Wednesday, May 29, 2013

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Egg-shells, Horses and Halacha

by Aharon Rubin, author of Eye to the Infinite – A Torah Guide to Jewish Meditations to Increase Divine Awareness, via Mystical Paths


Question: What does egg-shell, a horse and halacha have to do with each other?

An egg-shell demonstrates one of the myriad wonders of G-d’s creation. All the while the chick-embryo is in the egg, the shell protects its contents, securely. When the chick is ready to hatch out, it breaks through the shell, with the help of a small tooth, specially created for the purpose, that disappears soon after. If the shell was a little harder, the chick would be incarcerated, unable to break out. If the shell was not as hard, it would not withstand the pressures of the mother-hen’s body and no chick would be born. The beauty lies in the balance.

The story is told that when Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Poloyne met with the holy Baal Shem Tov for the first time, the latter told him weird stories about horses that left Rabbi Yaakov Yosef confused and befuddled. Finally the Baal Shem Tov said quietly to Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, “If you hold the reins too tightly, the horses won’t be able to breathe!” Rabbi Yaakov then began to understand. The horses were needed to pull the wagon – the G-dly soul needs the body. But the body also has a soul. By stifling the body with mortifications and fasts, not only will the body-soul be unable to shine and express itself, eventually it will be unable to serve the G-dly soul. Yes, the horses need to be kept under control, but not to be stifled: they also have to breathe. The beauty lies in the balance.

I was once travelling in the company of a great man. The following is a rough transcript of a conversation that took place as he was peeling an orange to give to a young student:

Chossid to the great Rabbi, “One has to be careful of the insects on the orange-peel”.[1]

The Rabbi answered, “Who asked you to eat the peel?!!”.

Chossid (trying again), “But there are insects on the peel that might come onto the fruit while peeling it!”

Rabbi: “The Rizhener[2] said, ‘Shmuro darf men zein. Matsos darf men essen!’ (A play on the phrase ‘Shmuro Matsos’ – ‘guarded Matsos’ - that are eaten on Pesach and an attack on those who were unreasonably over-scrupulous: ‘Shmuro’ – the person himself should be ‘guarded’, i.e. keep himself from sinning, but he should eat ‘Matsos’ ).”

In other words, don’t go overboard with ‘external’ chumros, stringencies! Concentrate on the fundamentals: Eat Matsos [on Pesach]. Be holy [always, i.e. not hearing, seeing or saying things one shouldn’t, etc].

I’m not going to discuss whether or not one should check oranges for the scale-insect: that has been decided by those greater and more knowledgeable than myself. Halacha is so named because it enables a person to ‘walk’ in the ways of G-d. [3] The aim of Rabbinic stringencies, chumros, is to guide a person, to help him express his inner soul, to provide a scaffolding, a structure so that he can climb spiritually without fear of falling or of being hurt. If instead of developing the fundamental precepts of the Torah, one starts focusing and developing the chumros, then the chumros may choke the inner light of the soul. The soul may never get to express itself. Its voice will never be heard. And that’s more than a shame: that is a calamity.

The beauty lies in the balance.

[1] The ‘scale-insect’ is sometimes found on the peel of citrus fruits.

[2] The holy Rhizener, Rabbi Yisroel of Rizhen.

[3] As we say at the end of davening “"הליכות עולם לו – א"ת הליכות אלא הלכות


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