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

Monday, June 27, 2011

Thanks Ta

Reflections on the DIVINE Dialogue

Rav Miller z”l was wont to say that one of the main objectives of Tefillah is that we understand that Hashem is controlling the world.  There are no default positions in this world.  We don’t walk, talk, hear, see, etc. by default.  It only happens because in each individual case Hashem wills it to be so.

And sanity is no exception.  We don’t come into this world sane right out of the box.  From the brocho Attah Chonain you learn that Hashem gives you daas.  He makes you sane, and in recognition of this fact Rav Miller z”l held that we should have kavanah on the first four words of Attah Chonein to thank Hashem for making us sane.

Everything that we should be cognizant of in the world falls into this same pattern.

You woke up this morning?

If you hit the ground running as a Jew you said Modeh Ani, which puts the fact that you woke up this morning in its proper context.  Modeh Ani is more than a vehicle enabling us to express our gratitude to Hashem for His decision to give us another day or part thereof.

It’s the template for everything that we take for granted, which for most of us is literally everything.

And if Modeh Ani wasn’t in the Shulchan Aruch, waking up in the morning would be the first thing we would take for granted every day.

Using Modeh Ani as our guide, it was left to us to give thanks in our own words, thoughts, and actions for the incessant miracles that are the operational DNA of our daily existence.  These Divine Footprints are unfortunately subsumed to the point of invisibility in the daily routines of those who have their spiritual radar turned off.

But there is more.

Our Modeh Ani inspired, freelanced thankfulness flows full circle back into the words of Chazal when we say Modim in Shemoneh Esrei.  Given the heightened awareness of Hashem’s Hands On relationship with us that our Modeh Ani mindset has hopefully engendered, we should be keenly aware of the tender mercies with which Hashem continually caresses us throughout the ebb and flow of the marathon we call “life in this world”.  With this awareness in hand, we should have plenty to bring to the table in the course of saying Modim.

You tied your laces tight, the way you like it, on the first try?  Could there be any better grist for the Modim mill?

Yes, there are no default positions in this world.  We don’t walk, talk, hear, see, etc. by default.  And if we have merited tying our shoes, it only happens because Hashem wills it to be so.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

So Say Something Already!

Reflections on the DIVINE Dialogue

There is tremendous power in Tefillah, and all of us, irrespective of our level of mitzvah observance, have the ability to access that power.

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.  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. 

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.

The why and how of all this cannot be squeezed in to the parameters of one’s online daily 60 Second Torah Thought because its mechanics are no less deep than why the righteous suffer.  It’s the stuff of serious Hashkafa, but we’re not talking Hashkafa here.

We are talking empowerment. We are talking of the empowerment that is the birthright of every Jew, whatever his station in life, and it is incumbent upon us to believe that Hashem has empowered us to accomplish anything with an honest Tefillah.

And where, exactly, does one learn how to formulate an honest Tefillah?

Rav Yaakov Weinberg z”l said that we should learn it from a child.  If you have a need, cry.  You have a Tatte up There Who is going to take care of you.

Tatte, I have a need!  That’s enough in itself.  Your need requires a response.  

Your desires are another story.

Friday, June 10, 2011


Mañana means tomorrow in Spanish.  It also defines a lifestyle.

In the same way that Israeli irreverence to detail is encapsulated in the expression yashar yashar, which is the de rigueur response to any query as to directions, mañana mañana is the bottom line of a culture that would rather relegate the vicissitudes of life to the back burner.

And this brings us to Moshiach.

As the house lights begin to dim on the final act of this world’s six thousand year first round run, we are inundated by all the signs that Chazal have given us to signal the coming of the Moshiach.  And when coupled with the reality and implication of the Iranian nuclear program, Hezbollah’s 50,000 rockets aimed at our jugular, the distinct possibility of Egypt once again becoming a confrontation state, the almost universal hostility of the nations to both Israel and the Jewish People, and the possibility of world wide economic meltdown, we can feel in our bones and almost taste the palpable closeness of Moshiach.

Tomorrow that is…

…because mañana is when he’s coming.  Never today, mind you, always mañana. And therein lies a problem, for the Rambam states clearly in the 12th of his Ikarim that “....and even though he may delay, with all that, I await him every day that he will come.” It seems that the more we see the signs the more clearly we see tomorrow’s scenario.

That most of us think this way is an indisputable fact.  The why behind our collective mindset is Aristotle and the apikorsis of drama.

Aristotle’s rules of dramatic construction were laid down in his Poetics with a few thoughts on the subject also scattered about his Rhetoric.  Although he never says it in so many words, the bottom line foundation of Aristotle’s laws of drama, as put forth in the Poetics­­, is that man is the master of his fate.  A protagonist that doesn’t believe in “My power and the might of my hand,” is dramatically speaking, a wimp.

In reality, nothing can be more dramatic than an open miracle, which is nothing but an open manifestation of the Yad Hashem.  Although his dramatic construct seamlessly replicated reality to the extent that one could lose oneself in it as if it were reality itself, it was the genius of Aristotle, in all of its inherent wickedness,  that it was man, and only man that made it work.  “Good drama” cannot brook any intrusion by Hashem.

The same miracle that would rivet us to our seats if we would be privileged to witness it would be but an emotional let down in the context of a dramatic production, be it a movie or a stage play, because Aristotle’s drama world is the very antithesis of Hashem’s world, and it follows its own rules which are sacrosanct within the genre.

While the existence of nature has a very definite function in that it hides the Hand of Hashem, thereby enabling us to exercise our free will, Aristotle and the other Greek philosophers introduced the concept of Nature for the purpose of creating a world without the Creator.  And Aristotle’s laws of dramatic construction parallel the Greek view of Nature in that they also write Hashem out of the script.

By making Man the mover and shaker of the Dramatic world, Aristotle forever poisoned the collective mind of the West.  And given the relegation of both Aristotelian physics and philosophy to the status of historical curiosities, one can reasonably argue that Aristotle’s greatest influence on the Western mind was by way of the theater.

While Broadway, Hollywood, Piccadilly, and all the rest prove the point, that in and of itself doesn’t bring the point home to those who have no truck with secular entertainment in any of its debilitating incarnations.

For that we need Bais Yaakov.

Is it not true, for instance, that the ending of a Bais Yaakov play, in which the girls save themselves by outwitting the Gestapo, has more dramatic appeal to us than an ending in which they are saved because their pursuers are all struck down by lightning a few minutes before they were to arrest the girls?

And while we would, no doubt, be experiencing the allowable limits of ecstasy in this world if we actually witnessed SS men being zapped by lightning at the doorstep of a Bais Yaakov school, in the context of a dramatic production it would be a terrible ending.  Anyone who has had the slightest experience with drama even as a couch potato intuitively understands this.

It is ironic in the extreme that many of those who are careful not to bring television, videos, newspapers, secular books, the Internet, and yes, even the radio into their homes, have nonetheless been influenced by Aristotle’s inversion of emes and sheker as incorporated in his dramatic model.  So in spite of the fact that this imaginary play is about girls who are saved from the Nazi beasts by a miracle, we would rather have the miracle kept under wraps to let the girls demonstrate my power and the might of my hand by extricating themselves from their predicament.

Such is the power of Aristotle’s dramatic construct, and without his intended obfuscation we would all be applauding the miracle.

The reason we are mañana oriented is because we see that the trend lines (world economic dysfunction, Hezbollah, Iranian nukes, Egypt etc.) are building toward a climax. It would be a dramatic no no for Moshiach to put in an appearance today, and that’s why almost no one can see it as a possibility, despite our fervent hopes to the contrary.   

The fact that this is total sheker manages to elude us.

Although all of us readily acknowledge that Hashem is bound by neither time nor space, we have nevertheless locked Him into Aristotle’s dramatic model, and we are totally unaware that we have done so.  Climax, anti-climax, and all of the other dramatic concepts and structures by which Aristotle created a virtual reality are brilliant forgeries devoid of any substance in the real world.  They have nothing to do with the way that Hashem runs His world and nothing to do with Moshiach.

Hashem keeps sending us signs, and we keep misreading them. What is meant as a wake up call spelled NOW, as in:

Pay attention, I’m about to do big things NOW, so prepare yourself for Moshiach and anticipate him NOW, gets morphed into yet one more scene in Aristotle’s long running Moshiach epic, as we wait to see how it all plays out.

In the way a person wants to go, that’s where Hashem will lead him.  The more content we are to be couch potato meshichistas, the more Hashem will prolong the drama by adding “scenes.”

When we finally grasp that what is required of us is to recognize that
these signs are about today rather than tomorrow, we will daven each tefillah, learn each blatt of gemora, and do each chesed etc., as if it were the last one before Moshiach.  

And as soon as we do, the movie will stop, and the realty of Geula will displace the virtual reality of Aristotle.

So when will Moshiach come, anyway?

When the Rambam says: “....and even though he may delay, with all that, I await him every day that he will come,” he most certainly means today, not tomorrow.


You are standing under the chuppah with your chosson or kallah, and just as the mesader kiddushin is about to begin the brocho, everyone in the chuppah room faces the two big doors in the back in response to a very loud and disturbing tumult taking place in the lobby.  Instead of being upset you sincerely hope that the tumult taking place on the other side of those doors is in response to the arrival of Moshiach.  

That’s the Rambam’s today, and it means that no matter what we are doing at the time, it will be as nothing the second we hear that Moshiach has come, Aristotle notwithstanding.

Everything else is mañana.