Kedoshim -Authentic Freedom

The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.

                          David Foster Wallace, author of Infinite Jest

There is a difference between being “free” and having a “free-for-all”. Having left Egypt, the Jews were no longer slaves and were “free”. But what does freedom look like?The Egyptian Pharaoh was considered to be a “god.” He could enslave a nation, decree genocide, act outside of all reason, and he answered to no one. In being “free” to act with impunity, Pharaoh nevertheless brought widespread death and destruction to his country. So, is that what “freedom” looks like? If so, then really, what’s the point? Surely, it must mean something else.

A New Paradigm of Freedom

In liberating the Jewish people from slavery, God had to teach us what freedom – true freedom – looks like. Without a paradigm or model to go on, God had to teach us from the ground up. The kind of freedom God wanted us to embrace was a certain kind of freedom, the freedom of being “congruent”.

Being congruent means that the actions of your external self are consistent with the values of your internal being. Essentially, it means being authentic and true to yourself. The question is, however, as we can see from the example of Pharaoh, who was evil inside and out, is which self are we, and what kind of person do we want to authentically express?

Having been slaves in Egypt for over two hundred years, how could the newly- liberated Jew know what his or her real self was? How could a newly-freed slave understand his or her potential much less how to actualize it?

The Hebrew word for Egypt is “Mitzrayim”, which means “narrowness” or “constraint.” Leaving Egypt for the desert was going from a place of constricted boundaries to a place of no boundaries. To avoid the external chaos of a “free-for- all”, as well as the internal panic of being in a state of “free-fall”, God had to teach us what being a truly free human being looks like, and how to create our internal controls.   So the Jews had to learn both “how” to be as well as “what” to be.

One of the main themes of this week’s Torah portions, “Kedoshim”, deals with the laws of prohibited relationships. Previously, it was the laws of proper speech – what comes out of your mouth. Before that, it was the laws of kosher animals – what goes into your mouth. Laws, laws and more laws. It seems that there is no part of our lives, our relationships, our behaviors, even our bodies, which is not governed by Torah law.   That is because Judaism is an inside/outside religion.

So is this just a new form of slavery? After all, when we were slaves in Egypt, Pharaoh certainly controlled us.   In so doing, however, Pharaoh wanted to crush us, to break us down utterly. In total contrast, God wants to build us up, to cultivate our character so that we understand who we truly are – a holy people.

The Freedom to be Holy

 For us to be holy, however, we must be “whole”. We must be congruent. We must be holy both inside and out. In governing all of the myriad aspects of our lives, God is teaching us that Judaism is not compartmentalized, but is a seamless integrated holistic way of being.

Therefore, we can’t say – “This is for God, but that is not.” We can’t say, “Before, I was on God’s time, but now I am on my time.” We can’t say, “What I do or say over here matters, but over there it does not.” And we certainly can’t say, “Well, this is just business…”

And so whether it’s governing what we eat, how we speak, how we conduct business, how we treat others, how we conduct our intimate relationships, etc. etc. etc.… it ALL matters. In an integrated seamless holistic life, everything HAS to matter. And therefore, we can look at each law that God gives us as another nuance and refinement, another pathway and connection, to help us close the gap between the external being and the internal selves that represent our true godly essence.

When we were delivered from Egypt, we were given the gift of freedom. To stay, free, however, is another story. Staying free means embracing freedom as a responsibility to be earned, integrated and owned – in other words, being congruent. When we can do that, no one and nothing can ever enslave us again. And that is what freedom – true freedom – really looks like.

Things To Ponder:

  1. Is there some area of your life where you are not congruent? If so, what one step can you take to close the gap?
  2. When and how will you do it?
  3. Why is this important to you and what will be different in your life – and about you?
  4. How will you know when you are being more congruent?
  5. How will other people in your life know that you are being more congruent?
  6. How does having more congruence enlarge or empower you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tazria – When Truth Hurts

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Often after arguing about differing opinions, I hear people say, “let’s agree to disagree.” I look forward to a time, so open-minded I’ll hear people say, ‘I’m right and you can be, too.”  

– Paula Heller Garland, author of Living in Consciousness

What do you think is the cruelest punishment that society can inflict? The obvious answer is the death penalty because we think that there is nothing worse than death. The correct answer is, however, solitary confinement. Why? Research has shown that the clinical effects of isolation are tantamount to extreme physical torture. And thus, contrary to the stereotype of all death row inmates filing endless appeals to prolong their lives in jail, a significant number of inmates on death row elect to forgo appeals and choose execution over prolonged solitary confinement.

In this week’s Torah portion, “Tazria,” we read about “tzara’as,” which is commonly mistranslated as “leprosy.” In fact,” tzara’as” are blemishes that can appear on one’s clothing, the walls of a person’s home and, ultimately, the body of a person who engages in “lashon hara”, which is normally understood as derogatory speech, usually about another person. Developing tzara’as is a gradual process, and when unmitigated, it leads to a procedure in which the High Priest proclaims the gossip monger to be “unclean,” expelling that person from the community to live alone until cured.

When There’s Something Greater Than Truth

Unlike the secular laws of defamation where truth is a defense, the laws of lashon hara don’t give the gossip-monger that “out.” As a matter of fact, there is a presumption that the person is convinced that his or her gossip is true! If, on the other hand, the person was spreading false gossip – slander – then it’s an entirely different sin, because we should not misuse the power of speech to lie. After all, truth is a Divine attribute, and we want to emulate divinity.

So how can we be punished for our negative speech – when what we say is true? And why is the punishment one of expulsion and isolation? After all, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” According to the Torah, however, not only do our words hurt the person we are talking about, but they hurt the person who is speaking lashon hara – as well as the person or people listening to it. It’s the perfect trifecta of bad. But is that fair?

We often think that our perceptions and opinions about a situation or person are the “truth,” which makes us feel justified and right. We create stories in our head, and then we live in the stories we create, not even knowing the difference between story and “fact.” We decide the truth, and anyone who doesn’t buy into our stories is also wrong.

Deep down, the source of all conflict lies in the ego’s incessant need to be right, and the lengths we go to defend that need. It is this form of the ego that disintegrates relationships, undermines the fabric of society and disconnects us from the oneness and unity we should feel with our fellow and even with the natural world – hence, even our inanimate objects are affected with the blemishes of tzazar’as.

THE MIND-BODY CONNECTION

Today, the focus of wellness is on the mind-body connection. The Torah teaches us the mind-body-soul connection. Gossip is only possible when we are ruled by the unhealthy part of our ego, which is rigidly self-absorbed and sees itself as wholly separate from the other person, and therefore unaffected by any pain that is caused.

Such a person is already disconnected from others, from the community, from God, and even from him or herself. Therefore, the punishment of expulsion is to help the person understand this, by getting the person to feel that pain and then return to the state of connection.

Being expelled, cast out, etc. are so painful for a psyche that fears disconnection that they are powerful forms of control. We are wired for connection. Our need for love and belonging is one of our highest needs. But when we are driven by our unhealthy ego, we can override our wiring.

In the wilderness, where we lived in a high state of holiness, a mind-body-soul connection betrayed or conveyed our true inner state. The outer was an accurate reflection of the inner. What you said behind someone’s back became written on your body. We simply couldn’t fake our way out – or back in.

When the person truly felt the pain of disconnection and then corrected him or herself – mind, body, and soul – so that the body was visibly healed from its blemishes – then, and only then was that person ready for the process of re-entry into the community.

The Torah is not trying to break us with an elaborate game of “Time Out”; rather, the Torah is teaching us how to stay in the game. It’s not just that the person recovers to his or her former state, but that the person should grow to attain a new level of awareness – post-traumatic-growth syndrome!

A society that allows unhealthy egos to run rampant, causing divisiveness and fragmentation, is unhealthy. A holy society, on the other hand, recognizes the deeper understanding that in diminishing others, we also diminish ourselves. True peace is based on wholeness and connection. When we check our unhealthy egos at the door, therefore, the gates of harmony open wide.