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Before and Not After
“And these are the ordinances that you shall place before them” (Sh’mos 21:1)
I want to share something very important with you. The laws of this world and the laws of the Torah are completely different laws. When the Torah says not to steal, it is not given in order to explain what happens when someone steals. When you learn the Torah laws of stealing, they are so holy, that when you learn them – you simply can’t steal anymore. But in the world’s society, the laws of stealing only come once someone stole. By the Torah it’s the other way around – they come before it happened. This is what it means when the Torah says, “Asher tasim lifneihem” ‘place the laws before them,’ not after they might have fallen. When you learn the laws of stealing, you don’t steal anymore. When you learn about what happens to you when you kill someone, it’s not that G-d forbid you already killed somebody and then you learn the laws. In the Torah it says that when someone, G-d forbid, killed somebody – they should be killed. In the time of the Holy Temple – as long as we Jews were the way we should be – there was never any killing going on. How come? Because our laws begin before, “lifneihem.” Because when G-d says, “Thou shalt not kill” – it is so holy that we simply couldn’t kill anymore.
I always think that the way we teach our children the laws of the Torah is “achareihem,” after they already fell.
A lot of people know all the laws, but they know it like it’s in the back of their head. It’s got to be “lifneihem,” before me. The Pshischer says, “lifneihem,” it’s got to be before their eyes all the time, it has to be in front of me, not behind me.
“If you buy a Jewish bondsman” (Sh’mos 21:2)
After the revelation on Mount Sinai everybody went home and began to daven. At twelve o’clock they came back and Moshe Rabbeinu began teaching the Torah they had just received. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if Moshe Rabbeinu would give a lecture on the existence of G-d, or on the importance of being Jewish immediately following Mount Sinai? Instead Moshe Rabbeinu begins by teaching, “Ki sikne eved Ivri,” when you buy a Jewish slave. On the seventh year he has to be freed. And if this slave says, “I want to remain a slave,” he must be freed on the fiftieth year.
Now I want you to know, some of our sages say that the holy court never sold someone into slavery. (Tosfos Ri’d on Kiddushin 18a, Ne’os Deshe, Mishpatim, Ki Sikne). If that’s the case, who is the Torah talking to? All the Rebbes say that the Torah is not talking to the slave, the Torah is talking to the slave master. You see what it is, we are so often masters over somebody else. You know how much parents are masters over their children? Sometimes a husband is a master over his wife and sometimes the wife is a master over her husband. Sometimes my child did something wrong, and the way I let them know they did wrong is by enslaving this poor child. And this is what our holy Rabbis are saying. You have to know deep in your heart, if you can make somebody else into a slave, then you were not on Mount Sinai. If you can make somebody else into a slave, you didn’t hear G-d’s voice saying, “I am the Lord who took you out of slavery… there is only one G-d.”
I want you to open your hearts to the deepest depths. We are not slaves to G-d, we are servants to G-d. What’s the difference between being a slave to a human being and being a servant to G-d? When I am a slave, how does someone show me that they are my master? They throw me down to the ground and put their dirty feet on my face. A [master] is someone who makes you small, reducing you to nothing. If I am a G-d person, how do I show you that I am your master? How should parents show their children that they are a little bit their masters? By lifting them up. Being a master over someone means I have the power to lift you up. You know what a good teacher is? Not someone that knocks you off, gives you bad marks, calls you dirty names, and you are ashamed to show your face. Someone that raises you up to the highest heights.
Sometimes you walk into a house and the man has a yarmulke and a beard, the woman wears a sheitel. They eat glatt kosher meat but the way they yell at each other is absolutely the lowest. You know what their problem is? They were not at Mount Sinai, as simple as it is, because if you know that the only Master of the World is G-d… how can you make someone else small?
At Mount Sinai G-d says “I am your master, and you know what I did? I lifted you out of Egypt.” The way G-d is our master is by lifting us up to the highest level. Children are constantly asking us to pick them up because they know we are their master, and they know their master lifts them up.
I want you to know the deepest depths. What does it mean when I lift up the Torah after reading from it? The Torah was given to us but we can make the Torah even deeper and higher. You can drag the Torah down as well. When someone asks me a question, at that moment I am their master. I can drag the Torah down to the lowest, or I can mamesh lift up the Torah to the highest. The way you look at a person, you either drag them down or you lift them up.
So the holy Ba’al Shem Tov said that this was the test. Moshe Rabbeinu comes back and says, “Okay friends, you all stood on Mount Sinai, let me give you a test if your feet were there or if you were there. If anybody here thinks to be a master over anybody then they were not on Mount Sinai.”
We Jewish people, children of Avraham Avinu, have a very deep sense of paganism. We have an absolute refined sense of what idol worship is. Idol worship doesn’t just mean taking a piece of wood and bowing down to it. That is not idol worship, that’s just simple stupidity. Idol worship is if a human being takes to himself more power than he has. It’s when I make myself bigger than I am. I’m just a human being, that’s all.
You see what it is, a human being has a right to be a teacher, but if you make yourself more than you are, it’s really a bad scene.
It might not matter to those who don’t have this refined sense.
I am not only referring to other religions. When I see a rabbi making himself bigger than he is, it’s also idol worship. If a teacher takes more power than he has in the classroom, makes himself more a master over the children than he has, it’s terrible.
Imagine I will tell you, “I want you to know, I have divine powers. I want you to kiss my toes and bow down before me.” What am I doing to you? In order to be more than I am – I have to take away from you. You know something? It’s so strong in my heart. I wouldn’t bow down before the holiest man in the world. I would walk up to him, shake his hand and kiss him. I respect him, but bowing down? I only bow down before G-d, nobody else. I only bow down before G-d. You can cut my throat, but I’m not bowing down before a human being. When you fall down on the floor, and kiss someone’s toes, do you know what that means? I am nothing in their presence. Being nothing in someone’s presence is only by G-d, and even G-d doesn’t like it too much.
When we spoke to G-d on Mount Sinai, do you think we were lying on the floor, licking the toes of Moshe Rabbeinu? When we stood on Mount Sinai, we stood straight up.
I’ll tell you something very deep. The Ba’al Shem Tov says the difference between bowing down before a human being and bowing down before G-d is very simple. To bow down before a human being, the smaller you get, the more you bow down. The way to bow down before G-d is to make yourself as tall as you possibly can. The fact is, we only bow down to G-d one time on Rosh Hashanah and three times on Yom Kippur. How come? Because even bowing down before G-d is a heavy scene.
There are moments when I have a chance to become a master over somebody else. If you stood on Mount Sinai, then you know that only G-d is a master. If you didn’t stand on Mount Sinai, you make them into a slave, you keep them as a slave.
This can happen between parents and children, between husband and wife.
I was once invited to a so-called great rabbi’s house. One of his children was a girl of nine. Some adults have this thing that when they are talking, children are not permitted to talk. I don’t know where they found this law, but it must have been one of the pages of the Bible that was not reprinted. Whenever this girl wanted to say something, her mother cut her short. It hurt me so much. Finally, the girl wanted to say something again. These are religious people. Her mother called her over, gave her a smack and told her, “Go to sleep right this minute.” The girl couldn’t stop crying.
I got up and I said, “I can’t eat here, this house is not kosher. This is pagan. To put a girl to shame? You think this girl is stupid? She is nine years old, she is a human being. To put her to shame in front of me?”
The mother says “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
I said, “Listen to me, I’m not coming back to the table unless this girl comes with me.” I went to the room where the little girl was sleeping and I told her, “You are sitting next to me.”
After the whole thing was over the mother thanked me for “setting her straight.” But I thought to myself, these people have not learned the essence of Yiddishkeit. The essence of Yiddishkeit is that you are not a master over your children. You are not a master over anyone in the world.
The worse thing in the world is when we play G-d over somebody else. What is politics? People play G-d over a country. If they would have one billionth’l of an ounce of Mount Sinai, they would be afraid to do it. When someone wages war, they are basically declaring that they don’t give a damn that thousands of people are about to be killed. But you know something? Only G-d has a right to decide over life and death, nobody else.
When I was working for the Lubavitcher Rebbe, at one time I did something real bad, so he called me in and he had to scold me a little bit. But the way he told me I did wrong was so gentle, so not enslaving. He didn’t, G-d forbid, say straight that I did wrong. He simply hinted that I did wrong in such a soft way. After he softly spoke to me, I said, “I’m so sorry, I know I did wrong. I hope I’ll fix it.”
As I was walking out he says to me, “I want you to know, I’m heartbroken that I had to tell you, but in order for you not to be angry at me, I want to give you a gift.” He took one of the books off his shelf and gave it to me.
Can you imagine?
So afraid of becoming a master over somebody because this is taking away G-d.
The worse thing about our schooling system is that a good teacher is someone whose students are afraid of him or her. It’s the worse of the worse, it’s idol worship school. Those teachers did not hear G-d’s word on Mount Sinai.
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