D'vrei Torah by Rabbi Ellie Shemtov
You don’t think your way into a new kind of living. You live your way into a new kind of thinking
When it comes to addictions, it isn’t enough to turn away from drinking and drugs. Without working on the underlying issues that triggered this behavior, there is a good chance a person in recovery will relapse. According to choice theory developed in 1996 by psychologist William Glasser, human beings have direct control over the acting and thinking components of their behavior. For example, a person in recovery can choose to behave according to how they are feeling in the moment or they can choose to behave counter to what their mood might impel them to do. They can choose to do what they want to do or they can choose to do what they need to do.
The second of this week’s double Torah portion Tazria/Metzora, introduces the notion of a ritual for purifying and reintegrating a metzora, someone recovering from tzara'at, from a skin disease. Before conducting the ritual, the priest would visit the metzora in order to verify whether he or she had recovered. A ritual sacrifice was then performed after which the individual was allowed to re-enter the camp.
The Talmud lists seven reasons why someone might be afflicted with tzara’at, one of which is gossip. This understanding also comes from the Book of Numbers, when Miriam is afflicted with tzara’at after she and her brother Aaron gossip about Moses’ wife Tzipporah. A Midrash even connects the word metzora with the phrase motzi shem ra, someone guilty of slander or libel.
According to the Ma’ayan Ha-Hokhmah, Rabbi Abraham Kalmanakes, when the evil urge tempts you to sin, God’s expectation is for you to basically apply choice theory and behave in a way counter to what your mood might impel you to do. God expects you to perform the mitzvah that is the opposite of the sin. If for instance gossip is what caused one to become a metzora it isn’t enough to just stop gossiping. It isn’t enough to merely avoid gossiping. It is necessary to take a positive action and show for example, love to the person about whom one gossiped.
This past year we have all gotten very creative in how we approach each passing day. Whether we distract ourselves with TV, movies, jigsaw puzzles, house cleaning, exercise, or zoom events, each of us in our own unique way, has adjusted, adapted, or simply put up with this new way of living. Like the recovering alcoholic who chooses to do what they need to do and not what they want to do; or the metzora who stops gossiping and shows love to the person they harmed, we have also learned not to think our way into a new kind of living, but instead, live our way into a new kind of thinking.