Jewish Soul Journey

ONEG OR NEGA – THE EYE OF THE STORY

                                   

          Lashon Hakodesh is a holy tongue
with profound meaning.  There is a deep
connection between words that share the same letters even if, on the surface,
the words may appear to be entirely dissimilar. For example, let us examine the
words, oneg and nega.  Oneg
represents a form of spiritual perfection that is expressed as pleasure.
Interestingly enough it is spelled with same three letters as the word nega
– the ultimate antonym of oneg.  Nega
refers to the symptom of the lowest form of spiritual corruption – tzara’as,
which was a spiritual/physical affliction which required its sufferers to be
banished from the camp of Israel. 

                Oneg and nega,
joy and sorrow, undergo surprising transmutations within the diagnosis and
treatment of tzara’as.  The
difference between oneg and nega lies in the position of the
letter ayin, whose migration from the front of the word to the back,
spells the difference between joy and suffering.  It is no coincidence that the ayin is
not only a letter but also is a word that describes our organ of sight – the
eye.  The Torah admonishes us not to
follow our eyes because they can mislead us. 
In the diagnosis of tzara’as, as in our own introspective
techniques, it is only true spiritually guided vision that is reliable.

            The kohen, who is imbued
with spiritual sight, is the only one who could look at a blemished area and
determine whether it was pure or contaminated. 
Thus, when the Torah speaks about a change in the colors of blemished
garments, and dictates which change indicates that purification is taking
place, the word “eino” is used to describe the color.  This word too is composed of the same root
letters as is the word for eye.   Even
the inexperienced will notice that it is this same ayin, whose position
in the words oneg and nega makes the difference between joy and
sorrow that now is the herald of a change of color – a change of spirit.

            The Ramban taught us that the
afflictions of tzara’as are miraculous in that they never occur
naturally. When we lived in Eretz Israel and conducted ourselves
according to Hashem’s wishes, there was always a radiant shine of holiness upon
us. As individuals began to sin, this physical shine disappeared and the tzara’as
began to show in their homes, their garments and on their persons.

               The ayin of oneg and nega reflects
the All Seeing Eye before Whom all conduct and all motivation is transparent
and all spiritual blemishes, visible.  In
this setting, only the acknowledgment of error in attitude and actions begins
the cleansing process.

                  The diagnosis and treatment
of tzara’as when it appears on a Jew is illustrative of this point.   When the tzara’as covered the entire
portion of the sufferer’s skin – the affliction was declared to be pure and the
person was not isolated. However, when it began healing and the healthy skin
appeared on it, that was when the person was declared to be a metzora
and the quarantine, the declaration of contamination and the entire process of
purification would begin (Vayikra 13:14-15).

    
         This seeming
contradiction is explained by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch.  He points out that the purpose of the
quarantine is to shock the metzora into recognizing his sinfulness and
doing teshuva.  However, teshuva
is only possible when there is some “healthy” submissiveness to the will of
Hashem.   When the moral corruption is so
complete that submissiveness is totally lacking, then quarantine will not help
the person move toward change and there is no point in isolating him.  He or she is beyond redemption.  

                Nonetheless, this individual is
not completely abandoned but is chastised in a different but equally effective
manner. Although actually afflicted with tzara’as, unlike his fellow
sufferers, he is ignored.  He may thereby
experience a terrible spiritual/emotional isolation and a sense of being cut
off because there is no social structure in place to help him towards
confession and teshuva.  However,
if and when this silent admonition prompts him to do teshuva, some
healthy skin will appear as evidence of this change of heart and then isolation
will help him towards the complete teshuva process.    

               Tzara’as classically was
a punishment for the sin of lashon hara which is the tool of the
skeptic.  The skeptic moves from oneg
to a self-imposed state of nega by casting a baleful eye upon those
around him or her.   Consequently, to
reverse that process, the individual must change his or her way of seeing the
world which can be achieved by judging the person or situation in a favorable
light.

                     The blessing of experiencing oneg
is a gift that comes through living humbly and righteously realizing that life
is an opportunity for proper service in avodas Hashem at all stages,
levels and experiences. Every event in life has deep meaning and positive
purpose even if we cannot immediately see its relevance or value. The lens of
the Torah transforms negative perceptions into positive outlooks.  When we view life through this lens, we are
able to see all of creation as emanating from the Divine will. From this
perspective we can then merit the true bliss of oneg.

All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia

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