When I was a child, I loved curling up with a Sherlock Holmes story. Of course, after you read one the first time, you know the outcome. There is still something wonderful about reliving the process through the eyes of Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective. You could accompany him, share his keen observations, and logical reasoning. First appearing in print in 1887 (in A Study in Scarlet), the character's popularity became so widespread that many people had trouble believing he didn’t actually exist. I personally identified more with Dr. Watson, the character who was Home’s biographer side kick and assistant at their shared quarters at Baker Street. Working with Rabbi Kass, has made this role into something of a lifestyle, although he refrains from saying things like “elementary, Dr. Watson”.
Like everything else in life, developing of keen observation can be used positively or negatively. On one hand, it saves you from the trap of seeing things as they aren’t. On the other hand, it can lead you to thinking that you have seen reality very vividly, when all you see is the surface. You can easily lose the inner reality of what is happening.
In today’s world, seeing every flaw is seen as a sign of intellectual sophistication. Lashon Hara is by definition communicating using words that are both true and negative (or harmful). It is considered to be one of the most serious sins you can possibly commit. The Talmud compares it to the three cardinal sins of idol worship, adultery, and murder. You may think that not saying everything is whitewashing the truth, and when you don’t “tell it like it is”, you are being foolish, naïve, and repressed. The classic kabalistic/ethical work Reishis Chochma (written by Rav Moshe Cordovero in Tzfat during its golden era) has a chapter on Lashon Hara. It is under the heading “Falsehood”. This is very strange, because by definition, Lashon hara is true. The resolution comes when you begin to examine the concept of truth. It isn’t identical to “verbal accuracy”, or telling it all. You are verbally accurate when you say that the Torah is a book. It isn’t true; the word “book” doesn’t convey what Torah is in essence. When you speak Lashon hara, usually what is happening is you lose the definition of who ther person you are speaking about is on a human level. When you say, “Gertrude never got a degree”, that may be true in the narrow sense of the word. In the broader and deeper sense, is Gertrude (or anyone else for that matter) really defined honestly as someone who didn’t get a degree? Isn’t there more to her story? Why are you making that your title of her biography? You may feel that you are being honest and real (what do you want me to say, that she is a brilliant academic? Puleeze!), when in fact you are being superficial and judgmental. The reason that this issue is so important is that casting the world in a negative light is in direct conflict with your purpose on the planet.
We are here to reveal light.
Last week’s parshah, Shlach, begins when the people demand to “see” Eretz Yisrael before entering. How deeply did they want to go? The spies were handpicked by Moshe, in the hope that the individual nature of each tribe would provide the people with the broader picture, the picture that we call “truth”. Instead, they got an “accurate”, but by no means true picture of what the Land was like. Yes. It was unbelievable fertile. Yes. The people were huge. Yes. The cities were undefended, bearing visible testimony to the fact that they feared no one. Their conclusion was that there is no way it can be conquered.The words were accurate. The missing link was truth.
No one suggested that they try to do win this battle on their own. Where was Hashem in this picture? The war for Eretz Yisrael was not meant to be anything less spectacular than the crossing of the sea, or the fact that they started their days with mann, not cornflakes. The only difference was that this time, Hashem’s presence was going to be concealed by His giving them the privilege of participating with Him in the process. They would fight, and later plant and sow. and they would meet the challenge of finding His light even when they could easily choose to let their own sense of achievement remove Him from their “reality”. Lashon hara against the Land was really Lashon Hara against Hashem Himself. It was denial of His providence, His love for us, and His ability to keep His commitments.
The tragic end of the story is that they “got what they wanted”, they didn’t enter the Land. There were those who tried to enter, but they failed. They were still substituting accuracy for truth. “If it can be conquered, we’ll do it”. They still had only a partial truth, Hashem’s will was not at its core.
This week’s parshah takes things to another place. The story of Korach isn’t about the Jews; it’s about the tragic story of an individual who took many others with him. Korach was a man of brilliant intellect, great wealth, and enormous charisma. He felt that given his lineage and his ability that he would be the one that G-d would appoint as the leader of the Levites. His father was Amram’s brother. Amram’s children, Moshe Aharon and Miriam, held the leadership position. He was the logical “next on line”. Instead, the leadership went to the son of the youngest of Amram’s brothers, Elitzafon ben Uziel. It was inconceivable to him that this kind of “mistake” should be allowed to define the rest of his life. You can’t fit a size 9 foot in a size 8 shoe. The Midrash Ne’elam tells us that had Korach lived up to his potential, there would have been another office opened to him. There would have been a role called the “Levi gadol”, the High Levite, similar to that of the role he never had, the Kohein Gadol. He missed the truth by demanding that it be easy to find, and immediately fulfilling.
What does any of this have to do with you?
It should tell you to be a truth seeker. Find Hashem’s goodness wherever you look. Reveal it. He cares about you, and is involved in your life moment by moment. If you train your eyes to seek Him, you will feel His presence more than you ever thought you would.
One aspect is that He listens to our prayers. Baruch Hashem, Rabbi Chalkowski is back home, and hopefully will be rejoining us in Neve soon. His hospital stay was shorter than expected, for which he thanked all of you. His name is Moshe Mordechai ben Devorah, so keep it up.
Another way of staying in reality is staying inspired by the people of truth in our history. I am planning BEH to take a group of you to kivrei tzadikim in Eretz Yisrael this summer (see 'What's Happening').