Parsha Achrei Mos/Parshas Kedoshim
In Parshas Kedoshim we learn about the prohibition against cutting off the peyos (side locks; Lv. 19:27). Throughout the ages, peyos have become one of the primary signs of an observant Jew.
The Talmud (Megillah, chap. 1, "Megillah Nikreis", pg. 12b; Rav Nachman) tells us about Mordechai who was crowned with his "nimus." Many interpretations have been given to understand what "nimus" means. According to the (Ben Ish Chai vol. 1, Derush 3, Shabbos Zachor, pg. 30b), it means that Mordechai was crowned with peyos.
Mordechai wore his thick and long peyos proudly, even though he was part of Achashveirosh's government and sat with other members of parliament regularly. Achashveirosh's entire cabinet could tell that Mordechai was observant because of his peyos.
The Ben Ish Chai adds that there are specifically two peyos because they serve as two witnesses testifying that such a person is a Torah observant Jew.
This might make us wonder why God chose specifically peyos to serve as those witnesses. How do they testify about a person's observance? What are the mechanics behind them?
Moreover, there is an ancient Jewish custom to educate our children in the mitzvah of peyos when they reach the age of three. When a Jewish boy turns three years old, he gets his first haircut, but the peyos are left hanging on the sides of his face (Baer Heitev, Orach Chaim, 531:7, citing the Gan Hamelech).
This ceremony is called an "Upsherin," which is a Yiddish word meaning "cut off." Another word for this practice is "Chalakeh." This is an Arabic word which stems from a verse in which Ya'akov says to Rivka that he cannot impersonate Eisav to receive the blessing from Yitzchak because he was an "Ish chalak" (a smooth skinned man; Gn. 27:11), unlike Eisav who was a hairy fellow. The word "Chalak" is the root of "Chalakeh", perhaps hinting that we want our children to grow up to be like Ya'akov Avinu.
Another question comes to mind. Why do we educate a Jewish boy in peyos specifically when he turns three?
The Arugas Habosem (Rabbi Moshe Greenwald, 1853-1910, Hungary, first Pupa Rebbe, responsa, Orach Chaim, 210) offers one reason why the Upsherin takes place specifically on a boy's third birthday. It is because of a verse that compares man to a tree in the field (Dt. 20:19). Once this association has been made, another few verses from this week's parsha become even clearer.
It says that for the first three years of a fruit tree, we are forbidden to eat from its fruits. In the fourth year of the tree, all its fruits will be sanctified to praise Hashem (Lv. 19:23-24).
The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Kedoshim, #615; Tanchumah Kedoshim, #14) says that these verses are speaking about a Jewish child. Just as it is forbidden to take the fruits of the tree for the first three years, similarly, it is forbidden to cut a boy's hair for the first three years of his life.
When the verse goes on to say that in the fourth year the fruits will be sanctified to God, it means that once the Jewish boy has entered into his fourth year of life, his father must set his son aside for holiness and begin teaching him Torah. This is precisely what we do because it is customary to teach the young boy the Aleph Beis during the Upsherin. Learning the Aleph Beis is the first step of learning Torah.
There are other mitzvos that we educate the young boy in on his third birthday. They are wearing a yarmulke and tzitzis.
The Zerah Kodesh (Kedoshim) proceeds to elucidate the depth behind peyos. His explanation takes us all the way back to Pharaoh. Pharaoh influenced the Jewish people with his impurity. Pharaoh's contamination was to stuff up the people's necks so that it would not serve as a connection between the mind and heart.
The front of the neck has tubes or passageways which connect the brain to the heart. However, the back of the neck, called an "Oref," is closed with no openings. Pharaoh transformed people's necks into complete "Orefs." Not only were the backs of their necks closed, but so were the fronts of their necks.
This separation between mind and heart was a terrible thing which happened to the Jewish people, because it prevented the mind from being in control of the heart. This barrier between mind and heart allowed the heart to wildly run after its lustful passions.
Righteous people are in control of their hearts because they use their minds to govern their hearts (Bereishis Rabba, 34:10). But, Pharaoh created a spiritual block which severed the connection between people's minds and hearts.
Perhaps we could suggest that this is hinted to in Pharaoh's name. When you read the four letters of his name (fey, raish, ayin, hey) backwards, it spells, "Haoref" (the back of the neck). This supports the notion that Pharaoh worked on turning the people's entire necks into "orefs."
Not only did Pharaoh have this effect on the Jewish people, but so did Mitzrayim (Egypt). The root of the word Mitzrayim is "Meitzar" (border). A border functions as something which separates, teaching us that Mitzrayim gave off an energy which facilitated in creating a partition which disconnected the mind from the heart.
Hashem performed many miracles for us which resulted in Yetziyas Mitzrayim (the Exodus from Egypt). By definition, Yetzitas Mitzrayim was about removing the borders and barriers which divided the people's minds from their hearts. In other words, Hashem restored the connection between the people's minds and hearts.
Once this connection was returned, they were capable of using their minds to control the impulses of their hearts. Then they were ready to receive the Torah.
As a matter of fact, When God gave us the Torah, He did not introduce Himself as the One Who created the world, but as the One Who had taken us out of Mitzrayim (Ex. 20:2), because the first step of serving God is the removal of the "meitzarim" (borders) which separate mind and heart.
Unfortunately, shortly after accepting the Torah, the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf. This sin either displayed, or caused, the return of that iron curtain separating mind and heart. Proof of this is Hashem's words to Moshe right after they sinned, "I have seen this people, and behold it is a stiff-necked people" (Ex. 32:9). Hashem meant to say that the people's necks have been stuffed up again, disconnecting their minds from their hearts.
Therefore, to reroute the connection between mind and heart, Hashem commanded us to grow peyos which stem from the temples opposite the brain and flow down to the chest opposite the heart. This was like bypass surgery.
In fact, hair is actually hollow. There are three layers to hair: medulla, cortex, and cuticle. The innermost portion of the hair shaft is called the medulla which consists of hollow spaces of air. The hollow space is hinted to in the Hebrew word for hair which is "sey-ar." When the vowels of this word get changed around, it spells "sha'ar", which means "gate" or "opening."
Although science has not yet determined the exact function of the medulla, Judaism has maintained that it is in order create new passageways from the mind to the heart. Even if peyos do not actually reach the chest, at least they point towards the chest, satisfying this idea.
This is how peyos serve as witnesses of a Torah observant Jew. They represent one whose mind is in control of his hearts impulses, directing all energies towards Avodas Hashem (service to God). If this is what peyos accomplish, they indeed serve as witnesses of a Torah observant Jew.
Perhaps women are not commanded in peyos because they never partook in the sin of the Golden Calf. Women preserved their natural opening in the front of their necks. The expression "Am Kshei Oref" (a stiff-necked people) never applied to women. Therefore, peyos are unnecessary for them.
Before concluding, it is worth repeating that at an Upsherin, we do not only educate the boy in peyos, but we also teach him the Aleph Beis. There is a connection between the two.
The Shvilei Pinchas teaches that only when a boy reaches the age of three can he begin grasping intellectual ideas. This is because there are three forms of intelligence. They are: chochmah, bina, and da'as (wisdom, understanding, and knowledge). During the first three years of life, these three areas of intelligence open up to the child. With the passing of each year, one gate of intelligence opens. Although these three aspects of intelligence may not yet be completely developed, at least they are open.
Once all three components of intelligence have been opened, we begin teaching the boy Torah by teaching him the Aleph Beis. The Aleph Beis are the building blocks of the Torah.
But, it is not enough for the Torah to remain in his brain. Therefore, on the very same day that we teach him the Aleph Beis, we educate him in peyos, communicating to him that the ideas he learns about in his mind must penetrate his heart, refining him as a person.
Practically speaking, we should say the Aleph Beis every single morning. Afterwards, we should offer the following prayer to Hashem, "Dear God, please see to it that all the Torah that I study from the endless combinations of the Aleph Beis, not just stimulate my mind, but penetrate my heart, making me into an even more refined person."
So, may we all be blessed to learn Torah that is as Emes as the Aleph Beis itself. May we also merit to study Toras Chesed which means that the knowledge we absorb in our minds impacts our hearts, directing our limbs to carry out Hashem's will, in order that our appearances and actions testify that we are identifiably Torah observant Yehudim.