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

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Call of the Hour

You are standing on Har Carmel.  To your left are four hundred and fifty prophets of the Ba’al and to your right is Eliyahu HaNavi.  The false prophets cut up a bull and place it on wood that is arranged on an alter.  They then proceed to make a big tumult as they call upon their idol to answer them and choose their offering.  Eliyahu HaNavi then begins to mock them.

They begin to cut themselves with swords and spears,  but still nothing. 

So you look over to the right where Eliyahu HaNavi is busy building twelve stones into altar for Hashem.  He then arranges wood on an altar, and then cuts up a bull and places the pieces on the wood.   He then stands off to the side next to his sacrifice and beseeches Hashem to validate his authority as the chosen Navi of Hashem by sending down fire to consume his offering.

You pull yourself away from this scene and wait.

Everyone knows what happens next, even those who attended a Reform Sunday school for only a year or two.

Rabbi Moshe Wolfson says that every generation has its mitzvah, and that ours is emunah.  This is where the battle lines will be drawn between every Jew as an individual and the Satan/Yetzer Hora in whatever form it chooses to manifest himself at any given time.

Emunah, as it relates to non-Jews, refers to their acknowledgement of Hashem’s active suzerainty over the entire world.  That acknowledgement, even without the laws of the Torah, has throughout the generations always been enough to keep the nations from the worst excesses of moral degradation.  Individuals, yes, but on a collective level, be it tribal, regional or national, there was always a modicum of restraint even amongst the worst peoples.

In this world of current confusion one of the few points of clarity is how the Satan has decided to play His final hand in these last few hours before Moshiach.

The only thing interposed between the will of the Satan and his desire to abandon the world to total hefkerus is the existence of emunah, with its root and driving force being in Klal Yisroel.  Rav Wolbe states in his sefer, Ali Shur, that emunah is a reality, not a concept.  It is the purpose of creation and the foundation of existence.  It’s our life preserver to which we cling with a vice like grip, and therefore the only way for the Satan to eliminate emunah from the world is to uproot it from the Jewish People, chas v’shalom.  And he knows that he’ll have to rip it out of our hands because we won’t let go easily.  

In this last generation before Moshiach, Chazal have not left us in the dark as to what to expect in the run up to the Geula.  For starters, chutzpah will be off the charts.  Score one for the Sages because the chutzpah of our generation is unrestrained, beyond bold, and it’s in our face.  It’s so pervasive that rather than being but a crude aberration of civility it has utterly replaced it in large segments of society.  And it didn’t start yesterday.  Those of us old enough to remember the 60s already had more than a taste of it back then, and it has progressively intensified ever since.

Chazal have also told us that everything will be expensive.

I can remember, in my youth being asked for a dime for a cup of coffee.  That was one zero ago because today a cup of instant coffee is a dollar in some yeshiva coffee rooms.  As for commercial coffee shops, you don’t want to know.  If we’re still here in golus a few years down the road, will anyone be surprised to see Starbucks tack on a second zero to the first one and bump the price of a cup of coffee up to ten dollars?  In the spirit of Chazal they could offer it as the Moshiach special.

These simanim and many others are well known, and are only mentioned in passing to make manifest the clarity with which Chazal saw the course of history.

The Gemara in Sotah also says that prior to the coming of Moshiach, in the era known as the Footsteps of the Moshiach, the government will turn to Apikorsis.  This is already more than a siman of the impending Geula.  It is the template of the Satan’s aforementioned battle plan.

There are no accidents in this world, and therefore it is not a coincidence that a number of very serious seforim on emunah in English have been published in the last few years by some very great people.  One of the common threads running through all of these works is the sensitivity of their authors to what they perceive to be the call of the hour.  All of them, including Rav Wolfson, as articulated in his shiurim on emunah, concur that the tenacity of the Satan’s thrust at the emunah infused jugular of every Jew will put us to the same challenges with which Hashem tested Avraham Aveinu.

They have independently come to the conclusion that it is a matter of pikuach nefesh for this last generation before Moshiach to seriously strengthen its emunah in order to stay the course for what’s coming our way.

And just what might that be?

You are standing on Har Carmel.  To your right is Eliyahu HaNavi who is arranging wood on an altar.  He moves with alacrity to the sacrifice he has prepared, and lays it on the wood which is upon the altar.  He then stands off to the side next to his sacrifice and beseeches Hashem to validate his authority as the chosen Navi of Hashem by sending down fire to consume his offering.

You pull yourself away from this scene and look to your left where four hundred and fifty prophets of the Ba’al are cutting up a bull to be sacrificed.  They make a big tumult as they call upon their idol to answer them and choose their offering.

The holy Rabbi Yisroel of Ruzhin says that before the coming of Moshiach there will be a script change and the fire that descends from Shomayim will burn up the offering of the prophets of the Ba’al instead of Eliyahu's offering r"l.

We are being told that events of similar magnitude will test our emunah.  The Satan/Yetzer Hora will try to weaken our emunah in front of our eyes so that he can snatch it away from us.

How tight will your grip be?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Within our Reach

While it’s generally true that our free will only endows us with the ability to intend to do or not to do something, and even then only in the realm of mitzvos and aveiros, it appears that we are also free to set the parameters of our imagination.  Just as Hashem leads us in the way we choose to go in the context of our deeds, He also signs off on the borders with which we have circumscribed our horizons.  In the way one thinks that’s how his life will be determined.  We write our own ticket as to how far our vision will extend and Hashem punches it.

Some of us tend to overestimate our abilities, be it in learning, business etc., while others err in the opposite direction.  In each case Hashem goes with the flow which results in the first group suffering the consequences of their miscalculation and the second group never quite reaching their inherent potential.

There is a third group, probably the majority, which more or less accurately takes account of their individual positives and negatives and endeavors to construct a workable life within the limitations that are part and parcel of their existence.  Just as above, Hashem will allow this group to operate within the limits it has set for itself on an individual basis.

Even so, everyone will get what is allotted for him irrespective of his own myopia or overconfidence. That’s Hashem’s Hashgacha, but that’s a discussion for another day. We’re talking Teva here, meaning that we are relating to the natural order of things that we observe with our own eyes.

Being that it’s not a hefker velt, there is a set procedure that we are required to follow in order to activate the chesed with which Hashem wishes to grease the wheels of our world as we have imagined it.  It necessitates thought, speech, and deed.

Rav Shimshon Pincus, zt”l says that ”we must think thoughts of emunah, yirah, and ahavah.  We must speak words of Torah and Tefillah.  And we must perform deeds of mitzvos.”  This is how we earn the “right,” so to speak, to all of the aforementioned chesed that Hashem wishes to shower upon us.

Having said that, he then plays the E word in an end run around Teva as we understand it, and introduces us to something truly miraculous. He informs us that Hashem goes above the rules for a person who has a desire for spiritual greatness and whose emunah is so strong that he believes that Hashem has both the ability and the will to transcend the normal order of things in our day.  Such a person does not question Hashem’s ways just as the Avos did not question Hashem’s ways and he does not feel thwarted by the fact Hashem created him with great limitations.  He also realizes the limited natural capabilities that he was endowed with cannot stop Hashem from bestowing spiritual greatness upon him. 

Rav Pincus, zt”l tells us that if a person believes that his limitations do not limit Hashem’s ability to do good, Hashem will deal with him beyond his limitations by widening his parameters thereby giving him the ability to break through his ersatz self-limiting horizon to the gadlus that is now within his reach.

And even here, when Hashem allows us to catch a wave that crests high above “Nature’s” boundaries we write our own ticket as to how far our vision will extend and He punches it.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Now We Know

The Satan comes to Boro Park

So how did he get there anyway?

It goes something like this:

Like rolling thunder he moved from one place to the next.  Way out at first on the other side of the world through New Zealand and Japan, leaving earthquakes in his wake, then a lot closer in the form of tornadoes tearing through the Deep South and then through Joplin, Missouri.  From there he went into the flood business as he devastated the Mississippi Valley, and then, back in tornado mode, he dropped in for a quick pit stop next door in Springfield, Massachusetts to quench his thirst by almost sucking up the Connecticut River.

These weren’t isolated incidents.

As is well known, the Gemara teaches that every disaster that comes upon the world comes only because of Klal Yisroel.  It’s always about us.  It always was and it always will be.

Rav Miller, z”l used to say that if you see a small news item on the bottom of page 89 in the New York Times reporting a cyclone in Bangladesh that killed 200,000 people, the whole purpose for this devastation was that a Jew named Miller in Flatbush should hear about it and do Teshuva.  And if he doesn’t do Teshuva, then it’s a waste of a lot of goyim for nothing.

Like rolling thunder, the Satan moved from one place to the next.  Each stop along the way Hashem knocked on our door, but we didn’t answer.  And so it went until he reached Boro Park.

And when he finally got there, Hashem didn’t knock.  He let the Satan kick the door down instead.

You can’t say we weren’t warned. 

A lot of ink has been spilled trying to decipher the message that we are supposed to take away from the unspeakable tragedy that muddied, last week, what we mistakenly thought was the very tranquil pond of Boro Park, Brooklyn.  What can we say that hasn’t already been said by those much more knowledgeable and qualified to opine on an issue of such sensitivity?  Very little to be sure, so we will suffice with merely a few observations.

Everyone seems to be in agreement with the suggestion that we should all take on something, be it increased tzeddakah, a commitment to work on a given middah, Shimiras HaLoshon or anything else that will strengthen our Yiddishkeit.  What down side could there possibly be in getting closer to the goal for which we were placed here in the first place?

To this I would like to add a little something.

About a year ago, someone I know quietly gave his son something like $2,000 to pay the bill that the son’s yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel had run up at the local grocery.  Very nice, but he didn’t stop there.  He also gave him another thousand dollars to create a credit balance so that the yeshiva wouldn’t go back into debt again the following morning.

Taking our cue from that extra thousand, maybe we should be taking on two somethings rather than one.  The first, which is reactive to the potch, conveys our understanding that Hashem is very upset with us, our present confusion as to the details notwithstanding.

That second something is proactive and carries a simple message:

Please, Hashem, let there be no next time.

And so it goes.  We are very good at reacting with concern, outrage, remorse, mesiras nefesh, intense emotion, and yes, even occasional achdus to things that upset us, and therefore no one had to think twice about how to react to the tragedy that took place in Boro Park last week.  The truth is that no one had to think even once because our reaction flowed viscerally from the kishkes of the Klal.

And to take it a step further, who doesn’t or didn’t at one time have a nine year old boy somewhere in his extended family sprinkling nachas all around as if it were fairy dust?  Given all of the above, exactly how difficult was it for us to intimately relate to the totality of this staggering blow, relate to young Leiby, a"h and to the Kletzky family? 

Are we not hard wired to feel the pain of others?

But feeling Hashem’s pain is a different story altogether, and it’s something we have to work on because it doesn’t come easy.  If we were on a high enough madreiga our emotional responses to those things that “pain” Hashem would be as axiomatic as our responses are to what we perceive to be our own misfortunes.  Unfortunately, we’re not holding there right now.

In the course of detailing the Satan’s inventory of natural disasters, one very “unnatural” disaster was omitted, and that was the abomination known in our circles as The New Marriage Act that became law in New York State last month.

While we leave to bigger people the deeper meaning of the connection between this disgrace of a law and the calamity that rocked all of us last week, there is no question that the juxtaposition of these two events, with this law passing a bare two weeks before the horrific murder of Leiby Kletsky, a"h by someone quite possibly harboring “unnatural” inclinations, was meant to get our attention. 

At the time of the Hevron Pogrom in 1929, Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna, z”l, who a few years later became the Hevron Rosh Yeshiva, said that when he heard the report of the disaster that had befallen the Yeshiva he couldn’t eat for three days.  “But I didn’t faint,” he said, “Rav Kook fainted.”

Rabbi Aryeh Levine testifies that when Rav Kook heard the same news he fell backwards off his chair and fainted.

When that wicked law passed in New York there was a lot frustration and confusion in our community as to what our response should be.  It wasn’t something that came naturally to us as a group.  We knew it was wrong to be sure and many even sensed that it was a disaster.  Some of us called our state representatives in protest while others wrote letters to the newspapers.  A few even asked their Rabbis if they should move out of New York State.  Most of us just gnashed our teeth because we understood that we didn’t have the political clout to do anything about it.

But we didn’t faint.

We didn’t go into a collective state of shock and mourning as we did last week.  We didn’t put the same emotions and mesiras nefesh on the table for something that was important to Him.  

So the Satan came to Boro Park.

NOW WE KNOW what Hashem wanted from us last month.   He wanted us to feel sick about it.

He wanted us to feel like we do now.

Monday, July 18, 2011

So Who are You Relying on…

…to keep your cholent hot on Shabbos anyway?  If you are relying on your crock pot, then experience tells us that you will probably enjoy hot cholent unless the heating element fails, the power cord frays, there’s a blackout or some other horror interposes itself between your desire and what’s left of it post speed bump.  All of this with the express consent of Hashem to be sure, delivered to your door by way of the natural order of things as manifested in our wear and tear world.
If you have sense enough to rely on Hashem to keep your cholent hot on Shabbos, then the heating element, the cord, the possibility of blackout and the other movable parts subject to the shelf life inherent in planned obsolescence all become irrelevant.  If the heating element fails it’s only because Hashem wills it to be so, the age and condition of said heating element notwithstanding.

So Who are you relying on anyway?

And this is no small question because you rely on everything, dozens of times in any given day, Shabbos and Yom Tov included.

We foolishly rely on our cars to start when we turn the key in the ignition.  We rely on that same car to go when we press down on the gas pedal and to stop when we do likewise to the brake.  We rely on our fridge to keep our food fresh and the mailman to deliver the mail every day.  We rely on the government to deposit our Social Security checks directly into our bank accounts on the third of the month.  We rely on El Al to get us safely to Israel.  And we expect Hatzalah to show up within two minutes of our call, if not sooner.

All of this reveals that the lives that most of us live could be characterized, at their core, as lives of misplaced reliance on machines that break, people that are unreliable, on events over which we have no control and a Weatherman that is right less than fifty per-cent of the time.

As Rabbi Chaim Malinowitz explains the view of the Chovos Halavovos in the Sha’ar HaBitochon, the avodah of bitochon is that we should rely on Hashem that the store will be open on time, that the milk will be fresh, that the cars will stop at the red light etc..  Bitochon and relying are active verbs.  We are relying on Hashem that the bank will have our money, that our boss won’t fire us.  We are relying on Hashem to bring us customers, not the size of the ad that we place in the media.

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.

That we live lives of misplaced reliance flows naturally from the fact that we have misplaced reality itself.

Over and above any improvement computers have brought to the lives of literally billions of people alive today and billions more who have passed this way in the last thirty years or so, they have also enriched our understanding of how Hashem runs His world.  The words virtual reality are more than simply a code name for the digital Potemkin village that holds forth on every computer screen only to vanish in a nano second with a flip of the switch.

Virtual reality is also an accurate description of what we carelessly refer to as the “real world,” the one we physically inhabit.   And if the world we inhabit is actually nothing more than virtual reality then what is reality?

The only reality in this world is Ein Od Milvado, there is nothing beside Him.  This means that when you are relying on Hashem you are dealing with the reality of the world as it truly is, not as we have been fooled into thinking that it is.

Rabbi Malinowitz further observes that anyone whose reliance in Hashem has blossomed into true bitochon stands in Hashem’s shoes and lives with Him in a cheder yichud where things like the law of averages and all of the other variables of this world do not apply.  It’s as if Hashem takes the one who relies on Him above the stars as the Gemara says He did with Avraham Aveinu, where the beat is to a different drummer.

If bitochon defines how we think, that makes it a mindset. And if it’s a mindset then it’s simply a matter of attitude.

I suppose that would make the Baal Bitochon a Jew with Attitude.

So who are you going to rely on anyway?

Monday, July 11, 2011


(So Where’s Moshiach anyway?)

The truth is that he is in front of your house with the engine running and he wants to get out of the car already.

So what’s he waiting for? 

It might be better to start with what he is not waiting for.

Moshiach doesn’t do Hollywood so he is not waiting for Egypt to rip up the treaty and attack Israel, nor is he waiting for Hezbollah to devastate Israel’s heartland with its 50,000 rockets.  And he most certainly isn’t playing peek-a-boo with Iran’s nukes to be, chas v’shalom.

He’s waiting for us

He always was, and not being a quitter, he always will be until we finally get it together and give him a reason to get out of that car.  And not just any reason mind you, but rather a fine tuned replication of the reason that revved up the engine in the first place.

In his sefer Eim Habanim Semeichah, HaRav Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal Hy”d, gives a fascinating account of a great assembly of gedolei Torah that met at the home of R. Yisachar Dov of Belz ztvk”l in the city of Rutzfort, Hungary to where the Rebbe had escaped at the outbreak of the war in 1914. He describes how for almost an hour the senior member of the group, R. Moshe Dovid Teitelbaum z”l, av beit din of Madiar-Lapush in Zibanbergen, grandson and foremost disciple of the Yitav Lev z”l, petitioned the Rebbe of Belz to initiate a movement of awaking to repentance which “would undoubtedly influence the entire generation to return their hearts to our Father in Heaven.”  When he finished, the Rebbe answered him briefly and to the point:

“O Rebbe of Lapush, have you concluded your petition?  When Mashiach arrives, the Jews will repent.  In the meantime, it is of utmost importance that the Jews love one another.  One must love even the lowliest Jew as himself.  One must engender unity and keep far away from anything that causes disunity.  The salvation of Israel during times of trouble rests on this.”

On these words Rav Teichtal commented: “Know and understand this, and do not be a pious fool who is quick to find fault with Israel.  Do not cause disunity among those who are united, particularly at a time when the divine attribute of justice hovers over all of Israel.  It is a time of trouble for Ya’akov, may the Merciful One protect us!”

Every Tisha B’Av we are reminded that in any generation in which the Bais HaMikdash is not rebuilt it’s as if it was destroyed in that generation, and that invariably morphs into a discussion of Sinas Chinam then and now.  Sinas Chinam has a harsh sound to it.  It’s usually loosely translated as meaning unwarranted hatred.  What the Rebbe was talking about was its polar opposite, which Rav Kook z”l called Ahavas Chinam (unwarranted love).

Here’s a Jew who is a Zionist, anti-Zionist, Leftist, Agudist, Chabadnik, a Toldos Aharon chossid or anything else that you might dislike.  You have absolutely no reason to like him let alone love him.  So love him anyway simply for the fact that he is a Jew.

The Belzer Rebbe’s words were said amidst the chaos of World War I and Rav Teichtal’s comments thereto were written in Budapest in 1943 as the Churban in Europe was running at full throttle.

And the situation today is better?

By any reasonable assessment, the security of the Yishuv in Eretz Yisroel when assessed in tevidik terms can charitably be described as toast.  If not for the arrival of Moshiach or the performance of many miracles in lieu thereof, how can the Yishuv be expected to survive? 

If anything, the Rebbe’s words are even more applicable to our own times than they were for his, and Boruch Hashem, in at least two instances, it appears that they have begun to penetrate the sub-conscious of our generation.  And it is for this reason that Moshiach’s car is parked outside your door with the engine still running.

First there was the miscarriage of justice, otherwise known as the conviction of Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin on fraud charges in a Federal District Court and then came the three bochurim who were arrested in Japan for having, unbeknownst to them, $3.6 million worth of Ecstasy pills in their suitcases.

These four Jews were in very serious trouble, and their situation triggered a tremendous outpouring of concern and help from all sectors of Torah Judaism without regard to what type of hat or yarmulka the various victims wore.    Hundreds of thousands of dollars were, and are still being collected for the legal expenses of their trials and appeals.  In addition, there has been no lack of volunteers to do whatever was needed to be done regardless of the financial and personal costs involved.

Jews needed help, their brothers responded, and Moshiach’s car started to move.  But then it hit a speed bump in front of your house and stopped with the engine still running.

So why doesn’t he get out already?

Our generation is a mere shadow of the generation that the Belzer Rebbe was addressing almost one hundred years ago.  It may be too much to ask of either individuals or groups to give up their strongly held principles in a show of achdus.  If one group thinks it’s proper to sit in the Knesset, so why shouldn’t it?  And if another group refuses to take money from the Medina, so why should it?

To make the words of the Belzer Rebbe applicable to our times we have to reduce them to their lowest common denominator which means that if we have trouble respecting each other in life the least we can do is manifest Ahavas Chinom one to another in death.

There have been a number of terrorist tragedies in Eretz Yisroel over the course of the last few years cutting across the entire spectrum of Klal Yisroel, and all of them had two things in common.  Those who died were killed simply because they were Jews.  And almost invariably, those who showed up at the funeral were almost exclusively from whatever group the victim belonged to.  There are exceptions to be sure, such as the tragic death of Daniel Viflic Hy”d, who was critically wounded when an anti-tank missile fired from Gaza destroyed the bus in which he was riding.  Given that he lived in Ramat Beit Shemesh and was buried nearby in Beit Shemesh, which together are a microcosm of the heterogeneousness of the Israeli Torah community, coupled with the fact in the ten days between the attack and his petira Daniel had made it onto every Tehillim list worth a tear, the diversity that put in an appearance at his levayah was to be expected.

But for those counting the seconds till Moshiach as if they were counting pearls, the norm has been, unfortunately, otherwise.

In the way we deal with others Hashem deals with us.  When we ask Hashem to send us Moshiach when we don’t deserve it are we not asking for the ultimate chesed that He could do for us?  And isn’t the ultimate chesed on our part a chesed shel emes?

And yet, when a family of Torah Jews is slaughtered in their beds or eight Yeshiva bochurim are gunned down in their Yeshiva we seem to be incapable of stepping outside of our label saturated existence long enough to attend the funeral.  It matters not a whit how many people show up because it’s not a numbers game.

It’s all about the mosaic of Torah Jewry.

In Shomayim, three hundred of EVERYBODY at a levayah will trump thirty thousand of only a certain SOMEBODY every time.  And when that day finally arrives, the tragedies will stop, the engine will be turned off, he’ll get out of the car, and the doorbell will ring, speedily in our days.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The King and I

Reflections on the DIVINE Dialogue

We are exhorted that our davening should not be an attempt to trigger a voice activated ATM machine.  On the other hand, we are told with equal authority that we should ask Hashem for everything, even a paperclip or a tissue.  The truth is that it’s not about asking or not asking or about how much one should ask for.

Hashem wants to give us more than we want to receive, and the good news is that the answering of our tefillos is not a zero sum game.  If Hashem so desires, He can keep every ATM machine in the world perpetually bulging with its favorite currency regardless of the demands that are put upon them.  The more we push those buttons with our tefillos the more Hashem likes it, with one caveat.  Hashem likes it only to the extent that we create the circumstances for Him to respond positively to our shopping list if He should so desire.

When we are exhorted to eschew the ATM machine as a goal toward which are tefillos should be directed it means that we shouldn’t fall into the trap of being locked into an ATM mode that is set to cruise control.  Although we will have fulfilled the admonition to ask for everything (and then some), we will have, as a consequence, rendered the chances of having those tefillos answered, procedurally problematical, which is a pareve way of saying that, procedurally speaking, it’s a loser.  

There are, unfortunately, all too many of us who put a lot of shvitz into our davening every day in an attempt to get Hashem to bend His Will toward ours, which is an exercise in futility if there ever was one.  Apparently, the thinking goes, a few choice words, a tear or two (if really desperate), and Hashem will forget all about what was decided for that person on Rosh Hashana.

It doesn’t work this way.

While it is true that in exceptional cases concerning life and death and in other extreme circumstances tefillah has the power to change a decree, when it comes to the de rigueur shopping lists that we present to Hashem in the guise of davening Hashem doesn’t change His mind. That truth inevitably leads to the following:  If Hashem doesn’t change His mind, then why are we davening?

For one thing, we’re davening for all of the things that were on our list when we thought we could play fast and loose with Hashem’s cheshbon for the year.  But that’s only WHAT we are davening for during the thrice daily Divine Q&A that Chazal has provided for us in the middle brochos of the Shemoneh Esrei.  And for those who are very much WHAT oriented, their requests also reflect WHY they’re davening.  But what about the rest of us?

Why are we davening anyway?

What tends to get lost in all of this is the process of davening itself.  We are speaking to Hashem, but not just casually speaking.  We are having a dialogue as we seek a relationship with Him.  And not just a casual relationship either, but one of intimacy.  

As we have already said, the person whose davening is motivated by visions of a voice activated ATM on cruise control with his eye only on what's in it for me is attempting, for the most part, the impossible because Hashem doesn’t change (His mind).

But you could change you.

It is categorically impossible to enter into a relationship with Hashem and yet remain the same person that you were when you were still flying solo.  And if you are a different person, then you are not locked into that other guy’s cheshbon from Rosh Hashana.  As far as Hashem is concerned, it’s anything goes. 

All you have to do is ask, and you shouldn’t be bashful about it either.

Friday, July 1, 2011


(the secret to a stress free life)

So what are you doing tomorrow anyway?

Be it learning, work, chesed, taking care of the family or any combination thereof, if you are evenly moderately organized you most probably have your day worked out in advance, as you do every other day.

And then come the speed bumps: flat tires, your child comes home sick from school, emergency trips to the doctor and dentist for stitches and toothaches, a crisis at the office which keeps you there till all hours, your chavrusa doesn’t show up, your car doesn’t start, it snowed 23 inches, and a myriad of other unanticipated horrors guaranteed to trash your plans.

We have all done this dance at one time or another, and all too often as far as most of us are concerned.  The frustration and angst and sometimes anger that we all feel as we helplessly watch our plans vaporized can be directly attributed to whatever it was that turned our day upside down.

The reason for all of this emotional turmoil is simplicity itself.  However sensitive we may be hashkafically to the fact that Hashem determines our parnossa, rather than the strength and power of our hands, when it comes to daily activities, our inherent egocentricity brings us to the view that whatever we have in mind to do on any given day is Plan A, which inevitably leads to the aforementioned frustration, angst, and sometimes anger when the de rigueur vicissitudes of life put in, what we perceive to be, an untimely and terminally inconvenient appearance.

Our self-absorption notwithstanding, the truth is that this is a theocentric world, which requires us to understand that what we propose to do is actually Plan B.  All that other stuff: the flats, the medical emergencies etc. is in reality Plan A, because it obviously reflects the Yad Hashem which is manifesting itself in our lives.

It’s all a matter of focus.

It’s all about looking at life’s curve balls as the real Plan A rather the ruination of what we thought was Plan A.

Plan A is always the best plan for a person because everything Hashem does is for the best and moreover, Hashem wants what is good for you more than you want what’s good for you.  And that’s reflected in the fact that we consistently come up with Plan B.

Every morning we should ask Hashem what He has in store for us that day.  To the extent that He has a DO LIST for us He’ll let us know.  That’s Plan A for the whole or part of the day, and we should never forget it.  If there is no Plan A to answer PRESENT at our daily roll call or there was and we have dealt with it, then we’ll finally turn our attention to Plan B.

And if we get don’t get to finish it, then what of it?  It wasn’t our priority anyway, as it turns out.