The Torah was given to a nation of baalei teshuva. Egypt is a combination of two words. maitzar / constriction and yam which has a numerical value of 50. The immorality of Egypt squeezed the Jewish nation to (but not including) the 50th level of impurity, the most dire of all levels. However, during the subsequent 50 days, the nation rose to the exalted 50th level of purity, at the giving of the Torah.
The Jewish people were fused into a nation during those 50 days in the desert. Like the nutrients ingested in a developing fetus, the power of teshuva molded their very reality. Therefore, teshuva and the power of elevation are forever an inherent part of our very makeup.
This week’s parsha immediately follows the giving of the Torah. We are given the commandment “Don’t cook the kid in its mother’s milk” / the laws of meat and milk / kashrus.
Hashem now enabled the Jewish Nation to continue the aforementioned pattern of elevation, achieved through the preparation of the giving of the Torah. They were given the opportunity to elevate the entire mundane world through the mitzvah of eating.
To illustrate, a plant receives nourishment from the minerals in the soil. It soaks up the sun’s rays. It absorbs carbon dioxide and it drinks in the rain. In turn, an animal eats the plant. When a Jew ingests this animal with the noble intention of serving Hashem through the food, he elevates the soil, sun, air, rain, plant, animal etc. In fact, the entire creation can be elevated through this holy service.
I would like to suggest this concept is evident through the after blessing al hamichya. We say “Have mercy, please, Hashem our G-d, on Israel, Your people; on Jerusalem, Your city; and on Zion, the resting place of Your glory; upon Your altar, and upon the heichal (the Holy of Holies).” Perhaps we are saying that through eating with the proper intentions, the Jewish people elevate the food spiritually to Israel, to Jerusalem, to the place of the Bait Hamikdash (the Holy Temple), to the altar and finally to the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies is the “shaarei shomayim”, the gateway to heaven. Therefore, through eating, the entire creation can be elevated to the greatest of all levels.
Mystically, all negativity in the world stems from one of three negative shells (klipah). It is explained that these shells are so tightly tied to negativity that they can never be elevated. For example, a non-kosher piece of pig can never become kosher. It is forever forbidden and negative.
A person’s body mass is a consequence of everything that one has consumed. Throughout the duration of one’s life, food’s nutrients are ingested and become a part of his very being. Hence the expression, “You are what you eat”. The apparent tragedy is that if a person were to consume pig, he would become one with it in essence.
“Nothing stands in the way of teshuva.” Therefore, apparently for this sin as well one can achieve repentance.
The Tanya explains, however, even with teshuva the problem can still remain. The pig is this individual’s very body mass. Like broken glass, the damage is real in the world and can never be entirely rectified. He is forever one with this negative reality?!
There is one exception. When a person does an intense teshuva of ahava rabba / through a great love, the impossible is achieved. When the very distance created through the performance of the sin invokes a deep desire to return to Hashem, these negative shells that are apparently forever tied to the negativity, are elevated.
“In the place a baal teshuva stands a perfect tzaddik is unable to stand.” The definition of a tzaddik is one that has never sinned. The tzaddik can not accomplish this most wonderful elevation. He has never consumed pig and therefore he can never elevate it. (Of course this is only after the fact. One is never allowed to sin in order to repent and elevate in the future. We are talking here only about the opportunity to elevate the negativity once the sin has already been committed).
A ba’al teshuva has wrestled with negativity. The distinguished status of a baal teshuvah is the unique quality to encompass and elevate the darkest evil in the world. He/she has the ability beyond the tzaddik to take all negative experiences and not only rise above them, but elevate them in the service of Hashem.
Rabbi Moshe Zionce
Rabbi Moshe’s weekly lectures can be accessed at www.torahmedia.com