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How to Choose an Orange
In this week’s parsha, we find the Jews journeying in the desert. They have not yet developed a national character—nor do they have a country. But for now they are travelling from one country, Egypt, to another, Canaan, and being warned severely against emulating the national character of either. The Jews are expected to develop a national character from the Torah, and then live by it in their own country, Eretz Yisrael. “After the doings of the land of Egypt, where you lived, you shall not do, and after the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do” (Lev. 18:3).
Rashi asks: why is it necessary to mention Egypt? Why not just say: “Don’t do such-and-such misdeeds”? He gives the answer: Because Egypt was the most immoral, depraved country in the world. Similarly, he asks, why mention Canaan? Because, he answers again, the seven nations inhabiting Canaan were even more immoral and depraved than the Egyptians.
So the Jews had a tremendous job on their hands. Not only were they supposed to rise above the moral level of the Egyptians and the Canaanite nations (which might not be too difficult), but they were supposed to rise above the moral level of EVERY nation on Earth, “to be a light unto the nations”! It seems they were starting off at quite a handicap, considering where they were coming from and where they were going. So if G-d wanted them to become so great, why didn’t he supply them with a more conducive atmosphere to holiness instead of from the bad to the worse?
An answer to this problem can perhaps be found in the cabbalistic concept of “klipa”. Like all cabbalistic concepts, it is rather deep, and I only want to touch on it. Literally, “klipa” means “shell”, such as the shell of a peanut or the peel of an orange. In more mystical terms, it refers to an outer, mundane, covering, which protects something holy within.
The Ari (the famous sixteenth century cabbalist) writes that it is not by chance that oranges with thicker peels usually have sweeter contents. The Ari also makes a connection between dust and klipa. In the Torah we read: “And the L-rd G-d formed man from the dust of the earth” (Gen. 2:7). We can think of the dust as a klipa for the neshama (soul) within. The Ari writes that the purpose of life is to animate the dust. The dust, in turn, protects the neshama.
It is not surprising that it is so difficult to get up in the morning. The neshama having left the body during sleep in its dust form, it then wants to return to the body, but the dust wants to remain in its inanimate state. That is why there is such merit in attending morning minyan—because it is not easy!
After every Shemone Esrei we say: “Let my soul be as dust to everyone.” Why, we may ask, if the purpose of life is to animate the dust, do we want to be like dust to others? The answer, says the Sfas Emes, is that the dust is here functioning to protect the neshama within. (We are praying to G-d that we should not be oversensitive to the insult and ridicule of others. In this respect being as inanimate as dust is of benefit!) This shows the positive role of a klipa: to protect its holy contents.
We can now understand the relationship of the Egyptians and Canaanites to the Jews: as a klipa. In this sense, having them as neighbors could actually aid the Jews in their spiritual progress.
All too often, in our striving for spiritual development, we may sense a hostile environment. If this happens you should think of it as a klipa which protects you. You should remember that the thicker the peel, the sweeter the orange.
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