Body and Soul (part 2) – Tazria
This shiur is dedicated L’Refuat - Chaim David ben Rut and Yedidya Shlomo ben Dvora, רפואת הנפש ורפואת הגוף השתא בעגלא ובזמן קריב.
משל למטרונה שנכנסה לתוך פלטין של מלך כיון דחמית מגלביא תלן דחלת אמר לה המלך אל תתייראי אלו לעבדים ולשפחות אבל את לאכול ולשתות ולשמוח כך כיון ששמעו ישראל פרשת נגעים נתייראו א"ל משה אל תתייראו אלו לאו"ה אבל אתם לאכול ולשתות ולשמוח (ויקרא רבה, תזריע, טו, ד).
Imagine if you were the new bride to the king! You had a romantic courtship and a wedding filled with splendor and rejoicing. The king lifts you up and carries you over the threshold into his palace, your new home. A momentous event! Your new husband gives you the guided tour of the ornate palace, expensive furniture and even more expensive chandeliers in every room. You look to the sides and hanging on the walls is an extravagant display of ….. No it cannot be! You look again ….. and indeed it is …… the walls are filled with crystal display cabinets and in each cabinet, meticulously arranged, are ………… a series of clubs (the kind you knock people on the head with). Some clubs are studded with sharp stones, others with nails. What? Suddenly the new queen shudders with fear. Who have I married? What are all these clubs for? It looks like the national Torture Museum!!!! The king placates his bride. “Do not worry dear, these are not meant for you, they are intended to keep the servants in check. As for you, you will live a life of luxury in the palace, eat, drink and be merry.”
This is the mashal brought in the Midrash. When Am Yisrael heard about all the negai’m, the blemishes on the walls of the house, the clothes and the body, they shook with fear. Moshe placated them “Do not worry. These are intended for the goyim! As for you (Am Yisrael), your job is to eat, drink and be happy.”
What a strange Midrash!
First of all it is not true. We know that the nega’im were not intended for the goyim, but for Am Yisrael! When someone discerns what they think is a nega, who do they approach? The Kohen! If the Kohen verifies the nega, what does he do? He sends the sinner out of the camp for seven days at least, or until the nega clears up. The goyim didn’t have Kohanim. The goyim were not sent out of the camp, they never had a camp! So this was obviously intended for Am Yisrael and not the goyim.
Secondly, what is Moshe telling Am Yisrael to placate them? It is as if he is saying, if you want to prevent getting the nega’im, how do you do it? By eating, drinking and being happy! A non-stop orgy, eating and drinking wine and making merry! Hang on, isn’t that the philosophy of ….. the goyim? “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die!” Live it up, don’t waste any time! And if it is the remedy to the nega’im, what is it about food, wine and being happy that will prevent you from getting nega’im?
So obviously this is not what the Midrash is trying to tell us. In order to understand this Midrash, we need to skip forward to the last Midrash in our parsha –
שְׂאֵת זו בבל וכו' סַפַּחַת זו מדי וכו' בַּהֶרֶת זו יון וכו' נֶגַע צָרַעַת זו אדום וכו' (ויקרא רבה, תזריע, טו, ט)
Just like in last week’s parsha, referring to the four types of unkosher animals who only have one of the two signs, Chazal also liken the four types of nega’im to the four galuyot.
When the Midrash is saying “These are for the goyim”, it means – these are the four “nega’im” that the goyim are going to afflict Am Yisrael with. Moshe placates Am Yisrael “Do not worry, your job is to eat drink and be happy”. In the time of the Geulah, the tzaddikim will participate in a special seudah with food made from the לויתן and drink יין משומר מששת ימי בראשית and happily bask in the Shechina. “Don’t worry”, says Moshe, “It has a happy ending!”
So it is not such a strange Midrash after all and everything fits into place.
I think however that there is an additional, hidden message in this Midrash and it is actually the פשט of the Midrash, not the symbolic meaning. The Midrash is also telling us that by actually eating, drinking and being happy - we can prevent getting the nega’im!
Obviously it is not advocating engaging in a non-stop orgy, like the goyim, but is trying to teach us a profound, fundamental lesson in how to live our lives according to the Torah.
Sefer מאיר פנים, aside from focusing on the practical aspects of the Lechem Hapanim and the Shulchan - the ingredients, the baking, the arranging on the Shulchan, the switching of the loaves every Shabbat, etc. – also tries to dig deep down to the essence of the Lechem Hapanim and the Shulchan, their primary purpose and what musar haskel we can learn from them. It can be summarized in two words – Food and Happiness.
Shlomo Hamelech says –
לֵךְ אֱכֹל בְּשִׂמְחָה לַחְמֶךָ וּשֲׁתֵה בְלֶב טוֹב יֵינֶךָ כִּי כְבָר רָצָה הָאֱ-לֹקִים אֶת מַעֲשֶׂיךָ (קהלת ט, ז).
The Ibn Ezra says that what Shlomo Hamelech is trying to say is that this world is intended for the living, not the dead. To live the way HKB”H wants us to live in this world, is to - eat our bread with happiness and drink our wine with a good heart.
In last week’s shiur we began discussing how the physical body and the neshama communicate with one another, specifically related to food. How eating permissible and forbidden food affects our neshama. It is not only the food itself, but how we eat it. In what frame of mind, whether we say the required brachot, study Torah at the table, etc. How the table on which we eat, is like a Mizbeach and that every time we eat, it is equivalent to bringing a Korban to Hashem. We pretty much covered that last week.
In this shiur, I would like to concentrate on the “happiness” aspect and how the body and the neshama interact with one another when we are happy and when we are not.
What is “happiness”?
If you ask a scientist this question they will tell you about the “pleasure centers” in the brain (VTA, NAc, DRN, etc.). When these areas in the brain are stimulated, the person feels “happy”. Stimulation of these regions in the brain is achieved by a “cocktail” of neurotransmitters (also called hormones), most noticeably the “happy four” - dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphin. When you have these coursing through your system, you feel happy. What does someone do when they feel happy? They express it externally on their face by smiling. A smile is the external, physical manifestation of an “inner” feeling. The smile is the universal symbol of happiness and has been “immortalized” in those often annoying “emoticons” in emails, text messages and bumper stickers.
There is something called a “true” smile and an “artificial” smile. The first person to study the science of smiling, French neurologist Guillame Duchenne, described the characteristics of a true smile (raising the corners of the lips and “crows feet” creases around the eyes) as something reflecting the “sweet emotions of the soul”. This is a scientist talking! (albeit from the mid 1800’s).
Fetuses have been photographed/scanned smiling while still in the womb. True smiles are most prevalent in very young children. As we grow older we learn to manipulate our smiles to convey different messages and obtain certain rewards. There remains one type of smile that is not under the power of our will, but that is a reflection of the inner happiness of the soul, as Duchenne so aptly put it, which was appropriately named the “Duchenne” smile. This true smile is a communication from the spiritual neshama to the physical body.
Later, researchers discovered that even when people are not feeling happy “inside”, by virtue of the pure physical act of smiling, they stimulated the muscles and the nerves in the face, which in turn stimulated secretion of the above neurotransmitters, which triggered the pleasure centers in the brain. They called this the “Facial Feedback Hypothesis (FFH)”. In other words, it is possible for the body to communicate with the neshama (the opposite direction to the above) –using the body to perform certain physical actions, which ultimately affect the neshama.
This “scientific” research is less than 50 years old, but already 1070 years before, Rav Sa’adiya Gaon wrote “אחרי הפעולות נמשכים הלבבות”, performing physical actions with our body can affect our neshama, positively and negatively.
I have written at length about this in מאיר פנים, but basically the Lechem Hapanim and the two bowls of Levonah are shaped and orientated in the same configuration as a “Duchenne” smile.
In the Gemara (Mo’ed Katan 9a) it says “אין שמחה בלא אכילה ושתיה”. The spiritual connection between “food” and “smiling” is not incidental. The Sefer HaChinuch (תפח) explains what it means ושמחת בחגך and it includes eating and drinking (amongst other things). Eating and drinking also stimulate the pleasure centers in the brain and make you feel happy. This is not the philosophy of the orgy - letting go of all restraint, quite the opposite. It is davka placing restraints on eating and drinking so that the resulting happiness is one that is uplifting and spiritual.
As mentioned in previous shiurim, eating and drinking is potentially a moment of weakness that gives the יצר הרע an opening. To prevent this, when we eat and drink we must focus on the true purpose of eating and drinking – to sustain our physical bodies and to elevate our spiritual level of happiness. This is the true modus operandi on Purim, not to get paralytic drunk, but to channel the food and drink to spiritually uplift us. This is also why a primary purpose of the Lechem Hapanim is to atone for the sin of Adam Harishon which was food related, to prescribe the correct framework for food that does not invite the יצר הרע in.
A person who does not achieve a sense of happiness cannot get close to HKB”H. To merit נבואה, all the nevi’im had to be in a state of שמחה and טוב לבב (רמב"ם, הלכות יסודי התורה ז, ד). The Lechem Hapanim was also called Lechem Hatamid, it was perpetually on the Shulchan, תמיד and never absent, even for a fraction of a second. Similarly HKB”H wants us to עבדו את ה' בשמחה תמיד. We must make a concerted effort to uplift our spirits constantly, live our lives in joy and serve HKB”H in joy.
This is not the senseless, orgasmic joy of an orgy or that of someone on drugs (many of the addictive drugs simulate the action of the “happy four” neurotransmitters). It is a cool headed, calculated, measured, conscious attempt to control our יצר הרע and derive joy from our close connection to HKB”H, learning Torah and performing mitzvot.
This is how HKB”H wants us to live our lives in this world – in true joy, spiritual joy. It begins with the most mundane of physical actions like eating and drinking the right way. It continues with interacting with others with a smile on our face (הוי מקבל את כל האדם בסבר פנים יפות, אבות א, טו), conducting our business with a smile (research shows that those who are happy in their work succeed more – Re: Does Happiness Lead to Success? Lyubomirsky, King, Psychological Bulletin, 2005, Vol. 131, No. 6, 803–855).
This requires continual, concerted physical effort. Ben Zoma (אבות ד, א) to prove his assertion – איזהו עשיר, השמח בחלקו brings a passuk יגיע כפיך כי תאכל אשריך וטוב לך (תהילים קכח, ב). It is not automatic, you have to be יגיע – make a concerted effort to smile (in מאיר פנים I show that כפיך means כ-פיך referring to the smiling shape of your mouth – the shape of the Lechem Hapanim).
By making this effort with our physical body, to keep a smiling disposition, we ultimately affect the neshama and make the neshama happy. אחרי הפעולות נמשכים הלבבות.
How does one maintain a smiling disposition (not limited to having a smile on your face, but also an inner feeling of contentment and balance), despite the tough times we are living in? There are practical, day to day routines and techniques for applying these principles and are explained in a (1 hour) lecture I give entitled “The Key to Happiness”. You are welcome to contact the institute and book a lecture, I give them in person and via Zoom.
What has all of this got to do with the nega’im?
A person got nega’im if they spoke lashon harah. There are two reasons that motivate someone to speak lashon harah.
The first is to harm another person. If someone has a grudge against someone else, they use lashon harah as a kind of a “weapon” to cause harm to the person they have a grudge against. This was the classic case of Korach who spoke lashon harah against Moshe and Aharon, because he had a grudge that he (Korach) was not made Nasi of his tribe.
The second reason is to diminish another person to make you look more important or significant. If someone is insecure and feels inferior to another person, they may speak lashon harah against that person to diminish them and make themselves look superior.
The root cause of both of the above is a sense of dissatisfaction. A person who bears a grudge does so because he/she is dissatisfied and feels that he/she deserves more. A person feels inferior and insecure out of a sense of dissatisfaction with who they are.
Contrast this with a person who is שמח בחלקו, someone who is not dissatisfied, but happy with his/her lot in life. Such a person will never speak lashon harah, because there is no motivating factor to prompt them to speak lashon harah! A person who is שמח בחלקו steers clear and far away from lashon harah. Such a person, because they will never speak lashon harah, will never get nega’im.
This is the hidden message in the Midrash. Eat, drink and be happy (with your lot) – this will protect you from the nega’im. By learning to smile, by making a concerted effort to smile, maintaining a happy disposition and serving HKB”H out of joy, you insure that these fearsome blemishes will never affect you, not figuratively nor practically.