Text Based Learning

A Matter of Perspective
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Wednesday 2nd April 2014

By Rabbi Simon Taylor, former Jewish Chaplain in the British Army

In this week's sidrah, we discuss the laws of tzara’at, a spiritual affliction that is most famously known as the punishment for speaking lashon hara (forbidden speech). The Talmud (Arachin 16a) tells us that someone can also become afflicted with tzara’at by being 'tzarat ha'ayin'. This is literally translated as 'narrowness of the eye', which is understood as stinginess. Rabbinic literature unpacks and explains the Torah’s exact definition of stinginess. Whilst we normally associate stinginess with a person who is reluctant to spend money and is deemed as tight-fisted, in a wider sense it describes a person who lacks a generosity of spirit:

Lashon haKodesh is the term coined for the Hebrew language as used in the Torah – a ‘holy language’. Every part of the Torah’s language is laden with meaning and significance. One can derive a deeper understanding not only by the words and their translation, but even through analysing the order of the letters themselves within the words.

The Chiddushei HaRim (Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter d.1866) examined the word 'nega' (ign) that is used in the sidrah to denote an ‘affliction’. By taking the letter ayin at the end of the word nega and moving it to the front, we get the word oneg (gni), meaning pleasure. Additionally, in Lashon haKodesh, the names of letters can also be nouns. Ayin, for example, is the name of a letter and also the word for an eye (Nyi). The difference between affliction (nega) and pleasure (oneg) all depends on where one places one’s ayin (eye). When we face situations in life, we often have two options. We can either fixate and stare at the negative and be tzarat ha'ayin or we can move the ayin and change our perspective, and turn the affliction into something positive.

Shabbat is great example of this. We could easily regard Shabbat as a long list of prohibitions: no TV, no driving, no cooking, no emails, no texting, no WhatsApp. Alternatively, we can change our perspective and see Shabbat as an amazing opportunity for spiritual and physical recuperation, where we spend quality time with family and friends. We can enjoy finding an island of stillness in our lives, amongst the non-stop business of the world in which we live during the week.