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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


A few weeks back I commented to my wife that halavai I should have as much Emunah in Hashem as I do in Costco.

After posting over two hundred essays online on a blog entitled EmunahSpeak, it was very unsettling to find myself playing peek-a-boo with the yesod of everything that I have written about these past three and half years.

How could such a thing be?

To be sure, the Yetzer Hora was quite content that I should have such thoughts.  But said contentment was short lived because after some reflection I fingered the culprit, and once nailed I was able to morph a small hashkafic speed bump into some solid reinforcement of the aforementioned yesod of the ideas that have been put forth on this blog since its inception.

The truth is that it’s really not all that complicated.  In the context of Costco or any other competent entity, the Yetzer Hora take’s a walk.  And why shouldn’t it?  What tachliss is there for it to hang around?  

You shop at Costco because you trust their no questions asked return policy or the quality of their product line?   

What exactly can the Yetzer Hora put on the table to weaken that trust?  That the returns are in reality being accepted by Wall Mart or that the quality of their products can be attributed to a competitor?

What you see is what you get without so much as a nano thought to the contrary, so why shouldn’t have faith in Costco that it can deliver on its promises to the public?  The Yetzer has absolutely nothing to sell here, so there’s no pushback.  And without pushback anyone can be a believer.

Not so with Hashem.

When we’re talking Hashem, we’re also talking about a Yetzer Hora that is in 24/7 mode, which means that when Hashem lets you walk away from a six car pileup in which the other five drivers were killed the Yetzer Hora whispers in your ear: airbag or anything else that will cause you attribute your good fortune to something other than Hashem.

You had orange juice for breakfast this morning?

Did you thank Hashem for putting it on your table or were you thinking about Costco who sold to it to you and the fact that they will take it back, no questions asked, even if you finish three quarters of the bottle?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Ripping Open the Heavens

In EmunahSpeak: So Who are You Relying on…we said that the avodah of bitachon is to train oneself to rely only on Hashem. 

Not Hashem plus your accountant or your expertise.  Hashem knows if you have bitachon in Him or you are relying on the doctor also or your own hishtadlus.  Hishtadlus doesn’t make you a partner with Hashem.  Think of it as the password to the game of life.  It's the equivalent of saying "swordfish" to gain admittance.  Once you have given the password Hashem takes care of 100% of the problem, not the 95% you supposedly left over for Him after you did your 5%.  That Hashem’s 100% might work out to be zilch, zero, and nada of what we have set our minds on in any given situation is of no consequence because bitachon is not results oriented and therefore makes no promises.  It defines how we think not what we get.

And this mindset, not so coincidently is spot on with what’s required for effective tefillah.

And what exactly is effective tefillah?

As per EmunahSpeak: So Say Something Already!, pretty much everything because we learned there that the good news is that no sincere prayer goes unanswered.  That’s heads.  Tails is that sometimes the answer is no.  But even when the answer is no, as it is all too often to suit most of us, it’s no only in the sense of what we wanted.  In terms of what we needed at that moment it was a resounding yes, because everything that happens in this world is for our good. 

Very frum to be sure, but in times like these, when our enemies thirst for Jewish blood as if it were wine, we would very much like that resounding yes to be on the front burner as opposed to the back, and the three words that will make it happen are Ein Od Milvado.

Rabbi Daniel Travis tells us that the Yesod of tefillah is when a person comes to a recognition that Hashem controls everything in the world and that only He can take care of the situation.  

We’re talking complete clarity here that a person burns into his heart.

And when with that clarity in hand, that Hashem is the only one Who can help, such a Jew in anguish expresses pain over a another Jew’s suffering, such a tefillah goes straight up to Shomayim and rips it open.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Who is a Jew?

For reasons that are obvious and some that are less so, writing something coherent in relation to the Arabs’ latest manifestation of brotherly love, as expressed in Har Nof last week, was very difficult.  Even the title didn’t come easy because it wasn't clear as to where to place the emphasis.

Some of the other candidates were:  So What Now?, Take On What, Exactly?, The Cousins, In An Instant, It Was Us This Time, In Search of Achdus, and The Satan Comes To Har Nof.

Those lives that were snuffed out in an instant were lives of greatness that took a lifetime to build.  So for anyone looking to take on a little something, zecher l’Churban, keep in mind that many of us have been taking on a little something extra over the course off the last few years and it hasn’t gotten us all that far.

So why not take on a big something instead?

If these four kedoshim are important enough to be taken from us for the sins of the generation then they are important enough to be emulated.  Take on the truth of total transformation by replicating such a life.

It will take the rest of your life, but it can be jump started just as instantaneously as they were removed from this world.  Some aspects of this avodah will go slower than others and some won’t go at all.

And what of it?  We’re not talking results here.   It’s all about defining a goal, locking in on it, and making up one’s mind to move in that direction for the rest of one’s life.

Nice vort, but how many of us are even capable of contemplating such a radical shift, let alone bringing it to fruition?

For those who are not holding by turning themselves inside out, a 180 attitudinal shift would still be a very big move.  And it’s doable.

It’s been the fashion for some time now to view Klal Yisroel as if it were some kind of a big tent multi-factional entity with the focus on the parts as opposed to the whole.  The question of who is a Jew? used to be a halachic one.  Now it’s political.

Hashem is speaking to us through our blood thirsty cousins that we are one people.  The Arabs make no distinctions between Zionists, non-Zionists, Chabad, Satmar, Mizrachi, leftist or any other of the camps, sects, or sectors by which Jews define themselves these days.

They have Bilam’s eye and all they see is a single entity that dwells alone and they want to destroy it.  If in the Arab conception of things we have to die as members of Klal Yisroel, then our response should be to live as members of Klal Yisroel with the emphasis on the Klal.

So with that said, how did you feel when you heard the news of the Har Nof massacre?   Were you sick about it?  Were you in a state of despair?  Were you able to function?  These are all normal reactions to a tragedy of this magnitude, and that’s exactly how you should have felt about the massacre at Merkaz Ha Rav in 2008. 
And if you didn’t, then there is something wrong with your perception of Klal Yisroel.

And if the Merkaz HaRav people aren’t broken today like they were six years ago, then they need to go back and re-read Rav Kook z"l.  This time with their eyes open.

The bottom line here is this:

As long as we continue to look askance as to the place of another Jew or group of Jews within Klal Yisroel, then it will be left up to the Arabs to decide who is a Jew.  

And if the Arabs can understand the oneness of Klal Yisroel well enough not to make distinctions between Jews, then why do we?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Thinking Past Oneself

EmunahSpeak: Who Do You Put in the Center of Your Picture? spoke of the three possibilities of how one can focus his davening.  It can be about Me, Hashem and Me, or (for the rare few) exclusively about Hashem.  

And people not?

With a slight switch in the cast of characters we can readily see that the same formula also applies to one’s view of the rest of humanity.  Everything that touches our lives is either about us, us and others, or (for the rare few) the focus is on others.

The first two categories we know about.

If you have ever cut a line or eaten in a restaurant that both you and your wife like, you have tasted of both of them.  In EmunahSpeak: Others the bottom line was about seeing the value of others.  But for those who focus is on others it’s not necessary to see anything because it’s enough that there exists something outside themselves.

Rabbi Yigal Haimoff opens a window for us to experience the essence of thinking past oneself:

There was a small shul in Yerushalayim, one of the many where men would come to learn early in the morning before davening.  It seems that the shammes of that small shul served cups of tea to the attendees, but with a twist.  Much to the consternation of those who came to learn, the cups were always only half full, their constant and vociferous protestations notwithstanding.

And this went on for years.

One day the shammes didn’t feel well so he asked his son to get up early in the morning so as to prepare the tea for the participants in the learning.  He also adjured him to make sure that the cups were only half filled.

When the regulars heard from the son that the shammes wasn’t coming that day they pressured him to give them full cups of tea.  The son, who could never make any sense out of his father’s penchant for only filling up the cups half way, finally gave way after much coaxing and prepared a tray of cups of tea filled to the brim.  As he was about to leave this small shul’s excuse of a kitchen his father walked in, grabbed the tray, and proceeded to pour the contents of the cups into the sink.

The shammes told his son that he feared that he might contravene his instructions so he schlepped himself out of bed to make sure that the cups were only half full.  He then asked his son to promise that he would never do such a thing again. 

The son promised on the condition his father tell him why he only filled the cups half way.

After getting his son’s agreement never to divulge the reason to anyone, the shammes told him that there were two elderly members of the early morning group whose hands shook considerably.  Half the cup would spill if he gave them full cups of tea and if he gave half cups only to those two they would be even more embarrassed. 

And what of the woman who was an inmate in one of the hospitality camps in which the Germans interred Jews during WWII.  She had committed some petty infraction of the camp rules and the Germans, at their diabolical best, put her on trial in which all the participants were Jews:  Judge, court officers, guards, and the court stenographer.

And the trial was held on Shabbos.

Amazingly, this woman actually had a defense that could possibly have been recognized by the camp administration, but when asked if she had anything to say in her defense she kept silent because anything she said would have been recorded by the Jewish court stenographer on Shabbos.

And then there is Mrs. Rochel Frenkel.

When the body of her son Naftoli was found (along with the bodies of his two comrades) after an eighteen day search, she was asked her reaction to the fact that Naftoli was killed on the first day of his captivity.

She said that for eighteen days she cried her eyes out, but when she heard that that her son had been killed on the first day she remembered that Naftoli’s favorite mitzvah was putting on tefillin.  Rochel Frenkel knew that had her son been killed on any day subsequent to day one he would have missed putting on tefillin for as many days as he was being held captive and that the fact that he was not performing the mitzvah would have distressed him greatly.

She was somehow able to transcend the nightmare of the eighteen days of uncertainty that culminated in the discovery that Naftoli had been brutally murdered to think past her grief laden self so as to take comfort in the fact that her martyred son was spared the emotional pain of not being able to perform the mitzvah of tefillin. 

Such is the essence of thinking past oneself.