emunah, tefillah, a little mussar, and a shmeck of geula

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Where are You Going?

In EmunahSpeak: The Clarity of Context, we said that whatever you see your neighbor do you also did once upon a time or may well do tomorrow with but a slight variation on the theme, not enough to take it out of whatever aveira was the touchstone between your two neshamos at different points in time.

And then we asked:  So why is it that there is a Grand Canyon disconnect between the understanding with which you view your actions and the jaundiced eye that you cast upon the missteps of your friend, sufficient to ignite within you a desire to talk about it?

The thrust of the answer was that while we are well aware of all of the circumstances surrounding our failures we are quite often clueless as to the back story attending the other guy's lapse, with the result being as was stated above.

EmunahSpeak: The Clarity of Context addressed the why of an individual's actions to which we are usually not privy.

But there is also the where, as in where someone is holding, which focuses on one's persona as opposed to one's actions, and while we shouldn't be judging anyone for any reason, most of us tend to fall into the trap of appearances.

In the world of appearances, those who have racked up great accomplishments (i.e. knowledge of all of Shas Bavli, the publication of acclaimed seforim etc.) are presumed to be holding in a very good place whereas those who, at first glance, don't show anything are not.

Rav Yerucham Levovitz z"l comes to tell us that it is not so.

He asks why the twelve spies that Moshe sent out to spy the land, who were all great tzadikim, spiritually crash landed whereas Rachav, who by some accounts was a biblical version of a Tel Aviv street walker, reached a nose bleed height of spiritual development.

Rav Yerucham answers that it all depends on where one's ruchniyas GPS takes him.  If one is going south, even imperceptibly, fuggetaboutit, because we're going eyeball to eyeball with a potential spiritual freefall. 

So much for the spies.

And the flip side is no less true.  If one (Rachav et al.) is heading north in growth mode, even if it is sub-atomic progress that's invisible to the naked eye, it's skies the limit as far as future potential is concerned.

In the world of ruchniyas there is no neutral space where one can run in place or tread water.  It's either up or down and prior accomplishments or baggage don't come along for the ride.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Sinning Against Yourself

As Rabbi Daniel Travis tells it, a not yet frum cab driver that he knows on  first name basis complained to him that he often drives seminary girls and teachers in the various seminaries, and all too often the ride is laced with loshon hora from pick up to drop off.

That it is an ongoing Chillul Hashem there's nothing to talk, but what motivates otherwise presumably very religious and respectable people to carry on this way?  Rabbi Travis says that they have no nachas ruach  or peace of mind until they have spoken their loshon hora.

Very nice, but why is this?

He tells us in the name of the Gra (the Vilna Gaon) that anytime a person does something it creates a ruach.  In the same vein, Rabbi Chaim Volozhin states in Avos that every time you do a mitzvah/aveira you create your Olam Haba/Gehenom.  As you do the mitzvah/aveira it pushes you to do more of the same according to the principle of mitzva gorreres mitzva (one mitzva leads to another mitzva) and aveira gorreres aveira.

The bigger the aveira, the bigger the ruach that is created and consequently, the bigger the taiva (desire) for that aveira. 

Rabbi Travis informs us that the biggest mitzvah a person can possibly involve himself with is Limud HaTorah with the flip side being letzones, devarim b'tailm, and loshon hora which are the opposite from Torah.   And the reason that people constantly repeat loshon hora and get great satisfaction from it is because the ruach that people initially create with their loshon hora gives them a geshmack in coming back for seconds, thirds etc., which for some unfortunates translate into and endless loop.

So at the end of the day it comes out that it's an addiction of sorts because the more a  person speaks loshon hora the more he feels pushed to repeat the performance.  And it's an addiction that one is liable for by virtue of putting himself in such a position to begin with.

Given what we have put forth it should be obvious why the basic principle of loshon hora (or the first line of defense, as it were) is not restraint, for how can we talk about restraint when a person's urge to speak loshon hora is in a certain sense out of control?

The emes is that the numero uno foundation of loshon hora is self-respect.  It's below us to dwell on the negative and you do so by speaking derogatorily about a fellow Jew.

It's a sin against yourself.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Greatest Nes

Anyone who knows anything about Jewish prayer is well aware of the fact that Ashrei (Psalm 145) is recited thrice daily.  It is also no secret that Ashrei follows the order of the Aleph/Beis, and accordingly it is a snapshot of teva (nature).  In the same way that Ashrei moves from Alepf to Taf in a linear path teva (seemingly) moves through its established cycles.  

Or so we think, but the Meshech Chochma informs us otherwise.

Teva is actually an accumulation of nes after nes all of which tip toes under our collective radar because it happens all of the time and to our way of looking at things it just seems to be the way things are.

Rav Dessler puts it this way:

The only difference between nes and teva is the frequency of occurrence. 

By us, caterpillars that morph into butterflies every year are a wonderful manifestation of teva, (isn't nature wonderful?!), whereas Ticheyas Hameisim (the rising of the dead) which will at the end of times is a nes.

Teva is the chosen means by which Hashem controls the world and the irony is that what most people think is the most mundane natural activity that could be considered to be the poster boy for teva is in actually the greatest nes.

The Meshech Chachma tells us that the greatest wonder in the world, which is much greater than any nes, is the inyan (subject) of parnossa (making a living).

Hashem created a world that is self supporting for every creation in it, and within the framework of trillions upon trillions of created things living off each other, Hashem supplies parnossa for the whole of Creation.

This is the bottom line of Ashrei.  It's to internalize that the Hashem rules over the teva from Aleph to Taf.  And that if within the sleight of Hand that we call teva, a person will focus on how Hashem created a world which contains parnossa for everyone, this is the greatest Kovod Shomayim ( honor to Heaven) that can be shown.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Whose Pain Are We Talking About Anyway?

It goes something like this:

When we are holding by the bakoshas (the middle blessings) in the Shemoneh Esrei, by definition we are in asking mode, as in please give us wisdom, health, parnossa etc., in addition to forgive us, make nice vis à vis our personal problems, hear our prayers and seven other requests.

We make these petitions because it pains us to be without a livelihood or to endure our present exile.  And not only are we permitted to do so, we are ordered to.  Praying is not optional.  The halacha is that we must petition Hashem three times a day (for men at least) by means of the Shemoneh Esrei with all of the intellectual and emotional energy that we can marshal.

That's what is expected of us and that's what most of us attempt to do, in theory at least.  At room temperature, the story on the ground, as everyone knows, is somewhat different.  We do the asking to be sure, but personal exceptions notwithstanding, more often than not our laundry list recitals don't quite hack it pain wise.

But truth be told, even if we did it right and put forth our requests with the requisite kavanah it would still be only second best.

So what's numero uno as to what our kavanah should be?

We should be focused on Hashem's pain, not ours, but Chazal well understood that if we couldn't get it together as to our own problems it was pointless to make it a requirement to focus on the pain that Hashem endures.

Meanwhile, it is well known that on Rosh Hashana we should have in mind with our tefillos to crown Hashem King of the whole world.

Rabbi Avraham Tzvi Schwartz lets us hear in the name of the Nefesh HaChaim that this should be our mindset every day.  When a person davens he should have kavanah to crown Hashem King of the world.  And, moreover, we should be davening for Hashem's needs. 


He tells us that even when you are davening for your own needs that's also Hashem's needs because it helps remove the chilul Hashem that attaches to us if we don't have.

Chilul Hashem?

You're davening to be cured of some ailment, to have food on the table or for something else that you lack?  It's a chilul Hashem for G-d's people to be sick or to lack anything in this world. 

Our pain is Hashem's pain. 

Yes, we're supposed to ask for our needs but what should really pain us is the pain that Hashem feels because they have not been met.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

May You Be A Meilitz Yosher

That’s usually the parting line made by each maspid (speaker) in reference to the deceased at his funeral.

He’s only gone a few hours and we’re asking favors already.

And what are we asking anyway?

Reduced to its lowest common denominator, we are essentially putting in a bid for proteksia.  The nifter (the deceased) has (hopefully) already gone to a better place and we are asking him to put in a word for us by whatever means such things are effectuated in Gan Eden.

The higher one’s place in Gan Eden the more influence one is presumed to have.  And the more presumed influence the better placed one is to shake things up a bit.  That explains why people flock to the kever of the Baba Sali to pray as opposed to making the trek to the gravesite of their uncle Morris, whose only distinction in life was that he drove a car for forty years without ever getting a ticket.

So what are we doing on our end to move our loved ones out if their cubicle so to speak, to a corner office from where they might be able to exert a little more influence?

Sad to say, not all that much. 

The few dollars that we give or the learning that we do in the name of the nifter is a little something in the right direction that will no doubt serve to some extent to upgrade his accommodations in the Gan Eden.  A nice touch this, but nice touches are not the stuff that serious elevation is made of.  As in everything else, here too Hashem operates in midda keneged midda (measure for measure) mode.

Want to expand a loved one’s horizons in the Olam HaNeshmos?  Then you have to expand yours in inyanai ruchniyas while you are still in this world.

Why so?

Simply put, when you seriously grow in various aspects of your avodas Hashem, be it in deed or thought, you’re a different you, and as a consequence you occupy a different place in this world.  And if you are a different you with a different place in this world then you have made the most compelling argument possible for the one you are asking to be a meilitz yosher to be placed in a position where he is better situated to actually be one.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Chesed Without Limits

How much is a mitzvah worth?

Could a $10,000,000 induce you to refrain from eating matzah on Pesach? $100,000,000?  $1,000,000,000?  How about tefillin where the downside of non-performance is much more pareve?

While none of us would give a thought to taking the money let alone actually taking a pass on the observance of the mitzvah, our mitzvah performance, unfortunately, doesn’t reflect this.  

Query: When was the last time you put on tefillin or ate a piece of matzah as if it was a $10,000,000 experience?  Better yet, when was the first time?

And if this is the situation with mitzvahs that have clearly defined halachos, what can be said about chesed whose halachos are subjectively spiced up to a certain extent by context?

The chesed that most of us do tends to be circumscribed by the fact that we are invested in various aspects of this world.  For some it’s material things.  For others it’s people or maybe events.  And for yet others there is the concept of time, in that there are times when we deem doing a certain chesed to be inconvenient.  The chesed performed by the majority is to one degree or another compromised by all of these factors and more.

Enter Aryeh Kupinsky Hy”d, one of the kedoshim that was murdered in Har Nof.

As is well known by now, all of the kedoshim were over the top with anything to do with chesed.  And with that exalted collective madreiga as a baseline Aryeh Kupinsky stood out, not because he was more attuned to chesed than the others but rather because of the nature of its performance was of necessity public.  And because it was public we know more of what he did.
Rabbi Daniel Travis fills us in on the details.  

People ask, he says, how Reb Aryeh could have done so much chesed.  He was thinking about people all of the time to such an extent that if he thought about himself at all it was no more than a random thought.

Rabbi Travis tells us that this is a bad question. We only ask it because we don’t understand what chesed is supposed to be.  If we really had a feel of the essence of the mitzvah we would realize that Reb Aryeh was the norm, not some ├╝bermench who took chesed beyond its outer limits.

The question is on us.

Rather than ask: how did he do it, the question should be: why are we not like that.

Rabbi Travis lets us hear that a Yid has to do chesed without limits, as in whatever you can do, whatever is possible.  This was the madreiga of the Avos and it was because of his seeking to do chesed without limits that Avraham Avenu placed four doors in his tent.  He didn’t want any barriers between himself and an opportunity to do chesed.

If Hashem puts the opportunity to do a chesed in your hand, hold your fingers tight together so that none of it will slip through.  Take it to the max rather than be satisfied with the minimum requirement.  If you’re giving a ride, give it door to door.

Daniel Travis explains that Aryeh Kupinsky was a complete giver who always went for the max.  He was no less a tenacious a giver as some people are takers.

And then there was the freezer gemach which entailed schlepping heavy freezers all over Har Nof so that those who couldn’t afford the exorbitant catering prices would be able to bake well in advance of their simchas.

A person with a limited capacity cannot even comprehend the concept of a freezer gemach.  Rabbi Travis points out that he may start a chair or money gemach.  While they are important they are also small and cheap.  Freezers are big and expensive.

If one does chesed without limits it’s not a problem.

And what exactly is chesed without limits as per Rabbi Travis?

It’s the willingness to do anything for anyone at anytime.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

It’s All About One

In EmunahSpeak: Kol Isha we pointed out that:

It’s no less a nes for a top Brisker bochur, whose father happens to have more money than Bill Gates, to marry a Bais Yaakov princess charming than for a thirty-five year old dirt poor adopted girl in a wheel chair from twice divorced parents to marry a thirty-six year old Talmud Chochim who amazingly seemed to appear out of nowhere.  It’s all one and the same. 

Nissim only come in one size.  They're not easier nor are they harder.  They just are.

So how exactly does one caress the bottom line of a nes anyway? 

For this particular nes….(the nes of shidduchim) we should be davening, and that’s pretty much all we should be doing.  After all, if it's all about nissim then it’s all about davening.  How else should one throw the Divine Presence into gear?

Unfortunately, nothing seems to have changed since Kol Isha was posted over three years ago.  If anything the shidduch situation has taken a turn for the worse in at least some quarters.

Something has to be done here but we’re already davening, so what exactly are we supposed to do for an encore?

We can personalize it.

In EmunnahSpeak: So Say Something Already! we said:

We have the power to talk to Hashem like a person talks to his fellow because the real idea of prayer is communication.  And in the context of that dialogue, we attempt to push the buttons to which everything in the world is connected.  The good news is that no sincere prayer goes unanswered.  That’s heads.  Tails is that sometimes the answer is no….

Moreover, even for those who savor the yes of instant gratification as opposed to a no that may reflect a spiritual or even physical long term benefit, not only does no sincere prayer go unanswered, it doesn’t go wasted either.

You prayed for a loved one’s recovery from an illness, and he died?

If you were sincere, then some other person with an illness benefited because every single wish that passes your lips, infused with the purity of your thought, is acted upon without exception.

This is the method by which Hashem runs His world, and it works in both directions because we all have the potential of benefiting from a prayer that was said for someone else.

It’s not enough to say Tehillim and daven for the hundred names on your list.  We have to take it a step further.

Take one name, preferably of a girl (or a boy) you don’t even know (but at least know where the name came from so that you can be informed if and when this person gets married), but in any case at least not someone close to you, and daven for a shidduch for that person.

But don’t stop there.

In addition to including that name on your Tehillim and davening list you should say a specific number of Tehillim every day, with this person in mind, and then ask Hashem to bring a Torahdike shidduch for her (him) at the right time.  It is also important to either put some money in the pushka just before or after asking Hashem to bring this individual a shidduch or donate a lump sum (as much as you can afford) when you first take this on. 

I personally opted for the lump.  For those who can afford $1200, a very big segula would be to sponsor a baby through the Efrat organization in Eretz Yisroel which uses the funds to induce expectant mothers not to abort their fetuses.  For those with the means and madraiga to do such a thing for a stranger, albeit a fellow Jew, the kavana should be that just as you are enabling a Jewish baby to be brought into this world, the person you are davening for should also be zoche to bring Jewish babies into the world.

For one name a person can have proper kavana and as we said above:

If you were sincere, then some other person with an illness (or in need of a shidduch)benefited because every single wish that passes your lips, infused with the purity of your thought, is acted upon without exception.

This is the method by which Hashem runs His world, and it works in both directions because we all have the potential of benefiting from a prayer that was said for someone else.

If enough people take this on, at the end of the day a lot of people will receive a yes through the back door of their tefillos that they didn’t receive through the front door.

And on what authority do I say this?


You have a better idea?