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The Keys to Life

The Preservation of Personal Abundance - Rabbi Zamir Cohen

Even though the ultimate purpose of the mitzvot is to allow man to prosper in the life of eternity, they are infused with benefits to be enjoyed in this world as well. Some mitzvot possess clearly defined benefits, while the advantages of others are less apparent in this world

The Preservation of Personal Abundance - Rabbi Zamir Cohen

Even though the ultimate purpose of the mitzvot is to allow man to prosper in the life of eternity, they are infused with benefits to be enjoyed in this world as well. Some mitzvot possess clearly defined benefits, while the advantages of others are less apparent in this world. They do operate, however, within the root of kindness that flows down to man.

Spiritual Channels

One of the mitzvot whose purpose is not clearly visible to us is the prohibition of shaving the beard using a blade or any other instrument that rubs against the skin, as it says, “You shall not round off the edge of your scalp and you shall not destroy the edge of your beard.”[1] The first part of the verse deals with rounding off the edge of the scalp. In other words, a man may not completely shave off the area of hair from his temples to the bottom of his ear. He must leave some hair in that area. This prohibition applies to any haircut, whether it is done with a blade, scissors, or any other means.[2]

Shaving the beard is only forbidden when a sharp instrument rubs against the skin and cuts the hair follicles. Cutting the beard with a scissor is permitted even if it appears as though one cut his beard with a blade.
 

The Corners of the Head and Beard

Here are a number of laws from the Code of Jewish Law, the Shulchan Aruch:[3]

The Corners of the Head

·         The head has two corners, right and left. They comprise the part where the bone of the head ends and connects with the jawbone. (The corners of the head start from the end of the bone of the head and the beginning of the jawbone. The exact location can be found by placing the finger below the earlobe while the mouth is open. The indentation that is formed when the lower bone separates from the bone of the head marks the end part of the head. Therefore, the hair that grows on the sides of the head extending downward to the end of the bone of the head is referred to as the “corner of the head.”)

·         A person is liable regardless of whether he shaves the corners only or the entire head.

·         One who rounds the head of a (male) minor is liable as well.

·         The area of the corner is across from the hair of the forehead, until below the ear, the place where the lower jaw extends and juts out. One should not touch the entire width of this area.

The Corners of the Beard

·         A person is not guilty of destroying the corners of his beard unless he uses a razor. However, using scissors is permitted, even if he cuts as close as a razor.

·         A woman who has some facial hair is allowed to remove it.

Kabbalah provides a reason for this mitzvah that highlights its impact on the world. The body, as we know, is the garment of the soul. A man’s beard acts as an encasing for his spiritual channels of abundance (which also influence his environment and those who are dependent on him, as explained above regarding his greatness and his ability to influence). By commanding him not to destroy the hair of his beard, the Creator is teaching him the following lesson: “If you wish to remove the branches of your channels of abundance, you may do so, but do not remove their roots by means of a blade or a razor or any other sharp instrument. By doing so, you are uprooting the spiritual abundance that was originally intended for you.” This leads to sadness, financial difficulties, and deficiencies in areas of life typically influenced by the attribute of kindness. This is, of course, besides the detrimental effect this forbidden act has on the corresponding spiritual worlds.

Do Not Destroy

The Zohar states the following on this important matter:

There are two types of chesed (kindness): one that is internal and one that is external. The inner kindness belongs to atika de’atikin and is included in each corner of the beard. Therefore, a man is not permitted to shave and destroy his beard because of this abundance of kindness. Therefore, the kohen who lives down here in this world was given a special commandment: “They shall not make a bald spot on their heads and they shall not shave an edge of their beard.”[4] Why was he given this unique commandment? Because the kohen comes from the side of kindness, therefore, he must be more careful in this regard than any other person among the Jewish people. As we’ve learned in the Sifra DeTzniuta: Kindness must be increased and proliferated in every possible area; it must never be destroyed or cut off so that it never ceases to exist in the world.[5]

Since every man has five corners on his face, by shaving with a blade he is transgressing a Torah prohibition with each and every corner he shaves, as it says, “Do not destroy the corners of your beard.” By doing so, he is committing five transgressions every time he shaves—exactly like a person who eats five servings of pork. Therefore, a person who wishes to shave his beard must purchase a rabbinically approved electric shaver that has a clear separation between the blades and the skin. The best thing to do is leave a thin layer of facial hair or use scissors to trim the beard. However, some Kabbalistic authorities instruct against the removal of facial hair altogether.uuu

A Point to Ponder

As we know, males in the animal kingdom have received features more beautiful than the females so that they can impress them with their beauty and perpetuate the next generation. For instance, the male lion was endowed with a beautiful mane that gives him a dignified appearance. Contrary to the female, the male peacock is adorned with a fancy tail of feathers, and male birds are more colorful than their female counterparts. This is the case among most land and sea creatures. The human male has also received a majestic feature—the beard. Naturally speaking, a bearded man is regarded as a handsome man. Even though it may be more fashionable these days to shave one’s beard (and even permissible at times), still, he should think about how a lion would look if he shaved off his mane…

 

Reservoirs of Abundance

Another important matter regarding the preservation of a person’s spiritual and material abundance is the protection of his seed. As we know, Jewish law attributes a great deal of importance to this prohibition, as dictated in the Shulchan Aruch:

It is forbidden to spill one’s seed in vain. This is the most severe crime in the Torah.

Those who stimulate themselves by hand and release semen without purpose, not only is this is a serious prohibition, but those who do it will be ostracized.[6]

Additionally, the Rambam offers the following health perspective:

Semen is the strength of the body, its life force and the light of the eyes; the greater the emission of sperm, the greater the damage is to the body, its strength, and the greater the loss is to one’s life span. Old age springs upon him, etc., and he suffers many pains beyond these.[7]

Chinese medicine says the same thing. It argues that releasing excessive semen weakens the jing, the vital energy of the kidneys, and contributes to many other health problems.[8] The logic behind this is clear—that surely the material from which man was created is not a simple secretion like tears or saliva; rather, it contains the main essence of man. This means that wasting it would lead to a deficiency of substances and minerals so essential to the body that he would ultimately lose his vigor and his body would lose its vitality.

The Rambam warns against excessive sexual activity even for a married person, as extreme activity will weaken the body and lead to premature death. Regarding the percentage of those who die as a result of this behavior in relation to everyone else who dies from various ailments, he writes, “The wise of the doctors have said: One of a thousand dies from other illnesses and a thousand from excessive intercourse.”[9]

If this is true when sexual activity is permitted, how much more so when it is forbidden. This is especially true when this habitual practice drives people toward boundless and uninhibited behavior that allows their desires to intensify without ever being quenched, as the Talmud states, “There is a small organ in man. When he starves it, it is satisfied, when he satisfies it, it starves…”[10]

However, the verses in the Torah regard this in a severe way, beyond the damage it can cause to one’s health. The Torah says the following about Er and Onan, the sons of Yehudah who used to destroy their seed: “But Onan knew that the seed would not be his; so it was, that whenever he would consort with his brother’s wife, he would let it go to waste on the ground…what he did was evil in the eyes of Hashem and so He caused him to die.”[11]

This level of harshness stems from the correlation the Torah makes between the act of spilling one’s seed in vain and bringing the Flood to the world, as the Talmud says, “He destroys all of humanity with his discharge.”[12]

However, it says in Tikunei HaZohar that on a mystical level, whoever spills his seed in vain blocks the power of holiness that stems from the Divine Presence from descending to the world and allows for the proliferation and accumulation of the destructive forces of the Sitra Achra. These forces destroy and damage the spiritual and physical realms by using the properties associated with the waters of the Flood.

Here are the words of the Tikunei HaZohar:

“And this is the ‘sinew of righteousness’ (the organ of the covenant)—which represents the ten realms—as its seed is spilled on the land. [“Land” is a metaphor for Noah’s ark during the Flood; it means that the correction is achieved when the seed reaches its proper destination—the one that G-d had intended.] And anyone who spills the seed that is drawn from above to a place outside its proper destination creates a separation in that flow. He has essentially stopped the stream of abundance from the Divine Presence, causing the stream of the Sitra Achra to intensify instead. The stream of the Sitra Achra is the water of the Flood.”[13]

Since these actions damage the world, the person engaging in them would be the first one in harm’s way, as he would lose the original good fortune that was intended for him. This is conveyed in his futile efforts of making a living, in his sadness and depression (as his own happiness and joy transfers over to other people), in losing his spiritual sensitivity, and other matters whose essence casts off his good fortune.

The effect of losing one’s good fortune is alluded to in the acronym “motzi zera levatalah” (spilling seed in vain): mem, zayin, lamed (mazal).

The Zohar additionally states,[14] “Anyone who spills his seed in vain will not merit to see the Divine Presence and is referred to as an evil person,” as it says, “For You are not a G-d who desires wickedness, no evil sojourns with You.”[15]

And what could be worse than being distant from the light of the Creator?

Only when a person conducts himself according to the Divine will, marries a woman, and lives with her in purity, is he performing a mitzvah—even when the possibility of conceiving children does not exist.

As it happens, the mitzvah of guarding the area of circumcision is advantageous to the person in the physical world too. It offers health benefits and promotes the flow of good abundance that he and the world deserves. Even if he habitually transgresses because he is unaware of the severity of this prohibition, once he learns that his actions conflict with the will of G-d, and that he’s committing a grave sin as well as harming the world, it will be easier for him to withstand the test and he’ll certainly have the power to overcome his evil inclination and gain a state of well-being and peacefulness in this world.

Therefore, a person must guard his eyes and thoughts and not tempt himself by looking or thinking about forbidden things. What helps most in this area is to occupy the mind with Torah at any given opportunity. As it says regarding the Torah, “A beloved hind inspiring favor, her breasts will sate you at all times; you will always be intoxicated with her love.”[16] If one does this, he will be calm, content, and joyous in this world too.

 

Notes and Sources

[1] Vayikra 19:27.

[2] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 181:3. The Jews of Yemen and some Ashkenazic Jews who grow their sidelocks as a way of glorifying the mitzvah have based their custom on this law. However, the prohibition applies only to the complete shaving of that area.

[3] Ibid. 181:1–12.

[4] Vayikra 21:5.

[5] Zohar Idra Rabba, Parshat Nasso 133b. In addition (in Idra Rabba 141a) it says, “The corner of the beard is one of the five corners that are dependent on kindness, therefore, the kindness must not be destroyed,” as it says, “Do not destroy the corners of your beard.”

[6] Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 23:1–2.

[7] Rambam, Hilchot De’ot 4:19. The translation is from Chabad.org.

[8] HaRefuah HaSinit, HaSefer HaShalem, p. 62.

[9] Rambam, Hilchot De’ot 4:19.

[10] Sukkah 52b.

[11] Bereishit 38:9–10.

[12] Niddah 13a. See The Coming Revolution, “The Seed and the Flood.”

[13] Tikunei HaZohar 54a.

[14] Zohar, Parshat Emor 9a.

[15] Tehillim 5:5.

[16] Mishlei 5:19.

Adapted from "The Keys to Life" by Rabbi Zamir Cohen