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Two Way Street

Friday, 28 April, 2017 - 7:23 am

One day, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov instructed several of his disciples to embark on a journey. The Baal Shem Tov did not tell them where to go, nor did they ask; they allowed divine providence to direct their wagon where it may, confident that the destination and purpose of their trip would be revealed in due time.

After traveling for several hours, they stopped at a wayside inn to eat and rest. Now the Baal Shem Tov’s disciples were pious Jews who insisted on the highest standards of kashrut; when they learned that their host planned to serve them meat in their meal, they asked to see the shochet (ritual slaughter) of the house, interrogated him as to his knowledge and piety and examined his knife for any possible blemishes. Their discussion of the kashrut standard of the food continued throughout the meal, as they inquired after the source of every ingredient in each dish set before them.

As they spoke and ate, a voice emerged from behind the oven, where an old beggar was resting amidst his bundles. “Dear Jews,” it called out, “are you as careful with what comes out of your mouth as you are with what enters into it?”

The party of Chassidim concluded their meal in silence, climbed onto their wagon and turned it back toward Mezhibuzh. They now understood the purpose for which their master had dispatched them on their journey that morning.

***

Last week’s parsha, Shemini taught us many of the laws of kosher. This week’s parshiyot of Tazria and Mezora teach about the importance of never speaking Lashon Hara.  The Book of Vayikra (Leviticus) contains many laws. Why do the laws of Lashon Hara follow the laws of permissible and forbidden foods?

By demanding that we keep kosher, G-d is not only asking us to follow in His sacred ways. He is also helping us be more mindful in our eating.  Just as the health of a food item influences the body, so does the spiritual status of food (whether kosher or not) influence the soul. Actually, it’s the other way around – if the physical food influences the body, how much more so that the spiritual state of the food influences the soul.

But, keeping kosher is only the beginning of mindfulness. When you are on diet, you have a concrete goal and you can hopefully stick to it.  The impact of the food we eat is obvious. It requires effort – no doubt. But, since eating is an intentional act, we are always conscious of the food we are eating.

Avoiding Lashon Hara, on the other hand, is much more difficult. It’s often a spur of the moment expression, a literal slip of the tongue that harms someone else. And, that requires even more effort. It requires, a concerted effort to change one’s very character and persona.

If I am careful about how I speak when I am not vexed at someone else, I have a far better chance of avoiding Lashon Hara when a challenging situation arises.

Our mouths are two-way streets. Watch out for the traffic going out as much as you watch out for the traffic coming in. And vice-versa.

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