Chinuch and the Parsha by Rabbi Shmuel Wagner: The word the Torah uses in this week’s parsha to describe the most impure animal can teach us a profound lesson in our dealings with our children, our students, and even ourselves.
By Rabbi Shmuel Wagner – teacher at ULY Ocean Parkway
What did the medieval Spaniards call those they hated, the Jews?
“Marranos”, or swine.
What did the Nazis call those they despised, the Jews?
“Judenschwein”, or Jew-pig.
What did the hippies of the ‘60s call their nemesis, the police?
Seemingly, this mammal is universally synonymous with the imagery of a vile creature.
Being that Judaism forbids the consumption of this animal’s meat, one would expect that of all languages, the Lashon Kodesh word for this animal would have a negative connotation.
Indeed, in Yiddish and Hebrew phraseology, “Chazir” would be what you call that guy who takes the last piece of sushi from the platter. “Chazir-Treif” refers to something irredeemably evil.
However, if we want to properly identify this animal, we must investigate its source, not merely in common vernacular, but in the Torah of Truth.
In this week’s parsha (as well as in Parshas Shemini), where we have the mitzvah of Kosher and the list of non-Kosher animals, the Torah gives this animal its Lashon Kodesh name, “Chazir”.
The shoresh of the word “Chazir” is clearly connected to the meaning of “returning”. This prompts Chazal to teach us, “Why is it called ‘Chazir’? Because it is destined to be returned to the Jewish nation.” [In a note from 5706 (printed in Likkutei Sichos Volume 12, page 175), the Rebbe exhaustively sources and discusses this Ma’amor Chazal.]
Please pause and ponder the profundity of this powerful proverb.
How could it be that of all languages, Lashon Kodesh refers to this animal by its ‘Kosher’ (origin and therefore) destiny? We couldn’t come up with a better epithet to express the abomination of this beast than one of long-term redemption?!
But, that is exactly the point of Lashon Kodesh:
In a holy language, in a holy perspective, there is only positivity. When Torah sees this animal, it sees that one positive aspect, and that becomes – its very name.
Mind you, this is not merely “focusing on the positive”. Not at all.
As we know, Lashon Kodesh is the language with which the world was created, which means that within every Lashon Kodesh name lies the energy of that being’s existence. If “Chazir” is its Lashon Kodesh name, that means that in essence it is truly pure. All the loathsomeness that we now experience in connection with this creation, is but a reflection of the state of galus in which the world – sparks of G-dliness included – is trapped. But never lose sight of the truth. Never let the visible negativity distract you from the positive reality.
In honor of Gimmel Tammuz 5779, JEM released a short film titled “Hidden Treasure”. In one part, they interview Mr. Shelly Baer, who describes his family’s Yechidus with the Rebbe shortly before his tenth birthday. He says that his mother began crying to the Rebbe that he is being thrown out of yeshiva, doesn’t like school, doesn’t follow rules, etc.
What follows is a word-for-word transcript of his interview:
The Rebbe turns to me and he smiles and he goes, “Come here.”
So, I started the conversation. Because I was ready. I said to the Rebbe, “Are you the Rebbe?”
So the Rebbe looks at me with a big smile and he says to me three questions.
The first question was, “Are you a good boy?”
I said, “No”, with conviction. I was ready. I was used to this scene…
So he says, “You like school?” I said, “No!”
Then he says to me, “Do you listen to your mother?” “No!”
So with a big smile he turns to my mother and he goes, “Ah! Emes! Emes – it’s good!”
Can we analyze this story for a moment? Allow me to present a shallow interpretation of this story, which, I will say from the onset, is not what the Rebbe did, and I am only presenting it for the sake of contrast:
A troublemaking boy and his mother come to the world-renown Mechanech, who attempts to divert the child’s negativity and assuage her pain.
Smilingly, he turns to the child, “I hear you don’t like Chumash. How about Davening?” “No!”, the child answers with conviction.
Woops, let’s try again. “How about Shabbos? I’m sure you love the se’udos, the nigunim…” “I hate Shabbos!”
Oy, this is going nowhere. “Ok, so what’s with Purim? You enjoy more the dressing up, or Shaloch Manos?” “Purim is stupid.”
Help, what do I say now?! Oh, I know! “One thing for sure – your son is as honest as they get! I’ll tell you what: honesty is a tremendous quality that will really get him far in life. Hashem truly cherishes an honest person!”
Let’s get this straight. That is not what happened in this story with the Rebbe. Chas veshalom to say that the Rebbe was stuck and left with no other choice but to highlight the one meritorious quality the boy contained. Chas veshalom! Rather, the Rebbe asked each question knowing that the boy would answer “No!”, thereby providing the boy with additional opportunities to reveal his essence!
The Rebbe wasn’t “focusing on the positivity”, desperately holding on to the one good thing and forcibly dragging it out of the mud – no! The Rebbe saw right through the mud. In the Rebbe’s Lashon Kodesh, in front of the Rebbe’s holy eyes, stood a pure, untainted neshomo, gleaming and beaming with the attribute of truth! All the Rebbe did, was share his viewpoint with young Sholom (and his mother) as well.
A soiled swine is but a stuck spark (albeit only redeemable by Hashem). A sardonic student (lehavdil) is but a sparkling soul. It behooves us (no pun intended) to be able to lift ourselves above the grime and filth, and see the world for its true essence.
Let us begin viewing our children, our students, and yes, ourselves, in the light of Lashon Kodesh.