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Sunday, 27 April 2014

Sleep is the best medicine

Beitzah 27

Rabbi Cohen, the Rosh Yeshiva in Melbourne, has a unique approach to discipline.  Whenever one of the boys in the yeshiva acts inappropriately, he immediately calls them into his office and says:
“Young man, I’d like to see you back here in my office in exactly 24 hours!”
What’s the reason for this strange ritual?

When an animal gives birth to its firstborn, the owner offers it as a gift to the cohen.  Ordinarily, the cohen must take it to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to be eaten.  If the animal is blemished, however, he may eat it anywhere.  Since there is no incentive for a regular person to cheat, if one presents us with a blemished animal, we trust that the blemish occurred naturally. 

But if a cohen owned an animal that gave birth to a firstborn, we are concerned that the cohen might have intentionally wounded the animal in order to avoid the hassle of taking it to Jerusalem.  And so when he presents his animal to the rabbi to ascertain whether it is sufficiently blemished to disqualify it from the Temple service, the rabbi will interrogate him regarding the origins of the wound. 

Rabbi Ami teaches that while the inspection of the animal and the ruling regarding its blemish must be made before Yom Tov, the interrogation of the cohen may take place on the festival.

A cohen once came to Rava on the eve of the holy day with his blemished animal.  Rava took a look at the animal and asked the man to come back the next day.
“How did this wound occur?” asked Rava.
The man replied that there was barley on one side of a fence and the beast tried to stick its head through the fence to eat the grain.  In the process, it cut its lip.
“Perhaps you placed the barley there on purpose to cause the wound?” inquired the sage.
“Absolutely not!” said the man.  And Rava accepted his word.

Why did Rava make the man come back the next day for the inquiry?  By offering us this additional story, the Talmud is teaching us an important lesson about responding in a cool, calm and collected manner.

Sometimes we do things impetuously and we wake up the next morning and think, ‘Oh my, what did I do?’  

Leaving some decisions till tomorrow is often a healthy way to garner greater clarity and ascertain that you are making the right decision.  Rava figured that really there was no way that he’d be able to tell whether this cohen was telling the truth.  But maybe if the man were to sleep on it, he might just decide to do the right thing, even if he had originally chosen otherwise.  The brief interlude would give him the chance to lie in bed and reflect on his behaviour and make a refreshed decision the next day.

Likewise, Rabbi Cohen understood that if he had disciplined his student immediately, it might have been clouded by emotion.  Instead, he would ask the young man to return 24 hours later, after all emotion on both sides had hopefully subsided.  And at that point, they could have a meaningful conversation about the student’s actions, with much greater clarity and a much better chance to achieve a positive outcome and improved behaviour.

Always make sure that your decisions are not clouded by impure thoughts!  Sometimes those thoughts may be due to anger; other times it may be due to greed or laziness.  The most effective way to gain clarity and make sure that you are making the right decision is often to sleep on it.

You will have the opportunity to ponder the question in bed, unassailed by the noise of the world; the only sound being the voice of your conscience and reason.  And you will awake the next morning refreshed and with a greater sense of clarity to approach your decision in the best way possible.

Sleep on it!  It’s often the best medicine for everything!

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