Emotional poison – Parshas Ki Tisa 5776

by Leiby Burnham | February 26, 2016 10:38 am

It was a gruesome way to die. The convulsions, vomiting, exhaustion, and gasping for breath lasted only a few hours, and then Thendara “Jagger” Satisfaction softly exhaled for the last time. His death would rock the world; the headlines screaming for justice. Jagger, beloved by so many, had never hurt anyone, had never even made a disparaging remark about any of his rivals. Yet so many, burning with jealousy over his success, wanted him dead. One of them, it’s still not clear who, went so far as to poison Jagger, and likely celebrated his slow painful death.

But the killing spree was not over. Less than two weeks later, Mak, a colleague of Jagger’s, was taking a walk in the park when a shot rang out. The bullet went sideways right through Mak’s mouth, and Mak began to run. More bullets followed, and one of them struck Mak in the neck, shattering his vertebrae and severing his spinal cord. Mak will never again walk in the park.

The random acts of violence had not yet run their course. One month later, someone kidnapped the six children of another colleague of Mak and Jagger. They demanded a large ransom, and threatened that if the ransom was not paid, the little ones would be tormented. It is unclear whether the ransom was paid or not, but what is clear is that the six puppies were never seen again.

Something is clearly wrong in the world of competitive dog shows. When people start murdering or tormenting innocent dogs out of jealousy or competitiveness, it is time to reassess what affect dog shows are having on dogs and humans.

Dog shows are not exactly a new phenomenon. The first recorded dog show took place on June 28, 1859 in the English city of Newcastle upon Tyne. It was a small event run by hunters looking to crown the best hunting dog. The US followed suit not long after. The first dog show in the US took place in Chicago on June 4, 1874, and the most famous American dog show, the Westminster Kennel Club show followed in 1877. That show, held in Manhattan at the Gilmore Gardens (precursor to Madison Square Garden) brought in over 20,000 attendees per day; and the insanity began.

Today, there are thousands of dog shows all around the world, with the most prestigious including Cruft’s in England, the Westminster Kennel Club in NYC, and the World Dog Show which holds its competitions in cities around the world (this year the competition will be in Moscow, last year it was in Milan and in 1987 it was in Tel Aviv! But don’t expect that to happen again – dogs are known to be incredibly anti-Zionist!)

The prize money may not be great; the Best in Show award at Cruft’s get you a bottle of Champagne, a bag of dog food, and about $150. But the value of winning a show at that level is tremendous. Dogs that win Best in Show or Best in Class can sell for six figure sums, and charge tens of thousands of dollars for their offspring!

As you can imagine, when dogs become such a commodity, the lengths people will go give them the best treatment becomes a race to the insanity line. From private jets, to dog spas, to hotel suites, to Michelin starred restaurant food, some of the dogs are given a far better lifestyle than 99.9% of humans! This human obsession with dogs is nothing new. According to one opinion in the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 4A), King Balthazar, the ruler of the Babylonian Empire, had his dog sitting next to him at his greatest (and last) feast, drinking with him out of the golden vessels looted from the Temple!

But the competition far exceeds the dollar value. For many people, the dog show is the closest thing they have to a religious experience. These are people who live and breathe dogs. People who spend four to five hours a day working with their dogs in the hopes that one day their dog may be named Best in Show. Valerie Nunes-Atkinson, the owner of CJ, the German Shorthaired Pointer that just won the 140th Westminster Kennel Club show, gets emotional talking about it, “I’ve been dreaming of this since I was 10 years old!”

But where dreams are made, dreams are lost as well. And some people will do just about anything to preserve those dreams. Illegal plastic surgery is performed on dogs, judges are bribed, and dogs are poisoned. There is even a term for this, “noodling” is when dogs are given sleeping pills, or have tufts of hair snipped off before the show. The death of Jagger and Mak dealt a particular blow to the dog show world. Jagger was poisoned just two days after winning Best in Show, and Mak was shot two weeks after winning best in class.

Jealousy is an interesting trait. It’s not just that you want something, but more that you want someone else’s something, and if you can’t have it, you don’t want them to have it either. This goes back to the first recorded murder. Able’s offering was accepted, Cain’s wasn’t. Cain could have just brought a better offering, but he needed to take away the honor that Able was given, and he killed his brother in jealousy. Korach was the wealthiest man alive, but he wanted the position of High Priest that Aaron had, and started a rebellion that ended up with his entire family being consumed. It’s not just that I want to win the dog show, it’s that I want your win, and if I can’t have it, you can’t either.

King Solomon tells us in Proverbs (14:30), “Envy is the rottenness of bones.” He was not only telling us that the effect of living your life consumed by jealousy is that your very essence rots away. He was also telling us that the cause of jealousy is when one sees his own bones, his own essence as rotten. If I see myself and my life as rotten, I will naturally want someone else’s life, someone else’s success, someone else’s winning dogs. And if I can’t have, no one can. Why should they have a happy life, when I’m miserable? Whenever we find ourselves caught up in jealousy, we need to stop and ask ourselves, “Why am I unhappy with my own life? What can I do to make my life better so that I don’t need to fantasize about living someone else’s life?”

One of the tips we can use to stop jealousy, is to teach ourselves to have a trait called, Ayin Tov, lit. a good eye. A person with a good eye is always happy to see other people’s success. They love making other people feel good. They are the people who are quick to give compliments. “Nice tie! You look great, did you lose weight? I’m so impressed with your work ethic! You are an amazing mom!”

It’s a beautiful upward spiral. The more one sees the good in others, the more one starts to see the good in themselves. And when one sees the good in themselves, they don’t need what others have, which means they can be happy for the good in others, which leads them to be happy with the good in themselves….. It just keeps getting better! It’s like a walk in the park with your dog, happy for him to be just the way he is!

Parsha Dvar Torah
This week’s Pasha, Ki Tisa, tells of one of the darkest moments in the Jewish people’s history, the serving of the Golden Calf. Many questions abound, with the most pressing: how could they fall to such a low point a mere 40 days after seeing G-d reveal Himself? Let us focus on another question, and through that we can bring some clarity to this dismal event in Jewish history.
When Moshe saw the people serving the Golden Calf, he took the tablets he was holding and dashed them to the ground. Why? Granted, the Jews weren’t ready or deserving of them, but why take tablets with G-d’s writing on them and destroy them? Wouldn’t that be analogous to a rabbi whose congregation is going astray, taking the Sefer Torah out of the ark and burning it?
The third of Maimonides Principles of Faith states, “I believe with complete faith that the Creator, Blessed is His Name, is not physical and is not affected by physical phenomena, and that there is no comparison whatsoever to Him.” This is one of the hardest principles for human beings to relate to, because everything we see, feel, and relate to is physical. The idea of G-d being totally divorced from physicality is something we struggle to comprehend.
This challenge is what drove the Jews to worship the Golden Calf. They weren’t trying to serve another G-d, a different G-d, but rather were trying to find a way to capture some of G-d’s essence in a physical being. That is why after creating the golden calf, they proclaimed, “This is your G-d, Israel!” They weren’t refering to a new god, rather they saw this as the G-d of Israel, the one who took them out of Egypt, but in a tangible physical package. They wanted a concrete, corporeal edifice that would rule the physical world. But, of course, this defeats the reality of G-d, and the purpose of man. This was an attempt to bring G-d down into the physical lower world, rather than trying to climb from the physical world to the loftier spiritual world.
When Moshe came down the mountain, he immediately ascertained the people’s mistake. To prove it to them in the strongest terms, he took the tablets and dashed them to the ground. This was his way of showing the people that real holiness, all of which emanates from G-d, is not physical, and can’t be bound by the physical. Even the tablets with G-d’s own writing can be destroyed because they have no inherent spirituality. The only spirituality they have is when it is infused with G-dliness, but in and of themselves, they have nothing.
Furthermore, Moshe was afraid that if he were to destroy the calf but leave the tablets intact, the people would transfer their mistaken ideology, and try to put G-dly powers and holiness into the tablets. Thus, it was imperative that Moshe destroy the tablets for the dual purpose of not leaving the Jews a stumbling block and teaching them that nothing physical has inherent spirituality. To this day, that message still resonates, reminding us not to give powers to anything physical, not money, good looks, or physical strength. On Wall Street, money is worshipped, in a gym, muscles are venerated, and in Hollywood good looks are divine, but in the Jewish home, we serve G-d and G-d alone!

Parsha Summary
This week’s Parsha, Ki Tisa, begins with G-d commanding the Jews to take a census by having each Jew donate a half-shekel, and then counting all the coins. This teaches us that we are never whole until we join with other Jews. Then we are instructed to make a laver (a receptacle that holds water and has faucets used for washing) for the temple, so that the Kohanim can wash themselves before going in to serve in the Temple. We can relate to this by remembering that service of G-d is sacred, and there should be both a mental and physical sanctification before beginning services. This translates into not rushing into prayers with our minds still on our business or our hands greasy from that pastrami sandwich we just had for lunch!
Next, we are commanded to make a special anointing oil used to consecrate vessels and Kohanim for temple service. We are also told to make a uniqueincense that was burned in the Tabernacle twice daily on its own dedicated golden altar. Both the oil and incense were not allowed to be made for laymen’s purposes.
Now the Torah focuses on the building of the Mishkan, the tabernacle. Ha-shem commands Moshe to take Bezalel and Oholiav as assistants to aid him in building the Mishkan and in making the priestly vestments. After that, the Torah repeats the Mitzvah of keeping Shabbos. The Sages learn from the juxtaposition of these two ideas that one cannot desecrate Shabbos even for the purposes of building the Mishkan. They also learn that the actions we are not allowed to do on Shabbos are related to the types of labor involved in building the Tabernalce, which the Sages delineated as the 39 Categories of Work.
Finally, the Parsha turns to one of the darkest moments in Jewish history. Moshe ascends Mount Sinai to receive the Tablets, and tells the Jews he will be back in forty days. The Jews miscalculate when the forty days ended and, when Moshe did not return, they assume him dead. In a state of panic, confusion, chaos, and fear, the Jews build the golden calf and worship it. Moshe comes down from the mountain, sees the wanton sinning of the people (which had degenerated from idolatry to other sins, such as immorality) and dashes the tablets to the ground.
He then forces the Jews to drink from water containing the ground up golden calf, which causes those who served the calf to die. There is a lengthy dialogue between Ha-shem and Moshe in which Moshe pleads on behalf of the Jewish people that Ha-shem should forgive them, which in the end He does. Moshe moves his tent away from the camp, and proclaims that those who want the word of G-d should come to him.
Soon after, Moses ascends the mountain once again and this time G-d tells him to carve the second set of tablets. G-d also teaches Moshe a special prayer called the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy which will never return empty from before G-d, and tells him to teach it to the people (it is the focal part of our prayers on fast days, and especially the Ne’ila service on Yom Kippur).
G-d renews His covenant with the Jews and, finally, on the first Yom Kippur ever, G-d gives His full forgiveness for the sin of the Golden Calf, and Moshe descends with the second set of tablets. After having spent 120 days on Sinai (40 getting the first tablets, 40 in dialogue to get level one forgiveness, and 40 to get the second tablets and full forgiveness), Moshe came down with such a bright radiance that people couldn’t look at him. He had to make himself a special mask to wear when he was not teaching the Jews. That’s all Folks!!!

Quote of the Week: When I am anxious it is because I’m living in the future. When I am depressed it is because I’m living in the past. ~ Samuel Fremont
Random Fact of the Week: India has fifteen official languages.
Funny Line of the Week: If “con” is the opposite of “pro,” then what is the opposite of progress?

Have a Wondrous Shabbos!
R’ Leiby Burnham

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