-d will give wisdom") will be withheld from you. You will instead remain animal-like and of-the-earth, stuck in the coarseness of this world. This is more so for forbidden foods than for other prohibited things because they enter into your body and become your very flesh.

In order to let you know that not only the inherently forbidden animals and reptiles are defiling, but also those animals that are usually permitted but become forbidden for one reason or another, our sages quote the statement, "... to distinguish between the impure and the pure" (Leviticus 11:47) and they explain that "it is not necessary for the Torah to spell out the need to distinguish between a donkey (which is forbidden) and a cow (which is permitted), so why does the Torah differentiate between the impure and the pure? So as to teach you that you must distinguish between what is pure and impure to you-- between the animal whose windpipe is fully severed (making it permissible) and the one whose windpipe is only partially severed (making it forbidden). And what is the difference between 'partially' and 'fully' severed? -- a hair's- breadth" (Sifra, Sh'mini). And they use the phrase, "and what is the difference between 'partially'... "to teach you how wondrous the power of the mitzvot are-- that a hair's- breadth makes the difference between impure and pure. A thinking person would consider forbidden foods poisoned or mixed with poison. If you were sure or even suspected that some food was poisoned, would you eat it? Certainly not. You would be considered a fool if you did. That is how it should be with forbidden foods which as we have explained are poisons to the heart and soul. What thinking person would be casual about forbidden foods when there is reason to be suspicious? It is asked, "Would you place a knife to your throat if you had any sense at all?" (Proverbs 23:2).

Let us speak now about those sins that often come about in human interaction, such as verbal abuse, embarrassing or deceiving others, tale-bearing, hate, revenge, oaths, lies, and desecration of the Divine Name. Who can honestly say, "Oh, I'm innocent of that; I'm blameless as far as that's concerned"? The off-shoots of those traits are very great and very subtle, and caution in them requires great effort. In general, verbal abuse refers to speaking to someone in private in an abusive manner and shaming him. Or, in a more serious vein, shaming someone in public, or doing something which would cause someone shame. This is what our sages were referring to when they warned us that if someone you know has repented of his ways, "do not say to him, 'Remember how you used to be!....'", or if someone you know is ill, do not say as Job's friends said to him, "Just try to remember-- have the innocent ever perished; or, wherever were there upright who were cut off?" (Job 4:7). If donkey-drivers were to ask you for grain, they told us, do not say to them, "Go to so-and-so-- he sells grain", knowing that he never sold grain in his life (Baba Metziah 58b). The sages said that "verbal abuse is worse than monetary abuse" (Ibid.). How much more is this true if it is done in public! It explicitly says, "One who shame-faces his friend in public has no place in the World to Come" (Pirke Avot 3:11). Rabbi Chisda said, "All gates of prayer are closed except those reserved for the verbally abused" (Baba Metziah 59a). Rabbi Elazar said, "The Holy One (blessed be He) demands retribution from all through his messengers but the verbally abused" (Baba Metziah 59a). And it has been said that there are three sins before which Heaven's curtains can never be shut, and one of them is verbal abuse (Baba Metziah 59a). Even in regard to abusive language for the sake of a mitzvah, while the Torah says "You must admonish your neighbor" (Leviticus 19:17), our sages warn, "You might think that this would allow you to cause him to blush. But the Torah continues with, 'And do not bear a sin because of him'" (Arachin 16b). From all of these sayings you can see how far the warnings against this trait go and how great is the punishment for it.


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman