Wednesday nights - Rav Benzion's Tanya shiur..........Please continue to daven for the good health of the Rebbe (Yechiel Michel ben Devorah Leah) and Rebbetzin (Feiga bas Sarah).

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Kedoshim: Burn Away Evil or Light Up Darkness

The Classic Approach: Dark then Light

The pasuk says: Turn away from evil and do good. Classically, the understanding was that if you want to strive for higher levels of holiness, it is mandatory that you purge yourself of all bad midos and aveiros. A higher level means having a closer relationship with Hashem and you can’t invite G-d into a place which is littered with debris, which is soiled and malodorous.

For example, in the Torah we find the subject of the wayward wife, the sota, which is immediately followed by the nazir, who is someone who seeks to take upon himself an extra level of holiness. The order is specific. The Torah is telling us that first you have to take care of those things that relate to your straying (sota), things that in some way contaminated your neshama. Only after you’ve addressed that can you move on to the consideration of nezirus.

Chazal say that one who is not knowledgeable of  the laws of divorce and marriage then he should have nothing to do with their execution. If a person rules in matters of divorce without really knowing all of the laws he can create some horrific situations where people think that they are divorced when they are not. So too, marrying two people without knowing what to look for can make some very serious issues for a variety of reasons.

The Be’er Mayim Chayim points out that ordinarily the order is that marriage comes before divorce and here it says “divorce and marriage”. Chazal are telling us that first a person needs to divorce himself from whatever wrongdoing he may have going on in his life and then he could consider kidushin (the term used for marriage which also means hallowing). This is the classic and ideal approach. 

The Galus Approach: Light then Dark

Especially in Poilisher Chassidus, however, they maintain that the ideal approach worked in a time when people were stronger and could act decisively and forcefully on matters of evil and then move on confidently. But they argue that we live in a time of such distance and such darkness that if we tried to deal with the evil first we would just get stuck.

Trying to rid ourselves of either the scars of our past, to do the kind of teshuva that would purge us of our past, or even, they argued, that if we didn’t move on until such time as we were completely beyond reproach in the area of “sur meira” (turning away from evil), we would never get to it. What’s more is that it will get the better of us. We won’t win  that fight. So they argue that today we need to do as many positive things as we can, even though it is less than ideal. The main thing is to try and embrace light. The more light that we have the greater the chance that we will be in the position as some point to get rid of the darkness.

If you light one candle you banish a whole lot of darkness.

Hillel and Shammai on Chanukah

This is really the difference between the position of Shammai and the position of Hillel regarding the lights of Chanukah. According to Shammai you start with eight candles and work your way down. Hillel maintains that you start with one and build up to eight. Shammai says that the main objective of the Chanuka lecht is to burn away the evil and he takes the classic position that you should attack worst thing first. You progressively burn out the evil.

Hillel on the other hand says that the purpose is not to burn but to give light. By creating light in your life you become increasingly capable of moving onwards and upwards and eventually being able to confront the darkness. The goal is to gradually build up the powers of light.

So even though in the Torah, sota comes before nazir, but in the Talmud, Tractate Nazir precedes Tractate Sota. Ideally, we would work with the order the Torah places before us but we are now dealing with galus (representative in the Talmud Bavli). Chazal already understood that you have to bring in the extra level of holiness of the nazir and only then can you address the concept of sota and removing evil from oneself.

Incorporating Both Ways

There has to be a recognition of the truth of both of these positions. We are not going to be able to get as much light out of the positive when we are still engaged in stuff which is unbecoming. We have to understand that it does compromise our ability to really make the light as bright as it could and should be.

At the same time, it is very important that we fill our lives with as much light as we possibly can. We must try to integrate greater madreigos even though we may still be drawn down by things that have not been completely dealt with or that we may still be doing things that are not right. This should be done with the anticipation and the expectation that the inspiration and the uplifting that we will have from the great amount of light with which we flood our lives will give us the ability to confront all the demons and other issues that we were not strong enough to combat before.

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