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

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.

Saturday, September 27, 2014


In EmunahSpeak: The Real Test, we said that the real test of humility is how one handles the good fortune of others, which is an aspect of gaiva that borders on kina (jealousy).  And we concluded that if the joy of one’s fellow fails to resonate within him to such an extent that he cannot relate to it in any form, then we’re talking five star gaiva here.

And then there’s the more classic form of gaiva that challenges the very core of our menchlekeit.

Rabbi Avraham Brussel tells us that the reason that it is hard not to look down on someone who hasn’t done what you have done is because we tend to invest value into what we have accomplished.  But once we fall into that trap, we circumscribe any possibility of spiritual growth on our part by taking the mistake to its logical conclusion:  value is something and the lack thereof is nothing.  So if accomplishing something makes one feel high enough to get a nose bleed, it’s no wonder that it’s difficult not to look down upon those who have made a lesser splash in this world.

The truth is that the whole concept of gaiva is built on a fallacy because there is no such thing as a person without value. 
We’re all worth something.

And we are even allowed to take simcha in what we are and what we have done.  But in order not to get snared in the aforementioned gaiva trap, you have to be careful when you take pride in your accomplishments that you don’t take too much pride in them.  

For when the I, in look what I have done, Boruch Hashem, becomes bigger than the Boruch Hashem, then you’re heading for trouble.

Gaiva is much more than just a bad midda.  It’s tantamount to suicide because to look down on another Jew, as if he is of less value, is a severe crime that destroys the soul of a human being. 

And Rabbi Brussel points out that this applies to everyone because it’s even assur for a Jewish king to even think that he is more valuable than an ordinary Jew.  He is obligated to say that they are equal.  And if a king is forbidden to entertain such a mindset where do we come to such an attitude?

So how does one get a handle on gaiva anyway?

It’s not by taking ourselves down a couple of notches in an egalitarian attempt to level the playing field so to speak.

The only way to counter the inflated value that we have ascribed to ourselves is to work to see the value of others.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Are We Generals?

Everyone has been assigned to a post, and if each of us executes his charge (and we all intuitively know what we should be doing in regards to Torah, Mitzvohs, and stam menchlicheit), our side will carry the day.

But rather than focus on our avodas Hashem, many of us waste our time worrying about the big picture.

And for this we also have to do Teshuva. 

It’s Teshuva for our lack of bitochon and emunah in Hashem’s Hashgacha.  And it’s not that we are a bit light in terms of the requisite faith because there is no such thing as requisite faith.

Emunah is about what your eyes can’t see and yet you know it with a certainty.  The Teshuva is not for what you should have believed.  It’s for what you should have known.  And what you should have known is that Hashem doesn’t do weekends. 

As the Chazon Ish tells us, although Hashem doesn’t promise us a rose garden, everything is under His control.  There are absolutely no accidents, mistakes, or coincidences. 

He’s on the job, and being above time He doesn’t suffer from any 24/7 limitations. 

So what exactly do we have to do with Hashem’s battle plan? 

Are we generals?

All that’s being asked of us is that we give a good account of ourselves as privates.  And that requires nothing more than to treat Hashem as we would our iPhone or any other norishkeit, to which we give our complete, focused, and respectful attention.