Posted on Thursday, May 10th, 2012
Emor - Mind control, or life boat? In Emor, we are told about the Kohanim, the priests who served in the Mishkan. They were not allowed to come in contact with a dead body except for immediate family. The reason given is that we need the Kohanim to maintain their faith, and contact with death can cause them to doubt.
Is this mind control? What about Rebbe Nachman saying, "It is a big mitzvah to be happy always"? Is this telling us there are certain thoughts and feelings that we simply shouldn't have?
There are other related questions: what about the idea of staying positive all the time?
These are not simple questions. One approach refers back to Rebbe Nachman. He writes in Torah 49 that good thoughts are the ones that keep us open to contact and relationship, and bad thoughts are the ones that close us down. I think this approach is very useful. Happiness, throughout Rebbe Nachman's writings, refers to openness. It is not so much a content as a capacity.
Within happiness/openness, there is no limit to what kind of material can be addressed. I can be open and happy and address difficult issues, and remain open and happy. To stay happy, we need to know our capacities and manage them. If we need to get happy in order to deal with a day at the office, we might need to dance around and tell ourselves jokes. But if we are feeling open, we can proceed without such antics.
Sound relationships can remain open regardless of content. They can address any and every issue. There is no need to "remain positive" if it means only address positive things or put a positive spin on everything. This runs directly against the principles of Emotional Intelligence, which require true mirroring of the emotions that are happening. Closing off reality because it seems negative - or, better labeled "difficult" accomplishes the opposite, implying that we cannot truly be open about what is happening.
So why shouldn't the Kohanim be allowed to engage with death? I believe they are intentionally not meant to reflect what our experience is. As the parsha describes they are special and held to a different standard. They model a certain value but in a way that is not meant to be mirrored by us. They show us an ideal, at the least: at certain points, we need to avoid certain encounters in order to stay connected.
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