This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas
Vol. 23 No. 27
Chasia bas Alecsander
The Balm of Life
The Medrash, quoting Rebbi Alexandri, relates the story of a peddler who was making his rounds in the vicinity of Tzipori. When he announced 'Who wants to buy the balm of life?' all the people surged forward. When Rebbi Yanai heard the commotion and discovered what it was all about, he called the peddler across and asked him for a dose. 'No', said the latter, 'You don't need it; not you and not the likes of you!', and he showed him the Pasuk in Tehilim (34) "Who is the man who wants life?" And David ha'Melech's answer "Guard your tongue from evil and do good!" To which Rebbi Yanei added the Pasuk in Mishlei (21)"He who guards his mouth and his tongue guards himself from all the troubles of his soul".
'All my life', he concluded, 'I have read this Pasuk, but I never realized how simple it was until this peddler (who some say was none other than R. Alexandri himself) came and taught me "Who is the man who wants life?" '.
Therefore Moshe warns Yisrael "This shall be the law of the Metzora" - an acronym of 'Motzi ra' (emits evil) - the results of which the Torah presents in Parshas Tazri'a.
The question arises, what exactly did Rebbi Yanai learn from the peddler that is not inherent in the Pasuk in Tehilim?
The Alshich points out that in fact the peddler actually took his cue from David ha'Melech, from whom he learned that it is not a question of telling people the evils of Lashon ha'Ra, but rather of how one puts it across. Note how, like Rebbi Alexandri, David began his statement in the third person ("Who is the man …"), and ended it in the second person ("Guard your tongue"). This indicates that, like Rebbi Alexandri, David made his announcement, and when an interested party came to enquire, he retorted (like Rebbi Alexandri responded to Rebbi Yanai) "Guard your tongue … !"
Despite the obligation to rebuke and to give mussar, telling a person not to speak lashon ha'ra, adding that it is equivalent to the three cardinal sins combined, will not impress the listener. He knows it all already, because he has heard it so many times. To get through to him a different approach is needed. To quote a well-known clich?, 'It is not what one says, but the way one says it'. And it is that different approach that David ha'Melech and Rebbi Alexandri employed. And they used a two-fold strategy to convey their message in a way that was not only palatable, but attractive. Firstly, instead of issuing a negative warning - what not to do because it is evil and brings death on the perpetrator, they told the people what they should do because it gives life - and who doesn't want to hear about a life-giving balm? And secondly, like Nasan ha'Navi, who got David ha'Melech involved to the point that he pronounced his own guilt and punishment, they got the listener involved - to discover what that balm consisted of. In that way, not only was there no room for the recipient to be offended (in the way that direct mussar often tends to do), but it left him eager to apply the balm once he found out what it was.
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The Month of Nisan
"This month shall be for you (lochem) the head of the months. It is for you the first of the months of the year" (Sh'mos 12:2)
From here Chazal learn that, although the year begins in Tishri, on Rosh Hashanah - in keeping with the opinion of Rebbi Eliezer, who holds that the world was created in Tishri, the list of months begins with Nisan - the month we left Egypt.
This concept is hinted in the word "lochem", whose letters also spell 'Melech' - king, inasmuch as Nisan is the king of the months.
It also has the same Gematriyah as 'ho'Elokim'. This is because the moment Yisrael relinquished their belief in idolatry, on the tenth of Nisan, when they tied the Pascal lamb to their bed-posts, they adopted Hashem as their G-d, and became His chosen nation. As the Medrash, commenting on the Pasuk (Ibid. 21) "Draw, and take for yourselves sheep and Shecht the Pesach", explain - 'Withdraw from Avodah Zarah (the lamb that the Egyptians worshipped) and cleave to the (lamb of) Mitzvah" - the first Mitzvah that the people were commanded by Hashem.
And just as Nisan bears the title 'the king of the months, it also bears the title 'the father of the months', as is hinted in the Pasuk in the same Parshah (13:4) "Today you are leaving, in the month of spring" (be'chodesh ho'oviv) - "ha'Aviv" is the acronym of 'av le'Yud-Beis' (the father of the twelve months). It transpires that the month of Nisan is both the father and the king of the months, in the same way as we refer to the G-d into whose realm we entered at that time 'Our father, our King'.
Incidentally, the Pasuk is teaching us that Pesach must always fall in the spring, to remind us of G-d's kindness in redeeming us in the most pleasant of the four seasons, as well as being the season with which the year's cycle begins.
The Ramban elaborates on the above idea. He explains that we begin counting the months from Nisan in order to commemorate the redemption and the miracles connected with it. Much in the same way, he explains, as the days of the week are named after Shabbos - 'the first day (of Shabbos), the second day, and so on - in honour of the Shabbos. By the same token, we demonstrate the importance to Nisan and the miracles connected to it, by naming the months after it - the first month (Nisan), the second month (Iyar). It is really a branch of the Mitzvah to remember the Exodus - daily (in brief) and annually (in detail).
Interestingly, it was to commemorate the miracles of Purim and the Exodus from Bavel, that took place two years later, says the Ramban, that we began calling the months by name. And this was because the names of the months were Persian names, as we see in Megilas Esther where most of them appear.
The Medrash writes that, when G-d chose Ya'akov and his sons as His chosen nation, He designated the month of Nisan as the month of redemption. On it, they would be redeemed from Egypt and on it they would be redeemed from all future exiles, as the Mishnah writes, quoting a Pasuk in Michah 7 "Like the day that you left Egypt, I will show you wonders".
On the fifteenth of Nisan, the decree of both exile and redemption were decreed to take place, when G-d spoke to Avraham at the B'ris bein ha'Besarim. On the same date the angels informed Avraham of the birth of Yitzchak and on it, one year later, he was born - and thirty-seven years later, the Akeidah took place (In the opinion of the P'sikta, it took place on Rosh Hashanah). It was also on the fifteenth of Nisan that Avraham pursued the four kings and vanquished them. Also on that date, Ya'akov received the B'rachos.
On the fifteenth of Nisan, exactly one year before the Exodus from Egypt took place, G-d spoke to Moshe at the Burning Bush and instructed him to redeem Yisrael. On Rosh Chodesh Nisan, two weeks before the Exodus, G-d told Moshe Parshas ha'Chodesh; the same day of the following year, the Mishkan was finally erected, the following day on the second of Nisan Elazar ha'Kohen burned the first Parah Adumah, on the tenth of Nisan of the thirty-ninth year in the desert, Miriam died. Exactly one year later, Yisrael crossed the Yarden.
The comparison between Nisan and Tishri is further enhanced by the Pasuk in the haftarah (3:6) "Return to Me and I will return to you" - which is reminiscent of the Pasuk in Shir Hashirim " I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me", which the commentaries point out is the acronym of Ellul, the prelude to the Teshuvah process that will end with the Aseres Y'mei Teshuvah.
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