“And you draw your brother Aharon and his sons with him, near to yourself from among the Benei Yisrael to serve askohanim (priests) to me.” (Shmot 28,1)
LOSS: Its Pain and Its Purpose
Loss is painful. But we can reduce the risk of loss. We reduce the risk of loss when we increase our value and appreciation of what we have. Generally we tend to value what we had more than what we have. We appreciate things and relationships more after we have lost them than while we had them. Loss is often the consequence of taking things for granted; not a punishment, just the way Hashem programs the world. The pain of loss alerts us to the value of something we did not previously appreciate: it is a form of kappara(atonement). We do not need the kappara if we value our treasures to start with. Valuing things and people appropriately in the first place helps us keep them.
Loss, however, has an even more important outcome: it changes the quality of our connections with things and people from shallow physical ones to deeper metaphysical ones. Our relationships with the objects and people around us are often superficial. Distracted by the glitter of veneers or their ugliness, we often fail to connect with others at a soul-level. We see people’s appearances; we see the packaging and branding of things and people, we connect with their images but rarely with their souls. We admire people more for what they have than for who they are. We invest in things more for how they look to others than for what they do for us.
When we lose a person or an object, we are no longer able to connect to their appearance, veneer, image or brand. We have nothing tangible onto which to hold. We have only our connection to their essences, to their souls. This soul-connection can never be taken from us; it can never be lost. Stripped of the barrier of veneer between their souls and ours, we can focus on what counts, and see people and things for their essential beauty and their authentic truths.
This is some of the wisdom that underpins the laws of Aveilut(mourning). These laws are all designed to help the mourner transition from a physical relationship with the departed one, to a spiritual relationship. During the weeks immediately after a death, it is crucial to recreate a metaphysical relationship. If time passes during which all connection, including the mental and metaphysical is severed, it is hard if not impossible to reconnect later. Foundational to the laws of aveilut is the principle of the departed one not being forgotten from the hearts of those that survive. Once their soul presence is felt in the heart, the connection is permanent and secure.
As with all forms of loss, life can be extended when those close to the dying person truly appreciate him or her. Often the students ofTana’im and Amora’im (Talmudic scholars) extol their masters’ virtues precisely and deeply at their deathbeds. They are declaring the degree to which they appreciate and value their teachers’ contributions to them and to society. They do this in the hope that they may avoid the need for loss and extend the life-span of their teachers.
Sacrifices Can be Intangible You
Sometimes it is not only things and people that we lose because we did not value them sufficiently when we had them. Sometimes it can be feelings or status. G-d offered Moshe not only the social and political leadership of the Jewish Nation, He also offered him theKehuna (High-Priesthood). When Moshe, in G-d’s view, demonstrated a diminished appreciation of the value of that offer by repeatedly refusing it at the Burning Bush (Shmot 3-4), G-d withdraws the offer of Kehuna and gives it to his brother, Aharon, instead. Moshe’s loss of the Kehuna was a kappara for insufficiently valuing it in the first place. This loss, this Kappara, restored a deeper connection between himself and the true value of the Kehuna that he had lost.
With this idea, the Or Hachaim explains the odd usage of language in our verse: “And you (ve’atta) draw your brother Aharon and his sons with him, near (hakreiv) to yourself (eilecha) from among theBenei Yisrael to serve as kohanim (priests) to me.”
It is in this verse, the Or Hachaim explains, that Moshe is instructed to implement the sacrifice of kehuna and give it to his brother Aharon. That is why he is told “and you” do it as an action coming from your own heart, an authentic sacrifice (hakreiv from the rootkareiv or korban – sacrifice) of an honor that should have been yours, not as obeying a compelling order from Me. And do it eilechaas atonement for yourself.
The Commercial Value of Avoiding Loss
Kabbalistically, valuing any asset and using it for a higher purpose will help to reduce the risk of its loss. But there are areas in which the application of this formula is not mystical at all; it is entirely rational.
The attraction and retention of talent is key in today’s business struggle for sustainable competitive advantage. Talent loss is rarely a function of money alone. When the conditions are right, most talented employees would reject competitive offers even when they are up to 20% or even 30% higher pay. People like to feel valued and will demonstrate loyalty and attachment to employers who give them that feeling. Avoid the loss of talented employees by truly cherishing their value on a soul level, and demonstrating that to them. Demonstrate it not only by the wages you pay, but also by the respect and dignity you show them and the working conditions you provide for them, irrespective of their seniority.
Value your spouse on a soul level and demonstrate that value to retain his or her love and commitment to you. Invest in your friendships to demonstrate their value to you, and you will not lose them. Show your customers how you value them as people (not just their money!), and you will keep them too.
Simulate Loss to Accentuate Value
A helpful exercise is to spend a moment simulating the loss of someone or of a relationship dear to you. In a quiet space and time where and when you will not be interrupted, close your eyes and relax your mind with slow, deep breathing. Then imagine the loss of that person or relationship, and observe your feelings. Notice sensations in your body and notice your emotions and mood. Stay in that uncomfortable space for some time and feel it until it hurts. Then, open your eyes. And before you do anything else: act! Call that person or give them a hug or embrace. Write them a card or a letter (not an email!), buy them a gift. Feel your connection to their souls and tell them how important they are in your life. And notice the deepening of your feelings.
Had Moshe demonstrated more value for Kehuna, he would not have lost it. We often cause our own losses. We can avoid them.