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Monday, 14 May 2018

Judaism is all in the mind

Daf Yomi Zevachim 31

King Ahab and Queen Jezebel were the most corrupt and wicked royal couple in the history of our people.  They spread idolatry throughout the land and promoted false prophets in place of the Divine seers, whom they strove to wipe out.  In one of their worst acts of treachery to Heaven, King Ahab desired a field belonging to a man called Navot.  But he was unwilling to sell.  Ahab was bothered to no end and could not sleep, so great was his jealousy. 
When Jezebel sensed her husband’s anxiety, she concocted a plan to get him what he wanted.  She had Navot falsely accused of blasphemy and put to death.  They then entered his field and claimed it as their own.  Witnessing this terrible act, Hashem declared, “How could you murder and then inherit?” And so he sent the Prophet Eliyahu to curse them, saying, “In the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Navot, so too shall the dogs lick up your blood.”

The Torah states, “And if one shall surely eat [the meat of his offering] on the third day, it is invalid, it shall not be desirous [to Heaven].”
Rabbi Eliezer said: The verse refers to one who had intent to eat the meat on the third day [at the time when he brought the offering].
Rabbi Yanai taught: If one had in mind even that dogs would eat the meat of the offering the next day, it is likewise invalidated.  For it is written, “And the dogs shall eat Jezebel in the portion of Yizreel.”
Rashi explains: We see from this verse that canine consumption is considered ‘eating.’
Tosfos asks: Why does the Gemara not quote the verse in the Torah, concerning the yield of the sabbatical year, that states, “and for your animals and the wild animals, all of the produce shall be to eat”?
The Metzudas David explains Hashem’s words to Eliyahu: How could you murder Navot as an enemy and then have the chutzpah to enter his property to inherit as a beloved friend would?  This contrast of enemy versus friend is the connection between Ahab’ and Jezebel’s heinous act and the prophecy about the dogs.  On the one hand, a dog can be a scary, dangerous animal.  On the other hand, a dog can be man’s best friend. 

Why does the Gemara choose a verse specifically about dogs to demonstrate that animals ‘eat’? Because of the unique relationship that exists between humans and canines.  They could be our worst nightmares or they could be our best friends.  When you first encounter a dog, there’s no way to know.

Likewise, when one brings an offering in the Holy Temple, nobody knows your true intent.  Are you close to Hashem, as the word ‘korban’ (offering, but literally: closeness) implies?  Or are you thinking about the delicious steak meal you’re about to have and that you’ll discard the leftovers to your pets?  The former intent develops your bond with Heaven; the latter distances you from Heaven.  There’s no middle-ground – either your offering is wholehearted and pure, or it’s halfhearted and impure.

And of course, whether you find yourself serving Heaven in the Holy Temple or elsewhere, that’s always the question you must ask yourself.  Am I giving it my all?  Or am I just going through the motions?  Am I enjoying it like the delicious Divine feast that it is?  Or is it nothing more than dogfood to me, tasteless and unappetizing?

Nobody knows your intent but you.  But the good news is that nobody gets to control your intent but you!  You alone decide whether to serve with enthusiasm and vigor.  It’s all in the mind.  So why not give it your very best?  If you’re anyway doing it, you might as well be motivated and excited.  You might as well think of this ritual as the most luscious, delicious feast.  Because, after all, when you serve the Almighty, He invites you to sit next to Him at His Divine table, as it were!

Serve G-d with enthusiasm!  Enjoy the mouthwatering delights of His service!  May you always discover new ways to motivate yourself in the service of our Father in Heaven!