Leviticus 14:1 – 15:33
The Liberating Power of Generosity
This week marks the beginning of our Passover preparation. This spring cleaning is both an outer process of emptying our homes of the forbiddenchametz (product made of leavened wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt and their derivatives) and an inner process of emptying ourselves from our own leavened ego, our own puffed-up-ness. The evening before the first night of Passover, we are to symbolically inspect the house by candle light and, with feather in hand, remove any leftover chametz. This ritual is akin to the inspection by the High Priest of a house afflicted by tzaraat, a mysterious plague, in this week’s Torah portion.
Tzaraat is usually translated as “leprosy,” as it is first encountered in Torah as a skin affliction. But, here, it applies to the walls of a house as well. This additional meaning makes the term challenging to accurately translate. A biblical lexicon states that the root of the word, tzara, is synonymous to “prostrate” or “humble oneself.” Perhaps this affliction is meant to cause one to humble oneself, to diminish the puffed-up-ness of one’s ego.
Tzaraat might, therefore, be an outer symptom of a spiritual imbalance where one is barricaded behind the walls of his/her own ego, the skin of his/her separate sense of identity; where one’s heart is closed-off. In our tradition we define that state of imbalance as Mitzrayim (usually translated as Egypt,) from the root of the word meaning “narrow” or “constricted.” It is from this Mitzrayim, this constricted consciousness, that one is to break free at the time of Passover. Then, we are to study the story where our inner Moses is to liberate us from the hardened heart of our inner Pharaoh. In the Exodus narrative, what initially closes Pharaoh’s heart is fear; the fear that the Hebrews were becoming too mighty a people, a threat to his power and to the limited resources of his kingdom. The ego tends to hold this kind of scarcity consciousness whereby it is compelled to aggressively pursue getting the largest slice of the so-perceived ever-shrinking finite pie, and to ensure its domination over others in order to achieve its goal.
And so, our rabbis teach, a counter measure to the closed-ness of the fearful heart of our inner Pharoah is to cultivate the character trait that stands in opposition to it. Rather than fighting or trying to fix our inner Pharoah—which would only strengthen it—the spiritual process, they say, is to build-up our inner Moses. Cultivating the middah, the value of generosity within us serves this purpose. In this case, the rabbis prescribe the practice of nedivut halev, generosity of the heart. They teach that the very act of giving has, in fact, an impact on our hearts. Giving, as an ongoing repetitive practice, leaves its mark on our psyche. It transforms us time after time, and with each act of giving we become more charitable, more compassionate, more merciful and more loving beings. It doesn’t matter if we give of our money, our time, our talent or of all three; we should give often and consistently.
Practicing the midah of generosity creates a pathway out of our mitzrayimand a life dominated by fear, toward a life rooted in love and openheartedness; a transformative pathway of self-liberation.