My Lawn’s Upsheren

Now that the weather has warmed up a little I feel obligated to mow the lawn so that my grandchildren can play there without stumbling over abandoned vehicles.  In an activity similar to mowing the lawn, I also plan on trimming my Sefirah beard and both of these events that made me think about the fact that one of my grandchildren turned three around this time last year and had his first haircut on Lag B’Omer.

Animals in the wild do not cut their hair or trim their nails. The human being however, engages in quite a bit of grooming – we cut our hair, we shave, trim beards, cut our fingernails, cut our toenails – all things that are not very “natural.”  I believe that one reason for this is because humans are indeed not supposed to be completely natural or part of nature like other creatures. The human being is both a part of nature, but also has a soul and free will, both of which are above nature.  In fact, our goal as humans is not just to be au naturale, to grow wild, but rather to cultivate and shape nature.  We have to have limitations, rules, controls and with all of that, growth and improvement. In our tradition we have mitzvos aseih positive commandments, things that we are obligated to do, which are expressions of love, of reaching out, of the desire to expand, and to make contact with HaKadosh Boruch Hu. We also have prohibitions, mitzvos lo ta’aseh, things that we are not allowed to do, things that are restrictions, which are related to the idea of awe and fear of Hashem.

Rav Shlomo Wolbe, talks about education as involving what he calls zeriyah and binyan. Zeriyah means growth, watering, nurturing and providing warmth and sunlight. Binyan means building, limiting and giving structure. To a certain degree it is the same two ideas. A parent is obligated, not only to nurture the child and let their natural talents and capacities and individuality grow by providing a warm, happy environment conducive to growth. That is not enough, there must also be structure. That means we have to build, brick upon brick, we have to create a structure involving rules, morality and yes, restrictions and restraint. Not everything which is natural do we do and not everything that we have an inclination to do, do we carry out. And so the parent needs to also build structure as well as nurture. (Zriya UBinyan BeChinuch, Rav S. Wolbe)

When Hashem placed Adam and Chava in Gan Eiden, He gave them dual duties, “le’ovda u’leshomra” “to work it and to guard it” (Bereshis 2:15) Ovda means positive growth and nurturing.  Shomra means guarding, and restricting.  Sometimes we have to nurture and encourage our natural inclinations, but sometimes we have to control and restrict our natural inclinations.

It is possible to direct even inclinations that appear to be completely negative and utilize them in appropriate ways. The Rambam says that even someone with a cruel streak can use that in justified warfare, such as defending the Jewish people against their enemies.  (Rambam, Shemoneh Perakim, Ch. 7)  The desire for vengeance may become the basis for the pursuit of justice. (Rav Saadiah Gaon, HaEmunos VehaDeos 10:13)  If the sight of blood doesn’t bother you, then maybe you can become a surgeon, a butcher or a mohel. (Based on Gemora Shabbos 196a).  On the other hand, there are times when the desire must stopped completely and overcome.  The Torah instructs us in how to utilize all our powers appropriately and can be the means to turn something negative into something positive and beautiful.  The Torah is compared to milk and honey (Shir HaShirim 4:11), and these are foods that it is customary to eat on Shavuos. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 494:2, Mishna Berurah Par. 13). Maybe these foods, honey, extracted from a non-kosher animal, the bee; and milk, extracted from a living animal, (prohibited to eat, as eiver min hachai) teach us that even from the negative can come some positive.

When the child turns three, we give him honey (Rokeach  296) and cut his hair (R. Chaim Vital, Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Sefiras HaOmer).  We show him the sweetness of Torah, and also show him, that even though those curls and bangs are really cute and natural, we don’t just let them grow wild.  We direct, channel and trim them, as we do with our desires and nature. My lawn hopefully now looks civilized, my beard will look neat, and my grandson looks like a “big boy” not a toddler, and I am ready for some milk and honey on Shavuos.

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